Lou Schettler

This article was written by Chris Rainey

In 1897 Mark Twain wrote a quick note to say, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” Twenty years later pitcher Louis Schettler found out exactly how Twain felt. The August 24, 1917, Dayton Daily News declared that “Outfielder Spencer and Pitcher Schettler were fatally injured” in a train wreck.1The article went on to say that Schettler had an eye knocked out and a hole in the back of his head. The zealous copywriters printed a clarification the next day: “Players Not so Serious as Reported.”2 Outfielder Ray Spencer did die from complications but Lou Schettler’s eye was saved and after a month in the hospital, his broken back was well enough to allow him to return home. He even returned to the mound professionally and enjoyed a long career as a pipefitter.

Louis Martin Schettler was the youngest of five children born to Gottfried and Susanna Schettler. The couple were both born in Germany and met after they had come to the United States. Married about 1875, they settled in Pittsburgh, where Louis was born on June 12, 1886. His father worked at various jobs, including liquor salesman, laborer and janitor. Louis attended Center Avenue Elementary School in Pittsburgh for six years.3

Schettler learned to play baseball on the sandlots of Pittsburgh. In 1901 he made the local newspapers playing with a team called the Acorns; he retired the side in the final two innings of a game on only seven pitches.4 On another occasion he struck out 18 in a game. In 1902 he began playing semi-pro ball with a team from Millvale, Pennsylvania.

He had a reputation for a powerful fastball, but more importantly he knew how to pitch. In later years he added a sharp curve to his repertoire, but never had much use for the change-up. In a 1908 newspaper interview he explained why he did not like the slow ball. Each time he had tried it, he had lost the game on a home run.5

He split the 1904 season between the semi-pro game in Pennsylvania and playing professionally in the Class D Cotton States League for Natchez, Mississippi. On May 6 he defeated Vicksburg, 3-2, before leaving last-place Natchez with a 2-4 record.  He teamed with his older brother Gottfried, a catcher, in semi-pro action after he returned from the south. In 1905 he joined Sharon, Pennsylvania, in the 21-team Class C Ohio-Pennsylvania (O-P) League.

When the O-P reorganized for 1906, Marty Hogan of Youngstown signed Schettler. He also corralled catcher Lee Fohl and a left-handed pitcher from out west named Roy Castleton. The trio helped lead the Iron Works squad to the league title. Schettler won 25, Castleton 22, and Fohl had the third highest average of the regulars. Schettler tossed his first career no-hitter on September 5 when he beat New Castle, 2-0.

Youngstown changed its team name to the Champs. A massive roster turnover under new manager Charlie Starr found Schettler as one of only three holdovers. Starr brought in enough new talent to capture the pennant. Schettler was bothered by a sore arm and saw his record drop to 11-9 in 31 games. Despite the arm troubles, Schettler tossed a second no-hitter, again at the expense of the New Castle nine, 12-0. He also had two fine outings against Newark. On June 23 he had a no-hitter through nine before giving up a single in the tenth. On August 6 he lost a 1-0 two-hitter to them.

Schettler was living in Youngstown year-round. In 1905 he married a Youngstown girl named Lulu Ethel Evans. Their first child, Louis Jr., was born in 1907. In 1912 daughter Florence joined the family.

Schettler got himself into shape for the 1908 season but struggled for Youngstown. He lost three of his first four starts even though the team got off to a 12-5 start. As roster cutdown approached it was announced that Schettler and catcher Harry Redman were sold to Uniontown in the Pennsylvania-West Virginia League.6 There were some underlying tensions at the time that led to the sale. Team president Sam Wright thought Schettler had been “laying down” in 1907 with the sore arm. When Wright saw a chance to dump Schettler in 1908 he was quick to do it.7

Uniontown was in first place when Schettler joined the team. He made his first start on June 6 and tired in the tenth, losing to Fairmount. Uniontown stayed in first through the season with Schettler’s help. In a post-season series they took on second-place Clarksburg and were thumped by the Drummers.

New leadership took over in Youngstown in 1909. They changed the team name to Indians and resigned Schettler. Otherwise the roster was devoid of the names from the championship days. The team struggled and fell into the cellar quickly. Schettler was the only positive in a grim situation. The team closed out the season with a 46-78 record, and Schettler was credited with a 16-10 mark in his 28 games. In late July he was sent to the Lancaster Red Roses in the Class B Tri State League for two players and $1,000.

Reunited with Marty Hogan and teamed with Stan Coveleski, Schettler continued his fine pitching. He posted an 11-4 record for the first-place Red Roses. Never known for his hitting, he even contributed a .239 batting average.8 Lancaster faced Wilkes-Barre, champions of the New York Pennsylvania League, in a post season series. Schettler lost his first outing, 3-2, despite 10 strikeouts. He won his next start, 6-3. In late August the newspapers carried the announcement that Larry Sutton of Brooklyn had signed him.9 Headlines in late October noted that the sale had fallen through.

