The unusual pitching career of Ed Konetchy

Ed KonetchyEd Konetchy played more than 2,000 games in the major leagues and was one of the best first basemen of baseball’s Deadball Era. He also won a game and lost a game as a pitcher, both of which came, as you might guess, under unusual circumstances.

The St. Louis Cardinals purchased Konetchy from a minor league team in his hometown of La Crosse, Wis. in the summer of 1907 and immediately moved him into the lineup. He made his first pitching appearance in 1910, a four-inning relief job in which he allowed two runs. He didn’t get a decision in that game so I haven’t spent any time researching it, and I don’t know even the date or opponent.

But according to Konetchy’s biography as part of the Society for American Baseball Research’s Baseball Biography Project, he spent the winter after the 1910 season as the star pitcher for an indoor baseball team. “I suppose every player had the ambition to be a pitcher, and it may be that I might have had some chance to succeed if I had ever tried,” Konetchy said.

His next chance would come in 1913, and it appears to have been due in part to Pennsylvania’s Blue Laws, as was the case in the 17-inning relief appearance by Eddie Rommel in 1932 that I wrote about recently.

The Cardinals wrapped up a four-game series in Pittsburgh on Saturday, May 3, and would begin a series in Philadelphia on Tuesday, May 6. Under Pennsylvania law, neither Pittsburgh nor Philadelphia could host a Sunday game, so the Cardinals went to Chicago to play a single game on Sunday, May 4. As was apparently the custom of the day, the Cards didn’t take their full roster, sending some players ahead to Philadelphia rather than pay for transportation to Chicago and back; specifically, manager Miller Huggins took just three pitchers with him for the Sunday game.

Pol Perritt started for the Cardinals and gave up four runs in the first two innings. Huggins replaced him with Slim Sallee in the fourth, and the Cards fell behind 5-0 when the Cubs added a run in the seventh. Sallee was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the eighth, when the Cards scored twice. Joe Willis pitched the bottom of the inning, giving up a run to make it 6-2 Chicago. But in the top of the ninth Ivey Wingo, batting for Willis, hit a two-run double to start an improbable six-run Cardinal rally.

That put St. Louis in front 8-6 going into the bottom of the ninth…with no more pitchers. Huggins turned to backup outfielder Ted Cather, who had pitched in the minors but would be making his first and only major league pitching appearance here. It did not go well. Walk, hit batsman, pop out, infield single and the bases were loaded, then Johnny Evers walked to force in a run to make it 8-7, bases still loaded and just one out.

Headline from the Chicago Tribune of May 5, 1913

Headline from the Chicago Tribune of May 5, 1913

“In this distressing situation Koney [Konetchy] was seen pleading to be given a chance and Huggins acquiesced,” Sam Weller wrote in the next morning’s Chicago Tribune. (Huggins was right next to Konetchy in the field, as the Cardinals second baseman.) So Konetchy moved from first base to the mound…and promptly walked pinch-hitter Wilbur Good to force in a run and tie the game. But Jimmy Archer then hit a short fly ball to center fielder Rebel Oakes, who made the catch and threw out Vic Saier trying to score, sending the game into extra innings.

And Konetchy — using “a straight ball most of the time, varying it with a little dinky curve,” according to Weller — kept the Cubs from scoring again. His teammates finally scored two runs in the top of the 13th inning (Cather scored the go-ahead run) for a 10-8 victory. He allowed just one scratch single, walked three other batters, and actually struck out three (including third baseman Heinie Zimmerman, one of the National League’s top hitters) in his 4-1/3 innings of work. “Usually he gave the batsmen two balls and then the next three cut the heart of the plate,” Weller wrote.

Konetchy’s next trip to the mound wouldn’t come until 1918…and then he was a STARTING pitcher, with a pitcher playing in the outfield behind him. What the…?

Again the site was Chicago, but this time Konetchy was visiting as a member of the Boston Braves. On July 12, “[Braves] Manager George Stallings found himself without a pitcher able to work, having used up all his healthy material in the previous two days,” according to I.E. Sanborn’s story in the next day’s Chicago Tribune. But oddly enough, Stallings hadn’t gone to his bullpen in either of the previous two days. On July 10 Dick Rudolph went the distance in a 4-1 Braves win at Chicago; on July 11, Art Nehf and Pat Ragan each pitched a complete game as the Cubs swept a doubleheader.

