SABR

Carl Lundgren

This article was written by Bill Lamb.

Handsome, well educated, and a gifted athlete, pitcher Carl Lundgren led a life blessed with good fortune. He was born into a prosperous, stable household in northern Illinois and raised in comfortable circumstance. Initially as a schoolboy, and thereafter at the University of Illinois, Carl excelled both in the classroom and on the playing field. After his college graduation in June 1902, he signed with the Chicago Cubs and was placed directly into a major-league uniform. Never the staff ace but a rotation mainstay for eight seasons, right-hander Lundgen posted gaudy won-lost percentage records for the outstanding Chicago clubs of the era. At the conclusion of his professional playing career, Carl proceeded into college coaching, guiding first the University of Michigan and later his alma mater to eight Big Ten Conference championships in baseball. All the while, Lundgren enjoyed the benefits of a happy marriage to his hometown sweetheart. Looking back across the decades, about the only bad thing that ever seems to have happened to Carl Lundgren was the heart attack that brought his life to a sudden end at age 54.

Carl Leonard Lundgren was born on February 16, 1880, in Marengo, Illinois, a rural community about 55 miles northwest of Chicago. He was the oldest of four children born to Swedish immigrant Pehr Hjalmer Lundgren (1845-1921) and his Marengo-native wife, the former Delilah Renwick (1850-1933).1 While Pehr was originally no more than a humble house-painter, Delilah was the daughter of pioneer gentry and had status that afforded the couple a spacious farmhouse residence in which to raise their children.2 Carl attended Marengo Community High School, where he was an excellent student and a star athlete. In the spring of his senior year, Lundgren and batterymate Jim Wernham were scouted by George Huff, a minor-league ballplayer and University of Illinois graduate who had recently been appointed Fighting Illini football and baseball coach. Huff was impressed and urged the pair to matriculate to the university upon graduation.3

In September 1898, Lundgren and Wernham enrolled and made their way downstate to the campus in Urbana-Champaign. Wernham’s stay at Illinois was relatively brief, but Lundgren was a four-year big man on campus. At 5-feet-11 and 175 pounds, Carl had good size for a turn-of-the-century halfback and was a two-way starter for decent (22-15-3) Illini gridiron squads. But baseball was his best sport, and on Illini nines sprinkled with future major leaguers (Cy Falkenberg, Jake Stahl, Fred Beebe, Jim Cook), Lundgren was the team’s captain and its most dominant performer. During a road trip in 1902, the two-time (1900 and 1902) Western Conference champions stunned baseball pundits with victories over Princeton, Yale, Pennsylvania, and West Point, with Lundgren on the hill for each save the West Point contest. The honor of Eastern collegiate baseball was preserved only by a Harvard win over Illinois.4 But Lundgren was more than just a good-looking jock. He was a serious student, majoring in civil engineering, and would graduate on time with his bachelor’s degree. He was also active in campus fraternity life and student government. In February 1902, classmates demonstrated their esteem for Carl by electing him senior class president.5

Coach Huff was a part-time scout for Chicago, but Cubs manager Frank Selee needed little coaxing when it came to taking an interest in Lundgren. He had long had his eye on the Illini ace.6 Within days of Carl’s college graduation, he was signed to a Chicago contract and immediately dispatched to meet the team in Cincinnati. On June 19, 1902, Lundgren took the ball in hostile territory, savagely taunted by Reds players, including catcher Heinie Peitz, who hurled his insults in German.7 Shaky in the early going but stalwart once the Cubs gave him a lead, Lundgren turned in a complete-game 7-5 win. Having “delivered the goods”8 in his major-league debut, Carl assumed a spot in the Cubs’ starting rotation, supplanting rookie left-hander Jimmy St. Vrain (who was released to the minors shortly thereafter). At season’s end the Lundgren record stood at 9-9, with a handsome 1.97 ERA for a fifth place (68-69) Chicago club. He completed 17 of 18 starts, yielding 158 hits in 160 innings and striking out 68, while walking 45. In all, Lundgren had made a good first showing, and more was expected of him as his pitching skills matured.

