March 21 – Happy Birthday Bill Lamar

If Marvin Miller or Scott “the snake oil salesman” Boras had been around in the 1920’s, I might have a lot more to tell you about today’s Pinstripe Baseball Birthday Celebrant. Unfortunately, however, for guys like William Harmong Lamar, ballplayers did all of their own labor-lawyer-ing and contract negotiations for many many years and Lamar simply wasn’t very good at it.

As the only member of the all-time Yankee roster to be born on this date, Lamar did not get the opportunity to play much baseball in the Big Apple. Born in Maryland, near Washington DC, he became a high school baseball star who in 1916, signed a contract to play for the Baltimore Orioles in the International League. By the following year, the US had entered WWI and the military draft began in May of that year. The Yankees were probably looking for bodies to replace players lost to the army when they purchased the contracts of Lamar and two of his Oriole teammates toward the end of the 1917 season. Lamar’s first appearance in a big league and Yankee game was on September 19th of that season. He played a total of 11 games that year and just 28 the next before he himself was drafted.

From the research I did on his career, it appears as if Lamar was a very fast runner but not much of a hitter or defensive outfielder during his days with the Yankees. Neither of his two Yankee Managers, Wild Bill Donovan or  Miller Huggins played him much during the 1917 and ’18 seasons and the kid averaged less than .230 in the Yankee action he did experience. That explains why Huggins did not invite Lamar to the Yankees’ 1919 spring training camp but he showed up anyway. Not wanting to disrespect a returning soldier, Huggins let him stay and brought him north with the team, but only for a short while. On June 10, 1919, Huggins ended Lamar’s Yankee career by putting him on waivers. The Red Sox picked him up immediately and he managed to hit .291 for Boston during the second half of the 1919 season. He was then traded for an International League outfielder and it would take Lamar another five years before he actually got a regular job as a big leaguer. That was in 1924, when he joined Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s as a 27-year-old left-fielder.

Lamar hit .330 in 1924 and then an even more robust .356 in 1925 with 202 hits. It looked as if his train had finally arrived at the station. But Lamar had also developed a propensity to party. In fact, his nickname was “Good Time Bill.”  His batting average and his playing time dropped in ’26 and even though he was hitting .299 at the time, Lamar was put on waivers by the A’s in early August of the 1927 season. accompanied by rumors that he had a difficult time complying with Connie Mack’s team rules. The Senators immediately picked up his contract but that’s when Lamar started getting a bit too cute. The Washington newspapers had played up the fact that the newest Senator would be starting in the outfield in an upcoming series against the Yankees. He decided to try and leverage the anticipation of Washington fans for his arrival into a bonus for reporting  from the famously tight-fisted Senators’ owner Clark Griffith. How’d that little ploy turn out for “Good Time Bill?” He lost the balance of his salary for 1927  and he never again played in a big league came.

Much of the information used for this post came from an article about Lamar, written by Bill Nowlin, as part of the SABR Baseball Biography Project. You can find that article online, here.

1917 NYY 11 42 41 2 10 0 0 0 3 1 0 2 .244 .244 .244 .488
1918 NYY 28 119 110 12 25 3 0 0 2 2 6 2 .227 .267 .255 .522
1919 NYY 11 18 16 1 3 1 0 0 0 1 2 1 .188 .278 .250 .528
9 Yrs 550 2203 2040 303 633 114 23 19 246 25 86 78 .310 .339 .417 .755
PHA (4 yrs) 425 1818 1678 263 539 101 22 19 223 18 73 63 .321 .350 .442 .792
NYY (3 yrs) 50 179 167 15 38 4 0 0 5 4 8 5 .228 .263 .251 .514
BRO (2 yrs) 27 47 47 7 13 4 0 0 4 0 0 1 .277 .277 .362 .638
BOS (1 yr) 48 159 148 18 43 5 1 0 14 3 5 9 .291 .314 .338 .652
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/13/2014.

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