SABR

Biff Schlitzer

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

His name sounded like a contradiction – his last name was Schlitzer and at some point he’s said to have picked up the prototypical WASP nickname “Biff” – though we never came across a single mention of the nickname in our research. He was a 5-foot-11, 175-pound right-handed pitcher who worked in 41 American League games in 1908 and 1909, and then – five years later – for 3⅓ innings in the Federal League in 1914. And he is sometimes listed as having played in the Negro Leagues, too.

Schlitzer attended St. Mary’s College in Dayton, Ohio, for a while, his parents hoping he would join the priesthood.i The lure of the diamond resulted in his departing after graduation to play baseball with the Eastern League’s Rochester Bronchos in 1905. We lack much in the way of statistics for Schlitzer’s first few years in the minor leagues. He played in the New York State League for the Troy Trojans in 1906 and the Utica Pent-Ups in 1907. And on August 27, 1907, his contract was purchased from Utica by the Philadelphia Athletics.

Victor Joseph Schlitzer was his name at birth. His parents were German immigrants, from the Hesse-Kassel region. Father Isidore “Isaac” Schlitzer was a retail grocer who had emigrated to America in 1858 with his wife, Theodora.ii Isaac was one of 11 children of former tavern keeper Somers Schlitzer.

Isaac and Theodora had two children, Henry and Ruth, and at the time of the 1900 census the family lived on North Avenue in Rochester. Both worked in a grocery – presumably the family firm. Henry worked as a salesman and Ruth as a cashier. Victor was born on December 4, 1884, in Rochester, and he had a younger sister, Cora, born a couple of years behind him. Theodora had, we believe, died, and both Victor and Cora had been born to Isaac’s second wife, the former Elizabeth Williams. The grocery seems to have been successful; the family was able to afford a servant, Ella Baxter, and had had a servant as early as the 1880 census.

Victor’s major-league debut came in 1908, on April 17 for Philadelphia. It was the third game of the young season, played against the Highlanders in New York. The Athletics battery was a Germanic one: Schlitzer and Schrecongost. They had an 8-2 win, with New York held to four hits. Schlitzer walked one and struck out four, though he threw a pair of wild pitches and committed one of Philadelphia’s four errors. He beat Washington with a 7-2 six-hitter on May 11 – but he walked seven Senators, perhaps winning the game due to “something stronger than the horseshoe or rabbit’s foot charm over him all afternoon.”iii It wasn’t luck that gave him the 2-0 win in a three-hitter against the Browns on September 19. But he had a couple of hard-luck losses, particularly a 1-0 defeat in Detroit on September 25, and finished the season with a 6-8 record (for a sixth-place ballclub – Connie Mack’s team finished 68-85.) He had a 3.16 earned-run average; that would seem excellent by early 21st-century standards, but his ERA was the worst on the team of anyone who’d pitched 20 or more innings.

It was in between the 1908 and 1909 seasons that Schlitzer pitched for Matanzas in winter ball in the Cuban General League. He didn’t pitch much; he was 0-1 in three games, throwing 15 innings in all with 12 hits and 7 walks, and six earned runs. Though really in the pre-Negro League years, he is often listed as having pitched in the Negro Leagues.iv He didn’t last long there, and “returned from Cuba with tales of shabby treatment there … without any preparation … pitching three successive days.” He and George McQuillan “objected to such hard labor and were summarily released. When they tried to settle they were offered $10 each in American money and first-class passage home. They tried to get action from the American Consul in Havana, but their former employer proved to be insolvent.”v

Schlitzer trained with the Athletics at New Orleans in the spring of 1909 but after the season began he was 0-3 in four appearances. His first appearance for the A’s came in Boston’s April 21 home opener, in relief of Eddie Plank. Schlitzer himself stole a base, but had Harry Lord steal home on him on the front end of a triple steal.vi His first start was at Shibe Park against the visiting New York team, a 1-0 loss thanks to a throwing error in the top of the fifth inning. Both teams had five hits. His next two losses came on back-to-back days in New York: 9-6 and 11-3 on May 3 and 4. Schlitzer lasted only a third of an inning in the May 3 game, but it was long enough to walk two, hit a batter, throw a wild pitch, and allow a triple. Six of the first seven New York batters reached base, and all scored before the inning was over. He started the game on the 4th, too, and got through the first three frames fine, but was then touched for two singles in the bottom of the fourth and doled out two bases on balls. He was pulled before recording an out; all four men he’d put on base scored.

