Harry Wolfe

This article was written by Anthony Bush

Harold Wolfe is among the several baseball players from northern Ohio to make it to the big leagues via the minor-league Duluth (Minnesota) White Sox in the second decade of the 20th century.

The White Sox player-manager from 1909 to 1916 was Cleveland native Thomas J. “Darby” (aka “Dook”) O’Brien (1876-1964). O’Brien recruited boys from the sandlots near the shores of Lake Erie and brought them to the Great Lakes’ “Zenith City,” at the westernmost tip of Lake Superior, as their stepping stone to glory, if not fortune. Among O’Brien’s protégés were Don Marion from Bowling Green, Elmer Miller, Elmer Smith, and Gene Woodburn from Sandusky, and George Anderson, Red Bluhm, Hank Schreiber, and Harry Wolfe from Cleveland.

(Another of O’Brien’s Cleveland finds, Frank Lausche [1895-1990], played for Duluth in 1916. Lausche made it to the big leagues of politics after his minor-league baseball career. He served as mayor of Cleveland, governor of Ohio, and as a US senator from the Buckeye State.)

Harry Wolfe stood 5-feet-10, weighed 160 pounds, and batted and threw right-handed.1 He was born on November 24, 1888, in Worcester, Massachusetts, to Swedish immigrants Charles (or Carl) Wolfe (aka Warg) (1847-1934) and Christina Holt Wolfe (1859-1925). Harry was the fifth of eight children – Robert C. (1879-1954) and Rudolph G. (1881-1949) were born in Sweden; Agnes W. Wolfe (1884-1963), Ernest J. (1886-1970), and Harold (1888-1971) were born in Worcester; Signe C. Herold (1892-1978), Florence C. Wolfe (1895-1967), and Enis L. Fitzgerald (1899-1975) were born in Cleveland.2 Charles operated a bowling alley in Cleveland, where Harry worked during the 1914-15 offseason and likely at other times.3

Wolfe played shortstop for Duluth for three years, 1914-16. He made an immediate impact. In early June of 1914, the Winona (Minnesota) Pirates, a rival club in the Class C Northern League, offered “a pitcher who was good last year, a package of cucumber seeds, a peck of apples and half dozen paper collars”4 for Wolfe but the trade offer was turned down. Duluth White Sox owner Harry Blume informed Winona’s manager, Lefty Davis, that he would just as soon give up his right ear than part with his prized shortstop.5

In 1915 the Duluth News Tribune reported that the local White Sox had offers from three major-league clubs, including the Chicago White Sox, for Wolfe, and that he was “declared by two major league scouts to be the class of minor league shortstops of the year.”6 The article went on to praise Wolfe’s midseason hitting and took his critics to task by adding, “Wolfe makes errors because he goes after every thing in sight and stops at nothing.”7 The offers did not pan out and Wolfe was back in Duluth for one more season.

Duluth lost two players in the Rule 5 draft of September 15, 1916. The Southern Association’s Birmingham Barons took Bill Webb and the Chicago Cubs selected Wolfe. As news of both players signing with their new clubs appeared in February 1917, Blume, then former owner of the Duluth club, drafted a letter to National Commission Secretary John H. Farrell “asking just why the Duluth players have been transferred and how the rule operates.”8 “I have paid the protection money to the national commission. Three years ago we were unable to get players from the defunct Wisconsin-Illinois league where protection money had been advanced. I am glad I am out of it – with the players’ strike in prospect and the country on the verge of a war and with a four-team league, things do not look any too good,” Blume told the Duluth News Tribune.9 Indeed, after the 1916 season, Duluth snapped a string of 14 years in Organized Baseball. The city was not represented again until 1934.

The Cubs spent spring training in Pasadena, California, for the first time in 1917. One of three greenhorns brought in to compete with the returning-but-weak-hitting shortstop Chuck Wortman, Wolfe turned some heads. The Daily Illinois State Register of March 11 reported, “Manager [Fred] Mitchell is paying special attention to a young recruit – Harry Wolfe, shortstop. Wolfe may oust Wortman from his berth as a regular. He is bigger than Wortman, is as fast and takes a heavy clout at the ball.”10 Then, two days later, the San Diego (California) Union ran a large photo of Wolfe with the headline, “This Wolfe Seems to be a ‘Bear’; He Wants to be Cubs’ Shortstop,” with a lengthy caption detailing his attempt to unseat Wortman for the starting spot.11

Although Wolfe beat out the other two candidates (“... Frank Murphy, a semi-pro of Joliet, Ill., [and] Arthur Shay, a Boston sand lotter”)12 for a trip back east with the Cubs, the dream of cracking the lineup did not materialize.

