Friday, December 11, 2015

38-year old Reds rookie on 1957 Topps custom

In the days before the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement began scrutinizing foreign-born ballplayers' identification papers it was common for Latinos to take liberties with their birth dates.

To make themselves more attractive major league prospects they often promulgated a "baseball age" that was a few years younger than their actual age. If they made it in the majors, those missing years were generally recouped when it came time to apply for the players' pension benefits.

The player who is believed to hold the record for fudging his true age to make it to the majors was Pat Scantlebury, who got a cup of coffee with the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1956 as a "30-year-old" rookie. In fact, Scantlebury was eight years older when he made his big league debut.

Born in the Canal Zone, Panama, in 1917, Scantlebury was pitching for the national team by 1941. He came to the U.S. during World War II, pitching for the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues 1944-50. He appeared in or was named to the Negro Leagues' East-West All-Star games in 1946, 1948, 1949 and 1950.

He played winter ball in the Panamanian Winter League every season 1945-46 through 1963-64 except 1951-52, when he plied his trade in Mexico. He often distinguished himself in the Caribbean Series.

Here's a link to a good summary of Scantlebury's career:

In 1952, Scantlebury was traveling with the Roy Campanella All-Stars barnstorming tour. He pitched or played first base for the Negro League All-Stars that provided Campy's big-league aggregation with competition all over the South and West for the month following the World Series. 

The major leaguers were so impressed with him that at least three of them recommended him to their teams. Monte Irvin was the most persuasive, convincing the N.Y. Giants to purchase his contract from the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League for $10,000.

The book on Scantlebury was that he had good control, a lively fast ball and a deceptive delivery on his variety of breaking pitches.

He debuted in Organized Baseball with Texarkana of the Class B Big State League in 1953. He led the circuit in wins (24) and strikeouts (177). He was second in innings pitched (286) and led in hits allowed (314). He tied for second in the BSL with five shutouts and paced the circuit with 28 complete games (in 33 starts). 

Scantlebury won 20 games again in 1954, 18 for Dallas in the Texas League and two with the Havana Sugar Kings of the International League. He pitched the entire 1955 season with Havana, winning 13 and losing nine with a 1.90 ERA.

He was invited to the Redlegs' major league camp for spring training in 1956, and had such a good spring that he made the club. Scantlebury was on the mound in Cincinnati to start the second game of the season against St. Louis on April 19. He went five innings, giving up eight hits including home runs to Stan Musial and Bill Sarni. The Reds won the game 10-9, but Scantlebury was not part of the decision,

Five days later in St Louis he got the start and took the 3-5 loss, giving up seven hits including a three-run homer by Ken Boyer. 

When teams had to cut their rosters in mid-May, Scantlebury was sent out to Havana. He was recalled on July 25 and appeared in relief in two games before being sent down to Seattle in the Pacific Coast League. The six games in which he appeared with Cincinnati were the totality of his major-league career. Redlegs manager Birdie Tebbetts was quoted as saying he didn't buy the fiction of Scantlebury's age.

He spent five more years in the minors at the AAA level. Back with Havana in 1957 he was 12-15. In 1958-61 with Toronto he was 36-23, mostly as a reliever.

It's easy to see why Pat Scantlebury never appeared on a Topps card, but they took a nice photo of him early in the 1956 season. The photo looks to have been taken at Milwaukee County Stadium and has the "feel" of a 1957 Topps cards . . . so I made one.

Scantlebury did, however, have a pair of career-contemporary baseball cards during his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He appears in team sets issued in 1960 by Shopsy's Frankfurters and in 1961 by Bee Hive Starch. Both are hard to find today.

He can also be found in a couple of modern collectors' issues such as the 1986 Larry Fritsch Cards set of Negro League Baseball Stars.


  1. Bob Thurman was another Red from that time period that shaved some time off his age.

  2. Great to see a card of Scantlebury. Thanks for doing one. Just wonder why his last name is in a different font on the card front.


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