On June 5 Mack traded Schlitzer to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Cy Morgan, a trade of two spitball pitchers. Mack sent Boston some money, too, to even up the transaction. Morgan won 16 games for the Athletics (16-11, 1.65 ERA), while Schlitzer was 4-4 for Boston with a 3.43 ERA. One hopes the money involved was considerable, for otherwise it was a lopsided swap. The Athletics finished in second place.

On January 17, 1910, Boston sold Schlitzer and shortstop Steve Yerkes to Chattanooga, both on an optional deal allowing the Red Sox to recall them. He had a really difficult time getting going, coming off a winter bout with pneumonia and then slipping on a baseball bat at the ballpark and wrenching his ankle on May 3, and was sidelined him for six weeks.vii He didn’t impress the Red Sox sufficiently for them to call him back up (he was 7-11 in 19 Southern League appearances.) It was the first of four years in the minors for Schlitzer. In November 1910 he was reported traded to Louisville, but it was for Indianapolis that he played in 1911. Sporting Life of February 25, 1911, reported that he’d been sold to Indianapolis – and that he’d married Ruby Guth of Utica on January 30, in Utica. He was an even 18-18 for Indianapolis in 1911, working in 49 games and throwing 327 innings in the American Association.

Schlitzer began 1912 with Indianapolis, but not before a bit of a holdout. He was part-owner of a café in Rochester and wanted to play for a team closer to home. He tried to get Rochester owner John Ganzel to purchase his contract, but the man declined.viii So he began the season with Indianapolis – and got sold further from home – to Kansas City in July. His combined statistics for the year show an 8-16 record in 234⅔ innings. One advantage of escaping Indianapolis was that the Indians finished in last place while the Kansas City Blues finished fourth. Almost all his work was done for Kansas City, since he’d reported to Indianapolis on the “ragged edge” – not in condition.ix

There was one more year in the minors, 1913. Schlitzer began with the Blues but was sold to the Toledo Mud Hens on June 14 and then sometime prior to August 23 was released from Toledo to Omaha – farther yet from Rochester. His combined record for the three teams was 6-8 in 29 games and 138⅓ innings.

In 1914 Schlitzer signed with the Buffalo Buffeds of the Federal League, but he didn’t last long. He was without a decision in three games, throwing a total of 3⅓ innings and giving up eight runs (six earned) on seven hits and two walks. He was released on May 13. That was the end of Schlitzer’s pro career. By the end of the year and into 1915 he was pitching semipro ball for the Media, Pennsylvania, team in the Delaware County League.x

Six years later Victor and Ruby are listed in Richland, Indiana, with a 2-year-old son, Victor, and Ruby’s mother, Isabella Guth. Schlitzer was working as a bookkeeper in a bottle factory. A decade later, the Schlitzers were living in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and Victor was working as a traveling saleman for a glass manufacturer. At the time of the 1940 census, all three Schlitzers were still in Wellesley. Victor the elder was simply listed as a salesman.

Schlitzer died on January 4, 1948, of myocardial failure due to uremia, from which he’d suffered for a year. At the time, he had been working as a salesman of glassware for his own business. He was buried in Utica.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Schlitzer’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. Thanks also to Leslie Heaphy.

 

Notes

i Springfield Republican, February 14, 1909.

ii Contemporary census records are clear enough. Oddly, Victor Schlitzer’s 1948 death certificate listed his mother as Elizabeth Williams of New York.

iii Philadelphia Inquirer, May 12, 1908.

v Cincinnati Post, February 23, 1909.

vi Boston Journal, April 22, 1909.

vii Sporting Life, May 14 and August 20, 1910.

viii Sporting Life, February 17, 1912.

ix Sporting Life, July 20, 1912.

x Trenton (New Jersey) Evening Times, September 21, 1914; Baltimore Sun, June 28, 1915; Philadelphia Inquirer, July 3, 1915.

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