Down the rabbit hole with a long-dead ballplayer

Jim McLaughlin as a Pacific Coast League player in the 1920s.

I’ve recently acquired the 1932 set of APBA baseball cards, and while going through them, I found a very interesting story.

Apparently the St. Louis Browns of ’32 had a third baseman named Jim McLaughlin (I stopped for a second because I have a friend with the same name.)

Turns out Mr. McLaughlin received a card for the Browns in that set, despite having just one plate appearance.

Also as it turns out, that was Jim McLaughlin’s only plate appearance in the major leagues.

In the bottom of the seventh inning of a 14-7 loss to Detroit on April 18, 1932 at Navin Field, McLaughin – a St. Louis native who somehow found his way to the Browns after six years in the Pacific Coast League – went in at third for Red Kress (who had gone 0-for-4 and had just struck out to end the inning) and in his only at-bat, drove in St. Louis’ final run on a ninth-inning groundout off Tiger pitcher Whit Wyatt.

That was it. He never played again in the majors or (apparently) the minors.

One at-bat on a Monday afternoon in Detroit at the age of 30. A groundout. An RBI. A lopsided loss.

McLaughlin had a pretty good record in the PCL: He was a lifetime .299 hitter, but his career was interrupted (by what, we don’t know) a couple of times. He played for Sacramento in 1924 and 1925 (that’s him pictured, above, in a Sacramento uniform), then disappeared in 1926 and 1927 before re-surfacing and hitting .310 with 10 homers for the Senators in 1928. He was a regular in Sacramento until 1931, but doesn’t seem to have played in 1932 before appearing on the roster of the Browns early that season.

I’m intrigued by this guy I had never heard of until 15 minutes ago. How did he come to be with the Browns? (As you probably know, the Brownies were bad, but not unprecedentedly bad. They finished sixth in 1932 and had finished fifth the year before with an identical 63-91 record.) What was he doing in 1932? Why did his career have a break in 1926 and 1927? And why was he out of the game at 30?

Jim McLaughlin died on December 15, 1968 at the age of 66 in Mount Vernon, Illinois and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery. He’s not even a footnote in the history of baseball. But he has an APBA card and, as of now, someone interested in finding out about him.

EDIT: We do know more now! Baseball umpire Perry Barber wrote in with some background:

“Jim McLaughlin was my great-uncle by marriage on my mother Jaqueline Perry Waite’s side of the family. My mother’s maternal aunt, Gladys Perry (whose family name is my first name) was married to Jim until his death from a heart attack in 1968. Prior to his lone big-league appearance with the Brownies in April of 1932, great-uncle Jim spent most of his professional playing career (1925 – ’32) as a third baseman for the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League, playing alongside Stan Hack, Dolph Camilli, Specs Shea, and others who went on to major league assignments. After his baseball career wound down, Jim became an appellate court clerk and also ran unsuccessfully for public office in Mount Vernon, the small town in southern Illinois from which my great-aunt Gladys hailed. I love telling people about him, that his lone at-bat stands with Moonlight Graham’s appearance as one of baseball’s beautiful oddities.”

There you have it! The power of the internet!

Kenn Tomasch

Kenn Tomasch