This article was written by Paul Winter
How did a 30-year-old man from France wind up playing in one game for the St. Louis Browns in 1903? That is the story of Claude Gouzzie (pronounced Goo-ZAY), the first person born in France to play in the major leagues.1 It is also a story that may never have been told, were it not for a chance encounter between two baseball historians at the organizational meeting for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) in 1971. That is a story in its own right.
On July 22, 1903, the Browns were in Cleveland for the first game of a four-game series against the Cleveland Naps (so called at that time because of team captain and future Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie). The game was a makeup for one that was rained out on April 30. The Browns were in seventh place, 15 games behind Boston. Jesse Burkett, the top hitter on the club, was home in Worcester, Massachusetts because his wife was ill.2 Burkett left at the start of the previous series in Philadelphia and was expected back before the end of the series against Cleveland.
To fill his place, Claude Gouzzie was brought in from Niles, Ohio, where he was playing for an independent minor league club. 3 In the first game of the series, Emmet Heidrick, the center fielder for the Browns, wrenched an ankle in the sixth inning. Bill Friel moved from second base to center field and Gouzzie took over at second. Gouzzie got one at-bat (he made an out facing Earl Moore), fielded one chance without an error, and otherwise had an unremarkable appearance in a 7-0 Browns loss. A few days later Burkett was back with the Browns. Gouzzie went back to the minors, his improbable major league career over.
For many years, Claude Gouzzie was identified as “Gonzzle” in baseball records. He was correctly identified in the box score and article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer the day after the game. In many other newspapers, however — including the St. Louis Globe Democrat,4 the St. Louis Republic,5 and the New York Times6 — he appeared as “Gonzzle” in the box scores. Early compilers of baseball records then presumably picked up the misspelling, and thus very little was known about the player for many years.
That error was corrected after a chance discussion at the SABR meeting in August 1971, when Tom Shea told Joseph Simenic that the player’s name was in fact Gouzzie. Simenic corrected the record in an article in the SABR Baseball Research Journal, Volume 1, published in 1972.7 It was entitled “The Man with the Peculiar Name” — as the Plain Dealer game story referred to Gouzzie.
Simenic was able to locate Claude’s brother, Albert, still alive in 1971 at age 84.8 Albert was able to fill in some of the gaps, and a 1907 article from the Charleroi (Pennsylvania) Mirror helped fill in other details. The SABR article from 1972 was a key reference for this biography.
Claude Gouzzie was born in 1873 (the exact date is unknown). When completing a player questionnaire about his brother in 1971, Albert was unsure as to whether Claude was born in France or French Canada. However, Claude, his parents and two older siblings came to Canada from France prior to 1876, the year his sister Antoinette was born. Eventually, Antoine (1834-1910) and Rosalie Dubois Gouzzie (1842-1934) had eight children. The family dropped one “z” from the spelling between Claude’s death in 1907 and the time his father died in 1910. Both his parents are buried as “Gouzie”.
By 1880, the year of his sister Louise’s birth, the family was living in Pennsylvania, where his father worked as a coal miner. In 1890, at age 17, Gouzzie was playing baseball in his hometown of Charleroi, Pennsylvania, when William Eckel, the manager of the local Charleroi club for many years, found him. In the article from the Charleroi Mirror (described in Simenic’s article) shortly after his death, Eckel described how he met Claude and started him playing professional baseball as a shortstop.
“He wanted to be a catcher, but I told him no, I wanted to make a shortstop out of him, and I did. When he got started there was no one had anything on him at that position in 1890 and I don’t think the great Hans Wagner could play that position any better than my old friend Claude did that year. There never was a harder worker nor a more willing player donned a uniform. Whoever saw him quit in a game? He never gave up until the last man was out.”
It seems likely that Gouzzie played for Charleroi’s amateur club throughout the 1890s. (Claude’s occupation on the 1900 Census is listed as “Presser in Shovel Works.”) In 1895 Gouzzie is mentioned in an article in the Pittsburg Post about a game between Charleroi and Belle Vernon.9
A few years later, on September 9, 1898, he played for Charleroi in an exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Patriots (as they were called in the article) in Charleroi.10 More than 2000 people packed Beechwood Park to watch the home club lose to Pittsburgh by a score of 10-3. Gouzzie got two hits against major league pitching. One of the hits was a single in the seventh inning off Charlie Hastings when Charleroi scored its final run. He also doubled, had one putout, two assists, and made an error. The star of the game for Charleroi was former major leaguer John Tener, at the time president of the First National Bank in Charleroi. Tener went on to become a future member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Governor of Pennsylvania, and the eighth president of the National League (1913-1918). Tener homered for Charleroi in the sixth inning. The crowd stuck around to see Pittsburgh ace Jesse Tannehill pitch the ninth. “The crowd could not be satisfied until it saw Tannehill on the rubber, and President [Bill] Watkins put him in the last inning.”
