Moser, Walter

Primary Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Mount Pleasant

First, Middle Names:  Walter Frederick
Date of Birth:  Feb. 27, 1881  Date and Place of Death: Dec. 10, 1946         Burial: West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA

High School: Mount Pleasant Collegiate Institute, Mount Pleasant, NC
College: Lenoir-Rhyne University, Hickory, NC

Bats: R Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-9, 170
Debut Year: 1906        Final Year: 1911    Years Played: 2
Teams and Years: Philadelphia Phillies, 1906; Boston Red Sox, 1911; St. Louis Browns, 1911

Career Summary
G          W         L           Sv         ERA             IP          SO        WAR
14        0          7           0           4.58           70.2      30         -3.1

Despite what his numbers suggest, Walter Moser could pitch. Down in the minors, he won more than 120 games during a six-year career. He won 19 straight once, a sure sign that the guy could consistently pitch winning baseball. And there’s this: He had 30 wins in another season, a benchmark that few pitchers at any level ever reach. As with any Dead Ball Era pitcher worth his chewing tobacco, he logged more than 300 innings most years and often started both games of doubleheaders.

Why, then, did this effective minor-league pitcher stink it up in the majors? How did a guy who played well everywhere else accumulate in only 14 big-league games the lowest Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, of any of his North Carolina pitching peers? That number implies that Moser’s teams were worse with him on the mound, that they lost more than three games over his short career with him out there instead of an average pitcher.

WAR is one of those advanced statistics that modern baseball loves because it attempts to summarize a player’s total contributions to his team – his hitting, pitching, running, fielding — by estimating how many games a team can be expected to win with the player in the lineup instead of an average player coming off the bench or called up from the minors. The player’s value to his team accumulates over the course of his career, and the resulting number is expressed in plus or minus games, which can be useful yardsticks to compare players of different eras.[1] 

His teammates must take some of the blame for Moser’s awful -3.1 WAR. For every nine innings he pitched, Moser allowed fewer than five  earned runs. That means five runners that he put on base through hits, walks, or hit batters scored. This so-called earnedrun average, or ERA, has been a standard gauge by which to judge pitchers for more than a century, and Moser’s isn’t terrible. The fielders playing behind him were, however. He pitched for the some of the worst defensive teams of his time. Though errors were a large part of the game back then due to the crude gloves that players used, Moser’s fielders made more than most.[2] Errors mean baserunners, and each one is a potential run.  WAR penalizes the fielder who makes the error and the pitcher who allows those runners to score. Moser just didn’t pitch well enough after the errors to limit their damage. With these unearned runs added to his totals, he gave up close to eight runs a game. Now, that is terrible, and they are the weights that surely pull his WAR into a hole.

Walter Frederick Moser was born in 1881 in Mount Pleasant, which occupies a high spot between Buffalo and Adams creeks in eastern Cabarrus County. It was settled by Germans migrating from Pennsylvania down the Great Wagon Road in the mid-18th century. His father, Titus, a prominent farmer, and his mother, Mary, were good Lutherans, like most of their German neighbors. They sent their oldest son — the second of their nine children — to Mount Pleasant Collegiate Institute, one of two church schools in the community.[3] We don’t know if the prep school had a baseball team or if Moser played on it.

We do know that he pitched in 1903 for the first intercollegiate baseball team at what’s now Lenoir-Ryhne University, a Lutheran school in Hickory, North Carolina. Moser had enrolled a year earlier and left in 1904, when he was also the team’s manager. There’s no record that he graduated.

He signed his first professional contract two years later with the Shoemakers, a Class C team in Lynchburg, Virginia. The Philadelphia Phillies bought his contract after Moser won 24 games – 19 consecutively. He made six starts for the Phillies at the end of the season, losing four of them. He returned to Mount Pleasant to teach elementary school.

Moser pitched in the low minors for the next five years, while teaching and coaching in the off-seasons. He was the head baseball coach at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina, in 1908.

Two years later in California, he had his breakout, winning 30 games for the Oakland Oaks in the prestigious Pacific Coast League. Though he also lost 20, his ERA was an eye-opening 1.81.

The Boston Red Sox bought him for $3,500, or the equivalent of $100,000 in 2022. He appeared in six games in 1911 before being traded to the St. Louis Browns. After two starts and eight earned runs in three innings, Moser went home in September with malaria. He never returned to the majors.

After two more years in the minors, he retired in 1913. Moser and his wife, Arline, who had three children from a previous marriage, settled in Philadelphia by 1923 when he was driving a truck at Gulf Oil Company’s sprawling refinery outside of the city. When he died 23 years later of emphysema, Moser was the refinery’s superintendent of motor vehicles.

[1] For a more detailed explanation of WAR, see the Tarheel Boys of Summer Top 100.

[2] Designed for protection, these early gloves were slightly larger than the players’ hands and lacked the flexibility to do much more than knock down hard-hit balls. It wasn’t until 1920, when the Rawlings company created the Bill Doak glove with a web between the thumb and forefinger, that gloves became defensive accessories. Fielding averages improved dramatically as a result.
[3] The Lutheran Church opened the Western Carolina Male Academy, also known as North Carolina College, in 1852. The private college struggled financially after the Civil War and closed in 1901. Mount Pleasant Collegiate Institute reopened two years later as a private, male prep school. It closed in 1933. The six existing buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The Lutheran synod also operated Mont Amoena Seminary in Mount Pleasant for female students.