SABR

Heinie Meine

This article was written by Gregory H. Wolf.

A fiercely independent individual, Heinie Meine had a curious career in organized baseball. Starting off in the Texas League in 1921 as a spitballer after the major leagues had banned the pitch, the right-handed Meine made one uneventful appearance for the St. Louis Browns in 1922, then waited seven years for his next shot in the big leagues. During those tumultuous years, he was released, fought with management, was traded, retired for a season and a half, and then returned to the game. Unexpectedly, he caught on with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1929 as 33-year-old rookie and three years later led the National League in wins and innings pitched. After six successful years with the Bucs, Meine retired with 66 career wins.

"The Duke of Luxemburg,"as Heinie (also spelled Heine) Meine was called during his playing days, was neither from Luxemburg nor had any relationship to the small country in central Europe. Henry William Meine was born on May 1, 1896 in an unincorporated area called Luxemburg in the predominantly German neighborhood known as Carondelet bordering the Mississippi River in south St. Louis, Missouri. Meine's parents were both children of German immigrants; Henry (born in 1864) and Louisa (nee Kulhman, born in 1873) married in 1891 and had seven children, Lilly, Henry, Edwin, Arthur, Charles, Ferdinand, and Walter, born between 1892 and 1908. Tragedy struck the family about a year after the birth of their last child, when Henry Sr., a well respected blacksmith with his own shop, died of pneumonia. Just 14 years old, Heinie began working to support his family in 1910 as an errand boy for a local drug store. By the time he was in high school he completed an apprenticeship and followed his father's career path by becoming a blacksmith.

After the US entered World War I, Meine served for 22 months in the U.S. Army's mounted cavalry and fought in France. Having played some sandlot baseball as a teenager in St. Louis, Heinie played ball with his fellow soldiers when the opportunity arose while abroad and developed the pitch that led to his first professional contract: the spitball.

After Meine returned home, his life and career shifted radically when, in 1920, he took over a tavern from a cousin whose husband had died in the war. He operated the establishment in south St. Louis until the 1960s, and this source of income gave him more financial independence than was available to most ballplayers.

Playing sandlot and semi-pro baseball in St. Louis and honing his pitching skills (where he earned "lots of money" by one account),i Meine was spotted by legendary scout Charles Francis Barrett who recommended the 24-year old to the St. Louis Browns.ii After a tryout with the hometown team, Meine signed a professional contract in 1921 and was sent to Beaumont, Texas Exporters of the Class A Texas League. At 5'11' and 180 pounds, the right-hander may not have cut an imposing figure, but he was described later in his career as one of the "strong men of baseball," the result of years swinging a hammer and anvil as a blacksmith.iii Despite Meine's unimpressive record (8-16) and 4.68 ERA in 219 innings, the Browns promoted him to the parent club in 1922. The news was celebrated by Meine and Gracie Bonds, whom he married on November 14, 1921.

Finishing a surprising 3rd in 1921, the Browns were loaded with pitching in 1922, including Urban Shocker and Elam Vangilder. Invited to the Browns spring training in Mobile, Alabama, Meine impressed his coaches with his hitting ("[he] swings a wicked stick" read a contemporary account),iv but he faced a serious conundrum.

After Ray Chapman was struck in the head and killed by a pitch thrown by spitballer Carl Mays in August 1920, major league baseball outlawed the pitch beginning with the 1921 season, but a grandfather clause permitted 17 known spitball pitchers (including Shocker) to continue throwing them. "I had been chiefly a spitball pitcher in the Texas League," Meine explained, noting that the pitch was legal in the league in 1921. "But the pitch had been outlawed in the majors, so I had to learn to pitch all over."v

"St. Louis could have claimed exemption for me," said Meine. "They decided I could become a winning pitcher by using other things besides the spitter."vi In a fierce pennant race the entire season, the Browns finished in second place, just one game behind the New York Yankees with a 93-61 record. Heinie made his major league debut on August 16 by tossing four innings in mop-up duty against the Senators, surrendering five hits and two earned runs in an 11-3 loss. It was his only appearance for the Browns. With Meine on the roster the entire season but pitching in only one game, questions remain if the Browns knew that he threw predominantly spitballs.

