A wealth of historical information exists regarding the early major leagues. The minor leagues, however, have received limited coverage, particularly pre-WW I minor league play when hundreds of teams competed in every geographic region of the country. Then, as now, thousands of young and old aspirants chased their dream of the big leagues in outposts like Goldsboro, North Carolina, Macomb, Illinois, or Baker City, Oregon.
Incomplete player and team information makes it difficult to chronicle the early minor leagues. Baseball-Research.com lists statistics for most minor league teams, but record keeping in the early twentieth century was haphazard. Since statistics do not always provide a complete depiction of the minors, baseball cards offer a limited, alternative source of information about the early game.
The first baseball cards were trade cards, and selling the brand’s product was the card’s purpose. There were no player statistics because they were secondary to selling a product. Despite the omission of stats, 19c tobacco cards, and early 20c cards and postcards, do provide a small glimpse into the game’s infancy. Cards illustrate uniforms, and depict the player’s equipment. In some instances cards show the stadia in which games were played, and the players are often positioned in the stances they assumed on the field. Player cards are interesting visual histories, but they provide no biographical information. This section of the website fills in the biographical gaps early cards did not address.
The biographies provide information for players who appear in T209-II set. My interest in creating them was nurtured when I acquired an archive of seventy-nine baseball letters written by Fred “Baldy” Stoehr who pitched in the Carolina Association, Southern League, and Eastern Carolina League (1908-1910). Stoehr’s letters were written to Mary Mae Boslet to whom he was engaged in 1908. They married after his first season of professional baseball (October 27, 1908). Their first child, who died in infancy, was born during the 1909 season, and their second was welcomed in 1910.
Stoehr’s letters are fascinating for the information they offer about living and playing in the Southern minor leagues in the early twentieth century. Not unsurprisingly, much of his story could apply to players today.
While the dreams of aspiring baseball players have not changed, Stoehr’s letters, and many of the player biographies, demonstrate that player-management relationships were quite different over a century ago. Players had limited rights and could be released from their contracts at any time before or during the season since the owners had the power to waive anyone. Similarly, players in Stoehr’s time could ask to be released from their contracts in order to play with another team. Today we have collective bargaining agreements that protect the rights of both players and management.
A player’s physical well being was not closely considered in 1910—many fine young ballplayers ruined their careers because of trying to play through injuries. Pitchers like Stoehr are a good example of misuse. We live in a time when organizations are acutely aware of the number of innings thrown by every pitcher from the minor leagues through the majors. This was not true during the early twentieth century when it was not uncommon for a pitcher to twirl both ends of a double-header. The player histories that follow demonstrate that minor league baseball was a far different game in 1908-1910.
Player Movement Among the Leagues
One of the beauties of baseball is the way in which statistics allow us to measure the performance of current players with players in the past. We can compare baseball’s first super-star, Big Ed Delahanty, with Mike Trout and measure the achievements of each because statistics are constant. Yet even though stats remain constant, technology, and the attitudes and actions of the participants have changed over time. Quite simply, our sense of the game today is different from the game played one hundred years ago. In order to understand the early game, it helps to look at it from the perspective of those who played it.
In the modern world of baseball everything is documented, particularly a player’s progression through the minor leagues and into the Show. Everyone who plays the game has meticulously kept statistics that track his performance, and his team affiliation. In 1910 there was no similar documentation for players. This became evident to me when I noticed that some players in the T209-II set had one team’s name on their card, but research indicated they had played for a different team. For whom had they played? The answer became clearer once I realized the frequency with which players moved about in the minors.
William Steinbach is a textbook case of the mystery that shrouds a player’s history, particularly the team(s) for which he played. Baseball-Research.com confirms that Steinbach played for the Goldsboro Giants (Eastern Carolina League) in 1909 and compiled a modest .207 batting average over fifty-four games and 174 plate appearances.
