Though there have been several Amsterdam natives who were good enough to play baseball at the minor league level, only three of them were able to make it to the big leagues. To emphasize just how difficult an achievement that is, the most recent Rug City native to make the majors was Steve Kuczek, who doubled in his first and only big league at bat with the Boston Braves on September 29, 1949. One week earlier, another Amsterdam native, pitcher Roger Bowman threw his first big league pitch for the New York Giants. So its going on 57 years that anyone from this city has made an actual game appearance as a major leaguer.
Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant had the distinction of being the very first Amsterdam-born big league player. His full name was Walter Charles “Jack” “Wobby” Hammond. He was born here on February 26, 1891 and became a legendary schoolboy athlete in this community. Based on reports that appeared in the local paper back then, he may have been a better basketball player than he was at baseball. He was a high scoring forward on the hardcourt back in the day when high scorers were extremely rare. He was also good enough at baseball though to still be called “the greatest player in Amsterdam school history” by legendary Recorder sports editor Jack Minnoch, three decades after he graduated. He was certainly good enough at each sport to letter in both when he played for Colgate University, where he captained the Varsity basketball team in his 1914 senior season.
His professional baseball career actually began before he entered Colgate during the summer after he graduated from Amsterdam High School in 1909. He was signed to play for the Worcester Busters, a New England League, Class B team based in that Massachusetts city. He waited till he left Colgate to continue his baseball career. In 1914, he returned to Massachusetts to play for the Springfield Ponies and became that team’s starting second baseman. He appeared in 126 games and led the team in hits and home runs.
That was good enough to earn him an invite to the Cleveland Indians 1915 spring training camp, where he made enough of an impression on Tribe manager Joe Birmingham to make the team’s Opening Day roster as Cleveland’s backup second baseman. His first big league appearance took place on April 15th, when he was inserted as a pinch-runner in the Indians’ second game of the season versus the Tigers in Detroit. His first hit came eight days later in Cleveland versus …
I’ve already started work on the second volume of “A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam Birthdays” and Jack Hammond’s complete story will be featured in it. I will be sharing the complete posts of some of the Volume II birthday celebrants in future issues of the Amsterdam Birthday Blog Newsletter. If you are not yet a newsletter subscriber, you can sign up for free here.