If ever there were a battery that was bound together in life and in death, it was probably pitcher Rube Waddell and catcher Osee Schrecongost. They were both born in small communities in western Pennsylvania, on opposite sides of the Allegheny National Forest, and a little less than 100 miles from each other. They both broke into the majors with the same team on the same day. For four seasons (1902 through 1905), they both served for the Philadelphia Athletics as teammates, batterymates, and roommates. They both ended their professional careers in the same year, 1910, and they both died within a little more than three months of each other – neither of them having reached the age of 40.
Waddell was a star pitcher, and has been a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame since 1946. “Schreck” – as he was typically called – was often a team’s backup catcher, both in the minor leagues and the majors, but he got in a fair amount of work and was both a good hitter and an excellent defender.
Osee Freeman Schrecongost is an unusual name, though his surname was not uncommon, particularly in Pennsylvania in his day. With a brother two years older named Harry and a sister two years younger named Annie, one might wonder today where the Osee came from. There have been numerous spellings of his name, both first and last, and the spellings differ on some records of the day. He was born on April 11, 1875, in New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a Clarion County borough about 60 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. Two years later he was baptized in Mt. Lebanon (under 10 miles from Pittsburgh in a southwesterly direction) and is listed in the baptismal records of the Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian Church as Osie Freeman Schreckengost.
His family appears in the 1880 United States census living in Redbank Township, Clarion County, Pennsylvania, not to be confused with another Red Bank about 200 miles further east. His parents were listed as Naman Shrecongost, a miner, age 29, and his wife, Sarah C. Shrecongost, 26. Their three children were Harry H., Osee F., and Annie I. They also had three boarders in their household at the time, all three of whom were miners: Adam and John Huffman and Emet Murphy. The area was one of coal mines and most of the people in their neighborhood were miners. Listed only a couple of residences away was another Naman Shrecongost and his wife, Sadie, both a few years younger but without children. Newspapers of the day did refer to Osee’s father as “Big Norman.”
On our man’s gravestone in nearby Kittaning Cemetery, the marker – not infallible itself – presents his name as Osee F. Schrecongost. SABR member Dan O’Brien interviewed grandson Charles Dundas and family genealogist Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer and concluded that the correct rendition of his name is F. Osee Schrecongost, that his father’s name was spelled Naaman and that mother Sarah was born Sarah Caroline Protzman. The Schrecongost name was German. Osee was pronounced “Oh-See.”i
What we’re most interested in, of course, is his life in baseball. Josh Walzak, a writer for the New Bethlehem newspaper, the Leader-Vindicator, wrote a lengthy feature on Schreck in its September 8, 1999, issue. He says the family lived in Fairmount City, less than two miles from New Bethlehem, and that the young man attended school there until about the age of 10, when the family moved to an apartment on Broad Street in New Bethlehem. Osee went to work in the mines as a teenager, but played baseball too, and was a standout with the town teams of 1893 and 1894. The newspaper at the time spelled his name Ossee Schreckengost.
In 1895 Osee struck out on his own, moving to Williamsport to play semipro ball for a team sponsored by the Domestic Sewing Machine Co. He wound up playing for the Demorest Base Ball Club of Williamsport, which became the championship team in Central Pennsylvania League ball that year. The Philadelphia Inquirer carried him in box scores as Schrecongost, though more often in the lineups as “Schr’st” and “Sch’st,” and the like. Virtually the whole Demorest team was signed again for 1896.ii Schreck started 1896 by hitting a home run on Opening Day, May 16. While no league statistics could be located, Sporting Life did note at year end, in its December 2, 1896, issue, that the “Demorest Manufacturing Company will put one of the strongest ball teams in the field next year that has ever represented the city of Williamsport on the local diamond. If the Central Pa. League is not reorganized again the team will play independent ball, and will probably travel in a private car and make trips through the South and West, and will rival the Page Fence Giants. [The Giants were one of the best black teams of the 1890s.] The Demorest team will be composed of a set of gentlemanly players, and will contain some of last year's players.” Among them, it was noted, was F. O. Schrecongost, the young and coming player, [who] will cover first bag and act as change catcher.”
