Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Blackie Schwamb: Major League Murderer!

From   Gary Cieradkowski

"I stumbled on your great St. Louis Browns blog when I wandered onto the Browns Historical Society page. I really enjoyed reading your articles, probably more than I should have because I need to get back to work! I thought you'd be interested in this story I wrote for my own blog, "The Infinite Baseball Card Set" about former Browns pitcher Blackie Schwamb."


I found a book I had given my father a few years ago called "The Wrong Side Of The Wall" by Eric Stone. I found out about the book through the SABR (Society Of Baseball Researchers) newsletter a few years ago. Stone brilliantly tells the story of Blackie Schwamb, pitcher for the 1948 St. Louis Browns who also happened to be a murderer. Stone's book has it all, 1940's L.A., mobsters, life in the low minor leagues, crime solving and attempts to redeem a life that once held so much promise. My story today can only hold a candle to Eric Stone's wonderful book and I recommend everyone to pick up a copy - you wont be disappointed!

(The Schwamb card and story is the second entry from the top...) at

As a kid in depression-era Los Angeles, Ralph Schwamb earned his nickname "Blackie" because he dressed in all black to emulate the bad guys he rooted for in western movies. Taller and stronger than kids his own age, Blackie took up with the older neighborhood kids. Dividing his time between sandlot baseball and petty crime, Schwamb started drinking heavily as a teen, the vice that would eventually lead to his downfall in life. Coupled with his drinking problem Blackie had a volatile temper that he backed up with his fists. World War II came along and Schwamb landed in the U.S. Navy. Unfortunately the only action he saw was in various Naval brigs across the country because of his constant need to go AWOL, something he accomplished over 4 times. The need for manpower during the war usually lead the Navy to go lightly on a sailor who overstayed his leave here and there, but Schwamb took it to the extreme and eventually went on a bender and missed the departure of his aircraft carrier that was being deployed for overseas action. This borderline desertion in the face of the enemy was the last straw and Schwamb spent a few years in prison.

When the war ended Blackie drifted back to Los Angeles and quickly took up with the delinquents he'd known growing up. These guys had by now graduated to become full-time hoods and hustlers. L.A. at this time was booming with post-war prosperity and organized crime was right there to take full advantage of those untapped opportunities. One of the biggest syndicates was run by the colorful Mafia-backed Mickey Cohen. A few of Blackie's buddies were connected to Mickey and the six and a half foot Schwamb began a career as an enforcer for his gang.

Working for Cohen was an easy job, intimidating and occasionally beating the hell out of deadbeats who were slow to pay off their gambling debts. Schwamb spent his spare time hanging around a ball field with his buddies drinking and watching the semi-pro teams that played there. Schwamb was always a natural athlete and after hanging around the field for some time, he worked up the courage to ask for a chance to play. From the start Blackie was a natural. His height and strength made him an overpowering pitcher. He had good control and liked to win and soon scouts from the big leagues took notice. St. Louis Browns scout Jack Fournier liked what he saw and his report read in part "he's a screwball, but he can pitch." $600.00 bought Schwamb's signature on a Browns contract. Shortly afterwards Blackie found out that the Cleveland Indians were about to offer $37,500.00 for him.

Blackie breezed through the Browns minor league spring training and was Schwamb was farmed out to South Dakota to the Aberdeen Pheasants of the Class C Northern League. Before reporting he was picked up on a burglary rap, but released. Through half the season he posted a record of 5 wins and no losses and an E.R.A. under 2.00. In one game he even fanned 14 batters. But his erratic behavior and drinking finally caused the manager Don Heffner to ask the Browns to reassign the ace of his pitching staff to another team. That he was messing around with a local 16 year-old girl didn't help much either. Schwamb now found himself at the other side of the country in the Arizona-Texas League.

The Globe-Miami Browns were a team of has-been misfits, a dead-end. But the wild west atmosphere of the towns that fielded teams in the league were more to Blackie's temperament than the conservative South Dakota. Still, even in this rebellious environment Schwamb stood apart. Reporting to the ballpark for the first game of the league playoffs, Schwamb was so intoxicated he was not allowed into the locker room. Now pissed off as well as drunk, Schwamb climbed up the center field flagpole and started hurling expletives at players and fans alike. It took the local cops to get him down and Blackie was tossed in jail. The Browns suspended him and it was the right thing to do. However the team was trying to win the league championship and Schwamb was reinstated after he apologized to the team. He promptly won 2 games and saved a third to win the championship. Schwamb might be a screwball, but he was good.

After spending half the off-season playing ball in Mexico and the other half breaking legs for the mob, 1948 found Schwamb with the Browns top farm club, the Toledo Mud Hens. The Mud Hens might have been the best club in the Browns farm system, but that wasn't saying much. they stunk. Schwamb drifted through the season with a horrible 1-9 record, but it was mostly due to no run support and fielding errors than his own pitching. Dispirited, Blackie's drinking accelerated and he stayed out all night long and sometimes disappeared for days between starts. Despite his record on paper, reports of his pitching were stellar and the parent club called him up at the end of July.

Wearing number 20, Blackie Schwamb pitched his first major league game at Griffith Stadium on Sunday July 25th against the Senators. He pitched a good game until he tired in the seventh and fielding errors did him in. The Browns eventually won but he was not the pitcher of record that day. Discipline-wise he continued where he left off in Toledo. Schwamb didn't just violate curfew, he disregarded it all together by staying out until breakfast time. Manager Zack Taylor ran a loose ship and the players did pretty much whatever they wanted. For a guy like Schwamb who desperately needed discipline and someone to look after him, this was the wrong team to have been playing for.

On July 31st he registered his first win and the post-game celebration never stopped. Blackie was continuously intoxicated. Beer before and during the game and an upgrade to whiskey afterwards. He got clobbered in his next start and a few days later the lowly Philadelphia Athletics handed Schwamb his first loss. Tired of his drinking, gambling and brawling, manager Zack Taylor relegated him to the bullpen.

Read the rest of this very interesting story at:

1 comment:

  1. Robert Wayne19/4/11 3:51 PM

    Schwamb sort of reminds me of another former major league pitcher named Sammy Stewart. Sammy wasn't in the mob or anything, but he did ruin his life with drugs. The last I heard he was in prison in North Carolina. Ironically, Stewart spent most of his career with the Baltimore Orioles, who at one time were the St. Louis Browns.