SABR

Rube Kroh

This article was written by Richard Danko.

Although "Rube" Kroh played only six years in the major leagues (1906-12), his baseball history spans his entire lifetime. He played for numerous minor league teams and pitched some outstanding baseball. A list of his teammates as well as the players he pitched against would include many of the greats of the Deadball Era.

Floyd Myron Kroh was born on August 25, 1886, in Friendship, New York. At that time, Friendship was (and still is) a small village in rural New York. The John N. Kroh family moved to Friendship sometime around 1880. By 1892, John N. and Mary E. Kroh had three boys, Clarence (9), Floyd (6), John (4) and one girl, Ora (12). Following their emigration from Germany in the late 1700s, the Kroh forefathers had been farmers in northwestern Pennsylvania. John N. Kroh was a skilled carpenter. He moved with his wife Mary to Friendship in order to accept a job in a newly opened window blind factory.

At the turn of the twentieth century, baseball was the game of choice for America's youth. According to Friendship town lore, Floyd and his brother Clarence were no exception. Floyd was taller and lankier than his older brother Clarence, with exceptionally long arms. Clarence recognized Floyd's pitching ability and was the first of his many pitching coaches. The boys practiced pitching in their back yard, with Floyd pitching on a makeshift mound and Clarence catching with the family outhouse as a backstop. According to Kroh family lore, their first baseball gloves were fashioned of burlap.

Most small villages had town teams, and larger cities had minor league teams linked to regional leagues. A 1904 photo shows Floyd and Clarence as proud members of the Friendship town team. The Friendship team played other small town teams in the area. Home games were played at a baseball field on the north end of town. Over 100 years later, that field is still in use and is now the home of the Friendship Little League team.

Floyd developed a unique southpaw pitching style that soon earned him his first of several baseball nicknames, "Flick." According to local town lore, the nickname was a combination of the way he "flicked" the ball from his left hand, and the popularity of Elmer Flick, a well-known major league outfielder of the era and an eventual member of the Hall of Fame.

By 1904, the tall husky 18-year-old, was six-one and weighed 180 pounds. Local baseball fans were amazed at his pitching ability. His first minor league offer came from a Coudersport, Pennsylvania team in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League. An opportunity to earn $25 per game to play a game he loved and to travel outside of Friendship was irresistible. Floyd talked his father into allowing him to quit school and begin his professional baseball career. From this point on, baseball was Floyd M. Kroh's life.

On June 30, 1906, The Boston Americans (later Red Sox) purchased Kroh's contract for $1,500 and turned him over to a minor league Baltimore team for experience. He was never called to report to the Baltimore team, instead, was sent to play for Albany (New York State League). With Albany, Floyd set a New York State League record by pitching 15 strikeouts in a single game, winning, 4-1, against Troy.1

Late in the 1906 season, the Boston Americans called Floyd to the big leagues. On September 30, 1906, in his major league debut, Floyd "Kid" Kroh pitched a 2 - 0 shutout against the St. Louis Browns. At that time, he was the youngest pitcher to have ever pitched for the Boston Americans. This was his one and only game for Boston in 1906. In 1907 he attended pitchers spring training at Hot Springs, Arkansas, with the great Cy Young.2 As a rookie pitcher during the 1907 season with Boston, Floyd was active in 7 games, going 1-4.

Boston released Kroh early in the 1908 season. His contract was picked up by Johnstown, PA of the Tri-State League. During the 1908 season, Kroh pitched 34 games for Johnstown (16-18). On May 1, he pitched a 10-inning no-hitter against Wilmington, Delaware, winning 1-0.3

Late in the 1908 season the Chicago Cubs purchased Kroh's contract from Boston.4 Floyd Kroh was a rookie pitcher on a team with one of the finest pitching rosters in major league baseball. On September 21, Kroh pitched his "maiden game for the Cubs." He pitched 9 of 10 innings against Philadelphia. Orval Overall finished the game with Chicago winning 3-1. His performance that day earned rave reviews in Chicago newspapers.5 He was active in only two games during the balance of the 1908 season without a record of wins or losses.

