Anderson, Fred

Position: Starting pitcher, relief pitcher
Birthplace: Calahaln

Full Name: John Frederick
Date of Birth:  Dec. 11, 1885  Date and Place of Death: Nov. 8, 1957, Winston-Salem
Burial: Salem Cemetery, Winston-Salem

High School: Oak Ridge Academy, Oak Ridge, NC
College: Davidson College, Davidson, NC; University of Maryland-Baltimore

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-2, 180
Debut Year: 1909       Final Year: 1918          Years Played: 7
Teams and Years: Boston Red Sox, 1909, 1913; Buffalo Buffeds, 1914-15; N.Y. Giants, 1916-18

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
178      53        57        8        2.86     986.1   514      3.4

Dr. Fred Anderson was a spit-balling dentist, certainly the only one in the history of baseball. For parts of seven seasons during the second decade of the 20th century, Anderson made baseballs do funny things by legally lathering them with his saliva. In the off season, he reached into patients’ mouths to practice his other craft.  

That made Anderson unusual in another way. Unlike most players of his era, he wasn’t a slave to autocratic team owners wielding contracts that gave them complete control over their hires’ careers. He could afford to be independent. If he didn’t like the money an owner offered for his services, Anderson had the option of being a fulltime dentist or a collegiate baseball manager instead or even jumping to another major league.

He actually did all of those things before retiring from baseball with a 2.86 earned-run average, or ERA, third-best among North Carolina pitchers with more than 500 major-league innings. Anderson settled in Winston-Salem, not too far from his ancestral home, where he practiced dentistry for almost 30 years.

Andersons’ ancestors had helped found Calahaln, a small community in western Davie County. John Frederick was born there in 1885, the youngest of four siblings. Their father, John, was a pioneering physician in the area who died when little Freddy was less than a year old. He and the rest of the family lived with an older sister, first in Mocksville, the county seat, and then in Statesville in Iredell County.

Fred attended a private school in Boone, North Carolina, and then Oak Ridge Military Institute east of Greensboro, North Carolina, where he started pitching for the school team. It was at Davidson College, in the town of the same name near Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1906 that Anderson began lubricating the ball. Many young pitchers at the time were experimenting with spitballs in the hopes of imitating “Big Ed” Walsh, a Pennsylvania coal miner who would dominate the American League for the next seven seasons by throwing spitters.[1]

After graduating from Davidson in 1907, Anderson played for semipro teams. That May, he married Mary Coiner of Statesville. They would have a daughter, Elsie, born in 1909, but the couple broke up three years later. Mary married another ballplayer and moved to Tennessee, taking Elsie with her. Anderson would marry Clementine Tise in 1921. They would have no children.

Anderson finished dental school at the University of Maryland in Baltimore in 1909 and then signed his first professional contract with the Wilson, North Carolina, Tobacconists of the Eastern Carolina League. Though it occupied the lowest rung of the ladder to the majors, the Class D league would become famous because on the nearby Rocky Mount team that season was Jim Thorpe, one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. His two seasons with the Railroaders would exact a heavy toll after Thorpe won gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympic Games. He was stripped of the medals because his time in Class D baseball violated amateur rules. The medals would be restored to the Thorpe family in 1983.

Though no Jim Thorpe, Anderson was a pretty good specimen himself at 6-2 and 180 pounds. He won 10 games by July for Wilson when the Boston Red Sox signed him. Anderson made his major-league debut on Sept. 25, 1909 in the second game of a doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns. He yielded just three singles but left in the eighth inning trailing 3-1 because of two costly errors. The Sox would come back and win the game in extra innings.

The Red Sox likely didn’t expect a guy who pitched in just one major-league game to be so demanding, but Anderson wouldn’t accept the contract that the team sent him for the 1910 season. He wanted more money. Ballplayers then rarely won such disputes. Their first contracts legally tethered players to their teams for life and they couldn’t offer their services to other major-league clubs. Without that freedom, players had little leverage in contract negotiations. All they could do was hold out, usually for a few weeks. Most eventually signed on the owners’ terms. Dr. Anderson, however, had other, equally lucrative, skills. He hung up his shingle in Statesville, started seeing patients and sat out the year. In retribution, the Red Sox sold his contract to minor-league Sacramento for the 1911 season. Anderson didn’t show up in California when the season started and spent another year as a fulltime dentist.

