William Stecher

This article was written by Jonathan Frankel

0-10, 10.32. That is the major-league career line for one William T. Stecher of Riverside, New Jersey.

If you look it up, the record book tells you that Stecher holds the records for the “most career games by a pitcher who lost all his games (0-10) and the most career innings pitched by a pitcher with an ERA above 10.00 (68 innings, 10.32).”1 Not a very flattering record for any player to hold. But how did Stecher come about this line and record in his single season in the majors with the 1890 American Association Athletics of Philadelphia? How did he reach the point to get the opportunity to set the records? And finally, what happened to William T. Stecher after his brief “moment in the sun”?

Like many a player, there is more to the man than his stat line. This article highlights William T. Stecher’s baseball career as well as his post-career highlights, but it also aims to give an idea of some of the amateur teams in the Philadelphia/New Jersey area that Stecher played for and against.

William T. Stecher was born in Riverside on October 20, 1869. He was the youngest of four children of Rudolph and Paulina Stecher. Rudolph had originally come to the US in 1847 from the hot-springs town of Baden-Baden in Germany and settled in Riverside in 1854. Rudolph was one of the organizers of the new township of Delran in 1880 and was to serve (many simultaneously) as pound keeper, hotel keeper, constable, and overseer of the poor.

 

STECHER’S AMATEUR BASE BALL BEGINNINGS

There is no record of Stecher’s early years, but he was apparently a good-enough athlete at age 17 that in 1887 he was pitching for the local Riverside amateur team.2 He was hit hard, losing 10-1 to the Ontario team in the only game for which a record was found. His brother Frank played in the game as well. William also played for the Burlington club later in the year. In 1888 he signed with the Riverton club in early May. In his first game, on May 5, he was opposed by Mike Kilroy, while the game was umpired by Mike’s brother Matt Kilroy, who holds the major-league record for strikeouts in a season, 513. Matt called Stecher the most promising youngster he had ever seen.3 Stecher had mixed success with Riverton, winning his first game, a six-inning affair, by 20-8 over Richmond, but later losing to the Young America squad, 10-2.

The 19-year-old Stecher started the 1889 season with the Borden Athletic Association, an amateur team in Bordentown, New Jersey. He debuted on April 20 against the Royal Smyrna club of Philadelphia, and allowed six runs in five innings. With his team losing 6-4,he was swapped with Mickey McLaughlin, who allowed only one run the rest of the way as Bordentown came back to win, 9-7. Stecher walked three and struck out four.

Stecher pitched in a number of other games for Bordentown. On May 11 he defeated the Perseverance club of Philadelphia, 15-1, striking out 11. On the 18th he beat the Rising Sun club of Philadelphia, 7-1, allowing only three hits, walking six and striking out six. In the 25th he combined with McLaughlin on a 7-3 win over the Clark’s Pottery team of Trenton. Stecher struck out 12 during his stay on the mound.

On June 8 Stecher combined again with McLaughlin to beat the Kensington club, 11-1. On the 18th he lost to the Pennington club, 7-6, but struck out 10. This was the first documented loss for Stecher. He beat Mount Holly 8-4 on the 27th, striking out nine. The next day he beat Mount Holly again, 21-0. Stecher allowed only four hits and had three of his own. He struck out 7.

On July 1 Stecher got the win over Burlington in a 14-7 thumping. On the 9th he lost 2-0 to the Trenton Cuban Giants of the Middle States League.

Stecher’s unofficial record with Bordentown was 7-2. He established a reputation of striking out large numbers while having some control issues.

In February 1889 Stecher signed with the Harrisburg Ponies of the Middle States League, but did not start the season with them. He made his first pro appearance with Harrisburg on July 16 at Norristown, defeating Norristown 4-2, allowing nine hits and walking three while striking out five.

On July 25 Stecher defeated York, 13-1, striking out nine. The Harrisburg Patriot wrote that “his curves, ups, downs, ins and outs, are very effective”.4 York returned the favor four days later, knocking Stecher out after five innings in a 10-4 loss.

