SABR

Rube Schauer

This article was written by Terry Bohn.

Right-handed pitcher Rube Schauer had one of the most rapid ascents to the major leagues in baseball history. In 1912 he was playing for his hometown semi-pro team in rural North Dakota, and by the end of 1913, his first season in professional baseball, he was a member of the pennant-winning New York Giants. His descent was just as quick. Five years later, with a career record of 10 wins and 29 losses, and only 26 years old, his major-league career was over.

During the summer of 1913, Schauer was the most famous minor leaguer in the country and the object of the most intense bidding war in baseball. Scouts who saw him pitch compared him to Christy Mathewson and Pete Alexander. New York Giant manager John McGraw was so impressed by reports of Schauer that he sent his top scout, Dick Kinsella, to make sure he was signed by the Giants. When Schauer did sign, the Giants shelled out what was then a record amount of money for a Class C ballplayer.

Alexander John Schauer (born Dimitri Ivanovich Dimitrihoff) was born March 19, 1891, in Odessa, Russia, to Johann Andrew and Frederika (Keim) Schauer. No information could be found as to why the family’s name was changed. He had an older sister, Mary, and three younger siblings; Katie, Theodore and Elisa. Johann, better known as John, and Frederika were of German descent.

When Schauer joined the Giants, he was the fifth-ever Russian-born major leaguer. There have been three others since, the last being Victor Cole who made his debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992. Ironically, Lou “The Mad Russian” Novikoff, a National League outfielder in the 1940s, was born in Glendale, Arizona.

Al’s father was doing well as a school teacher in Russia, but a new edict by Czar Nicholas, demanding that citizens become members of the Russian church, made staying impossible. With his wife and five children, he paid the required $34.50 to buy passage on the SS Nordland bound for America. After the ten-day voyage, the Schauer family arrived in New York on May 19, 1900, and took a train to Eureka, South Dakota, where they stayed for the next two years.

In 1902, John Schauer took possession of 160 acres of homestead land near Turtle Lake, a small town in central North Dakota. After the railroad built a track that went through the nearby town of Garrison, the Schauer family moved there and John constructed a grain elevator. He later opened a general store and was elected mayor of Garrison.

Young Al attended school in Garrison and excelled in sports. John wanted his son to become a pastor, and after Al graduated high school in 1909, he attended Wartburg College, a Lutheran university in Waverly, Iowa, for two years. He realized he was not cut out for the ministry and went back to school and earned a business degree in Mankato, Minnesota, where he pitched for the town team. He returned to his hometown of Garrison and joined the local semi-pro team while looking for work as a bookkeeper.

In the spring of 1913, Schauer was out of work. The Northern League was reorganized after being out of existence for five years and was looking for good talent. Al was approached by one Northern League team (reportedly Winnipeg, Manitoba), but he declined the offer when management refused to pay for his training expenses. W. J. “Joe” Sommer, the owner of the Superior (Wisconsin) Red Sox Northern League franchise, saw the raw talent that Schauer possessed, agreed to his terms, and signed him to a contract.

With Superior, Schauer soon became the best player in the Northern League. In his first eleven starts, he threw two one-hit games and was also leading the league in strikeouts. For the season, he had a record of 20-10 in 34 games allowing just 159 hits in 255 innings, and he held opposing batters to a .178 average.1 He threw four shutouts, and struck out 237, nearly one per inning.2

The Chicago Cubs were the first to try to sign him, offering $1,000. They were tipped off by Rube Waddell, at the time pitching in the Northern League for Virginia, Minnesota, a short distance from Superior. As other teams entered the bidding, Sommer kept raising the asking price, and the Cubs backed out. In less than a week, five other teams got into a bidding war for the opportunity to sign Schauer.

Former major leaguer Bob Unglaub, who now managed the Minneapolis team in the Northern League, claimed he had secured first option on Schauer. However, Minneapolis owner Mike Cantillion could not come up with the Superior asking price. Unglaub predicted that with proper coaching Schauer would become a star saying he “has such a wonderful amount of natural ability, and … [he] looks like the real thing.”3

John McGraw sent Kinsella to Superior with instructions to do whatever it took to sign Schauer. Through tough negotiations, Sommer agreed to sell Schauer for a record $10,000, but only on the stipulation that Schauer remain with Superior until August 15. At the time, only two other players had been purchased for a higher price; St. Paul’s Marty O’Toole cost Pittsburgh $22,500 in 1911, and the Giants bought Rube Marquard from Indianapolis for $11,000 in 1908.4

Soon after his signing, Superior was scheduled to play in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and Schauer’s parents took the train from Garrison to watch the game. Al threw a complete-game four-hitter in the only game Mr. and Mrs. Schauer would ever see their son pitch as a professional. They were still disappointed he had decided on baseball as his occupation rather than business or the ministry, but were pleased he had an education to fall back on, and wished him well.

