At the end of 2019, the York Sunday News here in York, Pennsylvania, ran a two-part essay by June Lloyd that summarized the history of York County amateur baseball, drawing on an eight-part series originally published in the York newspapers in 1940. (First part here, second part here.) I was curious about the original articles — I like obscure, local baseball history like that — and last summer, when I was making use of a Newspapers.com trial, I found the original article series, used Google Drive to OCR the text, and assembled from that a private ebook. The last of the eight parts talks about local York County players who had success in the major leagues, like Lefty George and Cliff Heathcote (famous for being traded from the Cardinals to the Cubs between games of a 1922 doubleheader between the two teams).
Reading through the ebook a few weeks ago, I noticed this line:
Today, one York lad stands on the threshold of becoming a great star. Ken Raffensberger, who played with several county teams, already has acquitted himself nobly in relief roles as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
I had genuinely not heard of Raffensberger, and so I turned to the Googles. Wikipedia was on the sparse side — a fifteen year career, some good quotes, a list of statistics, not a lot of flavor. His Cubs tenure, which I was interested in, was little more than dates — 1940-1941.
Raffensberger’s SABR profile proved far more useful. Traded by the Cardinals to the Cubs before the 1940 season, Raffensberger pitched mostly in relief for the Cubs that year. In 1941, the Cubs essentially gave up on him, sent him to the Los Angeles Angels (then a minor league team), and he returned to the majors in 1943 with the Phillies. After a brief stint in the Navy, he was traded to the Reds in 1947. (One reason for that trade may have been his refusal to plunk Jackie Robinson.) Raffensberger was the poster child for “pitcher wins are meaningless”; his win-loss record was was more losses than wins, but his other stats were good. “[His] earned run average was usually better than average and he was a premier control pitcher,” wrote Warren Corbett for SABR.
At the end of the SABR article, there was a note: “Raffensberger is buried in Mount Rose Cemetery in York.” Exploring cemeteries is a hobby of mine (an example from last summer here), Mount Rose Cemetery isn’t far from where I live (about five miles), so I decided I would pay my respects to former Cub Ken Raffensberger.
There is a massive hill at Mount Rose Cemetery, dominated by an impressive mausoleum at the top. No, gentle hill this, it’s rather steep. A road cuts across it midway up and at that point the mausoleum, which you can see from the base of the hill, vanishes beyond the summit due to the angle. Past the road, it comes back into view.
On that hill there was a stone for Detwiler. (It’s in the photo above, but at this resolution unreadable.) As a Washington Nationals fan, that amused me — Ross Detwiler pitched for the Nationals about ten years ago and was the starter in game 4 of the 2012 National League Division Series against the Cardinals. (I had held off buying any post-season gear that year. Detwiler’s win sent me to the MLB’s online store and I bought a hat that night. The Nationals, of course, lost game 5 the next day in excruciating fashion.) I also have a game-used Detwiler jersey from his brief tenure with the York Revolution a few years ago.
One thing I was curious about — and I brought binoculars to see — was whether or not one could see downtown York and the York Revolution ballpark from the hill of Mount Rose Cemetery. You can see for miles up there, and while I could make out a few buildings in downtown, like the courthouse and the York Central Market, I couldn’t find the ballpark. The problem is that, while looking in the direction of downtown York, there are simply too many trees in the way. It’s possible that, absent the trees, the light towers of Peoples Bank Park would be visible even without binoculars.
I was, as you might imagine, curious about the interior of the mausoleum. The doors, unfortunately, were locked, and putting my face against the windows revealed practically nothing; it was simply too dark inside to make out much.
Behind the mausoleum, the cemetery becomes modern and eschews headstones for ground-level nameplates. There are two roads running parallel behind the mausoleum, and they come to an end at a circle a couple of hundred yards away. Walking back here feels like an entirely different place — it’s generally flat, it feels like a park. There are even two vintage artillery pieces. There was a strong breeze, and petals from the trees fell about me like snow as I explored.
To find Raffensberger, you would walk down the road to the left of the two parallel roads all the way to the circle at the end and look in the corner of the section that was on your left. He’s about three rows in from the road and five rows from the end.
I, of course, did not know this. I had to explore. First, I had to identify the Graceland section of the cemetery — fortunately, I’d taken a photo of the cemetery map at the entrance — then I had to look at markers until I found the right one. It didn’t take as long as one might think; I started with the graves running along the road, reached the end and moved over a row, and when I saw a grave for his daughter (Rhoads) I looked behind me, and there was Ken Raffensberger, major league pitcher.
I left an old baseball. What else does one leave an old pitcher?
There’s a story with that baseball. It belonged to someone, and I have no idea who. I attended a Harrisburg Senators game many years ago on a Sunday afternoon. I like to sit in the bleachers on the first base side, and when I was climbing the steps to my seat, I saw a baseball on the steps. I picked it up — an official Eastern League baseball — saw that it was dirty and had a B written on it in magic marker. I always arrive so I’m there when the gates open, there was at that time no one else in the bleachers, so it couldn’t have been a baseball that someone would have brought that day. Someone must have brought it the night before and lost it. I took it home — what else does one do with a lost baseball? — and never really felt the baseball was mine. But I could give it to someone who could more appropriately claim it.
For all I know, a breeze caught the ball five minutes after I left it and it rolled away down the hill.
For people in the York area, Mount Rose Cemetery is off 83’s Mount Rose Avenue exit, the one that’s been under construction since the Warren G. Harding administration with no end in sight. Head west into York, and it’s on your left. If you go past the Domino’s Pizza, you have gone too far.
Below is an annotated map taken from Google Maps, rotated so the cemetery entrance on Mount Rose Avenue is at bottom. I think I see how I would drive back to Raffensberger’s grave. Mount Rose is far from the most confusing cemetery I’ve ever visited, but I think it’s merely car-tolerant and not car-friendly.
Exploring the cemetery on foot was fine; I saw the pet cemetery and a bird house, mausoleums and old graves, newer graves and artillery pieces, benches and trees. I did a lot of walking, and that’s no bad thing. It was a lovely place to visit, and I will have to return to see the things that I didn’t.
Raffenberger amounts to little more than a footnote in Cubs history — he doesn’t even merit an appearance in Peter Goldenbock’s history of the Cubs, Wrigleyville — yet, had that obscure series of old newspaper articles from 1940 not mentioned him as “a member of the Chicago Cubs,” I wouldn’t have given him any thought or gone looking for him at all. History remembers him more as a Phillie and a Red, but to me, he’s a Cub.
From Five a Grave, I now know that Lefty Grove is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery, just up the hill from the York Revolution home, and Cliff Heathcote, of that mid-doubleheader trade between the Cubs and Cardinals, is buried one county over. I think, sometime later this spring, or in early summer, I’ll explore and pay my respects to some other old baseball players.