Schrecongost had an active year in 1897 and it’s a little difficult to track just where he played and when. His record shows him playing for Augusta in the Maine State League, possibly as early as the latter part of 1896.iii He’d been on a Brockton (Massachusetts) contract, somehow, but was released to Augusta on a temporary contract on May 6.iv He was returned to Brockton and then released by Brockton on July 6.v He next turned up with Fall River, Massachusetts, in the New England League, playing on July 10 but appearing in only four games for the Indians, hitting .353. A few weeks later the Boston Herald noted that he was now playing for the Shamokin club in the Central Pennsylvania League.vi The Coal Heavers folded, though, “owing to lack of patronage,” on September 7.vii The paper noted that Osee had received offers from both Louisville and Philadelphia. Indeed, the very next day – September 8 – he shows up catching for Louisville (presented as Sch’t in the box score).
That was the day Schrecongost first played in the major leagues, debuting with the National League’s Louisville Colonels on September 8, 1897. He was 0-for-3 in the game, his only one that year. He was charged with a passed ball. Pitcher Rube Waddell made his big-league debut in the same game, Baltimore beating Louisville, 5–1. The syndicated news report from Baltimore described it as “a dull and uninteresting game.” Waddell, it was written, “pitched a good game, but worked against some very hard luck.”viii How good it was could be debatable, given the four bases on balls Rube doled out and the 11 hits he surrendered. Waddell also hit a batter. He struck out two.
The Baltimore Sun noted, “Catcher Schrecongost was merely given a trial by Louisville yesterday, and while he caught a good game he did not show any extraordinary talent, and his batting was rather weak. President Pulliam refused to buy him, and Schrecongost left for home, in Fall River, last night. Mr. Pulliam said, ‘He caught well, but we have two catchers already who are just as good, if not better, and we did not need him.’ ” The Sun said that Pulliam did like Waddell and would keep him. “He has much to learn, but shows promise. . . .”ix
The Sun also reported that a Chicago paper had sent a telegram to Pulliam asking, “Is that catcher’s name on the level?” It was only one of a number Pulliam received when sports editors at various newspapers saw the full name Schrecongost.
That this first meeting between Schrecongost and Waddell ultimately led to a lifelong, intertwined relationship is remarkable in that they’d only been in the same place at the same time for about 24 hours, and, as noted in the newspaper, neither of them knew the other and hardly had had anyone else known who they were. The Washington Evening Star reprinted a story from Baltimore:
“That was a peculiar state of affairs in the Louisville team on Wednesday; in which the pitcher did not know his catcher’s name, the catcher was ignorant of the pitcher’s name, and the members of the team, including the manager himself, were unacquainted with the names of either of the young men composing the club’s battery for the day. Waddell only joined the team in Washington and Schrecongost joined the team only a short time before the game, having come here on trial. This all-around ignorance of names was shown when some spectators in the grand stand asked the catcher who was pitching. ‘I don’t know; I never saw him before,’ was Schrecongost’s reply. Presently Waddell came to the bench and some one asked him who the catcher was, and he replied, ‘Couldn’t tell you – first time I ever saw him.’ ”
“ ‘Who will be in the points today,’ was asked of Manager Clarke before the game by the Sun reporter. ‘This man will pitch,’ he replied, pointing to the name ‘Weddel’ in the score card, and that tall fellow over there will catch. I don’t know what his name is.’ But he called to Schrecongost and got that young man to spell his name out for the newspaper man, regardless of how long it delayed the game.
“When asked if ‘Weddel’ was the correct name, Manager Clarke replied, ‘Don’t know; you will have to ask him.’ ”x
Some listings also show Schreck as having been with both Williamsport and the Sunbury Pirates (both of the Central Pennsylvania League) at one point or another, in addition to Shamokin. There were quite a few shifts in teams within the league that year. Once again, in a postseason (November 6) issue, Sporting Life anticipated him playing for Williamsport in 1898.
