This article was written by Marty Payne
Robert Alexander “Bob” Unglaub was, at best, an average ball player. One newspaper referred to Unglaub’s career as a “meteoric rise,” but in reality it was anything but. In fact, little in his professional or personal life was out of the ordinary, and his career was typical of the players of the dead ball era, with one exception: Unglaub was continuously at odds with organized baseball over his salary.
Unglaub was born July 31, 1880 to John M. and Minnie H. Unglaub and grew up three blocks from Union Park on 25th Street in Baltimore, where Ned Hanlon was building an Orioles club that would soon dominate the National League. The young “park rat” hung around the grounds, a self-professed member of the “knothole gang,” peeping through the boards to watch the games. He soon talked the groundskeeper into letting him do chores and run errands in exchange for admission to the games. Unglaub later recollected that before long, “I had butted my way into being bat boy and mascot.” All his spare time from school was spent at the park shagging balls at batting practice for the likes of Joe Kelley, John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, Steve Brodie, and Wilbert Robinson. He learned his baseball from one of the best teams in the history of the game.
When Unglaub graduated from high school in 1897, he was approached about attending college. Unglaub answered that he would rather play ball. The man went on to explain that he could do both. He was offered $75 a month for four months of the year to play baseball for the University of Maryland, and was allowed to attend classes. Unglaub played catcher for the University under his middle name of Alexander and took up engineering, professing to have completed his degree in three years.
During the summer months Unglaub took up the job he was most qualified to perform – he crossed the Chesapeake Bay to play for the semipro teams that were emerging in the rural towns of the Delmarva Peninsula. Here the Baltimore native used his own name.
In 1897 he appeared for the crack club of little Federalsburg, Maryland, where he took the field with two others destined for the major leagues. Three teenagers with diverse backgrounds came to this small town in pursuit of their dreams. Unglaub was the city boy already with a taste of what the big leagues were like. The manager of the Federalsburg Club was the young, scrappy Raymond “Chappy” Charles, who had changed his name from Charles Auchenbach when he came down from New Jersey. Charles would eventually spend three seasons in the majors as a utility player. The pitcher was the carefree Jack “Happy” Townsend. Also known as the “Whirlwind,” he was blessed with a blazing fastball and little command of it. He had grown up on his father’s farm in nearby Delaware, and would soon be a starter for the Washington Club. As a boy, he was often seen walking around imitating the deliveries of the famous pitchers of the day. Townsend had developed his fastball slinging rocks to knock apples from trees. It was his way of adding a little challenge to the otherwise mundane chore of feeding the pigs.
Unglaub followed Townsend as his battery mate for the Millington Club of Maryland that same year. When Unglaub finally made a name for himself in the major leagues, newspapers of the area noted that he had also played on the peninsula for the Cambridge Club and Washington College during this time.
The skills Unglaub picked up through constant playing served him well. Upon graduation from college he signed with Meriden, Connecticut, for 1900 where he batted .321 while playing catcher and first base. Towards the end of the season he was moved to Worcester of the Eastern League where he played third base the following year. There was some “trouble with the salary question” so he “jumped” to Sacramento of the outlaw California State League in 1902 where he played first base and short. In 1903 he returned to organized baseball, moving up to Milwaukee of the American Association where he batted .304 after being shifted from first to third base.
A story is told of Unglaub during his stay in Milwaukee. His manager, Joe Cantillon, and several players were walking the streets of Indianapolis. They stopped on a corner to take in the spectacle of a Salvation Army gathering, complete with brass band. Much to their amazement, out of the crowd stepped Bob Unglaub to repent his evil ways.
“I am sorry to admit it,” he said, “but I am a baseball player. I don’t know how I ever got into such a degrading, sinful business. It is an awful game and the men who play it are sinners, not fit for God-fearing people to associate with.”
Cantillon had to restrain his companions from going after their teammate as Unglaub finished his testimony, and they then went on their way. When telling this story a few years later, Cantillon was asked if Unglaub had quit baseball after his epiphany. “Hell no,” snapped the manager, “He was the first man in line at the pay window on the first and fifteenth of every month.” (From Low and Inside, Ira and H. Allen Smith, Doubleday, 1949, pp.78-79.)
