George Shoch

This article was written by Bill Lamb

Although rarely in the everyday lineup for an extended period, George Shoch was a useful member of several late-19th-century major-league teams. In an era of small rosters, Shoch’s versatility – he could play second, shortstop, third, and the outfield competently – was coveted by his managers. His durability, strong work ethic, and temperate habits were appreciated by club brass (and often applauded by the sporting press), while a modest, genial personality made Shoch a fan favorite wherever he went.

Standing between Shoch and higher elevation in player ranks was a chronic shortcoming: the inability to sustain a first-rate level of performance if given too much playing time. Years later, big-league standout Fred Tenney observed, “There have been a few players who could play a marvelous game for a while in one position but if allowed to stay too long in that particular position their work would deteriorate. Such a man was Shoch of the old Brooklyn club. Never a great player, yet he could fill the gap at any of the infield positions. His limit at any one of them was about two weeks. Then he needed a rest or a shift to some other place. It was a peculiar fact, but even though he was an old, experienced player, he simply couldn’t turn out steady work. A very hard worker and a fair hitter, he was of great assistance to his club when any regular was out of the game.”1 Thus, whenever illness, injury, or indifferent play created a vacancy in the lineup, Shoch was a valuable stopgap, but never the permanent solution. Still, his utility skills, zeal to play, and tip-top conditioning afforded him a lengthy career. George Shoch remained a professional ballplayer until age 46.

George Quintus Shoch was born on January 6, 1859, in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, an ethnic German enclave about six miles north of the city center. He was one of at least 13 children born to Nathan Roberts Shoch (1817-1905), and his wife, the former Anetta Colbough (1819-1883).2 Nathan was a churchgoing Methodist3 who supported his ever-expanding brood through work in various trades until he achieved a level of prosperity as the proprietor of a brick-making operation in Frankford. Little is known of George’s early life but it is probable that his education did not exceed the eighth grade level (if it got that far), and that he followed his older brothers into the trades as a teenager.4 At 21 he married neighbor Annie (Anna) Warbrick (born 1863) and took up residence in the home of his new mother-in-law. By then George was employed as a grinder in a cutlery plant. Later in the 1880s, he found work as a dyer and a brick maker. In time, he and his wife would have four children: Robert (born 1881), Horace (1883), a child, name unknown who apparently did not survive infancy, and Annette (1894).

George’s talent for baseball first came to public attention when he played for amateur teams in and around Philadelphia.5 He entered Organized Baseball at the somewhat belated age of 26, signing with the Wilmington (Delaware) Blue Hens of the Eastern League for the 1885 season.6 With the Blue Hens’ record standing at a dismal 5-28, the franchise moved to Atlantic City on June 19. Five days and three straight losses later, the club disbanded. For his part, Shoch, a smallish (5-feet-6, 156 pounds7) righty batter and thrower with a sweeping blond mustache, had played respectably, batting .268 while posting a .915 fielding mark as a barehanded center fielder.8 That performance led to his enlistment by the Hartford (Connecticut) Babies of the Southern New England League9 where his new teammates included a lanky young catcher named Connie Mack. In 30 games for Hartford, again mostly as an outfielder, Shoch batted .248.

Moving up in class to the Eastern League for the 1886 season, Hartford re-signed Shoch.10 In 66 games for the club, George elevated his batting average to .302, with 22 extra-base hits. At the conclusion of the Hartford season, Shoch, Connie Mack, and three other Hartford players were purchased for $3,500 by the Washington Nationals of the National League. Shoch made his major-league debut on September 10, 1886, playing right field and going hitless in a 4-1 loss to Philadelphia. Three weeks later, the personal highlight of Shoch’s campaign occurred: He hit a home run off future Hall of Famer John Clarkson in a 4-1 Washington victory over Chicago. By season’s end, George had appeared in 26 games (all but one in the outfield) and batted a capable .295, with 18 RBIs, for the dreadful (28-92) Nationals. Hopeful club brass thereupon appointed the promising newcomer team captain.11