It had been quite a year. “My minor league experience was a nightmare,” he said. “I played with four different minor leagues in one season. The manager of the Augusta club of the Maine State league owed me $70. When I asked him for it he told me that I had been fined that amount, and I didn’t get a cent. When I hooked up with the Williamsport team the manager soon owed me $50, and he just tacked a fine that took all that was coming to me. I have no growl coming about my experience in Youngstown.”xi
Schreck played for three teams in 1898. He began the season with Cedar Rapids (Iowa) in the Western Association, but Cedar Rapids disbanded on June 9 and the whole league followed suit on the 26th. Between the two June dates, Schrecongost caught for the team in Ottumwa, Iowa. After the league folded, he played the rest of the time with the last-place Youngstown (Ohio) Puddlers in the Inter-State League. Baseball-Reference.com has him hitting .280 in 78 games for Youngstown, but the October 8 Sporting Life said he had led the team with a .310 average. He hit a couple of homers, on July 5 and September 14. As it happened, the very next day, Stanley Robison, owner of the NL franchise in Cleveland, came to look over both him and pitcher Knepper.
Schreck was described as “the premier backstop of the league” and was sold to the Spiders for $300 in a deal announced on September 27, getting into ten games for them and hitting .314 with ten RBIs.xii Cleveland manager Patsy Tebeau was high on him: “We will use Schrecongost in almost every game next year … for his hitting ability. He is an Indian at the bat, biting at everything, high, low, out or in, and very often making doubles and triples off wild pitches. It is next to impossible for a twirler to get ‘Schreck’ in a hole, for all pitching looks alike to him.”xiii
In 1899, Schrecongost trained with Tebeau’s team in Hot Springs, Arkansas, but shuttled back and forth from Cleveland to St. Louis during the year. Tebeau continued to boost him in the springtime and it was written that even as they arrived for training, “[w]hen Tebeau introduced Schrecongost to the people at the depot he added after each hand shake: ‘Here is the little boy who is to lead our team in batting this year.’ Patsy hopes to make a change first baseman out of Schreck, and to use him in nearly every game.”xiv Schreck wasn’t all that little; at 5-feet-10 he stood two inches taller than Tebeau, and at 180 (a weight he admittedly may not have yet attained) he had nearly 20 pounds on his manager.
Early on, on March 28, 1899, the entire Cleveland ballclub was transferred to St. Louis after the league expelled the earlier St. Louis owners and installed a new group in its place. Schrecongost was one of 16 Spiders – including Tebeau – so assigned. It’s a story we’ll not go into here, but brothers Frank DeHaas Robison and Stanley Robison each owned shares in both ballclubs in 1899. Frank had founded the Cleveland club, and he and Stanley were part of a group that purchased the bankrupt St. Louis Browns, and then moved most of the better players to St. Louis, loading up the team they dubbed the Perfectos but leaving Cleveland with a team that finished 12th with a record (the worst in major-league history) of 20-134.
In the early going, Osee appeared in six 1899 games for St. Louis without a hit. On June 5 he and Frank Bates were assigned to Cleveland. There were “Rumors of a Rumpus” between Tebeau and McKean which led to the trade. In any event, once he joined the Spiders in New York, in time to get into the June 7 game, it was soon reported that “Schrecongost made an instantaneous hit here. Like Tebeau, Schreck plays ball all the time.”xv The trade came in time for him to get his photograph published in Base Ball magazine over the caption: “Ossee Schrecongost, The Rising Young Catcher of the Cleveland Club.”xvi He had “fought his way into popularity here [Cleveland] by the desperately earnest manner in which he plunges into every game. He is a second Pat Tebeau in this respect, forgetting everything else when he is playing ball, but the desire to win.”xvii The Cleveland club was sometimes given the nickname the Exiles in the national press, and the Washington Post called the catcher the “Ghost.”xviii Schreck even beat St. Louis, winning one of those 20 games for the Exiles, with three hits – including a triple – in a 3–1 win over the Perfectos on June 25 in St. Louis.
