Bill Shipke

This article was written by Stephen V. Rice

“If Shipke only becomes a hitter! His work at third [base] yesterday was classy from start to finish. He had several of the closest kinds of plays on pick-ups and other varieties of slow rollers, but he had the knack of grabbing them while at full speed … and getting them toward first without any indication of stopping to set for the throw.”1 — Thomas S. Rice, Washington Times, September 10, 1907

Third baseman Bill Shipke “eats bunts alive.”2 — Sandy Griswold, Omaha World-Herald, June 11, 1909


Superb fielding was Bill Shipke’s ticket to the major leagues, but weak hitting shortened his stay. He played third base with “catlike agility,”3 extraordinary range, and a rifle arm. At the hot corner, he was “absolutely in a class of his own,” said J. Ed Grillo of the Washington Post.4

Shipke was also a good bunter and speedy baserunner.5 But from 1906 to 1909, he batted only .199 in 552 major-league at-bats, and it was not enough to stay in the majors. He had a distinguished minor-league career, mostly for Omaha in the Western League.

An article appeared in Sporting Life claiming that Shipke’s surname was actually Shipkenhauer, and that he hailed from Colorado and was born on November 18, 1882.6 All of these claims are false. In a letter to the Washington Post, Shipke disclaimed the report about his surname.7 In a passport application, he averred that he was born on November 18, 1880, in St. Louis.8 And on his World War I draft registration, he gave his full name as William Martin Schipke.

His parents, William and Maria, came from Germany with two sons in 1869 and settled in Belleville, Illinois. The elder William, a miller by trade,9 died in early 1880. A US census record from June 1880 lists Maria as a widow with six children residing in St. Louis. Young William was born there in November and named for his late father.

What exactly was the family name? The 1870 US census gives a clue, with the surname spelled “Schuepka.” This suggests that their German name was Schüpke, with the second syllable pronounced as “kuh,” not “kee.” The 1880 US census shows the family name as “Shippke,” but by the 1890s, the family had decided on “Schipke” as the spelling. In box scores throughout his career, William appeared as “Schipke” and “Shipke,” more often the latter. He adopted “Shipke” as the spelling for himself and his wife and children, though he identified himself as “Schipke” on his World War I draft registration as mentioned above, and on passport applications.

Shipke grew up in St. Louis and played as a teenager on an amateur team known as the Toddys.10 He was a right-handed batter and thrower. As an adult, he was 5-feet-7 and 145 pounds and dubbed “Little Bill.” He was small but “sturdy.”11 “Nothing short of a cannon ball” can “pass through his territory” at third base “without meeting with sudden and effective opposition,” said the Springfield (Missouri) Republican.12

In 1901 Shipke played for the semipro Springfield Reds. He went to spring training in 1902 with the Little Rock Travelers of the Class A Southern Association but did not make the team. That year he captained the Springfield Reds, by then professional, of the Class D Missouri Valley League and was selected as the league’s all-star third baseman.13

At Springfield on July 19, 1902, the Reds played a 20-inning marathon against a visiting Nevada, Missouri, team. The game was decided in the bottom of the 20th inning when Shipke’s triple knocked in the winning run. The final score was 2-1. Both pitchers went the distance: Harry Kane for Springfield and “King” Morton for Nevada.14

Shipke was traded before the 1903 season to the Fort Scott (Kansas) Giants of the Missouri Valley League and was named captain of the team.15 On May 19, 1903, in the Giants’ 11-4 victory at Pittsburg, Kansas, he homered over the center-field fence – “the first time that a ball was ever knocked over” that fence – “and it landed so far out in the weeds that the ball was never returned.”16 He batted .306 for the Giants and led the league’s third basemen with a .937 fielding percentage.17

For the next two seasons, Shipke played third base for the Omaha Rourkes of the Class A Western League, a team named for its owner, William “Pa” Rourke. Shipke’s batting average fell to .229 in 1904, but by July 1905 he had become a power hitter. He hit .263 in 1905 and led the league with 10 home runs.18

At Omaha on July 15, 1905, with the Rourkes trailing Des Moines 8-6 in the bottom of the 11th inning, Shipke belted a game-tying, two-run home run over the center field fence. It was “the longest hit of the season,” said a Des Moines newspaper.19 The Rourkes scored again in the inning and won, 9-8. Shipke went 4-for-6 in the contest and handled 10 chances without error at third base.

An Omaha jeweler hung a sign on the outfield fence offering a gold watch to anyone who could hit the sign with a batted ball. Shipke came close several times and finally won the watch when he “planted one directly into the middle of the sign” on September 21, 1905.20

During the season Shipke spent little money, and he returned home to St. Louis after the season with the bulk of his salary. “The first thing when I get home I’ll buy mother ten tons of coal,” he said. “I think that will run us through the winter.”21

Shipke was an avid hunter and trapper. One winter he lived on a houseboat and caught muskrats and catfish.22 Among his nicknames were “Trapper Bill, “Skipper Bill,” and “Muskrat Bill.”

