George Grosart had a short and tragic baseball career. He played seven games with the Boston Beaneaters in 1901 before joining the Dayton Old Soldiers in the Western Association. He went to spring training with Toledo in 1902 even though he was suffering from typhoid fever, and died on April 18, 1902, just a week past his 22nd birthday.
Grosart had played semi-pro ball with the Homestead, Pennsylvania, Library and Athletic Club (H.L.A.C.) from 1898 to 1901. “A curious fate seems to pursue members” of that team. In 1901 pitcher Cy Williams developed a fever and soon died in bed. Ellsworth Mangan, team captain, came down with the fever about the same time as Grosart. He died in his Milwaukee home. The shortstop, a fellow named McCloskey, was also stricken, but after ten weeks managed to recover. Infielder Thomas Cosgrove suffered a similar fate later in 1902 but recovered from the disease.1There appears to be no logical explanation for this string of events spread out over a 15-month period.
George Albert Grosart was born to William and Elizabeth (MacGowan) Grosart in Meadville, Pennsylvania, on April 11, 1880.2 His parents were born in Scotland seven years apart. They met and married in Scotland and welcomed their first son there before coming to the States. William was a machinist who worked for the railroad. He died in 1887 leaving his wife to care for George and his four older brothers. A sister died in infancy. All the boys received some schooling before joining the workforce. In 1899 they were employed in industry as either machinists or boilermakers. George would soon leave the Meadville area for a job in a Carnegie factory in Homestead.
Meadville is approximately 90 miles due north of Pittsburgh. Allegheny College is located just north of Meadville. George undoubtedly learned baseball from his older brothers. In 1896 there was a Grosart who played shortstop for the college.3But the school’s records do not list a Grosart as ever playing there, so it is uncertain if the collegiate player was George. However, the local Meadville team, known as the McCloskey’s Colts, featured George at shortstop. His older brother Tom was an outfielder. In 1897 George was the shortstop when the Colts lost to Allegheny, 19-2.
The town of Meadville fielded a team in the independent, six-team Iron &Oil League in 1898. Grosart was mainly the center fielder but saw action at third and shortstop too. After a failed tryout with the Syracuse Stars, he signed with the Newport, Rhode Island franchise in the Class B New England League, managed by Mickey Finn. When Finn took over the Youngstown franchise in the Interstate League in 1900, he claimed the rights to Grosart for his new team.
In 1899 while with Homestead he had perhaps his best offensive performance ever. On June 22 against the Acme Giants, an Iron & Oil League team, he launched two home runs and two triples in a 19-1 romp.4 In July newspapers reported he had signed with Boston.5 Old-time pitcher Ad Gumbert had seen him in action and recommended him to the Beaneaters. Boston had a working agreement with the Worcester Framers in the Class A Eastern League and sent him there for some seasoning. His name does not appear in any of the Framers’ box scores because he played under the name of “Fulmer.”
The use of an alias certainly suggests that Grosart, Boston and the Framers knew he was in violation of a contract.6 His first game came on July 7 when he played center field in Montreal. He played five more games before the league office notified Worcester of his identity. He currently appears in Baseball-Reference as James Grosshart.7 He returned to his factory job and the Homestead team after his release.
In 1900 Grosart played for H.L.A.C. again. He was joined by Charles McCloskey from Meadville who pitched while George patrolled center field. Grosart was a slugger and an excellent outfielder. In the field, he had speed, range, a powerful arm and a quick release. At the plate he drove the ball to all parts of the park. The 1900 Homestead contingent laid claim to the championship of Western Pennsylvania, a title they had lost to Greeneville in 1899.
His status with Newport/ Youngstown/ Boston was supposedly straightened out in the off-season by National League president Nick Young. He began 1901 with Homestead, drawing praise when he slammed a home run, two doubles and a single against West Virginia University on May 18. Boston added him to its roster a short time later and he debuted on June 7 in St. Louis. Manager Frank Selee used him in left field and batted him eighth.
The Beaneaters were desperate for some hitting in the outfield. Elmer “Mike” Smith (.175) and Daff Gammons (.194) held down left field before George arrived. After he left, they tried utilityman Bob Lawson (.148) in before settling on Frank Murphy, who batted .261.
Grosart was hitless in his debut and struck out twice against Jack Powell. He took the field again on June 10 in Cincinnati where he banged a single off a Doc Newton offering for his first major-league hit. He scored twice in the 9-5 victory and made a spectacular diving catch on a liner from Harry Steinfeldt. He went hitless the next day against the Reds.
The game on June 12 in Cincinnati ended after 12 innings in a 6-6 tie. Grosart singled twice off Noodles Hahn. George was on first in the ninth when outfielder Fred Crolius sent a screeching liner down the third base line that ended up in a pile of lumber. Crolius circled the bases to tie the game before the ball could be retrieved.
Grosart played the next two games in Pittsburgh before becoming a pawn in another dispute over which team owned his rights. His major league career ended after seven games. He batted a mere .115, leading Selee to remark that he was a fine fielder “but light at bat.”8
The contract issues this time centered on the fact that Grosart had signed with Dayton in the Western Association. He was even advanced money, but never joined the team. When Grosart appeared with Boston, manager William Armour of Dayton immediately filed a protest with Nick Young of the National League.9 A week later, Young declared Grosart to be the property of the Dayton Old Soldiers.