But then, on July 31, Osee was back with St. Louis, having arrived that morning. Though indeed both clubs were owned by Robisons, it was reported that “Tebeau ‘purchased’ him yesterday from President Stanley Robison of the Cleveland Club.”xix Schrecongost played the rest of the ’99 season for St. Louis, and is listed as – overall – hitting .313 in his time with Cleveland and .286 for St. Louis, with two homers but otherwise not that much power – though on August 28 he hit a double and a triple in the same game, a 14–12 loss to Washington. He played a mixture of first base and catcher, sometimes playing first when Lou Criger was catching.
And there was some passion in Schreck’s play. He even got into a fight with teammate Mike Donlin at the Grand Central depot in Cincinnati on August 7 just before the train pulled out for Pittsburgh. Schreck was upset that two of Donlin’s “rifle-shot throws to the plate” had been low and struck Scheck in the shins. He said something to Donlin, three years his junior, at the station and “quick as a flash the Californian turned and whipped his right across the catcher’s jaw, who went down in a heap. When he regained his feet he started for Donlin, who again felled him like a log. Schrecongost again got up and an exchange of vicious blows followed, but Donlin was getting the best of it when Schrecongost stopped to pick up a coupling pin.” Several players and some bystanders stepped in at that point to disarm Schreck.xx
In 1900 Schrecongost played for Buffalo, in the one year that Ban Johnson’s Western League was named the American League but considered a minor league. In 1901 Johnson founded a different American League, the first year of the AL, which has lasted into the 21st century. The 25-year-old Schrecongost had been farmed out to the Buffalo Bisons by St. Louis before the season began in May. He played in 125 games, batting .282, catching more than 75 percent of the games and playing first base the rest of the time.xxi
Schreck joined that new American League in 1901, signing on early with the Boston Americans (manager Jimmy Collins, a Buffalo-area native, knew of his work), but destined from the start to be backup catcher behind Lou Criger. On March 4 it was reported that he would break his contract with St. Louis and jump to the new league to play for Boston.xxii Acknowledging that he was a hitting catcher, the April 14 Boston Journal ran a trick photograph showing two overlapping images of Schrecongost both batting and catching at the same time.
In fact, he performed admirably, appearing in 86 games – ten more than Criger – and hitting for a .304 average, exceptional for a catcher in those days and well above the .278 team average. Criger was surer on defense, however, and – no small consideration – was Cy Young’s favorite catcher. Cy Young was 33-10 that year, and if he wanted a personal catcher, that was fine with manager Jimmy Collins. All three – Schreck, Criger, and Young – had been on the Perfectos in 1899, and the latter two played for St. Louis in 1900 while Schreck was in Buffalo. Charlie Hemphill was the fourth St. Louis player to jump leagues and come to Boston.
Scheck did take part in the first triple play in franchise history, on August 7, 1901, at Baltimore, a 1-5-2-6-1 affair.
The day before the season ended, owner Charles Somers re-signed Criger and Young for 1902, but not Schrecongost, Hemphill, or Tommy Dowd. Schreck played for Cleveland (an American League city from the start), and then the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902. Exactly why Somers didn’t want to retain Schrecongost, we don’t know, but a Boston Herald report a year later – enthusing over his 1902 season – said that Schreck had “proved a most unreliable man for Boston last season.”xxiii In any event, Boston traded him to Cleveland on November 16 for Candy LaChance, who became the first baseman for the Bostons for the next few years. Cleveland fully intended to use Schreck at first base, rather than as a catcher.
Schrecongost picked up a little extra work in the preseason of 1902, coaching the batteries and the hitters for the University of Virginia baseball team in Charlottesville.xxiv
Though he was hitting .338 for Cleveland after 18 games, playing first base exclusively, Schrecongost was released on May 13. It’s a bit of a mystery why, but as it worked out Cleveland added Charlie Hickman a few weeks later and Hickman wound up batting .378.xxv Schreck signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Athletics on May 22, and appeared in 79 games for them (71 as catcher), batting .324.xxvi For a catcher, who presumably had a good eye for the strike zone, he didn’t walk that much, just 102 times in 3,501 career plate appearances. His career batting average was .271 and his on-base percentage .297.
