Arlie Latham was one of the most colorful and biggest stars on Charley Comiskey’s rowdy St. Louis Brown squads of the 1880′s. There were no coaches back in baseball’s infancy; each player used to take turns coaching 1st and 3rd base. Arlie had a particular knack for the job; he used to run up and down the third base line screaming like a lunatic at the pitcher in the middle of his wind-up. At that time there was no rule preventing a coach from engaging in such behavior. Because of his antics, the league had to establish the coaching box to prevent him from doing this. Because of his obvious proficiency at the job, after his career was finished, Latham would become baseball’s first full time third base coach. The characteristic chatter that goes on in the field, with constant encouragement to the pitcher and derogatory remarks to the batter that is part of the fabric of the game is also attributed to Latham. It was this kind of mischievous behavior on the diamond that earned him his moniker as the “Freshest Man on the Earth”, which was a popular song during that period.
Latham always was intent on injecting humor into baseball. Playing one game in front of a sparse crowd, which he described as “eight fans and a stray dog”, Arlie stopped the game, tipped his hat, and said “Ladies and gentlemen, please don’t go yet. Do you see that church steeple over there? As soon as this game is over, I am personally am going to dive off that steeple into a quart of milk.” On another occasion, Arlie became enraged over a decision made by umpire Tim Hurst. He slammed his glove to the ground, and kicked it toward Hurst, who then kicked it back to Arlie. Arlie kicked it back to Hurst, Hurst back again. The two continued to engage in this match until the glove finally came to rest in the depths of center field.
On one occasion, the Brownies were playing the Brooklyn club in the final game of the season. The winner of the game would win the pennant. St. Louis had the lead in the seventh inning, 4-2, when storm clouds gathered on the horizon, and the field grew dark. Comiskey asked the umpire to call the game, but he refused. Arlie then ordered 12 large candles brought to the bench, lighting them as a hint to the umpire that the game should be called. The umpire strolled over and blew out the candles, whereupon Arlie lit them again. This went on several times, until the umpire, now in a rage, forfeited the game to Brooklyn. Luckily for the Browns, their protest was upheld, and that decision was overturned.
The instigator of the candle episode was said to be the owner of the Browns, Chris von der Ahe, a bulbous-nosed German immigrant who was quite a character in his own right. Von der Ahe used to sit in his own special box, and summon players, police and his lackeys with a whistle to attend to his needs when necessary. He would be especially irate after a loss, storming the clubhouse, goatee sticking out several inches, and say things like “Chris vil do all da drinking for dis club, see?” After awhile, the players tired of this, and one day they locked him out. After the game, he pounded on the door, shouting, “Dis is Chris, dis is Chris!” Latham proceeded to fill a bucket of ice, and poured it over his owner’s head. An irate Von der Ahe called a meeting after the game. He stated that he intended to fine the perpetrator $50. He offered $200 for any player who told him the name of the responsible player. Latham immediately confessed to the offense. Von der Ahe bellowed “That vil cost you $50!” but Latham collected the $200 reward.
Besides being a cut-up, Arlie was a heck of a ballplayer. His greatest season was in 1887. That year Latham batted .316, with 198 hits, 45 walks, 129 stolen bases, and an unbelievable 163 runs scored. If you add up his hits and walks, he was on base 243 times, scoring 163 times, an incredible percentage. It is entirely possible that Arlie was the greatest SAGNOF in the history of Roundball. Arlie once challenged the famous evangelist, Billy Sunday, to a footrace. Sunday was once a baseball player before he hit the sawdust trail – in fact; he was described by some pundits to be the equal of the immortal Ty Cobb. The Parson won the race by quite a few strides.
Latham lived a long life, during which time he coached for John McGraw, became the oldest man to ever steal a base, taught King George V how to throw and catch a baseball, served seventeen years as the Administrator of Baseball in England, operated a delicatessen in Manhattan, and was the press box custodian for the Yankees and Giants. Arlie died in 1952 at the ripe old age of 92. He was an endearing man who enjoyed life immensely. He was a great ambassador for baseball.