Schettler’s time with Lancaster was one of the more positive experiences of his career. He was accompanied by Lulu and Louis Jr. Early on he became a favorite of the Pennsylvania Dutch fans when they realized he spoke their language. “The butcher sent me meats, the grocer had vegetables and groceries delivered. When it came time to pay the rent the landlord wouldn’t take any money. It was the cheapest six weeks I ever put in.”10

In mid-January Hogan completed a deal that made Schettler a Philadelphia Phillie. Lancaster received “two players and a piece of money” in return.11 Schettler joined the Phillies for spring training in Southern Pines, South Carolina. His career was threatened on March 13 when lightning struck their hotel one night. Flying plaster got into Schettler’s eyes but the injury was minor. Noticeably shaken, he could “barely talk for a couple of hours.”12

Schettler made the opening day roster and saw his first major-league action on April 25 in Philadelphia. The Phils were off to a 6-1 start and had taken the first two against visiting Boston. The game was delayed 45 minutes by rain and then played in a drizzle. Lew Moren started for the Phillies and left after seven innings, down 4-3. Schettler came on and surrendered an unearned run in the eighth. The Phils rallied in the ninth to tie the game. Umpires Cy Rigler and Bob Emslie called it on account of darkness at that point.

Schettler was used as a spot starter/reliever. His next appearance was a start on May 16 in Pittsburgh that he lost, 7-4. His next start came on June 2 versus the Cardinals. He had a 2-1 lead but walked the bases full in the eighth and was forced to watch from the dugout as reliever Bill Foxen surrendered a single to right field. The damage was compounded when right fielder John Titus made a wild throw to allow all the runners to score.13

Schettler made 27 appearances, only four of them in Philadelphia victories. He had the equivalent of a save on July 1 in Boston. He picked up a complete game, 11-inning win August 1 against Brooklyn. His other win came in relief on August 29. Schettler closed out the season 2-6 with a 3.20 ERA in 107 innings. In December the league office announced that he had signed a 1911 contract with the Phillies.

Schettler spent the tail end of spring training in bed with an undisclosed illness. He recovered in time to start the April 1 exhibition with the Athletics. He surrendered five runs in the first and another in the fifth before being lifted. The Phillies released his contract to the Birmingham Barons where he was used as a starter and in the outfield. Three weeks later it was reported that he “was thoroughly disgusted with everything down in Birmingham.” When he left the team, the Phillies recalled him from Birmingham and assigned him to Lancaster to resolve the situation. 14

The Red Roses still had Coveleski, but nowhere near the other talent from before. The team finished in fourth place with Schettler posting a 9-16 record. Perhaps the local merchants did not turn on him and continued to treat the family with great generosity. Schettler opened the 1912 season with Lancaster. He lost his first start May 5 to Harrisburg. His arm problems returned and in late May he visited Bonesetter Reese for treatment on his shoulder. Thinking his arm was done, Lancaster released him.

Reese must have worked some of his magic on Schettler because he was on the hill for the Erie Sailors of the Class B Central League by mid-June. More impressively, he made four hits in the victory over Canton. When their season concluded he joined a semi-pro squad in Greenville, Pennsylvania, equidistant from Pittsburgh and Cleveland in Mercer County.  The following season found him with Erie again, but this time they were in the Class D Interstate League. Schettler dominated the lesser talent and led the league, which folded on July 20, in wins. He returned to Greenville and played out the summer.

The Greenville squad called themselves the Interstate League All-Stars. They played 48 games and claim to have won 40 of them. Schettler posted a 13-2 record and batted .228 with two home runs.15 The team played the New York Giants, various semi-pro teams and  independent Federal League franchises in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

In 1914 Schettler went north of the border, joining Peterborough in the Class B Canadian League. His season started rudely when the London, Ontario, Tecumsehs won the season opener, 11-3. He gathered his composure and tossed a three-hit shutout in his next outing. The Ottawa Senators repeatedly tried to procure Schettler for their pennant run but the asking price was always too high. Shag Shaughnessy, the Senators’ manager, exclaimed that he could get a National Leaguer for what the Petes were asking.16 Schettler tied the Senators’ Urban Shocker with 20 wins. His .988 WHIP was second in the league, but Peterborough finished well behind Ottawa.

Schettler stayed home in 1915 and played for the Youngstown Steelmen in the Central League. He won 24 games to tie former teammate Red Ainsworth for the league lead. Youngstown finished in third place. The following year Ainsworth and Schettler both played for the Terre Haute Highlanders in the Central League. Ainsworth won 19. Schettler added 11 wins as the Highlanders finished in sixth place.

Schettler was back in the Central League in 1917, this time with South Bend. He had a 7-10 record when the franchise disbanded in early July and was replaced a few days later by Peoria from the recently dissolved Three-I League. South Bend players were snatched up by other Central teams and Schettler went to Dayton.

