SABR

Dave Fultz

This article was written by Brian McKenna.

David Fultz had a full career in three different fields: baseball, football, and law. He was an All-American in both sports at Brown University, becoming the school’s first Walter Camp All-American in football. His scoring records on the gridiron weren’t eclipsed by another Brown player for a century. After obtaining his undergraduate degree in 1898, he played baseball and football professionally, coached at several universities in both sports, and enrolled in Columbia University to study law. He obtained his law degree in late 1904 and passed the New York bar a few months later. With that he marked 1905 as his final season in pro ball. A collision with another fielder at the end of the season solidified that decision, as he woke hours later in the hospital and spent months recuperating from a broken jaw.

On the diamond Fultz was known for his selfless style, working the counts, accepting base on balls when they were offered, placing sacrifice hits, taking the extra base, stealing them when he could, and covering as much ground as possible in center field. The Los Angeles Times described him as “very nearly an ideal ballplayer.” Grantland Rice called Fultz one of the best athletes who played both football and baseball. He considered Christy Mathewson, Jim Thorpe, and Eddie Collins before noting that “Fultz would come close to winning the bet.”

Fultz was one of those rare men in early baseball history who didn’t swear, drink, or smoke. He also refused to play on Sundays, a provision he insisted be inserted into each contract. Connie Mack held Fultz in high regard for his character and contributions on the diamond and in the clubhouse. Mack’s affinity for college athletes developed from his esteem for the Brown graduate. Fultz’s time on the baseball field was brief; he developed knee trouble after playing football in high school, college, and professionally for over a decade and was determined to establish a lucrative law practice. He remained close to the game, advising young athletes in legal, business, and personal matters. Out of this interaction, he organized and oversaw the Fraternity of Baseball Players, a players union that operated during the rocky Federal League era.

David Lewis Fultz was born on May 29, 1875, in Staunton, Virginia, to Alexander H. Fultz, a Virginia native, and Ann Mary Morton Lewis, born in Pennsylvania. As can be gathered, David’s middle name was his mother’s maiden surname. The Fultzes were married in 1870 and had three children: John Morton Fultz, born in April 1873, David, born in 1875, and Mary Margaretha, born in January 1881. Ann’s mother’s great-grandfather, John Morton, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Her grandfather was a circuit judge in Staunton. Ann herself was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and one of the pioneers in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Dave’s father, Alexander Fultz, was a Confederate officer, a captain in a Staunton artillery unit, during the Civil War. He fought at the Battle of Chancellorsville. He practiced law in Staunton and was a multi-term mayor of the city during the 1880s and ’90s. His grandfather, John Davis, was a Pennsylvania captain during the Revolutionary War. David followed in his father’s footsteps relating to vocation, religion, education, military, and politics.

The Fultzes were well-off, owning a large home with multiple servants. The family moved to Pennsylvania in the mid-1890s after David attended high school at the Staunton Military Academy. He played football and baseball and ran track at the academy. In 1894 he enrolled at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. At Brown, Fultz, 5-feet-11 and weighing 170 pounds, ran track and was captain of the baseball and football squads. He was an All-American in both sports in 1896 and ’97. In each sport, Brown was among the top schools in the country during his time there. Throughout his time at Brown, Fultz played baseball and football with future major leaguer Daff Gammons; they both graduated in 1898. Though Fultz entered professional baseball and football and coached college squads and refereed after college, he continued his studies, entering law school in 1899 and earning a law degree from Columbia University five years later.

On the gridiron for Brown, Fultz played right halfback from 1894 through 1897. Gammons played left halfback. Fultz was the heralded star of the squad, Brown’s first All-American, and captain in 1896 and ’97. His career marks of 186 points and 31 touchdowns weren’t topped by another Brown player for a hundred years. Fultz was said to be one of the toughest football players in the country. A teammate said, “I think Dave Fultz played under more difficulties than any man that ever played the game. I have seen him play with a heavy knee brace. He had his shoulder dislocated several times, and I have seen him going into the game with his arm strapped down to his side, so he could just use his forearm. He played a number of games that way. That happened when he was a captain. He was absolutely conscientious, fearless, and a good leader.” On the diamond Fultz manned second base at Brown from 1895 through 1898, captaining the team the latter three seasons. Gammons typically played left field. The baseball squad was one of the strongest during Gammons’ and Fultz’s tenure. In 1896 they won the national championship with a 19-4 record. The following season Brown won the Eastern championship with an 18-6 record and defeated the Western champion, the University of Chicago, in a three-game series. Future major leaguer William Lauder was also on the 1898 nine. Fultz maintained lifelong friendships with both Gammons and Lauder.

