The game of baseball is so old that many things are taken for granted, or overlooked, regarded as a common fixture of a ball diamond. Ever wonder how the coaching boxes came into existence? Know what I’m talking about? Those overground chalk boundaries that look like a virgin staple? Well, they were adopted because of Arlie Latham, who, as a third base coach, used to run up and down the baseline taunting the opposition. Rules were enacted to keep Arlie within his limits and thus the creation of the coaching box.
Arlie Latham, known as “The Freshest Man on Earth,” was the original Clown Prince of Baseball. An entertainer in every sense of the word, Latham would often josh with fans or do somersaults over first basemen. Although Arlie is regarded as more of a character than a ballplayer, the fresh fellow was a heckuva little third baseman.
Latham split is career between the now defunct American Association and the National League. He failed in his first trial at the Major League level with the old Buffalo Bisons in 1880 but redeemed himself when the St. Louis Browns signed him in 1883. Arlie led the league in games played in his first full season but gained recognition as a coming star in 1884 when he scored 115 runs for Charlie Comiskey’s Browns.
Latham led the American Association with 152 runs in 1886, playing for the champion Browns. He finished second on the team with a .301 batting average and led the club with 60 steals. The art of base-stealing was something Latham excelled at. Quick and agile, Arlie used his natural traits to pilfer bags that could put Ty Cobb to blush. He swiped 129 bases in 1887 and led the league with 109 thefts in 1888. His Browns took part in the old World Series every year from 1885 to 1888, but despite their dominance, Comiskey is the only player from those great Browns teams in the Hall of Fame.
In 1889, Arlie’s last year as a Brown, he fashioned his fourth straight year of 100 or more runs scored. He left the Browns for the upstart Player’s League and spent half the season with the Chicago Pirates of the PL and the Cincinnati Reds of the National League. Arlie became a fixture at third base for the Reds, scoring 100 or more runs in his first four years there. He crossed the plate 119 times in 1891, playing on a team with such notables as Pete Browning, Bug Holliday, Long John Reilly and Hall of Famer Biddy McPhee.
1894 was arguably Arlie’s finest year. The Freshest Man on Earth scored 129 runs, stole 59 bases, hit .313 and posted a fine on-base percentage of .393. His last great year came in 1895 when Arlie hit .311. The Reds made a wise trade, sending Arlie back to his old stomping grounds of St. Louis for pitcher Red Ehret and catcher Heinie Pietz. The trade worked because Arlie had reached the end of the line. He only played in eight games for the Browns in 1896. He played briefly for the Washington Senators in 1899 and John McGraw hired him to be the third base coach for his Giants in 1909. McGraw also used Arlie as a player and the entertainer became the oldest man to steal a base when he pilfered a bag at the age of 49. He remains in the Top Ten in career stolen bases.
G 1,621/R 1,470/H 1,851/2B 249/3B 86/HR 27/RBI 641/SB 791/BA .272/SA .345