In the days before players routinely wore gloves, the ability of a catcher to handle a fast pitcher or one with big curves was valued far more than his hitting. Bart Cantz was such a man. During three seasons in the majors (1888-90), Cantz finished with a batting average of just .157 with five extra-base hits in 217 at-bats across 62 games. Yet his skills behind the plate got him to the top level for more than a brief period.
Bartholomew L. Cantz was born January 29, 1860 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Frederick and Mary (Winkler) Cantz, the fourth of nine children. Frederick Cantz was born in Wurttemberg — now part of Germany — in 1828. He came to the United States in 1848 when his homeland (then a kingdom) endured turmoil amid the widespread revolutionary movement in Europe that year. Mary Cantz was born in Hesse-Darmstadt (also now a part of Germany) around 1831 and immigrated to the United States by 1854. Frederick drove a cart, while Mary raised their nine children. The youngest was born in 1873, just a few months after Frederick died. The Cantz boys all took on jobs in their teens and Bart was no exception, having completed only a fourth-grade education.
By 1880, Bart was working as a saw sharpener and presumably playing baseball on the side. He debuted in professional baseball in 1883 with the Chambersburg, Pennsylvania club in the Keystone Association, where he played left field and caught Ed Knouff.1 Cantz returned to Chambersburg in 1884, where he was a popular player. The Chambersburg Public Opinion welcomed him to town on April 16, 1884, writing “Bart Cantz arrived on the 6:08 train last evening. ‘Bottles’ received a hearty welcome from his many friends in Chambersburg.”2 While he was mainly a catcher in 1884, he also appeared in games for Chambersburg playing center field, first base, second base, and shortstop. In the game on May 9, 1884 against Chester (Pennsylvania), Cantz recorded 21 putouts at first base, while none of the outfielders for Chambersburg handled a chance.3
When the Chambersburg club disbanded in June 1884, Cantz moved to the club in Littlestown (Pennsylvania) in the same league, where he caught and played in the outfield. The Chambersburg Franklin Repository noted upon his departure, “What will become of some of our fair daughters when our club disbands is too sad a thought to recall. The bouquets of last night will fade, but the pleasant associations formed here by Bart and Lou [Baker], will never fade from memories’ [sic] brightest pages.”4
The following spring, while playing with the Harrowgate club of Philadelphia (presumably a local amateur club), Cantz was injured, with “…one of his fingers being so badly knocked out of joint that the bone protruded.”5 Such was a catcher’s lot in the time before gloves became commonplace. Later that summer, he joined the independent club in Westminster, Maryland, where he replaced Ed Greer on the roster after Greer signed with Baltimore.6 Cantz and Greer had played together in Littlestown the previous summer. Despite having only three professional players, the team was highly thought of. On the eve of a series against the Washington Nationals (then in the Eastern League), the Democratic Advocate (a Westminster paper) wrote, “No doubt large crowds will witness these games, as the Washingtonians are anxious to see the ‘Country Amateurs’ as the Westminsters are called, that down such strong professional clubs as the Baltimores and Nationals.”7 Westminster lost both games against the Nationals that series.
In December 1885, Cantz signed with Chattanooga of the Southern League, but he was released in February before the team even started training.8 He signed with Long Island in the Eastern League for 1886 instead, but that club didn’t last long; by the end of May, Cantz was playing with Bridgeport (Connecticut) in the same league.9 He remained with Bridgeport for the rest of the season, catching and playing in the outfield.
In 1887, he played for Newark in the International Association. Two of his teammates in Newark that season were the African American battery of George Stovey and Fleet Walker.10 Walker is recognized as the first African American to play major league baseball, with Toledo in the American Association in 1884. George Stovey is considered one of the greatest African American pitchers of the 19th century. Cantz caught Stovey numerous times during the summer.
