Dr. Otto McIver: It wasn’t in the cards

When Theresa McIver gave birth to the only son of herself and Dr. John D. McIver in Greenville, Texas, on July 26, 1884, we can only assume the couple had grand plans for the future of young Edward Otto McIver. After all, John was a respected physician in Hunt County, and his father had also been a doctor in Grimes County since before the Civil War. Medicine was rapidly evolving, and railroads were in demand for doctors to work in corporate hospitals. As Otto grew into a teenager, Texas’ first College of Medicine opened at Galveston, and the Baylor School of Medicine was founded by 1900. But if Otto’s parents had any ideas he would continue the family tradition and follow his father and grandfather into medicine, they would be sorely disappointed. Like so many Americans at the turn of the 20th century, Otto McIver was obsessed with a game—baseball. The opportunity to eek out a living playing baseball was too much for Otto to pass up.

McIver, a left-handed outfielder, made his professional debut with the Dallas Giants in 1904 at the age of 19. Although he played in only 20 games, it was the first season of a long career spent mainly in Texas and including a small cup of coffee in the major leagues.

His first season in the books, Otto returned to the Texas League in 1905, playing 87 games for Temple and Corsicana. His .212 batting average offered little indication McIver would be a household name in Texas baseball for the next two decades. But in 1906, Otto became a tool in Dallas owner J.W. Gardner’s grand plan to control the league by owning two franchises, the second in Greenville serving as a “farm team,” of sorts, for his Giants. When Greenville folded mid-season, Otto moved on to Dallas, and his grew into .255 batter, a solid hitter for his era.

At the start of 1907, Otto McIver took a chance and left the Texas League, signing with the Shreveport Pirates of the Southern Association. The break from Texas suited him well. In 67 games with Shreveport, he improved his batting average to .278. At mid-season, however, Otto left the Class A Southern Association and returned to the Class C Texas League, playing 74 games with the Temple Boll Weevils. Under the teaching of Manager Ben Shelton, who had turned Tris Speaker from a pitcher into a future Hall of Fame outfielder a season earlier in Cleburne, McIver turned in the best two months of his career. With Temple he batted .322 with a .427 slugging percentage. The confidence he gained encouraged him to return to Class A baseball a year later.

Whatever 1907 did to improve Otto’s confidence, 1908 destroyed. Playing for the Mobile Sea Gulls, he batted just .162 in 102 games. A return to Shreveport, now a member of the Texas League, did little to improve his production, and McIver headed into 1909 wondering if he could continue a professional career for as long as he had hoped. He signed with the defending champion San Antonio Bronchos and hoped for the best. He was not disappointed, and neither were baseball fans in the Alamo City.

While the Bronchos did not win a Texas League title during McIver’s two seasons anchoring the outfield, Otto established himself as a force to be reckoned with both offensively and as a baserunner.  In 1909, he tied for the team lead by batting .290 and added speed to his game as he stole 42 bases, again leading the team.  He improved again in 1910, batting .303 with 51 stolen bases. For the first time, Otto had an element of power at the plate gaining 48 extra-base hits, including 7 home runs. The Big Leagues took note, and prior to the 1911 season, the St. Louis Cardinals signed McIver to a contract.

Otto McIver’s stay in the major leagues was brief, but not nearly as brief as many others who have tried and failed at the highest level of professional baseball. Backing up three established Cardinal outfielders, McIver appeared in 30 games and batted just .226. But the most likely reason for his failure to stick with a major league club was that the speed that served him so well in Texas wasn’t up to Major League standards. McIver did not have a single stolen base with the Cardinals despite reaching base one out of every three times he came to bat.

After his time in St. Louis, in 1912 McIver found himself in the Class AA Pacific Coast League with the San Francisco Seals. Unfortunately, the magic he’d discovered in San Antonio continued to allude him, and by mid-season he’d returned to the Texas League with the Austin Senators. Slowly, McIver began to regain confidence, and over the course of a half-season in Austin his batting average returned to the point of respectability while he once again found an element of success on the base paths. He held steady the following season while performing double duty as the Senators’ player-manager, and in 1914, McIver began a three-year stint with the Fort Worth Panthers.

“Solid” best describes Otto’s time in Fort Worth as he consistently batted in the high .200s. In 1915 he set a personal high in stealing 69 bases, only topped by his teammate Bobby Stow who led the league with 70. After spending 1916 as the Panthers’ player-manager, in 1917, McIver returned to Shreveport for a third stint in the city but appeared in only 39 games.

While many of his baseball counterparts were called to serve in World War I beginning in late 1917, Otto McIver was not drafted. Still, he did not play baseball either, instead taking a position his parents had probably wished he had pursued a decade earlier, working as an accountant for a Dallas automobile dealership. In 1919, he tried to rekindle his career with Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League; yet, he never made it onto the field. At age 34, it appeared McIver’s career had come to an end. He took a job managing a Dallas cotton compress and planned to settle into his second occupation.

After four years out of baseball, the Class D Texas Association formed, and Otto McIver put his cleats back on for a productive season with the Sherman Twins.  A year later, he signed on as manager of the league’s Waco franchise but moved onto Austin in the same position late in the season. Finally, in 1925, McIver spent his final year in baseball as manager of the Texas Association’s Terrell Terrors. After 18 seasons in professional baseball, Otto McIver officially called it a career and entered the traditional workforce, continuing in the cotton business and living out his years with his wife, Alene. The couple had no children.

On May 4, 1954, Otto McIver died of a heart attack in Dallas. He never became a doctor, but if his parents had been paying attention, he had certainly done them proud in becoming an early star of the Texas League with one of the longest tenures in the league history when he retired. He is buried in Dallas’ Greenwood Cemetery.

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