Both the Chicago Cubs and Carl Lundgren improved in 1903. The celebrated double-play combo of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance was now assembled, but the pitching staff supplied the impetus for the Cubs’ rise in National League standings. Behind the 20-game-winning trio of Jack Taylor (21-14), Jake Weimer (20-8), and Bob Wicker (20-9), Chicago moved up to third place. Lundgren supplied a modest contribution to club advancement, going 11-9, with a 2.94 ERA in 193 innings pitched. Although not immediately recognized, a pattern had now emerged in Lundgren’s career. Over the next few seasons, the 20-game winners of 1903 were replaced, their spots taken by even more formidable hurlers like Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown, Ed Reulbach, and Jack Pfiester. Lundgren, meanwhile, would remain at the lower end of the Cubs rotation, unable to move up. This was largely a consequence of talent difference. Lundgren’s stuff, particularly a moving fastball, was good, but not overpowering, and hardly in the class of future Hall of Famer Brown and lifetime 182-game winner Reulbach. Nor was he a coveted left-hander like Pfiester. Lundgren was also susceptible to sudden control lapses. But the largest impediment to Lundgren’s taking a higher place in the Cubs rotation was a lack of durability. He invariably got off quickly, so much so that he was later considered a “cold-weather pitcher,” but his arm could not withstand the season-long punishment endured by a top-flight starter in the Deadball Era. By midseason, Lundgren could be used only sparingly.

The following year, Lundgren logged a career-high 242 innings, posting a fine 17-9 record with a 2.60 ERA for a fast-rising second-place (93-60) Chicago club. In 1905, however, he could go only 169⅓ frames, leaving the brunt of the pitching load to Reulbach (291⅔ innings pitched), Weimer (250⅓), Brown (249), and Wicker (178). But Lundgren pitched well when available, going 13-5, with a 2.23 ERA, as the 92-61 Cubs had to settle for third place. The club, however, was now on the cusp of a championship run, to which Carl Lundgren would be a solid contributor. But all that would be preceded by the signal event in Lundgren’s domestic life: his marriage on September 3, 1904, to 24-year-old S. Maude Cohoon, the sweetheart back home. The nuptials, performed by a local Baptist minister in the home of a family friend, were the highlight of the Marengo social season.9 The newlyweds would remain together happily for the next 30 years, but be childless.

Carl Lundgren: Circa 1902Carl Lundgren: Circa 1902Had they not lost in the postseason, the 1906 Chicago Cubs would have an arguable claim upon being named major-league baseball’s greatest team. The Tinker-Evers-Chance combination had reached its prime, but again key to the all-time best 116-36 (.763) record posted by the club was extraordinary pitching. Lundren’s 17 wins trailed team leaders Brown (26), Pfiester (20), and Reulbach (19), while his fine 2.21 ERA was easily the highest mark posted among the six Chicago hurlers who pitched at least 140 innings that season. But in the 1906 fall classic that staff was unable to subdue their crosstown rivals, the Chicago White Sox of “Hitless Wonders” renown. As the Cubs were going down to defeat in six games, first baseman-manager Chance chose to use only Brown, Reulbach, Pfiester, and Orval Overall (12-3) on the mound. Lundgren saw no World Series action.

Late in the regular season, a case of ptomaine poisoning left a Chicago-St. Louis Cardinals series without men in blue. With no officials available, the clubs decided to have the game umpired by a player from each side. The character of Carl Lundgren, a man of sober rectitude in a raucous baseball age, made him an obvious choice for the job. For the next three games, Lundgren and backup Cardinals catcher Pete Noonan made the calls, the Cubs taking two of the three contests, all played without objection from either club about the umpiring.10 That winter Lundgren got his first taste of the profession that would become his post-MLB calling. He signed a contract to coach the University of Indiana baseball team during its preseason. He arrived in Bloomington in mid-February of 1907 and was supposed to tutor the Hoosier squad until rejoining the Cubs on April 1.11 Unhappily, a bout with the grippe cut the first Lundgren coaching experience in half, but he was fully recovered and ready to go by the time the NL season began.

With Lundgren reaching the peak of his pitching career, the 107-45 Cubs easily repeated as pennant-winners in 1907. By now the brainy Lundgren was thoroughly familiar with National League lineups and pitched to the weaknesses of enemy batsmen with remarkable effectiveness.12 He went 18-7, but actually outperformed his won-lost record. In 207 innings pitched, he held hitters to a league-low .185 batting average, and did not surrender a single home run. On a Cubs staff that posted a remarkable 1.73 team ERA, Lundgren posted a breathtaking 1.17 mark, second on the club and in the NL to only the 1.15 ERA of Jack Pfiester. The only blemish on the Lundgren ledger was the 92 walks that he had given out. In the World Series, the Cubs dispatched the Detroit Tigers without losing a game (although the Series opener was called at 3-3 after 12 innings). But once again Carl saw no World Series action, as manager Chance confined the Cubs pitching chores to the quartet of Brown, Reulbach, Pfiester, and Overall, each of whom posted a complete-game victory. Lundberg wasted no time sulking about his postseason neglect. As soon as the Series was concluded, he proceeded to Urbana-Champaign to take up duties as an assistant Illini football coach.13

