Dud Risley was once a Hometown Hero nobody today has ever heard of. In the opening decades of the twentieth century he was often mentioned in the local newspaper, a much-admired baseball player and a natural character in the best sense. Here he developed the abilities of a strong pitcher in the backyards, streets and ball field, or can we call it a stadium in the northeast corner of town! He became a minor league player for twelve seasons but played in the region years before that, and afterward, too. Words used to describe him were “versatile” and “multi-talented.”
Dud didn’t receive that nickname because of clumsy habits. It was the diminutive of Dudley.
He was born in Lanark in 1873 to John Risley, a tailor, and Louise Breeze Risley. His siblings included several sisters and brothers, a couple of the brothers, Bert and Fred, sometimes being mentioned as playing ball in out-of-town games also.
The family was often noted in the local columns for their entertainment abilities singing, performing skits or whatever was needed for an event. Two of the Risley girls taught in the Lanark schools.
Back in those early days baseball rules and regulations were much more loose and not as numerous as now. In reading of that time you find players from one town being called up to play for another. In one article Dud played four games in that manner in one week. What an arm, eh! Apparently, they were paid because purses were gotten up and gate receipts were also published. Betting was also noted. A baseball history would tell us the particulars but ball playing may have been a “job” for some, the Risley boys among the players. Even in the playing at other towns, fans followed their favorites; one report being “twenty teams in a line passing Lanark to Mt. Carroll.”
Of course, that was the era when basketball was just beginning and there were few, if any, gymnasiums in which to play ... Lanark had the study hall at school or an old church converted to a warehouse. Football wouldn’t arrive for years. Baseball was THE sport. Fans were loyal, rampant and volatile.
Jack Warhop who pitched the baseball for Babe Ruth’s first two home runs as a Yankee, buried in our cemetery, claimed players then were much more tough and rough than any of today’s because there were usually just nine or ten players on a roster not the offense or defensive, numerous substitutes, as now. Pictures of many teams of those times do not show large numbers. Even the pitchers lasted. Then players traded positions to relieve those needing it. Dud was noted one week as having played four games in one week for other teams and still managed to pitch, Lanark against Fulton.
On the Gazette’s front page the sports column was printed all season long and if you didn’t find Dud’s name there it would be someplace else ... “Dud Risley was leading the barbershop quartet in the shop under the National Bank last Saturday night.” OR, “A large crowd gathered at the depot to give Dud a send-off to play ball in Salt Lake City.” Yes, he was popular.
Risley (here pronounced Rice-lee by my dad and contemporaries but elsewhere, Riss-lee or Rizz-lee) played twelve seasons as a minor league player, sometimes for more than one team in a season. More puzzling that ability to play for other teams in the local small towns. He spanned the nation in cities he played for. From Allentown to Scranton; Oklahoma City; St. Joseph, Missouri; Cedar Rapids and other Iowa towns; Salt Lake. Those team’s names were often unique and apparently pointed out something “indigenous to the host town ... Bunnies, Gaslighters and Gasbags, Peanuts, Saints, Midgets, Miners, Distillers (Peoria), Blue Stockings, Creams, Webfeet, Senators, Buckeyes Furniture Makers (Grand Rapids) and so forth. If they’d had mascots or logos as today, it would have been a challenge.
Dud must have taken it all in stride to persevere for twelve seasons and to have played years before and after the minor leagues. They traveled by train or perhaps bus or horse and wagon with probably no baggage handlers or valets! No luxury apartments, or worthy paycheck. They hardly got a living wage as the ridiculous pay renewed today! It was a grueling life. It was the love of the game that kept those minor leaguers going.
Dud Risley’s best season according to statistics was 1903 when he hit .259 with the Iola Gaslighters, hitting 130 times in 128 games. In 901 recorded games he had at least 784 hits. What a job to find the rankings from that long ago! Dud may not have been the top ace but was steady and reliable, ready to play whatever position he was assigned which might be shortstop, second, first or third, right or left field, pitcher, and fielding, too.