Tracking Gouzzie in the 1890s is not easy, but his career after 1900 can be traced through box scores and other articles. In 1901 he was still playing with Charleroi. At the conclusion of the season, the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates again came to Charleroi.11 A standing room only crowd of more than 5,000 came to the park on October 8, 1901 to see the locals play the champions. The Pirates played their top lineup (except for Jimmy Burke at third base in place of Tommy Leach), which included future Hall of Famers Honus Wagner at shortstop and Fred Clarke in left field. Charleroi surrendered four unearned runs in the first inning and never recovered in an 8-3 loss. The Pirates pitcher was Sam Leever, who was 14-5 as the fourth starter for Pittsburgh in 1901. Leever struck out 12 Charleroi batters, including Gouzzie once. Gouzzie got even with one hit in four at-bats, and he added two put outs and an assist in the field at second. Cincinnati pitcher Bill Phillips pitched the last three innings for Charleroi after performing with the John A. Woods band prior to the game.
In 1902, Gouzzie again played for Charleroi. That July he made a cameo appearance with Monessen, an independent club in Pennsylvania.12 A similar outing with Monongahela’s indie team followed in August.13 By September he was back in Charleroi; in October the National League Champion Pirates, winners of 103 games in 1902, once again visited there. The Pirates stopped over between Games 2 and 3 of a post-season series against a team of American League All Stars.14
Gouzzie played shortstop for Charleroi this time, sharing dirt with Pittsburgh shortstop Wagner. Gouzzie’s error in the first inning on a grounder by Ginger Beaumont led to two unearned runs for Pittsburgh when Wagner followed with a home run with two outs. The error was one of two for Gouzzie, who also had five assists and a putout. Pittsburgh scored eight runs but only one was earned, as Charleroi made eight errors in total. Gouzzie doubled in the second, driving in Charleroi’s first run, for his only hit. Pittsburgh starter George Merritt struck out 11 hitters but also gave up ten hits, although Charleroi was only able to score two runs. In one inning, Charleroi loaded the bases with no outs. Catcher Ed Phelps picked the runner off first, and the runner on third was thrown out trying to score. Phelps then picked the last runner off second. Such was Charleroi’s luck. (The day after that game, Pittsburgh played an 11-inning scoreless tie in Cleveland against the AL All-Stars to claim the World Championship for 1902. They lost the fourth game.15)
In the spring of 1903, Eckel got Gouzzie a tryout with the club in Indianapolis, then playing in the American Association.16 He was released in April.17 Gouzzie then signed with the independent professional club in Niles, Ohio.18 Later that summer, he played his one game with the Browns.
So, to reiterate — how did a 30-year-old career minor leaguer end up playing in one game for the Browns in 1903? Gouzzie had a reputation as an outstanding defensive second baseman and was well known in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.19 The Browns manager at the time, Jimmy McAleer, was from Youngstown, Ohio, and played or managed in Cleveland most seasons from 1889 through 1901. It seems reasonable that he at least knew of Claude Gouzzie, which may be why McAleer brought him to Cleveland.
After his appearance with the Browns, Gouzzie returned to the independent leagues, where he finished the season playing for the Ohio Steel Works team of Youngstown, Ohio. He played at least part of the season with a sore arm, as noted in an article in the Evening Review (East Liverpool, Ohio). The story criticized his performance in a game against the local Y.M.C.A. club, which defeated the Ohio Works team, 6-5.
“Famous Second Baseman Did Not Come Up to Expectations of Local Fans, Who Think He Has Been Overrated,” proclaimed the sub-headline. The body expanded: “The uncrowned king of second sackers was the cynosure of all eyes, but he brought nothing but disappointment to those who were ready to do him homage. It was the general opinion that he has been greatly overrated, but at that he plays the game from start to finish, his weakest point being his stick work.” 20
Gouzzie’s reputation as a glove man preceded him, but on this day at least, he failed to deliver on that.
Johnstown of the New York State League signed Gouzzie in February 1904 but released him in April.21 He then played for Niles again and Sharon (Pennsylvania) in 1904.22 Evansville (in the Class B Central League) signed him for 1905.23 Instead, he started the season with the club in Chester, Pennsylvania after being released by Evansville in February 1905.24 He finished the year with a team in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Both clubs played against prominent black teams of that time, so Gouzzie may have played against such stars as Charlie Grant, Bill Monroe, and Rube Foster of the Philadelphia Giants.25 Grant “Home Run” Johnson of the Brooklyn Royal Giants was another possible opponent.26
The following season Gouzzie played for Punxsutawney (also in Pennsylvania) and once again with Monessen, among other clubs. During the winter of 1906, however, his health began to fail because of tuberculosis. He moved to Colorado in the hopes that the change in climate would help. It didn’t. Claude Gouzzie died in Denver on September 21, 1907. He is buried in the Charleroi Cemetery.
