Fred “Crazy” Schmit wasn’t crazy.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get on with more important things.
I didn’t just stumble upon Schmit, the long-ago pitcher. I went looking for him. I wanted to find the first pitcher to carry a “cheat sheet” on the mound – someone to show that today’s trend of pitchers tucking info cards into their caps is really nothing new.
Dear readers, meet Crazy Schmit.
Schmit has just a few major league seasons to his name, but there is much to unpack — from his pitcher’s notebook that would make Earl Weaver proud, to his eerily prescient take on baseball matters that remain controversial today to, well, okay, there’s some crazy, too.
I swear, sometimes I think I don’t go looking for these players as much as they come looking for me.
Here are 12 things you should know about Fred “Crazy” Schmit.
1. Frederick Schmit was born in Chicago in 1866.
His parents were immigrants – both arrived in America in 1857. If you dig around in Schmit’s past you’ll quickly discover that newspapers routinely spelled his name Schmidt. Census takers often screwed it up, too. Schmit himself seemed content to spell it whichever way – including misspelling his own name in a self-published book. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
While his parents were immigrants, Schmit was not. I reiterate this only because virtually every quote attributed to Schmit in newspapers of the day was written in a cringingly thick German accent. (Think Jack Morris 2021.)
“I – I am der deceiver.”
At a time of robust immigration, an accent in America was hardly unusual. So, what’s the deal? Were reporters trying to highlight Schmit’s broken English to make him sound stupid … or did Schmit exaggerate his own accent as part of his “Crazy” shtick? Both?
Schmit was, one sportswriter remembered, a large man with a “deep bullfrog voice.”
The internet offers just this one, sad photo of him.
Sorry. It’s the best we’ve got.
2. Schmit played in just 54 major league games over parts of five seasons between 1890 and 1901 with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, Baltimore Orioles, New York Giants, Cleveland Spiders, and the Baltimore Orioles again.
But his baseball career was far richer than those scant big league seasons.
Over three decades, he drifted from Minnesota, Kansas, and Illinois to Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee … from Virginia and Connecticut, to Michigan and New York, to Indiana and Wisconsin. (I’m skipping so many places.) When one team cut him, he’d be playing somewhere else within days.
He played, a sportswriter noted in 1908, “on nearly every professional field in the country.”
When he wasn’t playing, he was coaching. When he wasn’t coaching, he was umpiring or scouting. He attended baseball’s winter meetings in the 1930s, decades after he was out of the game, and played in old-timers’ games well into his 70s.
In the 1940 census, at age 74, he still listed himself as a “baseball player.”
(The census taker clearly was having none of Schmit’s shenanigans and ultimately crossed it out. The humorless census taker also spelled Schmit’s name wrong.)
You may call all this crazy, but I call his devotion to baseball endearing.
3. Schmit was a southpaw known for a “puzzling and deceptive” curve he called his “slow ball.”
“He reminds one of a jack-in-the-box, drawing himself into almost a squatting position before delivering the ball,” a reporter of the day noted.
Not the real Crazy Schmit.
He was known to warm up before a game using an old baseball that he soaked in water until it “swelled so that it looked like a small cantaloupe and was almost as heavy,” the pitcher Al Demaree remembered in 1925. Schmit would take the wet-weighted ball to the outfield where he would play long toss with his catcher to warm up.
4. He came by “Crazy” early.
While playing for a Minnesota team in 1890, a local paper derided “Crazy Schmidt” for misinterpreting the catcalls of fans and tipping his cap to those booing him, suggesting he was too stupid and vain to know better. But, throughout his career Schmit would bow to, and make light of, hecklers.
Schmit did a fair amount of heavy drinking and saloon brawling that may have also spurred his nickname.
But, I like to think it was his goofball antics during games that led to “Crazy.”
“Schmidt’s running fire of comment and sarcasm at the umpire and the players, and his pantomimic exhibitions, including shaking his fist savagely at [teammate] Duncan when he failed to cover first base, kept the crowd roaring with laughter.”
Joe Quinn, his manager in Cleveland, described how Schmit would field a ball and then toss his glove, instead of the ball, around the infield to the delight of fans.
(How can you not love that?)
Schmit “was chased out of the park Saturday by the umpire for not remaining behind the bench lines. … [M]ost people did not notice it, but when they learned of it, they were somewhat vexed at the umpire for humiliating the big entertainer.”
Orioles teammate Hughie Jennings later told a reporter that he never knew Schmit’s real first name, he only knew him as “Crazy.” (You couldn’t ask?)
As The Baltimore Sun wrote in 1901: Schmit “is the queerest genius that ever happened in baseball history. He has fine mental material, with an excellent command of language and an optimism that has never been excelled since the world began. His greatest peculiarity is his absolutely unalterably high opinion of his own abilities.”
As Schmit, who often referred to himself as “The Greatest,” explained in 1899: “I am the most popular player on the circuit. … When it is known I am to pitch I have often brought enough into the box office in a single game to pay my whole salary for the season several times over.”
He was popular. But, maybe not that popular.