Athletics manager Connie Mack had tried to get Schreck the year before, according to a few April 1901 newspaper stories.xxvii Now, in 1902, Mack had his man. In the first few years of building the American League, there were transactions and transitions that occurred for reasons that are opaque to us today.
A few weeks after he joined Philadelphia, Schreck became reunited with Rube Waddell, who joined the Athletics on June 19. One of their most productive pairings on the field in 1902 came against Boston on July 9 when Bill Dinneen and Waddell each pitched all 17 innings in Boston, a game that went to Waddell, 4–2. Schreck was 4-for-6 and was involved in couple of the runs. He drove in the first Athletics run and then tripled in the top of the 17th and came in on Rube’s long fly for the fourth run of the game. His two-out double (some papers had it as a triple) in the ninth won another game for Waddell on July 18 against the White Sox. He was literally carried off the field on the shoulders of the crowd.xxviii And on the 21st, his single in the ninth gave Waddell another “W.”
Philadelphia won the 1902 pennant and Waddell was 24-7, with a 2.05 ERA, both being the best marks on the club – all those victories coming in two-thirds of a season, given that he’d only arrived a little after mid-June. Waddell was a pretty good hitter, too, batting .286 in 1902. Winning the pennant didn’t take the team to the World Series. It was only the following year, in 1903, when Boston and Pittsburgh squared off in the postseason that the modern “World’s Series” began. Shreck and Rube had become roommates and began to have associations away from the Athletics, too. The two picked up a little more cash playing a pair of late September and early October games for the Camden, New Jersey, ballclub.
Newspapers had generally dropped “Schrecongost” a year or two earlier and adopted “Schreck” or a mangled “Schreckengost” in their stories. Baseball researchers need to hunt for all three names. One of Osee’s nicknames was “Rocking Horse,” which began when Williamsport teammate Humphries had called him that, in mispronouncing his name, wrote the Philadelphia Inquirer in explaining why cartoonist Charles Bell always showed Schreck on a rocking horse.xxix
Boston won the pennant and the World Series in 1903; the Athletics finished second, but 14½ games behind. Schreck fell off sharply in his batting, dropping from .324 to .255. He played in 13 more games than in 1902, but drove in 30 percent fewer runs (30 instead of 43) and scored 42 percent fewer runs (26, down from 45). And in 1904, he played in 95 games and saw his production drop yet further: hitting just .186, driving in 21 and scoring 23. He improved his defensive work behind home plate, however, climbing in fielding percentage from .960 to .975 and .979. Schreck had an unusual style of catching one-handed, and somehow managed to deal quite well with Waddell’s unpredictable pitches. The eccentric pitcher didn’t always throw the ball as signaled. Teammate Harry Davis wrote of Schreck after Waddell and the catcher had died, “There are very few catchers today who can catch one ball if they are crossed in this manner, particularly with the gloved hand alone, as Schreck invariably did.”xxx
Schreck was also noted for his success in throwing out would-be basestealers. There was even one time that injuries to the other catchers forced him to play despite a broken finger on his throwing hand, and he managed to throw out a St. Louis batter attempting to steal second on him. Davis recalled opposing manager Jimmy McAleer exclaiming, “What is the use, they can beat us with a one-armed catcher.”xxxi
Waddell was clearly a great pitcher, accurate but also deceptive. Schreck had been known to say that “on days when Rube’s fast ball was right all the batsmen would hit so far under it that he could see an inch or two of daylight when the bat and the ball as the latter shot by.”xxxii
Waddell was fortunate to be able to pitch at all in 1903. During spring training in Jacksonville, he and Schreck were sitting on a pier watching the waves, when Waddell suddenly said, “Ossie, I believe I will jump in here and commit suicide.” Schreck said, “Go ahead, it will be a good thing.” He jumped, fully dressed, and narrowly missed several piles sticking out of the water which had long spikes on them. “When he came up he walked out on the beach and, taking a soggy baseball, proceeded to amuse the spectators by splitting a board with terrific drives from his arm.” He then went out on the pier and plunged off it again.xxxiii
In July Rube suddenly left the Athletics and started playing for a team of college players in Atlantic City. He said Schreck was going to join him.xxxiv Cooler heads prevailed, and Waddell got married instead and spent Sunday, July 12, with Mr. and Mrs. Schrecongost and a volunteer fireman from Atlantic City named William Stephany.xxxv He threw a 2–0 shutout against the White Sox on the 14th.
