"Just The Greatest"
by Diana Loski
In addition to its fame as a Civil War battlefield, Gettysburg has a full history from the Colonial era that lasts into the 20th century. Of the latter, one Gettysburg citizen who gained lasting fame was Eddie Plank, the winning left-handed pitcher of the Philadelphia Athletics, who came to be known -- in town and out -- simply as Gettysburg Eddie. He was admired as much, if not more, than the myriad sports professionals of today.
(Adams County Historical Society)
Edward Stewart Plank was the fourth of six children born to David and Martha (Mattie) McCreary Plank, on August 31, 1875. His two sisters and three brothers were Martha (Mattie), Luther, Howard, Grace, and Ira. Born on his father’s farm on the Old Harrisburg Road, Eddie and his brothers loved the game of baseball. After chores, they would throw pitches at the family barn, and as they grew older, practiced pitching to each other. Eddie’s brother Luther remembered that he suffered a few broken fingers when he was his brother’s catcher -- and recalled that Eddie often had a few “erratic” pitches.1
Eddie attended the Gettysburg Academy (later Gettysburg College), and in 1901, at the age of 25, he pitched at the college for the team. He was known locally as the left-handed pitcher who could not be beat, and that same year Philadelphia Athletics owner Connie Mack saw Eddie pitch a game. He immediately signed Eddie -- and Plank went directly from college pitching to the major leagues. He was then 26 years old. Had he been discovered at a younger age, like Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb, his numbers would have been even more amazing -- and they are impressive nonetheless. Ty Cobb said of Plank, “He was the toughest pitcher I ever faced.” High praise indeed.2
Eddie Plank pitched for the Philadelphia A’s for thirteen seasons, from 1902 through 1914. The team’s winning record, capturing six pennants and two World Series championships during that time, was due largely to Plank’s ability as a pitcher.
Plank reached the pinnacle of his professional career during the years 1912 and 1913. In the latter of those years, Philadelphia battled the New York Giants in the World Series in September. The Giants possessed an equally great pitcher in Christy Matthewson. The series that year was known as a “pitching duel” between the two great players. Matthewson won the first game of the series for the Giants, pitching a no-hitter. But the second, third, and fourth games were won by the A’s, due largely to Plank's pitching. The fifth game showed the true mettle of both pitchers, and for nine innings neither team was able to get a hit. Eddie Plank used his famous “sharp breaking drop pitch”, which was a curve ball that did not drop until it was directly in front of the plate. He used it to great effect in the series. He also unnerved the batters with his pitching style: between pitches, Eddie took his time. He shuffled, he stared, and he twitched before nearly every throw. Finally, in the tenth inning, the A’s scored, winning the series. Eddie Plank was voted the team’s most valuable player.3
Eddie Plank was a national hero, and nowhere was that more apparent than in Gettysburg. A banquet at the Eagle Hotel, at the intersection of Chambersburg and Washington Streets, was held in his honor, with tickets at a premium price -- and the event quickly sold out. (The hotel was later destroyed by fire and no longer exists.)
The famous southpaw relished home, and enjoyed when the season was at an end so he could return to Gettysburg and visit his family and friends. One friend remembered that Eddie had “a quiet, gentle disposition that made friends and kept them.” A colleague noted that Eddie lived a clean life “and worked a good influence on the younger players.” He was known for his smile and positive attitude, and he never “sulked or eased up” but always gave his best.4
Devoted to the game, Eddie Plank naturally traveled a great deal during baseball season. He managed to keep his time off the field private. He surprised many on January 30, 1915, when he married an Adams County girl, Sarah Myers, from New Oxford. Many believed Plank was a confirmed bachelor, and he didn’t marry until he was 39 years of age. The following year, in 1916, Eddie and his wife welcomed their son, Edward Stewart Plank, Jr.
With the arrival of his son, and financially wealthy, Eddie Plank wanted to retire from baseball. At age 40, he was at the time in his life where most professional ball players retire. But he was too popular, and his new team, the St. Louis Browns, wouldn’t consider it. Finally, in 1917, Eddie was again traded to the New York Yankees. Eddie decided that was enough, and he refused to go. He said he was retired, and he went home to Gettysburg. There was plenty of cajoling and pleading, because he was, and still is, the best left-handed pitcher in baseball history. No offer could induce him to continue. He was 43 years old.5
Plank’s career average was .627. He won 320 games (69 of them shutouts) and lost 190. His record remains impressive nearly a century later.6
When the Lincoln Highway was built and ran through Gettysburg, by 1917 there was a need for filling stations. Eddie Plank purchased and built a garage, which was located at the corner of York and Stratton Streets. He worked it until 1923, when at age 48 he decided to retire from that too. Listing his profession as “farmer”, Eddie lived with his wife and son at a sizeable home on Carlisle Street. He wanted to purchase the farm where he had been born in Straban Township -- but his aged parents had sold it years earlier and moved to town.7
Eddie’s youngest brother, Ira, was also talented at the game of baseball. For 35 years he was the baseball (and football) coach at Gettysburg College. Eddie spent some time in his later years assisting his brother with the team, and also played now and then in special competitions, drawing large crowds when he did so.
