Pitching ace Claude Hendrix hailed from Olathe

With all the excitement surrounding the Kansas City Royals in the playoffs, we thought it would be a good idea to dig into the Museum’s archives to find a baseball story from Johnson County’s past.

Claude Hendrix was born in Olathe in 1889 and honed his baseball skills locally under the guidance of his father, Price Hendrix, who served as Johnson County’s sheriff. Hendrix made his way to Fairmount College (known today as Wichita State University) where he pitched on a powerhouse team that included three other future professional ballplayers.

Claude Hendrix (top left) with the Olathe team baseball team in 1906.

Claude Hendrix (top left) with the Olathe town baseball team in 1906.

Hendrix played for a few years in various minor leagues before making his professional debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1911.  The young right-hander made an immediate impact for the Pirates.  In 1912, Hendrix compiled a 24-9 record and finished second in the National League with 176 strikeouts.  Pitching legend Cy Young said of Hendrix in 1912, “He is one of the likeliest looking young pitchers I have seen in years.  He is strong of body and can stand the gaff because he is quick-thinking and fast as lightning.”

Claude Hendrix went on to have an impressive career in professional baseball until 1920.  He won 144 games and compiled three 20-win seasons.  He also holds the distinction of winning the first baseball game held at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in 1914, when the  newly-opened stadium was known as Weeghman Park.

Hendrix as a member of the Chicago Cubs in 1918. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

Hendrix as a member of the Chicago Cubs in 1918. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

Unfortunately, baseball historians today primarily remember Hendrix for his connection to a scandal that still resonates in popular culture.  In 1920 as a member of the Chicago Cubs, Hendrix was accused of placing a bet against his own team in a game he was scheduled to start.  Cubs President Bill Veeck, Sr. was tipped off about the plot and removed Hendrix from the lineup on the day in question.  The scandal led to a grand jury investigation into gambling in major league baseball.  The investigation into Hendrix was never resolved, but the Cubs released him from the team at the end of the 1920 season.  The inquiry did, however, ultimately lead to questions about the 1919 World Series.  It was revealed that members of the Chicago White Sox were paid off to intentionally lose games to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 Series, and eight players were banned from professional baseball for life.

Whether or not Hendrix was involved in the gambling scandal has been debated in the years since the accusation.  Hendrix moved to Pennsylvania after his major league career ended in 1920, where he played semi-pro baseball and ran a restaurant until his death in 1944.

– Matt Gilligan, Johnson County Museum

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