Friday, August 26, 2011

Ray Farmer: Actual farmer (May not be actual farmer)

When I was a young'n and my oldest brother Phil was in high school, he and his friends took to calling me "Farmer Bill." I don't recall the exact reason, but I think it may have something to do with an old screen-printed T-shirt. Or maybe it was because my grandfather, a farmer, was named Bill, and at five years of age, I already resembled an old farmer. Or maybe it's because I was obsessed with big, loud things1 (like tractors) to the point where there's a photo of me in a miniature lawn chair watching my neighbors planting corn in the field across the road2.

Who knows where nicknames come from? Some names seem to be the product of a great namer in the sky, holding a pre-nicknamed divining rod over lists of names until they feel that unmistakable tug. But that doesn't make much sense. Then again, neither does anything I write. I digress...

Today's Great Name in Baseball is Robert Henry Ray, better known as Farmer Ray. Farmer was from Fort Lyon, Colorado, an unincorporated outpost in the foothills of the Rockies best known as a staging point for the Sand Creek Massacre4. Though there's no indication of it, Ray was almost certainly from an agricultural family, so there's no divining-rod mystery attached to his name. He was simply a farmer from a farm community whose baseball abilities took him all over the country in his twenties.

The good ol' Farmer first appeared in the Texas League in 1908, playing for both the Shreveport Pirates and Ft. Worth Panthers.

While his whereabouts in 1909 are not detailed and thus quite mysterious, the St. Louis Browns picked him up in 1910, which would turn out to be his only big-league season. He went 4-10 with a 3.58 ERA in that year, much worse than the Deadball Era average. As is well documented, the Browns if the Deadball Era were awful and 1910 was no exception: the team finished last in the American League with just 47 wins in 154 games. The team's leading hitter, Hall of Famer Bobby Wallace, batted a paltry .258/.324/.3235. A significant number of players on the roster were out of baseball after the season or a year or two after, including Farmer Ray, who had been merely a #4 starter on the worst team in the league.

In 1911, Farmer found himself playing for the Hartford Senators of the Connecticut State League, a league of surprising depth and good nomenclature. After 1911, Ray retreated to Texas, where he would spend (in order) two years with the Houston Buffaloes (Texas League), one with the Sherman Lions (Texas-Oklahoma League), one with the Sherman Hitters (Western Association) and his final season with the Denison Railroaders (Western Association). He generally found success in those leagues, though his stats from those years are incomplete.

After retiring from baseball in 1916, Farmer Ray abandoned his agrarian roots to work for Texaco, possibly in Electra, Texas, where he would die in 1963 at 76. Electra was the site of an oil discovery in 1911 and was growing around the time Ray hung up his spikes in nearby Denison6.

By random coincidence, Baseball-Reference's "Similarity Scores" rate Farmer Ray's Age-23 (and only season) as closest to the Age-23 season of one Oil Can Boyd. Maybe that divining rod was on to something.

But probably not.

1 I guess some things don't change. I still like things that are loud, big or both loud and big. Guess I should have been a civil engineer.

2 I was born, raised and played baseball in the rural Midwest. And yes, the pillars of my community congregated en masse mainly for basketball games, which, if I'm not mistaken, was where I was first referred to as "Farmer Bill." Which still doesn't make sense, because my name is not akin to "Bill" in any way. I blame a poor divining rod reading.

3 Not to be confused with (A) the character from World of Warcraft or (B) the main character of Field of Dreams, farmer Ray Kinsella3A. Both items are popular in google searches.

3A Not to be confused with Tim Kinsella.

4 The massacre has a disturbing parallel to several scenes from Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian," which is one of the great unheralded pieces of American literature. Read it, but know that it is not a pretty or a nice novel.

5 To be fair, Bobby Wallace is generally not considered a Hall of Famer on the basis of his bat; he batted .268/.332/.358, though he accumulated 2,309 hits over 25 years. Rather, he was considered one of the finest defensive infielders of his era. Perhaps this set a precedent for other past defensive wizards to find their way into the Hall and for some at least one active glove man to have a chance at enshrinement. The point remains that Bobby Wallace probably shouldn't have led too many teams in hitting.

6 This is of course just some basic detective work and conjecture on my part, albeit it's likely more accurate than some of my previous conjecture6A.

6A But please indulge me as I speculate further. Working in the oil fields, it's only logical (according to that one movie I saw that one time) that Farmer Ray became a mighty captain of industry. As such, he certainly had nearly limitless amounts of power. While his records were all destroyed after the notorious Milkshake Murder of 1919, at least one author thinks that he may have had Baseball's Murder Machine Ossie Schrecengost's information stored on his speed-telegraph.

1 comment:

  1. Many ballplayers have agricultural backgrounds so Farmer Ray may have just been a 'trendsetter'?
    Another interesting read.