SABR

Ed Konetchy

This article was written by Paul Sallee and Eric Sallee.

Variously called the Candy Kid, the LaCrosse Lulu, the Big Bohemian, and even Edward the Mighty-but known in boxscores simply as "Koney"-Ed Konetchy led National League first basemen in fielding eight times and batted .281 in 2,085 games. His 2,150 hits included 344 doubles, 181 triples (17th all time), and 74 home runs. Koney was a right-handed hitter who almost always batted cleanup, stood straight up at the plate, choked up on his bat, and sent liners to the outfield fences. He was the kind of player that "even the umpire liked," with a "handshake that is sincere and a friendship more than surface." "I not only play baseball for the salary connected with it, but I really and truly love the game," Ed once told a reporter, "and like to fan just as much now as I did in the old days back in LaCrosse, when we used to get the pictures of the athletes out of cigarette boxes."

One of seven children, Edward Joseph Konetchy was born to immigrant Bohemian parents on September 3, 1885, in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. "I know I tried to play baseball as soon as I was big enough to raise a bat from the ground," Ed remembered. "I used to play all the time that I could get a chance with some little scrub team or other, but the first real serious experience I had along this line was after I'd gone to work." After attending school until age 14, Konetchy began working in a LaCrosse candy factory. "I used to get up and walk the two miles to the factory, carrying my dinner pail, and work ten hours," he recalled. "After that we'd all get together and walk two miles in another direction to the ball field. There we'd play baseball until it was too dark to see, and then we'd walk home. We did this not once or twice, but five times a week on average. Sunday we'd gather the club together and go off to some one-horse place maybe three or four hours ride away on a slow train to play baseball with some other club."

It wasn't until Konetchy was 16 that he joined the competitive factory team. "They needed someone to play left field and I was willing to fill the gap," he said. "It never occurred to me that I might play another position, and I was so anxious to get on the team somewhere I didn't care especially where I played." At age 20 Ed tried out for the local LaCrosse team of the Class D Wisconsin State League. Told that Konetchy was a local boy, manager Pink Hawley said, "Well, he is a better player at that than some that we have on our payroll right now." Ed made the team and played left field for a while before moving to first base, where he remained for the rest of his career.

In 1907 St. Louis Cardinals manager John McCloskey sent scout Jack Huston to find a new first baseman. Huston heard that LaCrosse was harboring "the next Hal Chase," a youngster who was "cutting up" the Wisconsin League. After watching Konetchy in person, Huston advised McCloskey of his find and the Cardinals purchased the 21-year-old first sacker for $1,000. After signing Konetchy for $275 per month, McCloskey told reporters that he'd "just signed a tall Greek from the tall timbers." The next day Konetchy made his major league debut, getting his first hit in a 4-3 loss to the Reds. Before the Cardinals' next game in Pittsburgh, a delegation of Greeks approached home plate with a band, a large stand of flowers, and a gold watch. "I wondered what it was all about, as I was asked to the plate," said Konetchy. "One of the fellows stepped forward, shook my hand and greeted me cordially. Then he began speaking in what I later found out was Greek. I stopped him and told him that I was very sorry, but that I happened to be Bohemian. He looked puzzled, then disappointed, glanced at me, then the big floral piece, which was fully as tall as I am, and said, 'You take it, kid, and the best of luck to you.'"

Konetchy established himself as a regular for the starless Cardinals, hitting .251 in 90 games and winning praise for his glovework from managers around the circuit. John McGraw, who later made several attempts to acquire the young first baseman, declared that "Konetchy is worth the whole [St. Louis] team. With a little coaching on batting and baserunning, this player has the makings of the grandest man in the business at first sack." Frank Chance concurred, predicting, "this Konetchy someday is going to be the greatest first baseman in the business." Ed began to fulfill that promise in his sophomore season, 1908, when he played in all 154 games, leading NL first basemen in assists and placing second in putouts despite a patchwork St. Louis infield that included four different shortstops. "Koney has had to handle more weird throws in two years than any two National League guardians of the initial corner," wrote a St. Louis reporter. "But he dug up and pulled down so many of them that patrons who marveled at these extraordinary performances have come to take them as a matter of course."

Aside from leading NL first basemen in both putouts and assists in 1909, Konetchy led the Cardinals in every offensive category and finished in the NL's Top Five in hits (165), runs (88), total bases (228), triples (14), and RBIs (80). When asked how he improved his batting, Ed replied, "Hard work. I made it my business to study closely the pitchers who bothered me most, particularly Nap Rucker's high fastball." He asked teammates to throw him only high fastballs during batting practice, until he was able to "whale the stuffing out of it." On the advice of new manager Roger Bresnahan, Konetchy also started hitting to the opposite field. "[Bresnahan] said I was hitting the ball to left field too often, as the fielders knew where to play me," he said. "I changed my stance and started poking the ball in other directions."