Over the previous four seasons, Lundgren had posted a superb 65-27 (.706) record, while the Cubs as a team had gone 408-202 (.669). In 1908 the Cubs captured their third consecutive NL pennant, courtesy of the celebrated playoff game necessitated by the late-season “boner” of New York Giants baserunner Fred Merkle. But Lundgren was of little help to the Chicago cause. Coming off his finest season, the 28-year-old mysteriously lost his stuff. By late season, he was left in Chicago when the Cubs went on road trips. “Carl Lundgren seems to have shot his bolt and the big leagues will probably soon see the last of this gentlemanly ballplayer,” lamented sportswriter W.A. Phelon.14 Lundgren managed to complete the season in a Cubs uniform, finishing at 6-9, with an inflated 4.22 ERA, on a team that otherwise went 93-46, with no other starter posting an ERA higher than Chick Fraser’s 2.27 mark. Given this, it came as no surprise when Lundgren saw no action in the Cubs’ repeat conquest of Detroit in the five-game 1908 World Series.

Perhaps in deference to his sustained service to the club, Lundgren was signed by Chicago for the 1909 season. In preseason camp he exhibited signs of regaining his old form, showing “unusual speed this spring,” according to a report in Sporting Life.15 Lundgren made the Opening Day roster, but his hold on a Cubs berth was exceedingly tenuous. Unimpressive in two early-season appearances (0-1, while surrendering six hits and four walks in 4⅓ innings pitched), Lundgren was placed on waivers. He was promptly claimed by Brooklyn, but only for purposes of sale to an Eastern League club, either Montreal or Toronto; reports differ.16 Lundgren, however, declined to report, declaring his retirement from baseball. He then headed for home in Marengo.17

Thus ended a fine, if somewhat short, major-league career. Over his eight seasons in Chicago, Lundgren had compiled a stellar record: 91-55 (.623), with a 2.42 ERA. He had completed 125 of his 149 starts, and hurled 19 shutouts, but had not been able to shoulder the workload of other Cubs pitchers. He had also had periodic control problems, with a combined walks/hit-batsmen total (511) near equal to the 535 strikeouts he had registered in 1,322 innings pitched. Still, he had been a productive and highly respected major leaguer. Sportswriter Phelon provided a fitting epitaph for Lundgren’s career: “This sterling collegian has pitched finely for the Cubs through eight seasons, but his skill seems to have fallen away, and Chance decided to let him go. Lundgren was a polished, cultured gentleman and a great cold weather pitcher. He never did much effective work in the summer, but was a real wonder in the spring.”18

Lundgren’s retirement was short-lived. He signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs and made his Eastern League debut on May 24, losing to Newark 6-2. In a subsequent start, he gave up eight first-inning runs to Montreal. With Lundgren’s record standing at 1-3, dissatisfied Toronto manager Joe Kelley suspended him without pay “until he gets into condition.”19 With that, Lundgren returned to Marengo. Weeks later, Toronto sold his contract to the Kansas City Blues of the American Association.20 Rather than report to the Blues, Lundgren remained at home where he occupied himself by pursuing a monetary claim against Cubs owner Charles Murphy. On June 3, 1909, Murphy bestowed $10,000 upon his players, a token of his appreciation for their championship performance of the previous season. But 1908 Cubs players no longer with the club, like Lundgren, Chick Fraser, and Jimmy Slagle, were not allotted a share. When Lundgren complained to the National Commission, he received a sympathetic hearing. But given that the bonus money had come out of Murphy’s pocket, the commission was powerless to compel relief. Still, its decision recommended that every Cubs player certified on the Chicago roster on September 1, 1908, get a proportionate share of the bonus money.21 To his credit, Murphy then did the right thing, and voluntarily doled out a full bonus share to Lundgren, Fraser, and Slagle.22

Although he was credentialed as a civil engineer, Lundgren’s passion was baseball. In 1910 he was just 30 years old and still wanted to pitch. He therefore reconciled with Toronto, but again, his engagement there was a brief one. Lundgren went 1-4 in 10 games for the Maple Leafs, and was then optioned to the Hartford Senators of the Class B Connecticut State League. Although little more than a shadow of his former self, Lundgren still had enough stuff for this level of competition. Included in his Hartford record of 6-3 in 10 games was a one-hit, 1-0 victory over Waterford. That winter Toronto, which still retained the rights to Lundgren, sold his contract to the Topeka Kaws of the Western League.23 Lundgren, however, would never pitch for Topeka. Rather, the 1911 season found him in the Class B New York State League, where Carl posted a 13-12 record for the Troy Trojans. In the spring of 1912, Lundgren returned to the college coaching ranks, serving as an assistant at Princeton for head coach Bill “Boileryard” Clarke.24 He then completed his professional career with Hartford, going 6-3 in 16 games for the Senators.

