By Marty Appel
Harry Hooper was the first Red Sox batter in the very first game at Fenway Park, and although he went 0-for-5 that afternoon, he was there for the start of a world championship season, one of four the Sox would win over the next seven years. Only Hooper was there for all four – the only Boston player to have played for four world championship Red Sox teams.
He also played a key, but generally forgotten role, in converting Babe Ruth from pitcher to everyday player.
Hooper, with Tris Speaker and Duffy Lewis, formed a legendary defensive outfield for the first of those two titles. As Speaker was known to play a very shallow center, Hooper in right had a lot of ground to cover behind him – which he did. He became a darling of the Fenway faithful with his ability to run down long drives.
Covering ground, figuratively, came naturally to the native of Bell Station, California, for he was by training an engineer, and he would tell people in his early years that he was a surveyor who played ball on the side.
His first pro team, in Alameda, California, sold him to Sacramento for $25 after Hooper had agreed to split the sale price with his boss. (Yes, $12.50 for each party). By the time he went from Sacramento to Boston, he was still thinking in terms of “a year or two” before returning to his trade. He wound up playing big league ball from 1909-1925, and the engineering trade lost him.
A graduate of St. Mary’s College, Hooper was among the slowly increasing group of college educated players who followed Bucknell’s Christy Mathewson into the majors, and these players came to be respected for their maturity, sportsmanship, manners and leadership. Indeed, while with Boston, Hooper took command of the team on the field, even as Ed Barrow held the title of manager.
“I was the team captain by then,” he told Lawrence Ritter for the classic The Glory of Their Times, “I ran the team on the field, and I finally talked Ed into converting Ruth from a pitcher into an outfielder.”
It is a move Barrow approved and is widely credited with. Hooper at this time was the center fielder, and he had Ruth installed in right, helping to teach him the position during the games.
While only a .281 career hitter with 75 homers, he led off both games of a doubleheader with home runs in 1913, a feat that was not repeated for 80 years when Rickey Henderson did it. In 1915, he became the first player to ever homer twice in a World Series game, connecting twice in the decisive fifth game in Baker Bowl, Philadelphia, in a Series that produced only 22 combined runs. The Series was also marked by a near sit-down strike by the players, bitter over a new formula for dividing the money, which resulted in markedly reduced shares. It was Hooper, putting the waiting and impatient fans first, who represented the players and who agreed to play – “for their sake.”
After Hooper’s retirement he sold real estate, then spent two years as baseball coach at Princeton, before returning to California, where he was appointed postmaster of the local Capitola post office in 1933. He served for 24 years.
Harry Hooper was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971, three years before his death.