Ralph Buxton

by Bill Selnes©


Of the 7 born Saskatchewan born ballplayers who have played in the major leagues 6 are members of the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame. The missing member is Ralph Stanley Buxton. Some time ago I committed myself to finding out information on Buxton for his nomination.

Buxton, the first Saskatchewan born player to reach major league baseball, was born on June 7, 1914 in Rainton, Saskatchewan. The small community was located 75 miles southeast of Regina. Known as Buck for much of his career Buxton was listed at 5’11” and weighed 163 pounds. A photo can be seen on the web at http://www.sportsartifacts.com/aubuxton.JPG.

There is controversy as well over his birthdate. The June 7, 1914 date came from his playing records with the Oakland Oaks. Many other records state he was born on June 7, 1911. I am not sure of the competing sources of information. If Buxton was subtracting years from his real birthdate he joins a long list of athletes who have become younger so they are not perceived as too old. If the 1911 birthdate is correct Buxton pitched in professional baseball until he was 41. In this article I accept the 1914 date as correct.

Buxton attended high school in Long Beach, California lettering in baseball. He started his professional career with Ponca City in the Western Association.

He spent most of his professional career in the Pacfic Coast League where he played for 14 seasons between 1934 and 1952

While Buxton was a member of the Los Angeles Angels, PCL Champions, in 1934 he was best known as a member of the Oakland Oaks for whom he played 10 seasons.

Buxton reached the majors on September 11, 1938 when he was 24 years old. He appeared as a reliever in 5 games pitching 9 innings. While his ERA was 4.82 he did record 9 strikeouts.

Buxton returned to the PCL for the next 9 seasons.

On a website devoted to the Oaks Buxton’s player biography at the end of the 1940’s provides the following information:

“Boyhood idol: Babe Ruth; present day favorite: Ted Williams. Believes the Red Sox and Cardinals will cop major league pennants. Likes to fish and golf.

Born in Weber (presumably they mean Weyburn), Canada on July 4, 1914 (every other source says June 7). Had he been born in this country his nickname probably would have been "Firecracker." English descent. His parents were born in Canada .... Says the toughest thing in baseball is to get the ball over the plate in a windy park. He has practically all of the orthodox superstitions.”

In 1948, at 34, Buxton, playing with the Oaks, was one of the 9 old men who, led by legendary manager Casey Stengel, won the Pacific Coast Champtionship. Buxton was the winning pitcher in the Championship game and had a record of 13-3 during the season. It was a special year for the Oaks as it had been 21 years since they last won the Championship.

Buxton gained notoriety during the 1948 season for his use of pine tar. Decades before the George Brett pine tar episode Buxton became infamous for his use of pine tar.

San Francisco free lance writer Dick Meister described the incident and fallout in an article on Left O’Doul, at that time manager of the San Francisco Seals, as follows:

“Like every other manager in the league, O'Doul was certain that Stengel's star relief pitcher, Ralph Buxton -- nicknamed "The Cheater" -- was doctoring the ball with pine tar, but unsure of where he was hiding the stuff. Finally, O'Doul hit on it. ‘Look at his glove! The glove!’ O'Doul shouted to the plate umpire. And sure enough, there was the goop smeared all across the heel.

O'Doul demanded that Buxton be tossed from the game, but the umpire tossed out only the gooey glove, ordering Stengel to ‘get a new one for your pitcher.’

O'Doul took his protest all the way to the league president, demanding a forfeit of the game the Seals ended up losing 4-3 and touching off heated controversy on West Coast sports pages. But all the league did was suspend Buxton for ten days. Of course he used pine tar, Buxton admitted -- "but three of Lefty's pitchers use it, too."

O’Doul had waited until Buxton needed but one strike to end the game. In addition to the suspension the PCL ordered the inning to be replayed which resulted in a bizarre day. In late September of 1948 the Oaks went across the harbour to the Seals Stadium where the inning was replayed before a game the Seals were playing against Seattle. The Seals did not score in the inning and the Oaks won the game.

Buxton returned to the majors in 1949 with the New York Yankees. In that special season when the Yankees won a classic pennant battle with the Red Sox and then became World Series Champions Buxton pitched in 14 games where he had a 4.05 ERA and recorded 2 saves.

In consecutive years Buxton had been a member of Championship teams in the PCL and Major League baseball. Thereafter Buxton was known as “Pine Tar” Buxton.

In an exchange of e-mails Dick passed on a further story about Buxton:

“All I can add to my piece’s reference is this from Johnny Babich, the former Major League pitcher who was a coach with Oakland at the time:

‘Ralph Buxton — he used so much pine tar. He stuck it on his pants along the crease. All he’d do is rub his hands on his pants. He never used resin. He always used pine tar. He had it in his hip pocket all the time, which was a good deal because he used to throw the sinker and that’s the only way he could do it. Oh, what a relief pitcher he was. You could always count on old Buck.’

Kenny Rogers of the Detroit Tigers may be the current successor to “Pine Tar” Buxton. In last year’s World Series Rogers was detected with a substance next to the thumb on his throwing hand.

The St. Louis Cardinals were convinced it was pine tar. Rogers described it as dirt and removed the substance after he was checked by the home plate umpire.

In the American League Championship series the New York Times reported that the Yankee players were “incredulous at the way his pitches moved”. The New York Times has a photo of Rogers hand at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/24/sports/baseball/24series.html?ex=1319342400&en=a891c2b1dcc10ada&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss that is very convincing the substance was pine tar.

Buxton’s best pitch was described as a screwball. Maybe it would be more accurate to describe it as a pine tar ball. With the aid of pine tar Buxton was able to remain a professional pitcher for 19 seasons.

Charlie Metro, a teammate of Buxton, in his book Safe by a Mile said Buxton was not content to simply use pine tar. In addition to pine tar he said that:

“He also used a little bit of spit on his ‘out’ pitch. When he threw it, it was like throwing through rain.”

Thus a Saskatchewan born player was a skilled practitioner of the ancient baseball art of doctoring the baseball.

Ralph Buxton died on January 6, 1988 in San Leandro, California.

The above article was written by Bill Selnes, and published in the Melfort Journal (Saskatchewan, Canada) on April 29, 2007.

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