Baseball’s Robert “Bob” Rice

Baseball’s Bob Rice, Masonic Homes Cemetery, Elizabethtown

“Are you sure there’s a cemetery back here?” my mother asked as we drove through the Masonic Homes on the outskirts of Elizabethtown.

The Masonic Homes was a village created by the Pennsylvania’s Freemasons who wanted to create a home for aging Masons and their families. The idea was proposed in 1900 and by 1902, the idea of a home for Masons had been adapted to include the poor. In 1909, land covering 966,741 acres was purchased near Elizabethtown for the retirement village.

The original plan included a Grand Lodge Hall, a chapel, school, and hospital to create a village for seven hundred people. The idea was to have the community being as self-contained as possible – there were more than eighty springs to provide water and in 1910 the orchard was started when 4,000 apple, pear, cherry and quince trees were planted.

The village would continue to expand when in 1913 the creation of a plan to include the education of orphaned children was added. While the children would attend the Elizabethtown School District, younger ones would attend a nursery and kindergarten located at the Masonic Homes.

“According to the GPS coordinates, it’s back here,” I replied as we turned onto the paved road that passed through an apple orchard. A road sign announced it was Cemetery Road and we followed it a short distance to a “T” intersection. I turned left and continued through the apple orchard and into the woods beyond. As we entered the forest, I could see the cemetery ahead of us.

Parking at the back of the turnaround, I stepped out of the vehicle and studied the cemetery. God’s Acre – as it is known – had its start in 1911. Every stone of the approximately 1800 burials is identical in design and size. Originally, when people came to the villages, they turned over all their belongings in exchange for being taken care of for the rest of their lives. As a part of being taken care of, a cemetery plot and tombstone would be provided for when they passed.

“I really hope the GPS coordinates are right,” my mother announced as she looked at all the similar stones.

“So do I, ” I replied as I started up the grassy roadway that led up the gently sloping hillside that was wet from the morning’s rain. As I walked, I studied the stones I passed and thoughts about who these people might have been while alive passed through my mind.

In the very last row, I noticed the stone I sought. I paused for a moment to wipe off the cut grass and the water that had gathered on top of the simple marker. The stone remembering the couple buried there read “Robert T. Rice / 1899 – 1986 / Lodge No. 121 / Dorothy M. Rice / 1899 – 1997.” Nothing on the stone implies that Robert Rice made an appearance in the Major Leagues as a player and followed it with a career in the offices of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Robert Turnbull “Bob” Rice was born May 28, 1899 in Germantown, the son of George and Mary Rice. Growing up, he developed his baseball skills in the sandlots of Philadelphia and in 1920 he made his first appearance in the Minor Leagues. Rice, who threw and batted right-handed, would play third base and shortstop in the professional leagues. He played for the Hampdens of Springfield, Massachusetts for the Eastern League in 1920 with 106 hits and eleven doubles.

From 1920 to 1925, Rice played for a number of Minor League teams, including the Suffolk Wildcats, the Binghamton Triplets, and the Scranton Miners. At the start of the 1926 season, he was playing for the Portsmouth Truckers of the Virginia League. On September 1, 1926, he began his career in the Majors with Philadelphia, but his time there was short-lived. He would appear in nineteen games, ending his career in the Majors on September 29, 1926 with fifty-four plate appearances, resulting in eight hits, ten RBIs, and one triple. Note: every baseball reference states Rice played in nineteen games, but his obituary states he only played in eighteen – I’m not sure why there is a one game difference.

The 1927 season saw Rice once again playing in the Minor and Independent Leagues, where he would remain until 1937, ending his career with the Albany Travelers (Georgia) of the Georgia-Florida League. In the eighteen seasons in the minors, Rice had 2031 hits, 338 doubles, seventy-two triples, and fifty homeruns. Unfortunately, many of the statistics for Rice’s Minor League career have not been recorded.

At the end of his playing career, Rice continued to work in professional baseball. In 1938 he worked with the Asheville, North Carolina team, a position he retained until 1940. In 1941, he started his career as a farm director with the Pittsburgh Pirates, a position he held until 1947. That year, and for the next twenty-two years, Rice would be the traveling secretary for Pittsburgh. He would be responsible to making travel arrangements for the team, especially getting the players safely to spring training. When Rice retired in 1969 at the age of seventy, he proudly announced he had managed not to lose a single player during his time as traveling secretary. The retirement article in the August 3, 1969 edition of The Pittsburgh Press, described Rice’s vast contributions to the Pirates not only as being the traveling secretary, but as a person who was extremely knowledgeable about the game and the Pittsburgh Pirates coaching staff often came to him for advice.

Interestingly, in this same article Rice jokes that he had only been wrong once during his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. While still working as the farm director for the Pirates, he went to watch a young Hoyt Wilhelm play. The young knuckleball pitcher was scouted by Rice who claimed the young pitcher was not good. Wilhelm would go on to play twenty-one seasons in the Major Leagues.

Rice would pass February 20, 1986 at the age of eighty-six and was buried among his fellow Masons at the Masonic Homes Cemetery.

I finished paying my respects to the former baseball player whose career in the sport did not end after his brief stint in the Majors and lengthy career in the Minors. I walked quietly down the gentle slope from where he lies buried walking toward the vehicle, leaving him to rest among the other Masons who slumber in the remote cemetery in Lancaster County.

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