At the end of the season his contract was sold to the Boston Americans, in exchange for George Stone and Jack O’Brien, but before the 1904 season opened, manager Jimmy Collins told him to report to New York. Unglaub sat on the bench there as a utility player until August when he was transferred back to Boston to complete the deal for Patsy Dougherty. He played in only 15 games for both clubs. (From undated clipping from the Boston American, HOF files. Neither the article, nor The Baseball Encyclopedia, Macmillan, 1989, explains the initial transfer from Boston to New York.)
Unglaub finally got a chance to play more frequently for Boston in 1905. He appeared in 43 games that year, including a fifteen inning pitching duel between Cy Young of Philadelphia and Rube Waddell in which Unglaub accepted 32 chances at first base without an error. But Unglaub now encountered a situation faced by many other major league players of modest stature: he was now making less money then he had in the minor leagues. The National Agreement between organized baseball clubs provided that a player would make more money at each step up in class. Unglaub did not feel this had been the case when he signed his contract with the Boston Americans. He had already jumped organized baseball over a salary dispute, and he was willing to do it again, even if it was the major leagues.
Unglaub’s salary with Milwaukee had been for $2,000 and through his travels between Boston and New York it had remained the same, even though he claimed to have been verbally promised $2,400. In a letter to August “Garry” Herrmann, president of the National Commission, dated March 15, 1906, from his winter residence in Crisfield, Maryland, Unglaub explained he felt “compelled” to accept the pay since the only alternative was to sit out another season as a contract jumper. Unglaub then went public with a letter published in the Sporting Life on April 7, 1906 where he spelled out the terms of his contract for the 1905 season.
He was to be paid a $2,000 base salary with another $500 if he “made good” at first base, or $250 if he appeared in a third of the games as a utility player. Unglaub’s letter did not explain how he had made good, whether as a first baseman or as a utility player, only that according to previous communications with Herrmann, he was entitled to a “substantial increase.” Unglaub had written 12 letters to John Taylor, owner of the Boston Club, between November 14, 1905, and February 14, 1906, asking for his bonus – none of which received a reply. The lack of response had prompted the plea to Herrmann. By the time the piece appeared in Sporting Life, Herrmann had apparently responded to Unglaub’s letter, stating he had been entitled to a raise all along.
Henry Pulliam, fellow member of the Commission, wrote to Herrmann with the opinion that this was not the case of a new player coming into the league, implying that Unglaub had defaulted on his raise by accepting his pay the previous year. Pulliam stated in the letter dated March 21,1906, “I fail to see where we have any warrant for interfering in the matter.” American League president Ban Johnson, who was the real power behind the Commission, also sided with Taylor, saying in his correspondence on March 26, 1906, “In my judgment he was handsomely compensated.” (All letters cited are from Unglaub’s Hall of Fame file.)
The Sporting Life would later allege (August 25, 1907) that Taylor might have instructed manager Collins to keep Unglaub out of games at the end of the season to prevent him from making good at first base. It also hinted that the Boston Club might have doctored official records to squelch the utility bonus.
In 1906 the Tri-State League gave Unglaub the leverage he did not have the previous two seasons. The league had dropped out of organized baseball and gone outlaw, and was attracting quality players. Unglaub was angry enough that the prospect of rejecting organized baseball a second time did not seem to bother him. He signed with Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the 1906 season. There is no record of what Unglaub received for 1906, but his offer from the outlaw league member for 1907 was for $4,500 a year for as long as he wanted to play there. This was more than double his American League salary. Garry Herrmann was not only president of the Commission but owner of the Cincinnati Reds. During the holdout he tried to lure the renegade player from Williamsport, sending Mr. Heilbourne to offer him $5,000 a year to play for his National League club. Unglaub was determined to stand by his Tri-State contract. But unfortunately for Unglaub, the Commission was in the process of reinstating the upstart outlaw league. Before the 1907 season began, the Tri-State League was readmitted into organized baseball and Unglaub’s contract reverted back to the Boston Americans.