Meine was optioned to the San Antonio Missions in the Texas League in February 1923 and then placed with the Wichita Falls Spudders (an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs) in the same league before the season started. With the chance to pitch regularly for the first time in a year, Heine struggled as he learned to pitch without his best pitch. He won 10 of his first 15 decisions before arm problems caused his him to lose his velocity and control. After four losses to conclude the season with a 10-9 record and 5.10 ERA in 194 innings for the Spudders, Meine was demoted to the Class A Tulsa Oilers in the Western League, but "applied for his release"vii which was granted before the 1924 season commenced.viii

Returning home to St. Louis to rest his sore arm, Meine contacted Branch Rickey, manager and general manager of the Cardinals, and signed with the team's Double-A affiliate, the Syracuse Stars in May 1924. "Speedy" and "Speedy Bill," as the Syracuse Herald called him, led the team with 17 wins and logged 252 innings in less than a full season.ix "Meine was easily the best and brainiest of the pitchers," reported the Syracuse Herald about the 28-year old.x

With the Stars struggling in 1925, Meine openly feuded with manager Shag Shaughnessy with whom he almost came "to blows" on numerous occasions.xi Meine struggled with a recurrence of arm problems that sidelined him for several weeks and necessitated treatment by team physician Dr. Knight. He posted a 4.80 ERA in just 137 innings, prompting the Syracuse Herald to write "[Heine] has been a failure."xii Nonetheless, Heinie finished with a 10-6 record, played in the outfield, and was used as a pinch runner when his arm was too sore to pitch (he batted .254 in 119 at bats).

Known for a "temper that boils easily," Meine met with Rickey in the offseason to discuss a raise and his future with the big-league club.xiii "I thought I had two years that certainly entitled me to a promotion and a raise," Meine said.xiv Heine was incredulous when Rickey offered a contract with a pay cut citing financial losses of the Syracuse club.

"I asked him what a man had to do to get a raise and he said ability or record made no difference. I said no cut for Heinie and asked him to trade me."xv Rickey traded Meine to the Kansas City Blues in the American Association.

Enjoying his best season thus far in professional baseball in 1926, Meine led the Blues in most pitching categories, including wins (17), innings (275), and ERA (3.27 among starters). In the offseason he received the unexpected news that he was demoted to the Lincoln (Nebraska) Links of the Western League to start the 1927. Unwilling to go to Class A baseball, Heine announced his retirement. He remained in St. Louis, played semi-pro ball around town, and tended to his successful speakeasy which was often called a "soda shop" or "soft drink parlor" in contemporary media reports because Prohibition was still in effect.xvi

Away from professional baseball for one-and-a-half-seasons Meine made an unexpected comeback. "In 1928 some of the boys in the tavern kept riding me saying that I could win in semipro ball and the minors but never in the majors," said Meine explaining his return to professional baseball.xvii That story made for good copy and helped create Meine's legacy. On the other hand, Meine had remained in sporadic contact with the Kansas City Blues since he placed himself on the voluntary retired list and the Syracuse Herald reported on January 20, 1928, "Heine Meine is to Return to Baseball."xviii

After Meine debuted on July 17 in Kansas City, the Associated Press ran a subheading "Heine Meine, Back in Game only a Week, Blanked Hens in Three Innings."xix Posting a 7-4 record and notching a 3.49 ERA in 111 innings over the next ten weeks, the "naturally athletic" appeared headed back to the majors.xx

The road back took a slight detour when, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded pitcher Charley Robertson and cash to the Blues for Meine after the season.xxi Displeased with the Pirates' contract offer, Meine refused to report to spring training in Paso Robles, California. On March 13, 1929, George Kirksey of the United Press reported "[Meine] has drawn his release" from the Pirates.xxii Earning good money from his successful tavern and a wholesale silk hosiery business, Meine was a hard contract negotiator and "one of the most independent individuals in baseball."xxiii The Syracuse Herald reported that Meine demanded a "salary of more than $1,000 per month," and was prepared to sit out the entire year.xxiv

Meine finally signed in May after going unclaimed on waivers. He made his first game major league appearance in almost seven years when he hurled one inning of relief against the Phillies on May 31., Meine earned his first big league victory and a spot in the starting rotation on June 12 by pitching three scoreless innings and surrendering just one hit against the Giants. In his first start, the 33-year old "rookie" tossed a complete game, defeating the Reds 8-3 at Crosley Field.

