In late season 1910, buoyed by an impressive batting performance in his first 18 games in the major leagues, it appeared that the Cleveland Naps had found a long-term answer to their search for a first baseman to replace longtime incumbent George Stovall in the person of 25-year-old Eddie Hohnhorst. Unfortunately for Hohnhorst, and for the Naps, it was promise unfulfilled. He would play in only 15 more major-league games. By 1914 he was out of Organized Baseball. Just two years later he was dead at 31; the cause: a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Edward H. Hohnhorst was born in Covington, Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. His parents, William T. Hohnhorst and Mary Uebele, were of German ancestry. Mary came to the US at nine years old. She died on March 30, 1903, at 39 years of age, six weeks after the birth of her daughter, Hilda.1 William got re-married to Margaret S. Reyle, Eddie’s stepmother. William was a businessman and a small-town politician – he served as a member of the Covington City Council in the late 1890s.2 By 1900 the Hohnhorst family consisted of five sons and a daughter. Edward, whose date of birth is listed as January 31, 1885, was the second oldest sibling.3 His middle name is carried by most sources as Hicks. However, in 1957 a younger brother, A.A. Hohnhorst, told a baseball researcher that Edward’s middle name was Henry.4
According to a 1910 newspaper article heralding Hohnhorst’s rising star at the major-league level, Eddie Hohnhorst’s first sighting of an Organized Baseball variety was in hometown Covington with a semipro team called the Blues. That same article mentions that in 1907 Eddie left the comfort of home to play in western Virginia for Imboden, a franchise in the Coal Field League.5
Despite the reference to Imboden, Hohnhorst’s first recorded stop in professional baseball was in 1908 playing for the Anderson (South Carolina) Electricians of the Class D Carolina League, for whom he played first base and batted .293 in 42 games.6 By July 3 he was on the move, his contract purchased for $500 by the Augusta (Georgia) Tourists, a member of the Class C Sally League. Eddie had only been in Anderson for a few months, but he had this to say as he departed the city by train: “Tell the people I hate to go. You all have treated me mighty nicely. I like Anderson and I hope her team will climb up the pennant pole. Good luck to the team and to the people of Anderson.”7
By the end of the 1908 season, Hohnhorst probably missed Anderson even more. The first baseman finished the year for the third-place Tourists batting just .206 in 47 games. He returned to form in 1909 for the Tourists – once again third-place finishers, but with a substantially improved record – batting .282 in 123 games. The performance attracted a number of major-league suitors. At one point during the 1909 season the Boston Doves of the National League drafted Hohnhorst, only to turn him back to Augusta. During the 1909-10 offseason he was drafted by the Philadelphia Athletics. However by the start of the 1910 season, he was the property of the Atlanta Crackers of the Class A Southern Association. The move up in classification did not last long. According to one report, Eddie feuded with Atlanta team president John W. Heisman (of football trophy fame); the nature of the spat was not delineated. In early April Hohnhorst was optioned and then, on June 23, sold outright to the San Antonio Bronchos of the Class C Texas League.8
Hohnhorst was San Antonio’s first baseman for most of the 1910 season, performing for player-manager George Leidy in 117 games. Despite only a .235 batting average and one home run, he had caught the eye of scout Bob Gilks, whose handiwork for the Cleveland Naps had only recently netted them future superstar Joe Jackson from New Orleans. The Naps’ brass had arrived in Cincinnati on September 1 intending to draft Hohnhorst on Gilks’ recommendation, but Atlanta’s J.W. Heisman, still harboring a grudge, talked them into rescinding their bid. At this point Gilks went back to work, convincing the Naps to rebid. On September 9 they were notified Hohnhorst was their property.9 Despite Heisman’s reticence, word on Hohnhorst from the Texas League was that the left-handed batter and thrower was the fastest in the league both in fielding and in getting down to first.10
The Naps wasted no time putting the 25-year-old Hohnhorst, who stood 6-feet-1 and weighed 175 pounds, to work. He debuted in Cleveland on September 10 as a late-inning replacement for incumbent first baseman George Stovall. He was 0-for-1 as Cleveland fell to the Detroit Tigers and their hurler Ed Summers. Little attention was paid to Eddie at the time, as Detroit’s perennial hit machine Ty Cobb and Cleveland’s star second baseman Napoleon Lajoie were engaged in a batting race that would net one of them a valuable Chalmers automobile.