Wolfe played in just 10 games in the majors, all in 1917 – seven for the Cubs and three for the Pittsburgh Pirates. While his most famous teammate on the Cubs was arguably the unfortunate Fred Merkle (of the 1908 New York Giants debacle, Merkle’s Boner,) there is no quarrel regarding his most famous Pirates teammate – Honus Wagner was 43 years old and playing out the final season of his career for the lowly Pirates (51-103 in 1917). Two other future Hall of Famers, Max Carey and Burleigh Grimes, were also Pirates teammates. The list of future Hall of Famers Wolfe played against includes Rogers Hornsby, Johnny Evers, Edd Roush, Casey Stengel, Zach Wheat, and Rube Marquard. He also played against Jim Thorpe.

Wolfe made his major-league debut on April 15, 1917, when he played the final three innings at shortstop for the Cubs at Weeghman Park (now Wrigley Field). He hit a single off St. Louis Cardinals’ reliever Red Ames in his only at-bat of the game, in which the Cubs first baseman Vic Saier broke his leg in a collision at home plate in the sixth inning.13

Wolfe did not play again until May 30, when he ran for Chicago’s Dutch Ruether at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. His third appearance was on June 10 at home against the New York Giants as a pinch-runner for Art Wilson – of all 10 major-league games in which he appeared, this was the only time his team was victorious. In a home game on June 16, Wolfe faced Boston relief pitcher Pat Ragan as a pinch-hitter for his second big-league at bat, and made an out. He again pinch-hit in a home game against the Braves on June 17; this time he struck out against Jesse Barnes in a game that featured six ejections. He scored the only run of his career as a pinch-runner for Ruether at Robison Field in St. Louis in a 15-inning game on June 26. Facing Cincinnati Reds relievers Clarence Mitchell and Jimmy Ring in the second game of a home doubleheader on the Fourth of July, Wolfe again came off the bench and went 1-for-2 with an RBI and a walk. This was the second, and last, hit of his major-league career.

The Cubs sold Wolfe to the Pirates on July 7, 1917, for the waiver price.14

For Pittsburgh, Wolfe struck out as a pinch-hitter against Larry Cheney at Brooklyn on July 13. The next day, also at Ebbets Field, he played the entire second game of a doubleheader as the second baseman and went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts against Marquard in his only major-league start.15 The next day the Duluth News Tribune reported that Wolfe had wired the manager of the semipro team in Ironton, Minnesota, saying he was “dissatisfied with the Pittsburgh change and will leave the club”16 to come play for Ironton, a mining town in north central Minnesota and the hometown of Wolfe’s future wife, Georgia Mabel Frazier (1897-1995). Wolfe played in his final big-league game on July 16 at Boston; he replaced starter Chuck Ward at shortstop in the second game of a doubleheader and went 0-for-1 with a walk against pitcher Jesse Barnes at Braves Field.

Pittsburgh released Wolfe “to Richmond, of the Central league, under an optional agreement.”17 In total, Wolfe’s major-league stats show 10 at-bats, one run, two hits, one RBI, two walks, and five strikeouts. He had seven putouts, six assists, and one error.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, Wolfe “did not like the ‘Smokey City’ and quit baseball.”18 The article said he later joined the Hibbing (Minnesota) Colts of the independent, or “outlaw,” Duluth-Mesaba League – not Ironton as he earlier suggested – for the balance of the 1917 season, as Hibbing outbid its league rival, the Duluth White Sox, for Wolfe’s services. Wolfe then played for the Chisholm (Minnesota) Giants in a postseason series against Duluth.

Wolfe and Bill Webb, his old Duluth teammate, were both members of the 1917 Pittsburgh Pirates, though not at the same time. Wolfe’s last game was July 16, while the entirety of Webb’s tenure as a big-league player lasted just a few weeks at the tail end of the season. Webb made it back to “The Show” with the Chicago White Sox in the 1930s and ’40s, initially as the third-base coach and later as an executive. Wolfe did not return to the majors; perhaps factors such as his age, his relationship with Georgia, and – most certainly – American involvement in World War I, affected the fact that his days as a professional ballplayer were numbered after his brief stint at the top in 1917.

