Earl Pruess: The Browns’ “Moonlight” Graham
“Moonlight” Graham is a name which came to the forefront due to the book “Shoeless Joe” and subsequent movie “Field of Dreams.” Graham, as most know, was a baseball player who got into one game for the New York Giants back in 1905 and never played in the majors again.
Graham was not the only person to have had an oh-so-brief major-league career, but undoubtedly he will always be the most renowned.
While doing some research I stumbled upon another Graham—Earl Pruess, who appeared in one game for the 1920 Browns. Who was Pruess and how much could I find out about him just by sitting in front of my home computer?
Baseball-Reference.com lists Pruess as having been born in 1895 in Chicago and dying in 1979 in Branson, Mo. (but buried in Chicago). There is no record for Pruess as a minor-leaguer. However, thanks to the Internet, I was able to find out that Pruess was acquired by the Cedar Rapids Rabbits (or Bunnies as they were called in the newspaper) from the Browns. How or why the Browns had him as their property and what they received was not mentioned in the July 20 Cedar Rapids Gazette. Pruess played in right field and batted fifth in his Bunny debut at Terre Haute but went 0-for-3.
According to Baseball-Reference’s statistics for the 1920 Rabbits, Pruess (listed without a first name and a question mark, indicating the site isn’t sure that is the correct name), played in 55 games and hit just .186 with one home run. Nevertheless, when the Three-Eye season ended, Pruess went back to the Browns.
On Sept. 15, 1920, Pruess made his only major-league appearance.
In a game played against the Boston Red Sox in St. Louis, the Browns led 12-3 after three innings and pressed it to 15-3 after six. Browns manager Jimmy Burke made wholesale changes in the seventh. Dutch Wetzel, “the champion home run hitter of the Michigan-Ontario league,” according to the Boston Globe, took over in left field for “Baby Doll” Jacobson. Pat Collins entered for Hank Severeid at catcher. Paul Speraw (or Sperrau as the Globe had it) replaced Earl Smith at third base (this would also be Speraw’s only major-league game, but Baseball-Reference has his complete minor-league record, from 1914-33). Pruess, incorrectly labeled as also coming from the Michigan-Ontario League, relieved Jack Tobin in right field.
Defensively, Pruess made two putouts and is credited with an assist in the Globe’s box score (as well as some season-ending statistics). Baseball-Reference and retrosheet.org do not credit Pruess with an assist.
In the seventh inning, Pruess stepped to the plate for the only time (Speraw would get two at-bats, by the way, and go 0-for-2). On the mound for Boston was future Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt, who was taking one for the team. Hoyt relieved starter Benn Karr in the third inning and would finish out the game, allowing 13 hits and 11 runs in 5 2/3 innings. Lyman Lamb led off the inning with a single, bringing up Pruess. There is no mention of how many pitches he saw, but Pruess drew a walk. Then, despite being up 12 runs, Lamb and Pruess executed a double steal. Collins also walked to load the bases.
Browns pitcher Carl Weilman then grounded to second—he had been 4-for-4—to advance the runners. Wally Gerber then hit an infield single and Pruess added to his brief statistical day a run scored. That run may have just been the last thing Pruess ever did in a professional baseball game. As mentioned, there is no record on Baseball-Reference of any minor-league action for Pruess. In a December 1920 look at the following season, the Cedar Rapids Gazette includes Pruess as a player likely not returning.
Perhaps he played, but I, at least, couldn’t find any record of him in the newspaper archives available to me at no cost (thank you public library system for providing what I could find). But Pruess would re-emerge in the newspapers, just not about baseball. He settled in Itasca, Ill. A 1940 census card can be found listing Earl H. Pruess born in 1895 in Illinois. Could there really have been two people named Earl H. Pruess born in 1895 in Illinois? Likely not.
Pruess married Ethelywme and had two children in 1940—Patricia (8) and Earl (7), the latter of which appears to have moved to Michigan later in life then back to Itasca (there are newspaper articles about him as late as 1998). There was another son, Jack, but the Daily Herald notes the untimely death of the 4-year-old in 1931. Earl Pruess bowled (he was listed third in an individual standings in February 1932) and got into politics. Among the posts Pruess ran for and won: Itasca town trustee (1933 and again in 1951), County Commander of his American Legion (1938) and police magistrate (1943).
Pruess did keep a hand in baseball, somewhat, it seems. In 1936, he was placed on a committee to handle protests in the North DuPage Softball League. Also in 1946 he managed a team of married men against single men. In 1951, Pruess also finished in first place in a “low net” tournament (presumably tennis).
But then that’s where the record ends on Pruess, who as mentioned previously lived until 1979. No record of his playing with the Browns or professional baseball is ever mentioned except the day after the St. Louis-Boston game (the Cedar Rapids Gazette noted he played as well).
Did he talk about it often? What were his memories? All those things are lost to time. Or someone with more access to these things than I do sitting here at home. But I can imagine—at least for one day—Earl Pruess being on top of the world after scoring that run in a blowout against the Red Sox. It was a memory that would have to last a lifetime.