Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the baseball urban legends featured so far.
BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: A baseball player who went missing for a couple of days claimed to have been kidnapped by gangsters.
When it comes to crazy excuses for missing work, most pale to the explanation that Cardinals pitcher Flint Rhem (1901-1969) had for being away from the team for a few days out of nowhere in the Cardinals 1930 season (a season which saw them make it to the World Series!).
As a young starter in 1926, Rhem helped the Cardinals win the World Series.
Early in his career, Rhem’s “duty,” of sorts, was to keep veteran legendary pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander company when Alexander would go on one of his famed benders (Rhem once joked that he would sometimes drink extra to keep the liquor away from Alexander, since Alexander was more important to the team).
In 1930, with Alexander gone, Rhem kept the memory of Alexander going, by drinking frequently. That same year, in late September, the Cardinals were in the thick of a pennant race with the Dodgers and the Braves when Rhem, who was having a decent season at the time, disappeared for two days and two nights!
When he finally resurfaced, he had quite a story to tell.
Some great big guys snatched me and blindfolded me and locked me up in a room in some stinking old hotel. They held a gun to my head and forced me to keep drinking whiskey until I passed out.
The Cardinals General Manager, Branch Rickey, believed him and the news made the headlines of all the major papers.
Shockingly, these dastardly gangsters were never caught.
Somewhat shockingly (for real), when they DID manage to win the pennant, the Cardinals more or less forgave Rhem (as I suppose talent makes lots of sins forgivable) and he pitched Game 2 of the World Series for the Cardinals. The Cardinals lost, but won the World Series the next season (Rhem was the odd man out of the rotation by that point).
Rhem’s career ended in 1936, in his third stint with the Cardinals (he left them after 1931, came back, left again, then came back again).
During the 25th Anniversary of the 1926 World Series victory, Rhem finally publicly admitted his hoax. Everyone was quite “shocked.”
The legend is…
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is email@example.com