One Game – One Inning
It had been a tough outing for Charley Robertson, pitcher. The Cleveland Indians had already scored four runs off him on nine hits and three walks on this beautiful baseball day at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, May 5, 1922. The score was 4 – 0, and the White Sox manager, “Kid” (William Jethro) Gleason, desperately needed a pitcher to stop the bleeding in the next inning. He sent in Eddie Mulligan to pinch hit for Robertson in the bottom of the sixth inning and peered into the dugout for a pitcher to take the mound in the top of the seventh. He saw Elmer Cox (at least that was what he thought his name was, his real first name was Ernest). Cox, a 28-year-old rookie had not been with the team that long, in fact, this was going to be his first appearance in a major league game – “Warm up kid, you’re going in.”
The White Sox had fallen into hard times. After making it to the World Series in 1919 and posting another great year in 1920, their best eight ball players had been banned from the game for life when the “Black Sox” game-fixing scandal story broke that year. Those ball players, among them “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and ace pitcher Eddie Cicotte, had taken money to lose the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. In 1921, with a bunch of replacements, the White Sox dropped to next to last place in the American League, beginning a span of fifteen years of finishing fifth or worse (they would not make it back to the World Series until 1959).
Ernest Thompson Cox, had been floating around the minor leagues for some time before getting a chance with the White Sox. Born in Birmingham, Alabama on February 19, 1894, he had won 25 games and lost only 11 in two seasons with the Charleston Sea Gulls of the South Atlantic League in 1916 and 1917. He also pitched in 14 games for the Richmond Colts of the Virginia League in 1919. While at Richmond he was a teammate of “Chief” (Charles Albert) Bender, legendary pitcher and future Hall of Famer. Bender was at the end of his career having won 212 games in the major leagues. He is credited with inventing the slider, known then as the nickel curve. In 1919, Bender had one of the greatest minor league records at Richmond, winning 29 games and losing only 2, with an earned run average of only 1.06 (giving up slightly over 1 run every 9 innings). One wonders how much of an influence Bender had on Cox, maybe he taught him how to throw a slider, but after a few years out of the game, now Cox was going to get a chance in the “Bigs.”
As he went out to the mound White Sox assistant coach, Johnny Evers (Hall of Famer), shouted encouragement, “Go get’em Elmer.” First up to bat was Indians second baseman, Bill Wambsganss. Wambsganss was not a great hitter, his claim to fame being he was the first (and only) fielder in World Series history to record an unassisted triple play. Fighting nerves, Cox walked him, not being pleased with several close calls by home plate umpire Billy Evans (another Hall of Famer). The next hitter was Tris Speaker (Hall of Fame). Speaker was one of the greatest hitters in the first half of the 20th century. With a career batting average of .345, the “Grey Eagle” still holds the major league record for most doubles at 792. Perhaps a little intimidated, none of Cox’s pitches came close to home plate. With runners on first and second, now he had to face Lou Guisto, pinch hitting for Stuffy McInnis who had been ejected from the game in the fifth inning by first base umpire Dick Nallin for arguing after being called out on a close play at the base.
Guisto hit a lazy fly ball in the spacious foul territory at Comiskey Park, an easy play for leftfielder Bibb Falk, but Falk dropped it for an error. With a second life, Guisto then lifted another fly ball that was caught by the more sure handed center fielder, Amos Strunk, but Wambsganss tagged and went to third. One out. On the next pitch, Speaker took off for second while Wambsganss sped home on a perfectly executed double steal. One run in. Indians shortstop Joe Sewell (born in Titus, Alabama and another Hall of Famer) grounded out to second base. Two outs. Indians third baseman Larry Gardner then singled, driving in Speaker from second base. Two runs. Gardner then stole second but “Smoking Joe” Wood, the Indians right fielder (another Hall of Famer) then popped out in foul territory to the catcher for the third out. Final tally in the inning – 2 walks, 1 hit, 2 runs, 3 stolen bases and 1 error (and 5 Hall of Famers).
And that was it. Cox never played in another major league game. One inning, maybe 10 minutes total with an element of bad luck. If Falk catches the foul ball, Wambsganss stays at second, there is no double steal, Sewell then grounds into a double play, inning over, career not over. That’s baseball, that’s the breaks. Cox returned to live the rest of his life in Birmingham, dying at the age of 80 in 1974. He is buried at the Forest Hills Cemetery, there is no mention of his major league “career” on his tombstone.