Big League Baseball’s Original Movie Star, Carl “Huck” Sawyer
A former MLB infielder got into acting and comedy when he had a hard time getting off the bench
For many years, professional baseball players ranging from bench warmers to stars had to get offseason jobs in order to make ends meet. Along the way, some players found entirely new careers available to them. A great example of this is Carl “Huck” Sawyer, who was the first movie star from the big leagues.
A utility infielder, Sawyer’s professional career began with the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League. He wasn’t much of a hitter, but his versatility and talent as a defender made him stand out and permitted him to reah the big leagues. He played in parts of two major league seasons (1915–1916) with the Washington Senators, appearing in a total of 26 games. During that time, he batted a combined .222 with five RBIs and five stolen bases.
Sawyer began branching out into entertainment almost immediately. Nick Altrock was a coach on the Senators and well known for his comedic antics in the coaching box and during the game. His love of goofiness rubbed off on the young infielder, who first made his mark in this regard by cracking up the crowd little more than a week after his debut in 1915 by pretending to swim through the grass while he was coaching first base during a game.
In 1916, Sawyer spent the entire year with the Senators but only had 37 plate appearances. That gave him plenty of free time during games in addition to opportunities to be in the coaching boxes. He expanded his showboat persona, strutting around like a chicken and displaying an acumen for acrobatics by doing handsprings and other maneuvers to get the attention of the crowd.
Despite his clowning, he never veered from also being a determined player. Sometimes, he was able to combine the two into one. On one occasion, he wowed by performing a somersault over a surprised third baseman when attempting to go from second base to third during a game. The umpire only called him out because his great leap took him outside the base path. Washington manager Clark Griffith explained how much he valued his infielder:
“Sawyer is my type of a ballplayer, the kind of a man…