They were roommates, but the notion that they were inseparable was decried by Athletics first baseman Harry Davis: “This was not so. ‘Rube’ seldom went anywhere with any of the ball players. He preferred to travel with the many friends he had who were in no way connected with the game. Schreck only went along when Waddell was asked to bring his catcher with him, and that might not happen more than once or twice in a season.”xxxvi
They were both eccentric, though, and the most widely circulated story regarding them as roommates (sharing a double bed, as baseball roommates often did in those days) is that Waddell refused to sign an Athletics contract one year unless manager Mack agreed to prohibit Schreck from eating animal crackers in bed. Another version had Schreck voicing that complaint about the Rube.xxxvii
There’s another tale that had Schreck getting a very tough steak at a hotel restaurant in Cleveland. He sent it back, and the same steak came back again, presented differently. After the third visit of the steak proved equally difficult to cut, he asked the waiter, “Say, can you get me a hammer and some nails?” He then took the steak, and the hammer and nails, into the hotel lobby and nailed the steak to the wall.xxxviii
Schreck sold cigars during the winter after the 1902 and 1903 seasons.xxxix His application for a liquor license was rejected in April 1904.xl And the cigar business was said to be why his last name became truncated: “Owing to the limits of the building in which he does a cigar business, the Athletic backstop sawed his sign name down to O. Schreck.”xli
The year, 1904, had been a true down year, with Schreck hitting that .186, and three of the outs he made came early in the season, on May 5, when he, Waddell and the other Athletics were victims of Cy Young, who pitched a perfect game in Boston.
Osee’s 1905 season got off to a halting start. He missed most of spring training, with his father dying and then, not long after he returned to camp, his sister, Annie, died and he had to go back home once more.xlii
Things turned around in 1905. Schreck hit .271, drove in 45 runs, improved his fielding percentage to .984 in 123 games, and helped roommate Waddell post a 27-10 record with an ERA of 1.48 (leading the league in wins and ERA), and helping boost the Athletics from 1904’s fifth place to the pennant. He set a record, catching 29 innings in one day, on July 4, 1905, in Boston. This year was his worst one, though, for working bases on balls. He came to the plate 429 times and walked just three times.
Schreck caught the first three games of the 1905 World Series against the New York Giants, hitting .222. Waddell missed the last month of the season and the Series, and the Giants won it in five games. Alcohol played a factor in things falling apart near the end of Waddell’s season. Connie Mack was reported to have felt compelled to hire a bodyguard for Waddell “to keep the Rube straight as possible, and now the latter’s catcher, Ossie Schreckengost, has also fallen from grace.”xliii He had been “breaking the temperance clause in his contract.”xliv Schreck’s .222 in the Series may not seem impressive, but was second only to Topsy Hartsel’s .235 on an Athletics team that hit only .155. The Athletics scored just three runs in the five games, all in Game Two, and all the runs were unearned (Schreck scored two of them); they were shut out three times by Christy Mathewson.
Despite not being present over the final weeks, save for starting in a loss on October 7, Waddell had nonetheless won 27 games, his fourth year in a row as a 20-game winner. There was discussion that winter of Rube and Schreck performing in a vaudeville show called The Battery.xlv It’s not clear if the show was ever staged.
