June 17, 1889. George Goetz, The “Fallen Phenom”

I can’t tell you much about Philip Goetz, but I can tell you this.

He was born in Pennsylvania around 1836. He was a shoemaker who married a girl named Ann. They lived in Greencastle, had some children – Clara, Alice, Grace, George, Rose, Frank, Ruth, Mollie, and Ross. Maybe more. I can’t be sure.

Philip Goetz died, age 77, in 1913.

This isn’t about Philip, anyway. And, it’s not about Greencastle, Pennsylvania, although the Goetz family was growing and thriving there in the 1860s when the Civil War was raging and Greencastle was the site of skirmishes, battles, and Confederate encampments, and is just 10 miles from Chambersburg, 30 miles from Antietam, and 35 miles from Gettysburg.

Greencastle, Pennsylvania

It’s not about any of that. It’s about Philip Goetz’s eldest son George, who was born in 1865, after all of that, and there is precious little known of him, either.

Except for this.

In a baseball game on June 17, 1889, George B. Goetz, son of Philip and Ann, was the Baltimore Orioles’ starting pitcher.

It was his first major league appearance. His last one, too.

George is a bit hard to find, not least because he is known as George only on the 1870 census, when he is five, and in his one game for the Orioles.

Everyone else, it seems, called him Bert.

Why? Here’s my guess. Our George B. Goetz, the son of Philip, “a shoemaker,” was born in tiny Greencastle in 1865.

George H. Goetz, the son of John, a “dealer in shoes,” was also born in tiny Greencastle … in 1864.

George H., the elder of the Georges, perhaps got dibs on the name.

This is only a guess. It will not be my only guess about George B. Goetz.

But, I don’t need to guess about the game on June 17, 1889.

By 1889, Goetz, 23, has become Greencastle’s baseball phenom – known for a pitch that is something like a curveball. He’s found some success with a Roanoke, Virginia team and in April, accompanied by a “traveling salesman,” Goetz treks to Baltimore seeking a tryout with the Orioles, a not-very-good team in the American Association.

Chambersburg Valley Spirit, 4/8/1889

The Valley Spirit of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania picks up the story:

“At first the Baltimore players were disposed to ridicule him but after he put on a suit and began to pitch the players found they could not hit him. He placed the ball in every conceivable position and his curves and in and out shoots were remarkable. When he picked up the bat he made the ball and the centre field fence come together.”

He’s tall – over six feet – and strong and the Orioles expect great things from him. On April 7, they sign him to a contract.

Public Domain

The 1889 Baltimore Orioles. (This photo was taken in June 1889, so it’s likely that George Goetz is in this photo. Somewhere.)

Goetz pitches twice during April practice games. He is the pitcher in a game the Orioles win over the University of Pennsylvania, 26-1. Goetz gives up just three hits and picks up four hits himself. He loses a second game to Boston, 12-8.

But, it is the June 17, 1889 regular season game against the Louisville Colonels, the first game of a doubleheader, that is the game we care about.

His debut is big news.

Some 2,600 Baltimore fans turn out for the games. The temperature is in the 70s and it’s overcast with rain in the forecast that never comes.

The doubleheader – odd for a Monday – is the result of Friday’s game getting rained out and half of the Louisville team going on strike.

The Pittsburgh Dispatch, 6/15/1889

The Orioles are mediocre, but the Louisville Colonels are far worse. They’re so bad that their manager threatens to fine each player $25 a game for poor play, errors, and losses, and $100 fine (nearly $3,000 today) for any player that strikes in response.

They strike.

The Pittsburgh Dispatch, 6/16/1889

… And Up Go The Fines.

(Sounds like something 2020 owners would do, doesn’t it?)

It is only cooler Baltimore heads that convince the Colonels to play on Monday and file a grievance with the league afterward.

The Colonels agree … and promptly lose both games.

The Indianapolis Journal, 6/18/1889

But, we’re just here for Game One and George B. Goetz’s big-league debut.

