“DIARY OF A WINNER”

BOSTON BRAVES
1913-1915

at Fenway Park
1914-1915
BUTCH SCHMIDT


Charles “Butch” Schmidt was born on July 19, 1886, the third, and the first of two sons. In 1916 he developed skills on the baseball diamond. Playing on semipro teams around Baltimore, in a circuit known as the B&O Railway League, the young man won “some local reputation. It’s likely that by 16 Schmidt was already a physically imposing young man. (By that time, too, he also may have gained the nickname Butcher Boy by which he came to be known as a major leaguer.) At 6-feet-2 and 215 pounds, he was a man of huge strength who is popularly supposed to be the most powerful player physically on the diamond. He possessed a Cy Young build and great strength, and, it was predicted, should emulate Eddie Plank as an indestructible athlete. No doubt years of lugging sides of beef in the family business, had helped hone Schmidt’s solid physique.

Like much of the baseball talent spawned in Baltimore in those days, Schmidt was discovered by Baltimore Orioles owner Jack Dunn, who signed the 21-year-old after watching him play on the sandlots. Whether Schmidt’s signing took place in 1907 or ’08 is unclear, but he first took the field for the Eastern League’s Orioles in 1908. Initially, Schmidt was a pitcher, a left-hander. He spent the first ten days of the 1908 season on the bench; at that point Dunn determined that the raw rookie needed seasoning, so he sent Schmidt to the Holyoke (Massachusetts) Papermakers in the Class B Connecticut State League. There, Schmidt won 10 games before Dunn recalled him in August to help with the Orioles’ drive toward the pennant. Schmidt did just that. In 11 appearances, seven as a starter, he won five games as Baltimore took the flag.

Schmidt’s work for the Orioles in 1908 gained him notice from other organizations. The man who became his greatest baseball benefactor, George Stallings, managed Newark, a Baltimore rival in the Eastern League, and was impressed with the left-hander’s performance against his club. That fall Stallings became the manager of the American League’s New York Highlanders, and he drafted Schmidt.

When Schmidt arrived at spring training in 1909, he was a newlywed. During the fall, he had wed Amelia Shuppner. Presumably the two had been childhood friends. Throughout their marriage of almost 44 years, except for his baseball career, he was a butcher the whole time.

Schmidt appeared in only one game for the Highlanders, pitching in relief against the Tigers on May 11th and giving up eight runs. Sometime after July 4th Stallings returned the 23-year-old to Baltimore. This time things were different. In addition to his pitching prowess, Schmidt had also proved a good hitter. One day, Dunn started Schmidt at first base and the left-hander produced a 4-for-4 afternoon. That marked the end of his pitching career. Rather than keep him on the bench between starts, Dunn moved Schmidt into the lineup full time. From then on, he was a first baseman. That relief appearance against the Tigers was his only one as a pitcher in the major leagues.

Schmidt spent the next three seasons with his hometown team. As the Orioles moved from Class A to Double-A in the International League, he posted solid offensive numbers, twice topping .290. After the 1912 season he was traded to league rival Rochester. That move eventually returned him to the major leagues.

In 123 games with Rochester Schmidt batted .321, slugged .410.  George Stallings, then managing the Braves, who had never lost faith in the bulky first baseman purchased Schmidt’s contract from Rochester in August 1913. The big first baseman played in 22 games for Boston at the end of the season and repaid Stallings’ trust, finishing with averages of .308 batting, .423 slugging, and .983 fielding. With just 23 major-league games under his belt, the 27-year-old was just a year away from achieving the pinnacle of his sport.

The offseasons for Schmidt were never a time of rest. Each year he returned to Baltimore to work at the family business, and the fall of 1913 was no exception. Working 16-hour days at the meat market added bulk to his frame, so when 1914 spring training arrived, his challenge was to shed some weight, reduce the flab that had gathered over the winter, and get lighter on his feet. In the Braves’ “miracle” year of 1914 Schmidt’s development mirrored the team’s. “During April and May,” Baseball Magazine wrote, while Boston played ineptly and floundered in last place, Schmidt seemed clumsy, heavy-gaited, and his thickness of body made him seem thick-headed, too. To make way for Schmidt at first base, the Braves had sold Hap Myers, 1913’s regular at that position, to Rochester, and Schmidt’s slow start caused some to question why Stallings had displaced lean, agile, fast-stealing Myers with Schmidt. As the season progressed, Schmidt began losing weight in the summer heat and his play came around. So by the time the club was well advanced in its upward rush, forging from last place on July 4th to win the American League pennant, Schmidt had become a crackerjack. Over the closing weeks, as the Braves raced for the flag, he batted .350 and fielded like a wizard, becoming in the process one of the league’s best first basemen.

Perhaps most impressive was Schmidt’s defense. While his batting surge at season’s end lifted Schmidt’s final batting mark to .285 (he finished second in the league in singles and third in hit by pitches), it was his glove that arguably proved most invaluable to the club. With a .990 fielding average, fourth best in the league, Schmidt finished second in assists and third in putouts, and led the league’s first basemen in double plays, teaming with future Hall of Famers Rabbit Maranville and Johnny Evers. So good had he become defensively that Schmidt drew comparisons with the man recognized at the time as the best in the business, the Philadelphia Athletics’ Stuffy McInnis.

Never was that comparison more apparent than during the 1914 World Series. With one play, Schmidt opened many eyes and made his reputation. Baseball Magazine called it the play that “stunned [the A’s], gave them a wallop on the jaw, and benumbed their faculties.” In the bottom of the first inning, with runners on first and second and one out, cleanup hitter Frank “Home Run” Baker lifted a foul popup to the edge of the bleachers in short right field. At full speed Schmidt ran to the stands, reached in and caught the ball, then wheeled and fired across the diamond to put out the A’s leadoff man, Eddie Murphy, who was trying to advance to third base. That double play ended the threat and then and there, something snapped in the heartstrings of Mack’s men. They never recovered. Many years later, Schmidt’s obituary in the Baltimore Sun said that Connie Mack often credited Schmidt with the play that sparked the Braves to a four straight upset. In any event, it was the highlight of Schmidt’s career. He hit .294 in the World Series, batting behind cleanup hitter Possum Whitted.

That career lasted just one more year, however. In 1915, as the Braves failed to repeat their magical season, Schmidt, who was laid up for several weeks after being spiked, played in 127 games and batted hit .251. In January 1916 he wrote to Braves owner Jim Gaffney and manager Stallings advising them that he was retiring from baseball to devote his time to his family’s business. He was 29 years old.

Schmidt ran the family business for the rest of his life. Schmidt’s final appearance in Boston came a little over a year before his death. In June 1951 he returned to take part in the Braves’ salute to the ’14 champs during the National League’s Diamond Jubilee commemoration. He died in Baltimore on September 4, 1952, after collapsing while inspecting cattle at the Union Stockyards. He weighed more than 240 pounds and for the previous five or six years he had been having trouble with his heart. Schmidt was 66 years old.