Since April 2007, I’ve been writing stories mostly about Washington D.C. baseball history at Nationals Daily News. A lot of my stories are based off of a date in time in D.C. baseball history. Today’s story is about a pitcher, Allen “Bullet Ben” Benson, who made his Washington Senators debut this week in 1934.
What makes this story so different than any of my other stories is the way I learned about Benson. It happened a little less than two years ago when I received an e-mail from a person who wrote the following message to me:
“Mark, I have spent the last 20 years of my life trying to find more information out about my grandfather’s career. He played with the Senators in 1934; he got a call up in August of that year, and pitched in two games. His name is Allen “Bullet Ben” Benson. Do you have any info on this subject??”
The person who sent me the message did not give me their name, only an e-mail address. Name or not, I was happy Benson’s grandson took the time to reach me. I like to put on my detective hat on whenever I get the chance. After reading his question, I wasted no time in researching Benson’s baseball past.
First, I looked his name up at baseball-reference.com. Even though there wasn’t much more than the basic player profile there, I did see something that caught my eye. Allen Benson made his major league debut with the Washington Senators on August 19, 1934 and played in his last major league game one week later on August 26. Benson’s grandson was right, his grandfather only played in only two games with the Senators. Not much of a story, if you are only interested in big names and big historical events.
For some reason, I kept on searching for more information about this player with the cool “Bullet Ben” nickname. I am glad I did because a half-hour later I found a Web site that listed major league players who were born in South Dakota. It was at this site I found a great deal of information about Benson’s baseball career. Below is what was written about him:
“Allen Wilbert Benson was born in Hurley (Turner County), SD, on March 28, 1905 (prior to 2009, his birth date was listed incorrectly as July 12, 1908). He lived there his whole life.
“As a young man, Allen played amateur ball in and around Hurley. He also played with a Sioux City Stockyards team and professionally in the Texas League. In 1925 he was in one game for Waco and, in 1927, he pitched 5 games for Dallas (2-1, 2.74). It was also reported in “The Sporting News” that he appeared in games that year for Waterloo, IA.
“Benson’s 1928 season was at Akron of the Central League where he appeared in 14 games with a 4-10 record and a 3.57 ERA. He started out with them again in 1929 (35 games, 12-7, 4.67) and then went to the Minneapolis Millers with whom he was in 3 games (16 innings) with a 0-1 record and an 8.44 ERA. In 1929 he returned to his preferred life on the ranch in South Dakota. “TSN” also reported that he had played in Charlerol, Des Moines, Wilkes-Barre and the House of David for three years.
“In a “TSN” article in August 1934, it was reported that he had to return to baseball because making a living on his land became very difficult under conditions during the Depression. In the summer of 1934 he was with The House of David team (beard and all) and was signed by Washington after the manager of Albany, Joe Cambria, saw him pitch an exhibition in Baltimore. [Benson told the team that he also had an 18-5 record for the amateur team - the Benton Harbor Tourists.] Cambria set up a try out for him where he pitched against the Senators’ regular players. Washington management decided that he had sufficient speed, a good curve ball and change up to be inked to a contract.
“He first started a major league game on August 19, for the seventh place Joe Cronin led team and lasted until the 8th inning when he was removed with a blistered finger. When he arrived with the team, he continued to have facial hair. There were reports of his Senators’ teammates being upset with his whiskers because they found ‘the addition to their ranks of a sideshow curiosity as belittling their profession and take the view this pan should be operated on by a barber if he really is a pitcher and not merely a clown.’ Senators’ management said he could keep the whiskers, fans were sharply divided and Benson himself was said to be ‘undecided ... but seemed inclined to favor retention...’
“Jaded members of the press charged that the signing of Allen was actually as a box office attraction similar to team owner Clark Griffith’s employing characters such as Germany Schaefer, Nick Altrock, Al Schacht and Art Shires.
“In two starts that year, Benson pitched 9 2/3 innings and allowed 19 hits, 5 walks and struck out 4 for a 0-1 record with a 12.10 ERA. His son, Donald, wrote in 2004 that all he mentioned about his days with the Senators was ‘I was in the major leagues just long enough to have a cup of coffee.’ After his less then great pitching performance for the Senators, the beard was shaved.
“His nickname during his baseball years was “Bullet Ben” and in 1935 he made 2 stops to complete his pro career - at Albany of the International League (1-2) and Harrisburg of the New York-Penn league (8-9, 3.07).
After baseball, Allen returned to the Hurley area to farm and ‘feed cattle’ for more than 50 years. He died on Nov. 16, 1999.”
I was very pleased with my findings, so I sent the information to Benson’s very grateful grandson. Since that time ,I read a very interesting ESPN story, “The Greatest Moments in Baseball Hair History” that was written by Paul Lukas in April 2008. In the story Lukas notes, “1934: Minor league journeyman Allen Benson gets a cup of coffee in the majors, appearing in two games with the Washington Senators. He sports a full beard, making him the first bearded big leaguer in 50 years - and the last one for nearly 40 more”. I personally was pleased to find out Benson’s cup of coffee with the Washington Senators was truly a little piece of baseball history.
Mark Hornbaker blogs about the Nats at Nationals Daily News and shares his views on baseball in D.C. as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative to welcome guest bloggers to out little corner of the Internet. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.