At the end of the season, Cantz was reserved by Newark for 1888. However, in November 1887 he was signed by Chris Von der Ahe to play for the Browns for a salary of $1700, of which $300 was in advance.11 (In comparison, future Hall of Famers King Kelly and John Clarkson were each purchased by Boston for $10,000 in February 1887 and April 1888, respectively.) Cantz was expected to catch Ed Knouff, whom he had caught in Chambersburg in his first season of professional baseball and who joined the Browns midway through the 1887 season.
Instead of playing for the Browns, however, Cantz wound up on the minor league St. Louis Whites of the Western Association, also owned by Von der Ahe. While primarily a catcher coming into the season, Cantz played more games in right field (22) than catcher (9) for the Whites (with additional one game where he moved from right field to behind the plate). When the club disbanded on June 24, Cantz was transferred to the Browns along with catcher Tom Dolan. The Browns already had Jack Boyle and Jocko Milligan as their primary catchers, so Cantz effectively became the fourth catcher, which meant no chance to play. In a cost-cutting measure, Cantz was released on July 18 and signed with Baltimore without appearing in a game for the Browns. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch summed up his stint with the team as follows:
Bart Cantz, one of the Whites’ catchers who was transferred to the Browns, was given his release this morning. He has no opportunity to do any catching for the Browns, and he is now free to sign where he chooses. Buffalo or Newark will probably sign him. Cantz is a first-class man, being not only a good back-stop, thrower to bases, help to a pitcher in working batsmen, but he is a good hitter. He caught Mickey] Hughes, now of the Brooklyns, on last year’s Newark team, and handled Harry] Staley, now of the Pittsburgs, in splendid style. He is just like Staley and Jake] Beckley in disposition, attentive to business and strictly temperate in every way.12
As it turned out, Cantz signed with the Baltimore Orioles, also of the American Association. He made his major-league debut on July 25, 1888, against his former team. “Cantz was put to a severe test. He played a faultless game behind the bat, although Bert] Cunningham was wild. The new catcher created a strong impression that he is one of the men needed badly by the club. There was seldom any occasion to throw to second, but he caught Harry] Lyons there very neatly.”13
A few days after Cantz was signed, Baltimore released Sam Trott, who had been handling some of the catching duties (27 games) prior to the arrival of Cantz. Trott hit .278 with 11 doubles and 4 triples for Baltimore before his release on July 31, with 14 passed balls. Cantz shared the load behind the plate with Chris Fulmer and Jack O’Brien, with Cantz starting about half the remaining games after his arrival.
He was hurt in the game on October 4, 1888 against Brooklyn and caught only two more games the rest of the season. “The recent injury of Cantz in Brooklyn is an illustration of how few catchers can properly and successfully catch Matt] Kilroy. Cantz has repeatedly practiced with Kilroy, but has always failed to solve the curve and drop of Matt.”14
For the season, Cantz hit .167 in 37 games, with just three extra base hits and 30 passed balls in 33 games catching. Fulmer finished the season hitting .187, with 44 passed balls in 45 games behind the plate. O’Brien finished with 30 passed balls in 37 games as a receiver but did at least hit over .200 (at .224) with 16 extra base hits. Fulmer and Cantz were retained for 1889; O’Brien did not play in the majors again until 1890 with Philadelphia.
The following year, Cantz appeared in just 20 games, hitting .174 before he was released by Baltimore in September.15 He signed with the Philadelphia Athletics for a reported $1500 in April 1890 to back up future Hall of Famer Wilbert Robinson, but played just five games and managed just one single in 22 at-bats before being released in late May 1890.16
Despite the assertion by the Post-Dispatch that he was a good hitter, his opportunity to play in the majors arose mainly from his reputation as a catcher, earned in part because of whom he caught (Knouff, Hughes, Staley, Stovey) over his career. The name “Cantz” pops up umpiring and playing in a few amateur games in Philadelphia in the early 1890s, but there is no evidence that he played professional ball again in any capacity.
