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Germany Schaefer

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Herman A. Schaefer (Liberty)

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 9", Weight 175 lb.

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[edit] Biographical Information

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Germany Schaefer was as well known for his antics as for his playing in the first two decades of the 20th Century. He is most famous for once stealing first base.

He was born of German immigrant parents in the Levee district of Chicago's south side, a neighborhood famous as a violent den of prostitution and vice. He managed to escape those conditions by playing baseball, signing with a semi-pro club in Sioux Falls, SD in 1898. That led to an offer from Kansas City of the Western League, where he played shortstop for parts of two seasons. In 1901, he moved to St. Paul, also in the Western League, and played well enough for the Chicago Orphans (the future Chicago Cubs) to purchase his contract late in the season. He went 3 for 5 in his first taste of major league action in a doubleheader played on October 5, 1901.

He was the Cubs' regular third baseman at the start of the 1902 season, but lost his job due to hitting below .200. Still, on September 13, he was the third baseman when the famous infield of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance took the field together for the first time. However, he was sent back to St. Paul after the season, and it was Harry Steinfeldt who played alongside the "fleet-footed trio" for their glory years. In 1904, he signed with Seattle of the Pacific Coast League, which stood outside Organized Baseball at the time, but when the league joined the organization, his status became a matter of dispute, and he was ultimately assigned to the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association.

Schaefer got a second chance at the major leagues in 1905, this time with the Detroit Tigers of the American League. He played second base, forming a double play combination with Charley O'Leary and displaying excellent defense, although his bat remained modest at .244 (he did hit 9 triples, though). He quickly developed a reputation as a performer, as indicated by his nickname the Prince. One instance which has become legend, thanks to its recall by Davy Jones in The Glory of Their Times, took place on June 24, 1906. He was asked to pinch hit with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, a runner on second and the Tigers losing by one. According to Jones' account, he proceeded to introduce himself to the crowd thus: "Ladies and gentlemen, you are now looking at Herman Schaefer, better known as 'Herman the Great', acknowledged by one and all to be the greatest pinch-hitter in the world. I am now going to hit the ball into the left field bleachers. Thank you." Facing the Chicago White Sox's Doc White, he proceded to do exactly as announced, blasting White's second pitch into the bleachers and sliding into every base, before turning to the crowd and announcing: "Ladies and Gentlemen, this concludes this afternoon's performance. I thank you for your kind attention". Doubtless the story has been embellished in the telling, but the home run's details match the day's newspaper accounts.

He is also famous for other antics such as coming to the plate with a raincoat during a steady rain, or wearing a large fake mustache while coming to bat, two stunts that got him ejected. He also managed to pull the hidden ball trick successfully against the Chicago Cubs in the 1907 World Series, one of the very rare times the play has been attempted in the post-season. He returned to the Series with the Tigers in 1908, but late in 1909, he was traded to the Washington Senators as the Tigers were on their way to a third consecutive pennant. He played for the Senators until 1914, having his best season in 1911, when he hit .334 in 125 games. By the end of his stay, he was more of a coach than a player, and was renowned for his ability to steal opponents' signs.

Germany Schaefer's most famous antic was to steal first base on August 4, 1911. In the bottom of the ninth of a game against the White Sox, he was at first base with teammate Clyde Milan at third and the game tied. He broke for second base, hoping to draw a throw that would allow Milan to complete a double steal. Catcher Fred Payne held on to the ball however, so Schaefer decided to return to first base on the next pitch, again hoping to draw a throw. Sox manager Hugh Duffy came out to argue, and Schaefer broke for second again, this time getting caught in a rundown. Milan broke for home, but was retired before he could score. Schaefer then argued unsuccessfully that the White Sox had had ten men on the field (counting Duffy). Umpire Tom Connolly said after the game that Schaefer "had a perfect right to go from second back to first base". The rules were clarified after this to state explicitly that no baserunner could run the bases backwards.

In his time as a coach for the Senators, Schaefer began performing tricks in the coach's box, such as walking on the foul line as if it was a tightrope, or pretending to row across the grass using two bats as oars. These tricks were picked up by Senator players Nick Altrock and Al Schacht, who later became famous baseball clowns. Schaefer explained that he thought humor was a useful tool, as it kept the team loose and sometimes distracted the opposition enough to create opportunities. After leaving the Senators, he played for the Newark Pepper of the Federal League in 1915, then was a player-coach for the New York Yankees in 1916 and the Cleveland Indians in 1918. When World War I broke out, Schaefer changed his nickname to "Liberty" when the United States declared war on Germany. He was hired as a scout for the New York Giants in 1919, but died suddenly on May 16 while traveling by train through upstate New York.

[edit] Further Reading

  • Dan Holmes: "Herman A. 'Germany' Schaefer", in David Jones, ed.: Deadball Stars of the American League, SABR, Potomac Books, Inc. Dulles, VA, 2006, pp. 551-552.

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