If you follow baseball history blogs, maybe you’ve bumped into Verdun2’s Blog, a collection of baseball history, player tributes, and poignant remembrances of the author’s time in Vietnam during the war, which always find a baseball spin. Last fall, “v”, the blog’s mysterious author, decided to take a break. He pops back in from time to time, but not with the regularity fans would like.
I asked v if he would be ok if I took on the “Dozen Things” franchise while he’s on break.
And, he said, “yes.” Even though he knew, deep down, I would take an irreverent and less numbers’y, tone. But, he said “yes” anyway, because he’s awesome.
So, until v’s return … here we go:
12 Things You Should Know About Emmet Heidrick
Emmet Heidrick, one of the greatest outfielders at the turn of the 20th century, was born in Queenstown, Pennsylvania – about 50 miles NE of Pittsburgh – in 1876.
Heidrick’s father Levi, a successful lumberman, followed the trees … and their investment potential. Soon after Emmet’s birth, he bought a sawmill and moved his family to DuBois, Pennsylvania. In 1894, he bought another mill in nearby Brookville and moved his family there, which is where Emmet got his baseball start.
Business acumen must be hereditary, because, no matter his baseball talents, family business not only distracted Emmet Heidrick from the game, but also influenced it.
In baseball’s earliest days, ballplayers generally came from poor, often immigrant, stock. They played ball because there wasn’t much else available. Other jobs open to them were poorly paid, backbreaking, dangerous, and, often, could kill you.
Heidrick, a college boy, came from a wealthy family with a prosperous business. Baseball was well beneath the Heidrick family’s place in society, as the family would remind him.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself …
By 1892, Heidrick, just 16, was already a regular right fielder for the DuBois’ town ballclub. He spends a bit of time at Elmira State College in New York, but by 1896-97, he’s playing in Paterson, NJ, on a Class A Atlantic League team, where he is teammates with Honus Wagner. “Kid” Heidrick is one of the best outfielders in the league.
Heidrick breaks in to the major leagues with the Cleveland Spiders in 1898.
1898 Cleveland Spiders. Heidrick is in the back row, 2nd from the left in the dark sweater. He is standing next to Cy Young (in the stripes).
Heidrick plays centerfield and goes 4-for-5 in his first big league game on September 14, 1898 – three singles to center and a bunt-hit.
He plays the next three seasons with the St. Louis Perfectos/Cardinals and then three more with the St. Louis Browns through 1904.
Heidrick put his business smarts to use, playing hardball at signing time and often looking for loopholes in his contracts. Reporters eventually dub him “$10,000 Heidrick,” when he negotiates one of baseball’s largest salaries.
1899 St. Louis Perfectos (soon-to-be Cardinals). Heidrick is on the left, leaning against the rail on the third step from the bottom, looking to the right. Just below him (with one foot on the step) is, again!, Cy Young.
When he fails to report to Browns’ spring training in 1905, a friend of Heidrick’s tells the St. Louis Republic, “Heidrick’s business interests are so great that he cannot spare the time to play ball. And, his family is set against Emmett’s appearing in a baseball uniform as a professional again. … Heidrick is making as much money in [lumber and in a new coal venture with his uncle] as he could playing ball, and his family have in view for him a business career.”
It seems that Emmet Heidrick, just 28 and one of the best players in the game, had retired.
Or had he? While St. Louis refused to release Heidrick, despite efforts by the Reds, Yankees, and Red Sox to sign him, Heidrick begins to show up in the box scores of semipro teams in Pennsylvania.
Maybe the pull of baseball – the grassy swards of the outfield, the siren call of ball against bat – was stronger than the business in his bloodlines after all.
Unlike so many ballplayers of the day who played because it was their best – and sometimes only – option, Heidrick, The Pittsburgh Press reported in 1907, “liked to play just because the game fascinated him.”
Just because the game fascinated him. It sounds romantic, doesn’t it? But, that’s not what they meant.
Some reporters argued he wasn’t hungry enough, serious enough, committed enough. The game fascinated him … but maybe that wasn’t enough.
Heidrick was popular with fans. Sporting Life reported in 1905, as Heidrick was about to forego the season: “[T]he fans want Heidrick back. They have always looked on him as the ‘village pride’ and the best fly catcher in the profession. As a batter J. Emmet is a rara avis, for this dapper gentleman can lay down a tantalizing bunt, the Texas Leaguer, or the long drive to the fence as easily as the average batsman can be counted on to slam ‘er out to the same old place.”
He sits out 1905. Each spring – in 1906, 1907, and 1908 – the Browns forward contracts to Heidrick. They go unsigned.
In 1906, he writes the Browns saying: “I want to play, but I can’t afford to neglect business interests to indulge myself.”
In April 1908, Heidrick marries Helen Louise Wilson in a lavish ceremony attended by a “large and fashionable audience.” (The bride’s weeklong calendar of showers and luncheons, and her satin wedding gown, are breathlessly described in detail by the Pittsburgh press.) The newlyweds honeymoon in Canada and then Heidrick returns to his businesses, which have expanded from lumber to coal to railroad interests.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch sums up Heidrick in April 1908: He “is wealthy, recently married and apparently hopelessly out of the game. There is not a chance in a hundred that he will ever play again.”
“Not a chance in a hundred.”
So it is front page-news in St. Louis when Heidrick, on August 14, 1908, signs with the Browns who are in a tight AL pennant chase. “The terms of the contract with Heidrick were not made public,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, “but it is certain that he is to receive a large salary.”
(It was later estimated that Heidrick received a generous $3,000 for the final weeks of the season – about $85,000 today.)
He’s overweight, “chunky and heavy” according to one reporter, but plays in both games of a double-header against Washington on August 19, going 3-for-8, homering in his first major league at-bat since 1904.
But, that’s a fluke. He appears in only 26 of the Browns’ remaining 48 games, batting a paltry .215. He is benched within a month of his arrival.
The Browns ultimately go 22-25-1 in that span, sinking them to 4th, 6.5 games back of the Tigers.
On October 6, 1908, in the last game of the season – a meaningless 5-1 loss to Cleveland – Heidrick leads off and goes 3-for-4.
It’s bittersweet, really. Apart from an unproductive pinch hit appearance in a loss to Cleveland the day before, it is his first game since being benched in mid-September.
It is also his last major league appearance. He is 32.
He retires. This time for real, returning to Pennsylvania – to his growing businesses and his soon-to-be growing family. (He will have two sons.) But, he still dabbles in baseball, appearing in local games.
In his eight big league seasons, Heidrick batted .300, was known as a speedy and aggressive base stealer, and was considered the best outfielder of his day.
His stellar fielding earned him the nickname “Snags.” His wealth, fancy clothes, and a propensity to injury – what reporters hinted was the softness of privilege – earned him the nickname “Violet.”
Heidrick died on January 20, 1916, after a weeks-long battle with the flu. He was 39.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote in 1908:
Heidrick “gave promise of being the greatest player the game had ever seen. … a greater player than Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers. As a hitter, base runner, and thrower he was the wonder of the times. … Heidrick was a player with brains. He was a marvel on the bases, but he would go down to second base like a cyclone, slide for the bag feet first and come up on the sack standing up. His legs were the most powerful part of his physique. However, his arms were strong and he hit the ball as fiercely as does Sam Crawford of Detroit. In the outfield he could go back or come in after a ball better than any man of the day.”
1904 St. Louis Browns. Heidrick is bottom center.
(Dear v, I did my best ~ The Baseball Bloggess)