Ed “Davy” Dunkle and The Potato Incident

Edward “Davy” Dunkle, Highland Cemetery

Mike and I finished paying our respects to the Pennsylvania Game Commission officer who lost his life in 1942 while rescuing those affected by the floods in northern Pennsylvania. We walked along the roadway at the top of the historic hill, scanning the stones to our left, knowing that the grave of another player from baseball’s early years was resting not too far off of the gravel path. Note: John Ross’s story can be found here: John Ross.

We had followed the roadway a short distance when Mike pointed out the stone and we carefully walked over and paused in front of the tombstone belonging to Edward P. and Emlyn W. Dunkle. To most visitors, the name Edward Dunkle most likely means nothing. But resting among the stones at the top of Highland Cemetery is an early professional baseball player.

“So who was Edward Dunkle?” Mike asked as he stood at the grave.

“A baseball player who was known as Ed, or in some places “Davy” Dunkle,” I replied. “I’m not sure where, how or when he was given the nickname ‘Davy.’ The newspapers of the time refer to him by both names, but Ed appears to be the most popular of his nicknames.”

Edward Perks Dunkle was born in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania the son of Henry and Caroline Dunkle. It is known he was living in Lock Haven when he was a boy and attended school there. While still in school, he began appearing in local games.

In 1894, at the age of twenty-one Dunkle started playing professional baseball. The right-handed pitcher first appeared in the Pennsylvania State League with the Scranton team. He started eleven games that season, pitched in three additional games, and ended his season with three wins and ten losses. In 1895, Dunkle made mound appearances for Petersburg in the Virginia State League, followed by Newark in the Atlantic League in 1896.

On August 27, 1897, Dunkle found himself in the Major Leagues, pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies. He ended the season with a five-win, two-loss record and a .724 win percentage.

Dunkle’s start to the 1898 season was a rocky one, having just one win and four losses. He was sent to the Wilkes-Barre Coal Barons in the Eastern League. With the Coal Barons, Dunkle had a winning season with a seven-win, two-loss record and forty-three strike-outs.

The 1899 season saw Dunkle making a brief appearance in the Major Leagues with the Washington Senators. He pitched in four games with two losses.

The majority of the 1899 season would be spent with the Providence Grays, where he had a seventeen-win, seventeen loss record. That season, Dunkle had three shut-outs and 125 strike-outs. Dunkle remained with the Providence Grays for the 1900 and 1901 seasons, where he excelled as a pitcher and ended the 1900 season with twenty-seven wins and thirteen losses. He followed his winning season with a twenty-six win, thirteen-loss season in 1901 and lead the Eastern League that year in wins.

The following year Dunkle went to the Louisville Colonels of the American Association, where he once again excelled. In 1902, he pitched in forty-four games and led the American Association with thirty wins and ten losses.

With his impressive statistics in the Minors, Dunkle once again made an appearance in the Major Leagues. In 1903 he pitched for the Chicago White Stockings of the American League with a four-win, four-loss record. The same year he was traded to the Washington Senators, were he ended the season with five wins and nine losses. Dunkle started the 1904 season with the Senators, where he had a two-win, seven-loss record. His final game pitched in the Major Leagues was July 19, 1904.

Dunkle would return to the Louisville Colonels for the 1905 season, where he had a winning record with seventeen wins and eleven losses. The following season Dunkle would pitch his final year in professional baseball, ending his career with a sixteen-win, nineteen-loss season in 1906.

Overall, Dunkle had 163 wins and 131 losses with 474 strike-outs and five shut-out games. Dunkle was a switch-hitter and during those thirteen seasons he had twenty-eight doubles, seven triples, three homeruns and two stolen bases.

After retiring from professional baseball, Dunkle returned to Lock Haven and worked in the local paper factory. He died at his home in Lock Haven on November 19, 1941 having been bedfast for the previous five months due to illness. Sadly, Dunkle was preceded in death by his wife and twin infants.

“The most interesting story about Ed Dunkle is known regionally as ‘The Potato Incident’,” I spoke after sharing Dunkle’s career with Mike.

“Potato Incident?” Mike stared at me. “You serious?”

“It almost caused a war to break out between the communities of Williamsport and Lock Haven.”

The October 4, 1895 edition of the Williamsport Sun Gazette covered the game from October 3 that had a “promise of being one of finest games of the season.” Unfortunately, reporters referred to the game as “marred” and the Lock Haven club as pulling a stunt “that would have done credit to a kindergarten club.”

Dunkle was pitching for the Lock Haven team in a game against Williamsport; Lock Haven was winning eight to seven. It was the bottom of ninth with one out and the tying run on first base.

Dunkle went out to the mound with a baseball in his glove and “a potato up his sleeve.”

The Williamsport runner took a step off first base and Dunkle proceeded to throw the potato over the head of the first baseman, catching the runner off guard and off base. Dunkle immediately threw the real baseball to first base, where the runner was called out. Williamsport argued the call, but the umpire refused to overturn the call. The umpire’s reasoning was: if the runner had been paying attention, then he would have realized it was a potato that had been thrown by Dunkle.

The game descended into chaos. Williamsport refused to finish the game because of the umpire’s unjust call. Lock Haven refused to finish the game if the umpire reversed the decision. The spectators had enough and decided to storm the field and pandemonium ensued.

At this point, the game of “Potato” was called and all the remaining games between the two teams were canceled.

“The official stats in the newspapers ended with the eighth inning,” I replied and the two teams did not play each other the rest of the season.

“That’s definitely a strange way to end a game,” Mike agreed.

We finished paying our respects to Edward “Davy” Dunkle, remembering his game of “Potato” and his career in baseball, before we left him to rest on the hilltop of Highland Cemetery.

Note: The first baseman involved in the “Potato Incident” for Lock Haven is listed as John Shaffer. I have not been able to determine if it was the same John Shaffer who rests in Highland Cemetery, but I do believe it is the same baseball player. More about John Shaffer’s baseball career can be found here: John Shaffer.

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