Brian Cooper. Ray Schalk: A Baseball Biography. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. Paper, $29.95.
Enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame are no less than thirteen pitchers and catchers who were batterymates at one time or another during their careers. It is a safe bet that only one author has written a pair of full-length biographies describing the lives and baseball careers of one such combo. The subject of Brian E. Cooper's latest work is Ray Schalk, long-time catching great for the Chicago White Sox. Cooper takes the diminutive, but fiery catcher from beginning to end in Ray Schalk: A Baseball Biography. In 2007, Cooper published a biography of Red Faber, the pitching teammate of Schalk and fellow Hall of Famer. The two met for the first time between the 1913 and 1914 baseball seasons as members of a White Sox contingent playing a series of games in preparation for a four-month, world-wide tour organized by Charles Comiskey, owner of the White Sox, and John McGraw, the irascible manager of the powerful New York Giants. Given the fact that Schalk and Faber played together for over fourteen seasons and became close friends for life, it seems fitting that Cooper should do the honors for both men in describing their illustrious playing careers.
The tale of Raymond William Schalk begins in 1892 with his birth to German immigrants who had settled in Harvel, a small village in downstate Illinois. A few years later, the family moved to nearby Litchfield, where at fifteen Ray filled in as a catcher for a local semipro team, quickly establishing a reputation for toughness that far exceeded his small size and youthful appearance. By 1912, just four seasons later and one day short of his twentieth birthday, that reputation had boosted him into the professional ranks. After a brief stint with Milwaukee's American Association franchise, Schalk was traded to the Chicago White Sox. The amount paid for Schalk, estimated at fifteen thousand dollars and players, seemed like a lot for a youngster teammates likened to a batboy, but it proved to be one of Comiskey's greatest steals. The White Sox owner would not again require a regular catcher for well over a decade. Schalk, nicknamed "Cracker" by his teammates, remained in the major leagues for eighteen seasons, all but one with the White Sox, including a term as player-manager beginning in 1927 and extending into the 1928 season. Over the course of Schalk's career he established several records for catching durability. When he retired in early 1929 he held the career record for catching appearances. In 1920 he caught in a then-record 151 of his team's 154 games. That is quite a feat of stamina for a man who stood 5'9" and weighed 165 pounds. While crouched behind the plate he would deftly handle pitching staffs that helped the White Sox to one World Series victory in 1917 and the brink of another in the scandal-marred World Series of 1919.
Author Brian Cooper takes us in chronological fashion through the scrappy catcher's life, peppering the story with news of the day culled from the many newspaper articles the author reviewed in researching the ballplayer's life. …