Fultz played football professionally after leaving college. In 1899, he played halfback for the Duquesne Country and Athletic Club, based in Pittsburgh. The squad was coached by former major-league pitcher Mark Baldwin. Gammons was also in the backfield that year. In 1900 and 1901, Fultz and Gammons played for the Homestead Library Athletic Club, a Pittsburgh squad sponsored by Carnegie Steel. Fultz also coached several teams. In 1898 he coached the University of Missouri to a 1-4-1 record. In 1900 he returned to the school but quit after one game, a victory. In 1901 he served as playing captain and coach of the Homestead Athletic Club. The next year he led Lafayette College to an 8-3 record. In 1903 Fultz returned to Brown, coaching the team to a 5-4-1 record. He coached New York University in 1904, amassing a 3-6 record. Fultz remained active in college and amateur football well into his fifties. He officiated at games from the time he left Brown through 1928. In all but a few of those years, he worked a heavy schedule. Fultz also sat on local and national rule-making boards for decades. From 1926 through 1928, he was president of the Eastern Association of Intercollegiate Football Officials. In 1933 he helped found the Touchdown Club of America, the brainchild of John William Heisman.

On June 23, 1898, a month after graduating from Brown, Fultz, a right-hander, signed with the Philadelphia Phillies of the National League, the only major league at the time. The Louisville club filed a grievance with the league, believing it had come to terms with the player. Nothing came of the protest. Fultz made his major-league debut on July 1 as a late-inning replacement for Elmer Flick in right field but failed to place a hit in one at-bat. He played 19 games at five different positions for the Phillies, then was granted a leave of absence in early October so that he could coach the University of Missouri football squad.

Fultz rejoined the Phillies for spring training in 1899 but was used sparingly, playing in only two games – on May 30 and 31 – before being released on July 5. Louisville expressed an interest in signing the young player, as did Connie Mack, manager of the Milwaukee Brewers of the Western League. Both were deterred by the fact that Fultz refused to play on Sundays, an issue that wasn’t as relevant in Philadelphia, which had Blue Laws against playing on the Sabbath. Mack was very interested in signing Fultz but Sunday baseball was legal and a big draw in Milwaukee. The two corresponded but Fultz flatly refused to reconsider his position. Mack looked elsewhere. In mid-July Fultz came to an agreement with Syracuse of the Eastern League as the club’s new captain and second baseman. But he never joined Syracuse. Instead, a few days later he signed with the Baltimore Orioles of the National League, managed by rookie skipper John McGraw, who released Bobby Rothermel to clear room on the roster. Fultz appeared in 57 games for Baltimore, batting .295 in 210 at bats. He played the outfield and spelled McGraw at third base for 20 games.

Just before spring training in 1900, Fultz was transferred by Baltimore to the Brooklyn Dodgers on March 8 as part of the syndicate deal that merged many of the strongest players from both clubs to form a solid Brooklyn roster. Two weeks later Brooklyn sold Fultz and John Anderson to Connie Mack, still with Milwaukee in the renamed minor American League. On June 2, 1900, Fultz sparked a triple play with a catch and throw from center field to catcher Bill Diggins, who then threw to shortstop Wid Conroy. In 114 games, playing second base and shortstop, Fultz hit .298 with 13 triples. The team lost the pennant by three games to Charles Comiskey’s Chicago White Sox. On September 26 Brooklyn drafted Fultz off Milwaukee’s roster and entered into negotiations to sell him to the Boston Beaneaters for $1,200. Boston manager Frank Selee wanted Fultz as an extra infielder. The American League had other plans; it shed its minor-league status and emerged as the National League’s rival. Fultz shifted to the Philadelphia Athletics with Mack.