Finally, in 1912, the Red Sox and their independent-minded pitcher agreed on a contract, and Anderson reported to the team’s training camp in Hot Springs, Arkansas., that spring. He didn’t make the team, however, and spent two seasons in the minors. The Red Sox gave him another look in August 1913, but Anderson was awful, losing six games while giving up almost six runs a game.

With his future as a ballplayer looking bleak, Anderson took a job after the season as the baseball manager at what is now North Carolina State University. He would direct the team for the next three seasons. Anderson hinted to the newspapers when he took the job that his playing days were over.[I]

If he was seriously thinking about quitting, Anderson changed his mind in 1914 when the Buffalo Buffeds of the renegade Federal League made him an offer. He said the money was too good to turn down. [II] The league had started as a minor league but declared war on baseball in 1913 by actively recruiting players from the two established major leagues by offering higher salaries and the freedom to move from team to team.  Many made the switch. [2]

Anderson pitched well for Buffalo, winning 19 games during the league’s last season in 1915, but he had his best years when he rejoined established baseball with the New York Giants. Anderson had a great first half for the Giants in 1916 and a dismal final few months when he was the least effective pitcher on the team. He attributed it to a sore back, but John McGraw had other ideas. The wily Giants’ manager had watched from the bench as Anderson’s erratic spitter fooled opposing batters for a few innings, but they would usually got the measure of it the more they saw it. McGraw started limiting Anderson’s exposure by using him more and more as a relief pitcher. The strategy worked. Pitching mostly from the bullpen in 1917, Anderson led the National League with a 1.44 ERA. He was almost as good the following season, which was shortened by America’s entrance into World War I.

Anderson joined the Army’s aviation corps at the end of the year, but the war was over by the time he finished training in late 1918.

His baseball career was also done. Another contract dispute played a part, but so did changing times. Anderson may have sensed that his days were numbered. Spitballs had always been controversial. Doctoring the ball, many thought, wasn’t very sporting.  A ball stained by tobacco spittle and mud could also be dangerous. Batters had a hard time seeing such balls, especially late in games in the failing light on unlit fields. Ty Cobb thought there was another reason why the spitter was falling out of favor in the dawning era of Babe Ruth and the slugger. “Freak pitches […] were outlawed when the owners greedily sold out to home runs,” he wrote in his autobiography.[III]

Team owners voted after the 1919 season to limit spitball pitchers to two per team. After a Carl Mays’ spitter struck Ray Chapman in the temple and killed him in August 1920, the owners banned the spitball but exempted the 17 pitchers who threw them. When they retired, the spitter would be illegal. Burleigh Grimes, the last spitballer, retired in 1934.

Anderson left after the 1918 season. He was a dentist in Charlotte for a short time but was living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, two years later. He and his new wife, Clementine, settled in the South Fork section of Forsyth County, and Anderson practiced in the city until his retirement in 1948.

Suffering for two years with an undisclosed illness that was likely terminal, Anderson shot himself in 1957.

Footnotes
[1] Walsh spent all but the final season of his thirteen-year career with the Chicago White Sox. Throwing primarily a spitter he won 195 games during his career, including 40 in 1908. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.
[2] Anderson was one of four North Carolina natives who played in the short-lived league, which folded after the 1915 season. For a more complete description of the league and its effects on major-league baseball, see the Ducky Yount
profile.

References
[I] Nowlin, Bill. “Fred Anderson.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/fred-anderson/.
[II] “Anderson Signs With Federals.” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), March 15, 1914.
[III] Cobb, Ty with Al Stump. Ty Cobb: My Life in Baseball. New York: Doubleday, 1961.