Early on, both Joe Jackson and Eddie Hohnhorst would seem to prove Bob Gilks a genius. In 1910 Jackson played in 20 games and batted .387. Hohnhorst’s start, given his mediocre batting figures in San Antonio, was even more surprising. He was in manager Deacon McGuire’s starting lineup for the first time in Detroit on September 14, playing first base, leading off, and going 2-for-4 with two runs scored and a stolen base. By the end of September, playing in almost every game, he had batted 45 times with 18 hits for his efforts. Although he cooled off considerably, his final figures for the fifth-place Naps were 20 hits, including three doubles and a triple, and eight runs scored, in 63 at-bats over 18 games for a .317 average. Clearly the performance placed Eddie in the forefront of the Naps’ infield plans for 1911.
Hohnhorst had every right to be optimistic as he left Covington for Hot Springs, Arkansas, in February 1911 to get into peak condition before joining the Naps for spring training. He had kept in shape over the winter as a member of the Walking Club, a group of ballplayers who traversed the many hills of nearby Cincinnati in the offseason mornings.11 He even had a battle scar on his hand to prove he had entered the major-league fray with a bang. He suffered the injury sliding head-first into second base when spiked by, of all people, umpire Bull Perrine, “who was following me closely to be on top of the play, stepped on my right hand, and his spikes cut it in two places.” Perrine had called Hohnhorst out on the play, sending him into a rage. After being ordered by Perrine to leave the field or face ejection, “I made for the bench, but not until after I told him he had his nerve for calling me out after spiking me.”12
In spite of Hohnhorst’s optimism and offseason preparation, the Naps apparently did not see enough in his play – particularly his fielding and difficulty dealing with left-handed pitching – to unseat George Stovall as the 1911 season began. Eddie was still on the squad as it prepared for its season opener on April 12. One day later, however, he was on his way to the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association to play first base while the Mud Hens’ regular operative recovered from injury.13 What at first appeared a temporary assignment turned into almost a full season in Toledo for Hohnhorst when team captain Stovall started the season strong and then replaced Deacon McGuire as manager of the Naps. Under those circumstances, it is unlikely Hohnhorst would have seen much action in Cleveland. On the other hand, he thrived in Toledo for his sixth-place team. He played in 131 games, batting .302 with 20 doubles, 8 triples and a home run. A late season call-up by the Naps was derailed after Eddie broke rules prescribed by the National Commission, baseball’s ruling body, when he stopped off at hometown Covington and participated in a semipro contest.14
The prospects for a future at first base in Cleveland in 1912 brightened for Hohnhorst in October 1911 when George Stovall was removed as manager of the Naps and eventually traded to the St. Louis Browns despite a 74-62 managerial record and a third-place finish. The new manager was Harry Davis, longtime first sacker for the Philadelphia Athletics. Davis would be 38 in 1912. Although he planned to be in uniform, it would most likely be for utility purposes only. Upon his appointment he was asked if Hohnhorst would be his first baseman. He refused to speculate, but there was little doubt that a strong spring would boost Eddie’s chances to secure the position.15 If Davis wasn’t ready to anoint Hohnhorst just yet – after all, at this point George Stovall was still Cleveland property – the Cleveland Leader would take up the cause. An early November headline on its sports page declared, “Hohnhorst Slated For First Cushion,” calling Eddie the “classiest first baseman that ever played in the [American] Association” and “a second Hal Chase.” The paper was particularly impressed with Hohnhorst’s fielding acumen and his ability to steal bases.16