Fultz switched to center field full time in 1901 after the great second baseman Nap Lajoie joined the A’s. Fultz played for Mack in 1901 and ’02. In 1901 he batted .292 in 132 games and scored 95 runs. In 1902 he helped drive the club to the pennant with a .302 batting average, 44 steals, three less than the league-leading total, and a league-leading 109 runs, tied with his teammate Topsy Hartsel. He also covered second base for Lajoie when the latter was forced from the lineup due to a court order, a legal tangle between the National and American Leagues. On August 13 Fultz scored in the sixth inning against Detroit while Harry Davis ran between first and second base multiple times, confusing the defense during the first known “steal of first.” On September 4, against the Tigers, Fultz pulled off the rare feat of stealing second, third, and home.

Fultz was extremely fast. He was proficient at bunting and stealing bases. Some writers claimed he was the best bunter in the game. As Norman L. Macht noted in his epic work Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball, Mack “had two ideal leadoff men in Topsy Hartsel and Dave Fultz. Both were patient workers of walks, heady base runners, and excellent bunters. When Hartsel led off and reached first, Fultz seldom failed to advance him.” In 1902, Fultz led the league in sacrifice hits with 35. He also had excellent range in center field until his legs began to give out after years of taking abuse on the gridiron. The Los Angeles Times praised his game: “In all three departments of the game, batting, base-running, and fielding, he is a king pin and as a run-getter he shone supreme. … Fultz is very nearly an ideal ballplayer. He is a clean, hard hitter at bat, but not so much a slugger as a tally-gatherer. ‘Dutch Davy’ is one of the few swat-stick swingers who can patiently stand at bat and take his four balls when a pitcher is wild without letting his desire to tear the cover off one get the best of him. … On the bases he is tricky and fast, a terror to pitchers and catchers.”

Fultz always insisted on a clause in his contracts allowing him to skip Sunday games. This irked his club owners and managers, who relied on lucrative Sunday contests to help cover costs. Luckily for Fultz, football was played on Saturdays during the era. Besides not swearing, drinking or smoking, he was well-known for counseling other ballplayers against such habits. He later became a noted lecturer on these and similar topics to youth groups and others. Connie Mack was particularly fond of Fultz for his work on the field and his personal character. He saw Fultz as an example of college ballplayers, stating in 1909, “It was Dave Fultz, a graduate of Brown University, who got me started going to the colleges for pitchers. Dave was one of the greatest outfielders that ever lived. In 1902, the first year the Athletics won the flag, his work was marvelous. Not even Jimmy Fogarty, whose memory is still revered in Philadelphia, ever did better playing. Fultz played inside ball. His arms and legs were mere factors in the game. His brain dominated his work. He impressed me so that I have since looked to the colleges for players, and have seven of them on this team – Bender of Carlisle; Plank of Gettysburg; Coombs of Colby; Krause of St. Mary’s; Barry of Holy Cross; Eddie Collins of Columbia; and Davis of Girard.”

Before peace was established between the American and National Leagues, clubs constantly tampered with each other’s players from early 1901 to early 1903, essentially ignoring the reserve rule. After the 1902 season Fultz entered into negotiations with the Brooklyn Dodgers, who offered him. $5,600. He gave Mack the chance to meet the offer, but the A’s manager declined. Fultz then agreed to a two-year, $13,000 offer from New York Giants manager John McGraw. However, he came back looking for more money, which McGraw also agreed to. An American League agent then approached Fultz claiming that McGraw had misrepresented some of his disclosures about signing other players. Fultz took a slightly lesser offer, about $6,000 a year, from the agent plus a $1,000 cash advance. McGraw was livid, beating the presses with contemptuous remarks about the American League and its methods of doing business. Despite McGraw’s blustering, the American League kept Fultz and league president Ban Johnson assigned him to Clark Griffith’s New York Highlanders, the relocated Baltimore Orioles, in March 1903.

Fultz’s legs started to give out in 1903 after years of taking hits out of the backfield. He played the rest of his career with constant pain in his legs. He appeared in just 79 games for the Highlanders in 1903, turning in a dismal year with the bat. He hit just .224 and made more errors in center field than he did the previous full season. In 1904 he appeared in 97 games, 90 of them in center, and regained his batting stroke, hitting .274. Late in the year, he obtained his law degree and set about to study for the bar exam. He passed the New York exam in February 1905. He immediately opened a practice in New York City with Frederick W. Murphy and declared that 1905 would be his last season in professional ball.

