Every team Matt Zieser ever pitched for was a B-level minor-league team, except when he appeared in two games in the major leagues. Briefly a member of the 1914 Boston Red Sox, he was 19 years too early to be assigned a Red Sox cap with a “B” on its front.
When he started professionally, it was reportedly with Dubuque in the Class B Three-I League in 1911, though he does not appear in surviving team statistics.
Zieser was signed to a Milwaukee (American Association) contract for 1912 but was placed in the New England League, pitching for the Lowell (Massachusetts) Grays, and he got off to a good start to his career, winning 16 games (16-12) for manager James Gray and seeing Lowell finish in second place, two games behind Lawrence. One notable day, June 4, saw him load the bases in the second inning of the first game of a doubleheader against Lawrence and then watch all three runners score on a grand slam served up by his replacement, but then throw a complete-game (seven innings, due to darkness) three-hitter in the second game, winning 5-0.
In 1913 it was an improvement to 19-10, again for the Grays. A 2-0 win over Hartford in September was a four-hitter, Zieser being rescued by a triple play in the only inning in which he experienced any trouble, the eighth. The Grays won the pennant, seven games ahead of second-place Portland. In the major-league draft on September 15, Zieser was taken by the Boston Red Sox. Pitching against the Eastern Association champion Hartford Senators in the postseason “New England series,” Zieser “pitched masterly ball” for a 2-0 victory in the second game of the series.i He won the fourth game, too, 5-3.
Zieser was listed as 5-feet-9½ and 170 pounds when the Boston Globe reported that the right-hander had sent his signed contract to the Red Sox from Chicago in January 1914.ii He was ready and awaiting the team when manager Bill Carrigan and company arrived in Hot Springs, Arkansas, for spring training and the exhibition season. He showed up well enough in spring training to make the team, though veteran scribe (and former player) Tim Murnane commented presciently at the end of the preseason: “Zeiser [sic] gives the impression that he has been hit very hard at times. He has the style, but much to learn about bending his back. He doesn’t go through with the pitch, and doesn’t like to have one of his fast ones combed. Zeiser is a sensitive fellow and can win his game when his own team is hitting hard and making runs and fielding sharply. He will have trouble while facing those American league fire-eaters.”iii
“Kept the Senators Scoreless, Once He Got Into His Stride” read the headline on a Boston Globe photograph the morning after Zieser’s debut on April 27, in relief. He had come in after Red Sox starting pitcher George “Rube” Foster was bombed for four runs by the Washington Nationals in the bottom of the second. Zieser was “wild and hit hard” (Globe) in closing out the second inning and again in the third, and gave up a couple of runs in the third, but then settled down and threw five scoreless innings to complete the game. He walked four and surrendered six hits. Boston lost the game, 6-1, but Zieser’s work got his photo in the paper. He was 0-for-2 at the plate.
A couple of weeks later, on May 11, after starter Fritz Coumbe had been lifted for a pinch-hitter, Zieser entered a game against New York in the top of the sixth at Fenway Park, and again had troubled getting started: “He gave three bases on balls, uncorked a wild pitch, and pinked a batsman. With these little peccadillos were mixed up a passed ball and a base hit, the combination being good for the two runs scored off Zieser.”iv He’d actually begun securing an out on a grounder handled by Larry Gardner but then walked the next two batters and then saw both runners advance on a passed ball. He lucked out when batter Jeff Sweeney tried to block the catcher’s view on a two-strike pitch to try to help Harry Williams steal home – but his bat mistakenly struck the ball, bunting it ball foul, and he was called out. Williams had to return to third, but Zieser walked the next batter, Roger Peckinpaugh, loading the bases. A single brought in two runs. The Globe’s Jim O’Leary wryly observed that Zieser had now done everything but balk and hit a batter “so he started out to make a sweep by chucking the ball into Caldwell’s ribs”; and he might have had a chance to balk but the next batter swung at his first pitch and grounded out to end the inning.
Zieser allowed only three hits in four innings, but the game was out of reach, an 8-4 loss. And catcher/manager Bill Carrigan may have seen enough. Zieser was sold to the Toronto Maple Leafs on option on June 2. At some point, he returned to work for Jim Gray in Lowell and is found in box scores such as a two-hitter he threw against Lynn on August 19, but neither Lowell nor Toronto team stats for 1914 could be located for this biography.
