SABR

Babe Danzig

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Was Babe Danzig of Polish ancestry, or German? If his father had come to the United States before 1793, the city that is his last name would have been – as it is today – Gdansk, part of Poland. But all but seven years from 1793 through 1919, the city was Danzig and part of the Kingdom of Prussia (considered part of Germany). So when Peter Danzig emigrated to the United States in 1880, he was considered and listed himself in the 1900 census as German.

Might Danzig’s last name have been Gyddanzyc? Perhaps if he’d come to America in the year a thousand years earlier, in 999, when the now-Polish city was known as urbs Gyddanzyc.1 We don’t actually know what part of Germany Peter Danzig came from. For all we know, he came from Bremen or Berlin.

But we do know he came to America and he married a New Yorker named Elizabeth and by 1900 they had six children, Harold Paul Danzig being the oldest. His younger siblings were four sisters – Salla, Johanna, Francis, and Dorothea – and a brother, Clifford. Peter Danzig worked as an upholsterer and Elizabeth as a nurse. The family lived in Owego, in Tioga County, New York, in 1900. Harold – nicknamed Babe though he was the oldest child – was born on April 30, 1887, in Binghamton, New York, 23 miles east of Owego. It’s more likely Danzig’s physical size that earned him the nickname, in reference to the legend of Paul Bunyan.

About 110 miles north of Owego is Oswego, and that’s where Danzig began his pro career in 1906. He played first base for the Empire State League’s Oswego nine – or, perhaps we should say ten. A story in the September 1, 1906, issue of Sporting Life reported that team owner Larry Sutton had only ten men on the roster. And yet through August 20, they were 35-27 and in second place in the league.

In 1907 Danzig played for the New Bedford Whalers of the New England League. He hit .289 in 103 games, and in August he was signed by the American League team in Boston. Sporting Life reported, “President John I. Taylor has been making the rounds since the team is away and added a few names to his roster. He went to Lynn last week and was most impressed by the work of young Madden, the catcher, who has been with the club two seasons and has been touted as a faster player, and he secured that player, so that he now has Steele, the pitcher, and Madden. On the recommendation of Scout Lake he secured first baseman Harold P. Danzig, a 19-year-old youngster who is playing first base for New Bedford, stands 6 feet 4 inches, so they say, and weighs 205 pounds. He leads New Bedford in batting and is doubtless the most promising first baseman in the league.”2 Although the article said he was 6-feet-4, he is listed today in standard research databases as two inches shorter – 6-feet-2.

Once Danzig made the Red Sox, he became one of five Babes in Red Sox history: Ruth, Dahlgren, Barna, and Martin followed.

Fred Lake may have been impressed by Danzig’s tenth-inning “smashing drive to left field” that beat Lowell, 2-1, on July 25, or his game-winning eighth-inning single that beat Fall River, 5-4, on August 12.3 The August 23 Boston Globe announced the acquisition, and explained that the Boston team “will farm the young player out for a year or two before bringing him into the limelight in the big league.” Looking at his work for New Bedford, the paper noted his very young age, and added, “Danzig had covered the first sack in grand style, while his extra base hitting has been phenomenal.”

In 1908 Danzig played on the West Coast, signed in March by the Portland Beavers in Oregon. A few stories reported that he was loaned by Boston to the Beavers. Again, he was said to lead the league in batting “and is said to be remarkably fast.” He was said to be 6-feet-2 and – even if not 6-feet-4– “a giant … and is said to be remarkably fast.”4 Danzig hit .298 in 180 Pacific Coast League games, leading the league in batting. He also hit his first two home runs in the pros.

Danzig’s height impressed correspondents. He was described as a “veritable Eiffel tower” and “with a disposition certain to make him a favorite among the players of any club … and is said to be a vocalist of no little ability.”5 The Los Angeles Times made light of his size, calling him “little Danzig, the cute little infant who acts as mascot on the side.”6 Portland manager Walter McCreedie called Danzig one of the finest first baseman in the country.”7

After the 1908 season, Danzig joined the Reach All-American team, which traveled to Hawaii, Japan, and Hong Kong. The team shipped out on November 3 and Danzig was ill the first three or four days out of port – “in a bad way for a short time, but when he revived nearly ate the ship out of house and home.”8 The Red Sox were perhaps not that pleased he had undertaken the trip. “If first baseman Danzig returns from the Oriental tour in bad physical shape,” wrote one correspondent, “he will be in line for a severe call-down by Manager Fred Lake.”9 The November 28 Chicago Tribune ran a photograph of manager Mike Fisher’s touring team.

