Fred Badel was an illiterate German immigrant from Carnegie, PA, who suffered from curvature of the spine. He was a .300 hitter and an outstanding baserunner for the Buffalo Bisons, until the “humpstroking business” became intolerable. His teammates rubbed his hump so often for good luck that Humpty began to feel persecuted. After the 1906 season, he broke his contract and destroyed his big league prospects. Then his mother died and his brother was hit by a train, and Humpty missed a year. He made it back to the diamond with Johnstown in 1908. His manager, Ed Ashenback, tells us how it went.
When I took charge of the Johnstown club of the Tri-State League in 1908 I had on my team a player by the name of “Humpty” Badel. The lad was a native of Pittsburg and was afflicted with quite a growth on his back, hence his sobriquet of “Humpty.” Notwithstanding this misfortune, Badel was a ball player of ability…How that lad Badel could hit! Short of stature, he had a crouching position at the bat that made him an exceedingly hard man to pitch to…On the bases he was a whirlwind, and in sliding he would invariably land on the “hump,” making him an exceedingly hard man for the baseman to touch…It was intellectually that Badel failed. It is always my custom to train my men in a system of signals whereby their team-work is carried through the season. In this inside work, Badel was absolutely helpless. He would do exactly the opposite of what he was told to do…To make the signs easy for him, I suggested that he name any words, numbers, etc., that I should tell him when a play was expected in which he might take part. To complicate the signs they were to be given by me in the German language. To play the hit-and-run game, Badel suggested that I yell out and call him “Honus.” He would then surely know what was expected of him. This I did, but soon everybody in the bleachers was calling him “Honus.” He really got along well until one day, I put on the “Honus play” and Badel was so delighted in pulling it off that he yelled in to me on the coaching line in the German language, “Hab ich das nicht gesagt?” Then, notwithstanding my yells to look out for the ball that was being fast fielded in, he wandered off the base and was caught napping. There were not many more “Honus plays” after that, as poor Badel was seized with a nervous affliction and was compelled to quit the game.
Reader, tomorrow you will very likely celebrate this great nation of ours. We ask only this: that you pause, while doing so, to imagine yourself in the worn cleats of Humpty Badel. It shouldn’t be hard. Just picture yourself lost somewhere between first and second base, between German and English, between respect and derision, between unbounded talent and crippling frailty, between the American Dream and the despair of waking. Happy Fourth.