Philadelphia city directories list him as living with his mother through the 1880s, with his profession variously listed as saw maker or laborer and finally, in 1889, ball player.17 He continued to live with his mother through 1900. (She died in 1905.) Bart Cantz married Emma (Smedley) Nelson in 1899 and gained an instant family. Emma was born in 1860 in New Jersey, and at age 19 had a child, Ada, with Frank Nelson in 1879.18 Ada had a daughter of her own, Anna, in 1897; her last name at the time was Beattie. Just like that, Cantz had a wife, stepdaughter, and step-granddaughter.19 It’s possible that Bart and Emma tried to have a child — a New Cathedral Cemetery record says a Bartholomew Cantz was buried there just one week after his birth in October 1901.20
In 1910, Ada and Anna were living with Bart and Emma, but both were out of the house by the 1920 Census. During this time, Cantz was working as a driller in a shipyard. In the 1921 Philadelphia Street Guide Cantz is listed as a ship fitter, a job he still held in 1930. By 1940 Cantz was retired. His last job was working at the Haines Hosiery Factory.
Bartholomew L. Cantz died on February 12, 1943 from a heart attack at the age of 83. He was buried in Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Philadelphia. Emma lived eight more years, dying in 1951 at the age of 90.
This biography was reviewed by Paul Proia and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Chris Rainey.
US Census data was accessed through Geneology.com and Ancestry.com, and other family information was found at Ancestry.com and FindAGrave.com. Stats and records were collected from Baseball-Reference. Articles cited in this biography were typically accessed through Newspapers.com and/or Geneology.com. Philadelphia Street Guides from the 1870s through 1920 were accessed through Ancestry.com. Stats are from Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
1 “Who Have Made Application,” Franklin Repository (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania), January 28, 1884: 1 and “One Apiece,” The Sentinel (Carlisle, Pennsylvania), September 22, 1883: 4.
2 “The Ball and Bat,” Franklin Repository (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania), April 16, 1884: 4.
3 “Another Feather,” Franklin Repository (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania), May 10, 1884: 1.
4 “Sweet Violets,” Franklin Repository (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania), June 12, 1884: 4.
5 “The National Game,” Lancaster New Era, April 24, 1885: 4.
6 “Westminsters Score Another Victory,” The Democratic Advocate (Westminster, Maryland), July 4, 1885: 3.
7 “Base Ball Notes,” Democratic Advocate, August 22, 1885: 3.
8 “Base Ball. The Chattanooga Team Already Organized,” Chattanooga Daily Times, December 27, 1885: 4, and “Base Ball Notes,” Chattanooga Daily Times, February 11, 1886: 6.
9 “Diamond Dots,” The Journal (Meriden, Connecticut), May 26, 1886: 2.
10 “There is not a club in the country which tries so hard to cater to all nationalities as does the Newark club. This is the great African battery, Stovey and Walker; the Irish battery, Hughes and Derby, and the German battery, Miller and Cantz.” “Diamond Points,” Boston Globe, June 4, 1887: 3.
11 “Will Play With the Champions of the Association,” Valley Spirit (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania), November 23, 1887.
12 “Cantz Released,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 18, 1888: 8.
13 “McCarthy’s Lucky Hit”, The Baltimore Sun, July 26, 1888: 4.
14 “The Baltimore Team,” The Times (Philadelphia), October 14, 1888: 15.
15 “The Champions on Friday,” Franklin Repository (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania), September 18, 1889: 3.
16 “Sporting Notes,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, May 23, 1890 and “Base Ball,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 5, 1891: 12. The Post-Dispatch article notes that Cantz’ contract for 1890 was for $1500, but as he was released very early in the season, he may not have been paid the entire amount.
17 Street Guides were accessed through Ancestry.com. Bart’s mother was last listed living with in him 1900.
18 Ada Nelson was one year old at the time of the 1880 Census, but her birth year is given as 1883 in the 1930 Census, and her birthdate is given as March 25, 1883 on FindAGrave.com. She married William Schnell in 1917. Ada died January 3, 1934.
19 “Celebrates Her Eightieth Birthday,” Trenton Evening Times, September 23, 1909: 3.
20 New Cathedral Cemetery Burial Index found on Ancestry.com.