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Philadelphia Baseball Ghosts: Harry "Socks" Seibold

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Some men just don't know when to give up. Others are named "Socks." One man was both.

Image c/o Fine Art America

For many players, Philadelphia becomes merely a second home. What we aim to do with the "Philadelphia Baseball Ghosts" series is take a look at those whose journeys began within Philadelphia city limits before they set off on their grand baseball adventure somewhere else in the vast, horrible world. In our first edition, we looked at William "Yank" Robinson.

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Name: Harry "Socks" Seibold

DOB: May 31, 1896

What was happening in Philadelphia at the time: The Phillies were having a great old 62-68 season, which is undoubtedly the impetus behind a six-hour visit to the city from  Viceroy Li Hung Chang, an ambassador to the Chinese emperor, which likely resulted in all sorts of bootleg merchandising and road/business closures. He may have also been attracted to Philadelphia in order to witness one of its many fires.

In 1896 Philadelphia, a fire destroyed the Merion Cricket Club; an experimenting mad scientist started a chemical fire in his lab; a tobacco dealership caught fire; a four-story department store caught fire; a Pennsylvania Railroad passenger station caught fire; a box factory caught fire. By the end of the year, a barrel fire was elected mayor and it promised to make the city even more welcoming to huddled groups of hobos.

Oh, and they found the gargantuan skeleton of a mystery beast in Pemberton's Stone Quarry accompanied by a human skull:

"Workmen... uncovered a cavern, which ‘ran back underground some thirty feet.'  At the cave or tunnel's end, ‘stood a skeleton,' which was ‘not unlike a mammoth,' with 'four great tusks' and a number of large teeth, along with a bones lying nearby, which ‘looked like a human skull.'"

MLB career: 1916-17 (Philadelphia Athletics), 1919 (Athletics), 1929-33 (Boston Braves)

Bio: Maybe the reason "Socks" Seibold was so angry was that he was a grown man who everyone called "Socks." Or maybe it was because any flashes of success he'd have in ancient baseball were nullified by stretches of sad tromboning.

Socks' distinction comes in the form of the sheer number of times he abandoned the sport he loved. The gaps in his career weren't determined by injury, they were determined by more era-appropriate issues, like "sucking" or "World War I." Entering baseball as a shortstop, Socks worked his way into the A's lineup and hit .115 for a team that lost 108 games. He really improved as a shortstop, however, when he changed positions and became a pitcher, throwing what he called a "five-cent curve," which may not sound very valuable, but you have to remember that prior to 1900, a nickel was enough money to purchase the moon from Old Man Higgins down the street, who had claimed ownership because he saw it first. Unfortunately, Socks wasn't a legendary pitcher, either, and he also did not acquire the moon. After the 1919 season, he decided he wasn't going to waste anymore pitches for a team that was about to collapse under the weight of its own suckage.

Socks then burrowed into the minors and semi-professional leagues meandering around the Philadelphia area, as well as the west coast. He eventually wound up with the lazily monikered Oakland Oaks, with whom he earned a reputation that many would agree was "quite bad." According to the Oakland Tribune, he was accused of "stepping to the mound occasionally to help the enemy increase their batting averages."

Popping back up almost ten years after his last pro appearance in 1919, Socks returned from his second stint of what he kept calling "retirement" but what was clearly "rage quitting." In 1928, he wound up as one of five players traded to the Boston Braves from the Cubs, whose minors he had wormed his way into at the time, in exchange for Rogers Hornsby. He continued to take the mound because no one stopped him until he was 37 years old, with a career ERA of 4.43 and a beggarly -0.2 WAR.

Socks got into managing after his playing career in 1933, receiving a job with the 1948 Seaford Eagles, and did what ex-players hired to manage traditionally do to this day, which is run their team into a sixth-place finish and then leave.

What a letter indicating Socks Seibold's attempt to return to baseball after retiring, again, probably looked like:

Hey, Skip

How are you? It's been a long time - too long, I think we'd both agree. Hey, whatever happened to that thing you were doing? That all work out? How are the kids? Most of the children I know are dead from typhus. But I remember your boy, a stout lad, with his hand consistently in a tin of doctor-prescribed "health grease" so I am sure he had built up a strong enough immunity to survive any contact with the flying squirrel saliva that is at the root of the sickness.

Anyway, I am writing to you at this time to inquire about possible employment. I know when last we spoke I said a great many things, cursing both you personally, your son, and the sport of baseball. To be honest, baseball is and always has been the "leisure of fools with bowels for brains" as I explained in a previous correspondence, but I find myself inexplicably drawn back to compete. Some say it's indecision on my part, but I prefer to think of it as athleticism. Curse my natural athleticism!

And so, I am wondering if your squad has a need for a hurler of my skill and stature. I realize the last time we had this conversation, I assured you my quitting days were behind me, and you could count on me for a full season. I also realize that you may be questioning the legitimacy of my pursuit, seeing as it was not long after my assurances that I scorned our team by disappearing without a trace, taking with me not only the heart and soul of the team, but any libations I was able to discover in the clubhouse through several minutes of frantic searching.

But this time, I assure you, I know this is the game I was meant to play. It's going to take more than a bad start and 108 losses and a bout of typhus to get this pitcher down, I can tell you that much.

Socks Harry

PS - Is there a way to prevent typhus? We should look into this

Further reading on "Socks" Seibold:

Black Ball and the Boardwalk: The Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City, 1916-1929, by James Overmyer

Major League Baseball Players of 1916: A Biographical Dictionary, by Paul Batesel

The Braves Encyclopedia, by Gary Caruso

Native Sons: Philadelphia Baseball Players who Made the Major Leagues by Rich Westcott, Bill Campbell