In 1910 player cards were distributed in packs of Contentnea Cigarettes. As part of their marketing strategy Contentnea issued a souvenir album that reproduced the poses used for each card. If a player had a photo depicted in the album, there existed a tobacco card with the corresponding image. Steinbach is shown in the album with Goldsboro, and it was assumed a card existed for him. However, no modern collector had seen his card.
A quick check of Baseball-Reasearch.com for 1910 reveals no statistics for Steinbach, suggesting he did not play. Based on this evidence, and the fact that no collectors had seen his card, advanced collectors assumed that Steinbach’s card did not exist, even though his photo appeared in the album. Checklists for T209-II also omitted Steinbach’s name.
In 2012 Robert Edward Auctions offered the cards of notable collector Joe Pelaez. Pelaez had a large collection of Southern minor league issued cards, among which was the only known example of Steinbach’s T209-II card. If one card existed, there must be more, but to date none have surfaced. So why is Steinbach’s card scarce? Two of Baldy Stohrs’ letters help explain the card’s rarity.
In a letter to his wife on May 13, Stoehr mentions that he has arrived in Goldsboro after his trip from Altoona, PA. He talks about how the town has changed during the off-season (they now have paved streets and a trolley!), and he talks about his teammates, including Steinbach who has rejoined the team and brought his new bride. The next five letters discuss the opening of the season and the Giants’ early record.
On June 2 he writes from Rocky Mount where the team has gone to play the Railroaders. After discussing some family news he notes, “Well Kelly isn’t manager any more they left him go they released him.” In the next sentence he reveals another subtraction from the team: “Steinbach and his wife came to Rocky Mount with us and they went home so that leaves me to play the outfield and Sharp on second base….Steinbach never says anything about going home so that leaves us in a hole until we get some more players.” Toward the end of the letter, after talking about how much he misses his wife, Stoehr comments that Mrs. Steinbach “didn’t want Steinbach to play ball.”
Managers have been fired since baseball became a professional game, so Kelly’s dismissal is not surprising. What is surprising is that ten days into the season Steinbach suddenly left the team and returned to his home. And while no one will ever know why he left, he may have realized that his future was not in professional baseball. (One need only look at his 1909 statistics to confirm that assessment.)
I suspect Steinbach’s card is rare because he only played a few games with the team and not many collectors in 1910 prized his card. It is not hard to imagine a young boy opening a pack of Contentneas, discovering a Steinbach card, and immediately discarding the little known player. It is also possible that once he left the team Contenetnea stopped putting his cards in their cigarette packs. However, I doubt that anyone at Contentnea knew of Steinbach’s exit, or even cared.
Stoehr’s letter about Steinbach’s departure contains one other revealing comment. When he reports the news to his wife, Baldy notes that he and Sharp will have to play other positions “until we get some more players.” Players regularly moved in and out of minor league rosters, particularly in Class D, the lowest level of play. Stoehr often mentions this fact, and was himself involved in moving to another team at the end of his minor league career. Movement is a common thread in the player biographies that follow.
You can read the player biographies by clicking on the names listed in the Biographies section. But, before you begin reading, allow me to make a few clarifications. I have chosen to limit information to each player’s baseball career. This was done out of necessity since it is not always possible to assemble material on a player’s life before and after baseball. One exception is Fred “Baldy” Stoehr. Stoehr’s family, notably his grandson, David Stoehr, has provided me with a wealth of information about Baldy, and as I gather more information I will expand his biography.
I have also received invaluable assistance from Kelly Wilson in compiling some of the biographies. Kell has undertaken exhaustive research on the Asheville Mountaineers during the 1909-1911 seasons, including profiling all the players who played with the team. I have edited many of Kell’s profiles, and in some cases added information. In order to recognize his important research our mutual efforts are signed KW/MP. My hope is that Kell will publish his examination of Asheville baseball since it contains illuminating information about the Southern minor leagues.
Finally, in order to conserve space I have used two abbreviations: BR refers to Baseball-Research.com, and AC refers to the Asheville Citizen newspaper.
I hope you enjoy reading the biographies.
Additional biographies coming soon.