Jimmy Wiggs’s erratic career marked MLB

Nordmenn of baseball

Michael Kleiner
The Norwegian American

Jimmy Wiggs

Photo: Public domain
Jimmy Wiggs in 1903, while playing in Ohio.

Jimmy Wiggs was a character, eccentric, the first baseball player to hold out over pay. Most of his great on-the-field exploits occurred in the minor leagues or “outlaw” loops where he was forced to play when organized baseball banned him—twice. His major-league career lasted only 13 games over 1903, 1905, and 1906.

He was born Sept.1, 1876, in Trondheim. His immigrant family settled in Ohio.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder was a capable pitcher, but his fielding was another story. One account noted: “Wiggs’s stunts were ludicrous in the extreme. His efforts to get bunts were funnier than the antics of a clown at a circus. He fell down, slipped, threw wild, and finally wound up his career by spiking himself in trying to pick up a dumper.”

He fictionalized his bio. Alice Hagen Rice published a best-selling fiction book in 1901, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, about a single mother raising five children—the oldest named Jimmy—in Cabbage Patch, Ky. In a 1903 interview, Wiggs convinced the reporter he was said Jimmy and learned to pitch by throwing cabbages around the farm.

Wiggs admitted he played for the money. “Of course, I like the sport, but if I could secure a position that would pay me steadily $30 or $40 a week, I would never play baseball again,” he told the Cincinnati Post in 1903.

To call him a journeyman is an understatement, as he changed teams many times during a season. He got in trouble in 1899 for betting against his Superior, Wis., team in a game. He returned in 1900, then signed his first contract in organized baseball with the London Tecumsehs of the International League in June, left the team a month later, and ended the season with an independent team in Washburn, Wis.

Between April and August 1901, Wiggs played for St. Joseph, Mo.; Des Moines; and indie teams in Milton, N.D., and Minneapolis. He pitched well for Helena, Mont., of the Class B Pacific Northwest League in 1902. According to the Seattle Daily Times, he was 27-16, completed 42 of 43 starts, and threw 44 consecutive scoreless innings at one point.

Cincinnati Reds owner Garry Herrmann signed Wiggs, giving him a $1,150 advance, unheard of at the time. At 1903 spring training, Wiggs complained about the height of the mound, which affected his underarm motion, leading to control problems and a sore arm.

He still headed north with the Reds. In his April 23 debut, he blanked the Cubs in the first inning, but yielded five runs in the second. He got into only one game after that and was released in May. The rest of the 1903 season saw him play for Helena; Portland, Ore.; and Salt Lake City, where he began the 1904 season, before being sold to the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association.

A 14-5 record caught the eyes of Brooklyn, which offered him less money than he was earning with the Pelicans. Owner Charles Ebbets insisted Wiggs play for Brooklyn or nowhere, thus banishing him from the game. In August 1905, Ebbets cut Wiggs, sending him to Minneapolis, which traded him to the Detroit Tigers.

On Sept. 6, 1905, he found himself back on a major-league mound, but issued five walks and allowed eight runs in the first inning of a 15-0 loss to the Chicago White Stockings. Thirteen days later, National Commission president Herrmann reinstated Wiggs, claiming Brooklyn had forced Wiggs’s situation and should pay the Pelicans what they owed Wiggs. Future players in similar situations would refer to the “Wiggs case,” leading to higher salaries.

He finished the 1905 season 3-3 with a 3.27 ERA and started the 1906 year with the Tigers, only to be demoted to Toledo after four games. He bailed on Toledo, jumping from a train carrying the team from Minneapolis to Milwaukee, earning him another banishment from organized baseball.

In his MLB career, Wiggs started nine games, compiled a 3-4 record, four complete games, 3.81 ERA, 46 strikeouts in 56.2 innings, and .818 fielding percentage.

He continued to pitch in the minors. On June 8, 1909, while pitching for the Oakland Oaks, he battled San Francisco Seals pitcher Clarence Henley for 23 scoreless innings. An unearned run in the 24th gave the Seals a 1-0 win. At the time, it was the longest combined shutout in baseball history. In November, he was reinstated by the National Commission.

He went a combined 22-8 in 1912 with the Oaks and Seattle Giants of the Class B Northwestern League. It was his last year of professional baseball, rejecting Seattle’s contract offer, telling owner Dan Dugdale, “Sorry you wasted the stamps.”

Wiggs died at 86 on Jan. 20, 1963, in Xenia, Ohio.

This article originally appeared in the May 18, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner, business and sports editor, has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of NorCham Philadelphia. Visit Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.