Several baseball historians have challenged Kroh's participation in "Merkle's Boner." The differences in opinion are understandable considering the melee that took place during the ninth inning at the Polo Grounds on September 23, 1908. New York fans streamed onto the field confident that the Giants had scored the winning run. Numerous reliable sources agree6 that Floyd Kroh forcibly retrieved the ball from an avid New York fan, passed it to Johnny Evers, who tagged second (the base that Merkle had missed). The rest is history. The game was called a tie and replayed on October 8, again at the Polo Grounds. Chicago won 4-2 and went on to win the National League pennant and beat Detroit in the 1908 World Series.

Kroh's participation as the "unsung hero of Merkle's Boner" was never recognized or appreciated by team management, even though several team members (including Evers) verified that he had indeed saved the day for the Cubs. Cub's management attempted to exclude Kroh (as well as others who did not actually play in the series) from the World Series bonus of $1,400. Finally, negative publicity and threats of a lawsuit prevailed, and all players on the Cubs roster were paid the bonus and awarded 1908 World Series pins.7

In 1907, Floyd Kroh married Alvira (Anna) Munich, a young lady from the neighboring village of Bolivar, New York. A son, John Charles Kroh, was born in Bolivar on June 21, 1908. Floyd Kroh claimed Bolivar as his residence at this time in his career. Copies of letters from Floyd to Anna indicate that she and their son followed Floyd to Chicago sometime during 1910 and resided at 816 Ashland Boulevard. Off-season periods were spent in Bolivar with his family. It appears that the marriage was not compatible with Floyd's baseball career. Floyd and Anna were divorced sometime prior to his enlistment in the Army in 1917.

Coincidentally, three major-league baseball players claimed the little town of Bolivar as their residence in 1908.8 In addition to Kroh, both White Sox outfielders Fielder A. Jones (also the manager) and Pat Dougherty claimed Bolivar as their residence at that time.

Kroh's best year in the major leagues was the 1909 season with Chicago. He was active in 17 games winning 9 and losing 4. Two of the wins were shutouts. He appeared to be on his way to a remarkable major league career.

In direct contrast to the 1909 season, 1910 was a year of relative inactivity and a great deal of conflict between Kroh and Chicago Cubs management. In that year, he was active in only 6 games winning 3 and losing 1. The inactivity appeared to be the result of Kroh's "bad boy" behavior. He was fined at least twice for curfew violations. In one case, he pitched an illegal game for an Atlantic City, New Jersey team in direct violation of his major league contract. On August 9, Chicago Cubs management finally had enough of Kroh's behavior and released him. Manager Frank Chance was quoted as saying: "Kroh would be a crackerjack pitcher if he would keep on the straight and narrow."9

The Louisville Colonels of the American Association League picked up Kroh's contract after he left Chicago. At Louisville on September 10, 1910, he pitched a 15-inning, 2-1 victory over the Toledo Mud Hens and scored the winning run. The lead line in an article in the Louisville Herald noted, "Lefty Kroh is some twirler. Clever southpaw wins fifteen inning victory." Kroh remained at Louisville, pitching well through the balance of the 1910 season as well as the 1911 season.10

Kroh's contract was purchased by the Boston Nationals (later Braves) in 1912. He had a short and uneventful 1912 season with Boston, active in only three games without any win-loss record. Boston released him back to Louisville (his second stint with the Colonels) for the balance of 1912, and he finished the year at Louisville with a record of 1-6.

Floyd Kroh's motto during the next several years could have been "Have glove, have shoes, will travel." In 1913 he was signed by Memphis early in the season and sold by Memphis to Chattanooga in June of that year. His combined record (Memphis-Chattanooga) in 1913 was 15-12. Chattanooga sold Kroh to Nashville in August of 1914. He pitched for Nashville for three seasons, 1914 (15-14) and 1915 (14-2), and 1916 (15-12).

In April of 1917, Kroh was signed by New Orleans and pitched several games for the Pelicans. On May 6, Kroh "pitched steady ball" to defeat Little Rock at a game in New Orleans, 6-2.11 He was released by New Orleans in June and signed with Chattanooga again, in July. Chattanooga released him to Dayton, Ohio, for a short stint (1-3). He returned to Chattanooga before enlisting in the Army. Kroh's 1917 record at Chattanooga was 8-9.

