Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Erratic Hurler Flint Rhem

Among the most talented hurlers ever produced by Clemson university, right-hander Flint Rhem told a Cardinal scout he would sign with the club for $3,000. Notoriously tight-fisted Manager Branch Rickey didn't want to pay the entire sum so he staged an elaborate ruse. Inviting the youngster to a tryout at Sportsman's Park, he arranged to have coach Joe Sugden catch batting practice and tip off hitters as to what pitches were coming. Despite being forewarned of Rhem's offerings, outfielder Ray Blades struck out three times. Future Hall of Famer Jim Bottomley produced a handful of weak grounders. Players complained that they weren't getting enough good swings as Rickey barked as Sugden: "Get him out of there or he'll be wanting five thousand!" Rhem made his Cardinal debut in September of 1924.

After compiling a 10-15 record in his first two seasons with ERA's well above four, Rhem finally hit his stride in 1926, leading the NL with 20 wins. He floundered after that until the Cardinals finally traded him in June of '32. A two-fisted drinker, Rhem was notoriously fond of the night life. He frequently showed up at the ballpark hung over and this produced some interesting anecdotes. On one occasion, he fell asleep in the bullpen and awoke with adhesive tape on his eyes (placed there by a mischievous teammate), prompting him to believe he had lost his sight. In another more infamous tale, Rhem showed up at the team's hotel during the heart of a pennant race in 1930 disheveled and reeking of alcohol. Scheduled to pitch that day, he told manager Gabby Street that he had been kidnapped by gamblers who planned to bet heavily against the team and forced to drink moonshine at gunpoint. Street didn't believe the story but he couldn't disprove it either, so no disciplinary action was taken. The Cardinals won the game (against the Dodgers) without him. Rhem later claimed he had never left the hotel though the story has become firmly embedded in baseball lore.

He was 15-9 in '32, but it was his last decent season. He went 5-14 the following year with a stratospheric 6.62 ERA. He was out of the majors after 1936 though he made multiple comeback attempts. With so much potential seemingly wasted, Rhem remains a cautionary tale against the evils of drinking. Sportswriter Bob Broeg commented that he "boozed away the greatness expected of him."     

No comments:

Post a Comment