Stecher defeated Shenandoah twice, then on August 9 he pitched the best game of his career, a no-hitter over the Cuban Giants in a rain-shortened five-inning game. He struck out three and walked four. Hall of Famer Frank Grant was in the lineup for the Giants that day.

Stecher pitched for the Riverton amateur team later in August, defeating Rising Sun and losing to Manayuk. Throughout the 1889 season he again showed control problems – six-plus walks per nine innings, with occasional strikeout ability.

In 1890 Harrisburg became part of the Eastern Interstate League and Stecher was with the team again. In early April, he pitched in three exhibition games against American Association teams from Rochester and Syracuse, giving him his first taste of major-league competition. After losing to Rochester, 7-3 and 3-0, Stecher defeated Syracuse by a 12-3 score, scoring two runs himself. In the regular season Stecher acquitted himself fairly well, producing an 8-5 record. He continued to show flashes of his good curveball, resulting in strikeout games of 7, 10, and 13, but against the stronger competition of the Eastern Interstate League, he also showed his propensity for walks – perhaps due to the better hitters’ ability to lay off his curves. His last game with Harrisburg was on June 26. Stecher pitched for Burlington against Bordentown on July 19 and August 10. Even though he was not a dominating pitcher in the Eastern Interstate League, he was about to have fortune look upon him as he had the opportunity to join a team in desperate need of anyone who could play. The team was the American Association’s Athletics, and Stecher happened to be in the right place for this opportunity.

In 1890 there was a great deal of turmoil in the major leagues, with three leagues – the existing National League and American Association, and the upstart Players League. This no doubt resulted in a great thinning of talent across the leagues and hit the “weak sister” league, the Association, especially hard. When the dust created by new and shifting franchises had settled, Philadelphia had a team in each league competing for the crank’s quarter or 50 cents. The American Association and Players League teams both called themselves the Athletics; the National League team called itself the Quakers.

The Association Athletics started off fairly well in spite of losing six regulars to the Players League Athletics. They still had solid starters in third baseman Denny Lyons, outfielder Curt Welch, and pitcher Sadie McMahon (29-18), and led the league as late as July 17 with a 43-27 record. However, things began to fall apart, the team went 8-28, and by the end of August it found itself in sixth place with a 51-50 record. Denny Lyons was suspended and subsequently sold to the St. Louis Browns (he had been a nuisance in various ways to manager Bill Sharsig). His replacements created a huge black hole in order. At the same time, two pitchers were let go – Mickey Hughes was released and Ed Seward asked to be “laid off” for the rest of the season because of his fatigued arm. This left the Athletics with only McMahon as a starter. Stecher was one of the new pitchers brought in to fill the pitching void.

By mid-September, catcher Wilbert Robinson, first baseman John O’Brien, left fielder Blondie Purcell, center fielder, Curt Welch, and right fielder Orator Shafer were released because the team was broke and were replaced by a litany of no-names and amateurs, most of whom hit under .200. All of these movements created and opportunity for Stecher and also doomed him at the same time, as a game-by-game examination of his stay with the Athletics shows.

Stecher made his first appearance for Philadelphia in an exhibition game on September 2 versus the St. Louis Browns at Wilmington, Delaware. He won, 3-2, allowing only five hits in an agreed-upon eight-inning contest.5

Here is a summary of Stecher’s “official major-league” games:

Game 1, September 6, 1890

Against Louisville at the Athletics’ Jefferson Street Grounds, Stecher lost, 7-0, giving up 10 hits and 7 runs (5 earned) in eight innings.

In his official major-league debut, Stecher gave up four runs in the first two innings, but then “settled down,” scattering five hits with his curves.6 The curve apparently was Stecher’s calling card and got him to the Athletics. But it would not fool the American Association hitters. Stecher batted eighth, as he would often during his stay with Philadelphia. From one newsman came the classic words about every prospective player: “With a little more experience and judicious coaching, he will no doubt develop into a good twirler.”7 Needless to say, not in this case.

