1876 was a big year in America.
Our nation celebrated the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The Centennial Exposition, essentially the first World’s Fair, was held in Philadelphia, drawing as many as 10,000,000 visitors (1.)
The National League was officially formed. And in Chicago, a young lad named Herman “Germany” Schaefer was born to German immigrant parents.
Growing up on the city’s south side, Schaefer was drawn to baseball, where his fine defensive skills began to the draw attention of pro scouts by the time he was 18. After stints in semi-pro ball and upward through the Western League, he finally made his Major League debut in 1901 with the Chicago Cubs.
He would go on to become a valued player throughout his 15-year MLB career, playing with the Cubs, Detroit Tigers (where he was an important factor on two World Series-appearing teams in 1907 and 1908), Washington Senators and New York Yankees. He was a defensive wizard, with great range and hands that befitted a sharp baseball mind and brilliant sense of timing. He was a master of deception and grace, even successfully pulling off the hidden ball trick in the 1907 World Series.
But it wasn’t just his solid play that earned him notoriety in the big leagues; it was his antics. In short, Germany Schaefer was an absolute clown.
Some of his well-known goofy highlights include:
- Wearing a raincoat and galoshes to the plate during a drizzle
- Hiding and scaring a drunken umpire at a bar as a voice from above – only to be ejected from a game later by that umpire when he fessed up
- Sporting a fake mustache to the plate, possibly in an attempt to re-enter a game, pretending to be another player
- Homering off a fellow jester, Rube Waddell, only to carry his bat around the bases as if a rifle and pretend to “shoot” the pitcher repeatedly, with both men laughing at the skit
- Changing his nickname from “Germany” to “Liberty” when World War I began
Additionally, Schaefer was an adept trash-talker and sign-taker. But perhaps his two greatest hits, were his called shot off Doc White in Chicago in 1906, and his stealing of first base in 1911.
On June 24, 1906, Schaefer and his Tigers were in Chicago to play the White Sox. Detroit was down 2-1 in the top of the 9th with a man on first and two outs. Detroit skipper Bill Armour inserted Schaefer to pinch-hit for pitcher Red Donahue. After storming back to the dugout, upset that he’d been taken out, Donahue watched as salt was poured into his wound by the stunt Schaefer pulled. What happened next is best, (if perhaps hyperbole’d), accounted for by Tigers outfielder Davy Jones, in Lawrence Ritter’s excellent The Glory of Their Times:
Just as he was about to get into the batter’s box, he removed his cap and faced the grandstand, bellowing “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.”
Much to the dismay of the chagrinning Chicago crowd, Schaefer blasted the second pitch from Doc White into the left field seats. Just like he said he would.
He stood there watching the ball, and after it left the yard, he sprinted to first and slid head first into the bag. He leaped up, yelling “Schaefer leads at the Quarter!” Then he took off and slid into second and yelled “Schaefer leads at the Half!” as if he were a prized race horse. He did the same thing at third and finally home, where he declared “Schaefer wins by a nose!” He walked over to the grandstand again, saying “Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your kind attention.”
In the Tigers dugout, every player was laughing so hard – except Donahue – that it was a chaotic scene (2.)
As the only one able to outdo himself, Schaefer would launch another gem in 1911, also against the White Sox. Only this one was so profound that it would prompt a rule change: He stole first base.
Schaefer had one of the best seasons of his career in 1911. The 35-year old hit .334 with an .809 OPS in 125 games. And on August 4th, he would change baseball. It was the bottom of the ninth in a scoreless tie at Griffith Stadium in Washington. Clyde Milan was on third, with Schaefer on first. He stole second, in an attempt to draw a throw to get Milan to break for home. Fred Payne, the Sox catcher, didn’t take the bait and now it was second and third.
On the next pitch, Schaefer led off in the other direction and broke for first, swiping the bag back and drawing confused looks from everyone.
Hugh Duffy, managing the Sox that year, came out to argue with the umpire. Since play hadn’t been officially stopped, Schaefer took off for second again, this time getting caught in the rundown that he originally wanted. But Milan was pegged at the plate, the plan having backfired. In typical Schaefer-esque comedy, he and his teammates tried to argue that it should’ve been a dead ball since the Sox had 10 men on the field when Duffy came out to protest the play (2.)
In the end, the Senators would win 1-0 in extra innings.
Needless to say, a few years later MLB introduced the rule that you could not steal a previous base once you advanced.
All things considered, Schaefer had a remarkable career. Though his statistics weren’t flashy (they were far from bad either), he provided immense worth to each team he played on. Not only for his defensive prowess and quick-thinking, but for the immeasurable intangibles in the forms of humor, wit, and silliness.
Baseball could use more goofballs like him.
Photo Credit: https://www.detroitathletic.com/blog/2012/08/23/the-madcap-life-of-germany-schaefer-baseballs-clown-prince/
(Found via Google search)