Socks Seybold Saw Babe Ruth Shatter His Home Run Record
“Put my socks in a cedar box,” folk singer John Prine said in a 1972 classic about not wanting to be buried. Well, it was exactly 100 years ago today when Socks was indeed placed in a box and buried in Pennsylvania.
It probably was not a cedar box, and certainly it was not a pair of socks belonging to Prine. The Socks placed in a grave on that day a century ago actually belonged to Ralph Orlando Seybold, a baseball player whose nickname was Socks.
Seybold died on December 22, 1921, two years after his long-standing home run record had been broken. He socked 16 home runs in 1902, which stood as the most in a single season until a guy named Babe Ruth broke it in 1919.
No one was shocked that Ruth was going to break the record that season, for he hit his sixteenth on July 29. Number seventeen came on August 14 against left hander Eddie Cicotte in Chicago, who at the end of that 1919 World Series would receive a lifetime suspension for his involvement with what has become known as the Black Sox scandal.
Socks had for years been out of the game by then, having had his career cut short because of a knee injury. Nevertheless, his single season home run record lasted for nearly twenty years, shattered by the Sultan of Swat in 1919.
It would have been nice had Seybold remained with the team that brought him to the Big Leagues, the Reds, since he was born in Washingtonville, Ohio. Add to that the irony of a guy named Socks actually playing for a team called the Red Stockings, and one can imagine all sorts of potential promotions with that combination.
After one year in Cincinnati, Seybold played for the Athletics for the rest of his career. It was in Philadelphia where he established his single season home run mark, but he also became known for other characteristics.
For instance, Socks played right field, not an unusual occurrence, except that he always used a first baseman's mitt. In order to do so he had to petition to the league president, who allowed the unusual request.
Seybold is also remembered for a metaphorical home run just a year before he retired, when Connie Mack gave him an important responsibility that would resonate for the rest of baseball history. Mack sent Seybold to Greeneville, North Carolina in order to retrieve one of the team's best prospects.
Young outfielder Joe Jackson was having a hard time adjusting to the city life required by baseball players, so he kept returning to his small town home. Socks made the trip to Greeneville where, after treating him to a nice dinner and train fare, he persuaded the future shoeless star to re-join the club.
Thus Seybold was connected to two of the game's biggest stars, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Babe Ruth. The former owed his successful career to Socks, whose tie to the Bambino began when Ruth broke the home run mark Seybold had held for nearly two decades.
Disappearing much quicker than his home run record was another distinction he had held for just over a decade, the nickname of Socks. Not only did another Socks appear in the Big Leagues in 1915, but his last name was pronounced exactly the same as well.
Socks Seibold made his Major League debut in 1915, when he took the mound for the Philadelphia Athletics. Had the first Socks been able to stay healthy for a few more years, he would have been teammates with Socks Two.
Such a pairing might have led to some confusion for the announcers and maybe the fans who could not see the action on the field, although one would probably recognize which was which by looking at the positions. The pitcher was three inches shorter and weighed thirty pounds less than the outfielder so, even though they shared names, they would be able to share neither the same shoes nor the same socks.