The man with the peculiar name
This article was published in the 1972 Baseball Research Journal.
Whatever happened to many of the major league stars of yesteryear? Whatever happened to the hundreds of young recruits who came up long enough to don a big league uniform only to quickly fade into oblivion? Are they still among the living or have they been called to baseball's Valhalla? Historians have been trying for years to locate these players or their descendants and while many have been found there are still hundreds about whom very little is known.
As the late Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen once wrote in his popular "Cooperstown Corner" column in The Sporting News, "There have been others, over the years, who have tried to sort the facts concerning the game's players, but it is a discouraging business. New players arrive in the National and American leagues at the rate of about 120 per year. Some of them are so obscure and remain so short a time that it is almost impossible to trace them. In recent years, with each club employing a public relations director, the task is fairly simple, but when you burrow into the past and try to identify some of the men who have played in the majors, the chase becomes futile. There are too many of these mysteries for one man to handle. Although it is generally believed that baseball history is well documented, the fact is that the early years are a thicket of vagueness and contradiction. If the game is ever going to clear a path through this jungle, it will have to be a cooperative effort."
Just such a cooperative effort was described by the current Hall of Fame historian, Cliff Kachline, in SABR Bulletin No. 2. A smell group of researchers, referred to by Allen as his "Research Club", has been quietly at work digging up data on little-known and long-forgotten players as part of a Hall of Fame project of obtaining a questionnaire for every man who ever played major league ball. With the formation of the Society for American Baseball Research it is hoped additional cooperation will be forthcoming from the organization's members through a mutual exchange of information.
Proof that such cooperation between SABR members can bear fruit is evidenced by the recent solution of a puzzle that has long perplexed the game's historians.
Those of us who attended the organizational meeting of SABR in Cooperstown last August will long remember that walking-talking baseball encyclopedia, Tom Shea of Hingham, Mass. He had many of us spellbound as he recounted in his fine New England twang innumerable anecdotes and personal data of the early day players.
One player who had always mystified me was Claude Gonzzle, a one game second baseman with the 1903 St. Louis Browns, supposedly born in Niles, Ohio (according to baseball encyclopedias). When asked what he could remember about Gonzzle, Shea promptly said, "Well you know, the name Gonzzle is a typographical error. His name was actually Gouzzie and he was not born in Niles, Ohio, but played ball there. I believe he was from the Pittsburgh area. If you find a Gouzzie in the Pittsburgh directory I'm sure he'll be a relative of the player. It seems to me he died many years ago."
A check of the Pittsburgh phone book revealed only one person with that name, a Richard L. Gouzie (note only one "z") of Upper Saint Clair, a town just south of the Steel City. I sent him a letter together with a Hall of Fame questionnaire expressing the hope he was a descendant of the player. (He turned out to be a nephew who said the family dropped one "z" years ago to facilitate spelling).
Some weeks later I received a partially completed questionnaire signed by Albert L. Gouzie of Detroit, the 84-year old brother of Claude Gouzzie. From the questionnaire it was learned that Claude had died of tuberculosis in Denver, Colo. October 6, 1907, and was buried in the Charleroi (Pa.) cemetery. A right hand batter and thrower, he stood 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 170 lbs. Of French descent, he was never married and never served in the armed forces.
To verify some of this information a copy of Gouzzie's death certificate was obtained from the Colorado Dept. of Health. The certificate showed that Gouzzie actually died on September 21, 1907 (not October 6), that he was 36 years old, born in Pennsylvania about 1871, single, and occupation professional baseball. The death certificate listed his first name as Clyde but his brother says Claude is definitely correct.
Enclosed with the questionnaire from Gouzzie's brother was a copy of a story by William Eckel which appeared in the October 11, 1907 edition of the Charleroi (Pa.) Mirror, and read as follows:
"I and many others of Claude's friends ere very sorry to hear of his sad ending. Claude and I were very good friends for about 17 years. He always came to me for advice on all matters pertaining to baseball. I started him in baseball in the year 1890. I first noticed him playing around the grounds with the small boys. Every time I would go to the ball field Claude was there, so I watched him for awhile and finally went to him and asked him if he wanted to be a ball player. He said he would rather play than eat, so I told him he was the kind of a young man I was looking for.