Shoch’s inability to sustain performance first evidenced itself in 1887. As noted in the Boston Herald, “Shoch fell off amazingly in his batting. He had a batting average of almost .400 in his first 14 games. In the last ten games, he made only three hits.”12 Late in the season, Shoch was auditioned at shortstop but fielded erratically (nine errors in six games) and was soon replaced in the lineup. In all, Shoch was mostly a disappointment, his batting average falling to .239 in 70 games. He did, however, steal a career-high 29 bases and had become a Washington fan favorite.13 The following spring, Sporting Life campaigned for resumption of the Shoch experiment at short, asserting that he “will prove the most valuable scholar … and with sufficient practice each morning would … cover ground now practically unoccupied. [Besides,] his batting and base stealing would make up for his lack of fielding ability.”14 Washington owner/manager Walter Hewett evidently agreed, stationing Shoch at shortstop in 52 games, where, in the estimation of the Boston Herald, “his weakness [was] sharp hit ground balls.”15 Still, Shoch’s .900 fielding average was respectable for a gloveless middle infielder. He was also given opportunities in the outfield and second base, and he even pitched three innings of scoreless relief for Jim Whitney in a blowout loss. Shoch was now beginning to find his niche, with even the often-critical Boston Herald pronouncing him “a remarkably fine general player.”16

The regard of his teammates was reflected in their designation of Shoch as delegate to early meetings of the Baseball Players Brotherhood,17 while the faithful appreciated that he “has excellent habits, never complains of work given to him and is always genial.”18 The immediate problem for Shoch was his offense. Notwithstanding the two grand slams he hit during the 1888 season and a knack for reaching base via being a hit batsman, Shoch had become a liability at the plate. And a last-place (48-86) Washington club could not be expected to carry a .183 hitter indefinitely. “What has happened to Shoch’s batting?” wondered Sporting Life.19

When Shoch batted a soft .239, with only two extra-base hits, in the early 1889 going, Washington had seen enough. On June 8 the club purchased shortstop veteran Arthur Irwin from Philadelphia. Days later, Shoch was released.20 The Boston Herald predicted his prompt re-employment, declaring that Shoch “will make a great player for some club. He will be especially valuable because he is a fine infielder as well as an outfielder, is a good batter and a dashing baserunner. He won’t have to wait long for a chance to play.”21 And true enough, Shoch was soon weighing a variety of offers, although none from a major-league club. He settled on signing with the Milwaukee Creams of the Western Association. According to Sporting Life, Shoch chose Milwaukee over several Eastern clubs because “the Western Association is more apt to give him permanent employment.”22 That assessment proved a perceptive one. Shoch served as Milwaukee shortstop and team captain for the next three seasons.23 Facing minor-league-caliber pitching proved the necessary tonic for Shoch’s bat: he posted batting averages of .307 (1889 in 78 games), .284 (1890, full season),24 and .273 (1891 in 86 games).

But it was the vagaries of late-19th-century baseball rather than revived hitting that brought Shoch back to the game’s top tier. The Players League War of 1890 had left the major-league American Association in extremis, and nowhere was the situation more desperate than in Cincinnati. In mid-August 1891, the franchise folded. Within days the Milwaukee club of the Western Association (now called the Brewers) jumped to the American Association as Cincinnati’s replacement. In the 34 games left on the Association’s schedule, Shoch reestablished his credentials as a big leaguer, batting an impressive .315, while splitting his time in the field between shortstop and third base. At season’s end, Milwaukee placed Shoch on its reserve list for the 1892 season25 but the American Association had waged its last campaign. Its nine-season run as a major league was over.

Effectively rendered a free agent,26 Shoch entertained suitors from both the National League and various minor circuits before opting to return to his former employer, the Washington Nationals. The choice proved ill-advised. At the end of spring camp, the Nationals, citing “a lack of hitting,” cut Shoch.27 He then signed with an NL rival, the Baltimore Orioles,28 and proceeded to make good use of his latest chance as a major-league player. In 76 games, he batted a solid .276, with 50 RBIs and 14 stolen bases, playing mostly at shortstop but also filling in at third and in the outfield until a broken arm in August brought his season to an abrupt halt. Upon being released by Baltimore, Shoch signed with the Philadelphia Phillies.29 But once again, he proved expendable after spring camp, jettisoned by the club in a reported “payroll move.”30 Shoch then joined Brooklyn, where he settled in for a productive five-year run with the club. Used at various positions but played judiciously by manager Dave Foutz, Shoch saw action in the outfield (46 games) and three infield positions (51 games), and established himself as “a first class general player.”31 He also produced at the plate, batting .263 while posting career-best numbers in at-bats (327), base hits (86), runs scored (53), doubles (17), and RBIs (54) for the middle-of-the-pack (65-63) Bridegrooms.

