Flint Rhem was perhaps the only player in the history of the major leagues to have been abducted, held for ransom and released
with no one knowing about it but him. During the heat of the 1930 National League pennant race, Rhem, then a twenty-nine year
old hurler for the St. Louis Cardinals, mysteriously disappeared on the eve of a mid-September series with the then Brooklyn
Robins (Dodgers). |
Charles Flint Rhem was born in Rhems, South Carolina on January 24, 1901. Although he is virtually forgotten today, Rhem was a
quality pitcher with a world of talent. He debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1924, and by 1926 he was a twenty-game winner,
leading the National League with a 20-7 record. By October, he was a World Champion, led by 39 year old Pete Alexander's dramatics
in Game 7.
However, the temptations of Prohibition-era America were too much for Rhem to resist.
The following season, Rhem was roomed with Hall of Fame alcoholic Alexander, ostensibly for the youngster to learn from the
pitching great. However, Rhem learned more lessons about drinking, and his record fell in 1927 to 10-12. Rhem was stopped one night
returning late to his hotel by his coach and future manager Gabby Street, who inquired about his apparently drunken condition.
"Sarge," Rhem countered, "you can't blame me on this one. I was with Alexander, and I was only trying to drink his share to keep
him sober." That was classic Flint Rhem, and his legend was about to turn another page.
On Tuesday, September 16, 1930, the Cardinals were to begin a crucial, three game series with the Robins. Brooklyn led St.
Louis by one full game in the standings, and Bill Hallahan was scheduled to start for the Cardinals in the series opener.
However, Hallahan slammed a taxi door on his hand and he appeared questionable for the series. Rhem was penciled in to move
up one day in the rotation to take the powerful left handers spot .
That morning, Rhem was nowhere to be found, but the Cardinals still beat the Robins 1-0 in 10 innings to move into a tie for
first place. The police were notified of the pitcher's disappearance and a search began. The Cardinals ended up sweeping the
series, and would winding up coasting to the National League flag.
When the Redbirds returned to their hotel following the extra-inning thriller, Rhem showed up visibly, the worse for wear.
According to Rhem, he was standing outside the team's hotel when a car pulled up. Two men, presumably Robins' fans, forced him
into the car at gunpoint. His abductors then took him to a house in New Jersey, where again at gunpoint, forced him to drink
whiskey all day. Ring Lardner wrote that Rhem continually kept saying to Street, "It was terrible, Sarge, it was just awful."
Dan Daniel in the New York Telegram quoted our ill-starred hero as confessing, "I am ashamed to say that I got drunk. Imagine
me getting drunk! I pleaded with the bandits not to make me drink hard liquor, which you know I abhor, but they would not
listen to me. I was in their power. I drank and drank – always at the point of a gun, always threatened. It was horrible."
The story got around Brooklyn that gambling interests kidnapped Rhem away in order to give Brooklyn an edge in the series
against the Cardinals. The league was poised to open an investigation, but Branch Rickey, business manager of the Cardinals,
went to NL president John Heydler to tell him that Rhem's story was nonsense. Heydler wisely chose not to proceed with the
Undaunted, Rhem could not help police locate the house in New Jersey, nor could he give complete descriptions of the bandits.
Nick Altrock, former pitcher and the first "Clown Prince of Baseball," later stated that he rushed into the streets of New
York hoping to be mistaken for a Cardinal pitcher by gunmen, bandits, or anyone else who would provide the necessary whiskey.
Many years later, Rhem changed his story slightly. He admitted that he had been out late, but wasn't drinking heavily. He woke
the next morning, terribly ill, the source of his illness being a bad piece of steak from the night before. According to Rhem,
"Mr. Rickey came by my room..outside in the hall there were a few sportswriters….Mr. Rickey said, 'You look like somebody
kidnapped you' and I responded 'call it what you like.' Now that's all I said so help me." Rhem was one of the first athletes
ever to lay a strong claim to being misquoted.
Rhem spent the next year and a half with the Cardinals before being dealt to the lowly Phillies in 1932. He had a productive
year, going a combined 15-9 with both teams. He never won more than 10 games again, and pitched in the majors until 1936. He
was never kidnapped again. Rhem passed away on July 30, 1969. He was 68 years old.