Charlie Bennett- Lost and Almost Forgotten Star
Charlie Bennett was born on November 21.1854 in New Castle, Pennsylvania with the full name of Charles Wesley Bennett.
His parents were Silas and Catherine (Nickols) Bennett. His father was a tinner and operated a hardware store When not playing baseball, Charlie helped his father in his shop.
His first time in organized baseball started with the Neshannock team in the Pennsylvania League. He played for them from 1874-1876 and reportedly “broke the directors because of the number of balls knocked into the river.”
Charlie began as an infielder at second, third and shortstop before his time a catcher. Bennett was one of the first to get right behind the batter as a catcher and take his chance. He was more prepared to catch runners stealing.
George Creamer, Ned Williamson and Bennett signed with the Detroit Aetnas after the 1876 season.
Nineteenth century baseball historians don’t wait long to mention Charlie Bennett as one of the best as he was admired for his intense toughness and true love of the game. He was one of the most durable and best defensive catchers during an era when catchers lacked the benefit of large padded catcher’s mitts and modern protective equipment. He often played through injuries and took the punishment that resulted in battered hands, mashed fingers, and broken ribs in a manner that honored the game and the catching profession.
Also, there was a tragedy that ended his career that Charlie handled in a dignified way and caused players and fans to elevate his to a near sainthood status.
In 1878, he signed in the National League with the Milwaukee Grays and made his major league debut on May 1, 1878 in a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Avenue Grounds in Cincinnati. His team lost but Bennett went 2-for-4 in the game. In the next game, he attempted to catch again and in the fourth inning his hands gave out and he moved to center field. His hands would give him issues all season.
He was still young and not yet known as a catching superstar. He had some good and bad moments such as making seven errors in one game and getting released. But he came back from that and played well.
Bennett was in 49 games with him at catcher in 35 of them and he added one home run with 12 runs batted in.
In 1880 Worcester was admitted to the National League and became known as the Ruby Legs. That season, Bennett played in 51 games, 46 as a catcher, and hit .228 with 18 RBIs.
Bennett caught the first perfect game in major league history on June 12, 1880.
Charlie Bennett met Alice Spears from Vermont and they got married in 1882. She and Charlie developed the first chest protector worn by catchers. Alice was always worried about Charlie’s safety in catching fastballs and block curves and reaching for foul balls. Charlie Bennett wore he chest protector under his jersey to fend off taunting by the fans.
According to baseball historian Peter Morris, Bennett took the first recorded “curtain call” in baseball on Opening Day of 1881. After hitting a home run off Buffalo’s Jack Lynch, Bennett was “loudly applauded, and the crowd would not desist until he bowed in acknowledgment.”18 While the home run had little impact on the outcome of the game, the Wolverines lost 6-5, the fans’ tribute to Bennett was a foreshadowing of the special relationship he would have with Detroit and its baseball fans.
In 1882, he led the Detroit Woverines with a .301 batting average and a .45- slugging percentage in 84 games and 65 behind the dish. He led the National League with 446 putouts and was near the top o WAR with 4.2 as a catcher.
Bennett’s ability to play through pain was on full display during the Wolverines’ 1887 World Series against the American Association champion St. Louis Browns. Initially ruled out of the series by a doctor who feared he would be in danger of having his thumb amputated if he caught another game, Bennett was determined to play. Playing with “a pair of hands that could hardly grip the bludgeon,” Bennett performed admirably.26 In 42 at-bats, he hit .262, had two doubles, a triple, five stolen bases, and a team-leading 9 RBIs. Behind the plate, he held Arlie Latham and the other Browns base stealers in check as the Wolverines won the series 10 games to 5.
Most of Bennett’s contemporaries admired his ability to play through pain and injuries especially his hands
There is a book written by Peter Morris which is called,”Catcher: How the Man Behind the Plate Became an American Folk Hero”. Doctors advised him to quit but he continued to play and had antiseptic and gauze on the bench.
On Jasnuary 10.1894, his career ended as he and former teammate John Clarkson were on their way to a hunting trip. As they head to out, Bennett stepped off the train to talk to an old friend an as they said goodbye, the train began moving. Charlie Bennett
Bennett turned to catch the railing of the train, but his foot slipped and went over the rail. Bennett pushed his right leg against the rail to push himself back, but it also slipped and went over the track. The train’s wheels ran over his left foot and right leg at the knee.
He had to have both legs amputated
The a from his nephew had this to say:
“Five doctors worked on him. It was the blackest day of my life. His physical condition was so good that ten days later they were able to move him the 18 miles through zero degree weather to our home where we nursed him back to health.”
On April 28, 1896, the Detroit Tigers of the Western League opened their new ballpark, named Bennett Park in tribute to Bennett.
Charlie Bennett finished with a modest set of numbers in 15 years which included 55 home runs, 533 RBI’s and a .256 batting average. He was noted as a defensive first receiver in the major leagues.
He died at his home on February 24, 1927 at the age of 72 He and his wife had no children. He was buried at Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit.
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