Eckhardt: A Tale of Two Oxen.

Ox Eckhardt's .367 lifetime BA Beats Cobb by Fractions for Best All Time in Professional Baseball. He also played Football for the Texas Longhorns & New York (NFL) Giants.

Professional baseball player Oscar “Ox” Eckhardt (BL/TR) was born in Yorktown, Texas on December 23, 1901. At 6’1″ and 185 pounds, Ox was big enough in his time to also have played quarterback, halfback, and fullback in football for the Texas Longhorns and then briefly for the New York (NFL) Giants.

In 14 seasons (1925, 1928-1940) as a minor leaguer, Ox also hit .367, compiling 2,773 hits in 7.563 official times at bat. By a measure of some fractions, Ox Eckhardt edges Ty Cobb for the highest career batting average in professional baseball history.

Ox was a high batting average terror in the Pacific Coast League for years, winning several batting championships, once hitting .414 with 315 hits for Mission in 1933. What a terror he must have been to the pitchers on the West Coast that year.

Maybe “pest” is a better word for Ox. Years ago, I asked my dear friend, the late Red Munger, if he remembered Ox Eckhardt from those days. “Oh sure,” Red said, “Ox was the kind of guy who just liked to stick his lefthanded bat out there and hit the ball to the opposite left field. He had no power at all, but he had a great ability to just bloop that little hit to a soft spot over the infielders’ heads. If I could get him to top the ball on the ground, he made for an easy out. It just wasn’t easy getting him to do that.”

Red’s words stayed with me when I first started reading about Eckhardt’s two failures at the major league level. There really weren’t two Ox Eckhardts. It was a matter of the one Ox getting a very different result with his “Punch and Judy” dedication as a hitter at the major league level. In his first time up with the Boston Braves in 1932, Ox only got eight official at bats for two hits before he was shuffled back to the Pacific Coast League. His second and final trial came in spring training with manager Casey Stengel and the 1936 Brooklyn Dodgers. Things started auspiciously too.

Anxious to get any kind of pop into their lineup, the Dodgers agreed to Ox’s advance request for a double room in Florida, one of the concessions they made to a guy who just hit .399 with 283 season hits during the 1935 PCL season. The Dodgers assumed that Ox was bringing his wife to spring training with him.

(There’s that assumption flaw again. We don’t simply fall trap to it in research. It’s also an everyday error possibility.)

Ox showed up with his pet, a very large St. Bernard dog. “I thought he’d enjoy seeing how a major league club setup works in spring training,” Ox explained.

Ox and his dog got through spring training, but they did not survive Ox’s inability to adapt to major league pitching and defenses, nor could he use manager Stengel’s counsel to pull the ball.  All Ox knew how to do was hit the ball the other way. The major league third basemen simply played him down the line and the major league pitchers got him to hit the ball on the ground at the fielders.

On defense, Ox lived up to his name.

Ox was 8 for 44 with 6 singles, 1 double, 1 homer, a .182 batting average, and 1 ticket back to the Pacific Coast League by the middle of May 1936. He never got another big league trial, but he continued to bust ’em at the minor league level.

Ox Eckhardt passed away in Yorktown, Texas on April 22, 1951 at the age of 49. He is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Austin, Texas. His memory lives on as one of the most colorful hitters in baseball history. A .367 lifetime batting average is nothing to sneeze at as we walk away. It deserves attention, no matter how Ox’s style may have limited his full potential as a productive major league hitter, one who might have achieved  a major league career that could have been comparable to his minor league attainments.

As things turned out, we will just have to leave Ox Eckhardt over there in that large mountain we all know pretty much in the same way as the “might have been/woulda, coulda, shoulda” pile.

Good luck, Ghost of Ox, wherever you may be. Hope you finally found some new ways to hit ’em where they ain’t.

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2 Responses to “Eckhardt: A Tale of Two Oxen.”

  1. anthony cavender Says:

    I believe that the proprietor of the Austin rooming house where I lived in my first few years at the University of Texas was Ox Eckhardt’s widow. I recall she had a silver bat which was must have been awarded to Ox as a result of one of his many batting titles. I thought he had a little more power than Red Munger remembered.

  2. Bill McCurdy Says:

    Power? Ox hit only 66 homers in 14 seasons of minor league baseball.

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