Shoch repeated that performance in 1894. Again used in doses, he split almost equal time between the outfield and second/short/third, and played them all capably. By August an admiring Sporting Life pronounced him the “star utility man of the league.”32 And like all batsmen in that offensively charged campaign – the National League as a whole batted .309 in 1894, an all-time high – Shoch thrived with the willow, batting a career-best .317 in 243 at-bats for the fifth-place (70-61) Brooklyn club. His batting average (.259) returned more to the norm in 1895. But otherwise, his play remained constant, handling assignments in the outfield (39 games) and the infield (22 games) competently during another mid-pack (71-60) Brooklyn season. Shoch began the 1896 campaign in the unaccustomed position of lineup regular at second base. He began strong, but faded with overuse, eventually giving way to Tom Daly and returning to the role of utilityman extraordinaire. At season’s end, Shoch’s stat line was a familiar one: a .292 BA in 250 at-bats, with a solid .941 fielding average spread over four defensive positions.

His fifth year with Brooklyn yielded more of the same. Early season fill-in work at shortstop drew accolades from Sporting Life, which proclaimed that “as a general player [Shoch] is a star of the first magnitude.”33 In September an act of genuine heroism off the field punctuated the season. While crabbing in Canarsie Bay with pitcher John Grim on an off day, Shoch saw a small fishing craft capsize. With one of its occupants being swept away by the tide, “Shoch dived in and grasped the drowning man.” He and Grim then managed “the risky swim back to shore” with the victim safely in tow.34 Back on the diamond, Shoch completed another first-rate season, batting .278 in 284 at-bats, while supplying capable defensive infield-outfield play. After the season, Brooklyn reserved him for the 1898 campaign.35 Thereafter, no less an authority than the venerable Henry Chadwick declared, “Shoch is the most versatile utility man the Brooklyn club has ever had, and he has done fine work in the tall games.”36 But now-sliding (61-71) Brooklyn was in need of an overhaul. That November, veteran George Shoch was among the first of the incumbents to be dispatched, sent with $1,000 to the St. Louis Browns in exchange for the talented but difficult Bill Hallman, an infielder. But there was no future for Shoch with the Browns. In early December, his contract was sold to the Milwaukee Brewers of the Western League. The big-league career of the soon-to-be 39-year-old Shoch had reached its end.

Although he never appeared in more than 94 games during any of his 11 major-league seasons, Shoch had been a useful player. His lifetime batting average of .264 was a respectable one, particularly for a part-time performer, and he had shown occasional power, with 10 home runs among his 127 extra-base hits. In 707 games, Shoch had scored 414 runs, and driven in 323. He also stole 138 bases. Shoch’s real value, however, came on the defensive side of the field. With the exception of catcher and first base, he had played everywhere on the diamond, with shortstop (180 games), right field (159 games), and second base (157 games) being his most familiar assignments. An agreeable demeanor, strong work ethic, and temperate off-field habits had also made Shoch a positive presence in the clubhouse. All in all, he had been a good man for every team that had put him in uniform.

The sale of Shoch’s contract to Milwaukee came as no great surprise to baseball followers. St. Louis was far more intent on unloading the malcontented Hallman than it was in acquiring the journeyman Shoch, and a campaign for the return of Shoch had been brewing in Milwaukee since the previous midseason.37 The transfer to Milwaukee also reunited Shoch with his old Hartford/Washington comrade Connie Mack. But the reunion was not an altogether happy one. When Mack offered him a niggardly contract, Shoch held out.38 In time the parties reached agreement (terms unknown) and Shoch settled in as the Brewers’ everyday third baseman. By midseason, Mack was reportedly disappointed with Shoch’s play and in search of a replacement.39 But Shoch remained in the lineup and finished the campaign batting .278 in 118 games. He also pitched six scoreless innings in two relief appearances for third-place (82-57) Milwaukee.

Shoch returned to Milwaukee for the 1899 season, but only after he and Mack had again tangled over contract terms; Shoch was the last Brewers player to sign. By June Sporting Life was reporting that Shoch’s “fielding at shortstop for Milwaukee borders on phenomenal. He is more at home at short than at third base last season.”40 But soon thereafter, Shoch was back at third. And by late August, he was gone, given his unconditional release by Mack.41 Home in Philadelphia the following spring, the now 41-year-old Shoch wanted to keep playing. In early March 1900, Shoch advertised that he was “open for engagement” and provided his Frankford home address to interested ballclubs.42 In time, the newly organized Philadelphia Athletics of the Atlantic League responded, signing Shoch as their second baseman.43 He soon replaced Dick Cooley (sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates) as Athletics manager, as well. Early in the season, the always-admiring Sporting Life advised readers that “Manager Shoch … is playing an excellent second base, and is also hitting the ball hard.”44 But the franchise was in financial distress. Relocation to Harrisburg provided little relief, and the club disbanded after 27 games had been played. The Atlantic League itself failed shortly thereafter.

