P is for Plank
The arm of the A’s;
When he tangled with Matty
Games lasted for days.
– Lineup for Yesterday by Ogden Nash
Though he was known as Gettysburg Eddie, his real name was Edward Stewart Plank. He was a hero to many, but not because he had fought and survived on Gettysburg’s battlefield.
Gettysburg Eddie fought on a different battlefield. He held a mound of earth surrounded by a diamond-shaped field. He held it week after week, year after year, and he did it by hurling a baseball.
Gettysburg Eddie was the first left-handed pitcher in baseball history to win 200 games and then the first to win 300 games. Even today, he has the third-most wins among left-handed pitchers—326—and ranks 11th among all pitchers.
Plank was born on August 31, 1875, on his family’s farm north of Gettysburg in Straban Township. Like many young boys, he took up the game of baseball as a favorite summertime activity to play with his friends. He would practice his pitching by throwing a baseball against a hay stack propped up against the wall of the barn, all the time working for greater accuracy and speed with his pitches. He brought together his brothers and friends to form the Good Intent Baseball Team and through hard work, they became the best team in Adams County, thanks in no small part to Plank’s pitching.
As a young man, he attended Gettysburg Academy, a prep school for Gettysburg College. Even though he never attended or graduated from the college, he did play for the college’s baseball team from 1900 to 1901, which could be considered where he began his illustrious career.
One particular college game changed his life. Charles Albert “Chief” Bender was a popular college pitcher at Dickinson College who had an impressive win streak. Plank faced him in 1901 in a game that went 15 innings before Gettysburg College emerged the victors. Connie Mack, owner of the Philadelphia Athletics, was in the stands watching the game at the request of Gettysburg Coach Frank Foreman. Impressed with the pitching during the game, Mack signed both pitchers. Bender was sent to the minor league team and Plank was sent to Philadelphia to play in the majors.
Plank grew to adulthood at the same time baseball was growing into the game we know today. Though baseball was played in the late 1700s, nine-inning games didn’t become official until 1857. A pitching line of 60.5 feet didn’t become standard until 1893.
Until the year Plank was born, pitchers could only throw underhanded. The first sidearm pitches, a pitch Plank favored, were allowed in 1874 and overhand pitches came about 10 years later. Pitching rubbers came into being in 1893. A pitching rubber is also called the pitcher’s plate and is located on the pitcher’s mound 18 inches behind dead center of the mound. The mound slopes toward home plate from the pitching rubber.
Gloves didn’t become commonly used until the 1870s. Some players still played without gloves even in Plank’s early years of play.
Plank made his professional baseball debut on May 13, 1901, as a Philadelphia Athletic. The team had a mediocre 10-game opening to the season. Plank made his pitching debut while the Athletics were on the road, during which time the Athletics’ record began improving.
His debut in the Athletics’ hometown was in June 1901 during a game against the Detroit Wolverines. The field had been resodded and 11,000 visitors filled the stadium to capacity to root for their home team.
“Young Plank made his local debut and he was immediately installed a favorite by the spectators, who lent him all sorts of encouragement as the game progressed,” reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Plank held Detroit to only four hits and Philadelphia won the game 6-1.
Gettysburg Eddie played with the Athletics until 1914. During half of those years, he won more than 20 games in a season. He became known for his sidearm curve ball. He also took a long time between pitches, which some critics said extended the length of the games.
Plank’s pitching helped the Athletics win the World Series in 1911 and 1913. The Athletics defeated the New York Giants in both series (4 games to 2 in 1911 and 4 games to 1 in 1913). Plank would have been in three championship games except that his arm was sore in 1910 and he had to sit out the games. Following the 1913 series win, Plank was named the series’ most-valuable player for his winning performance against Christy Mathewson in the final game of the series.
Following the win, the town of Gettysburg threw a banquet in honor of its favorite son in November. During the banquet, Judge S. McC Swope told Plank, “Eddie, we are glad you were born here. You are a credit to the town. There is not a hamlet in these Unites States however small that does not know the name of Eddie Plank and where he is from.”
In 1915, Plank became a St. Louis Terrier in the Federal League. He won 21 games that season, which would be his last 20-plus win season.
The following two years Plank played for the St. Louis Browns until he retired after the 1917 season ended at the age of 41. For the winningest southpaw in the game, Plank lost his final game 1-0, pitching against Walter Johnson.
Plank’s career stats were 326 wins, 194 losses, a 2.35 earned run average and 2,246 strikeouts. He pitched 69 shut-out games and 410 complete games during his career.
Plank had saved well during his professional career so that when he retired he and his brother, Ira, were able to open up the Plank Garage in 1923 at the corner of York and Stratton streets in Gettysburg.
Though asked to pitch in many area games, Plank declined all of the offers except the chance to pitch in the annual Gettysburg College varsity versus alumni game. His decision to pitch in this game may have been influenced by that fact that Ira, a future College Hall of Fame coach, was the varsity baseball coach.
Then in 1926, 50-year-old Plank suffered a stroke that paralyzed his left side and left him unconscious for most of the time. Plank died at home on February 24, a few days after his stroke, with his wife, Anna; 10-year-old son, Eddie Plank III; and two brothers at his bedside. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery on Baltimore Street.
The Philadelphia Inquirer obituary for him began this way:
“Eddie Plank is dead.
“Baseball’s greatest southpaw moundsman is dead. He struck out on one pitch of mortal man’s most vicious opponent, Death. A stroke of paralysis that maimed his left side and crippled his mighty left arm proved fatal early Wednesday afternoon. There was no comeback. It was not an extra inning game. It was a one-sided battle with the Grim Reaper playing the leading role against Eddie Plank, one time premier hurler of Connie Mack’s million-dollar Athletics, cast in a mediocre assignment that afforded no opportunity to display his courageous ability.”
Following his death, Gettysburg College honored its most-famous baseball player by naming the Eddie Plank Memorial Gymnasium during commencement week on June 7, 1927. The building contained a gymnasium, social center, armory and auditorium.
Plank’s impressive career left a long-lasting legacy years after his death.
In 1946, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and in 1999, The Sporting News ranked him as the 68th greatest baseball player in 1999. He was also a nominee for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
His Hall of Fame plaque reads: “Edward S. Plank. One of the greatest left-handed pitchers of major leagues. Never pitched for a minor league team, going from Gettysburg College to the Philadelphia A. L. Team with which he served from 1901 through 1914. One of few pitchers to win more than 300 games in big leagues. In eight of 17 seasons won 20 or more games.”