"I know there never was a boy liked the national game any better than Claude did. John Tener and I have played with him from 7 o'clock in the evening to see if he would ever get tired or want to quit, but there was no let-up to him; he would have stayed all night, so I put him in a game.
"He wanted to be a catcher, but I told him no, I wanted to make a shortstop out of him, and I did. When he got started there was no one had anything on him at that position in 1890 and I don't think the great Hans Wagner could play that position any better than my old friend Claude did that year. There never was a harder worker nor a more willing player donned a uniform. Whoever saw him quit in a game? He never gave up until the last man was out.
"Claude was like so many other young fellows who wanted to place themselves and say, ‘I am a catcher,' or `I am a pitcher.' That is the great trouble today. That is why so many young fellows do not make good. They must have someone to look them over and place them where they can play the best when they first start in the game.
"I think today that Claude was the best ball player that ever left our town. I played him for a few years and then signed him up with the Indianapolis team for a tryout to get him in faster company. They gave him a trial, but any ball player knows how hard it is to see two or three men on the bench that you have to beat out for the same position. I know that if the reader doesn't. I have been there. They wanted to farm him out, so I told him to come home and I signed him up with Niles, Ohio, where he made good. He was one of the best ball players in the Ohio league, and all the managers in western Pennsylvania had their eye on him.
“After he was through with Niles the St. Louis American League team signed him up for a tryout and they wanted to farm him out, but he would not stand for that; he wanted to be free. He returned from St. Louis and signed with the Chester, Pa. team. He made good at Chester and returned here at the end of the season.
"During the following winter his health began to fail him. His brother Eagles thought a change of climate would restore him to health again, so they decided to send him to Denver, Cob. I was very much pleased at hearing this. After he landed in Denver I received a letter from him stating that he was improving so fast and felt so good he thought he would be able to play the game again. He addressed me as he always did, saying, `Cap, can you get me on the Denver team? If you do I will not go back on you but will make good.' I wrote the manager of the Denver team and in a few days they signed him up, but in the meantime the poor fellow could not report. I had signed him for the last time."
Later Shea passed on to me the date of the only major league game in which Gouzzie played. It was on July 22, 1903, and right here in Cleveland. Excerpts from The Plain Dealer account of this game read as follows:
"Capt Dick Padden was missing from second and in his place Friel and Gouzzie, the latter an amateur from Niles, were found ... Then, as if the team was not already crippled sufficiently, Emmet Heidrick, the most reliable hitter upon the team with Burkett away, wrenched his ankle in the sixth inning and was forced to retire. This accident gave Gouzzie a chance to break into the game, Frial going to center and the man with the peculiar name taking Friel's place at second."
Gouzzie's name was spelled correctly twice in the account of the game and also in the box score. How then did his name come out as Gonzzle in the encyclopedias? Shea thinks the scorekeeper might have been a dropout from a Spencerian penmanship class. Or perhaps it was a telegrapher who sent out this story which appeared in the New York Times, July 23, 1903:
"CLEVELAND, Ohio, July 22 - St. Louis was easy for Cleveland today and was shutout, Moore holding the Browns well in hand throughout. Cleveland bunched its hits off Evans in the third and sixth innings. Heidrick wrenched his ankle in the sixth inning and retired in favor of Gonzzle, an amateur from Niles, Ohio."
Thus the name Gonzzle appeared incorrectly in the wire story and perhaps the same was true in other newspapers using the wire service.
Thanks to Tom Shea, we now have the player's name spelled correctly, we have his date and place of death and a questionnaire for the Hall of Fame. The only other vital statistics needed are his date and place of birth.
Gouzzie's brother does not recall whether Claude was born in France or Canada but the family is going to search further for this data.
Incidentally, the "man with the peculiar name" pronounced it Goo-ZAY.
This article originally appeared in the 1972 "Baseball Research Journal."