Shoch now commenced a five-year odyssey through Northeastern minor-league baseball. He finished the 1900 season with the Springfield Ponies of the Eastern League, where his .304 batting average in 88 games was the club leader. The following year, Shoch signed with a league rival, the Hartford Wooden Nutmegs. By June Shoch was deemed “easily the hardest hitting outfielder in the Eastern League.”45 He also played 53 games at short, and was batting .317 when the Hartford franchise folded in early September.46 He remained in the Eastern League in 1902, signing with the Jersey City Skeeters, but age was beginning to catch up with George Shoch. Although he appeared in every single Jersey City game, Shoch was “not considered fast enough by local management” and drew his release in early September.47 Undaunted, George thereupon organized an Eastern League all-star team and guided it on a postseason barnstorming venture.48

Shoch finished his professional career playing for teams in the lower-tier New York State League. In 1903 he played “first-class ball”49 for the Troy Trojans, batting .312 in 101 games. He encored for Troy the following year, posting a .301 BA in 122 contests. At age 46, Shoch assumed the captaincy of the Binghamton Bingoes, and batted .295 in 117 games.50 He reportedly re-signed with Binghamton for 1906,51 but saw no action that season. Playing semipro ball back home in 1907, “the veteran George Shoch evidently has not lost his eye for base hits, for he is certainly connecting for Frankford.”52 Sometime thereafter, Shoch finally hung up his spikes.

George Shoch spent the remainder of his life living quietly in the Frankford home that he had purchased in 1896. He tried his hand as a cement contractor but apparently had trouble securing sufficient work. By 1910 he was a widower, and without reported employment. During the ensuing decade, George remarried, taking widow Nettie Stalker Whitney, 20 years his junior, as his second wife. He also found work on government payrolls, working first as an inspector for the city and thereafter at the US Mint in Philadelphia. In July 1936 Shoch was among those invited to 60th-anniversary celebrations for the National League held at Shibe Park. Taking in a Phillies-Reds doubleheader, he informed sportswriter Ray Hill that “The game hasn’t changed much in the last 60 years, except the spirit of the players. Maybe they have just as much pep as we used to, but outwardly they certainly don’t show any signs of the fighting, scrappy kind of baseball that made John McGraw, King Kelly, Willie Keeler and others idols of their generation.” A uniform-shredding collision at home plate, however, met with Shoch’s approval. “Now that’s more like it,” he said.53

In his last years, Shoch suffered from chronic nephritis (kidney disease). He died at home on September 30, 1937. Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) was deemed the primary cause of death.54 George Shoch was 78. Following funeral services conducted at the Shoch residence, his remains were interred at East Cedar Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.55

 

Sources

Sources for the information presented herein include the George Shoch file maintained at the Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York; family tree information accessed via Ancestry.com; Retrosheet; The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, eds. (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, Inc., 2nd ed., 1997); and various newspaper articles. Unless otherwise noted, statistics have been taken from Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 New York Times, March 14, 1911.

2 George’s siblings included Richard (born 1840), Susan (1841), Elizabeth (1843), Mary (1845), Annette (1847), Martha (1849), Rachel (1851), Nathan (1853), another Elizabeth (1855), Josephine (1861), William (1863), and Lillie (1869). Younger brother Bill Shoch later became an accomplished pitcher in Philadelphia amateur leagues, per Sporting Life, February 1, 1888.

3 Although his parents baptized him Presbyterian, Nathan Shoch was virtually a lifelong member of the Rehoboth Methodist-Episcopal Church, “the seat of Methodism in Frankford,” according to Wikipedia. He and Annette were married there in 1839. The church was also the site of a widowed Nathan’s second marriage, to Elizabeth Goodwin in 1884.

4 The 1877 Philadelphia Directory lists George’s occupation as brick maker, but he was not working at his father’s operation.

5 As reported in “Sketch of a Good Player,” Kalamazoo (Michigan) Gazette, November 12, 1893, and an undated circa 1895 profile of G.Q. Shoch published in the New York Clipper.

6 As was customary at the time, Shoch misrepresented his age. For years it would be reported that he was born in 1862 or 1863. The fact that Shoch had actually been born in 1859 was not discovered until his playing days were well behind him.

7 As per Baseball-Reference. Contemporary sources placed Shoch’s weight at 170 pounds. See e.g., the Daily (Springfield) Illinois State Journal, November 9, 1890, and the circa 1895 New York Clipper profile of Shoch.

8 Baseball-Reference provides no 1885 fielding stats for Shoch in Wilmington/Atlantic City. The .915 FA provided above was published in Sporting Life, November 4, 1885.