Meinie was even able to help his own cause. In a relentless 11-inning complete-game victory over the Braves 5-4 in Boston, Heinie belted a two-run double while winning his fifth consecutive decision.), Meine pitched the first of his three career three-hitters on August 30, when the Bucs dismantled the Cubs at Forbes Field 15-0. Splitting his time between starts (13) and relief appearances (9), Meinie compiled a 7-6 record (including seven complete games) and an above-average 4.50 ERA in 108 innings. His mound work helped lead the Pirates to a surprising second-place finish.

Sometimes called a "junkballer," Meine never possessed great speed and relied on the breaking ball to get batters out once he abandoned the spitball.xxv Pitching in spacious Forbes Field, Heine took advantage of its dimensions. "I didn't have much of a fastball, so I had to have good command," he said. "I was one of the first to come up with a slider. I also had a forkball."xxvi A low ball pitcher who tried to induce ground balls, Meine said "I was a percentage pitcher. I'd pitch low to a batter even if I knew he could murder a low pitch."xxvii

Described as in "fine shape" during his impressive spring training in Paso Robles, the 34-year old Meine was named to start the Pirates' 1930 season opener. Typical of the headlines in papers throughout Pennsylvania which covered the Pirates, the Daily News Standard of Uniontown proclaimed "Meine to Pitch Tomorrow When Pirates Open Season."xxviii Unfortunately, Meine, who had been battling a severe throat infection for several days, was diagnosed with tonsillitis and missed the start. Contagious and confined to a bed, Meine missed the first three weeks of the season.

After four brief relief appearances in May, Heine made his first start on May 23, tossing eight innings and earning the win in a 7-6 victory over the Cubs. Feeling weak and having lost 20 pounds from the effects of tonsillitis, Meine struggled all season. Three consecutive wins in July (including complete-games victories over the Braves and Phillies) evened his record at 6-6, but his ERA hovered around 6.00. "I pitched on my nerve in 1930," Meine said.xxix

After three ineffective starts in August, Meine announced his retirement effectively immediately due to medical reasons. "I knew I was risking my future health," he explained, but the news wasn't a surprise.xxx Meine had expressed to his desire to quit Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss and manager Jewel Ens, however, both encouraged him to continue playing after his three-game winning streak in July. Finishing with a 6-8 record and 6.19 ERA in 117 1/3 innings, Meine returned to St. Louis to rest.

During Meine's rough 1930 season, he acquired the unsavory moniker "Cousin Heine" referring to a pitcher whom opposing batters enjoy facing.xxxi In a brutal outing against the Dodgers at Forbes Field, Heine surrendered a career-high 19 hits and 14 runs (13 earned) in a 19-6 drubbing. Meine gave up at least 10 hits in 10 of his 16 starts, while opponents batted at a .346 clip against him in baseball's "Year of the Hitter." Astonishingly, four National League pitchers with at least 100 innings surrendered even higher opponents' batting averages: Pete Donohue of the Reds and Giants (.361), and a trio from the Phillies, Claude Willoughby (.369), Les Sweetland (.373), and Hal Elliott (.381).

Meine had a tonsilectomy in the offseason. The Sporting News reported in a subheading that manager Ens "expects Heine to stage [a] comeback and prove [an] important cog in Pirates pitching staff," upon learning that the 35-year old had applied for reinstatement.xxxii Reporting late to camp because of yet another salary dispute, Heinie appeared to be the Meine of 1930 in his first start of the season, giving up eight hits and issuing five free passes in a six-inning no-decision against the Cubs. After another beating in his second start, Meine turned his season around and was arguably the best pitcher in the National League for the rest of the season.

On April 26 in Sportsman's Park, Meine shut out the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals 1-0, holding them to just four hits, commencing a string of five consecutive complete games. After losing a heartbreaking 13-inning complete game to the Cardinals in Pittsburgh on May 6, Meine tossed an eight-hit shutout against them on May 27 in St. Louis helping to secure his reputation as "Cardinal killer." Meine enjoyed uncanny success against the Cardinals throughout the season, posting a 1.61 ERA in 56 innings and winning four of six decisions.