To rub salt into the wound of the malcontent, Unglaub was informed on March 13, 1907, that he would be fined $200 for not reporting to Boston the previous year. Boston had already generously paid the fine and it was now to be deducted from his pay. This prompted an indignant letter from Unglaub to Herrmann, written from the Hotel Marion in Little Rock, Arkansas, on the following day, indicating that Unglaub may have actually inked the offer from the Cincinnati club. In the letter the disgusted Unglaub restates his case to the Commission and goes on to complain,
“Again, you as Chairman & President of the Cincinnati Club sign me to a Cincinnati contract where I am the rightful property of the Boston Club and there after tampering with another club’s player the National Commission has the audacity to fine a man $200 for asserting his rights as a man. So far as I can see it is a case of pure blackmail to extort money from a man to let him make a living for himself & family and so far as I am concerned there will be no fine paid.”
Unglaub went on to threaten to publish “every bit of evidence” so that the truth would be known before being found guilty by the National Commission. This evidence may have been the allegations against Taylor and Collins that later appeared in the Sporting Life.
Unglaub’s “meteoric rise” came about when he returned to Boston in 1907. He became the starting first baseman, appearing in 139 games and batting .254 for the season. He would set career highs with 13 triples, 62 runs and 49 RBIs. But Taylor’s team was in disarray. Chick Stahl, manager of the previous season, had committed suicide in the off-season. Cy Young had started out as manager but stepped down 6 games into the campaign to be replaced by George Huff. When Huff abruptly resigned 8 games later, Taylor turned to his former rebel utility man to take the helm. Unglaub would later muse over his stint as manager,
“After I was appointed the team went mad, raving mad, for some reason, winning four out of the first five games. The winning was done entirely by bunting. We didn’t swing at the ball once an inning. We bunted to get on and bunted the happy ones all the way home. It was a great system all right. And the newspapers spent columns talking about our tapping. I was naturally puffed up like a toy balloon and dreamed of teasing our way to a pennant. Then, just to show what fans are made of when they get thinking too much, I began to get letters asking me why, if I had taught the team to bunt, I could not teach the men to drive the ball smartly on a straight line, over the heads of the infielders, when said infielders were playing in! What do you think of that! They were handing me a roast because I did not make the players turn off straight singles in these days when .300 hitters are so scarce you can count them on one hand! I have some of those letters yet.” (Undated clipping from HOF files quoted from Washington Times.)
The fans may have been justified in handing him the roast. The bunting tactics failed to work for very long, and after posting a 9 and 20 record, Unglaub was replaced by Deacon McGuire. Only the Senators would post a worse record in the American League in 1907.
Despite his problems with management, Unglaub had been appointed captain of the team during this time. Then the fickle Boston fans, and in particular the press, began to roundly blame his shoddy fielding and weak hitting for the team’s poor showing. One correspondent wrote in an article, “Wanted-A good first baseman, who can handle fast balls, occasionally stop bounders, who won’t confuse base ball with bowling, and who won’t draw back when at bat.”
McGuire insisted Unglaub would remain as long as he hit, but it was a known fact that the maligned captain now wanted out of Boston. In midseason his wishes were met when he was dealt to the Washington Nationals where he was to rejoin Joe Cantillon, his former minor league manager. But days after the announced trade, Unglaub was still in Boston where he cried a familiar refrain, “The outlaws for me”:
“I have heard nothing from the Washington Club about my transfer to that city. I do not intend to go there unless I am to be paid the same money that I was to get from Boston, and when Cantillon was here he told me he would not give me as much as I was getting, so there can be no misunderstanding to the matter.
“I would be foolish to make a change without surely doing as well financially as I have been doing, and you may be sure I will not give myself the worst of it. I have been approached by the Stockton, Cal, club and have been offered a very good thing, and if the matter is not fixed up otherwise, I shall leave next Saturday night for California.” (Washington Post, July 15, 1908)
In the same report, Cantillon stated that the ever salary-conscious player was to receive the same money as in Boston, but all attempts to reach him had failed. He soon reported to Washington with the change of scenery reviving the maligned Unglaub. He finished the second half of the season hitting .308.
