Friday, June 27, 2008

Arlie Latham's Obituary

Walter Arlington (Arlie) Latham, former baseball star for the St. Louis Browns, died yesterday at his home, 111 Seventh Street, Garden City, L.I. He was 92 years old.

One of the last in the thinning line of links to baseball's infancy as an organized sport in this country snapped with the passing of Arlie Latham. Until slightly more than a year ago, he was a familiar, interested, critical figure at the ball games in the Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds.

Arlie, as he was familiarly called by all who hailed him, retained a keen interest in the sport in which he was a pioneer and which brought him fame. His interest came naturally for, in his day, Latham was the most famous base-stealer in the country, a player who in different times and under different conditions was to boast of having stolen "about 150 bases a year." Often he recalled that with Harry Stovey and Billy Hamilton, the combination would account for about 450 base thefts in a single season.

Latham knew baseball intimately as player, manager, umpire and instructor before he became press-box attendant in the Yankee Stadium and in the Polo Grounds. Out of the wealth of his experience he could afford to be critical of today's players, and he was. A specialist in speed himself, Latham was particularly intolerant of the base-running of today. he resented, in his own way, the emphasis on hitting for pushing a runner around at the sacrifice of base-running technique.

Baseball's first comedy relief, Latham was the Al Schacht of his day with the St. Louis Browns of the old American Association for whom he played third base. The only difference was that Arlie, owner of an irrepressible spirit, could not restrain the impulse to inject his comedy into the game as it progressed.

Latham was noted as a hitter as well as for his speed on the bases. Early historians record that in several seasons Arlie hit .300 or better. In the off-season he added to his income by touring with an ice skating troupe with which he was considered one of the topnotch performers.

He was a link to the days when $1,600 as a salary for a ball player was something in the nature of a king's ransom. His own salary of $1,000, he often said, was fabulous.

Latham started playing at the age of 15 for $5 a game. When he was 22 years old e joined the St. Louis Browns. He was with that club through its championship days of 1885, 1886, 1887, and 1888, campaigning in the days when only the catcher and the first-baseman wore gloves, through the ancient world series, which regarded as an innovation the action of the catcher in 1885 in adopting a mask.

Latham's playing days ended with the '88 campaign. He used to recall days when his club played before "a dozen people and a billy goat." On his visits to New York with the Browns, they were quartered at the old Grand Central Hotel and journeyed by elevated train to 116th Street for games played at the old Polo Grounds, then at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue. They were days when "everything above Seventy-second Street was country; vegetable gardens tended by Italian squatters," as Arlie used to say.

His umpiring duties carried him through a short career in the Southern Association. In 1909 he was engaged by the late John McGraw to coach young Giants in the art of base-running. This association was interrupted in 1912 when Latham went to England where he spent the next seventeen years working to give the sport a solid foundation in the country of "rounders." In one capacity or another he was associated with baseball on his return from abroad until his death.

Surviving are three daughters, Mrs. James Tait, Mrs. Frank Wakeman and Mrs. Claude Sanford, and a son, Walter A. Latham, Jr.
-The New York Times, November 30, 1952

Latham's obituary can be found online at The Deadball Era.

When I first read this all I could think about was how much I would have enjoyed watching a ballgame with Arlie Latham at Yankee Stadium or the Polo Grounds in the late forties or early fifties. Tell me that wouldn't have been fun.

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