9 As reported in Sporting Life, July 22, 1885. Baseball-Reference also places the Hartford Babies in the Connecticut State League and provides stats for Shoch at Hartford in both the 1885 Southern New England League (.273 BA in 22 games) and the 1885 Connecticut State League (.179 BA in 8 games). The two Hartford teams were the same; only the league name and membership changed.

10 As reported in Sporting Life, February 3, 1886.

11 According to C. Norman Willis, Washington Senators All-Time Greats (Bloomington, Indiana: Xlibris, 2003), 114, and the George Shoch entry in the SABR Encyclopedia.

12 Boston Herald, July 26, 1887. A similar observation was made near season’s end by the Washington Record-Critic, September 9, 1887.

13 According to the Washington Evening Star, April 28, 1888.

14 Sporting Life, May 3, 1888.

15 Boston Herald, June 29, 1888.

16 Boston Herald, June 15, 1888.

17 Shoch’s attendance at a union meeting conducted at a Manhattan hotel was reported in the New York Tribune, June 11, 1888.

18 Canton (Ohio) Repository, June 6, 1888.

19 Sporting Life, August 7, 1888.

20 As reported in the New York Herald, June 16, 1889, Washington Post, June 17, 1889, and elsewhere.

21 Boston Herald, June 24, 1889.

22 Sporting Life, July 3, 1889.

23 Despite his past association with the players union and his major-league playing experience, Shoch evidently received no overtures from the Players League regarding the 1890 season. He was only approached when the PL was in its death throes at season’s end, as per Sporting Life, October 18, 1890.

24 Per the Reach Guide for 1891. Baseball-Reference provides no stats for Shoch’s 1890 season.

25 As reported in the Chicago Tribune, November 18, 1891.

26 A Milwaukee Brewers franchise was a member of the Western League for 1892, but this newly organized club had no claim upon Shoch.

27 Sporting Life, April 9, 1892.

28 As reported in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post, April 14, 1892, and Sporting Life, April 23, 1892.

29 As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Washington Evening Star, February 25, 1893.

30 Sporting Life, April 22, 1893.

31 In the estimation of Sporting Life, August 19, 1893.

32 Sporting Life, August 3, 1894.

33 Sporting Life, May 15, 1897.

34 As reported in Sporting Life, September 18, 1897.

35 As per the Chicago Tribune, October 7, 1897.

36 The Sporting News, October 23, 1897.

37 In June 1897, Milwaukee sportswriter H.H. Cohn had written, “I consider George Shoch to be one of the best and most gentlemanly players in the game, and he has a host of friends here who would be only too happy to see him play ball in Milwaukee once again.” Sporting Life, June 5, 1897.

38 Sporting Life, April 23, 1898, reported Mack’s offer as $175 a month for five months (or $875 for the entire 1898 season), poor wages for an 11-year major-league veteran coming off a solid season for Brooklyn.

39 According to Sporting Life, July 16, 1898.

40 Sporting Life, June 3, 1899.

41 As reported by the Rockford (Illinois) Morning Star, August 29, 1899. The writer was unable to locate any stats for Shoch’s 1899 season with Milwaukee.

42 See Sporting Life, March 3, 1900.

43 As per the Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2, 1900.

44 Sporting Life, June 3, 1900.

45 In the opinion of Sporting Life, June 8, 1901. Thereafter, the Boston Herald, July 28, 1901, observed that Shoch was batting “remarkably well.”

46 Per the 1902 Reach Guide, 177. Shoch’s fielding average at short was .905.

47 Jersey Journal (Jersey City), September 2, 1902. In 137 games, Shoch batted .248 for the Skeeters, per the 1903 Reach Guide, 172.

48 As reported in the Worcester Daily Spy, September 29, 1902, and elsewhere.

49 The description of the Boston Herald, June 21, 1903.

50 Baseball-Reference also includes Shoch on the1905 roster of a New York State League competitor, the Amsterdam-Johnstown-Gloversville Jags, but provides no other data.

51 As per Sporting Life, February 10, 1906. It was later reported that Shoch would be held in reserve by Binghamton that season. See Sporting Life, March 7, 1906.

52 Philadelphia Inquirer, May 5, 1907.

53 Unidentified newspaper column dated July 31, 1936, contained in the George Shoch file at the Giamatti Research Center.

54 Per Shoch’s death certificate, posted on Ancestry.com.

55 Apart from a death notice published in the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, October 2, 1937, the writer found no mention of Shoch’s passing in Philadelphia newspapers. Nor was a Shoch obituary published in The Sporting News.