The Baltimore Sun, 6/18/1889

He may become a great pitcher

“With hard steady work and a display of intelligence, [Goetz] may become a success. At times he would fire the ball over the plate with a speed like a rifle shot, but when men were on bases he was nervous,” The Baltimore Sun reported.

He gives up six runs – four earned – on 12 hits. He strikes out four.

Down 6-3, the Orioles tie the game, 6-6, in the bottom of the 9th. In the bottom of the 10th, the Orioles score four more and win, 10-6.

(Do not get bogged down in the fact that the Orioles scored three runs on an error in the 10th to go ahead 9-6 … and continued playing. It was a different time.)

Goetz pitched nine innings and was no decisioned.

Two days later, the Orioles head to Brooklyn, the start of a seven-game road trip, and leave Goetz behind. They release him on July 3.

Chambersburg Public Opinion, 7/12/1889

Lebanon PA Daily News, 7/15/1889

Sympathy For A Fallen Phenomenon.

“Bert is certainly a phenomenal pitcher, and says he is glad to be released as he was given no chance whatever by [Orioles] Manager Barnie to show the club or people what he could do,” the Chambersburg Public Opinion reports.

I wish I could tell you why. Was he hurt … broken … or just not good enough? I don’t know.

Goetz winds up the season playing ball in Chambersburg and eventually wanders back to Roanoke. The local papers drop in a mention from time to time whenever he returns to Greencastle to visit his parents.

And, then he disappears.

He’s mentioned again in his father’s obituary in 1913, but there’s nothing more. Not in Greencastle. Not in Roanoke. Not in Baltimore. He had to go somewhere.

I wish I could tell you.

I wish I had a photograph.

In lieu of a photo of George Goetz, which I don’t have, here is a photo of my cat Mookie Wilson-Betts.

What happened next? Who did he become?

I can only guess.

There was a store in Roanoke named Goetz’s around that time. It was there before George Goetz arrived, and was known for its “fine hand-made shoes,” straw hats “in the latest styles,” and clothes for children, ladies, and gents.

“Fine hand-made shoes.”

The Roanoke Times, 7/1/1892

Working there might be a good job for a young man like George B. Goetz, the son of a shoemaker, wouldn’t you say?

I can only guess.

Goetz’s name crops up once more in the 1960s, when a Greencastle historian renames him “Albert” Goetz, celebrates his “Whipporill [sic] Swoop” curve ball, and says he went on to fame playing with Baltimore.

Which isn’t exactly so.

But, this is so – George B. Goetz pitched one game for the Baltimore Orioles on June 17, 1889.

He gave up six runs, four earned. And, then he pretty much disappeared.

We can’t know for sure, but let’s go ahead and say that everything worked out okay for George B. Goetz from there on out.

8 thoughts on “June 17, 1889. George Goetz, The “Fallen Phenom”

  1. I like to think he ended up a great success somewhere. After all, Greencastle, Chambersburg were my old “stomping grounds”. Along with Baltimore of course. Hi Mookie!

  2. Well, George may have disappeared before, but now he’s resurfaced again today. So one could say that he’s gone but not forgotten. Great pic of Mookie. Thanks Bloggess.

  3. I’m sure you’ll appreciate this photo of what has to be the oldest current ballfield in Greencastle. That’s me in July 2013. Maybe George was at the dedication of this field?

    Austin Gisriel Latest baseball book: Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball as a Spiritual Experience Visit my blog for free stuff and more! Follow me on Facebook and on Twitter @AustinGisriel

  4. Did you notice that although the game was in Baltimore, Louisville is listed second in the box score as if they were the home team? That would also explain why they kept playing after the O’s went up by three in the 10th.

    • You could be on to something. Every scorekeeper would write things differently so I still get confused by how box scores can seem to not make sense. But, into the early 20th century the home team could decide whether they wanted to bat first or last. And, if the Orioles opted to bat first in that game, then that would definitely explain that 10th inning. I like that theory of yours!

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