Ches Crist

This article was written by Chris Rainey

The annals of baseball are filled with stories of players with talent who were sidetracked by the injury bug and never reached prominence. To this list we add the name of Chester Arthur Crist. When he played for the independent Cincinnati Shamrocks, a newspaper writer raved: “Chester Crist, recognized as one of the cleverest of young catchers … promises to become one of the best in the country one day. …”1 In the next few seasons Crist would suffer ankle and knee injuries, two beanings, and even a bout with typhoid that cost nearly a whole season and severely weakened him. The Jersey Journal labeled him “the most unfortunate player in captivity” when his thumb was dislocated.2

Crist was born into a farming family in Warren County, Ohio. His grandparents, Morris and Prudence Crist, owned property near Madisonville, outside Cincinnati, and his parents, Elias and Jerusha Crist, were farming in Harlan Township near the small town of Cozaddale, northeast of Cincinnati, when Chester was born on February 10, 1882. He joined four sisters.3 Crist was born six months after the assassination of President James Garfield and was named for the new president, Chester Alan Arthur. Elias Crist died when Chester was six years old and Jerusha moved the family to Madisonville, where she operated a boarding house. Chester attended one year of school in Morrow, Ohio, before the move to Madisonville. He graduated from Madisonville High School, where he competed in sports and held the school record in the 100-yard dash.

Southwest Ohio was a hotbed of baseball activity. Crist took the game up as a child and played for progressively stronger competition until he reached the top amateur levels in Cincinnati, the Saturday Afternoon League and the independent Cincinnati Shamrocks. Crist showed his arm and catching talent in 1904 playing with the Gyms in the Saturday Afternoon League. With runners on first and third, he gunned the runner trying to steal second and then caught the return throw to double the runner from third. With the Shamrocks the next season, he was responsible for pushing Emil Haberer to first base. Haberer had been the team’s catcher and had even played for the Reds in emergency situations. In late September 1905, the Philadelphia Phillies were in town with their two Cincinnati natives at catcher, Red Dooin and Red Munson. Dooin suggested that manager Hugh Duffy take a look at Crist. After a tryout, Crist was signed to a contract on September 28.

On New Year’s Eve 1905, Crist married Jeanne (Jennie) Dean Hatton. Jennie was of Canadian-Scotch descent and was a Kentucky native. The couple would have four children, Charles (1911), Norma (1914), Ruth (1919), and Jennie (1923).

In 1906 Crist joined the Phillies for spring training in Savannah, Georgia. Besides Dooin and Munson, Jerry Donovan was also vying for playing time. Reports in various newspapers sang the praises of Crist’s work with the team. When the team broke camp to head north, he was one of three catchers on the roster. (Munson was sent to the minors.) Crist made his major-league debut on May 18, 1906, in Chicago. The Cubs jumped to a 9-0 lead and Dooin was given the rest of the day off. Crist went 0-for-3. It was five weeks before he saw action again; this time he went in to rest Dooin in a 10-0 loss to Brooklyn on June 27. Crist was hitless in two at-bats.

The Phillies optioned Crist to Providence in the Eastern League. He made his first appearance on July 10 and “made a strong impression” with his throwing arm.4 Crist spent the rest of the Eastern League season with the Grays but saw very little action as catchers Harry Barton and William Higgins got the bulk of the playing time. Crist did make five consecutive starts from August 8 to 11 and went 5-for-16 in that stretch. The Grays returned Crist to the Phillies and he saw relief action in three games before finally getting a start on October 1 against Ed Reulbach and the Cubs. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth and never returned to the major-league diamonds. His lackluster major-league totals show a .000 batting average and an .800 fielding percentage. He returned to Madisonville for the winter, helped with the boarding house, and found work as a carpenter.

In the spring of 1907 Crist went south with the Phillies and competed with veteran Fred Jacklitsch to be Dooin’s backup. After fewer than 50 at-bats in 1906 it became obvious that Crist needed more seasoning and he was optioned to Trenton in the Class B Tri-State League in early April. Once again he shared the catching duties with Harry Barton. Crist played in 64 games and hit a robust .275. The local paper declared, “[A]s a pegger he’s the best in the league.”5 The Phillies did not recall Crist in September, but they did extend an invitation to spring training in 1908. Unable to wrest the backup job from Jacklitsch that spring, Crist was sent to Jersey City in the Eastern League. He started the season in a slump and then suffered a beaning. The concussion and other injuries limited him to only 103 at-bats and a dismal .155 average. Nevertheless, the Phillies again invited Crist to go south. Once again he was optioned to Jersey City and opened the 1909 season as the Skeeters’ starting catcher. The Jersey Journal announced in early May that he had typhoid and would be out for a month or more. The illness lingered the entire summer and Crist saw action in only three games.

Nursed back to health by Jennie, Crist went to spring training with Jersey City at the end of March in 1910. He split the catching duties that season with John Butler and Lawrence Spahr. Crist had the most at-bats of the trio (195) and the lowest batting average, .174. He missed time from sprains, dislocations, and from being hit by a batted ball in warm-ups. Jersey City carried Crist on its reserve list for 1911, but manager Jack Ryan had no plans to use him. Crist cleared waivers and played no professional ball in 1911. He returned to Ohio and found work on a farm in addition to his carpentry.

In July 1912 Crist answered the call from Lexington, Kentucky, in the Class D Blue Grass League. He played 41 games with Lexington and, according to the 1913 Reach Guide, batted .292. His performance earned him a contract with the Topeka Jayhawks in the Class A Western League. There he teamed with veteran Sport McAllister to provide backstopping until an August 10 doubleheader in Denver. Crist was removed during the second game when he broke his index finger trying to corral a wild pitch. The finger was placed in a splint and Crist missed the rest of the season. In September he was given his release before the end of the season “as he was anxious to quit baseball …”6 He and Jennie had tired of the travel and this last injury was the catalyst to hang up the spikes.

Crist and Jennie settled down to raise their family in Hamilton County. He did not see service in World War I. He was slated to appear before his draft board in November 1918, but the Armistice on November 11 canceled his call-up.7 By 1930 he had left farming and was working solely as a carpenter. During the Great Depression the family moved to Clermont County, east of Cincinnati, and Crist became the caretaker for a hunters’ club. He returned to dairy farming and died at his farm in Milford, Ohio, on January 7, 1967, from a cerebral hemorrhage.

 

Acknowledgements

A major note of thanks goes out to Donna Rae Pearson and her staff at the Local History section of the Topeka library. They were gracious enough to pore over the newspaper files to find the story of Crist’s final playing days.

 

Sources

Ancestry.com.

Baseball Hall of Fame questionnaire filled out by Crist’s daughter Norma Cleland.

Baseball-Reference.com.

Heritage Quest.

Cincinnati Enquirer.

Cincinnati Press.

Cincinnati Commercial Times.

Denver Post.

Jersey Journal (Jersey City).

Pawtucket (Rhode Island) Times.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Piqua (Ohio) Leader

Sporting Life.

The Sporting News.

Topeka Daily Capital.

Trenton (New Jersey) Evening News.

 

Notes

1 Piqua (Ohio) Leader, September 22, 1905, 2.

2 Jersey Journal, August 30, 1910, 9.

3 The 1910 US census lists Jerusha with six living children, but a search of surviving census reports did not reveal a sixth name.

4 Jersey Journal, July 11, 1906. 9.

5 Trenton ( New Jersey) Evening Times, September 1, 1907, 14.

6 Topeka (Kansas) Daily Capital, September 18, 1913, 10.

7 Crist’s daughter Norma, who filled out a Hall of Fame questionnaire about her father, included the anecdote about the draft.