Emory Titman: The Biggest Fan

 

 

“Emory Titman, you have twelve months to live.”

The doctor’s words hung in the air of the consulting room like cigar smoke in a downtown tavern. The official diagnosis was “elephantitis,” a cruel name for the excess weight Emory Titman had carried his whole life. He’d always been what one would call “large.” As a boy, Emory’s well-to-do parents hired tutors to teach him at their Philadelphia estate when the schoolyard bullying became too much to bear. His father took him to specialist after specialist in search of a cure for his boy’s obesity, only to be told the answer was diet and exercise.

Mr. Titman offered his son $100 for every pound Emory shed, but his bulk only increased with time. He was well past 300lbs by the time he reached his teens. Fasting and continuous exercise to the point of collapse only worked temporarily. His boyhood friend Ira Thompson recalled, “He’d run round and round a reservoir near his home. At the end he wouldn’t be able to hold back. He’d slip off to a restaurant for a meal. And you should see the food he ate! For lunch he would eat 4 1/2lb of steak and an entire apple pie.”

Fortunately, Emory was heir to the Titman fortune. His father, Charles Eugene Titman, was the owner of the (ironically named) Penn Reducing Company, which had the lucrative contract to haul away and incinerate all the city of Philadelphia’s garbage. With virtually everything he needed at his asking, Emory eased into the decadent and worry-free life of a playboy, or “sportsman” as they were called in the 1910s.

The twenty-something Emory caroused up and down the eastern seaboard following the horse races, prize fights, and his absolute favorite – baseball.

As a Philadelphia native, Emory of course was a fan of the Philadelphia Athletics. The team’s part owner and manager Connie Mack had built the team up into an American League powerhouse. After winning pennants in 1902 and 1905, Mack’s Athletics would go on to win four more pennants and three World Championships between 1910 and 1914. As a prominent Philly sportsman, Emory inevitably became friends with both Connie Mack and the Athletics’ other owner, Ben Shibe. Emory became a fixture at Athletics games, his large 350lb frame making him hard to miss in the stands, where a special seat spanning four normal ones was eventually built for him.

Around 1911, Emory began accompanying the team to spring training in San Antonio, Texas. The trip was more than social – Emory’s spring training with the Athletics became in essence the first “baseball fantasy camp.” His pal Connie Mack contracted a local tent maker to tailor a plus-size Athletics uniform and cap, which Emory proudly donned while working out with the team.

As San Antonio native James Watson later told the San Antonio Light, “During the years that the Athletics trained in San Antonio out on the diamond, which is now known as Garrett Field, Emory Titman was the first man to report and the last one to depart. His loyal disposition, witty saying and enthusiasm had as much to do with the training of the Athletics as their daily workouts.”

Indeed, it appears that Emory was not just some rich hanger-on; he became an accepted part of the Athletics and a true friend to the players, and he responded the best way he knew how. As James Watson remembered, “At the time Titman was here, anything the boys wanted was soon provided for.”

Athletics road-secretary Joe Ohl reported that Emory would lose 150 pounds in his annual springs spent with the team. “But what was the use?” Ohl later said. “He’d go straight back to New York and throw one of his 600 dollar champagne parties for a group of Broadway pals – and he’d be back where he started in a week.”

During the season, Emory frequently accompanied the Athletics on road trips and even assisted the team in their workouts before home games. His unmistakably bulky frame drew curious onlookers, and sportswriters felt his mere presence at a game merited a few lines in their game stories.

Sometimes Emory’s presence with the team warranted more than a mere mention. For instance, in March of 1912, Emory accompanied the Athletics to Baltimore to play an exhibition game against the Orioles. After changing into their uniforms, the Philadelphia players, Emory included, stealthily hid all their valuables, including cash and jewelry, in a leather satchel filled with old baseballs. The loot was looked after by Philadelphia’s team captain Danny Murphy as the team took the field. At one point, Murphy became distracted and the bag disappeared. $485 of the $2,500 worth of valuables stolen was Emory’s in the form of a $300 gold watch and $85 in cash. Luckily, the story has a happy ending – Baltimore Police detectives discovered that the culprit was the Athletics’ bat boy for the day, a 14 year-old kid named Edwin Leroy Warnick. The valuables were recovered and returned to their rightful owners.

