It was a clear September day in 1924 when Barnhart made his lone appearance with the St. Louis Browns. At the age of 20, he was the second youngest player in the American League at the time (teammate Walter “Boom Boom” Beck was the youngest by just a few months). Barnhart pitched one inning, walked one batter, but allowed no hits or runs.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, the dream was over as fast as it had begun.
In 1924, the country was in the midst of Prohibition and standing on the threshold of the Great Depression. Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge was president and unbeknownst to most of the nation, a young man named Edgar Barnhart from Columbia, Mo., was making his pitching debut with the Browns. At a time when money was scarce and baseball was king, he was living every kid’s dream. And if baseball wasn’t a financial way out for this son of a railroad section foreman, it was at least an emotional one.
Barnhart was born on September 16, 1904 and grew up playing baseball. Full throttle participation in the sport was a family affair. Three of his brothers, Turner, Carl (aka Red) and Oscar, and both of his sisters, Bessie and Dorothy, played the game. Turner usually played catcher for Ed. They traveled around the Midwest together and made a formidable team. Red went on to play in Florida in the Kitty, Evangeline and Southeastern Leagues. He even played a year in Montreal. Oscar just played on the local level for the Hamilton Shoe Company, which is where all the Barnhart boys got their start.
In 1919, at the age of 15, Barnhart’s pitching career started to take off with a team from Huntsdale, Mo. That was the year when eight players from the Chicago White Sox (aka the Black Sox) were accused of throwing the series against the Cincinnati Reds - an event that shook the institution of baseball to its very core. Even fans as far away as central Missouri had to feel the impact of such an outrageous affair, but it didn’t stop Barnhart and his brothers from playing the game they loved.
By 1920, Barnhart joined up with the Twilight League in Columbia and it was there he created the stir that would get him noticed by St. Louis Browns manager “Gorgeous” George Sisler.
The 20-year-old Barnhart was 5’10” and weighed 160 lbs. When he stood astride the pitcher’s mound, he was filled with the hubris of youth as he faced “Good Time” Bill LaMar of the Philadelphia Athletics in the final inning in the final game of the season. LaMar hit a .330 that year, but Barnhart struck him out. Next up was Jimmy Dykes, who walked but he got Joe Hauser and Joe Boley to fly out.
Despite the brevity of his pitching debut, Barnhart still managed to blow out his arm. He was traded around in the minors for a while spending two seasons with Tulsa in the Western League and Corsiana in the Texas Association, but his bum arm coupled with the reality of economics of the time meant the end of his professional career. That didn’t stop him from spending what free time he could find on any available baseball diamond though.
He married Evangeline “Vangie” Thornton in 1927. The couple had four children, William Vernon “Billy Vern,” Kenneth, Janice (Copeland) and Carolyn (Kephart.)
Eventually, Barnhart signed a contract with Moberly in the Ill-Mo League, where he continued to make a name for himself as a pitcher.
“Mother used to love to watch Daddy play,” said Barnhart’s daughter Carolyn Kephart, “when I was a baby, she would take me to the games in a basket.”
In 1932, more than 3,000 spectators crowded into Harley Park in Boonville, (25 miles from Columbia) to see the local American Legion Team play the St. Louis Cardinals. Barnhart was up against Dizzy Dean and Paul Derringer. He outlasted them to win the battle in the 10th inning, 3-2.
“One of Daddy’s most proudest moments was when he was up against Dizzy Dean,” said Kephart.
With Barnhart at the helm, the Boonville team became a reckoning force.. They won the state American Legion title four years in a row. Barnhart’s payment for pitching was anything from a free meal to $75 a game. He pitched all the way from Moulton, Iowa to Sedalia and back.
In 1933, they decided to move the team to Columbia calling themselves the Merchants. Unfortunately, the magic faded with the move and by 1937, the Barnhart boys had gone mostly from playing to coaching. According to the August 2, 1957 issue of the Columbia Missourian, “in 16 years of semi-pro ball and countless games on the mound, Ed averaged at least 10 strike-outs a contest. He never had a losing season.”
“After he quit playing baseball, Daddy coached the American Legion Team for boys 17 and older,” said Kephart, “All his life he got postcards from people wanting his autograph.”
But even during his biggest baseball playing years, Barnhart had to work a day job to support his family. Over the years, he worked in a handful of different jobs – security guard for a juvenile facility, University of Missouri plant employee, and truck driver. He even worked in his brother Turner’s laundry.
He was a member of both the Masons and the Shriners and attended business school in Columbia. Then sometime in the 1950s, he purchased a Columbia pool hall known as Booches.
Booches, which opened its doors in 1884, is somewhat of an institution in Columbia. Legend has that it got its name from a nickname inferred on its original owner by writer Eugene Field, although that rumor has never been fully substantiated. The place, a favorite haunt of students from the nearby University of Missouri, operated as an all male establishment with few exceptions until the mid-1970s. The bar is still known for its good old-fashioned hamburgers served on squares of wax paper.
Eventually, Barnhart retired and over the years the pool hall has passed through the hands of many owners, but the pitcher’s presence is still felt.
“There is a picture of Daddy when he was pitching hanging over the bar at Booches,” said Kephart, “He owned that place for many years. Many college students hung out there. Daddy was famous for his chili.”
Despite his tougher than nails persona as a pitcher and business owner, after retirement, a softer, more artistic side of Barnhart emerged.
“Daddy did paint by number pictures,” said Kephart, “He was really good at it and you couldn’t tell they weren’t freehand. Whenever he’d see a beautiful landscape he’d always say, ‘If I had my paints, I’d paint a picture of that.’ He also had beautiful handwriting.”
Barnhart died on September 14, 1984, just two days shy of his 80th birthday, but his legacy will live on in the annals of Missouri baseball history.