It’s safe to say few ballplayers had a career in professional baseball quite like that of Bob Brush. He spent a couple of years in the low minors in the late 1890s and then was out of Organized Baseball for the next decade. He resurfaced in 1907 at the age of 32 and played in two games for the Boston Doves in the National League and again faded out of the professional ranks. But during his brief major-league career, Brush crossed paths with two Hall of Famers. In his second (and final) big-league appearance, he pinch-hit for pitcher Cy Young and fouled out to catcher Roger Bresnahan.
Robert E. Brush was born on March 8, 1875, in Osage, Iowa, a small town in the northeastern part of the state near the Minnesota border. His parents were Jesse Platt Brush (1841-1886) born in Connecticut, and Sarah Ann (Brown) Brush (1847-1915), a native of Vermont. Jesse was a prominent banker in town. Bob or Bobby, as he was usually called, had two brothers, Albert, two years older, and a younger brother, Platt.
The first press reports of Brush playing baseball come from 1892 (when he would have been about 17 years old). A brief item in his local newspaper, the Iowa Postal Cord (of Fayette, Iowa) noted that “Bob Brush was in town Sunday. He played a ball game here on the 19th against the Westgate club.1 Later that winter the same publication noted that he had left for Austin, Minnesota,2 but the reason was not given. Brush’s whereabouts over the next couple of years are uncertain. It is believed he attended Grinnell College3 in Iowa for a time, but it is unlikely he stayed long enough to earn a degree.
Brush played every position on the diamond throughout his career. However, he started out as a pitcher and began his professional career with Cedar Rapids in the independent Eastern Iowa League in 1895. In 28 games, all of them starts, he went 16-12 in 247 innings. That fall it was announced that he had signed with the St. Paul club of the Western Association. There is no record of his playing for St. Paul in 1896, but manager Charlie Comiskey likely maintained some kind of hold on the rights to Brush. The only information about his playing in 1896 was a note in the Iowa Postal Cord that he would pitch for Austin, Minnesota, that season.4 He was also in a box score playing shortstop for Upper Iowa University in a game against Toledo in May of that year.5
In 1897 Brush played for the Moorhead (Minnesota) Barmaids in the Class F Red River Valley League. The reason it was thought Comiskey still held his rights was that this league functioned as a quasi-developmental league for the Western League; many of the players were under contract with St. Paul or one of the of the Western League teams.6 No records for the league are available, but statistics published in the Moorhead Daily News indicated Brush batted .222 (26-for-117) and had a 10-4 pitching record. Late in the year he was “called up” to St. Paul and pitched in one game, working three innings, and was charged with the loss.
It appears that after this Brush returned to Iowa and continued to play semipro and independent ball. Pitching for Charles City in a game against Nashua on July 19, 1899, Brush struck out 19 batters and allowed no walks or hits, but lost the game, 1-0. In the third inning, a runner reached on an error and stole second. Brush's pal Lindeman, playing center field that day, sneaked in behind the runner, but mishandled Brush’s pickoff attempt, and the runner came around to score the only run of the game.7
In February 1900 the Postal Cord reported that Brush had returned to his home in Osage after playing baseball for several months in Arizona,8 but no other information could be found about his time in the Southwest. In the spring of 1901 the Postal Cord reported that Brush “expects to play ball this season, with what team he did not say.”9 Later that year it was reported that he was in the employ of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad in the advertising department.10 Brush was not heard from again until he was found catching for a team in Greene, Iowa, in something called the Slough Water League.11
When not playing, Brush umpired college, semipro, and amateur games near his home. Game accounts provide some insight as to how Brush was thought of in his community. In 1898 he umpired a game between Upper Iowa University and Cornell College. The game story remarked, “Bob Brush umpired the game in a way that should have been satisfactory, and we presume it was. He is quiet, dignified, and understands his work, and is not swerved or influenced. ...”12 Ten years later he umpired another game between two local teams and “handled the indicator and everybody was satisfied with his work.”13
The story behind Brush’s entry into the major leagues is almost too strange to be believed. He was a lifelong friend of pitcher Vive Lindaman, a native of Charles City, Iowa, who had just completed his rookie season with the Boston Doves of the National League. In the spring of 1907 Brush tagged along with Lindaman on what the Boston Post called a “pleasure jaunt”14 to the Boston spring training camp in Thomasville, Georgia. One day, the Doves found themselves short of players and Brush was asked to fill in at third base. Details of his play are not known, but he made enough of an impression on manager Fred Tenney that he was signed and kept on the team’s Opening Day roster.
Brush made his major-league debut in a 13-2 loss to the New York Giants on April 20. Boston manager Tenney, who was also the team’s first baseman, was thrown out by umpire Bob Emslie in the fifth inning. Brush replaced him and “was thus enabled to make his debut and did well.”15 The record shows he struck out in his only at-bat and successfully handled two chances at first base. That and his pinch-hitting appearance on April 23 constituted the sum total of Brush’s major-league career
In the 1910 US Census, Brush was single and living in Lake Charles, Iowa. He listed his occupation as “ball player,” and was still playing with local teams as late as 1913. At the time of Brush’s World War I draft registration in September, 1918, he was living in Los Angeles and was 43 years old, but still listed his occupation as “ball player.” He also indicated that his nearest relative was his brother Albert, implying he was not married at the time. Sometime in the mid-teens he and his brother moved to California and opened a resort that included a hotel and tavern. By the time of the 1920 Census, he was still living in Los Angeles, but now employed as the proprietor of a hotel.
By the time of the 1930 US Census, the Brush brothers had sold the resort and Bob was living in San Bernardino, California, with Albert, Albert’s wife, Nellie, and their daughter (Bob’s niece), Sayde (possibly named Sandy). Also in the household were Anna Ferguson, assumed to be Nellie's mother. Bob died on April 2, 1944, at age 69 from a cerebral hemorrhage and generalized arteriosclerosis at San Bernardino County Charity Hospital and was cremated. He never married and left no descendants.
In addition to the sources detailed in the Notes, the author also accessed clippings from the Bob Brush file maintained at the Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York. Genealogy, census, and city directory information was taken from Ancestry.com. Unless otherwise noted, statistics have been taken from Baseball-Reference.
1 Iowa Postal Cord (Fayette, Iowa), August 26, 1892.
2 Iowa Postal Cord, December 9, 1892.
3 Algona (Iowa) Courier, July 27, 1894. In a local game between Burt and Bancroft in July 1894 in which he struck out 15 batters, he was identified as “Bob Brush of Grinnell College.”
4 Iowa Postal Cord, April 23, 1896.
5 Iowa Postal Cord, May 7, 1896. It is doubtful Brush was enrolled at Upper Iowa. It was common at the time for colleges to pick up local players for important games.
6 “Divorcees, Barmaids, Undertakers and Methodists: The 1897 Red River Valley League,” unpublished research by the author.
7 Waterloo (Iowa) Daily Reporter, August 5, 1905.
8 Iowa Postal Cord, February 1, 1900
9 Iowa Postal Cord, April 25, 1901.
10 Iowa Postal Cord, May 12, 1901.
11 Waterloo Daily Reporter, August 16, 1905.
12 Iowa Postal Cord, May 5, 1898.
13 Oelwein (Iowa) Daily Register, June 25, 1908.
14 Boston Post, March 23, 1907.
15 Boston Herald, April 21, 1907.