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Odenwald made it to the top of the baseball world

Hudson native Ted Odenwald, second from left, stands alongside his Cleveland Indian teammates at the White House in Washington, D.C., in 1921 after the team won the World Series. Submitted photo

For a few weeks in 1921 and 1922, Ted Odenwald stood at the top of the baseball world.

Odenwald, a Hudson native, pitched in the major leagues with the Cleveland Indians in 1921 and 1922. He even got to be part of the customary trip to the White House with the Indians, who were World Series champions in the 1920 season.

Odenwald's story starts in Hudson. He was signed by Cleveland while he was still in high school, signing originally for $3,500. It was during his junior season in 1917 that Odenwald began pitching. He quickly became a sensation. Nicknamed "Dud" or "Duddy" in Hudson, he had games where he struck out 19 and 22 batters. After he reached the pros, he forever became known as "Lefty."

He captained the 1918 Hudson High School team. In 13 high school pitching starts, he struck out 252 batters. By averaging nearly 20 strikeouts per game, scouts from all the country were drawn to Hudson to see him pitch. Odenwald was a fastball pitcher and he also threw a sharp-breaking curveball that he often had difficulty controlling.

In 1920, he graduated from high school in Hudson. Almost immediately he hopped a train to Cleveland, Ohio. The baby-faced 18-year-old had long before agreed to a contract to pitch for the Indians in the major leagues. He had pitched so well in high school ball and city league ball that the Indians signed him to a contract as a 17-year-old.

The Indians wanted to get a good look at their investment. So on June 7, they sent Odenwald to the mound in an exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League. The rookie, who at 5-feet, 7.5-inches tall was the shortest player on every roster he played on, looked like a boy against men.

But his left arm spoke volumes. He threw a complete game victory, beating Pittsburgh on eight hits, 5-3.

Reassured that they made a solid investment, the Cleveland management assigned Odenwald's contract to Des Moines in the Western League. He went 4-5 in 13 games at Des Moines, getting the start in 11 of those games.

In 1921, the Indians gave Odenwald the chance to make the roster in spring training. He ran with the chance. He pitched solidly in spring training, earning a place in the Cleveland bullpen.

Though he only pitched in 10 games with the Tribe in 1921, his 1.56 earned run average was the best on a potent pitching staff, led by Stan Coveleski, George Uhle and Jim Bagby. The Indians won 94 games under Tris Speaker, finishing in second place in the American League, four games behind the New York Yankees.

Odenwald made his major league debut on April 13, 1921, pitching one inning of relief in the 1921 season opener in St. Louis. He was thrown back into the fray the next day, and was solid gold. Pitching four innings of relief, he allowed three hits and three walks, while striking out one. This gave the Indians time to come back, beating the Browns 12-9.

It would be Odenwald's only pitching win in the major leagues.

Odenwald didn't pitch again for 10 days. He began facing the difficulties of a rookie on a veteran Indians' pitching staff, which ranked among the best in baseball.

On April 26 Odenwald got to be part of the ceremony where the Indians raised their 1920 World Championship pennant, the first Cleveland title in 45 years. Odenwald also was one of six Cleveland pitchers to work that day, in a 9-8 win over Detroit.

On May 15, Odenwald pitched one scoreless inning, but Stan Coveleski had already been shelled in an 8-2 loss to the Yankees. That game knocked the Indians out of the A.L. lead, with the Yankees taking over.

On June 19, Cleveland manager Speaker decided to shake up the clubhouse to try getting the Indians back into the form that had won the pennant the year before. Odenwald and catcher Art Wilson were released to Columbus, a top minor league team.

Odenwald's manager at Columbus was Wisconsin native Pants Rowland, who had managed the 1916 Chicago White Sox to a World Series title. Speaker kept in frequent contact with Rowland to see what progress his young hurler was making.

Odenwald was short and roundish and his weight was a constant battle. When he arrived for the 1922 season, reports had him overweight and out of shape. The Indians brought him north, and they gave him one game to show his worth.

He was bombed in that outing. He gave up six hits and two walks in one and one-third innings. It was his only chance, leaving him with a 40.50 earned run average for the season. That one game caused his career ERA to balloon from 1.56 to 4.34. In his 11 games in the majors, Odenwald didn't allow any homers.

He was sent back to Des Moines for the 1922 season, where his arm was still recovering from an injury the previous season.

His struggles in 1922 led to his release and he was signed by the Minneapolis Millers. The Millers optioned Odenwald to Omaha and he split the 1923 season between Omaha and Denver.

In 1924 Odenwald pitched in Albany, N.Y., in the Eastern League. He became a fixture in Albany, pitching there for four seasons, usually as the ace of the staff on a bottom-tier team.

The 1927 season was his final season in the pros. For several years, Odenwald continued to pitch in semipro ball in western Wisconsin. He pitched for Deer Park in 1929 and 1930. One game from that period drew considerable local attention.

A caravan of former major leaguers, led by pitcher Rube Benton, came to face Deer Park. Benton had won 150 games in his big league career. Benton and Odenwald didn't give an inch. They both pitched shutout ball for the first nine innings. Deer Park then scored twice in the top of the tenth inning. Odenwald was up to the task again, putting down the opposition 1-2-3 in the bottom of the tenth to complete the 2-0 win.

Odenwald retired to Shakopee, Minn. He remained active in baseball. He was signed to play with a town team in Shakopee and he settled there. He pitched well into the mid-1930s for Shakopee. There he worked as a shipping clerk for the Reis Bottling Company, working at the Rock Springs Bottling Company. He was also active in civic affairs, serving for many years on the Shakopee City Council.

He died there following a stroke in 1965.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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