5. Schmit played for the Cleveland Spiders in 1899.
1899 Cleveland Spiders. Schmit should be in there. Somewhere.
Schmit pretty much played for losers. The 1890 Alleghenys and 1892 and ’93 Orioles were god awful, but no team has been as bottomfeeder’ly horrible as the 20-134 Spiders of 1899.
“I have in my career pitched for 14 tail-end clubs,” Schmit complained that year. “I have pitched good ball for Cleveland, but who could win with six and eight errors behind him, and misplays that are far worse than errors and that go as hits.”
6. Schmit won seven major league games.
Overall, in 54 major league games, Schmit went 7-36, with a career 5.45 ERA.
To his credit, Schmit’s two wins for Cleveland in 1899 represent a whopping 10 percent of their total wins that season.
Game Day, May 13, 1890
Schmit’s first major league win was on May 13, 1890 – shutting out the much-much better Cincinnati Reds, 4-0, and holding them to just three hits.
7. Schmit really did keep a notebook on batters, which he consulted while pitching.
In 1890, The Cincinnati Enquirer noted that during a game, Schmit “diligently inquires and observes what kind of a ball [opponent players] hit the best. … He sat on the bench and jotted down in a note book the many points he picked up.”
The story goes that Schmit once delayed the start of a game because he couldn’t find his notebook.
Oriole great John McGraw believed that his teammate’s notebook was a crutch used by a not-too-smart pitcher with a bad memory. McGraw explained:
“He carried the book with him all the time and it was nothing unusual to see him pull the book out right in the pitcher’s box. He would see a man coming up to the plate whom he didn’t know very well, out would come the book, which he fumbled over till he found the man’s name and weakness, then he would put it back in his hip pocket and proceed to pitch. In cases of doubt he generally gave a base on balls.”
McGraw was wrong. It wasn’t a crutch. Schmit was just a century ahead of his time.
8. Schmit played and roomed with Billy Sunday.
Sunday was one of the most famed evangelists of the 20th century, but before that he was a noted baseball outfielder, including seasons with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys that overlapped with Schmit in 1890.
“I knew Billy very well,” Schmit told The Detroit Free Press in 1917. “We used to room together on the road when we played on the same team. He was strong for religious work then and wanted me to go around with him. I don’t know why he wanted me unless it was to point to [me] as a horrible example.”
9. Schmit wrote a book.
In 1901, he wrote and self-published a thin 25-cent paperback “How To Play Ball”. It was, one writer noted, “full of errors.”
He misspelled his own name.
Despite his ego, he didn’t put his image on the cover. Instead, he put an engraving of John McGraw, his onetime Orioles teammate, on the front. Rumor was Schmit was trying to butter up McGraw in an attempt to get a job scouting for McGraw’s Giants. (It worked.)
At least once, Schmit stepped off the mound in the middle of a game to chastise hawkers in the stands selling his book, reminding them to call out “Crazy Schmit” as the author to gin up sales.
10. Schmit has something to say about today’s baseball.
➡️ McGraw described how, with the Orioles, he would withhold Schmit’s pay so he couldn’t drink away his paycheck. Not long after, McGraw noticed baseballs disappearing from the clubhouse. McGraw soon discovered that Schmit had set up a soapbox outside the park and was selling the baseballs as “genuine” game-used balls – getting as much as $5 a ball ($160 in today’s dollars), putting Schmit more than 100 years ahead of the 21st-century game-used memorabilia frenzy.
➡️ In 1912, while scouting for McGraw’s Giants, Schmit sent an angry letter to The Sporting News criticizing the poor working conditions and inadequate pay faced by minor leaguers. Sound familiar?
In an eerie foreshadowing of 2021, he decried the lack of affordable housing available to minor leaguers: “The cities in these leagues have grown considerably during the past 20 years, and most of them have added at least one first-class hotel in that time, whose rates are prohibitive to the players of the home club. The hotels of 20 years ago are still there, and in most cases their rates are also too high for the home players.”
“Yours of the past, present and future” he signed his letter to The Sporting News, including his home address.
➡️ Schmit hated baseball’s front office machinations – what he called baseball’s “monkey-doodle business” – including haggling over player contracts, and signing and releasing players with impunity – that detracted from the game itself.
11. Schmit died in Chicago in 1940 of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 74. He had three children, including two sons – Karl and Fred, Jr. – each of whom played minor league ball.
12. Schmit gets the last word: He didn’t really like being called Crazy.
“Dey say dot a genius iss chust a crazy man,” Schmit once said (the churlish broken English is courtesy of The Detroit Journal.) “Vell, I am a genius, sure. If I vere not a genius I would be piling prick for two tollars a day. Derfore, I am happy to be crazy, I t’ank you.”
In 1899, he had enough when a Cleveland paper also called him “tacky.” “I have stood this sort of thing just about long enough,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported him saying.
“I am neither tacky nor crazy, and, without wanting to throw any flowers at myself, I will make the statement that there is not another left-handed pitcher in the business who uses as good judgment when pitching as I do. Furthermore, I am the only left-hander in the business who has an effective slow ball. Some of these ten-thousand-dollar beauties and phenoms look like 30 cents to me.”