While the weak-hitting Pirates (6th in the league in runs scored) played sub-.500 baseball for the season, finishing in 5th-place with a 75-79 record, Meine's pitching kept them respectable. On August 25 he tossed a complete game victory against the Dodgers at Ebbets Field, improving his record to 13-12 and beginning a streak of seven consecutive complete game victories. It concluded with his second (and career-high) 13-inning outing of the season, a five-hit 3-2 victory over the Phillies at Forbes Field, on Tony Piet's long fly ball scoring Gus Suhr. As the season was ending, and with no more scheduled starts, Heine was given permission to return home to St. Louis and skip the last two games of the season in Chicago. After rain postponed the games setting up a doubleheader on the season's final day, Meine unexpectedly arrived in Chicago. "I got a wire from Mr. Dreyfuss. He said he noticed that Bill Hallahan of the Cardinals and I were the only 19-game winners," Meine explained, "and that I might like to take one last crack at No. 20."xxxiii [Jumbo Elliott of the Phillies also had 19 wins at that date.] "I lost another toughie, 3 to 1," said Meine. "Charlie Grimm who never could hit me, beat me with a home run."xxxiv The Duke of Luxemburg tied for the NL-lead in victories (19), led the senior circuit with 35 starts and 284 innings, and ranked third in complete games (22) and fourth in ERA (2.98) in his career-defining year.

Meine's stunning success was as unexpected as it was unexplainable. "[Heine] has everything a pitcher needs -- curve, fast ball, change of pace, good control, and coolness under fire," wrote John J. Ward of Baseball Magazine.xxxv St. Louis sportswriter Roy Stockton thought Heine was no longer a "soft-ball pitcher" because his curveball "became a sweeping, tantalizing thing."xxxvi Meine countered that he no longer suffered from throat problems which gave him a "bigger curve, more speed and the best control of my life."xxxvii

After his efforts in 1931, Meine expected to be rewarded by the Pirates even though the country was in the midst of the Depression. "I still hope to get a little salary increase to make me feel like my efforts have been appreciated," he said.xxxviii However, in what seemed like an annual event, Meine refused to report to camp in 1932 and his holdout became national news. Informed that NL President John Heydler intended to put him on the retired list if he didn't sign a contract, Heine announced confidently and nonchalantly 10 days after the season opened, "That's all right with me."xxxix With the Pirates in last place, the Associated Press reported Heine's "suspension from organized baseball."xl The Pittsburgh Press announced that a trade sending Meine to the Brooklyn Dodgers was "practically consummated," even while the team tried to sign him.xli The "thorn in the side the Pittsburgh Pirate management" finally signed for a reported $11,500 on May 22 when the Pirates were in St. Louis.xlii

Meine's return boosted the morale of the Bucs, who won eight of their last ten games in May and 14 of 21 in June to take over first place in the NL for first-year manager George Gibson. Looking trim from his daily pitching workouts during his holdout, Meine won three of his first five starts in June. On July 28, Meine tossed a complete game to defeat the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds to maintain the surging Pirates' 5 1/2-games lead over the Chicago Cubs. With Meine struggling in August — he lost five of seven decisions — the Pirates won just 10 of 30 games to fall out of contention. Having started 12 times on two- or three-days' rest during the Pirates' pennant push, the 36-year old Meine posted four consecutive complete-game victories on four-days' rest to end the season, highlighted by a 5-0 whitewashing of the Chicago Cubs in his last start on September 20 for his second career three-hit shutout. Meine finished with a 12-9 record and 3.86 ERA in 172 1/3 innings for the second-place Pirates.

