Monday, December 9, 2013
165. Sam Kau: The Travelin' Chinese Spitballer
Here's a great little slice of baseball history I learned about from an update I received from Gary Bedinfield, proprietor of Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice. After reading Gary's fine bio on Apau Kau, I called up my old pal Scott Simkus, the man behind the now defunct Outsider Baseball Bulletin, who tapped into his vast OBB archives and supplied me with some hard-to-find newspaper photo's of Kau from which I did my drawing. Various old newspaper articles along with some background of the Hawaiian All-Chinese Travelers team from Joel Frank's book filled out the rest of Kau's story.
The son of Chinese immigrants, Sam Kau grew up playing ball in the fast paced Oahu League. Armed with a devastating spitball to go along with a good fastball and professional curve, Kau joined the All-Chinese Hawaiian Travelers that toured the U.S. mainland every summer from 1912 to 1915. When the All-Americans team came to Hawaii in 1914, Kau pitched against the major league stars, losing 5-2. The big leaguers were impressed with his spitball and noted that 4 of the runs came during one bad inning. On the Travelers’ 1915 American tour, Kau held the minor league San Antonio Bronchos to 6 hits (though he lost 3-2) and then tossed a perfect game against Baylor University, striking out 20. Kau moved permanently to Philadelphia where he continued to be a sought-after semi-pro pitcher.
A former member of the Hawaiian National Guard (as were a good number of his teammates on the Travelers), Kau enlisted in the army in 1918. With his prior experience he made sergeant quickly and was sent to officer candidate school. Anxious to get to the fighting, the former spitballer voluntarily resigned from officer training in order to join his old regiment when it received orders to France.
The 315th Infantry was posted to the Verdun Sector during the last week of the war. On the night of November 4th they moved into the front lines to spearhead an attack on Hill 378 which was outside the town of Borne-du-Cornouiller. Going over the top at the head of his squad, Sergeant Kau was killed by German bullets. It was only six days until the war ended.
Though Kau never played in the majors or even the minor leagues, he was a big enough name that his death in battle was reported by the wire services.