Besides baseball, Emory toyed with the idea of becoming a prize fighter – of the heavyweight class, of course. He took on Fred Ford, Philadelphia Bulletin sportswriter, as his trainer and hired an official press agent to handle publicity. Now weighing in at a reported 400lbs, an Emory Titman bout would surely be the fight of the year, but alas, his ring dreams never got off the ground.

Emory was truly living a dream life – a seemingly endless money stream, palling around and training alongside the World Champion Athletics and having all the time in the world to savor it. As the April 19, 1912, Washington Herald wrote, “Emory is one of the lucky ones who has nothing to do until to-morrow, and to-morrow never comes.”  – that is until the day in 1913 when his doctor gave him twelve months to live.

The irony was palpable – here he was, 24-years old with an inheritance of $400,000 ($11.9 million in 2022) from his recently deceased father and sister, and now he’s given a year left to live. What was he to do?

Spend it all – that’s what!

Emory left the doctor’s office and raced home to Philadelphia. He summoned his many friends to a favorite tavern where he informed them of his fatal diagnosis. As his pals listened intently, Emory pledged the following, “My life will be as gay as it is short. From now until I die, I’m going to have one hell of a good time. It will cost me all I have, but it will be worth it. I am a big man and it is only right that I should go out with a splash.”

As his declaration sunk in, Emory directed the tavern door be locked and ordered drinks on him for as long as the evening lasted. Emory Titman’s conclusive year of excess had begun.

Emory began his last season with his annual spring training with the Athletics. The Nashville Banner reported that his training regimen shaved off an estimated 34 pounds, and he kept the Athletics in “the best of humor by ‘calling them out’ on the slightest provocation.” Emory occasionally took the field as a first baseman in inter-squad games where “the big boy surprised them with his ability to handle the ball.” He also tried his hand at umpiring, though he complained to Ben Shibe and Connie Mack that the players “objected in a vigorous way to all of his decisions, and when he offered to bench them or send them from the field, they paid him little heed.”

Once the season began, Emory’s excesses and choice of friends landed him in a bit of trouble. On June 18, 1913, Emory was among the thirty-nine “sportsmen” arrested in Shibe Park on the charge of gambling on baseball games. Gambling in the open in the stands was a longtime plague in the major leagues, and the practice brought the occasional mass crackdown from time to time. Emory was the only one of the thirty-nine arrested who was mentioned by name in the newspapers, but charges were dropped two days later. Whether this was based on his innocence or influence it is not recorded, though it is well reported that Emory was an excessive gambler throughout his adult life.

Chauffeur Johnny Vanderslice described this period of Emory’s life: “He seemed to go mad. He’d go anywhere, whatever the cost, to see a fight, a baseball game, or to meet a chorus girl. Anything, just so he kept moving on to something new.”

The Philadelphia Athletics finished 1913 by winning the pennant by 6 ½ games and beating the New York Giants 4 games to 1 for their third World Championship in four years. When springtime rolled around, Emory Titman was still among the living – and seemingly in the best health in many a year. Taking advantage of what he figured was borrowed time, Emory accelerated his spending and debauchery. The Camden Morning Post recalled that “There were special trains for long trips, on which his friends were welcome. He took acquaintances to all the big prize fights. Chorus girls were guests of honor at sumptuous banquets. He was a familiar figure in New York cabarets and nightclubs where his spending and his avoirdupois won for him wide attention.”

Emory’s weight ballooned past the 450lb mark with no sign of slowing. Newspapers insensitively referred to him as “Elephantine,” “Fattest Fan,” “Monster Mascot,” and “The World’s Greatest Fat Man.” If any of these names bothered Emory, he never let on; he was too busy having the best time he could buy.

