MLB Pitcher Ed Linke and His Magical Heating Pad
The hurler had his pro baseball career both extended and shortened because of a device he used to help deal with poor circulation
Right-handed pitcher Ed Linke had a relatively nondescript six-year big-league career (1933–1938), appearing in a total of 120 games with the Washington Senators and St. Louis Browns. However, a bizarre arm injury would have ended his time on the mound much earlier if it wasn’t for a special heating pad that he kept in his pocket to keep his pitching hand warm between pitches.
Nicknamed Babe, Linke was a native of Chicago, who became a prominent pitching prospect after winning 19 games for the minor league Davenport Blue Sox in 1932. He was on the Senators a year later and played with them and at the minor league level through 1934.
1935 was Linke’s coming out so to speak. His 11–7 record and three saves in 40 games (22 starts) with Washington showed a level of success, although is 5.01 ERA and 80 walks and 211 hits in 178 innings were less than desirable. Unfortunately, his breakthrough came despite having suffered a strange malady to his throwing arm a couple of years prior, which left it “pulseless” or numb. Although he was still able to grip the ball, it robbed him of the same ability to put the ball where he wanted.
Eventually, Linke regained feeling in his arm but still had several fingers that remained numb. In the summer, he found that it was sufficiently hot to give him some feeling but in the cooler weather it became much more difficult for him to have sensation. There was just horrible circulation in his arm and his fingers were cold to the touch. He sometimes had teammates massage his fingers between innings to help get any feeling for him to go out and grip the ball.
Fortunately, he was able to work around his physical ailment when he discovered a small chemical heating pad that he found gave him temporary sensation in his hand. He started carrying it in his pocket during the colder weather games and grabbed it with his afflicted hand between pitchers.
The heating pad appeared to be the stuff of miracles. Linke won his final eight straight decisions of 1935 and saw his ERA drop more than two runs. Still just 23, he seemed to be a star on the rise.
Not everyone was appreciative of Linke’s solution. One of those eight straight wins came against the Detroit Tigers on September 11th, where he scattered 16 hits over 12 innings in a 4–3 complete game victory.
Detroit manager, Mickey Cochrane, noticed the device at work during a 1936 spring training game and decided to act. He lodged an objection with the American League, believing the Senators’ pitcher was utilizing an unfair advantage. It was also rumored that he was unhappy that Washington owner Clark Griffith had supposedly dissuaded Detroit owner Walter Briggs from giving his team a bonus if they won the pennant that year.
Linke just happened to be caught in the middle of the soured Tigers. It wasn’t personal to Cochrane, as he explained:
“I spoke to Bucky Harris [Washington manager] and asked him if he thought the heating pad would be legal. He didn’t know and said that he would have to get a ruling from Mr. Harridge on it. I told him that I thought it against the rules for Linke to use the pad but added that if depriving Linke of the pad deprived him of his means of making a livelihood the Tigers would be satisfied to let him use it.”
American League president William Harridge sided with the Tigers. He decreed that Linke had to stop using his pad immediately. The pitcher’s supporters argued that there should be no reason it was illegal, as it did not apply any substance to the ball and simply warmed his hand. Griffith likened taking away the pad to not allowing pitchers to wear eyeglasses.
Without the pad, Linke’s career stalled. He was a combined 8–13 over the next three years and after spending 1939 in the minors, his pro career was over at the age of 27. He finished with a career record of 22–22 with a 5.61 ERA and six saves. It’s uncertain what afflicted his arm but his uphill battle to persevere only got more difficult when he was unable to continue carrying his little pocket hand warmer with him to the mound.