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The brief but interesting Yankees career of Bill Otis

For only having one career hit, Bill Otis did some notably weird things in his time in major league baseball

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

A quick look at Bill Otis’ Baseball Reference page doesn’t show anything especially weird. He played four major league games in his career. Yes, he went just 1-17 in that time, but he’s far from the only person to struggle early in their major league career and then never get another chance.

In some ways, Otis was the prototypical anonymous major leaguer. However, considering his anonymity, some weird things happened in his major league career.

Otis was born in Massachusetts and played baseball at Williams College, which is where he came to prominence. During his senior season in 1912, he was hitting over .400 and caught the eye of the then New York Highlanders. Just a couple days after he graduated, they signed him. A couple days after that, he was playing in his first major league game.

Otis made his major league debut on July 4, 1912. The Highlanders were playing the Washington Senators in a doubleheader at the Polo Grounds. Otis played center field and batted second in the lineup, but didn’t manage a hit in either game of the doubleheader.

The following day, Otis made a nice catch in another game against the Senators. Later in the game, he also picked up his first major league hit. Otis singled off of future Hall of Famer Walter Johnson, who had come in to pitch relief in what ended up being a 16-inning game. Despite the hit and the catch, Otis and the Highlanders lost.

Otis played one more game on July 6th, but went hitless again. Following that game, he was sent into the minor leagues. While playing in the minors, he broke his ankle. He had the option to come back after recovering from his injury, he decided not to. He ended his baseball career and moved to Minnesota with his wife.

One major oddity of Otis’ career was his one career hit coming against a Hall of Famer in his prime. What was ever stranger about his time in baseball was that was he was called by the wrong name during his career.

On every baseball page you can find, he was listed as Bill Otis. However, he was named Paul Franklin Otis. His baseball teammates seemingly just made up a name for him. The best possible explanation was that he went to Williams College. Calling a guy by a nickname derived from his college is pretty weird, but also something that old-timey baseball players might do. A more ridiculous possibility was that he had a brother named Bill. It would be real weird to call someone by the name of their brother, especially one who has nothing to do with his baseball career.

Otis was out of baseball for almost his entire life after his injury, but he was invited to the Yankees Old Timers’ Day in 1983. He lived until he was 100, and at the time of his death, he was the oldest former major leaguer alive. He passed away in December 1990, just a few days short of his 101st birthday.

“Bill” Otis had a short, relatively anonymous career. However, like a lot of players, if you dig a little, there’s some interesting stuff there.

Sources

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/o/otisbi01.shtml

http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/42c6099e