When the Boston Braves swept the Athletics in the 1914 World Series, Emory consoled the ballclub by partially funding the team’s playing vacation to Hawaii. On the liner Manoa from San Francisco, Emory “took charge of the many social events which were celebrated aboard the vessel.” The grand tour landed in the islands on December 2, 1914. Immediately, the local press fixated on Emory Titman, with the rival papers trying to guess his weight as they followed the big man on a tour of the local tourist spots. The December 15 Honolulu Star-Bulletin wrote, “Emory Titman weighs 340 (sic) pounds and each pound of flesh is a ton of fun.”

Yet, despite all his famous pals and hours filled with endless rounds of fun, Emory Titman was lonely. His father and sister had both passed away, and he was estranged from his remaining sister due to a dispute over her inheritance. Friends could offer only so much companionship, and it was on the Hawaii trip that Emory first began talking of taking a wife. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin wrote that “Another millionaire has come to the islands and he says he intends to marry the wealthiest girl in Honolulu before he leaves for the coast next Wednesday.” Though the Star-Bulletin reported that Emory had been trying to learn Hawaiian, he returned to America without an island bride.

1915 turned out to be the death of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. Mack sold off most of his pennant winning club when many of his stars threatened to jump to the upstart Federal League. The Athletics went from winning 99 games in 1914 to just 43 victories and a last place finish in 1915. Concurrently, 1915 would mark the beginning of the end for Emory Titman as well.

News of Emory’s search for a bride followed him back to the States. As he did with every venture, Emory plunged head-first into finding his love connection. Though a bonafide millionaire, Emory didn’t circulate among the blue bloods of Philadelphia’s Main Line or New York’s “Four Hundred.” His people were the colorful Broadway crowd, so perhaps it was inevitable that Emory would wind up with someone in showbiz. Emory’s chauffeur Johnny Vanderslice later told a reporter, “By this time the women were after him. They sure skinned him. He married one.” The “one” turned out to be Anne Smiley Corkey Bailey, a divorced 23-year old chorus girl working under the name “June Levy.” The two had met sometime in the summer of 1915 and by Christmas rumors were circulating of an engagement. Emory vigorously denied any marriage plans all the way up to just ten days before the two were married on Valentine’s Day, 1916.

Marital bliss did not last long for Mr. and Mrs. Titman. Just over a year after they were wed, Anne filed for divorce on the grounds of desertion and non-support. Desertion by the ebullient and limelight-seeking Emory was likely exacerbated by Mrs. Titman’s return to the stage shortly after their marriage. The non-support cited in the divorce papers included Emory’s refusal to honor a bill for $455 in clothes purchased by Mrs. Titman from an Atlantic City merchant. The divorce wound its way through the courts and society pages until a bombshell landed on March 20, 1918, when a cache of love letters between Mrs. Titman and former Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Bill Morrisette were revealed. Besides the blatant infidelity by his wife, Emory had to feel doubly betrayed by being cucked by a member of his beloved Philadelphia Athletics. The contents of the letters made the scale of deceit even worse as it became obvious Mrs. Titman was playing Emory for all he was worth. In one letter partially reproduced in the Middletown Times-Press, Mrs. Titman writes, “He told me he had made a new will, leaving everything to me, he is going to open a bank account for me in July and also I am to have a new car. I can also have the little diamond stick pin, so you see dear, he is really coming to life. Under the circumstances it will pay to stick for a while, honey.”

The Titman’s were granted a partial divorce with Emory ordered to pay $25 a week in alimony to his wife. Almost immediately, Emory failed to make the payments, and in September of 1918 the pair were in court again. There it was revealed that Emory’s vast fortune was all but gone. According to the Philadelphia Bulletin, “Emory, standing in the body of the court, had pulled two faded dollar bills from his pocket and announced calmly: ‘This is all I have in the world.’” Emory’s lawyer explained to the court that “…physicians had told him (Titman) from time to time that he had only a month to live. This so depressed him that he became indifferent to his welfare and spent his money while it lasted.” The couple were finally divorced on July 7, 1919.

With the money running low, creditors came knocking. Chauffeur Johnny Vanderslice remembers, “he phoned me from Baltimore. The creditors were all after him. He told me to sell the car and bring him the money. I took him 1,000 dollars he says to me: ‘Johnny, I know I’ve been a fool, but I’ve had a good time. Now I suppose I’ll just have to get a job.”