Zieser’s major-league stats were ten innings of work in the two games, facing 41 batters. He walked eight while striking out none. He gave up nine hits and four runs, two of them earned. His ERA didn’t look bad at 1.80, but he had a 1.700 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched, a statistic invented long after he retired), so he was perhaps more fortunate than the earned run average indicates. He had three at-bats without a hit. On one of his three fielding chances, he committed an error.
It was Lowell again in 1915 and 1916. Zieser was 12-13 in 1915; the team was 54-55. He was perhaps a fast worker; a nine-inning game on June 17 against visiting Fitchburg, took only one hour and 14 minutes to complete. Zieser won the game, 2-1. On August 23 his contract was sold to Louisville but once more some of the historical record of a century ago is lacking. Such stats as were accessible for this biography lacked his name.
Zieser was back with Lowell in 1916, when the team became part of the newly organized Eastern League. The team was in last place with a 36-69 record when it disbanded on September 4. Zieser’s record was a bit worse than the team’s, at 8-22. More than one newspaper story commented on his wildness.
During part of 1915, Zieser appears to have been on the roster of the Ironton team in the Class D Ohio State League, and maybe the team in Chillicothe, too. And during part of 1916, he may have been with South Bend in the Class B Central League. In neither case is Zieser shown as pitching, however. The Zieser listed is shown only as a batter. In 1917 and 1918, he’s not listed in the record books.
Mathias John Zieser was born in Chicago on September 25, 1888. His father, with the same or similar name (both were listed as “Mate” Zieser in the 1910 census), was a stonemason. Both he and his wife, Margaret (Meisch) Zieser, had emigrated to the United States in 1884 from Luxembourg. They spoke German as their native tongue.
Zieser had turned 28 at the end of the 1916 season. There was a pitcher named Zieser who pitched for the Merrimacs semipro team in Chicago in early 1917. Zieser took up wartime work with the U.S. Ball Bearing Company at 47th and Armitage, and he pitched for their company baseball team later in the year. In 1918 he pitched in Chicago’s City League for the Aristo Grocers, and is seen shutting out the Jake Stahls, 4-0, in a mid-June game.v
Zieser returned to Organized Baseball in 1919, but records remain elusive. He’s shown pitching for the Bloomington Bloomers in the Three-I League that season, throwing 236 innings with a 2.82 ERA – but without known won-loss records. He was 19-10 in 1920, with a 3.26 ERA in 257 innings of work. The Bloomers won the pennant both years, under manager Joe Dunn.
With Evansville in 1921, Zieser put up an 11-4 mark but his ERA had risen to 4.68. In 1922 he’s listed with a combined 8-10 record and a 4.38 ERA with Evansville and Terre Haute, and was 3-2 for Rockford in 1923. All of the teams (Bloomington, Evansville, Terre Haute, and Rockford) were Three-I League clubs.
At that point Zieser left Organized Baseball, but as late as September 1925, he was found pitching for the semipro Sterling, Illinois, team, hurling a three-hitter and beating the Chicago Giants in June, 4-0, but losing to the Logan Squares in September.
Zieser was single. He died in the facility where he worked: He held the position of “special laborer” at the Chicago State Hospital at the time of his death there from stomach cancer on June 10, 1942. He was buried in a “term grave” at St. Joseph Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois, because, according to cemetery office supervisor Jim Marro, “there was no family or relatives existing to purchase a permanent grave” for him, and no next of kin or friend was listed in the cemetery files. Marro added, in a letter to researcher Bill Haber, “I am a devoted reader of The Sporting News. It would be great to read an article someday in that publication or in one of our other sports journals that would depict the efforts that men like you contribute toward enhancing our enjoyment of sports. I’m afraid that most of us take for granted the jobs that you and your fellow statisticians do to make the game of baseball more understanderable [sic]. Thank you on behalf of all sports fans and myself for your great efforts.”vi
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Zieser’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
i Hartford Courant, September 19, 1913.
ii Boston Globe, January 27, 1914.
iii Boston Globe, April 12, 1914.
iv Boston Globe, May 12, 1914.
v Chicago Tribune, June 10, 1918.
vi Letter from Jim Marro located in Zieser’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, dated March 17, 1977.