In 1910 Konetchy put together a 20-game hitting streak and batted over .300 for the first time. He also won the Triple Crown in fielding, leading NL first basemen in fielding percentage, putouts, and assists. As the season came to an end, he was selected to play on an All-National team for a barnstorming tour against an All-American team. Cardinals ownership refused to allow it, however, and a showdown was averted only when the tour was cancelled. Instead Ed spent the offseason playing indoor baseball. He was the star pitcher for his team, once striking out 21 batters. "I suppose every player had the ambition to be a pitcher, and it may be that I might have had some chance to succeed if I had ever tried," he said. Konetchy did pitch three games in the majors, appearing twice in relief (earning his only victory in 4.1 innings in 1913) and once as a starter, hurling a complete game and allowing 14 hits in an 8-0 loss in 1918.

During Koney's first four years in St. Louis, the Cardinals never won more than 63 games. Finally, in 1911, they got off to a good start. Bresnahan had the Cards only three games out of first place in early July when the team was involved in a train wreck on its way from Philadelphia to Boston. A dozen passengers were killed and 47 others injured. Due to a pre-trip change in the location of their car to the rear of the train, none of the Cardinals were seriously injured. Konetchy and Bresnahan led the rescue effort, carrying many passengers to safety. The Cardinals never recovered from the incident, finishing a distant fifth despite posting their first winning season since 1901, but Konetchy led the NL with 38 doubles and his own team with six home runs and 88 RBIs. In February 1912 he met with Bresnahan in a St. Louis hotel bar to talk contract. The negotiation turned into a drinking contest that lasted from the time the bar opened that morning until late in the afternoon. Amidst a table of empty beer bottles, Konetchy finally agreed to terms. That year he batted .314, the highest average of his career, but the following year he fell off to .273.

Being the star player on a second-division team, Konetchy was the frequent subject of trade rumors throughout the early part of his career. "I'm the most traded man in baseball without getting anywhere," he said. Philadelphia reportedly once offered Sherry Magee, Fred Luderus, and Earl Moore for him, while other teams offered up to $20,000. When interviewed in 1938, Konetchy wondered "what kind of tag they'd have on me in this high pressure era. One thing is certain, I was born 23 years too soon." During the 1913 NL annual meeting, the Cardinals' newly appointed manager, Miller Huggins, finally traded Konetchy, along with Mike Mowrey and Bob Harmon, to Pittsburgh for five players. It was said that Pittsburgh manager Fred Clarke had been so eager to acquire Konetchy that he even considered trading Honus Wagner for him.

After winning 15 of their first 17 games, the 1914 Pirates fell apart, finishing seventh. Throughout the season Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss continually berated his players for their poor performance, particularly Konetchy, who batted only .249. At season's end, Dreyfuss refused Konetchy's demand for a three-year contract at $7,500 per year. Despite the attempts of several former teammates to dissuade him, Konetchy jumped to the Pittsburgh Stogies of the Federal League, who granted his contract demands. Ed's wife reportedly received $1,000 for helping convince him to sign. In his only season in the Federal League, Konetchy set career highs in batting average (.314), hits (181), and triples (18), finishing in the Top Five in almost every offensive category while winning his second fielding Triple Crown. He called the Federal League the "best league I have ever been connected with," even writing a scathing letter to the editor of Sporting Lifeto deny a report that he had told former teammate Bobby Byrne that he was "sorry he had left Organized Base Ball and longed to get back with them." But the Feds folded at the end of the season and Konetchy was sold to the Boston Braves along with two other players for $18,000.

After three years with the Braves, Konetchy was sold on the eve of the 1919 season to the Brooklyn Dodgers. On June 28 of that season he began an incredible streak, knocking out two singles and a double. The following day he collected four singles and a triple, followed by two more singles the next day, giving him a streak of 10 hits in consecutive at-bats, tying a record set in 1897. In 1920, his 13th season in the majors, Koney-who had once said that "the happiest moment of my life would be on a pennant-winning team"-finally got to play in a World's Series. Despite only four hits in seven games, he established a Series record for most chances accepted in a game by a first baseman with 19. Midway through the 1921 season, Koney was released on waivers to Philadelphia, where he finished his final year in the majors with a .299 average, a career-high 11 home runs, and a record five unassisted double plays in one season. When told that he was the NL's oldest player in terms of service, he replied: "Ed Koney's still a kid first baseman, just getting limbered up. You tell 'em."

Konetchy's playing days, in fact, were far from over; he remained active in the minors until 1927. After a year with Toledo of the American Association, he became player-manager of Omaha of the Western League in 1923. The following year he played for Petersburg of the Virginia League, leading the circuit in home runs and finishing the season as manager. In 1925, while playing for the Ft. Worth Cats, the 40-year-old Konetchy batted .345 and led the Texas League with 41 home runs and 166 RBIs. After a brief stint as manager of Brownsville of the Texas Valley League, he returned to his boyhood home of LaCrosse and managed the team to the Wisconsin State League championship in 1940. The league broke up in 1942 and Ed returned to his adopted home of Ft. Worth, becoming a foreman at the Convair plant. He also owned a restaurant and chicken farm and worked as a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Ed Konetchy died from heart disease on May 27, 1947. He was posthumously inducted into Wisconsin's Athletic Hall of Fame in 1961.


Note: A different version of this biography appeared in Tom Simon, ed.,
Deadball Stars of the National League (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, Inc., 2004).

Sources

In preparing this biography, the authors relied primarily on Konetchy's file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, MacMillan's Baseball Encyclopedia, and many editions of the New York Times (1908-1921) and St. Louis Globe Democrat (1908-1916).

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