Russell Holmes — Gloversville’s Fenway Park connection
“He was the Bullpen Catcher in the summer of ’15, when long ago the Red Sox won it all! You won’t find him in the record books, he never took a swing, but he knew all there was to know about Babe Ruth’s curve ball,” are the first two lines from a song called “Free Once More” off the CD “Smokey Joe Wood Throw Back.”
The song was written and recorded by Gloversville native Mark Holmes in 2004 about his grandfather, Russell Holmes’ baseball career.
Russell E. Holmes (nicknamed “Bud”) was a journeyman professional baseball player who was born in 1891 in Catskill and grew up in Gloversville as part of the R.E. Holmes Lumber family that owned and operated a lumber business in Bleecker and Gloversville.
Holmes learned the family lumber business and played football, basketball and baseball for Gloversville High School. He was the captain and manager of the Gloversville Nine baseball team graduating in 1910.
After high school, Holmes immediately started playing for the Danforth’s semi-pro team that played its games at A. J. & G Park/Parkhurst Field in Gloversville. He was with them for the 1910, 1911 and start of the 1912 season and helped them win the Central New York Championship in 1910.
Holmes tried out for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics in the spring of 1912.
After a few days working out with the team, they were in Newark N.J. for an exhibition game and Holmes was put in to play third base as a substitute for future baseball hall of famer Frank “Home Run” Baker.
Six months prior, Holmes had watched Baker at the Polo Grounds in New York account for all three runs scored against Christy Matthewson to win Game 3 of the 1911 World Series for the Athletics.
Holmes didn’t catch on with the Athletics and they sent him to the Spartanburg club in the Carolina Association.
While the records aren’t available as to his playing time that season, he would spend the 1913 and 1914 seasons with Newburgh in the New York-New Jersey League.
He lit up minor league pitching both seasons with a .357 batting average in 1913 and a .336 batting average in 1914. He began the 1915 season with Lewiston (Maine) in the New England League.
On opening day, Holmes went 4-for-4 with two home runs and two singles.
A scout for the Boston Red Sox was in the stands that day to watch a player on the other team and wired back to Boston suggesting they get Holmes before another big league club did. Although the Red Sox already had two catchers, they signed him and delegated him to the bullpen to warm up their pitchers with the intention that he would be available if any injuries took place to their regular catchers.
The staff of pitchers he warmed up and got to know included the legendary Babe Ruth (Ruth actually began his career as a pitcher and compiled 94 wins before becoming a position player), Ernie Shore and Smokey Joe Wood.
Also on the team that season were future hall of famers Herb Pennock, Harry Hooper and Tris Speaker.
According to Holmes, Speaker and his wife Mary would take him for Sunday afternoon drives in their Chalmer 30 Torpedo Roadster around the outskirts of Boston.
In 1915, owning a car was a real luxury and not many people (even major leaguers) owned them. Speaker received the vehicle for winning the 1912 Chalmers Award, which was given to the most valuable player in the both the American League and National League from 1911 through 1914.
While he never actually got into a game, Holmes did have a front row seat to most of the 1915 season and for the World Series that year in which they defeated the Philadelphia Phillies. It was that same series that Woodrow Wilson became the first U.S. President to attend a World Series game, and at the urging of Babe Ruth and his other teammates, the Red Sox included Holmes in the sharing of the team’s World Series earnings.
In January of 1916, the Red Sox sent Holmes a contract offering him $1,200 for the season. When he refused to sign and asked for an additional $100, they sent him to Buffalo in the International League. He split the 1916 season between Buffalo and Norfolk in the Virginia League. There, he played with and was roommates with future hall of famer Stanley “Bucky” Harris. He and Harris played together again during the 1917 season when their New York State League teams merged.
During their playing time together they developed a life-long friendship.
In fact, Holmes would give his only son Jack the middle name of “Stanley” in honor his former teammate. Holmes also attended Harris’ Hall of Fame induction in Cooperstown in 1975.
In April 1917, the United States entered World War I.
Shortly thereafter, Holmes left baseball to join his brother, Arthur, enlisting in the war effort. They were sent to France as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 5th Battalion 20th Engineer Regiment (forestry).
Both drew from their experience as Adirondack lumberjacks having grown up working for their father’s lumber company, to help the corps produce over 200 million feet of lumber to aid in building bridges, roads, tent poles/stakes and fighting trenches. Russell was honorably discharged as a sergeant in 1919, returned to Fulton County and married Mildred Hornett.
That season he played for both the local Sacandaga’s semi-pro team and another in Windsor, Vt., honing his skills to get back into professional baseball. He spent three more seasons in professional baseball with stops at Richmond in the Virginia League (1920), Morristown in the Appalachian League (1921) and with Danville in the Piedmont League in Virginia (1922). His first child was born in 1922 and at the end of the season he decided to return to Gloversville where he worked as a silk weaver and tanner and raised his family of three children; Dorothy, John (Jack) and Marjorie at 96 Sixth Ave. Although his professional career was over, his life in baseball was far from over. He would continue to play for, coach and umpire local semi-pro teams into the 1940s.
In 1986 when the Boston Red Sox reached the World Series, it was believed that he was the last surviving member of their championship teams of the pre-1920s.
When Holmes turned 100 years old in 1991, he received a letter from the Boston Red Sox (signed by the entire team) honoring him with the distinction of being the oldest living former member of their organization. Holmes was a lifelong member of the Foothills United Methodist Church, and at the age 97 moved to the Wells Nursing Home in Johnstown. He died on July 12, 1993 at the age of 102.
While he never fulfilled his dream of getting a major league at-bat, he played with and against many of the games early legends.
Holmes will be inducted into the Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame on July 10 at Parkhurst Field in Gloversville. The inductions will take place between innings of a vintage baseball game taking place between the Whatley Pioneers of Western Massachusetts and the A., J. & G. Team of Fulton County.
Mike Hauser is the founder of the Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame in Gloversville. If you have story ideas, old articles/photos or would like to nominate someone for the HOF, he can be reached through the organization’s website at www.fchof.com or at 725-5565.