HooHaa 9: Fred Odwell
‘Tis been a long time since I’ve added a player to the HooHaa 9, an historic baseball team I’ve been working on for a while now. The idea of the team is to find little-known players who played the game many years ago.
It’s time to add an outfielder to the mix. He’s also one who has some local significance to my area, though I didn’t know that for quite some time.
It’s a bonus that I can add an outfielder with a little bit of power to the team, too.
When I first started this project many months ago, I was discussing it with one of my good friends and fellow baseball junkie, Marc. He noted that one of the towns close by had an historic sign about a baseball player born and raised there. Not only that, this player actually saw a small bit of fame with the Cincinnati Reds.
Could this be?
I had a little bit of shock that I hadn’t heard about this player. I dug into things and soon found Fred Odwell, who was born, raised and later died in the hamlet of Downsville, which is part of the town of Colchester in Delaware County, New York.
His major league career went from 1904-07, all with the Reds. He even led the league in a certain power category one year, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Odwell was born Sept. 25, 1872 in Downsville, the son of John T. and Sarah (Terwilliger) Odwell, according to the 1880 Census report. That report also noted John had been born in Scotland.
According to other Census reports, Odwell had five siblings — Elizabeth Mary (1865-1867), Thomas L. (1868-1887), John G. (1871-1900), George Bassett (1877-1970) and Kathryn Mary (1880-1967).
Not much is known about Odwell, outside of his baseball career, short as it may have been. But, between items at the Colchester Historical Society and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and a few online baseball statistic sources, a picture can be drawn of Odwell.
With records from that time in history hard to come by, Census reports and newspaper clippings were about the lone things keeping track of some people. Even at that, an obituary for the person was about as much of a historical reference as possible.
Let’s take a look at Odwell’s baseball career, first.
According to Baseball-Reference.com and a few other printed resources, Odwell’s minor-league career began in 1897 in Wilkes-Barre (Pa.), where he played in 72 games, hitting .287 with four homers. He also pitched that season, going 6-24 with a 3.06 ERA in 35 games.
The following season, he played with Rome (N.Y.) and Wilkes-Barre and in 1899, he split time between Wilkes-Barre and Montreal.
In 1900 and 1901, he spent the bulk of his time with Montreal, where he seemed to get into stride with his hitting, He batted .287 in Montreal in 1900 and followed that up with a .298 average in 1901.
His 1903 season in Louisville could be the season that really helped him get noticed. He hit .318 with eight homers, 19 triples and 12 doubles. He went 171-for-538 with 99 runs scored in 140 games. He also played quite well in the field, having a .960 fielding percentage in the outfield.
He earned a spot – at the age of 31 — on the Reds in 1904 and he showed he could play at baseball’s highest level.
In 129 games, Odwell went 133-for-515 (.284) with 58 RBIs and 75 runs. He also had 22 doubles and 10 triples as one of the Reds’ outfielders.
Toward the end of the 1904 season, a story was written about Odwell. The story, which is in the Baseball Hall of Fame records, doesn’t have a place where this article came from.
It shows, however, the difference in writing style between 1904 and present day.
Well, they are coming to a thorough realization of the value of Fred W. Odwell as a ball player, just as I said would be the case once he was given a chance to show what he could do in major league circles!
The 1905 season would, in some ways, be one of Odwell’s finest in his short major league career. Despite career highs in games (130) and at-bats (521), Odwell’s average dipped heavily as he only had 113 hits and finished with a .241 average.
Still, it was his power surge that set Odwell’s place in history for the Reds.
He hit nine homers that season, good enough to lead the National League. His ninth and final home run of his career came on his last at-bat of the 1905 season. That home run also pushed him past teammate Cy Seymour, robbing Seymour of the Triple Crown.
Odwell lost his spot in 1906 and went back to the minors, where he hit .306 for Toledo, where he also had five homers.
He returned to the Reds that season and finished with a .223 average in 58 games.
A local story, which I believe is from the Walton Reporter (The Hall of Fame and Colchester Historical Society each have this story, but neither seems to have the source), had a short blurb about Odwell on July 7, 1906. The writing is truly from that time in history and I wanted to share the full blurb.
Fred Odwell is not yet murdering the ball, but the old boy is showing his spikes and a surplus of Pulliams to many another outfielder. He has out-batted such good leather-rappers as Fred Tenney, Otis Clymer Dan McGann, George Browne, Bill Dahlen, Doolin, Jim Slagle, Harry Dolan and a regiment of others. Charlie Dooin, Phil Lewis, Joe Tinker and Louis Ritter also show averages that look like oysters in the soup at a ten-cent lunch house. When you come to look the field over, Odwell, the Hustler, is a rosy cheeked peach in comparison with other if the fruit on exhibition. The fans always know that Odwell is trying to give 100 per cent value in every inning of the game.
That’s classic stuff. And it shows some people were firmly behind Odwell.
Odwell’s final season came in 1907, when he hit .270 in 94 games with the Reds. He had five doubles and seven triples with 24 RBIs.
Though his major league playing days were done, he held on for several more years at the minor-league level, playing for Columbus from 1908-1911.
His final baseball season appears to have been in 1912, when he played for Marion. However, records with the Baseball Hall of Fame show he was signed by Columbus in April, then signed by Marion at the end of May. From there, he was sold to Columbus in July, but no statistics seem to be there. A month later – in late August – it also shows a transaction of Odwell being sold to Columbus.
Finally, in 1913, the Hall’s transactions show Odwell being signed by Albany (N.Y.) in May, only to be suspended at the end of the month. That appears to be it for Odwell.
Back then, there weren’t a ton of baseball cards. Many back then were done by tobacco companies.
I have one Odwell card, but it’s a reprint. It’s the 1911 Mecca Double. The card features Odwell and Jerry Downs.
The front of the card is Downs and, on the back, is half Odwell and the other half statistics. The Odwell half flips over to make him the front portion of the card and have the card be smaller.
A search of Beckett’s website shows Odwell has six cards from the early 1900s, but they probably aren’t the easiest to find at this time.
Following his career, Odwell appeared to stay with the game at the local level, coaching and managing semi-pro teams.
According to an article in the Downsville News (no date), Odwell was a successful Real Estate Broker for many years, until being appointed postmaster by President Roosevelt in 1933.
He held that post until his death in 1948.
From his obit:
Odwell, although not a frequent hitter, smacked the ball for long rides in the days when extra-base hits wee a rarity.
Odwell is buried in Downsville’s Paige Cemetery.
To see the other players who have been featured in the HooHaa 9, click here.
Special thanks go out to the Colchester Historical Society and the Baseball Hall of Fame for allowing me to peek through the files each has on Fred Odwell.
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