The Cleveland Naps of the American League drafted Shipke, and he went to spring training with them in 1906. But he was seldom used – he appeared in only two major-league games – and was released in May to a strong Des Moines team in the Western League. He batted .260 that year but slumped badly in 1907, hitting only .195. Fast on the basepaths, he stole 30 or more bases in 1904, 1906, and 1907.23 But it was his reputation as a defensive whiz that earned him a return trip to the American League with the last-place Washington Senators in July 1907.

Against the St. Louis Browns on July 27, 1907, Shipke handled nine chances at third base without error. But he went hitless in four at-bats, lowering his Washington batting average to .115. Thomas S. Rice of the Washington Times said Shipke “has a timid modesty … [at] the plate which makes him shrink and pull [away]” from every pitch thrown to him.24 Shipke later explained that major-league pitchers “were continually taking shots at my head” and it took time for him to adjust.25

Another Washington rookie, pitcher Walter Johnson, made his major-league debut on August 2, 1907, in the first game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. Shipke was at third base when the Tigers tested Johnson by “frequent bunting. Shipke’s good work prevented much damage from resulting.”26

Shipke’s defense was impressive, and his offense began to shine. He made three hits against Boston on September 17. The first was a fly to right field that Tris Speaker, in his first major-league start, was unable to reach. The second was a “smash through [second baseman Hobe] Ferris,” and the third was a “tremendous” home run to left field.27 It was the only home run of his major-league career.

Shipke had another three-hit game that year, in the first game of a doubleheader on October 4. The trio of singles came while facing the great Eddie Plank of the Philadelphia Athletics. Walter Johnson outdueled Plank that day, and Shipke singled and scored the winning run in the 10th inning of the Senators’ 2-1 victory. In the eighth inning, Shipke saved a run defensively. With Eddie Collins on third base, Topsy Hartsel “whipped a liner toward third which looked good for a single, but Shipke speared the ball on the short bound and without waiting to steady himself whipped it back to the plate in time” to get Collins.28

Shipke hit only .196 in 1907 and .208 in 1908 for the Senators. Though his hitting was lackluster, his fielding drew raves. He made two sensational plays in the Senators’ 1-0 triumph over the Tigers on May 21, 1908. In the seventh inning, Sam Crawford dropped a beautiful bunt and Shipke came in “like a streak of lightning, grabbed the ball with one hand and threw Samuel out by a foot.” The next inning Fred Payne “slashed one down the third base line that was full of tacks.” Shipke made a diving stop and his “great throw” to first nipped Payne “by an eyelash.”29

After winning the AL pennant in 1908, the Tigers wanted to acquire Shipke to replace Bill Coughlin at third base, but the Senators declined to deal him.30 Yet in the spring of 1909, the Senators decided that Wid Conroy, a career .250 hitter, would replace Shipke as the team’s regular third baseman and Shipke became expendable. By then, the Tigers had decided to use Charley O’Leary, a veteran utilityman, at third base. The Senators sold Shipke to the Omaha Rourkes in May 1909, and his major-league career was over. Paul W. Eaton, Washington’s Sporting Life correspondent, lamented his departure: “Aside from his batting he is a star in every respect and in any company.”31

Shipke had no trouble hitting Western League pitchers; he batted .287 for Omaha in 1909. On July 20, 1909, he went 5-for-5 with six RBIs in Omaha’s 9-5 victory over Denver.32 But a balky knee limited his playing time. After undergoing knee surgery, he switched from third base to second base in 1912 and was the “comeback kid.”33 His fielding at second base was described as “sizzling” and “scintillating.”34 He hit .294 for Omaha in 1914 but when he was sidelined by illness, the club released him.35

Over the next eight seasons, Shipke was a player and/or manager of semipro and Class D minor-league teams in Yankton, South Dakota (1915-16); Huron, South Dakota (1919-20); Sidney, Nebraska (1921); and Aberdeen, South Dakota (1922). At Aberdeen, he managed future Hall of Famer Al Simmons. Each winter, Shipke traveled to Havana, Cuba, where he worked as a cashier at a horse racing track.

Shipke married Fannie Bailey in 1910. They had two children, daughter Marian (born in 1911) and son William (born in 1913). Marian died at age 16 of heart failure.36

From 1929 to 1933, Shipke scouted for the Cincinnati Reds. He was scouting for the Cleveland Indians when he became gravely ill in August 1940. On September 10, 1940, at St. Catherine’s Hospital in Omaha, he died of heart failure at the age of 59. He was interred at the Westlawn-Hillcrest Memorial Park in Omaha.