In early 1913 Lundgren was reportedly in discussions to become manager of the Keokuk Indians of the Class D Central Association, but the parties proved unable to reach agreement on contract terms.25 Some months later, another report had Lundgren getting a pitching trial with the Mobile Sea Gulls of the Southern Association.26 By August Carl had abandoned all further playing aspirations and embarked upon the second career that would take him to the end of his life. He became the head baseball coach at a major university, agreeing to replace Branch Rickey at the University of Michigan.27 The squad that Lundgren inherited was stocked with playing talent, with its star performer being a left-handed pitcher/outfielder named George Sisler. Paced by the play of Sisler, Lundgren got off to a good start as the Wolverines went 22-6 in his maiden season. The following year Michigan posted only a 16-7-1 record, but victories over Midwest power Notre Dame and Eastern leaders Cornell and Pennsylvania had Wolverines partisans proclaiming their team the unofficial national champions.28 The 1916 season was a rebuilding year at Michigan, and the 1917 campaign was canceled after American entry into World War I. Thereafter, Lundgren’s Wolverines dominated, capturing three consecutive Big Ten championships,29 with only a single loss standing between the 1918 and 1919 teams and undefeated seasons.

By the end of the 1920 season, Lundgren had guided the Wolverines to a 93-33-6 record in six seasons as head coach, and he enjoyed a cordial relationship with university officials. At the expiration of his contract, however, Lundgren seized the opportunity to return to his alma mater and work for his mentor/friend George Huff, now University of Illinois athletic director. His affiliation would now change but the success of Lundgren-coached teams remained a constant. His Fighting Illini teams assumed the mantle of Big Ten Conference champions no fewer than five times (1921-1922-1927-1931-1934) over the next 14 years. Soft-spoken, cerebral, and insistent upon good sportsmanship, Lundgren’s methods were admired as much as his team’s performance. A local news article praising Lundgren’s character was captioned “A Credit to the Illini,”30 while the syndicated column of American League umpire/baseball executive Billy Evans took note of the heady baseball played by Lundgren’s teams.31 In the view of the Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner, Carl Lundgren was “the greatest college coach in the country.”32

Carl Lundgren: Circa 1930Carl Lundgren: Circa 1930Lundgren’s duties were not confined to the University of Illinois dugout. In addition to being head baseball coach, he also served as assistant athletic director, and at times temporarily filled the posts of athletic department business manager and acting athletic director as well. Carl even reputedly had a hand in the recruitment of Red Grange, the legendary Fighting Illini running back.33 Periodically he wrote syndicated newspaper columns on baseball technique and strategy, and in the summers, Lundgren taught at the “school for coaches” conducted on the university campus. The highlight of his tenure at Illinois, however, may well have occurred in the summer of 1928, when Coach Lundgren led the Illini baseball team on a month-long exhibition game tour of Japan.34

In 1934 Illinois won its fifth Big Ten Conference championship under Lundgren, bringing his overall Illini record to 209-78-14 (.728). That summer Carl and his wife drove up from their home in Urbana to the Lundgren homestead in Marengo, now the residence of his sister Eva Lundgren Blum and her family. The occasion for the trip was the annual picnic of the Marengo Kiwanis Club, held on August 23 with Carl the guest of honor. That afternoon he became ill and was taken to his sister’s home. Lundgren’s condition did not seem serious to the physician summoned to the house, but that evening he was stricken by a heart attack which quickly proved fatal.35 The death of Carl Lundgren, only 54 and in seemingly robust health, stunned and saddened his hometown. His funeral, conducted in the spacious family manse, was filled to overflowing with mourners, with the services piped via loudspeaker to the throng gathered outside on the lawn. The remains were then taken to Marengo City Cemetery for burial in the Lundgren family plot. Survivors included wife Maude and his sisters, Eva Lundgren Blum and Alma Lundgren Geithman.

Although decades have now passed, reminders of Lundgren can still be found in the places that he held dear. On the Champaign side of the University of Illinois campus sits a student residence named Lundgren Hall in his honor. And in Marengo, across the street from the Lundgren grave, a handsome plaque commemorating his achievements was erected in May 2010. Fittingly, the memorial marks the entrance to the ancient ball field where Carl Lundgren began his playing days more than a century earlier.

