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Archive for Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Woodling: Ballplayer remains mystery

February 13, 2008

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Somehow Bob Edmondson fell through the cracks.

For decades, Ralph Houk has been listed as the first Lawrence High product to play baseball in the major leagues. Not true.

That distinction belongs to Edmondson, who toiled for the Washington Senators a hundred years ago.

According to the record book, Edmondson logged 29 games for the Senators late in the 1908 season, hitting just .188. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound outfielder apparently had been purchased from the Houston franchise in the Texas League after leading that league with a glossy .391 batting average.

Edmondson also had a "cup of coffee" as a pitcher with the Senators in 1906, starting two games and posting an 0-1 record. And that's basically all we know about his baseball career.

Interestingly, Edmondson was also a KU baseball letterman in 1898, yet he is not listed among the former Jayhawks who played in the major leagues.

How did Edmondson fall under the radar? We'll never know for certain, but I suspect it may have been because he didn't want anybody to know. Back in those days, pro baseball was not an honorable profession. It was a game riddled with thugs, charlatans and lowlifes.

Ballplayers in those days had to have real jobs in order to make a living, and Edmondson was also a grocer. A check of the 1908 City Directory - I found a dusty copy in the J-W morgue - lists a whopping 33 grocery stores in Lawrence that year.

One of those stores was under the names of C.D. Edmondson and Robert Edmondson Jr. There is also a Robert Edmondson listed as a shoemaker, so I assume our Bob Edmondson was a son of the cobbler and a nephew of the grocer.

I'm speculating, but it's likely Edmondson figured that linking his name to the sordid world of pro baseball would be bad for his neighborhood grocery business.

We know that Bob Edmondson was born in Paris, Ky., in 1879, but we don't know what year his parents moved to Lawrence. We know he went to Lawrence High, and we know he attended KU.

We also know Bob Edmondson died Aug. 14, 1931. Further digging in the J-W morgue turned up microfilm from that date, and, sure enough, his obituary was reported.

The short obit said he died at his home five miles south of Lawrence - heck, that could be where South Junior High is now - and that he was survived by his wife, two sisters and five brothers, as well as a daughter, Mrs. W. R. Cooper. There was no mention of his pro baseball career, or even that he was a grocer, for that matter.

Today's Lawrence phone book lists a handful of Edmondsons. I didn't reach all of them, but the ones I did knew nothing of Bob Edmondson. What about C.D. Edmondson, the man who was apparently Bob Edmondson's partner in the grocery business?

Yellowed newspaper files informed me C.D. Edmondson died in 1950, but that he had a son named Charles A. Edmondson, and I found an obit for his wife that listed a surviving son named Charles D. Edmondson who was living in Florida.

So I called Charles D. Edmondson and asked him if he had ever heard of Bob Edmondson.

"I know my grandfather had a grocery store in East Lawrence," he told me, "but I never heard that name."

We know there was a Bob Edmondson. I just wish we knew more about him.

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