With all the attention heaped on Schauer the previous few months, and the high price tag paid by the Giants, expectations were high. New York newspapers even suggested Schauer would be groomed as the heir apparent to Christy Mathewson. But, the understated and modest Schauer seemed to be able to keep things in perspective. When he arrived in New York he said “I don’t come into fast company with any false hopes. I’m not letting that $12,000 price bother me.5 You know, it may be that I am not worth it. They probably paid it because somebody else would have had a chance to try me out cheaper.”6

When he reported to the Polo Grounds on August 16, he came under the tutelage of coach Wilbert Robinson who had a reputation of developing young pitchers. Giant catcher Chief Meyers came away impressed after catching one of Schauer’s bullpen sessions. After watching him for the first time, New York sportswriter Damon Runyon described Schauer as “a big, loose-jointed youth, with an overhand motion and much speed.”7

Because of Schauer’s inexperience, McGraw wanted to bring him along slowly, and wouldn’t use him until after the pennant was all but wrapped up. Schauer made his first appearance with the Giants on August 27 and pitched a perfect inning against the Cincinnati Reds. During the rest of the season, Schauer pitched 11 more innings in two games, giving up 10 earned runs.

Schauer watched the World Series (he was kept off the active roster) as the Giants fell to the Philadelphia Athletics in five games, and then returned home to North Dakota for the winter. On November 22, the little town of Garrison pulled out all the stops for their most famous resident. A banquet was held in his honor that featured music (Garrison Male Quartet), cards, and dancing along with eloquent speeches. A fine luncheon was provided (the café attending to that part of the affair), and when the gathering broke up in the small hours, “all were unanimous in pronouncing it one of the happiest affairs that ever took place in Garrison.”8

In 1914, Schauer was again used very sparingly by McGraw, appearing in only six games. With a pitching staff of Christy Mathewson, Rube Marquard, Jeff Tesreau, and Al Demaree, and Art Fromme out of the bullpen, there was little room for a rookie to break in. There were hints that a sore arm limited his availability and effectiveness, but lack of control was the main reason Schauer spent most of the season watching from the bullpen. He couldn’t stay sharp, being used so infrequently, but McGraw wouldn’t risk using him while the Giants were in the middle of another pennant race.

Schauer went to spring training in 1915 expecting to compete for one of the spots in the Giants starting rotation. He got seven starts but wildness (35 walks and ten wild pitches in 105 innings) earned him a demotion to the bullpen. His best game may have been July 17 when he came in to relieve Rube Marquard in the ninth inning and pitched seven innings of scoreless, one-hit ball in a 16-inning 5-4 win against St. Louis. Overall, he got into 32 games but had a record of 2-8 with a 3.50 ERA.

By this time, McGraw had begun to lose confidence in the young right-hander. Before the 1915 season, he tried to include him in a multi-player trade with the Phillies for third baseman Hans Lobert, but the deal fell through. In September 1915, he and teammate Jim Thorpe were sent home in the middle of a Western road trip. The press reported “… all of which makes it looks like red tickets for both men.”

The 1916 season was much the same for Schauer with spotty work out of the bullpen and an occasional start. Schauer’s inexperience and inactivity began to catch up with him. Despite his unlimited potential, he never developed the skills necessary to be a successful major-league pitcher. He was described as a poor fielder, and because he pitched from a big windup, was unable to hold base runners close. Sporting Life included Schauer in a group of Giant pitchers described as “fairly good second string men, but that is about all that can be said of them.”9

Schauer was also the victim of bad luck. He got his first start of the season on June 22 against Boston, and held the Braves to one run through ten innings. Boston second baseman Johnny Evers stole home in the 11th, and he lost the game 3-1. In July, the Giants acquired pitcher Slim Sallee from St. Louis to bolster their starting staff, and Schauer was the old man out. After pitching in only 19 games, he was optioned to Louisville of the American Association, although Schauer insisted the demotion was at his own request, and he was happy to get the opportunity for regular work. He had a 6-3 record in 18 games for Louisville.