 

Notes

1 Sources for the biographical information presented in this profile include Ancestry.com; the Carl Lundgren file maintained at the Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York; and certain of the newspaper articles cited below. Statistics have been taken from Baseball-Reference. Carl’s younger siblings were Alma (born 1883), Eva (1885), and Franz (1890). The 1920s pitcher Del Lundgren was no relation.

2 A photo display of the Lundgren family residence, recently sold to only its third owner in 130 years, is viewable via http://zillow.com/homedetails/614-W-Grant-Hwy/Marengo/5033806_zpid/home.

3 As recalled in the Lundgren obituary published in the Rockford (Illinois) Register-Republic, August 23, 1934.

4 These and other Lundgren collegiate exploits were remembered in “In the Balance,” by Dick Ramey, Rockford Register-Republic, August 24, 1934.

5 As per the Decatur (Illinois) Daily Record, February 21, 1902. Lundgren holds the distinction of having been chosen as captain of the 1901 University of Illinois football team, captain of the 1902 Illini baseball team, and president of the university’s 1902 senior class.

6 As reported in the Boston Herald, April 25, 1902. The diamond on the Urbana-Champaign campus was often used by Chicago for late spring training, and Lundgren had captured manager Selee’s attention during a Cubs exhibition game against the Illini collegians.

7 As per Sporting Life, June 28, 1902. It seems improbable that Lundgen, born in Illinois and of partially Swedish (not German) descent, understood anything said by Peitz, but the riding may well have incited spectators in heavily German Cincinnati.

8 The phrase was used in the opening of the game account published in the Chicago Tribune, June 20, 1902.

9 All the usual details were provided in “Was A Pretty Wedding,” Marengo (Illinois) Republican-News, September 6, 1904.

10 As recounted in Art Ahrens, Chicago Cubs: Tinker to Evers to Chance (Mount Pleasant, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2007), 39.

11 As per the Decatur Daily Review, January 9, 1907, and the Washington Post, January 10, 1907.

12 In his celebrated book, teammate Johnny Evers stated, “Lundgren was quiet, studious and the ‘Human Icicle,’ one of the most careful observers of batters ever found.” John J. Evers and Hugh S. Fullerton, Touching Second: The Science of Baseball (Chicago: Reilly & Britton Company, 1910), 63-64.

13 Decatur Daily Record, October 9, 1907.

14 Sporting Life, September 18, 1908.

15 Sporting Life, April 3, 1909.

16 Compare Sporting Life, May 15, 1909 (Toronto), with Sporting Life, May 22, 1909 (Montreal).

17 As reported in Sporting Life and the Trenton (New Jersey) Evening Times, May 17, 1909.

18 Sporting Life, May 15, 1909. Chicago sportswriter I.E. Sanborn was also complimentary, praising the “nearly eight years of brilliant and faithful service” that Lundgren had provided to the Cubs. Chicago Tribune, April 28, 1909.

19 Sporting Life, June 26, 1909.

20 Sporting Life, July 10, 1909.

21 See the Chicago Tribune, July 1, 1909, and Sporting Life, July 10, 1909.

22 Rather than recall money already distributed and recalculate the $10,000 bonus shares downward, Murphy elected to give Lundgren, Fraser, and Slagle the same $666.66 that had been disbursed to their 1908 teammates.

23 Sporting Life, December 10, 1910.

24 See the Decatur Daily Record, May 28, 1912. See also Trenton Evening Times, August 22, 1934.

25 As per the Decatur Daily Record, January 16 and February 4, 1913.

26 According to the Washington Post, June 16, 1913. Baseball-Reference has no entry for Lundgren in 1913.

27 As reported in the Sheboygan (Wisconsin) Press, August 26, 1913, and elsewhere.

28 See Michigan Alumnus, Volume 26 (1920), 37.

29 Around 1917, the sports world began referring to the Western Conference as the Big Ten.

30 Decatur Daily Record, April 16, 1922.

31 See “The Miracle Man of College Baseball,” by Billy Evans, published in the Sheboygan Press-Telegram and Wichita Daily Times, July 5, 1922, Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail, July 11, 1922, and elsewhere.

32 Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner, April 17, 1923.

33 According to the Mason City (Iowa) Globe Gazette, December 29, 1929.

34 Details of the trip, sponsored by Keito University of Tokyo, were reported in the Syracuse Herald, July 28, 1928, Chillicothe (Missouri) Constitution-Tribune and Helena (Montana) Independent, August 14, 1928, and elsewhere.

35 As per the Chicago Tribune and the Rockford (Illinois) Morning Star, August 22, 1934.

Individual Memberships start at just $45/year

Become A Member Today

When you join SABR you are making a statement of support for baseball history. You are joining a worldwide community of people who love to read about, talk about and write about baseball.