Back in the pre-internet days (yes, such a time did exist), my early Sunday mornings were consumed by a thorough reading of the thickest newspaper of the week. However, times have changed. If you are like me, some time ago, your newspaper subscriptions went the way of cassette tapes.
Replacing that pastime for me is a scan of baseball news on the internet. This morning, I found a most interesting and fun article about a Hall of Fame pitcher named Bender and his almost-relationship with the St. Louis Cardinals almost 90 years ago.
I thought the subject was going to be Cooperstown-enshrined Chief Bender. The right-handed pitcher of Native American heritage from Minnesota was the ace of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics starting in 1903. Bender won 212 games and posted a .625 winning percentage over his 16 major league seasons.
But, no, this is a different Bender – John Bender – though he is not Chief’s older brother of the same name.
Jack Bender, born as John Bender, hailed from the Midwest – Nebraska specifically – from where he was recently and posthumously named to the Cornhusker State’s Baseball Hall of Fame. His hometown is named Cornlea – honest!
Bender was a left-handed pitcher of renown, but instead of signing a professional contract with the Cardinals in 1927, he preferred to continue to pitch for a series of town ball teams in his native state – at which he excelled over two decades.
In those days, town rivalries were often settled on the baseball diamond, with towns not being above bringing in ringers to try to tip the scales. Per Bender, as shared by family members, he earned from $75 to $100 per game plus room and board, playing as many as three contests per week.
That money was far better than the $250 per month offer of minor league pay from the Cardinals and – along with being able to remain near home – helps explain why he never went professional.
The Cardinals asked Bender to report, but he did not, never signing his contract. What may have been the deciding factor was that his Mom “had the idea if you went to the big city, you turned out to be a bad boy,” Bender recounted on a tape made by family members before his passing in 1988 at the age of 86.
Check out this story of a different kind of ball-playing star from long ago who never took the chance to try to become the next Bender pitching in the Major Leagues, but still became a Hall of Famer in his chosen arena.
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