Friday, October 3, 2014

Zacher first to catch ball from plane?

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

I've presented accounts in this space (most recently on July 15-16) about stunts of late 19th and early 20th Century ballplayers catching -- or attempting to catch -- baseballs throw from great heights.

One much such story can't hurt.

In 1912 former major leaguer Elmer Zacher became one of the first -- his 1944 obituary claimed he was THE first -- players to catch a ball thrown from an airplane more than 300 feet in the air.

The feat made Page 1 news in the Feb. 18, 1912, issue of the San Francisco Call

Zacher's catch came amidst an aerial show that took place at Oakland's Aviation Field on Feb. 17. The air show featured all manner of stunt flying, wing walkers and other attractions that drew a crowd reported at 15,000.

According to the newspaper, Zacher and fellow Oakland Oaks outfielder Izzy Hoffman thrilled the crowd and "risked their heads and hands in a semisuccessful attempt to catch oranges and baseballs thrown by Lincoln Beachey at heights varying from 300 feet to 550."

Beachey was a nationally famed pioneer aviator and stunt flyer, who soared aloft in a Curtiss biplane to make the drops. The paper reported, "three nice ripe oranges spattered on the grass after a fall of more than 500 feet, and one baseball sank in the sod before Zacher succeeded in catching a ball tossed from 300 feet or more."

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Sept.17, 1880, Zacher graduated as a pharmacist from the University of Buffalo in 1904. 

That same summer he started in the pro game with Pottstown of the independent Pennsylvania League He played with Woodstock (Canadian) and Concord (New England) in 1905. He was with Worcester (also in the New England League) for 1906. In 1907 he moved up to Newark in the Class A Eastern League, then was with New Haven (Connecticut State) in 1908-09.

Zacher advanced to the major leagues when the New York Giants purchased his contract from New Haven on Aug. 22, 1909. He played only a single game with the Giants, in 1910, before being sold to the St. Louis Cardinals on May 8. It was reported in his obituary that he roomed with Christy Mathewson.

In 47 games with St. Louis, in the outfield and at second base, Zacher hit only .212, ending his big league career.

He was subsequently with Chattanooga (1911), Oakland (1911-14), Salt Lake City (1915), and, in 1916, with Newark, Elmira and Rochester ) He retired from pro ball after the 1916 season.

Zacher returned to Buffalo where he was employed by the city parks department from 1921-25, and 1927-44, rising to the rank of supervisor of city playgrounds. In 1926-27 he served as New York’s assistant Secretary of State. He died Dec. 20, 1944, after a four months’ illness.

With his lengthy career in the Pacific Coast League, Zacher appears in many of the regional sets of the 1910s, including the 1911 Obak cigarette card at top and the 1911 Zeenut candy card above.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments, criticism, additional information, questions, etc., are welcome . . . as long as they are germane to the original topic. All comments are moderated before they are allowed to appear and spam comments are deleted before they ever appear. No "Anonymous User" comments are allowed.