The trouble was, Stallings had only four healthy pitchers and had only 14 men on his roster. This time the cause was not Blue Laws but the loss of players to the military with the United States’ mounting preparedness to enter World War I. Dana Fillingim had just left the team; he had gone 7-6 with a 2.23 ERA but was drafted and assigned to the naval reserves. Bunny Hearn (5-6, 2.49) had quit the team two weeks earlier, saying he was not offered the mid-season salary increase he had expected; in any event The Sporting News reported he was said to be working at a munitions factory. Bill Upham, who had appeared in just three games after being acquired from St. Paul, left the team to work in a shipbuilding plant near Providence. The Sporting News of July 11 reported Upham had told teammates he “intended to get placed while the getting was good” because he was convinced all players would soon be called on to quit playing and enter the war effort.

That left Stallings with a pitching staff consisting of Rudolph, Nehf, Ragan and a 21-year-old rookie named Hugh Canavan, who had started just one game to that point in his major league career (and was clobbered in that one, giving up eight runs) and had missed several weeks when a line drive in an exhibition game broke a bone in his pitching hand. In his only appearance since breaking his hand, on July 6, he gave up 13 runs in 2-2/3 innings of relief. And he was going to have to start the game on July 13. Actually it’s not clear why Stallings didn’t have Canavan pitch on July 12, but he still would have needed someone to pitch the next day.

Headline in the Chicago Tribune of July 13, 1918

Headline from the Chicago Tribune of July 13, 1918

So Stallings “called for volunteers,” according to Sanborn, “and Konetchy was first on his feet.” When the Braves had arrived in Chicago Konetchy had volunteered to play the outfield — something he had done only once previously in his major league career — because the Braves were shorthanded there; Joe Kelly, Walter Rehg and Ray Powell had all recently left the team to report to the Newport naval station. And they were still shorthanded, so Canavan, who appears to have had no professional experience as anything but a pitcher, was assigned to play left behind Konetchy. Canavan was put in the ninth spot in the batting order, while Konetchy stayed in his customary sixth spot to become one of the rare starting pitchers batting anywhere but ninth in a major league game (something I have written about extensively).

“As an outfielder Canavan looked like a swell pitcher,” wrote Sanborn, “and conversely Koney, as a pitcher, looked like a good gardener, but that is no indication that Boston might have done better with Canavan on the slab and Koney outfielding.”

Konetchy actually held the Cubs to two runs over the first five innings, but the home team scored three in the sixth, two in the seventh and one more in the eighth, with a total of 14 hits and two walks. The Braves made three errors, one of them by Canavan. Of course Konetchy went the distance (striking out three, including Cubs cleanup hitter Fred Merkle), but at least with the home team winning he only had to work eight innings. Meanwhile, Chicago’s Claude Hendrix shut out the Braves on five hits (one of them a ninth-inning single by Konetchy) for an 8-0 win.

Note the use of the word “spavined” in the headline above. What a great word…I’d never heard of it before researching this. Here are some of the definitions I found: “old and decrepit…marked by damage, deterioration and ruin…decrepit or worn out…old, worn out, obsolete.”

1918 box scoreIn the box score at left, taken from the Chicago Tribune of July 13, the Cubs are credited with 13 hits and the Braves with four errors. It appears what was originally scored as an error on Konetchy in the seventh inning was later changed to a hit for Charlie Hollocher. Also note Konetchy’s name appears in the box as “Koney,” which apparently it often did.

This game was Konetchy’s last as a pitcher in the major leagues; reinforcements would arrive later in the month in the form of Salida Tom Hughes (who must have been injured at the time Konetchy pitched), Lefty George (who would be pitching regularly in the minors in 1943 at the age of 56) and (for one game) Hugh McQuillan.

Konetchy returned to the outfield on July 13 but, according to The Sporting News of July 25, “his arm was so sore that he could not throw.” He then missed two games before returning to the lineup.

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One thought on “The unusual pitching career of Ed Konetchy

  1. Pingback: A history of pitchers not batting ninth, and the managers who did it most often | The J.G. Preston Experience

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