Eddie Kolb pitched a single major league game as a teenager under circumstances that many people would have been embarrassed to own up to having played. But, by all appearances, it remained a distinction that he cherished until the end of a life that included many other accomplishments.
Edward William Kolb was born in Cincinnati on July 20, 1880, one of four children of Louis and Minnie Kolb. By 1899, he was captaining the Norwood Base Ball Club, a local amateur baseball team formerly known as the Ivanhoes, and dreaming of a career in professional baseball. (Cincinnati Enquirer, April 14, 1899) At first nobody seemed to be interested in giving him that chance, but then a unique opportunity presented itself.
Eddie was employed as a cigar boy at the Gibson House, the Cincinnati hotel where the Cleveland Spiders stayed during their final series of the 1899 season. The Spiders were about to complete the most disheartening season ever experienced by a major league baseball team. Cleveland had been one of the National League’s strongest franchises for most of the 1890s, boasting stars like Cy Young and Jesse Burkett and a fiery manager in Patsy Tebeau. But the club’s owners, brothers Frank and M. Stanley Robison, were disappointed in attendance at Spiders games and began to consider alternatives.
Prior to the 1899 season, they purchased the St. Louis team and transferred all of Cleveland’s best players and manager Tebeau to their new club. This left Cleveland with a team so hopelessly inept that home games were pretty much abandoned partway through the season. The result was that the Spiders won only 20 games that season.
What was more amazing was that the team completed its 154-game schedule, persevering through road trip after road trip and loss after loss. Thus when player-manager Joe Quinn arrived in Cincinnati with his troops, it must have been with considerable relief that the end of the season was in sight.
Over the course of that season, Quinn had become acquainted with Kolb – ballplayers who play no home games have a tendency to get to know hotel personnel all too well! Somehow Kolb persuaded the long-suffering manager to let him pitch the second game of a doubleheader on the last day of the season. He proceeded to surrender 19 runs in the Spiders’ 134th loss of the season, a record that has never been approached. It was the last National League game ever played by a Cleveland team and was naturally the end of Eddie Kolb’s major league career as well. (Hetrick, 171, 181)
Yet it did nothing to quell Kolb’s enthusiasm for baseball. In 1902 he managed a pennant-winner in the Ohio State League and in the following season he managed the Huntington, West Virginia, club to the championship of the High River Valley League. Neither of these leagues were part of organized baseball, but Kolb was starting to make a name for himself.
In January of 1904, he was well enough known for Sporting Life to mention that he was going to Palm Beach, Florida, to work for the Florida East Coast Railroad. (Sporting Life, January 9, 1904) By the time the baseball season started he was back in Cincinnati and again managing the Norwoods in a Saturday semi-pro league.
Before the 1905 season, Kolb earned another mention in Sporting Life when he signed to play right field and manage the Vincennes, Indiana, entry in the Kitty League. (Sporting Life, March 11, 1905) He guided the team, nicknamed the Alices, to the second-half title in 1905 and the league pennant in 1906, an accomplishment that earned the team a full-page photo in the 1907 Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide.
In 1907 he started the season as manager, captain and center fielder of the Brockton team in the New England League. He was now spending each winter in Florida, and took advantage to run and organize a winter hotel league. He must also have been doing well financially, as he made an unsuccessful attempt to purchase the Montreal franchise in November of 1908. (Sporting News, November 12, 1908)
After his bid to acquire the Montreal franchise failed, Eddie Kolb gradually loosened his ties with baseball. He continued to winter in Florida, now in St. Augustine, and was involved in a variety of business enterprises. But by 1911, he had settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he worked in the sleeping and dining car departments of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.
With the opportunity to see much of Western Canada, in 1913 he decided to settle in Calgary, Alberta, where he opened a restaurant and catering business. Kolb’s Restaurant proved a success and Eddie got married and raised two sons.
He operated the restaurant for twenty-two years and there are unconfirmed reports that he became involved in the management of that city’s minor league team during these years. (Hetrick) By the 1930s, however, he had become involved in the development of an oilfield known as Turner Valley.
Oil had first been discovered at the site around 1910, but the amount was small and petroleum remained a minor part of the local economy. But Kolb was one of a group who became convinced that Turner Valley had much greater potential. In 1935 he sold his restaurant to devote his energies to the oil industry full-time.
He was appointed as the first secretary of the Alberta Petroleum Association when it was formed in 1938, and began to work closely with the provincial and federal government agencies responsible for petroleum. That same year the provincial government created the Alberta Energy Conservation Board and in 1939 British American Oil opened a refinery in Calgary. These two developments pretty much ensured Calgary’s status as the administrative center of the burgeoning industry.
Eventually the Alberta Petroleum Association grew into the Western Canada Petroleum Association and Kolb served as secretary and treasurer of the new group. (Lethbridge Herald, June 23, 1942, October 28 and December 14, 1946) In 1947, a major oil discovery in Leduc, Alberta, just south of Edmonton, help transform oil and gas into the province’s main industry. But with Calgary well established as the industry’s administrative capital, the oil companies that rushed in set up their headquarters there. Kolb must have felt considerable pride in that accomplishment.
In 1949, Kolb died suddenly of a heart attack. Now known as E. W. Kolb, he had come a long way from the day fifty years earlier when, as Eddie Kolb the cigar boy, he talked his way into an appearance on a major league baseball diamond. Obituaries naturally focused on his business accomplishments, but his long ago involvement with baseball was not forgotten.
The Calgary Herald reported that Kolb had played major league baseball for the Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles and effused: “He began his playing career as a pitcher, but later was transferred to the outfield when his heavy hitting was noticed.” It added that he retained a keen interest in sports and even acted as a baseball
This is a tactful and not entirely accurate way of describing the unusual circumstances surrounding Eddie Kolb’s lone major league game. It does show, however, that his one day wearing a Cleveland Spider uniform remained a treasured memory long after he had gone on to bigger and better things.
“E. W. Kolb’s Funeral Services Held Today,” Calgary Herald, October 3, 1949, 16.
SABR Biographical Research Committee Report, May-June 2004.
J. Thomas Hetrick, Misfits (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1991).
Greg Rhodes and John Snyder, Redleg Journal (Cincinnati; Road West, 2000);.
Other: contemporary newspapers, censuses, vital records and city directories.