Game 2, September 13, 1890 (Game 2 of a doubleheader)

Against Baltimore in the Maryland city, Stecher was pummeled, 18-6. In seven innings he gave up 18 runs on 13 hits and 8 walks. The game was called because of darkness after seven innings. Baltimore scored in each of Stecher’s seven innings, including seven runs in the seventh. His control issues continued. According to the Philadelphia Public Ledger, “The way they punish his curves was a caution,” leading one to wonder if he should not have bothered with his curve.8 (The Orioles had only recently joined the American Association, replacing the Brooklyn franchise. The Orioles had played the season in the Atlantic Association and ran away with that league’s pennant. Many of the Atlantic Association Orioles continued with the American Association team. Baltimore was one of three teams to exist in two leagues (one major league) in the same season, the others being the 1884 Virginia franchise (Eastern League/American Association) and the 1891 Milwaukee franchise (Western Association/American Association).

Game 3, September 20, 1890 (Game 2)

At Louisville, Stecher lost 10-0, giving up 10 runs on 15 hits in eight innings. Louisville, in the midst of its only major-league season as a league champion, took it to the Athletics in this doubleheader. Before plastering Stecher, the team pasted pitcher Ed Green, 22-4, in the first game. Only two of the “original” Athletics went on the road trip. All of the players who went had to sign an agreement to play the rest of the games at $5 per game and expenses.9

Game 4, September 21, 1890 (Game 2)

The next day, Louisville administered more punishment, defeating Stecher and the Athletics 16-3. Stecher went seven innings, giving up 16 runs on 15 hits and 10 walks. Stecher was torched for six runs in the seventh inning, after which the game was called because of darkness.

Game 5, September 26, 1890

Visiting St. Louis, Stecher pitched one of his “better” games, a 7-3 defeat in which he gave up seven runs on 10 hits and 5 walks. This game and the next were two of Stecher’s “closer” games, but again a combination of not enough run support and poor pitching led to a loss in a game that was ended after five innings so the Athletics could catch a train for Toledo.

Game 6, September 28, 1890 (Game 1)

In the 11-9 loss to Toledo, Stecher went only four innings, giving up seven runs on 6 hits and 6 walks. After the fourth inning, Stecher swapped positions with third baseman Green. The game was the closest of any that Strecher pitched, though it was 7-3 when he moved to third.

Game 7, September 28, 1890 (Game 2)

With a thin pitching staff, manager Sharsig brought Stecher back for the second game of the doubleheader, with worse results (15-1) than in the first game; Stecher was pounded for 15 runs on 14 hits, 6 walks, and 5 team errors. Only six of the runs against him were earned.

Game 8, October 1, 1890 (Game 2)

At Columbus, Stecher lost 14-0, giving up 14 hits and 7 walks. He allowed 10 of the runs in the last four innings. (A month later, the ballpark, Recreation Field, was the site of Ohio State University’s first home football game, a 64-0 loss to Wooster on November 1.)

Game 9, October 4, 1890 (Game 2)

Three days later, at Syracuse’s, Star Park, Stecher lost to the Syracuse Stars 6-1 in a game called after five innings because of darkness and rain. In his five innings he gave up all six runs on seven hits and three walks. The Athletics had scored only two runs behind Stecher in his last three games. Fewer than 100 people showed up for this dreary doubleheader (Philly won the first game, 8-7).

Game 10, October 9, 1890

In Stecher’s last major-league game, at Rochester’s Jefferson Street Grounds, the Athletics scored four runs, but he gave up 10 on seven hits and seven walks. Stecher finished out his major-league career with the sixth game in which he allowed 10 runs or more. Five errors behind him didn’t help. According to the Public Ledger, he “was not hit hard, but was wild in his delivery”10

In the end, Stecher lost all 10 games in which he pitched, allowing 111 hits, 110 runs, and 60 walks. He struck out 18. He had a grand total of 27 runs of support in the 10 games. The Athletics as a team lost their last 22 games and were 2-26 once Stecher joined the rotation, allowing 10 or more runs 17 times.