The Athletics finished fourth in 1906, 12 games out of first place. Schreck had hit for a better average, .284, and been more productive in the games he played, but he appeared in 98 games, down 25 from 1905. And there were some suggestions that he hurt the team significantly. Sportswriter Francis C. Richter, writing from Philadelphia, told Sporting Life: “Mack sent catcher Schreck home from St. Louis because he remained out all night on September 21 without the knowledge or consent of the manager. The latter made no bones of saying that Schreck had misconducted himself frequently during the second half of the season; that his conduct was
one of the chief causes of the breakdown, and that Schreck stood suspended for balance of season.”xlvi Schreck said he had done no drinking, but merely stayed overnight with some “old-time German friends.” One suspects the discipline was not the result of just one infraction. A month earlier, Richter had written, “Schreck appears to have let down all round.”xlvii
Whatever other issues may have obtained, perhaps Schreck had simply passed his peak in terms of play on the field. The stats he put up in 1907 were comparable to 1906: .272 instead of .284, three fewer RBIs, one more run scored, and he improved on defense to a .985 fielding percentage, remarkably high for a catcher.xlviii He did suffer what at first, seemed to be a broken thumb on July 13, but it turned out to be just one which was “mashed”; he still played in 101 games.
In 71 games in 1908, Schreck hit .222 for the Athletics, with only 16 RBIs. Near the end of the season, he was ready to leave Philadelphia “and had outlived his welcome with the fans of that city,” so Mr. Mack placed him on waivers.xlix One wonders what else was going on with the team; an August 1 story in Sporting Life said, “[h]alf a dozen of the Athletics have shaved their heads to stall off baldness. Schreck mowed a four-inch swathe along the middle of his scalp.” There were indeed recurring notes in his last few years that made it clear Schreck had a problem with alcohol.
Only one team claimed him off waivers – the White Sox. He played in six games for them at the tail end of 1908 and had three singles in 16 at-bats, suffering a true broken finger in the bottom of the eighth inning on October 2. A spitball from Big Ed Walsh was the culprit. Walsh was a 40-game winner in 1908, but lost this one to Addie Joss, who threw a perfect game. Schreck was on the losing end of another perfecto, and out for the season. It proved to be his last game in the major leagues.
On January 25, 1909, Chicago’s owner Charles Comiskey traded Schreck to the Columbus Senators. He hit a far from impressive .203 in 60 games. Sold on April 19, 1910, Schreck began the season with Louisville and hit .207 in 71 games before he was traded for Emmet Reilly – sent all the way down to Class D ball, reporting on August 29 to play for the Marion Diggers in the Ohio State League. There Schreck hit .275 in 29 games, and left Organized Baseball. His arm had “gone back on him completely,” according to a June 20, 1911, story in the Washington Evening Star that had him playing with an independent team in Ford City, Pennsylvania. He also did some scouting for Connie Mack – and, along with scout Al Maul, is credited with signing Shoeless Joe Jackson to the Athletics in 1908.l According to the story, Schreck started traveling north with Jackson to bring him to Philadelphia, but when they got as far north as Charlotte, Jackson was getting homesick and jumped off the train, hiding from Schreck.
Schreck did sign to play for York in February 1913 and may have played some for teams not in Organized Baseball. It’s not clear if he ever played for York.
Just as Schreck’s father and sister had died one not long after the other in 1905, so it was for Rube Waddell and Osee Schrecongost in 1914. It appears that both neglected their health. Waddell died of tuberculosis in San Antonio on April 1, 1914. When he learned of the pitcher’s death, Schreck is reported to have said, “The Rube is gone and I am all in. I might as well join him.”li
One hundred days later, on July 9, 1914, Osee Schrecongost died “of a complication of diseases” at Northwestern General Hospital in Philadelphia – the same hospital where Doc Power, the other main catcher on the Athletics during Schreck’s years, had died in 1909, at age 38. Schreck was 39.
He had collapsed around noon the day before in a local café. His constitution had been undermined. The City of Philadelphia death certificate indicates heart disease and Bright’s disease, a kidney disease. Uremia was noted in newspaper accounts at the time. The death certificate notes that he was divorced. He is buried in Kittaning Cemetery. His mother survived him, and lived until 1927.