On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, thus entering World War 1. In the first of three draft calls, men between the ages of 17 and 31 were required to register. A detailed copy of Floyd Kroh's draft registration card indicates that he registered for the draft in New Orleans on June 5, the exact day required by the draft call. He listed the "Chattanooga Ball Club" as his employer and his residence as the DeSoto Hotel in New Orleans. He also listed himself as single, and without dependents.12

Rather than wait to be selected in the draft lottery, Kroh enlisted on September 18, 1917. Since he was 31 on August 25, he could have chosen to be exempt from service. He entered the Army as a private, and rose to the rank of Master Engineer, Senior Grade. He suffered a wounded right leg in France during the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne (September 26-November 11, 1918). The armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, but Floyd served until May 22, 1919.13

Upon return from France and discharge from the Army, Floyd Kroh returned to New Orleans for surgery and treatment of his wounds at a military hospital. While hospitalized at the United States Marine Hospital, he met Pauline Chamberlain, a nurse at the hospital. Pauline was "impressed with Floyd's courage and fortitude in undergoing repeated surgical operations hoping to regain full use of his shattered knee." Floyd and Pauline became close friends. Their friendship flourished over the years, and they were married on July 4, 1927.14

Floyd Kroh loved New Orleans and considered it his home for the rest of his life. He attempted to participate in baseball as a pitcher in spite of his war injury and was even able to pitch a few games for a few minor league teams. In 1921, at the age of 35, Floyd Kroh is pictured in a team photo, as a member of the Wichita Falls Spiders in the Texas League team.15

Later, in an effort to remain active in baseball, Floyd Kroh became a successful minor league umpire in the Southern League. He often traveled to Southern League games on the train with the New Orleans Pelicans team.

Floyd M. "Rube" Kroh passed away in the United States Marine Hospital in New Orleans on March 17, 1944. Heart failure was listed as the cause of death.

For some unknown reason, Floyd Kroh's gravesite remained unmarked for 62 years. On August 25, 2006 (his 120th birthday) friends and relatives corrected that oversight. On that date, Floyd Kroh was memorialized with a veteran's grave marker and a military honor guard.

Floyd M. "Rube" Kroh is buried at Garden of Memories Cemetery in Metairie, Louisiana. Ironically, he remains close to baseball even now. His grave is located only "a well hit home run" from Zephyr Field, home of the New Orleans Zephyrs baseball team.

During his early baseball career, Floyd M. Kroh was often called "a maverick, an eccentric pitcher, and a willful and insubordinate young man" by club management, sports writers and fans alike. On the other-hand, his pitching records prove that he pitched outstanding baseball on a number of occasions. One might say Rube's "zest for life" interfered with his career, but there is little doubt that he loved baseball, loved life, and was a proud and patriotic American.

Sources

New York State census reports (various years)

http://www.baseball-encyclopedia.com/

National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York

Town of Friendship, New York, Library

Kroh family in Friendship information - Mark Voorheis, Friendship, New York

Pauline (Chamberlain) Kroh information - Eric Chamberlain, Natchez, Tennessee

Notes

1 New York State League archives.

2 Boston Daily Globe, March 1, 1907; ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

3 The Reach Official American League Guide.

4 New York Times, August 27, 1908.

5 Chicago Daily Tribune, September 22, 1908; ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

6 Charles Dryden, Chicago Tribune (reported on Sept. 24, 1908). Johnny Evers, Times Magazine (letter to the editor May 13, 1929). Lee Allen, "Cooperstown Corner," The Sporting News, November 30, 1968. "Forty-Five Feet Toward Immortality" - The Sports Encyclopedia (2001). G. H. Fleming. The Unforgettable Season.

7 Friendship (New York) Register, October 29, 1908, from interview with Floyd M. Kroh.

8 Chicago Daily Tribune, December 20, 1908.

9 Chicago Daily Tribune, August 10, 1910.

10 Louisville Herald, September 11, 1910.

11 Atlanta Constitution, May 7, 1917.

12 Floyd M. Kroh draft registration certificate.

13 Floyd M. Kroh military records - Freedom of Information Act.

14 Pauline Chamberlain letters - donated by Eric Chamberlain.

15 The Texas League, 1888-1987, by Bill O'Neal.

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