Schettler took a new approach to hitting. He went to the plate with a free-swinging attitude looking to crush the ball every time.  This methodology led to 33 strike outs in 87 at bats, but on occasion it had positive results. With Dayton he suddenly became a hitting terror. In his first start he doubled in the tenth and scored to beat Ft. Wayne, 3-2. He followed that with doubles in his next two games, one of them as the first baseman. On July 27 he beat Grand Rapids, 2-1, when he drove in a run and then scored in the two-run fifth. On August 8 the Dayton Daily News listed him with a .360 batting average since joining the team.

Pitching-wise he did not fare as well. He dropped four decisions in a row going into the August 23 game at Peoria. Dayton was in last place at that time and Peoria was fighting for the league lead. Schettler turned in a superb performance to win, 5-1. The team boarded a train that evening and settled into their sleeper car for the overnight ride. Before midnight the train developed mechanical problems and came to a halt. Knowing there was a freight train 20 minutes behind them, conductor C.E. Clarke sent a flagman back along the tracks to flag down the freight.

Somehow the freight and the flagman never made contact and the freight crashed into the passenger train at full speed. The sleeper car was sliced in half. An unidentified tramp was killed at the scene. All but three Dayton players were injured significantly.

Schettler had a broken back and various gashes. He stayed in the hospital for nearly a month.17 Pat Donahue lost a finger and had back injuries. Ray Spencer was the most seriously injured. He lost an ear, suffered several severe cuts and a broken lower spine. None of those wounds/injuries were life threatening. But a broken rib punctured a lung which led to pneumonia. It claimed his life on September 13.

The Big Four railroad corporation settled with the family of Ray Spencer rather quickly. Schettler, Donahue, manager Joe Nee, and first baseman Fred Derrick filed suit in late November. The first pair asked for $50,000 each, the latter two for $10,000 apiece. Schettler and Donahue each received $3,750 in settlement and Nee was granted $1,500.18

Schettler recuperated at home in Youngstown. In 1919 he returned to the diamond with the Hamilton Tigers of the Class B Michigan-Ontario League. The Tigers had a fine pitching staff. Schettler’s 12-9 record with a WHIP of 1.215 were the worst marks on the team, which lost the pennant to the Saginaw Aces. Schettler pitched semi-pro ball in Youngstown in 1920 before returning to the Michigan-Ontario League in 1921.

Schettler joined the Flint Vehicles in June 1921 and posted a 2-5 mark. When he was released he returned to semi-pro ball in Youngstown. He even managed a couple teams before giving up the diamond a few years later.

Schettler worked as a pipefitter. He made it a point to attend Old-Timers events in his area over the years. He died on May 1, 1960, after a bout with leukemia.19 He was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Youngstown. Lulu joined him there in 1966.

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Norman Macht and fact-checked by Alan Cohen.

 

Notes

1 “Pat Donohue, Louis Schettler and Ray Spencer in Serious Condition, Result Railroad Wreck at Mansfield, Illinois,” Dayton Daily News, August 24, 1917: 1.

2 “Players Not so Serious as Reported,” Dayton Daily News, August 25, 1917: 1.

3 Hall of Fame Questionnaire information from his daughter.

4 “Famous Acorns Win Another,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, June 16, 1901: 12.

5 “Change of Pace Doesn’t Appeal to Looie Schettler,” Akron Beacon Journal, April 24, 1908: 5.

6 “Wright Sells Schettler and Redman to Uniontown,” Akron Beacon Journal, June 2, 1918: 5.

7 “Real Reason for Schettler’s Release,” Akron Beacon Journal, June 3, 1908: 5.

8 “Tri State League’s Season Records Announced,” Harrisburg Daily Independent, September 28, 1909: 5.

9 “Brooklyn Buys Schettler,” Altoona Tribune, August 23, 1909: 2.

10 “Schettler Liked Lancaster,” Altoona Tribune, March 31, 1910: 2.

11 “Schettler Goes to Philadelphia Club,” New Castle (Pennsylvania)Herald, January 19, 1910: 2.

12 “Short Sport,” New Castle Herald, March 14, 1910: 2.

13 “Schettler Filled Up Sacks in Eighth,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 3, 1910: 10.

14 “Schettler Comes North,” Altoona Tribune, May 1, 1911: 10.

15 “Record of the 1913 Base Ball Team,” The Record-Argus (Greeneville, Pa.), October 3, 1913: 3.

16 “Demanded a Big League Price for Schettler,” The Ottawa Journal, July 23, 1914: 4.

17 “Pat Donahue, Lou Schettler and Ray Spencer in Serious Condition, Result Railroad Wreck at Mansfield, Illinois,” Dayton Daily News, August 24, 1917: 1.

18 “Central League Players are Paid for Injuries,” The Dispatch (Moline, Illinois), January 26, 1918: 12.

19 According to his HOF questionnaire. The May 2 Youngstown Vindicator said the cause was a heart ailment.