The Strange Case of Johnny Mostil

To the extent Johnny Mostil’s known today, it’s for this event, as described in the Los Angeles Times of March 9, 1927, reporting from Shreveport, Louisiana: “Johnny Mostil, Chicago American outfielder, slashed his throat so severely late today in his hotel room that physicians at the hospital where he was taken said tonight he could hardly live. Mostil cut his arms, wrists and stabbed himself in the left side as well as slashing his throat while alone in his bathroom at the Hotel Youree.”

A follow-up the next day said:

Although he was bled chalky-by thirteen stabs and slash wounds in the breast, the left wrist, the neck and legs-the athletics constitution of the moody young ball player who brooded because he thought himself a physical wreck, pulled him through twenty-four hours of ordeal and he won a little strength today. Barring pneumonia and infections in his wounds, Mostil still has a chance to recover. Up to this evening there had been no symptoms of either of these untoward developments and in the intervals between restful sleep his mind was clear and his resistance astonishing.

However, Mostil’s story carried beyond that spring. At the end of April, a Times reporter noted the White Sox’s struggles and said of their penchant for losing close games: “One name explains the reason—Johnny Mostil, outfielder de luxe, lost to the team through his attempt at suicide. . . . But misfortune and White Sox have been more or less synonymous since the notorious Black Sox scandal of 1919.”

On September 5, 1927, a newspaper reported on Mostil’s return to the field in a 10-6 loss at the Tigers in the second game of a doubleheader: Mostil “made his first appearance of the season in the outfield this afternoon. He went to his old position in center field in the sixth inning. He had only one fielding chance and made an error on that. Heretofore Mostil had been used only as a pinch runner.”

The sense that Mostil had more troubles than just a suicide attempt gained strength on May 24 of 1928. The L.A. Times reported that Mostil “was hit between the eye by a baseball in the fifth inning of today’s game with Detroit and knocked unconscious. He was forced to retired from the game. The ball was thrown by Galloway, Tiger third baseman, in an attempted double play.”

Then, on May 20, 1929, the Times added this item: “Johnny Mostil, who recovered sufficiently from a training camp injury to enter the line-up only two weeks ago, fractured his right ankle when he tripped over the plate in the fourth inning.” That was the end of Mostil’s big league career.

Mostil had spent most of the ’20s as one of the game’s greatest fielders, and in 1925 and ’26 was one of its great offensive forces as well. His 135 runs scored in 1925 set a White Sox club record that still stands, and he was second in the MVP voting for 1926. But he suffered from dental issues and neuritis in his jaw and/or left shoulder, a condition that involves an inflamed nerve or nerves and results in chronic, sharp pain. That commonly means burning, itching, tingling and prickling sensations. On March 7, 1927, Mostil had taken a ball right in the chest during batting practice, and the next day he tried to kill himself. People have tried to figure out why he did so, but it seems highly likely Mostil was just trying to escape from his pain: how else can you explain enduring so many stab wounds to himself (inflicted by a razor blade)? It speaks of his desperation and willingness to use one kind of pain to escape from greater pain. Doesn’t it follow that if he was depressed or in a romantic rage he would have used a bullet or jumped from a bridge, something quick and apparently painless?

In the suicide attempt, Mostil sliced the tendons leading to the second and third fingers of his left hand, but he was righthanded. Sometime that summer of 1927, he dipped his left wrist in scalding water (not on purpose, it seems), setting back his comeback, which in a sense ended on September 1, when he was brought back to the Sox roster; he appeared as a pinch runner on the 2nd, and had a decent 1928 season. In 1929 he appeared in just 12 games before suffering the injury described above.

At the end of spring training, 1930, in mid-April, he was cut by the New York Giants and John McGraw and sent back down to the Toledo Mud Hens, who’d sold him to the Giants at the start of March. The Mud Hens were helmed by Casey Stengel. At the time, a newspaper explained that he’d “had trouble with his injured leg all Spring.” It added that “after his enforced layoff in 1927 he never quite regained his former pace.”

Mostil had caught a fly ball from Johnny Bassler to end Charlie Robertson’s 2-0 perfect game over Detroit on April 30, 1922. He was known for his outstanding speed in his prime: one article says that “during a Spring Training game in 1925, Johnny Mostil became the only center fielder in baseball history to catch a foul ball.”

After spending most of the ’30s and ’40s as a minor league manager, he became a White Sox scout in the ’50s and ’60s before apparently retiring from poor health. Mostil, a Chicago native, wound up in a Midlothian, Illinois nursing home at age 74, and died there on December 10, 1970, of a long illness.

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I had read somewhere many years ago of his catching a foul ball, as described in the above article. Is there more info on that rare deed that
    occurred in spring training in 1925?

  2. I met Johnny Mostil at White Sox boys camp in 1967. He said his right fielder had a bum leg and he said he would to try to catch anything that came his way. There was a high foull ball hit and he he had just stepped over the foul line when he caught the ball.

  3. i also knew mostil as my coach at the White Sox Camp for Boys. The right fielder had told mostil he was feeling badly and if mostil thought he had a shot at any ball to go for it. the hitter was a pull hitter and a big shift was on and had center fielder mostil as part of the shift playing into right field. the ball was caught he says on a dead sprint at the shoe strings having just crossed the foul line.

  4. Catcher DON PINCIOTTI

    Johnny Mostil was my manager in 1947 for the Waterloo White Hawks of the Triple I baseball league.
    We won the Championship that year when Jack Onslaw replaced Mostil because of his bad health. Johnny Mostil was one of the finest gentlemen I have ever met and I’m 91 years old.

  5. Johnny Mostil’s story about the only center fielder in professional baseball to catch a fly ball in foul territory is true because Chuck Cominsky and Mostil both told me that story sitting in a hotel lounge in Chicago. I played in the White Sox system for 8 years.

  6. The Garland County Historical Society in Hot SpringsArkansas has some information on Johnny.They were given a box of papers that a man purchased at the auction of an old house. They contacted me because the papers had belonged to my great aunt,Helen Hilpert. Amongst the papers were copies of letters she wrote Johnny Mostil.Apparently she would type her letters up and keep a copy for herself. I really don’t know however where or when they met.Recall my dad saying the Milwaukee Brewers would do a summer camp in town when he was a kid back in the 1920s there in Hot Springs.Apparently I guess they weren’t the only team.If he did attempt suicide over a woman in 1927,it sure wasn’t Helen. They did date and all,,,but she was never able to land him as a husband.
    They did an article about her for their historical quarterly and it has Mostil’s photo and some of his stats listed under his photo.
    There might be a copy of their latest quarterly on their website.


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