Fultz gave his all that final season despite the gnawing knee troubles. He appeared in 129 games, a career high 121 in center field. He amassed a career-high total of 252 putouts. He stole 44 bases to finish second by two to league-leader Danny Hoffman of the Athletics. Fultz’s active baseball career ended with a bang, or rather a thud, in his final game. In New York on September 30, 1905, the center fielder chased a fly ball hit by the Cleveland Indians’ Bill Bradley. Fultz and shortstop Kid Elberfeld collided. Both were knocked unconscious. Elberfeld was eventually helped from the field disoriented and bleeding above the eye; his nose was broken as well. He was done for the year. Fultz regained his feet, staggered, and collapsed, though he had no memory of doing so. Fans and teammates feared for his life. He was carried to the clubhouse and taken by ambulance to Washington Heights Hospital. He didn’t regain consciousness for two hours, waking with a broken jaw and multiple lacerations. He remained in the hospital for about a week and subsisted on a liquid diet for nearly a month. Tough as nails, Fultz was soon on the football field officiating games with his face bandaged and a cast still in his mouth. After the football season and spending time with family, he rejoined Murphy in the law offices and dedicated himself to his burgeoning practice.

With that, Fultz left the ballfield as an active player for good; he did, however, remain close to the game. While still nursing his broken jaw, Fultz was approached about becoming president of the Eastern League. He declined, intent on continuing his law practice. Some were still interested in luring him back to the diamond, especially his old friend and admirer Connie Mack. The A’s traded quick young center fielder Danny Hoffman, who had led the American League in stolen bases the previous year, to the Highlanders for the rights to Fultz on April 29, 1906. It was a winning proposition for Highlanders manager Clark Griffith who had been repeatedly told by Fultz that he wouldn’t return. Fultz kept his word, never joining the A’s. Griffith kept Hoffman anyway. In 1908 and 1909, Fultz coached baseball at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and did the same at Columbia University in 1910 and 1911. He was offered the coaching position at Yale in 1912 but turned it down.

Fultz was occasionally sought out by players for advice. Around 1910 some took their gripes to him about the reserve clause and other collusion-based treatment by club owners. By 1911 Fultz, on his own initiative, was touring Western League clubs trying to drum up support for a new creation, the Fraternity of Baseball Players. When Ty Cobb was suspended in May 1912 for fighting with a fan, his teammates rebelled and sat out a game. Fultz saw his opportunity to draw support for the union and quickly inserted himself into the dispute. He crowned himself as president of the new players’ union. (Fultz repeatedly denied that it was a union, as the term held negative connotations with many.) Noted early leaders of the Fraternity included Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Mickey Doolan, and Jake Daubert.

The new players’ union was formally chartered on September 6, 1912, and administered from Fultz’s law office. It had about 300 members. Its goals were basically the same as those of every other baseball union: to negotiate better contract terms, especially in relation to reserve matters and perceived ill-treatment by the ball clubs. Fultz was no radical; he supported the basic organizational structure of the game and was an ambivalent adherent of the reserve clause.

Sporting Life reported in November 1913 that Fultz had been elected president of the outlaw Federal League. According to the paper, he asked for and was granted a three-year, $24,000 contract. The story was a hoax. Fultz initiated libel suits against Sporting Life for its zealous efforts in trashing the Fraternity. The publication had run the Federal League story to further label Fultz as a radical and outcast.

In 1914 the union, now with a membership of 1,100, many of whom were minor leaguers, gained significant leverage with the emergence of the Federal League, which labeled itself a third major league. That year, Fultz negotiated the so called Cincinnati Agreement with the National Commission and the minor-league executive board. It provided players with some protection in regard to many of their gripes. It was a clear effort by the major leagues to appease their workers during the Federal League’s challenge. Organized baseball considered the union and the Federal League persistent and significant headaches. Fultz continually and publicly sparred with major- and minor-league leaders. In response to the Federal League challenge and the power it gave the players, the major leagues constantly threatened ballplayers with banishment for jumping to the new league. Fultz stood his ground, blustering back at the owners while at the same time soothing and reassuring the players that he would force major-league executives to live up to their multiyear contracts and grant full reinstatement to all who jumped. With these assurances, union membership rose to more than 1,200 by the end of 1916. As noted, Fultz also took up many minor-league issues. He wanted clubs to pay for all travel and meal expenses from a player’s home to his spring training site. After extensive negotiations, he failed to gain the concessions, which sparked a great deal of animosity against minor-league officials. Fultz also took up many individual cases in an effort to change baseball’s injury policy. Owners at the time could release injured players after paying them only 15 days’ salary. Fultz gained an agreement that all injured players would be paid throughout their contracts.