This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and fact-checked by John Gregory.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Stephen V. Rice.


Sources,, and, accessed July 2023.



1 Thomas S. Rice, “Nationals’ Work in Two Games Was Miserable,” Washington Times, September 10, 1907: 8.

2 Sandy Griswold, “Pa’s Athletes Again Do Up the Prohibs,” Omaha World-Herald, June 11, 1909: 9.

3 Thomas S. Rice, “No Fluke about Shutting Out Lajoie’s Men in Both Games,” Washington Times, August 29, 1908: 8.

4 J. Ed Grillo, “Sporting Comment,” Washington Post, April 29, 1908: 8.

5 “Team Is Selected,” Washington Herald, August 19, 1907: 6.

6 Sporting Life, October 10, 1908: 5.

7 “Bill Shipke Is in Line,” Washington Post, January 27, 1909: 8.

8 1917 passport application at

9 1870 US census.

10 “With the Amateur Nines,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 9, 1897: 25.

11 “A Close Game,” Springfield (Missouri) Republican, July 31, 1901: 5.

12 “Play Fort Scott Today,” Springfield Republican, July 28, 1901: 5.

13 “Missouri Valley League Notes,” Kansas City Star, July 8, 1902: 5.

14 “King Morton Game, Was Seen, Was Conquered, by Harry Kane,” Springfield Republican, July 20, 1902: 6.

15 “Shively in Town,” Sedalia (Missouri) Democrat, March 23, 1903: 1; Fort Scott (Kansas) Republican, April 16, 1903: 8.

16 “Fort Scott, 11; Pittsburg, 4,” Fort Scott (Kansas) Monitor, May 20, 1903: 3; “Pop-ups and Miss-outs,” Fort Scott (Kansas) Tribune, May 20, 1903: 3.

17 Francis C. Richter, ed., Reach’s Official American League Base Ball Guide for 1904 (Philadelphia: A.J. Reach Co., 1904), 179.

18 Bob McConnell, ed., Going for the Fences: The Minor League Home Run Record Book, Second Edition (Phoenix: SABR, 2009), 146.

19 “Shipke’s Homer Wins in Eleventh,” Des Moines (Iowa) Register and Leader, July 16, 1905: 9.

20 “Champions Make It Six Straight,” Omaha News, September 22, 1905: 10.

21 “Schipke Saves Money,” St. Joseph (Missouri) News-Press, December 1, 1905: 17.

22 “Gossip of the Western League,” Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln), March 31, 1907: 31.

23 Francis C. Richter, ed., Reach’s Official American League Base Ball Guide for 1905 (Philadelphia: A.J. Reach Co., 1905), 168; Francis C. Richter, ed., The Reach Official American League Base Ball Guide for 1907 (Philadelphia: A.J. Reach Co., 1907), 238; Francis C. Richter, ed., The Reach Official American League Base Ball Guide for 1908 (Philadelphia: A.J. Reach Co., 1908), 279.

24 Thomas S. Rice, “Takes Last Game from the Browns by Hard Hitting,” Washington Times, July 28,1907: 14.

25 “Three More Nationals’ Contracts Arrive,” Washington Star, January 17. 1908: 15.

26 Paul W. Eaton, “From the Capital,” Sporting Life, August 10, 1907: 4.

27 Thomas S. Rice, “Pulliam’s Suggestion Is Not Right Answer to Bottle Throwing,” Washington Times, September 18, 1907: 12.

28 “Athletics Defeated,” Washington Herald, October 5, 1907: 8.

29 “Comment on the Game,” Washington Star, May 22, 1908: 17.

30 J. Ed Grillo, “Would Trade Players,” Washington Post, December 10, 1908: 8.

31 Paul W. Eaton, “From the Capital,” Sporting Life, February 27, 1909: 8.

32 Sandy Griswold, “Omaha Again Licks the Grizzly Bears,” Omaha World-Herald, July 21, 1909: 9.

33 “Kaws Easily Beaten by Omaha, 10 to 2,” Omaha News, July 12, 1912: 13.

34 Sandy Griswold, “Six Runs in Eighth Kill Mountaineers’ Hilarity,” Omaha World-Herald, August 10, 1913: 13; Sandy Griswold, “Pa’s Sterlings Win Three Straight Games,” Omaha World-Herald, September 3, 1913: 8.

35 “Schipke Given Release as Result of Illness,” Omaha Bee, August 11, 1914: 10.

36 “Believe Girl’s Death Due to Athletic Heart,” Omaha World-Herald, January 12, 1928: 1.

Full Name

William Martin Shipke


November 18, 1882 at St. Louis, MO (USA)


September 10, 1940 at Omaha, NE (USA)

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