Bedford Bill

Bill Rariden, with Cincinnati

Bill Rariden, with Cincinnati

I’ve spent a little time telling you about the players on my fantasy team. First I give you a short introduction to Vin Campbell. Then I did a little piece on Johnny Lush. I don’t intend to do every player, but I did find a few more that I consider interesting so I plan on passing along some information on a handful more. This time it’s my backup catcher.

William Rariden came out of Bedford, Indiana (hence the “Bedford Bill” nickname) to the Major Leagues. He was born there in February 1888. His father, like Campbell’s, was a doctor and Bill Rariden grew up in a middle class environment. He was good at baseball and in 1907 made the Class B minor league team in Canton, Ohio. He remained there through 1908, although the team changed leagues, and found himself was purchased by the Boston National League team, the Doves (now the Atlanta Braves) in August of 1909. He remained in Boston through 1913.

He wasn’t much of a hitter (his highest batting average while in Boston was .236 in 1913) but he was an excellent defensive catcher for the era. In 1914 he jumped to the newly formed Federal League joining Benny Kauff as a mainstay of the pennant winning Indianapolis team. He remained with the Feds until the league folded after the 1915 season. While there he established himself as the finest defensive catcher in the new league.

With the folding of the Feds, Rariden was picked up by the New York Giants and settled in as their primary catcher. His career year (other than the Federal League years) was 1917 when he hit .271 and helped the Giants to their first pennant since 1913 and a World Series date with the Chicago White Sox.  Rariden was superb in the World Series, hitting .385 with two runs scored on five hits (all singles), but became primarily known for a fielding gaffe that turned into a key play in the Series. In game six with Eddie Collins (who happens to also be on my fantasy team) on third, Happy Felsch hit a come backer to Giants pitcher Rube Benton. With Collins down the line, Benton threw to Giants third baseman Heinie Zimmerman. Collins dashed home, Zimmerman tossed to Rariden, Collins stopped and ran back toward third. Rariden pursued him close to third then flipped the ball to Zimmerman. Collins, seeing the ball go back to third and noting Rariden was away from home and the pitcher was standing on the mound instead of at home, dashed back toward home, raced passed Rariden and came home with Zimmerman chasing him to no avail. It was the first run in the critical game and the play became the most talked about play of the Series.

Rariden played one more year, 1918, at New York, didn’t have much of a year, and was traded in February 1919 to the Cincinnati Reds. As the primary backup catcher, he got into another World Series, again against the White Sox. He got into five games, picking up four hits and two RBIs as the Reds won the Series in eight games against the infamous Black Sox.

He played one more season, 1920, hitting .248, and participating in the last triple header in Major League history. The games occurred at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh on 2 October. Rariden played in game three. After the season the Reds let him go. He played a couple of years in the minors, one as a player-manager, and retired. He lived on a farm in Bedford, then opened a service station in town. He died in August 1942.

For his career, Bill Rariden had a triple slash line of .237/.320/.298/.618 with 682 hits in 982 games (including the Federal League years). He scored 272 runs, had 105 doubles, seven home runs, and 274 RBIs (not a lot of players get that runs to RBI ratio). He had an OPS+ of 81 and 8.7 WAR. During his Federal League years he led the league in several catching categories including both caught stealing and stolen bases allowed (you don’t see that very often).

Bill Rariden spent 12 years in the Major Leagues (including the Feds). During that time he played 982 games, or about 82 a season. That’s not a big number, but not a bad number for a catcher of the era. All in all, he was a fairly typical catcher for the Deadball Era.

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