A story sent to Sporting Life said there was already some talk of organizing a professional league in Japan, and commented on the largely 100 percent male crowds, adding, “It was only recently that the Japanese enclosed their base ball fields at all. They have no grandstands and the bleachers are most crude.” The fielding of the Japanese players was considered the equal of the Americans, but there were some practices which seemed unusual to the visiting Americans. Rather than one coach on the baselines, “It is no uncommon sight to observe five or six Japs back of first base, or third base, and sometimes both, telling one lonely base runner how to negotiate the next sack.” The umpires were by no means “homers,” according to the correspondent, but made a number of weird calls – a ball a foot over the batter’s head being called a strike or a player already a yard across first base before the ball arrived being called out. The tour continued to China and arrived in the Philippines on Christmas Day. It was already a foregone conclusion, a correspondent wrote, that Danzig was to play first base for the Red Sox in 1909.10

Danzig had not been expected to supplant Jake Stahl at first base. Fred Lake had said in January that Stahl was booked for first, but during spring training said he “will be given a tryout in the south, but there would be no chance for Jake Stahl to get away.”11 John I. Taylor, however, saw real value in having Danzig on the team and expressed his opinion that Lake “doubtless will keep him the entire season.”12

It didn’t work out that way, but Babe was enthusiastic and active in spring training at Hot Springs, Arkansas. He “jumped into practice as if it were June 1” and was “an active, willing worker.” Lake was said to be “more than pleased” with Danzig’s work at first base, and it was written that “the young giant has improved fully 20 percent in the last year.”13 He was 2-for-3 in his first spring game.

Danzig did open the 1909 season with the Red Sox, playing in his first game on Opening Day, April 12, in Philadelphia. It was an inauspicious beginning, though. With the Red Sox losing 8-1 to the Athletics, he pinch-hit for pitcher Jack Ryan in the top of the ninth and was hit by a pitch. At least he was hit by a future Hall of Famer – Eddie Plank. This put him on first base, and loaded the bases with one out, but Plank got Amby McConnell to pop up weakly to the third baseman and struck out Harry Lord to end the game. Danzig’s first start came the next day, and he was 1-for-4, a single off Jack Coombs.

After six games and 16 plate appearances, Danzig had hit two singles and walked twice, neither scoring nor driving in a run. His average was .154 with a .313 on-base percentage. A veteran Boston sportswriter said, “Danzig has too many faults to become a major league regular this season. His chief weaknesses are on ground balls and a disposition to make impossible plays for bunts, thereby neglecting his base.”14 Indeed, the April 17 Globe had run a subhead reading “Danzig Lost at First” and the Globe’s Tim Murnane wrote that he “made a bad mess of things at first, having an insane desire to go after all the grounders that fell anywhere on his side of the diamond, and leaving the base to the care of the other players. Once Bill Carrigan picked up a bunt ten yards from the plate, only to find Danzig trying for the same ball.” Another time, Murnane wrote, “Delehanty bunted and was safe, as Carrigan threw wide to Danzig, who was running aimlessly around first.”

That very day – April 17 – Danzig walked and was on first base in Washington with the bases loaded when Harry Niles hit what seemed to be a bases-clearing triple – but Danzig had been so hesitant, or slow, on the basepaths that the streaking Niles pulled into third base about the same time Danzig reached second. Niles was, of course, out for passing a runner on the basepaths, and cost the Red Sox two runs since the play ended the inning. And Danzig was criticized, “marked as a slow thinker, as he should have reached third at least.”15 Later in the game, a 6-1 Boston win, Danzig hit a slow infield single to third base and drove in a run. The back-to-back games pretty much sealed his fate, Murnane really getting on his case, calling him “asleep at the switch” and devoting a couple of column inches of criticism, concluding, “first basemen must be good thinkers these days.”

Danzig played his last game for the Red Sox on May 4; he came in to pinch-hit for pitcher Cy Morgan in the ninth inning and watched three pitches, each of which was “over the center of the plate.” The Red Sox lost the game, 1-0, and it was perhaps no surprise that the team asked for waivers on Danzig. The Los Angeles Times suggested “Boston would not shed many tears if the big boy could be farmed out.”16 He was kept with the team for at least a couple more weeks. Even in major-league ball a century ago, it was not uncommon for a team to leave some of its players at home when they went out on a road trip. Though they remained on salary, the team saved on railroad fares and hotel costs. In its June 5 issue, Sporting Life’s Boston correspondent noted, “The stay-at-homes of the American League club here [Smoky Joe] Wood, [Bunny] Madden, and Danzig have been enjoying the sport at the National League grounds, where they have taken possession of one of the boxes as their daily prerogative. Several clubs would very much like to secure Danzig, and no club more than the club with which he used to play, the New Bedford team.”