When Schauer joined the Giants, another young pitcher also of German ancestry, Ferdie Schupp, became his best friend on the team. Sportswriters called the duo the “Schuss Brothers.” After Schauer was let go by McGraw, it was said Schupp took that as a warning of what might happen to him if he didn’t make good. Schupp responded with a 21-win season in 1917. The two men remained close, exchanging newspaper clippings of their pitching exploits the rest of their careers.

Schauer picked up the nickname “Rube” while playing in Superior. Although he was one of the few players at the time with a college education, he was naïve and gullible; one writer describing him as a great pitcher from the neck down. Reports often talked of his lack of concentration and inability, not only to remember a hitter’s strengths and weaknesses, but even to distinguish one batter from another.

In 1914, while pitching against Philadelphia, Schauer was told by his catcher, Larry McLean, “Whatever you do, do not pitch inside to (Athletics first baseman Fred) Luderus.” Schauer got two strikes on him with curves on the outside corner. Then he grooved an inside fastball that Luderus hit over the right-field wall. After the inning, McLean and manager McGraw both jumped on Schauer saying, “Remember what I told you about Luderus?” Rube replied, “Oh, was that him?”

The next year he was pitching in an exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers. Schauer had no idea who Ty Cobb was and the first time he faced him, one of his Giant teammates teasingly yelled from the dugout “That’s Smith. He’s easy.” Schauer threw his best fastball and got Cobb to foul out weakly. When he found out who Cobb really was, he got nervous, and the next time Cobb came up, walked him on four pitches.

Another story was told of the time when pitching for Philadelphia against the Chicago White Sox, first baseman Stuffy McInnis came to the mound to settle him down. McInnis said, “Watch Collins. Give him a slow curve on the outside and he won’t be able to touch it.” Schauer nodded and threw a slow outside curve to the next batter who promptly tripled to right. Stuffy yelled out at Schauer “That wasn’t Collins; the guy who made the triple was McMullin.”10

After the 1916 season, on October 26, Schauer married Martha Lucille Slepica, a native of Minneapolis he had met while playing in Superior. The couple had two children, but neither survived infancy. A son was born on May 19, 1918, but died two days later. On January 31, 1919 a daughter was born, but died the same day. They did not have any other children.

By this time, Schauer was considered by many a bust and was often referred to as the “$10,000 Lemon.” When he first signed him, scout Dick Kinsella said the Schauer had more natural ability than any pitcher he had ever seen. A few years later, after he failed to stick with New York, Kinsella said “You never can tell about these minor league players … I thought I was giving McGraw a man who would develop into the greatest pitcher in baseball. That fellow has as much stuff as Alexander, if he only knew what to do with it.”11

In 1917 Connie Mack, the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, was in desperate need of another starting pitcher and signed Schauer after he had been released by the Giants. He knew of Schauer’s potential, and thought that if he was used on a regular basis, his wildness would improve. Early reports were that he had solved his control problems, and for the first time in his career pitched regularly in the starting rotation. As late as September of that year the press reported “Connie Mack seems to have developed Rube Schauer into a pretty fair pitcher.”

However, the 1917 Philadelphia Athletics were a bad team, finishing last in the American League. Schauer managed just a 7-16 record in 215 innings. But his walks per nine innings pitched (2.9) was lower than the league average (3.1) and he had a very respectable 3.14 ERA. Schauer decided he deserved a raise and refused to sign his contract for 1918 offered by Mack. The A’s tried, unsuccessfully, to swing a trade with the Yankees, and Schauer was released by Philadelphia.

Even though he pitched better than his record indicated for Mack, Schauer exasperated the veteran manager. Connie said “If Schauer studied batsmen more, he could become a good pitcher. He will pitch nine innings and not know one hitter from another. I don’t know what I will do with him …”12

He had been drafted into the armed services in 1917 but was granted an exemption because he was married and the sole support of his wife. Now unemployed, and because of the “Work or Fight” rule established by the War Department, Schauer was faced with induction. Instead he got a job with the Globe Shipbuilding Company in Duluth, Minnesota, and played the rest of 1918 in the semi-pro Twin-Port Mesaba League.