Signing his 1933 contract in January, Meine reported to the Pirates' spring training in Paso Robles "as strong as ever."xliii In the days before advanced and year-round fitness regimens, the muscular and lithe Meine was a physical wonder. "Spring training is no grind for me," he once said. "I've had a baseball in my hands pretty often since they shut the clubhouse. A pitcher does better with a little practice."xliv

Meine's "spirit" impressed manager Gibson and his work ethic inspired younger starters, like Bill French and Bill Swift.xlv Picked by many to win their first pennant since 1927, the Pirates got off to a hot start. Meine won five consecutive starts after a no-decision in his season debut,, including a 10-inning, complete-game 2-1 victory over the Dodgers in Brooklyn on May 4 and a complete-game win over the Phillies on May 15. His winning streak helped them to improve the Pirates record to 16-8 and a half-game lead over the Giants. Doomed by inconsistency the entire season, the Pirates played .400 ball in June to fall into third place, with Meine wining just one of six starts and posting a 5.94 ERA for the month.

The oldest regularly starting pitcher in the NL, Meine regained his form in the last 10 weeks of the season, winning nine of his last 11 decisions, including the last five by complete game.xlvi At Forbes Field on September 12, Meine tossed his seventh and final career shutout by blanking the Dodgers on five hits. Notching 15 wins against 8 losses and posting a 3.65 ERA in 207 1/3 innings, Meine helped lead the Bucs to their second consecutive second-place finish.

Starting on opening day for the first time in his career in 1934, Meine was rocked for six hits and four runs by the Cardinals against whom he had a 12-6 record in his career. With a 3-4 record and unsightly 5.31 ERA after his first ten starts of the season, Meine was relegated to the bullpen by new manager Pie Traynor, who replaced Gibson in mid-June. Fighting the effects of age, Meine pitched primarily in long relief. He won just one of his last four more starts, a complete-game 4-1 victory over the Cubs in Pittsburgh. While the Pirates finished a disappointing fifth with a 74-76 record, Meine concluded his last season in professional baseball with seven wins in 13 decisions and a 4.32 ERA in 106 1/3 innings.

After his disappointing 1934 season , during which he suffered from influenza, Meine decided not to accept the Pirates contract offer for 1935, and placed himself on the "voluntary retired list."xlvii Though he did not rule out a possible return, even in mid-season, Meine remained in St. Louis and retired from the game at age 38. In a seven-year big league career, the Duke of Luxemburg won 66, lost 50 and posted a 3.95 ERA (101 ERA+) in 999 1/3 innings. He also won 69 games in the minor leagues.

Residing with his wife, Gracie and two sons, Howard (born in 1931) and Robert (born in 1925) in Lemay, just beyond the city limits in St. Louis County, Meine became a local institution of sorts. Operating his tavern for three more decades, Meine opened a baseball school near his establishment, built the clubhouse himself, and personally maintained the fields. He hired former major leaguers to help teach aspiring players and even advertised in The Sporting News.

Instrumental in the development of sandlot baseball in the area, Meine helped found the Lemay Baseball Association in St. Louis which promoted amateur baseball. "Youngsters should get a chance to steer themselves for a time," Meine once said about his coaching philosophy. "He should [first] develop his natural abilities and then be given lessons."xlviii His son, Howard, a right-handed pitcher, was signed by the Cleveland Indians organization in 1953 and played one year of Class D ball. Regularly hosting events such as old-timers' tournaments and reunion games attended by former big-leaguers at Heine Meine Field, Meine stayed close to baseball his entire life.

Heinie Meine, the Duke of Luxemburg, died on March 18, 1968 from cancer at the age of 71. Services were held at the Hoffmeister funeral home in St. Louis and he was buried at St. Trinity Cemetery in St. Louis. Decades after his death, Heine Meine Fields remains an important part of youth and amateur baseball in St. Louis.

 

Sources

Heinie Meine player file, National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ancestry.com

BaseballLibrary.com

BaseballReference.com

New York Times

Retrosheet.com

The Sporting News

 

Notes

i "Charles J. Doyle, [no publication title], 1929. Heinie Meine player file, National Baseball Hall of Fame.

ii The Sporting News, January 24, 1935, 8.

iii The Sporting News, January 28, 1932, 5.

iv "Sporting Notes," The Chronicle Telegram (Elyria, OH), March 10, 1922, 2.

v Neal Russo, "Meine, Old Toughie on Mound, Gives Kids a Winning Pitch," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 27, 1963, [no page number]. Heinie Meine player file, National Baseball Hall of Fame.

vi John J. Ward, Heine Meine, Reformed Spitball Pitcher," Baseball Magazine, 1933. Heine Meinie player file, National Baseball Hall of Fame.

