Eddie Plank was a professional fidgeter. He was famous for his tedious mannerisms on the mound. A thin southpaw from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with a long, pointy nose, Plank liked to examine the baseball between pitches, tug at the bill of his cap, and hitch at his pants. In an era when games frequently took only 90 minutes to play, “Gettysburg Eddie” would add 10-15 minutes to the contest with his nervous habits. But the stalling wasn’t for lack of courage: Plank was one of the best pitchers in baseball in the first decade of the 20th century. He won 20 games eight times and led the league in shutouts twice, once throwing eight in one season.
Plank’s personal catcher was a man named Michael “Doc” Powers, who, by contemporary accounts, was a smart receiver skilled at making a strong connection with his pitchers, sort of like Tim McCarver later on. From 1901 to 1908, Powers caught 205 of the 281 games Eddie started. Athletics’ manager Connie Mack knew that Plank was comfortable throwing to Powers, which is why he kept Doc on the team even though the catcher hit .173 from 1904 to 1908. Sportswriter George Graham observed that Powers “was always a far better catcher than he was credited with being. He wasn’t much of a hitter—one of the poorest in the league, in fact—and he was painfully slow on the bases, but behind the bat he was alert-minded, he handled the mitt well and had a great arm.”
On Opening Day in 1909, the A’s hosted the Red Sox at brand new Shibe Park in Philadelphia. The ballpark featured a grand facade, wide corridors, modern concessions, and comfortable seating. Even before it opened, Shibe Park was celebrated as the greatest ballpark in the game. It was a festive day, and a sellout crowd of more than 30,000 were in attendance. Ceremony surrounded the event, dignitaries spoke, bands played and so on. The Red Sox had a young center fielder in their lineup named Tris Speaker, the A’s were playing a kid named Eddie Collins at second base. It was the first opening day game for the two future Hall of Famers. The game was anticlimactic: the A’s pounded the Sox for eight runs while Plank cruised with Powers behind the plate. But the most noteworthy event of the day went almost unnoticed, although it turned out to be tragic.
In the seventh inning, Powers reported that he was feeling ill. For a few moments, he was in great pain before finally getting to his feet and going to his position behind the plate. Waving off Mack’s suggestions that he retire for the day, Powers played on through the completion of an 8-1 victory by Plank, despite suffering intense pain.
A reporter noted in his game account:
“The only thing that occurred to cast a shadow over the joy of the fans was the seizure of Doc Powers with acute gastritis in the seventh inning. The redoubtable catcher, however, refused to abandon his post behind the plate and though suffering intense agony, pluckily stuck to it until the end of the game. On the verge of collapse, he was taken to Northwest General Hospital where last night it was stated by the physicians attending him that he would probably be able to don a uniform again in a few days.”
But only hours after checking into the hospital, Powers got worse. After examination, it was determined that immediate surgery was necessary. Early on the morning of the 13th, Powers underwent a procedure in which nearly a foot of his intestine was removed. He was in stable condition for a few days before the pain returned. It was learned that he had another blockage in his intestine and another surgery commenced. After the second operation, Powers hovered in uncertain condition. Doctors determined that Powers was suffering from intussusception, a rare condition where one section of the intestine slips inside an adjacent part of the intestine. The result is very dangerous.
Sections of Powers intestine were gangrenous and removed, but his condition did not improve, even after a third operation. Finally, on April 26th, he died. It was reported that Powers, who was medically licensed himself, had sat up in his bed and shouted “I’ve got no pulse…no pulse!” I doubt that happened, but we know for sure that Powers passed. On April 29th, a funeral was held at St. Elizabeth’s Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia. One of the pallbearers was the great fidgeter, Eddie Plank.