This is kind of cool.
The thing that always struck me about his (Cy’s, that is) story is that I don’t have any recollection of ever hearing anyone talk about him. Which, all things considered, seems odd, since my grandma (mom’s mom, and Cy’s niece) was never one to be shy about sharing family lore, particularly if it involved greatness or missed opportunities for greatness.
My copy of the book just arrived, and I’ve only read a few pages. This part is really cool (from page 6, Chapter 2):
My late father-in-law, Melvin Briggs, first brought Cy to my attention back in the 1970’s. While visiting the Bone Gap Elevator that he co-owned with his father Grant in the little country town of Bone Gap, Illinois, Melvin, severely crippled by arthritis and confined to doing office work, motioned toward the front counter.
“See that man at the counter,” he said more than asked. “I have always heard that he had a brother who played in the major leagues and he struck out Babe Ruth.”
The only person “that man at the counter” could have been is my great-grandfather William Warmoth. How cool is that?
Deciding to dig in a bit, I called my Uncle Larry (my mom’s brother) just now. After a little obligatory Covid related small talk, I asked him if he ever heard of Cy Warmoth.
“Never heard of him” was the reply.
Ok, that’s weird. Did a little more probing, and realized that the name “Cy” was the problem: In the family, he was “Wallace”. No one called him Cy.
The really interesting part, and more than a little tragic, is this: There is a reason they never talked about him. In Larry’s telling, Cy/Wallace was kind of a jerk, and a drinker. He had a son, Wallace Jr (who everyone called Wally), and that’s where the tragedy comes in. In 1933* Cy was out of baseball and back in Illinois. He was playing catch with Wally, who was 12 years old at the time. In Larry’s recollection, some combination of being a little drunk and a little short tempered on Cy’s part caused him to throw the ball extremely hard at Wally. The ball got away from Wally, hit him in the head, and (as Larry put it) “he spent the rest of his life at 12 years old”. Which is to say, Cy smoked the ball at Wally and gave him permanent brain damage.
Again in Larry’s words, that made Wallace “sort of the black sheep of the family”, and while Larry knew Wallace (and Wally) and they’d get together at family functions from time to time, he was essentially ostracized.
I don’t know exactly how to describe this, but if you knew my grandmother, you’d understand how there was no possibility that that incident ever be interpreted as a “accident”. The way I look at it, at one extreme you have a drunk and angry father (with a Major League arm) maliciously firing a 100MPH pitch at a 12 year old. On the other extreme, you have a 12 yo begging his dad to show him what a real Major League pitch was like, the dad saying “no chance, son”, the kid begging some more, and so on, until the dad finally relents and throws one against his better judgement, and that’s that. But in the Warmoth way of looking at such things, there’s no room for anything other than malice.
(Re-reading that paragraph, I still don’t think I’m on the mark. But it’s as good as you’re getting at the moment.)
(Another way of saying it is that my grandmother had a vindictive streak every bit the equal to the malicious streak she thought she saw in Wallace.)
As a matter of pure speculation, it’s hard to say if that incident was the sole cause of the family rift. My guess is it’s more like the Warmoths didn’t consider “professional baseball player” to be a respectable profession. I’d further speculate that the disrespect went both ways. Which is to say, I’m speculating that part of what got Cy into baseball was a desire to “get out of Bone Gap”, with all the cultural/social/economic implications that suggests. Something like that anyway. I expect that the accident with Wally was the last of a long line of straws, not the first.
As for the author, I found him on Facebook. He now lives in South Carolina, and has some fairly recent (December) activity, so I hope he’s active. Sent him a message. We’ll see what happens.
* I calculated the date based on Larry saying the kid was 12yo when this happened, and the fact that FindAGrave lists Wally as dying in 1965 at age 44.