On February 17, 1912, George Stovall was traded to the St. Louis Browns. It was an unpopular trade; nonetheless, the Naps’ first-base job was now Hohnhorst’s to lose. And lose it he did, just not right away. New manager Davis was impressed with Eddie’s speed, telling Cleveland sportswriter Henry Edwards that Hohnhorst “is a fast man and we need fast men. …”17 Davis acted on his conviction by slating Hohnhorst for the leadoff position as spring training 1912 began. Three weeks later Eddie’s health was an issue, his overall performance ragged, and the Naps were looking for help at first base.18 They purchased first sacker Wheeler “Doc” Johnston from minor-league New Orleans. A report out of Chicago in early April had the Naps asking waivers on Hohnhorst. Two days later, however, the Plain Dealer’s Henry Edwards reported that the Naps were not that enamored with Doc Johnston either. They planned to give Hohnhorst a fair chance to be their first baseman.19
Hohnhorst’s “fair trial” at first base in 1912 lasted for 15 games. That it did not last longer appears equal parts poor offense and poor defense. He batted 54 times and had 11 hits, three coming in one game. His .204 batting average included one extra-base hit, a double, and two RBIs. He committed six errors (.963 fielding average), including dropping a pop fly in one game and a throw to an uncovered third base in another. The throw cost his team an extra-inning game against Boston on May 23. In that one Eddie had just entered the contest in place of Art Griggs, the player who had beaten him out of a job as a regular. The wild heave would leave a lasting impression: It was the last play of Hohnhorst’s final game as a major leaguer. Two days later, May 25, 1912, he was released to return to Toledo.
In 1911 Hohnhorst’s stay with the Mud Hens had been therapeutic to his career. This time around, it was different. Less than a month after his arrival in Toledo, he fell and severely wrenched his right shoulder in a June 17 game with Minneapolis. On July 6 he was sold to American Association rival Indianapolis, where he unsuccessfully pinch-hit one time. It was reported that he could hardly hold a bat. Hohnhorst’s ability to recover from his shoulder injury was a condition of the trade as he was back in the Toledo lineup by at least August 14 when he once again injured his shoulder.20 It appears Eddie’s 1912 playing season ended at this point; he had appeared in 20 games for the Mud Hens and batted only .206.
In the spring of 1913 Hohnhorst was back in the Toledo lineup vying for his spot at first base. In mid-April he was sold to the Montgomery Rebels of the Class A Southern Association.21 At the time Hohnhorst was receiving $300 per month from Toledo. Montgomery insisted on paying him only $250 per month. Three days after his arrival in Alabama, Hohnhorst expressed his displeasure by bolting to the Indianapolis entry of the upstart and independent minor-league Federal League.22 He didn’t remain there long. By May 10 he was property of that league’s St. Louis franchise, managed by Jack O’Connor. Less than a month later he was on the bricks again, the reason: “poor sticking.” When Hohnhorst advised former employer Toledo he was now ready to report to Montgomery, a decision by Organized Baseball’s ruling National Commission to permit him to do so was seen as a sign that the commission was not blacklisting players who gave the Federal League a try.23 By then the Rebels had no place for him. In late June they sold Hohnhorst to Austin of the Class B Texas League, where he played in 53 games, posting a .232 batting average with 11 of his 49 hits for extra bases. Apparently Montgomery was still interested. In October 1913 the Rebels placed a reserve on Hohnhorst for the coming season.24
By August 1913 Eddie Hohnhorst was a married man. He and wife Maria had two children. They lived at 1910 Jefferson Avenue in Covington. During one of his offseasons, probably in 1912 after his release from Cleveland and his shoulder injury placed his baseball career in doubt, Eddie joined the Covington Police Department as an officer. He was granted a leave of absence by the force in order to give baseball another try in 1913. In early 1914 he submitted a signed contract to Montgomery, was released and even entertained thoughts of trying to return to a revamped and strengthened Federal League. However, during the evening of March 13 he was on patrol duty in the vicinity of the Latonia (Kentucky) rail yards of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad when, according to one newspaper report, he and a fellow officer spotted “three negroes [sic] acting in a suspicious manner. The negroes ran, two surrendered, but [“Sunny”] Jackson did not. Suddenly the negro turned on Hohnhorst and, whipping out a revolver, commanded the officer to stop or he would kill him. The negro fired, but missed. The men clinched, Hohnhorst broke away, pulled his revolver and shot Jackson through the heart.”25