In an obituary in the Akron Beacon Journal, Gouzzie was described as “one of the best infielders in the old independent day, and with the others of the Niles team was a peppery player.”27 But maybe the best summation of his career comes from the 1907 Denver City Directory, where — even though he went out there because he was sick — his occupation is listed as “baseball player.” From his being discovered by William Eckel at a young age, through his one game in the majors and many years in the minors and independent ball, those two words summarize the life of Claude Gouzzie: baseball player. It is who he was and what he wanted to be.
US Census data was accessed through Geneology.com and Ancestry.com, and other family information was found at FindaGrave.com and Ancestry.com. Stats and records were collected from Baseball-Reference. Articles cited in this biography were typically accessed through Newspapers.com and/or Geneology.com. Joe Simenic’s article on Claude Gouzzie in the SABR Baseball Research Journal, Vol. 1 (1972) provided the starting point for this article. It included extensive quotes from William Eckel’s article in the Charleroi Mirror from 1907, which I was unable to get a copy of. The quotes and information from that article were found in Simenic’s article.
This biography was reviewed by William Lamb, Donna Halper, and Rory Costello. It was fact-checked by Chris Rainey.
1 Larry Ressler, born in France, played 27 games for the Washington Nationals in 1875 in the National Association. Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame do not recognize the National Association as a major league, although SABR and many other organizations and databases do.
2 “Blues Shut Out the Browns,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 23, 1903: 6. Most details about this game came from this article.
3 “Baseball Notes,” Pittsburgh Press, July 22, 1902: 22. The note states that Gouzzie departed for Cleveland “yesterday,” the day before his debut, indicating he was specifically called for and not just coincidentally present in Cleveland.
4 “Moore’s Pitching Shut Out the Browns, 7 to 0,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 23, 1909: 13.
5 “Blues Whitewash St. Louis Browns,” St. Louis Republic, July 23, 1909: 9.
6 “Cleveland, 7; St. Louis, 0,” The New York Times, July 23, 1903: 8.
8 Albert Leon Gouzie, born April 5, 1887 in Pennsylvania, died October 10, 1985 in Detroit, Michigan.
9 “Belle Vernon Twice Beaten,” Pittsburg Daily Post, September 25, 1895: 25.
10 “Easy for Hastings,” Pittsburg Post-Gazette, September 10, 1898: 6.
11 “Pirates Went To Johnstown,” Pittsburgh Press, October 9, 1901: 8 and “New Champions Warm Welcome,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 9, 1901: 8. The game details came from these two articles.
12 “Monessen Batted Hard,” Pittsburgh Press, July 27, 1902: 13.
13 “Monongahela Wins,” Daily Republican (Monongahela, Pennsylvania), August 22, 1902: 1.
14 Games 1 and 2 were played in Pittsburgh on October 7 and October 8; Pittsburgh won both, by scores of 4-3 and 2-0. Game 1: “Inside Playing Won for the Pirates,” Pittsburgh Press, October 8, 1902: 8. Game 2: “Grand Pitching by Mr. Phillippe,” Pittsburgh Press, October 9: 16.
15 The four-game series between Pittsburgh and the American League All Stars is not considered a true World Series by major league baseball, but Pittsburgh claimed to be World Champions after winning it. Pittsburgh won the first game. After the tie in Game 3, they lost Game 4,1-0. The AL All-Star team included Cy Young starting two games, Bobby Wallace at third base all four games, and Nap Lajoie for the final two in Cleveland. Game 3: “Pirates Capture the Title,” Pittsburgh Press, October 11, 1902: 12. Game 4: “Champions Were Shut Out by American League Stars in a Sensational Game,” Pittsburgh Press, October 12, 1902: 18.
16 “Gouzzie of Charleroi Signs with Indianapolis,” Pittsburg Weekly Gazette, March 8, 1903: 12.
17 “Released,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, April 27, 1903: 13.
18 “Errors Were Costly,” Akron Beacon Journal, June 11, 1903: 5.
19 The Cleveland Plain Dealer commented at one point that “Gouzzie has played with nearly every independent team of this section. He is a star fielder, but rather poor batter.” “Gouzzie Signs with Evansville,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 25, 1904: 20.
20 “Winters Twirled Another Winner,” The Evening Review, August 12, 1903.
21 “Signed with Johnstown,” Buffalo Courier, February 22, 1904: 11 and “Official Association News,” The Sporting Life, April 30, 1904: 14.
22 Gouzzie can be tracked through box scores in the Akron Beacon Journal, the Pittsburgh Press, and the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1904 through 1906.
23 “Gouzzie Signs with Evansville,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 25, 1904: 20.
24 “Official Association News,” The Sporting Life, February 1905: 11.
25 “Chester Downs Giants,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 27, 1905: 10.
26 “Royal Giants Win at Pottstown,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 10, 1905: 12.
27 “Claude Gouzzie Dies in Denver,” Akron Beacon Journal, October 4, 1907: 5.