Because Wolfe retreated to northern Minnesota to play independent ball instead of reporting to Richmond, he suffered the brief indignity of being suspended from Organized Baseball. He’d been reinstated prior to the American Association’s Minneapolis Millers buying his contract from Pittsburgh on April 4, 1918.19 His tenure with the Millers was brief as he entered the US Army at Brainerd, Minnesota, on June 10, 1918. He served as a corporal in the 163rd Depot Brigade at Camp Dodge, Iowa, and was honorably discharged on March 8, 1919.20

Wolfe finally played for Ironton’s semipro team in 1919. But he was back in Duluth to play for the White Sox on July 13, 1919, as they brought in Wolfe and future Hall of Fame pitcher Big Ed Walsh as ringers to play against Hibbing. Walsh pitched well but lost, 4-1, to his counterpart, former major-league pitcher Big Bill Upham.21 Although the Louisville Colonels of the American Association purchased Wolfe’s contract from Minneapolis on July 16,22 he did not leave Ironton until August 13 to report to the Colonels.23

Reports regarding Wolfe’s prospective employment by Louisville or St. Paul in the American Association surfaced in both 192024 and 1921,25 but it appears that his last games in Organized Baseball were played in the waning days of the 1919 season for Louisville.

Harry and Georgia were married in Crow Wing County (which included Ironton) on January 20, 1920.26 Georgia was born in Waterville, Minnesota, and moved with her family to Crow Wing County as an infant. The newlyweds made their initial home in Ironton, as of the 1920 Census. They did not have any children.

Wolfe played for Duluth’s independent team sponsored by the Clyde Iron Works in 1920, alongside several other former Duluth White Sox from the Northern League days. Former Washington Senators pitcher Carl Cashion was also on the team. Unable to secure the use of Athletic Park, the old home of the White Sox, the team played its home games in Two Harbors, Minnesota, roughly 25 miles away along the north shore of Lake Superior. Among the season’s highlights were a game against an all-black team called the Minneapolis Gophers, a tour of central Minnesota to face that region’s top semipro teams, and playing against former major leaguer Ralph Comstock, who pitched for Two Harbors. A three-game series against the Chicago Romeos in Duluth concluded the season.

Wolfe played for Hibbing in the 1921 four-team (Chisholm, Eveleth, Hibbing, and Virginia) independent Mesaba Range League, as Duluth was not represented in outlaw ball that year.27 O’Brien, the old Duluth White Sox manager, was the player-manager for Chisholm. Bizarrely, a game summary and box score featuring Wolfe and O’Brien in the May 10, 1922, edition of the Duluth News Tribune recapped a game between Duluth and Fargo-Moorhead that appears to be from the 1914 Northern League season based on the teams’ lineups.28 The facts of the matter were that O’Brien was still with Chisholm in 1922, and although Duluth replaced Virginia in the loop that season – which featured many banned players including several of the disgraced Black Sox from Chicago – this writer could find no mention of Wolfe in the Duluth News Tribune regarding the 1922 Duluth-Mesaba League.

Harry and Georgia moved to Huntington, Indiana, in the early 1920s. The Wolfes called Huntington home for nearly 50 years. Harry continued his semipro playing career in the Hoosier State and was a bartender and bowling-alley manager at the Hotel LaFontaine (which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places29), and Georgia ran a dress shop for more than a quarter of a century.

Harry Wolfe died at 82 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on July 28, 1971, of pulmonary edema precipitated by a cerebral hemorrhage and arteriosclerotic heart disease.30 Ten years later, the Cleveland Plain Dealer contacted his niece, Cleveland resident Marilyn Fitzgerald (1932-2009), in an attempt to gather information on Wolfe. A quote from her reply is in a letter on Plain Dealer letterhead on file at the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Fitzgerald recalled that the family would take in American League games when Harry visited Cleveland. She also noted he was friends with Senator Lausche.31

Wolfe is buried at the Apostolic Lutheran Church Cemetery in Esko, Carlton County, Minnesota, about 15 miles west of downtown Duluth. He shares the distinction with pitcher William “Chief” Chouneau (1888-1946) of being the only major-league players buried in Carlton County. (A member of the Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Ojibwe, Chouneau, from Cloquet, is the only major-league player born in Carlton County. Chouneau started the final game of the 1910 season for the Chicago White Sox in his sole big-league game.)