Stecher went back in his home town of Riverside in 1891, pitching for the local amateur team. He married Lizzie Kellock in July of that year. They would have three daughters. Stecher pitched regularly for Riverside through 1894, mostly batting leadoff and not having the success he had in his earlier amateur days. He was still striking out a lot of hitters, but he lost many of the games he started. His travels in the New Jersey amateur ranks took him to such towns and cities as Camden (for whom he pitched in 1893 and 1895), Beverly, Media, Millville. (Among the players he faced was Farmer Steelman, a Millville native and a four-year major leaguer.), Salem, and even venturing far into Maryland to Hagerstown. His involvement with the team went beyond just playing; a notice in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1895 for the Riverside baseball team looking for players said to contact W Stecher.

A Stecher shows up as pitching in 1897 for Mount Holly. Although the pitcher is not explicitly identified as William Stecher, it could well be him. Stecher may also have pitched for Sunbury of the Central Pennsylvania League during the same time.

Stecher was back with the Riverside team in 1898 (he was only 28 at this point), while also serving as Riverside’s tax assessor. Like his father before him, Stecher also became involved in community affairs. He was elected sheriff of Burlington County in 1914 after being defeated in both 1908 and 1911. He ran a cigar store and owned and ran several race horses. He also served as a town committeeman, board of education member, director of the Riverside Building and Loan, and township clerk. In his later years, he had a successful real-estate business.

There is a Stecher Road in current-day Riverside, though it is unknown if this is connected to William, his father, or any of his family. But based on his family’s strong local political and community roots, there is a good chance that it is associated with his family in some way.

On December 26, 1926, Stecher was killed at a train crossing in Riverside, failing to notice the oncoming train as he crossed in his auto. He was 57. The obituary heralded him as “one of the most popular officials that this [Burlington] county has had.”11 He was buried in Riverside Cemetery in his hometown.

To most baseball fans, William T. Stecher is just a passing entry in Baseball-Reference.com or a baseball encyclopedia, one who had an inglorious one-year career in which he set records for futility. But how he got there and his post baseball life tells a quite more textured life of success and service.

Last revised: August 29, 2014

 

Author's note

The game-by-game statistics provided here are from the ICI logs. While researching the games, I discovered many variances in individual statistics from each other as well as ICI, very typical of the era. About the earned runs documented here and in the “record:” Not all games have “official” earned runs. According to SABR’s Pete Palmer, “ICI did not have earned-run data for all games, so what they did was take the percentage of runs earned in the games they had and applied it to the games they didn’t. …” The first edition of the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia (1969) had the estimated ERA in italics, but this was lost in future editions.

 

Sources

Bordentown Register, Philadelphia Inquirer, Harrisburg Patriot, Philadelphia Press, Philadelphia Public Ledger, New Jersey Mirror, Sporting Life, and Seamheads.com article by Cliff Blau on the 1890 Athletics.

 

Acknowledgements

I wish to give very special acknowledgement to Ed Morton for helping pull game accounts and digging other important information from non-Internet sources. I would also like to thank Alice Smith, president of the Riverside Historical Society, for her help as well.

 

Notes

1 Baseball-Reference.com – William Stecher, BR-Bullpen, Biographical Information.

2 Philadelphia Record, August 7,1887.

3 Philadelphia Record, May 17, 1888.

4 Harrisburg Patriot, July 26, 1889.

5 Philadelphia Record, September 3, 1890.

6 Philadelphia Press, September 7, 1890

7 Philadelphia Public Ledger, September 8, 1890.

8 Philadelphia Public Ledger, September 14, 1890.

9 Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, September 18, 1890.

10 Philadelphia Public Ledger, October 10, 1890.

11 New Jersey Mirror, December 29, 1926