In his two and a half seasons as a regular with the Senators, Unglaub was a valuable commodity to the club. He reported for 1909 with a new attitude, “It’s whatever Joe says,” he remarked, “If the team needs me anywhere at all, it is satisfactory to me, for I shall try and deliver the goods. I would, of course, prefer the infield, but if there is not room there, it is all the same to me.” (Washington Post, April 8, 1909)
During his tenure in Washington, Unglaub was alternately praised and criticized for both his hitting and his fielding. His managers (Cantillon and Jimmy McAleer) thought enough of his offensive abilities to often bat him third or clean up, and he was considered a clutch hitter. The local reporter said of him, “There is not a man on the local team more dangerous to the opposing pitchers when there are men on the bases than Bob Unglaub…when it comes to wielding the ash he fits in mighty nicely with the local aggregation…Unglaub is a batter whom any pitcher must fear, for when he hits the ball it usually goes on a long journey.” (Washington Post, April 17, 1909)
Despite some defensive shortcomings, Unglaub was considered valuable in the field for his versatility, experience, and leadership. He played third and first when Bill Shipke and Jerry Freeman struggled, and plugged the gaps at second and outfield when Jim Delahanty and Clyde Milan went down with extended injuries. He also saw significant playing time in right field. It was in the infield that Unglaub made the biggest difference: “…the fact that Unglaub is a valuable man to coach the infield as well as the pitcher gives him the preference.” (Washington Post, April 26, 1909)
Unglaub’s influence on the team may not have always been positive. In May of 1909 it was reported that the cause of an injury that kept Unglaub out of the lineup came when Bob Ganley broke his ribs when he struck him with a bat in an altercation. This incident was denied, saying the sore ribs were an old injury, but Ganley, who happened to be captain of the team, was conspicuously released around this time.
After two and a half seasons with Washington, Unglaub was sold to Lincoln, Nebraska of the minor leagues. He was a player-manager for Lincoln in 1911 and his contract was sold to Baltimore of the Eastern League prior to the 1912 season. He finished that year in Minneapolis. In 1913 he went to the Northern league as manager and he usually finished the seasons playing a handful of games for Minneapolis of the American Association. It was a routine he followed through the 1916 season.
During the off-seasons Unglaub utilized his engineering degree by hiring on with the Pennsylvania Railroad shops in his hometown of Baltimore. On November 29, 1916, “While superintending repair work on a locomotive an accident occurred which crushed and mangled him so that all efforts to save his life failed.”
One obituary characterized him as “a strong hitter and a brainy player and combined with these qualities a masterful knowledge of the game that made him an ideal team manager. Personally he was always popular with players and fans alike. Bob Unglaub is a man who will be missed from the game that was better by his connection with it.”
Unglaub was laid to rest in Loudon Park Cemetery. His wife, Minnie F. Unglaub and her children left this final tribute to their husband and father in his obituary in the Baltimore Sun, December 1, 1916,
“Oh how hard we tried to save him
Prayers and tears were all in vain:
Happy angels came and took him
From this world of toil and pain.
His heart was true, his life was young
Yet not our will but God’s be done.
My husband gone, our father gone
Gone to his last long sleep.
His place and chair are vacant now
And we are left to weep.”
Washington Post, July 1908-October 1909.
Chestertown Transcript, July 15,1897.
Cambridge Chronicle, July 1, 1897.
Dorchester Democrat-News, July 8, 1905.
Baltimore Sun, December 1, 1916. Obituary.
Ira and H. Allen Smith, Low and Inside, Doubleday, 1949.
Hall of Fame Files:
“Unglaub Settled,” Sporting Life, September 15, 1906.
“Death of Robert Unglaub,” Sporting News, December 7, 1916.
Robert Unglaub, “Unglaub Tells How He Used To Chase Balls For Kelly and Jennings.” Undated clipping from the Boston American.
“His Many Faults,” Unknown, May 14, 1908.
‘Unglaub’s Utterances,” Sporting Life, April 7, 1906.
‘Unglaub’s Latest Roar,” Sporting Life, August 25, 1907.
‘Robert H. Unglaub,” Unknown, June 1, 1907.
Undated clipping excerpted from Washington Times.
Letter from Robert Unglaub to August Herrmann from Crisfield, Md. March 15, 1906.
Letter from Harry Pulliam to August Herrmann, March 21, 1906.
Letter from Ban Johnson to August Herrmann, March 26, 1906.
Letter from August Herrmann to Robert Unglaub, March 13, 1907.
Letter from Robert Unglaub to August Herrmann from Hotel Marion, Little Rock Ark. March 14, 1907.