After the loss of Rube and Schreck within such a short time span, Sporting Life averred: “Waddell and Schreck, when they were working right were almost unbeatable. Shreck’s most notable trait was that he was the only catcher who could make Waddell pitch his best. If their habits had been on a par with their professional skill, Rube and Shreck would probably be alive and playing ball today.”lii
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Schrecongost’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
i Dan O’Brien, “F. Osee Schrecongost,” in David Jones, ed., Deadball Stars of the American League (Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2006), 600. Presented in the book is Schrecongost’s signature, and that is the way he signed his name.
ii Sporting Life, December 21, 1895.
iii The Bethlehem Leader-Vindicator reports that he had gone to Augusta later in 1896, though – and more likely – Sporting Life that December had him as up-and-coming still with Williamsport.
iv Sporting Life, May 1 and May 15, 1897.
v Boston Herald, July 8, 1897.
vi Boston Herald, August 5, 1897.
vii Philadelphia Inquirer, September 8, 1897.
viii See, for instance, the Cleveland Leader of September 9, 1897.
ix Baltimore Sun, September 9, 1897.
x Washington Evening Star, September 10, 1897.
xi Boston Herald, May 19, 1899.
xii The quotation comes from Sporting Life, September 24, 1898. The date of the release comes from the May 7 Boston Herald.
xiii Sporting Life, December 17, 1898.
xiv Sporting Life, March 18, 1899.
xv Sporting Life, June 17, 1899.
xvi Base Ball, July 8, 1899.
xvii Sporting Life, July 15, 1899.
xviii Washington Post, August 13, 1899. The “Ghost” nickname seems not to have stuck.
xix Sporting Life, August 5, 1899.
xx Cleveland Leader, August 8, 1899. Over a year later, Donlin offered a whole different take on what happened, saying the row had been in Philadelphia, between Burkett and Schreck, and resulted in those two becoming fast friends, though he did admit to punching Schreck in Pittsburgh. See Sporting Life, November 17, 1900.
xxi The May 5, 1900, Boston Herald characterized Schreck’s assignment to Buffalo as having been farmed out by St. Louis, as had other papers such as the Rockford Republic of April 27. He also played eight games in the outfield and one at third base.
xxii Boston Herald, March 5, 1901.
xxiii Boston Herald, September 29, 1902.
xxiv Washington Post, February 5, 1902.
xxv His release was reported in the May 14 Cincinnati Post.
xxvi There was a moment when it appeared Schreck was going to play for Worcester instead of Philadelphia; the May 20 Cleveland Leader reported that he’d accepted terms with Worcester, but it wasn’t to be.
xxvii See, for instance, the Pawtucket Times and the Boston Herald of April 26, 1901.
xxviii Sporting Life, July 26, 1902.
xxix Philadelphia Inquirer, August 29, 1904.
xxx Springfield Republican, August 2, 1914.
xxxii Sporting Life, April 11, 1914.
xxxiii Denver Post, May 15, 1903.
xxxiv Cincinnati Post, July 10, 1903.
xxxv Philadelphia Inquirer, July 14, 1903.
xxxvi Washington Post, August 23, 1914.
xxxvii Norman Macht, Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), 337.
xxxviii Bethlehem Leader-Vindicator, September 8, 1999. Walzak likely got the story from the unidentified November 7, 1929, clipping found in Schrecongost’s player file at the Hall of Fame.
xxxix Washington Evening Star, October 13, 1903.
xl Philadelphia Inquirer, April 19, 1904.
xli Whether true or not, we are unsure, because the source of the story was reportedly Charles Dryden of the Philadelphia North American, a sportswriter frequently given to wild flights of fanciful fiction. See Sporting Life, June 4, 1904.
xlii Norman Macht, Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball, 339.
xliii Denver Post, September 25, 1905.
xlv Washington Post, November 5, 1905, and Sporting Life, November 11, 1905.
xlvi Sporting Life, September 29, 1906.
xlvii Sporting Life, August 25, 1906.
xlviii Shrecongost had almost 200 more chances than the second-place catcher in this category. This is almost exclusively due to Philadelphia pitchers striking out almost 200 more batters than the next best pitching staff. Since it is very difficult for a catcher to make an error on a strikeout, Schreck’s outstanding fielding percentage is largely the due to his battery mates.
xlix Sporting Life, October 31, 1908.
l Sporting Life, July 25 and August 1, 1908, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 18, 1912.
li Bethlehem Leader-Vindicator, September 8, 1999.
lii Sporting Life, July 18, 1914.