Now a free agent, in 1919 Schauer signed with Minneapolis of the American Association. He had his best season since his time in Superior, winning his first nine decisions and going 21-17 for the Millers. Schauer was technically the property of Washington, and owner Clark Griffith wanted to bring him up to the Senators the next season. But Schauer refused, saying he preferred to remain in Minneapolis, and threatened to retire from baseball if he could not. He had secured an off-season job with the county auditor’s office, and claimed he could make more money in that position than he could by playing in the major leagues. He was eventually purchased outright by the Millers and continued to pitch in Minneapolis for four more years.

Released by the Millers after the 1923 season, Schauer ended up pitching for semi-pro teams in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota. By 1932 he had retired from baseball and began working full-time in the Hennepin County Court House in Minneapolis. City directories in the 1920s and 1930s list Schauer’s occupation as a clerk or bookkeeper and by 1941 he was a deputy county auditor. He and Martha first lived at 2919 North Aldrich Avenue in Minneapolis, and for the rest of his life at 3010 North James Avenue.

Al “Rube” Schauer died on April 15, 1957 of acute myocardial infarction due to coronary artery insufficiency at Minneapolis General Hospital. He was 66 years old. He was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Minneapolis. Schauer must have been a modest man about his baseball past. A niece recalled visiting the Schauers when she was young, but was completely unaware that “Uncle Al” had played major league baseball.

Schauer’s widow’s biographical information was more difficult to piece together. The couple’s marriage application clearly states her name as Martha Slepica. During their marriage, Minneapolis city directories list her name as Martha L. Schauer, except for one year, 1941, when she was listed as Maud L. (living with Alex J. Schauer and at the same Minneapolis address as in 1938).

No birth record could be found for a Martha Slepica (sometimes spelled with a “k” Slepicka), but the 1895 Minnesota State and Territorial Census lists a Maud Slepica (age 1) along with her parents and older siblings. The 1900 US Census lists the same family, living in Minneapolis including Maude L. Slepica, now age 6, and a birth date of December 8, 1893.

The family is absent from the 1910 Census, but shows up in Minneapolis city directories beginning in 1909 with the same family members, except there is a Martha in the household now instead of a Maude. The author is reasonably certain this was the family of Al Schauer’s wife because the 1930 Census lists a third member of Alex and Martha’s household, 28-year old women named Anna Slepica. Earlier directories and census rolls show the Slepica family with a daughter named Anna, so presumably Martha’s younger sister was living with them at the time.

There is also considerable confusion about her surname. A newspaper announcement of the couple’s marriage said that Al Schauer had married a woman named Martha Chicken.13 Martha’s father’s death notice from 1935 listed his name as Michael (Chicken) Slepica. On their World War I draft cards, two of Martha’s brothers wrote their last name as “Chicken”. Perhaps this was an attempt by the family, who were of Bohemian descent, to Americanize their last name. If so, one would think they would have chosen a different surname than Chicken.

Nevertheless, the best information available points to the fact that Maud (or Martha) L. Schauer (nee Slepica/Chicken) lived to be 99 years old, and died in 1983 in Minneapolis.

 

Sources

Unless otherwise noted, information from this biography was taken from, Curt Eriksmoen, “Garrison Player Made Big Leagues Quickly, Bismarck (ND) Tribune, November 22, 2008.

Rube Schauer’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY.

 

Notes

1 Some contemporary newspaper reports said that Schauer had a 28-6 record, or “had won 28 games out of 34.” According to baseball-reference.com, another Northern League pitcher that year, Ralph Bell of Winona, had a 28-6 pitching record. Likely the two pitcher’s records were confused. A game-by-game review of Schauer’s 1913 season revealed he did, in fact, have a record of 20-10.

2 Individual strikeout statistics were not recorded in baseball-reference.com. This strikeout total was compiled form a review of box scores and other newspaper reports.

3 Duluth (MN) News Tribune, August 18, 1913

4 Grand Forks (ND) Evening Times, June 20, 1913

5 The most common purchase price reported for Schauer was $10,000. Other sources said the price had been reduced to $7,500, while others said it was as high as $12,000.

6 New York Evening World, August 16, 1913

7 Grand Forks (ND) Evening Times, August 30, 1913

8 Bismarck (ND) Tribune, November 23, 1913

9 Sporting Life, April 15, 1916

10 La Crosse (WI) Tribune and Leader-Press, February 9, 1918

11 Anaconda (MT) Standard, August 13, 1916

12 Norman L. Macht, Connie Mack: The Turbulent and Triumphant Years, 1915-1931, University of Nebraska Press, 2012, page 136.

13 Duluth (MN) News Tribune, November 9, 1916

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