When asked about his contractual difficulties by the press, Grosart acknowledged that he had signed with Mickey Finn. He said that Finn never told him to report. Then in 1901 “I agreed to play with Dayton…Armour did not ask me to report.”10 Was Grosart that naïve that he expected an engraved invitation to spring training? He resisted joining Dayton after the ruling but finally acquiesced.
Grosart debuted with Dayton on June 26 against Louisville. He was hitless and dropped a fly ball. He compounded that mistake by then throwing wildly and allowing a run to score in the 3-1 loss. The loss dropped Dayton to fifth place in the eight-team league and put them under .500 (24-25). The local paper noted that despite the poor hitting and fielding Grosart “is very fast on his feet and runs out everything…a quality missing in several” teammates.11
Grosart played right field for Dayton and usually batted sixth in the lineup. Center field was manned by a veteran minor-leaguer named Billy Smith. George’s bat proved to be more reliable than his glove as the season progressed. Despite playing only 88 games, he led the team in triples (17), home runs (11) and slugging percentage (.512). His triples led the circuit and he was third in home runs. In the field, he made 19 errors leading to a lowly .883 fielding percentage.
The Old Soldiers slowly climbed up the standings in the Western Association. After a victory over Marion on August 11 when Grosart slammed a home run and three singles, they stood at 54-41 and were in second place behind Grand Rapids. Two weeks later he played hero when he tied the game with a tenth inning homer, then drove in the winning run in the eleventh.
On September 18, Dayton swept a doubleheader with Ft. Wayne and pulled into a first-place tie with Grand Rapids at 82-54. Grosart’s home run in the second game was the difference maker. Grosart had moved to the third spot in the lineup and swapped fields with Smith for the final few games. When the season ended there was a question concerning some forfeited games and it was uncertain whether Grand Rapids or Dayton was the champion. The 1902 Reach Baseball Guide declared Dayton the winners by a half-game.
In October, Grosart appeared on Dayton’s reserve list. Armour had taken the managerial job in Cleveland and the leadership in Dayton was lacking. Opposing managers took the opportunity to raid the roster. Second baseman Jack Burns and Grosart were both signed by Toledo in the American Association.12 Dayton did not field a team in 1902 because of the demise of the Western Association and the raids by other franchises.
Toledo manager Charles Strobel was excited about his team’s prospects. He penciled Grosart in as the left fielder with veterans Bob Gilks in center and Dusty Miller in right. The Mud Hens’ downfall proved to be pitching as Strobel found arms that could throw hundreds of innings but were unable to miss opponents’ bats.13 It was reported that Grosart sent in his measurements for his uniform in March. Sadly, no details were published in the paper. To this day we do not know George’s weight and height. He was referred to as “stocky” and was compared to outfielder Jimmy Barrett in looks. Barrett is listed at 5-feet-7 and weighing 170 pounds. Those numbers scream “stocky.” While it is likely Grosart was a right-handed thrower, we have no proof.
Typhoid fever is caused by a Salmonella bacterium and leads to high fever, weakness and loss of appetite. The Sporting Life and a few other newspapers called his condition consumption of the stomach. Grosart became ill in March and his condition worsened while in Toledo. He returned to his home in Homestead where he was hospitalized, and died on April 18, 1902. The Homestead Elks lodge, of which Grosart was a member, took on the task of transporting him home. A contingent escorted his remains back to Meadville by rail.
Grosart’s funeral was held in his mother’s home on April 21. The services were conducted by a who’s who of Meadville and Homestead personalities. The family then held a private burial with members of the Meadville and Homestead Elks acting as pall bearers. He was buried in the Greendale Cemetery in Meadville.
Grosart had just turned 22 and had a promising future. “His gentlemanly manners and innate goodness of spirit won for him…a place in the hearts of every base ball player and enthusiast in Homestead.”14 When Grosart played in Pittsburgh on June 13, 1901, the Homestead fans had presented him with a watch and fob in appreciation of his time on their team.15 He rewarded them by driving a deep blast to right field that was tracked down by Honus Wagner.
This biography was reviewed by Norman Macht and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
1 “The Worst Ever,” Altoona Tribune, August 18, 1902: 3.
2 At the time this is written, January 2, 2019, his name is spelled Grossart on Baseball-Reference: https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/grossge01.shtml
3 “Allegheny College Letter,” Evening Republican (Meadville, Pa.), June 16, 1896: 3.
4 The Acme Giants were all-black in 1898, but the 1899 version was made up of white players.
5 “Evening Echoes,” Evening Republican, July 5, 1899: 4.
6 “Sporting Notes,” Evening Republican, August 8, 1899: 4.
7 https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=grossh001jam. Last accessed January 3, 2019.
8 “Players and the Game,” Evansville (Indiana) Journal, June 27, 1901: 8.
9 “Armour’s Protest,” Cincinnati Post, June 10, 1901: 7.
10 “Echoes of the Game,” Boston Daily Globe, June 12, 1901: 8.
11 “Notes,” Dayton Herald, June 27, 1901: 6.
12 “Invaders Rout the Old Guard,” Dayton Daily News, January 6, 1902: 7.
13 “Toledo Has a Good Team,” Louisville Courier-Journal, April 13, 1902: 22.
14 “Funeral of George Grosart,” Evening Republican, April 22, 1902: 2.
15 “Grosart Pleases Fancy of Knowing Ones,” Boston Globe, June 14, 1901: 4.