Sunny Jackson, who had a prior record including a charge of shooting with intent to kill, died from the gunshot wound. The local coroner held a hearing subsequent to the shooting and ruled it “justifiable.”26 During the summer of 1914, Eddie played some semipro ball in the Cincinnati area with a team called the All-Pros. Former big-league pitching star Jess Tannehill was on the squad. In October Hohnhorst made the local crime blotter again. This time it involved his arrests of a local jockey for firing a weapon and an assistant starter for resisting arrest by clubbing the former baseballer.27
The shooting of Sunny Jackson apparently weighed on Eddie Hohnhorst’s mind; the violent incident with the jockey and his pal probably didn’t help matters. A month after the latest fracas, Hohnhorst was reporting that his shoulder was fine. He was looking for a job as a minor-league manager.28 Nothing came of it. By March 1916 Hohnhorst, still a police officer and battling depression, had reportedly been receiving “medical attention” for several months. The incident with Jackson haunted him.29 In the early-morning hours of March 28, Hohnhorst encountered his lieutenant while on patrol. Eddie complained of illness and was sent home. On the way he put his gun to his head and shot himself in the temple.30 He was pronounced dead at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Burial was at Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. He left a wife, two children, and his father. When he took his own life, Eddie Hohnhorst was only 31.
Last revised: August 18, 2022 (zp)
Bailey, Bob, “Baseball, Bluegrass and Suicide,” The Baseball Research Journal, No. 23, Cleveland: SABR, 1994, 75-77.
Johnson, Lloyd, and Miles Wolff, eds., The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, 1997).
Russo, Frank, and Gene Racz, Bury My Heart at Cooperstown: Salacious, Sad, and Surreal Deaths in the History of Baseball (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2006).
Hohnhorst, Eddie, clippings file, National Baseball Library, Cooperstown, NewYork.
1 Cincinnati Enquirer, March 31, 1903. The short obituary listing did not give a first name, but listed the deceased as the wife of William T. Hohnhorst and place of death as Covington, Kentucky.
2 Kentucky Post, November 11, 1897.
3 Certificate of Death of Edw. H. Hohnhorst, deceased March 28, 1916, State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Kentucky. Hohnhorst’s listing in the 1900 US Census creates some confusion by showing his birth year as 1886.
4 Letter dated November 12, 1957, from A.A. Hohnhorst in reply to Joseph E. Simenic, inquiring for the Forest City Publishing Company. Eddie Hohnhorst clippings file, National Baseball Library, Cooperstown, New York.
5 “That Terrible Spike! Even the Umpires Find Occasional Victims,” Cincinnati Post, December 23, 1910. The article calls Hohnhorst, “Eddy,” and it appears the result of a personal interview with the player. Nevertheless there is no record to confirm that there was either a baseball club in Imboden in 1907 or a Coal Field League. An article in 1912 also talks about Hohnhorst’s early playing days in Imboden, relating that Hohnhorst was a pitcher and the players on the team were required to work in the coal mines when not playing ball. See Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 13, 1912. Minor league records for Hohnhorst begin with a listing for 1908 in Anderson, South Carolina. SABR’s Minor League Database, baseball-reference.com/players/h/hohnhed01.shtml.
6 Unless otherwise stated, all minor-league statistics for Hohnhorst are from SABR’s Minor League Database carried under his listing at baseball-reference.com.