Georgia moved to Esko in 1971 to be near her sister, June M. Johnson (1918-2000), and brother-in-law Henry E. Johnson (1909-80). The Johnsons lived in Cloquet, a few miles west of Esko.32 Georgia died at a nursing home in Cloquet at age 97 in 1995.33 She is buried next to her husband.

Wolfe’s niece also submitted a biographical questionnaire about Wolfe for the Hall of Fame library. In it, she wrote “Whitey” as his nickname, presumably due to his Swedish heritage and because she listed his hair color as blond.

A few notes on the discrepancies regarding Wolfe’s birth information:

His death certificate indicates that he was born in Massachusetts on November 24, 1890. His grave marker shows 1882 as the year of his birth. Most baseball websites list November 24, 1892, in Cleveland – most likely taken from his World War I military enlistment card or the questionnaire submitted by his niece 10 years after his death – while his obituary in the Duluth News Tribune gives his age as 83. The 1900 US Federal Census lists his birth year as 1889.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted the following:

ancestry.com.

baseball-reference.com.

Duluth Public Library.

genealogybank.com.

retrosheet.org.

 

Notes

1 “Dope on Cubs Who Play Oaks and Seals in First Games This Week,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 11, 1917.

2 US Federal Census, Year: 1900; Census Place: Cleveland Ward 9, Cuyahoga, Ohio; Roll: 1253; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 0038; FHL microfilm: 1241253. Source: ancestry.com. Accessed January 20, 2016.

3 “Team Breaks Up Tonight; Players Leave for Homes,” Duluth (Minnesota) News Tribune, September 13, 1914.

4 “Winona Wants to Buy Harry Wolfe,” Duluth News Tribune, June 5, 1914.

5 Ibid.

6 “Major League Clubs Hot After Three Duluth Baseball Players,” Duluth News Tribune, August 5, 1915.

7 Ibid.

8 “Harry Wolfe Is a Cub Regular,” Duluth News Tribune, February 11, 1917.

9 Ibid.

10 “Prospects Bright for Pennant for Chicago [White Sox] ... Cubs Look Strong In Camp,” Daily Illinois State Register (Springfield, Illinois), March 11, 1917.

11 San Diego Union, March 13, 1917.

12 “Manager of Cubs Has Some Hard Job,” Riverside (California) Daily Press, February 15, 1917.

13 Daily Illinois State Register, April 16, 1917.

14 “Pirates Get Wolfe From Cubs,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 8, 1917.

15 retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1917/B07142BRO1917.htm.

16 “Crosby and Ironton to Play Second Game Today,” Duluth News Tribune, July 15, 1917.

17 “Sport Summary” Daily Register-Gazette (Rockford, Illinois), July 25, 1917.

18 “Is Soldier,” Duluth News Tribune, May 27, 1918.

19 “New Miller Is Fast Ball Player,” Duluth News Tribune, April 6, 1918.

20 Ohio Soldiers in WWI, 1917-1918, Ancestry.com.

21 “Hibbing Defeats Duluth by 4 To 1,” Duluth News Tribune, July 14, 1919.

22 “Split Even,” Duluth News Tribune, July 17, 1919.

23 “Wolfe Leaves for Louisville,” Duluth News Tribune, August 18, 1919.

24 “Wolfe Goes to St. Paul,” El Paso (Texas) Herald, June 1, 1920.

25 “ ‘Jap’Nordstrom to Receive Tryout in ‘Three I’ League,” Duluth News Tribune, January 27, 1921.

26 marriage-divorce-records.mooseroots.com/l/87001188/Harry-Wolfe.

27 “Mesaba Range League Opens Season Friday,” Duluth News Tribune, May 4, 1921.

28 “O’Brien’s Homer Helps Duluth in Initial Victory,” Duluth News Tribune, May 10, 1922.

29 thebbnlive.com/PlayerInfo.aspx?FullName=Wolfe%2c+Harry-4%2f15%2f1917.

30 thedeadballera.com/DeathCertificates/Certificates_W/Wolfe.Harry.DC.pdf.

31 Harry Wolfe file, Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York (with a sincere thank you to the Hall of Fame’s research librarian, Bill Francis).

32 June M. Johnson obituary, Duluth News Tribune, March 16, 2000.

33 Georgia Wolfe obituary, Duluth News Tribune, September 17, 1995.