Honus Wagner is regarded by many as the greatest shortstop of all time. It is hard to imagine that his team, in a season where Wagner hit .341 in 148 games, would have to bring in raw recruits to play shortstop. The 1899 Louisville Colonels, managed by Fred Clarke, found themselves in that dilemma. At 5-feet-11 and 200 pounds with bow legs, Wagner was in his third season and had not yet been tested at shortstop; he played mostly third base and the outfield. Bill Clingman was the Colonels’ shortstop, but he was felled by illness in June. Outfielder Charlie Dexter was moved into his spot but fielded .781 and showed poor range. The local paper described Dexter as a “pencil pusher.”1
The Colonels recruited a Louisville boy from the Indiana-Illinois League to show what he had. Burley Bayer’s major-league career lasted only one game when he proved to be seriously overmatched.
Christopher Andy “Burley” Bayer (aka Bayers) was born on December 19, 1875, in Louisville.2 He was one of three children born to Christopher and Susana Bayer. The elder Christopher, a shoemaker, was born in Germany and met his wife after coming to the United States and settling in the Midwest. Like many children at that time, young Christopher had enough schooling to learn to read and write before joining the work force.
Just how he came by the nickname Burley is a mystery. He may have worked in the tobacco industry in Kentucky, but more likely it referred to his stocky, muscular physique. He took advantage of the Louisville baseball scene and played in the semipro leagues around the age of 20. In 1898 he was signed to a contract with the Atlanta Colts in the Southern Association (referred to as the Bronchos in the Atlanta Constitution).
Atlanta trained at home in the spring of 1898 and entertained teams from the North. Bayer (he sometimes appeared in box scores as Bayers) made his first impression when he hit a homer and triple against Chicago. One writer opined that he “covered shortstop like a veteran.”3 Bayer played 20 of 25 games (box scores exist for 17) and hit .262 (17-for-65) while scoring 12 runs from the seventh spot in the lineup. In the field he was erratic, making 11 errors in 91 chances (.879). The Atlanta Constitution dramatically announced that Bayer suffered a broken ankle in mid-April. Fortunately for Bayer, it was a sprain and he missed only five games. The franchise folded in a dispute with the league on May 20, and Bayer returned to the Louisville semipro circuit. He played for teams in Louisville, Evansville, and Princeton, Indiana, as both a shortstop and third baseman. He took his first wife, Mary Wemes, sometime in 1898. That marriage produced a son, John, born in 1900.
In 1899 Bayer signed with Muncie in the Indiana-Illinois League. He was enjoying a fine season when the shortstop woes befell the Colonels. Ed Sheridan, well-known in Louisville baseball circles, recommended Bayer to Barney Dreyfuss, the owner of the Colonels.4 Sheridan said Bayer had good speed and was a top-notch hitter. He noted that Bayer was “as large as Wagner.”5
Bayer played in his only major-league game on June 17, 1899, against St. Louis. The Browns sent Jack Powell to the box, and the Colonels countered with Deacon Phillippe. The game was decided in the third inning when Phillippe issued a walk, hit a batter, and gave up four singles and a triple, all good for six runs. Dummy Hoy added an outfield error and put the Colonels fans into a foul mood.
The fans turned their attention to Bayer in the sixth when he made an error afield and then struck out with two runners on base. He was “roasted” and “guyed” by the crowd the remainder of the game.6 Powell completed his second shutout of the series, 7-0, and manager Fred Clarke announced that he, not Bayer would play shortstop the next game. Bayer’s career shows him going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and making two errors in five chances. Clarke lasted three games at shortstop, fielding .759 with 7 errors. For the season, the Colonels used 10 shortstops who made a combined 106 errors. Clingman eventually returned to health and played in 110 games.
Bayer remained in Louisville and joined the Goss Brothers semipro team. In 1900 he signed with Peoria in the Central League. When Peoria folded, he joined Terre Haute. The season ended for them in early September when the Bloomington franchise quit. In all Bayer played in 70 games and hit a lackluster .198. The next season saw him playing shortstop for the Terre Haute Hottentots again, but this time they were in the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League. The results were nearly the same; Bayer hit.194 in 54 games.
With his professional career behind him, Bayer took a job with a feed company in Louisville. He eventually became a foreman. He returned to the Goss Brothers team in the City League for three seasons until Goss dropped the sponsorship. By 1905 Bayer he was a third baseman exclusively, and continued to play in the City League. He left the feed business and found a job with the railroad, working with them until his death. Bayer’s wife, Mary, died in 1924. By 1930 he had married Ruth Wilkinson and cared for her three children. He was taken ill in 1933 and after seven weeks’ illness he died on May 30, 1933.7 He is buried in Portland Cemetery in Louisville.
Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Decatur (Illinois) Daily Review.
Decatur (Illinois) Daily Herald.
The Sporting News.
1 Louisville Courier-Journal, June 16, 1899: 6.
2 Some sources give his birth year as 1873. His gravestone and his Kentucky death certificate #11652 say 1875.
3 Sporting Life, April 16, 1898: 3.
4 Louisville Courier-Journal, June 16, 1899: 6.
6 Louisville Courier-Journal, June 18, 1899: 8. He appeared as “Bayers” in the article and box score.
7 Omaha World-Herald, May 31, 1933: 17. He was “Bayer” in the obituary.