Danzig had lost his position to Jake Stahl, however, and was placed with the team in Lowell, Massachusetts.17 He’d played some with St. Paul, and “was playing fine ball with the western club, but was forced to go back because of an agreement between the Eastern league and the American association.”18 Boston manager Lake liked the arrangement better because it would enable him to keep a closer eye on Danzig’s development. There was discussion of making him the field captain of the team, to “help sharpen up the boy’s wits.”19 Danzig appeared in only 64 New England League games after leaving the Red Sox, but his .345 batting average for Lowell once again gave him the league lead, the third year in a row he’d been among league leaders.

In 1910 Peter Danzig continued to work as an upholsterer. He and Elizabeth had just two children in the family home. Johanna was working as a millhand and Clifford as a machinist. Harold – Babe – resumed playing in the Pacific Coast League, this time for the Sacramento team. The deal was announced in early February, but matters were a little complicated, as a note in the February 25 Boston Globe indicated: “As both McMahon and Danzig had been farmed out by the Boston club the second time, Boston retained title to the players by having the New York club draft the men, and in turning the players over to Sacramento and Syracuse the New York club was simply carrying out the request of the Boston club.” It’s hard today to imagine this degree of cooperation between the Red Sox and the Yankees, and this way of dealing with players would never be permitted by today’s Players Association.

Danzig played in 144 games for Sacramento, hitting .273 for a last-place team. On May 7 he was 4-for-4 in a game against Oakland, coincidental with his announcement of his engagement to Jean Center, niece of former San Francisco Supervisor (councilman) George Center. They had met on the ship from San Francisco to Honolulu after the 1908 season and romance had bloomed in the Hawaiian Islands.20 After the season, the couple spent the winter in Hawaii.

In 1911 Babe found some power, hitting 15 homers (the most he’d ever hit before was two) for Sacramento, with a career-high 15 triples, too. He hit for a .292 average over the course of a 199-game season. And over the winter of 1911-12, he became the property of the St. Louis Browns. In April 1912, however, he was purchased by the Montgomery club in the Southern Association. He was reluctant to go, “refused to stay in the south fearing malaria,” and headed to his home in San Francisco instead. He said that if he couldn’t hook on with a Coast League club, he’d quit baseball.21

Danzig changed his mind, though, and reported to Montgomery. He lost considerable time in June, not to malaria but to “enlargement of the liver, which may cause his permanent retirement.”22 He was able to continue, though, and played in 101 games, batting .239.

When the season was over, Danzig and teammate Clyde Wares both returned to San Francisco and declared that they would stay on the West Coast if they could. “They did not like the land of biscuits.”23 In 1913 he wrote Montgomery manager Johnny Dobbs saying that he was unable to report for spring training because of surgery that had been performed on him. When he recovered, he was apparently unable to find a suitable position and so contented himself in playing semipro ball throughout 1913 and into late July 1914, when he joined Sacramento again, the club buying his contract from Montgomery and intending to use him as a pinch-hitter and utilityman.24 He appeared in only six games and was 4-for-17. In 1915 he played for a team in Martinez, California. In 1916 he signed with the Oakland Oaks before the season began but appeared in only three games, and was 0-for-2 at the plate.

What Danzig did after finishing baseball is more difficult to track. The 1920 census has him living as a roomer in San Francisco while working as a bookkeeper in an oil company. Then years later, he was living in San Francisco with his second wife, Alice, a New Yorker born to two Swiss natives. Danzig suffered from nephritis for about a year and heart disease for six months before his death. He died young, just 44 years old, on July 14, 1931, in San Francisco. His widow, Alice, continued to live in the Bay Area at least through 1940, residing with her older sister, Helene Grolliet, and Helene’s son, Charles.

Sources

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

 

Notes

2 Sporting Life, August 31, 1907.

3 The quote comes from the July 26, 1907, Boston Globe.

4 Sporting Life, November 21, 1908.

5 Sporting Life, January 18, 1908.

6 Los Angeles Times, November 3, 1908.

7 Boston Globe, November 11, 1908.

8 Sporting Life, December 12, 1908.

9 Sporting Life, January 30, 1909.

10 Sporting Life, January 2, 1909

11 Boston Globe, January 29, 1909.

12 Boston Globe, February 13, 1909.

13 Boston Globe, March 5 and 6, 1909

14 Sporting Life, May 1, 1909.

15 Boston Globe, April 18, 1909.

16 Los Angeles Times, May 28, 1909.

17 Danzig was actually sold to the St. Paul team on June 4, according to a number of newspaper reports, but by June 20 the Boston Globe had him with Lowell.

18 Boston Globe, June 21, 1909.

19 Ibid.

20 Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1910.

21 Los Angeles Times, April 4, 1912.

22 Sporting Life, June 22, 1912.

23 Los Angeles Times, October 20, 1912.

24 Los Angeles Times, July 27, 1914.

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