Bad checks started to haunt Emory as he wagered heavily on the horses trying to bet his way out of the red. One after another, multiple charges were brought against him for welching on his gambling debts. When he was arrested in Philadelphia on a warrant from New York, a special train car had to be found to haul his now reportedly 650lb body. When he arrived at the courthouse it took fifteen minutes for officers to dislodge Emory from their prison van. When the court later ordered him to be held in jail until bail was met, a more suitable conveyance had to be located to transfer him. Once he arrived at the jail it was discovered that he could not fit through the doors of their cells, so a special place was made for him in the prison hospital. Luckily his stay was short.

All the years of treating his pals to the highlife came back around when an assorted group of boxing promoters, horse handicappers and general sporting men came together to post Emory’s bail. More than a year later the sole remaining charge came to trial, and he was found not guilty.

Broke and still very much alive, Emory Titman relocated to Atlantic City where his mother and estranged sister lived. Emory began working as an attendant in a Turkish bath. After a year of toiling in the heat for nine hours every day, Emory was reported to have lost an astounding 276lbs.

Though he gained much of his weight back over time, Emory retained the good nature he had when he was flush with cash. When the local high school football team lost their goat mascot to sickness, Emory volunteered himself as their new mascot.

He floated from job to job making ends meet, from taxicab dispatcher to pushing one of the famous three-wheeled wicker passenger chairs on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Emory’s old chauffeur Johnny Vanderslice ran into his old boss during the mid-1920s. “He was wringing out towels in a Turkish bath. I tell you it brought a lump to my throat. His friends had abandoned him. But he bore no malice. He said he had enough to live on and he no longer went to cabarets.”

Emory was working as a rub down man in a bath parlor when he suffered a paralyzing stroke in February of 1927. Again, doctors gave him less than a year to live. To no one’s surprise he lingered on for more than a year before heart disease finally did what his original doctor predicted in 1913 – it was just that it happened fifteen years later.

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CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

When $2,500 worth of cash and bling (about $73,000 today!) was swiped from the Philadelphia Athletics ballplayers, the Baltimore Police Department pulled out all the stops to find the thief.

It wasn’t long until the Athletics’ 14-year old batboy for the day, Edwin Leroy Warnick, was fingered as the culprit. His disappearance just before the items were missed proved to be the biggest clue. Cops tracked him back to his house on Harford Avenue where he had given the items to his 16-year old brother Arthur to fence.

When asked why he stole the swag, Edwin sobbed, “I wanted to be a baseball manager and when the Philadelphia players left their money and rings on the bench I thought my chance was there. I didn’t spend the money… but I was going to take it to Washington and get up a boys club, and then when we growed up it would be a mans club, and then I would be a manager and as great a man as Connie Mack.”

According to Sporting Life, while Arthur was given parole, Edwin was sent to St. Mary’s Industrial School, home to another teenage delinquent by the name of George Herman Ruth…

* * *

This week’s story is Number 47 in a series of collectible booklets.

Each of the hand-numbered and signed 4 ¼” x 5 1/2″ booklets feature an 8 to 24 page story along with a colored art card attached to the inside back cover. These mini-books can be bought individually, thematically or collected as a never-ending set. In addition to the individual booklets, I envision there being themed sets, such as the series I did on Minor League Home Run Champions. You can order a Subscription to Season 4 as well. A year subscription includes a guaranteed regular 12 issues at a discounted price, plus at least one extra Subscriber Special Issue. Each subscription will begin with Booklet Number 042 and will be active through December of 2022. Booklets 1-41 can be purchased as a group, too.

2 thoughts on “Emory Titman: The Biggest Fan

  1. Great story. But I don’t remember Babe Ruth stealing a bag I thought his father put him in the school.

    1. Ruth was sent to St. Mary’s by his Dad because he was too much to handle and was getting in trouble. It was the batboy, Edvin Warnick, who was sent there for stealing the bag: “According to Sporting Life, while Arthur was given parole, Edwin was sent to St. Mary’s Industrial School, home to another teenage delinquent by the name of George Herman Ruth.”

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