The Federal League folded in early 1916, and Fultz and the union lost much of their negotiating power. Ban Johnson and other baseball executives beefed up their aggressive attitude toward the Fraternity. The major leagues began ignoring the Cincinnati Agreement. They also set aside their promises related to the injury clause. Near the end of the year, Fultz issued a set of demands on the players’ behalf. In January 1917 the major leagues’ governing body, the National Commission, rejected most of them. In response, Fultz applied for membership in the American Federation of Labor. The commission countered by declaring that clubs would no longer hear appeals from Fultz and the Fraternity; they would only deal with players on an individual basis. With the support of many players, Fultz called for a general strike on February 20. As the deadline neared, Fultz lost support among the players. He was also shunned by the AFL. Hardening its stance, the National Commission formally revoked the Cincinnati Agreement in the second week of February. In response to the reversals, Fultz blinked and formally released the players from their strike pledge. With that, the union eventually disintegrated. The players held him in high regard, though. When unionizing efforts were renewed around 1922, some suggested that Fultz should once again take the reins; however, Ray Cannon led that charge.

In July 1918, with the United States embroiled in war, Fultz enlisted in the Aviation Corps. A first lieutenant, he was instantly made physical and athletic director of the corps. Though the armistice was soon to be signed, Fultz trained to fly planes at Mineola on Long Island. With the war over, in January 1919 he accepted the position of president of the International League, one of the top three minor leagues. This was at a crucial time in major- and minor-league relations. The minors formally split with the majors that month amid acrimony over the draft system and the practice of farming out players. After a season at odds, the two sides resumed their formal ties in November; however, the International League and other top minor leagues refused to allow the drafting of their players by the majors.

In another adversarial role, Fultz became a leading opponent of the major leagues’ efforts to reinstate the draft and farming out of players. In October 1920 he was aggressively bucking the system, threatening legal action against the proposed reorganization plans. He was also irate that the majors unilaterally signed as many returning veterans after World War I as possible, without regard for minor-league rights. In his words, the majors got “all the live ones that came back from France.” In November Fultz objected to the majors’ plan, in the wake of the Black Sox scandal, to name a commissioner to run organized baseball. The Waukesha Daily Freeman reported that he “expressed the view that Judge K.M. Landis could be considered only as the major leagues’ representative on the board of consent of baseball and that he should be prevented from making the final decision in interleague matters.” Amid the controversy, in December the International League team owners ousted Fultz as president. Fultz may have resigned, perhaps under pressure, but the issue is clouded since no official statement on the matter was issued. Fultz left baseball for good but continued his football officiating duties and his law practice.

In 1929, Fultz and his partner Murphy both resigned their football duties to concentrate on their clients. Fultz said, “Some people think that a football official has an easy time, two or three hours each Saturday out in the open, seeing a football game. Not at all, hours and hours are spent on study of the rules and the actual working during the game is the smallest part of it.” The law firm eventually moved to 165 Broadway in the Wall Street district. In 1935 Fultz ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for state assemblyman from Flatbush in Brooklyn. He practiced law until he retired at the age of 72 in 1947.

On August 5, 1915, Fultz had married Ida Marjorie Verlin, known by her middle name, of Norwalk, Connecticut. They had met the previous New Year’s Eve at a party at the home of his old Brown baseball teammate, William Lauder. Marjorie, the daughter of Danish and Norwegian parents, was 25 years old at the time, 15 years younger than Fultz. A waggish sportswriter wrote that Fultz had hugged and kissed a baby in Norwalk during his early playing career, and the baby turned out to be his future bride. The couple lived in Brooklyn and had no children. After retirement the Fultzes moved to Deland, Florida, near Daytona Beach, buying the estate of Deland founder Henry A. Deland, an oldtime New York baking-soda industrialist. Fultz died in Deland on October 29, 1959, at the age of 84. He was interred at Oakdale Cemetery in Deland.

Sources

Thanks to Ray Nemec for supplying Fultz’s statistics in the American League in 1900.

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