Lon Warneke (1909–1976)
Montgomery County native Lon (Lonnie) Warneke, known as the “The Arkansas Hummingbird,” was a major league baseball pitcher and umpire who later served as county judge for Garland County. He was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1961.
Lon Warneke was born on March 28, 1909, to Luke and Belle Warneke in the small farming community of Owley (Montgomery County), about six miles south of Mount Ida (Montgomery County); he had four siblings. Warneke worked on the family farm. He attended the Owley public schools until the ninth grade, when he transferred to Mount Ida. The baseball coach there did not think Warneke was good enough to play on the high school team the first year. However, in 1926, Warneke worked his way on to the high school team at first base. Near the end of the 1927 season, due to an emergency, he took over the pitching duties in the seventh inning against Graysonia (Clark County), a salaried team. He pitched to six of their best hitters, striking out five of them.
Following high school, Warneke moved to Houston, Texas, to live with his sister and brother-in-law, Kate and Buck Weaver. In addition to playing baseball, Warneke became a bicycling messenger for Western Union. At the urging of his brother-in-law, in the spring of 1928, he asked Frank “Poncho” Snyder, manager of the Houston Buffs, a team in the Texas League, for a tryout. Following spring training, the Houston management sent Warneke to Mississippi to play in Class D baseball. During the 1928 and 1929 seasons, he played for Laurel, Mississippi, and Alexandria, Louisiana, both in the Cotton States League. His 16–10 record for Alexandria in 1929 attracted the attention of the Chicago Cubs. In 1930, he went to the Reading (Pennsylvania) Keystones in the Class AA, International League. That same year, he pitched 1 and 1/3 innings with the Cubs but soon returned to finish out the season with Reading with a record of 9–12.
The first mention of Warneke in The Sporting News, a national sports publication, appeared in the January 8, 1931, issue. Warneke played for the Cubs in 1931 but only mustered a 2–4 record. He reported to the Cubs during spring training in 1932 in California, where a teammate noticed that Warneke pitched looking at his feet rather than at the catcher. He worked to correct the error and soon became the pitching darling of Chicago. On August 4, 1932, The Sporting News wrote of Warneke, “He’s just a great pitcher, such as pops up once in a lifetime.” The Cubs won the National League pennant as Warneke finished the season with the best 1932 National League win-loss record with 22–6 and the lowest earned run average (ERA) at 2.37. He also pitched four shutouts to tie for the top spot in that department. He pitched a .212 mark against opposing teams, which was second best in the National League.
For the 1932 World Series, the Cubs faced the New York Yankees. New York won the series in four straight games. In 1933, Warneke lost five games in a row by the scores of 1–0, 2–1, 2–1, 2–0, and 2–1. After losing to the Boston Braves, the usually mild-mannered Warneke grabbed a bat and began to destroy the clubhouse. Boston billed the Cubs $25.00 for damages. At the end of the season, Warneke had an 18–13 record and finished with the second-best National League ERA of 2.00. In 1933, thirty-six of the best baseball players in the major leagues squared off at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois, for the first All-Star baseball game. Here, Warneke registered the first triple and scored the first National League run in All-Star history. In January 1933, Warneke was selected to The Sporting News’ All-Star Team of 1932.
Warneke married Charlyne Shannon on February 12, 1933. Within the next five years, they had a son and a daughter.
Selected to the 1934 All-Star game, Warneke ended the season at 22–10, although the Cubs finished in third position. In 1935, he won twenty and lost thirteen as he helped lead the Cubs to the 1935 National League pennant. That same year, Warneke and Lynwood “Schoolboy” Rowe, an El Dorado (Union County) native representing the Detroit Tigers, met in the 1935 World Series opener. The Tigers won the 1935 World Series, four games to three, but Warneke was the winning pitcher in two games, while Rowe ended with a 1–2 record in the series.
Following the 1936 season, the Cubs traded Warneke to the St. Louis Cardinals, and he led the 1937 Cardinals pitching staff with eighteen wins, though St. Louis struggled for a fourth-place finish. Roy Stockton, sportswriter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, tagged Warneke with his famous nickname, labeling him “The Arkansas Hummingbird” for his darting fastball. In July 1942, the Cardinals traded him back to the Cubs. In January 1944, Warneke enlisted in the U.S. Army. In 1945, he returned to the Cubs but participated in only nine games. Warneke ended his fifteen-year major league career with a regular-season 192–121 mark, ERA of 3.18, and thirty shutouts. In addition, he had a 2–1 World Series record, including one shutout. Selected to five All-Star games, he pitched in three mid-season Classics. Warneke produced eleven seasons of double-digit major league wins, including three seasons with twenty or more wins.
Following his playing career, Warneke entered the umpiring profession and soon was back in the majors. In 1955, he retired to Hot Springs (Garland County). Warneke was the only major league player to have played and umpired in both an All-Star game and a World Series. Warneke also served as Garland County judge for a decade, from 1963 to 1972.
On June 23, 1976, Warneke died of a heart attack at home in Hot Springs. He is buried in Owley. His wife died in 2007 and is buried next to him.
For additional information:
Brands, Edgar G. “Five New Faces Appear in The Sporting News’ All-Star Team of ’32.” The Sporting News, January 26, 1933, p. 26.
Duren, Donald D. “Lon Warneke: The Arkansas Hummingbird.” The Record 33 (1992): 11–26.
———. Lon Warneke: The Arkansas Hummingbird. Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 2014.
Farrington, Dick. “Cards Might Give Up Dizzy—Warneke Deal May Be Only Beginning.” The Sporting News, October 15, 1936, p. 1.
Reichler, Joseph L., ed. The Baseball Encyclopedia. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1982.
Vaughan, Irving. “Warneke Hurling Only Balm For Chicago Cubs.” The Sporting News, August 4, 1932, p. 1.
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