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Plastering the pill

“Midget Mensor,” said a 1912 sportswriter, “who played around California in the days of the outlaws, has broken into the National League like a young comet out of a clear sky. He’s no bigger than a drop of water and, if Mensor had a few pounds more weight, his chances of becoming a major league star would be improved. Maybe Mensor will get away with it, small as he is.”

Eddie Mensor spent his whole life showing skeptics that he might be short, but he was tough. At 5-feet-6 and 145 pounds, he was only an inch shorter than the average American man of the time. However, even in the early 20th century athletes were usually heavier and taller than that — especially professional baseball players who averaged somewhere around six feet.

Born in Rogue River in 1885, Eddie was a member of a competitive athletic family. Henry, his father, was one of the best runners in Jackson County, challenging all comers to beat him in a race for money.

By 1890, the family had left the valley for San Francisco, where Henry worked as a bartender and Eddie began a professional boxing career. The 18-year-old was “quite clever” in four-round bouts before moving up to 10 rounds. He drew a legion of fans willing to put up their money on this “scrappy little guy.”

After a couple of scrapes with the law in 1906 that threatened jail time, Eddie decided to turn to baseball, a career that would last for the next 50 years as a player and later in life as a coach.

He began with the amateur San Francisco baseball team, The Relays, but quickly signed with the Oakland Oaks of the California State League. In the off season, Eddie would find amateur and independent semi-pro teams to play with, improving his skills with each game.

By 1910, he caught the eye of scouts from Portland of the Pacific Coast League, the premier league of the West Coast. He signed late in the season as a utility infielder with the Portland Beavers, just in time to win the championship with the team. After the victory he returned to a San Jose baseball team.

In 1911 he returned to Portland and became a star with the Portland “B” team, the Colts. The following summer, the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League bought his contract and agreed to pay him $2,100, one of the highest salaries ever for a “B” team player in Portland.

In his three years with the Pirates, he had only moderate success. Spiked by a base runner in his second season, he lost his speed. At the end of the 1914 season he was sold and returned to a succession of minor league teams.

Although Eddie rarely gave an interview, those who knew him said he was a mouthy, feisty, in-your-face terror, always ragging on his fellow players. Once, Ham Hyatt, the Pirate’s first baseman, reached his limit of Eddie’s nagging. “With that mouth,” Hyatt said, “you’d be a hell of a hitter if only you could steal first base.”

Eddie dumped buckets of water on sports reporters and anyone else he didn’t like. Once, he even threatened a mayor who teased him for being called out after Eddie was caught off base by the local team.

In 1927 Eddie began working with a petroleum company, a job that lasted well into the late 1950s. He still continued in baseball, always bragging he could still “plaster that pill” (the baseball). “Although,” he added, “I’m not as fast as I used to be.”

Eddie died near Salem, April 20, 1970. He was 85.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.