When Eddie turned 50, he began to complain about pains in his neck and in the back of his head. At times, the pain made him edgy and nervous, but otherwise, being an athlete, he appeared to be in perfect health.8
On Sunday, February 21, Eddie traveled with his wife and son to Biglerville to visit his elder sister, Mattie, who had been in poor health. That night he again mentioned the pain in his head. The next day, Monday, he suffered a massive stroke that left his entire left side paralyzed. He also could not speak.9
Sarah summoned the doctor to their home on Carlisle Street. After examining him, the doctor explained that the damage was so extensive that Eddie Plank could not survive. Bravely accepting the prognosis, Mrs. Plank remained by her husband’s side, making him as comfortable as possible. Eddie’s elderly parents were also summoned, and were devastated by the news. Eddie appeared to recognize his family, but never spoke again. He rallied through Tuesday, but sank rapidly by Wednesday morning. He died just before 3 p.m., on February 24, 1926. His wife and son were by his side at his passing.10
Though Eddie Plank’s funeral was private, there was a public viewing at the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church on Baltimore Street. Several thousand attended, and Eddie’s passing made national news. Several of Gettysburg’s noteworthy leaders were honorary pallbearers -- but the actual pallbearers were mostly childhood friends of the baseball legend.
When Connie Mack learned that Eddie had died, he said, “I feel like a father must feel when he has lost a son.” One of Eddie’s colleagues paid an even greater tribute: “He was the brightest constellation the baseball firmament ever knew.” Another teammate, Eddie Collins, said of him decades later, “He was not the fastest. Not the trickiest, and not the possessor of the most stuff, but just the greatest.”11
Eddie Plank was laid to rest in Evergreen Cemetery. His legacy, however, continues on. In 1927, the gymnasium at Gettysburg College was named in his honor. When his son, Eddie, Jr. had his son, he named him Edward Stewart Plank III -- after the father he lost at age ten.
In 1946 “Gettysburg Eddie” was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. A great man, on and off the field, Eddie Plank was Gettysburg’s greatest star to date. Had no battle been fought in 1863, Gettysburg would still be known because of the great southpaw pitcher who loved his hometown as much as he did the game.
Sources: The Plank Family file, Adams County Historical Society (hereafter ACHS). Plank Family Bible, births, marriages, and deaths, copy ACHS. Edward Stewart Plank File, ACHS. Kennell, Brian A. Beyond the Gatehouse: Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery. “A Banquet to Eddie Plank”, The Gettysburg Times, Nov. 12, 1913. Eddie Plank obituaries: The Gettysburg Times, February 25, 1926. The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 25, 1926. The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 27, 1926. The Hanover Record, February 27, 1926. Ira Plank’s Obituary, The Gettysburg Times, n.d., fragment, ACHS. The Gettysburg Times, July 21, 1946. “A Plank Turns 100”, a story of Luther Plank, The Evening Sun, Sep. 27, 1972. “Eddie Plankis Hero of the Great World’s Series.” The Adams County Independent, Littlestown, PA, Oct. 6, 1913.
1. Plank Family Bible, Plank Family File, ACHS.
The Evening Sun, Sep. 27, 1972.
2. The Gettysburg Times, Nov. 12, 1913.
3. The Evening Sun, Sep. 27, 1972, Obituary, The
Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 25, 1926.
4. Kennell, p. 91. The Adams County
Independent, Oct. 6, 1913.
5. Plank Family File, ACHS. The Philadelphia
Inquirer, Feb. 25, 1926.
6. The Gettysburg Times, July 21, 1946.
7. The Gettysburg Times, Feb. 25, 1926. The
Hanover Record, Feb. 27, 1926.
8. The Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 25, 1926.
10. The Gettysburg Times, Feb. 27, 1926.
11. The Gettysburg Times, Feb. 25, 1926.
In the Plank Family Bible, Eddie Plank’s birth is noted as “Stewart Edward Plank”. Eddie’s parents both died in 1930, his sister Mattie in 1939, brother Ira in the 1940s. Luther Plank lived to his 100th year. Eddie Plank’s great grandchildren still live in Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg.