Cotton Knaupp

This article was written by Chris Rainey

Cotton Knaupp played 1,555 games in the Southern Association, more than any other player.1 The most memorable of those games came on August 8, 1916. On that afternoon he was at second base for New Orleans as the Pelicans hosted the Chattanooga Lookouts. With the bases loaded in the sixth inning, Knaupp snagged a line drive off the bat of Joe Harris. He proceeded to tag out Jake Pitler, running from first. Looking up, Knaupp saw that the runner from second, Bobby Messenger, had already rounded third.2 He trotted to the bag and recorded the only unassisted triple play in the Southern Association’s 60-year history.

Henry Antone “Cotton” Knaupp was born in San Antonio, Texas, on August 13, 1889. His German father, Gus Knaupp, and his Austrian mother, Katie, met in America. Gus was 44 and Katie was 20 when they wed. The couple had three children besides Henry – Adolph, Josephine, and William. All the children went to school in San Antonio; Cotton through the fourth grade. The three boys all discovered a passion for baseball. Adolph (born January 19, 1886, died October 27, 1969) was the first to play professionally.

A catcher, Adolph, went from semipro ball to the San Antonio Bronchos in 1908. In 1909 he played for Monroe in the Arkansas State League. The following year he played for the Victoria Rosebuds in the Southwest Texas League. He was joined by Henry, who played shortstop. William played in the same league, covering third base for Beeville. All the brothers quickly acquired nicknames. Adolph was labeled Dutch. Henry, who was described as blond or towheaded, was dubbed Cotton. William became known as Chick.

Cotton learned his trade on the sandlots of San Antonio. In 1908 he joined the semipro San Antonio Athletics, who toured the state and often played the local professional Bronchos. He developed quite a reputation as a fielder. At 5-feet-9-inches tall and 165 pounds, he was never a power threat at the plate, but he handled the bat well enough to hit cleanup for the Athletics.

Knaupp drew praise throughout the Class D Southwest Texas League. In July it was reported that Pittsburgh was seriously interested in signing him. Soon after, at the insistence of scout Bob Gilks, the Cleveland Naps inked him. He was sent to the San Antonio Bronchos and debuted on July 18, 1910. He doubled and made two errors in a 5-1 victory over Oklahoma City. His time with San Antonio was limited and he was back with Victoria by August. Knaupp batted .251 with the Rosebuds, which was eighth in the league for players with 300 or more at-bats.

Victoria, managed by Jack Burke, clinched a share of the title by winning the first half of the season. The Rosebuds met the Brownsville Brownies in a best-of-seven series starting on August 16 to determine the league champion. Brownsville emerged victorious four games to two. Knaupp managed only two hits in 15 at-bats. With the season concluded, he and catcher Bert Adams were sent to Cleveland.

The 1910 Cleveland Naps, managed by Deacon McGuire, got off to a 4-1 start to lead the league. The excitement of the fans soon waned as the team fell to fifth place by mid-May, never to see the first division again that year. With aging veterans like Bill Bradley, Cy Young, Addie Joss, Elmer Flick, and Nap Lajoie, management made a concerted effort to find fresh arms and legs as replacements. Sixteen players made their major-league debuts that season with the Naps. (Not included in that contingent is Joe Jackson, who also joined Cleveland in 1910 but debuted with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908.)

Knaupp and Adams made their debuts on August 30 in New York against the Highlanders’ ace, Russ Ford. Knaupp was hitless in three trips to the plate and made two errors, the second of which led to two runs in the eighth inning. New York won 4-1. Manager McGuire gave Knaupp a lengthy tryout. He was in the lineup daily until September 15. During that stretch he hit .236 and fashioned a seven-game hitting streak. He struggled in the field and closed out the season with an .884 fielding percentage. Knaupp was replaced on September 15 by rookie Roger Peckinpaugh, making his debut in the major leagues. Once Peckinpaugh took over, Knaupp saw action only in two more regular-season games and an exhibition game.

The seaon over, Knaupp returned to San Antonio and joined the winter league that was forming. He kept in shape and was ready for action when the Naps went to spring training in Alexandria, Louisiana, in 1911. Ivy Olson had joined the club and was the front-runner for the shortstop job. Knaupp, Peckinpaugh, and Herm Bronkie were also to be tested in the spring. Peckinpaugh opted to go to Portland in the Pacific Coast League to play full-time. The Naps played a series of intrasquad matches before hitting the road for a two-week exhibition trip. McGuire split his players into two groups, the veterans and the yanigans (also called “Naplets” in the press). Olson went with the vets and Knaupp and Bronkie with the yanigans; Bronkie played third and Knaupp shortstop.

The Naplets opened in Little Rock and worked their way across the South before heading north. Knaupp performed brilliantly in these games. He batted.348 with nine walks and five stolen bases. His fielding earned praise. Wrote the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “He covers a mile of territory and there is not a ball hit within hailing distance that he does not go after. … Clevelanders have not seen a man … that can whip the ball across the diamond as this diminutive athlete can.”3 Olson had also hit well, but had not covered as much ground with the vets. It was also noted that both players struggled making the tag on steals of second.

On April 9 the two traveling squads were reunited and Knaupp was named the Opening Day shortstop. The Naps opened the season on April 12 in St. Louis. Knaupp’s bat fell silent and he began the season on an 0-for-17 skid, finally getting his first hit on April 20. In the field he was a demon. His fielding percentage was nearly 40 points better than the league average. But Knaupp’s future became clear when the Naps reacquired Neal Ball from Portland. On May 2 Knaupp was sent to New Orleans of the Southern Association. He had four hits in 13 games with the Naps to close out his big-league career batting .184.

The New Orleans Pelicans beat out Montgomery to repeat as Southern Association champions in 1911. They were loaded with hitters like Hank Butcher, Jay Kirke, Doc Johnston, and Dave Callahan plus pitchers Otto Hess and Al Klawitter. Knaupp split time at short and third. The 1912 Spalding Baseball Guide lists him with a lackluster .857 fielding percentage at shortstop.

When the New Orleans season ended, Knaupp returned to San Antonio. Once again he stayed in shape by playing winter ball. There were reports that Cleveland would exercise its option and take Knaupp to camp. These proved false and Knaupp went to spring training with the Pelicans. He was one of the few holdovers from the previous season. The franchise finished in third place in 1912. Manager Charles Frank used Knaupp at three infield positions. The uncertainty led to a bit of friction between the two men.

Late in spring training in 1913, Frank installed Knaupp at second base. The Pelicans got off to a miserable start. On May 2 the headline in the New Orleans Times-Picayune read, “Pelicans Lose Again in Rotten Exhibition.” Knaupp committed an error and was optioned to the Montgomery Rebels that weekend. He was installed as the Rebels’ shortstop and played well for manager John Dobbs. He was credited with a .237 batting average and 33 stolen bases. His fielding percentage was.925.4

The Pelicans exercised their option on Knaupp and reserved him for 1914. Montgomery manager Dobbs was hired by New Orleans to replace Frank. The new Federal League was vying for talent and Dobbs quickly sent out contracts to his players. Knaupp signed in early February and reported for spring training on the 19th. He was handed the shortstop job and got off to a rousing start when he smacked a home run in an exhibition against the Detroit Tigers.

Dobbs revived the fortunes of the Pelicans and they went from the cellar to the first division. But Knaupp struggled at the plate, lost his spot at shortstop, and was used in a utility role. He played anywhere Dobbs put him without complaint. Statistics are muddled, but it appears that he played only about half the team’s games and batted .209. He contemplated a holdout in 1915, but signed after a day or two. Knaupp’s utility role had been difficult, but he showed good spirit. “Some day I want to pitch a game, I’ve done everything else around the park and I’d like to complete the job,” he told the Times-Picayune.5

Knaupp won the shortstop job in camp, but was injured early in the season in a game with Birmingham. He collided with outfielder Harry Sylvester and was knocked unconscious. He also was spiked in the foot. He returned to action and was forced to catch three days later because of an injury to Bob Higgins. After two weeks of catching and utility work, Knaupp was installed at second base with Tom Reilly patrolling at shortstop.

Knaupp had always been a fan favorite because of his hustle and personality. He impressed the crowds and sportswriters with the territory he covered at second base and with his improved hitting. He closed out the 1915 season at .278 with 22 doubles. The Pelicans won the league title. In 1916 Knaupp retained the second-base job. After years of batting at the bottom of the order, he was moved up to second. His hitting fell off to .256 with less power. The team missed Tim Hendryx’s bat and Jim Bagby’s arm and finished a distant second to Nashville.

The Pelicans battled Atlanta in 1917, but finished in second place again. Knaupp’s statistics were very similar to 1916. In January 1918 the New Orleans newspapers were full of stories about an imminent trade of Knaupp, but no trade materialized and he was firmly entrenched at second base during the exhibition season.

Manager Dobbs was forced to change his lineup when word arrived on March 29 for Knaupp to report to his San Antonio draft board for induction into the Army. He played a few more days of exhibitions vs. the Indians. The fans presented him with a wristwatch and wished him well in the service of his country.

Knaupp reported to Camp Travis, Texas. There was speculation among New Orleans fans that a crooked right index finger (his trigger finger) might get him excused from service. The finger had been broken in 1915. But Knaupp was inducted without issue. In mid-April he was injured in a company baseball game and put on light duty with a sprained ankle. He was eventually assigned to the Quartermaster Mechanical Repair Shop unit at Fort Sam Houston, near San Antonio. There he was joined by his brother Chick and a bevy of other ballplayers. In late June and early July, he played nine home games with the San Antonio Bronchos of the Texas League. The league disbanded and Knaupp turned his attention to playing for the base team.

The Fort Sam Houston squad beat the competition from other bases and was proclaimed the regional champion. In September, Knaupp’s unit was sent to France. How much action, if any, he saw is unknown, but he did rise to the rank of corporal. As his enlistment neared an end, he sent a letter to the Pelicans alerting them to his desire to return.

The Pelicans planned on Knaupp playing second base in 1919. They became worried when spring training began and he was still in Germany with his unit. Knaupp was finally discharged in early April and arrived in New Orleans on April 15. He made his first appearance on April 18 in an exhibition versus the Shreveport Gassers of the Texas League. It was one of the few times he faced his brother Chick, the Gassers’ third baseman, on the diamond.

New Orleans hitters started slowly when the Southern Association season began, but the bats came alive and they led the league after the first month. New Orleans maintained its lead into August when a furious streak by Atlanta put the Crackers into first. The Pelicans went into a late-season slide and finished in third place. Knaupp batted .271 in 121 games.

Knaupp reported to camp in 1920 in fine shape. His early work was better than in the previous season and he was named captain of the team. An early highlight came on March 14 when he went 4-for-4 against the Cleveland Indians. Knaupp discovered his power stroke and launched six homers that year to go with his .239 average. The Pelicans finished in second place. As New Orleans finished second again in 1921, Knaupp put up his finest batting marks. He had 46 extra-base hits and a .272 batting average.

The franchise struggled a bit in 1922 and finished in third place. Knaupp’s hitting dropped 20 points and his slugging percentage dropped 30. Now 32, he was showing signs of being past his prime. But he was still a fan favorite because of his hustle and attitude. The Pelicans retooled in 1923 and made a push for the league title. Knaupp suffered through a tough season that saw both his hitting and fielding fall off. Nevertheless, he still saw action in 140 games. His finest moment came on August 18 in the first inning against Nashville. On third with the bases loaded, he instigated a triple steal and scored the game’s first run.

The Pelicans nabbed the Southern Asociation title by five games in 1923. They lost to Fort Worth, the Texas League champion, in a postseason series. As soon as the season was over, rumors flew about Pelicans who were on the trading block, including Knaupp. But no trade materialized and Knaupp was released on March 8, 1924. He signed with Beaumont in the Texas League in late April. Fort Worth had a juggernaut in the league and Beaumont finished third, a whopping 32 games off the pace.

On January 31, 1925, the Chattanooga Lookouts purchased Knaupp from Beaumont. Back in the Southern Association, he struggled at the plate. For much of the season his batting average was the worst for any league position player. His hitting may have worried him, but on April 30 he took on a bigger challenge when he was named the manager. It was an odd appointment because skipper Sammy Strang turned over on-field responsibilities to Knaupp but still maintained control of the club and front-office decisions. Knaupp missed a few games with an illness, but when he returned to full strength he took the club from the cellar to the first division. The Lookouts eventually dropped back to the second division and Knaupp was released on August 20.

Knaupp was hired to manage Gulfport (Mississippi) of the Class D Cotton States League for 1926. As a player, Knaupp had been fairly easygoing. His only run-ins with umpires were the occasional argument about balls and strikes. As a manager he developed a much more fiery persona. He seemed to get tossed out of a game on a monthly basis and he frequently told scribes he was going to protest a game. It was not unusual for Knaupp to fire off a telegram or letter to the league president complaining about an incident. But he was again laid low by illness and after three days in bed in New Orleans he resigned on June 11. He took the season off to gain his strength and start a new chapter in his life. On July 19 he married Verne Wright. The couple settled in New Orleans.

On June 15, 1927, the Miami Hustlers of the Class D Florida State League appointed a new team president and a new manager, Cotton Knaupp. The first half of the schedule ended on June 30 with the Hustlers at 18-48. He inserted himself into the top of the lineup and got the players to match his intensity and hustle. Knaupp played 65 games and batted .195, but he scored 40 runs, according to the 1928 Spalding Baseball Guide. More impressively, he led the team to a 38-19 second-half record and the championship round vs. Orlando. The Hustlers battled until the final out, losing four games to three.

The next season Knaupp returned to Gulfport. He brought brother Chick in to play third base. The Tarpons got off to a hot start, but were caught by Hattiesburg and lost the first half by a game. The team floundered in the second half, going 18-46. The situation was so bad that on July 15 against Meridian Knaupp had to take the mound. He pitched the last 3⅓ innings of a 11-4 loss, giving up two runs. That was Knaupp’s last season as a player. From 1929 to 1931, he umpired full-time in the Southern Association, and in 1932 he worked as a substitute for a five-week stretch.

When his baseball days ended, Knaupp found work with the R.P. Farnsworth Company, a building firm that served as the contractor for many of New Orleans’ buildings. Cotton was joined by Chick and the brothers worked as steel-rod men, responsible for reinforcing concrete pours. Chick died in 1951. Cotton continued to work in the construction field until he retired in 1955.

Cotton and Verne were childless. He was a longtime member of the American Legion and was inducted into New Orleans’ Diamond Club Hall of Fame. He died on July 7, 1967, in the Veterans Administration Hospital after a long illness. He was buried at the Mission Burial Park South in San Antonio.

 

Sources

Various baseball guides were consulted for statistics not posted on Baseball-Reference.com. The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball was used as the source of final records and standings. Midseason records came from contemporary sources.

 

Notes

 

1 Waddell Summers, “Knaupp Was One of the Pels’ Top ‘Bushers.’” Times-Picayune (New Orleans), July 7, 1967: 31.

2 “Harry Knaupp Makes Triple Play Alone Against Lookouts,” Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser, August 9, 1916: 5.

3 “Shortstop Job Is Still giving Nap Officials Considerable Worry,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 6: 13.

4 “1913 Batting and Fielding Averages of the Pelicans Already Announced,” New Orleans Item, December 28, 1913: 4.

5 “Having Played Every Position, Knaupp Wants to Pitch a Game,” Times-Picayune, June 15, 1915: 2.