7 Augusta Chronicle, July 4, 1908.
8 Cincinnati Post, December 23, 1910. See footnote 5. See also “Hohnhorst Sold to San Antonio,” Atlanta Constitution, April 24, 1910, and Charleston (South Carolina) News and Courier, June 24, 1910. An article headlined “Cleveland Gets a First Sacker From San Antonio,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 10, 1910, states that Atlanta briefly recalled Hohnhorst from San Antonio before selling him outright to the Bronchos.
9 “Cleveland Gets a First Sacker From San Antonio,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 10, 1910.
11 “Hohnhorst Cannot Wait,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 23, 1911.
12 “That Terrible Spike! Even the Umpires Find Occasional Victims,” Cincinnati Post, December 23, 1910.
13 “Hohnhorst Is Released to the Toledo Mud Hens,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 14, 1911.
14 “Hohnhorst Is Coming,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 25, 1911.
15 “Harry Davis Is Selected to Succeed Manager Stovall,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 28, 1911.
16 Cleveland Leader, November 5, 1911. Chase is generally considered one of the best fielding first basemen of all time, if not the best.
17 “Manager Davis Touts Hohnhorst; Says He Will Fill First Base Bill,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 19, 1912.
18 The exact issue whether illness or injury remains unknown. An improvement in Hohnhorst’s “health” is all that is mentioned. Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 29, 1912.
19 “Hohnhorst to Have Fair Try-Out as Nap Regular in Spite of Waivers,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 10, 1912.
20 Indianapolis Star, July 11, 1912.
21 “Ed Hohnhorst to Play First for Dobbs,” Montgomery Advertiser, April 16, 1913.
22 “Award to Player,” datelined Cincinnati (Ohio), June 5, , Eddie Hohnhorst’s clippings file, National Baseball Library, Cooperstown, New York. Hohnhorst’s interest in the infant Federal League may have been piqued by its Covington (Kentucky) franchise. However, by late June 1912 the franchise had relocated from his hometown to Kansas City due to poor attendance.
23 “Hohnhorst’s Case Shows National Commission Keeps No Blacklist,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 6, 1913. The ruling determined that the sale of Hohnhorst by Toledo to Montgomery was binding, and awarded Hohnhorst a salary from April 15 to May 9, at which time he left for the Federal League, but withheld it pending Hohnhorst’s reporting to Montgomery. The commission determined that Hohnhorst was due the $300 per month called for in his Toledo contract and not the $250 a month Montgomery asserted it had owed him upon his arrival.
24 Entry in Eddie Hohnhorst’s clippings file, National Baseball Library, Cooperstown, New York.
25 “Hohnhorst, Policeman, Shoots Kentucky Negro,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 17, 1914.
26 Cincinnati Enquirer, March 17, 1914. An article in the same newspaper two days earlier predicted that Hohnhorst and his fellow officer planned to testify “that Jackson fired the first shot at Hohnhorst after the latter fired in the air with a view of having him [Jackson] stop. A big revolver was found by the side of the negro after he was shot.”
27 “Ten Days In Jail,” Cincinnati Enquirer, October 28, 1914.
28 “Baseball Gossip,” Cincinnati Enquirer, November 29, 1914.
29 “Patrolman Succumbs,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 29, 1916. See also “Officer on His Beat Takes His Own Life,” Cincinnati Times-Star, March 29, 1916. In this article local coroner Riffe told reporters he had talked “frequently” with Hohnhorst and was aware that the shooting incident “prayed (sic) on his mind.”
30 Reports differ as to how far Hohnhorst walked before firing his shot. One report says he had just walked away from his superior officer when it happened. “Officer on His Beat Takes His Own Life,” Cincinnati Times-Star, March 29, 1916. Another says that the lieutenant worried about Hohnhorst getting home on his own and sent Eddie’s partner after him. “Patrolman Succumbs,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 29, 1916. Both reports leave open the question of the nature of Hohnhorst’s illness. There is no indication he had been drinking or self-medicating, but given his mental state it certainly is a possibility.