Risley, the versatile, also managed three or four teams which might have meant being captain, too. In 1904 he managed the Iola Gasbags(!) to first place in their league and league championship. At times he was listed as captain.
Wikipedia has served as source for much of this information plus SABR.org, the Googling of Kathie Carroll, Janie Dollinger, Ramona Koning, the Tampico Historical Society each came up with bits and pieces to put this all together with deep appreciation. Dud has been my “Person of the Past” for many years and who the Sesquicentennial Book Committee has labeled as “my affair with Dud.” Yes.
It’s been grand, grand to get to know him. To flesh out his person a little bit and to get to know his “extended family” out West, Evie Mims and Dana Graves (last week).
In recent years many have become dedicated to baseball history collecting, gathering material about local or area major league players right here in our own neighborhood ... And there are many surprisingly Minor leaguers deserve a place as part of Risley material sent by Dana Graves was a large old fashioned black-paged photograph album for our use, it showing the Dudley as an outdoors man in the years after his baseball days ... With family and comrades in numbers enjoying nature and the wonders of the Great Northwest, Washington state and environs.
All-in-all Risley played twelve seasons of organized minor league ball, playing until 1908, all positions, but pitching 92 games, going 45-42 with at least 55 games completed.
In 1897 while with the St. Joe Saints he’d gone 20-10 in 33 starts, completing 26. He was a stand-up guy, start to finish.
Although a pitcher while growing up and into young adult years, he was not always thought of as a winner. The following popped up on the Internet, and while it may have been taken seriously by some, and its satire may not it appreciated by those who knew Dud, its sarcasm is a little too broad, but was one way to attack a team or player who had surprised the opposition with a win.
Printed in the Lewiston Daily Sun - June 11, 1896: Taken from the Rockford Register reporter attending the game ... “A joyous crowd of fans went out to Riverside Park yesterday expecting to slaughter of a youth named Dudley Risley of Lanark, Illinois. Dudley had pitched against the Rockfords in Cedar Rapids in which he held the alleged heavy hitters of the local team down to five hits and fewer runs. In as much as Dudley has a walk like freshly plowed fields, and hands whose large gobs of freckles tell of hay making and weed uprooting, this trick of his caused the ire of the Rockford hitters to arise and they vowed by the shadow of Nick Young that they would make him eat his own curves. But no. Likewise, nit. The best laid plans of mice and ballplayers, like eggs, may be all right when they are laid but they are apt to change in the course of time.
Dudley put on his overalls and went to work as if he had 14 cows to milk before starting after his best girl in a buggy. He skimmed the cream off the Rockford can of conceit for nine long innings, not leaving enough to take the bitter taste out of the mouth of the most loyal fan. His long practice shying stones at the heifers in the cornfield gave him excellent control and the result of his efforts was that the Reds secured only two full grown hits to fatten their batting averages. When he got to the hotel Dudley wrote the following letter home:
Rockford, Illinois, May 28, 1896. Dear Ma and Pa, Hooray for me! I licked the Rockfords today. Duke Ebright told me to go in and pitch like a sun-of-a-gun and I did. I am the stuff. They didn’t tuch me with 11 foot poal. My drop ball wuz out of site. A duck in the gran stan named Kellogg said it wuz a drop too much for the Rockfords. They say he is crazy for bass ball. He roasts all good players like me what kums along. Say, I was out of sight today. Say, I struck out all their best players. The Rockfords are pretty rotten. Nikkel went crazy. Duke Ebright sed he’d get me a new pair of overalls. He is a nawful good man. He kant play ball as good as me. Nobody kin. Say, how is Mary Jones? Also our new pigs? Say, send me a pair of socks. The pare I have got wet three weeks ago and stuck to my feet. But I can pitch bass ball. Tell little Harry I kin git him a gob (job) on the Seeder Rabbits team. He kin take Ebrights plase. I think I will be drafted by the Shikagos purty sune. Every body is lukkin at me tonight. I am great stuff. Well, goodby. Your boy Dudley. PS. Don’t forget them socks. Dud.