Friday, September 19, 2014

The Kidnapping Of Flint Rhem

The National League pennant race was hot when the St Louis Cardinals arrived in Brooklyn on September 15, 1930 for a three games series against the Dodgers at Ebbetts Field starting the next day.  The Cards had been on a torrid streak, winning 34 of their last 45 games and raising their record to 82-60 only a game behind league leading Brooklyn and only a half game in front of the Chicago Cubs. 

Cards manager Gabby Street had a problem on his hands due to the hand problem of Wild Bill Hallahan whose turn it was to pitch the next day.  Hallahan had caught a finger in the door of a taxi and told Street he couldn't pitch.  Gabby decided to move the next man in the rotation, Flint Rhem, a hard throwin' and hard drinkin' South Carolinian, up a day.  Rhem had been outstanding recently winning five in a row including his last start on September 12 beating the New York Giants 5-2 in probably his finest performance of the season.;0xw,0.1484375xh&resize=400:*(Mr Rhem)
The only problem his manager faced that evening was that Flint Rhem was nowhere to be found.  He'd disappeared, just like Judge Crater had vanished in nearby Manhattan only six weeks prior.  In desperation Gabby went to Wild Bill who agreed to give it a try.  It turned out to be quite a try.  The Cards won 1-0 in ten innings with both Hallahan and the great Dazzy Vance (see Dazzy Koufax for more on Vance) going the distance.  Hallahan was touched for only five hits; Vance gave up seven, striking out eleven and walking nobody.

The following day, almost 48 hours after his disappearance, Flint Rhem reappeared but in no condition to pitch.  No problem, the Cards won again and then beat the Dodgers once more on the 18th to sweep the series and leave with a two game lead, going on to win the pennant.

What happened to Flint Rhem?  Why, he'd been kidnapped by thugs who force fed him liquor to prevent him from pitching against the Dodgers!

According to the Sabr Bioproject  biography of Rhem a wire service story devoted to Flint's shocking tale appeared on September 19;

 “Rhem, who through his diamond career has never been celebrated as an ardent prohibitionist, failed to appear at the Cardinals’ local headquarters [before a game in Brooklyn] on Monday night. Last night, however, he returned and faced ‘Gabby’ Street, the manager. ‘Yes?’ said Street coldly. ‘Yes,’ mumbled Rhem. ‘Bandits. Guns. Kidnapping. They made me drink the awful stuff.’” Rhem’s claim was that two thugs had kidnapped him and taken him to a remote roadhouse. They were armed, and forced him to drink a large quantity of hard liquor. “‘And I am sorry to say that I got drunk. Imagine that happening to me! Of all people, me!...I was helpless, always in fear of my life.’”


Another version of the story can be found at
When the Redbirds returned to their hotel following the extra-inning thriller, Rhem showed up visibly, the worse for wear. According to Rhem, he was standing outside the team's hotel when a car pulled up. Two men, presumably Robins' fans, forced him into the car at gunpoint. His abductors then took him to a house in New Jersey, where again at gunpoint, forced him to drink whiskey all day. Ring Lardner wrote that Rhem continually kept saying to Street, "It was terrible, Sarge, it was just awful."

Dan Daniel in the New York Telegram quoted our ill-starred hero as confessing, "I am ashamed to say that I got drunk. Imagine me getting drunk! I pleaded with the bandits not to make me drink hard liquor, which you know I abhor, but they would not listen to me. I was in their power. I drank and drank – always at the point of a gun, always threatened. It was horrible."
The story got around Brooklyn that gambling interests kidnapped Rhem away in order to give Brooklyn an edge in the series against the Cardinals. The league was poised to open an investigation, but Branch Rickey, business manager of the Cardinals, went to NL president John Heydler to tell him that Rhem's story was nonsense. Heydler wisely chose not to proceed with the investigation.

Undaunted, Rhem could not help police locate the house in New Jersey, nor could he give complete descriptions of the bandits. Nick Altrock, former pitcher and the first "Clown Prince of Baseball," later stated that he rushed into the streets of New York hoping to be mistaken for a Cardinal pitcher by gunmen, bandits, or anyone else who would provide the necessary whiske
You can tell from the tone of the news stories that Flint Rhem already had quite a reputation which induced widespread skepticism of his explanation.  He reached the majors with the Cards in 1924 and could be quite an effective pitcher, winning 20 games for the 1926 pennant winners.  He was also known for his rowdy and rambunctious ways which included a lot of drinking.  He was Grover Cleveland Alexander's drinking partner and the story is that it was Flint who was drinking with Alexander in the bullpen when Grover was unexpectedly called into the game in the seventh inning and struck out Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded.  So it was not an unnatural suspicion that what had actually happened in Brooklyn was that Flint Rhem went on one of his benders and years later Rhem indirectly confirmed those suspicions.

Exhibiting his hard-won wisdom from dealing with Flint over the years, Gabby Street did not seem unduly upset telling a wire service (printed in the New Castle (PA) News, Sept. 17, 1930):

"Rhem is a good pitcher.  I think he can help us to win the pennant.  I am sorry this happened but we are going to give the Kid another chance.  Whether Rhem's story is true I do not know.  It may be true but I prefer to let the matter drop."

The Cards took no disciplinary action and Flint won his next start against the Phillies on September 20 and even made a start in the World Series.  Flint continued his major league career until 1936 finishing with a record of 105-97.

The other feat for which Flint Rhem is remembered are the two times he faced Babe Ruth in the fourth game of the 1926 World Series.  Ruth hit towering home runs on both occasions, as part of a three homer outburst supposedly pledged by the Babe to a sick hospitalized youngster, Johnny Sylvester.

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