vii "Stars Obtain New Hurler in 'Speedy' Meine," Syracuse Herald, May 9, 1924, 31.

viii "Heinie Meine," Pittsburgh Pirates press release, [no date]. Heinie Meine player file, National Baseball Hall of Fame.

ix "Stars Obtain New Hurler in 'Speedy' Meine," Syracuse Herald, May 9, 1924, 31 and "Meine Likely to Get Box Call in Effort to Repeat over Skeets," Syracuse Herald, July 11, 1924, 16.

x "Skidding the Sport Field with 'Skid,'" Syracuse Herald, September 22, 1924, 5.

xi "Skidding the Sport Field with 'Skid,'" Syracuse Herald, June 10, 1925, 18.

xii ibid.

xiii The Sporting News, January 28, 1932, 5.

xiv ibid.

xv ibid.

xvi Manning Vaughn, "Heine Meine to Pitch Again," The Milwaukee Journal, Dec 30, 1930, 15.

xvii Neal Russo, "Heine Meine Dies at 71; Helped Sandlot Baseball," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 18, 1968, [no page]. Heinie Meine player file, National Baseball Hall of Fame.

xviii "Heine Meine is to Return to Baseball" Syracuse Herald, January 20, 1928. 15.

xix "Blues Defeat Mud Hens," (Associated Press), Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, Indiana), July 17, 1928, 17.

xx John J. Ward, Heine Meine, Reformed Spitball Pitcher."

xxi "Skidding the Sport Field with 'Skid,'" Syracuse Herald, January 4, 1929, 17.

xxii George Kirksey, "19 Major Leaguers Unsigned With Season a Month Away," (Associated Press), The Montana Standard (Butte, Montana), March 13, 1929, 13.

xxiii "Meine Refuses Pirates Cash Offer; Will Take Another Season Off," Syracuse Herald, April 19, 1919, 64

xxiv ibid.

xxv Brian McKenna, Early Exits: The Premature Endings of Baseball Careers. New York: Scarecrow Press, 2007, 61.

xxvi Neal Russo, "Meine, Old Toughie on Mound, Gives Kids a Winning Pitch."

xxvii ibid.

xxviii "Meine to Pitch Tomorrow When Pirates Open Season," Daily News Standard (Uniontown, Pennsylvania), April 14, 1930, 6.

xxix The Sporting News, January 28, 1932, 5.

xxx ibid.

xxxi ibid.

xxxii The Sporting News, January 8, 1931, 6.

xxxiii Neal Russo, "Meine, Old Toughie on Mound, Gives Kids a Winning Pitch."

xxxiv ibid.

xxxv John. J. Ward.

xxxvi The Sporting News, January 28, 1932, 5.

xxxvii ibid.

xxxviii The Sporting News, January 28, 1932.

xxxix "Meine Hold Out in Spite of the Threat of Being Retired," Moberly Monitor Index (Moberly, Missouri), April 22, 1932, 7.

xl Gayle Talbot, "Pirates Miss Heine Meine as They Wallow in Cellar," (Associated Press), Lowell Sun (Lowell, Massachusetts), May 7, 1932, 33.

xli "Private Holdout Hurler Expected to be Exchanged for Cash and Players," The Pittsburgh Press, May 19, 1932, 1.

xlii "Sportography by Bill," Daily News Standard," (Uniontown, Pennsylvania), May 18, 1932, 10.

xliii The Sporting News, March 2, 1933, 3.

xliv John. J. Ward.

xlv The Sporting News, March 2, 1933, 3.

xlvi Eppa Rixey, the 42-year-old pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, started 12 games.

xlvii The Sporting News, February 14, 1935, 03.

xlviii Herman Wecke, "Ex-Bucco Twirler Meine Big Booster of Kid Teams," [no publication], December 13, 1961, [no page]. Heinie Meine player file, National Baseball Hall of Fame. In an odd twist, an oversight by the commissioner's office kept Meine on the voluntary retired list for 17 years until Commissioner Ford Frick recognized the error and placed Heine on the "retired list." Then again, with Meine, one never knew if he might have planned another comeback. (The Sporting News, May 7, 1952, 36).

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