Over an 18-year career spent mostly with the Chicago White Sox, catcher Ray Schalk revolutionized his position, laying the groundwork for how modern catchers approach the game. He also emerged as one of the few honest players during one of baseball’s biggest scandals.
Schalk’s high level of play earned him a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. In addition to his many accomplishments behind the plate, which included record numbers for catchers in fielding percentage, putouts and assists, Schalk also caught the perfect game in 1922 pitched by Charlie Robertson.
His level of play earned him admiration from his peers. “He was known and respected by the elite of the game – to the point of being one of Ty Cobb’s few friends,” wrote author Brian E. Cooper in “Ray Schalk: A Baseball Biography.”
Ray Schalk’s Early Life
Born Aug. 12, 1892 in Harvel, Illinois, Raymond William Schalk was the son of immigrants from Germany. He grew up in Litchfield, a small town in downstate Illinois, about 45 miles north of St. Louis.
Schalk at first wanted to enter the printing industry, leaving high school after just his second year. He even traveled to Brooklyn, New York, to learn how to run a Linotype machine. However, upon his return to Illinois, he found it hard to advance very quickly in the industry. He started to concentrate more on playing baseball.
Ray Schalk started on a small, local team, but soon got promoted to semi-pro ball and earned a small amount of money (about $2 per game). He then moved up to Class-D Taylorville in the Illinois-Missouri League, and then the Milwaukee Brewers, which then played in the American Association. He played there in both 1911 and 1912.
At his fullest height, Schalk ended up reaching only 5 feet, 7 inches. He also weighed only 155 pounds. He didn’t impress anyone with his size, but rather his excellent play behind the plate. He also demonstrated a feisty brand of leadership on the field, even though he was just 19 in 1912.
During that 1912 season, the White Sox purchased his services for $10,000 and two players. He was on his way to the Major Leagues.
Ray Schalk MLB Career
A day before his 20th birthday in 1912, Schalk started for the White Sox against the Philadelphia Athletics. Even with all the accomplishments to come, Schalk remembered it as his greatest day, ever. He started the game and got one hit.
He caught 23 games in 1912, hitting .286, driving in eight runs and stealing two bases. In 1913, he became the White Sox starting catcher and was behind the plate for 129 games. Except for an injury-shortened 1924, he held the job through the 1925 season.
He made his mark with his defense. The Hall of Fame credits Schalk with being the first catcher to back up first and third base on throws from the outfield. He also made putouts at every base, and led all catchers in baseball in fielding percentage eight times, in double plays four times, in putouts nine times and in assists twice.
He helped redefine the catcher position by playing smart. He credited his knowledge of the game to the pitchers he caught. “I caught pitchers of long experience and they hammered the game into me,” Schalk said, according to the Hall of Fame. “I had to learn or lose my job. They made me a star.”
Perfect Game and No-Hitters
Schalk caught four no-hitters, although one was taken away in 1991, long after his death in 1970, when the league changed the rules for what qualifies as a no-hitter.
The numbers show how well he would call a game. He caught 144 shutouts over his career, second only to Yogi Berra and Carlton Fisk. He also has the career record for double plays by a catcher at 217. He stole 30 bases in 1916, a record for catchers that stood until 1982.
His best season was 1922. He finished third in Most Valuable Player award balloting. On April 30, he caught the perfect game pitched by Robertson against the Detroit Tigers in Detroit. He already had caught no-hitters by Joe Benz in 1914 and Eddie Cicotte in 1917.
Schalk also played on the 1917 White Sox team that won the World Series.
Black Sox Scandal
Schalk is one of the players for the 1918 Chicago White Sox who wasn’t in on the fix. Eight players had agreed to throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for money from organized crime figures.
According to Cooper in his book about Schalk, the catcher “was one of the first of the honest players – called the Clean Sox – to know something was up.” Some of his pitchers, for example, would groove balls for hitters, ignoring what Schalk asked them to throw. Schalk initially accused his teammates of throwing the series, but later reversed that statement and then refused to say another word, according to Cooper. He did that out of loyalty to White Sox owner Charles Cominsky.
After the 1926 season, Schalk became a player-manager, although he did not enjoy the same level of success. After a disagreement with Cominsky about pay, Schalk joined the New York Giants coaching staff in 1929. He joined the Chicago Cubs as a coach in 1930 and 1931, then managed the Buffalo Bisons of the International League from 1932 to 1937. After stints as manager of several minor league clubs (Indianapolis Indians, Oklahoma City Indians and Milwaukee Brewers), Schalk became a scout for the Cubs.
In 1955, the Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee voted Schalk into the hall. On his death – May 19, 1970 – the White Sox, playing against the California Angels – observed a moment of silence before the game for Schalk.