On All Saints’ Eve 1906, 17-year-old Southern California native Elmer Rieger made his professional baseball debut in the highest level of minor leagues at the time, for the local Los Angeles Angels in the Class A Pacific Coast League. Unsurprisingly, a good audition it was not. Yet a little over three years later, the spitballer emerged as one of Roger Bresnahan’s rookie relievers during the first half of the 1910 St. Louis Cardinals season. After a few years with St. Paul of the American Association, Rieger returned to the PCL in 1914 and hurled there through 1923. He also became an aspiring thespian, and, later, painter for Hollywood movie sets.
Elmer Jay Rieger was born on February 25, 1889, in Perris, California, a small town south of Riverside. His parents were Julius Rieger, a real estate agent who emigrated from Germany in 1875, and Mary (Therriault) Rieger, born in New Brunswick, Canada. Elmer’s brothers were Paul, one year older, and Joseph, one year younger.
In August 1905, the 16-year-old righthander pitched around Southern California for the powerful Rivera amateur ball team, with Rube Ellis as a teammate.1 The next summer, he competed for the Keystones amateur squad.2 In the fall of 1906, Rieger starred for the Moran amateur team in Los Angeles, managed by Oscar Chavez, as they traveled to Globe, Arizona, for a tournament with cash prizes.3 He whitewashed Tucson 13-0 on October 13, as the young Morans won the tourney.4
Shortly after his return, on October 31, 1906, Rieger’s one-game tryout with the Los Angeles Angels took place against the Seattle Siwashes. The “local slabster…met with no end of trouble in an effort to mow down the Seattle’s [sic] gunners.” He coughed up six first-inning runs in a 9-2 loss to Rube Vickers and Seattle.5 The Los Angeles Times headline proclaimed “New Busher Handed His” and the story beneath said, “the lamb that was led to the slaughter for the Siwashes was a boy named Rieger.” It was claimed there “was something the matter with all the regular pitchers whom the Looloos have on the salary list,” thus necessitating Rieger’s tryout.6
In April 1907, Rieger, who measured six feet and weighed 175 pounds, pitched for the Hamburgers of Los Angeles in the first game of the semipro Southern California League.7 By July, he latched on with Cananea in Sonora, Mexico, of the Miners League, with Chick Gandil, Mickey Ryan, and old Hamburgers teammate Bert Whaling.8 In October 1907, Rieger moved to the Hermosillo squad.9 He lost 1-0 to a Douglas, Arizona, team while striking out 14.10
For 1908, both Rieger and Gandil signed with the Shreveport (Louisiana) Pirates of the Class C Texas League, which included Zack Wheat, while Cananea lamented the loss of their two stars.11 Rieger threw an opening-day, 1-0 shutout for Shreveport over Austin.12 For the season, he posted a balanced 16-16 record for the Pirates. The next year, Rieger missed four weeks after a long illness but returned in July and compiled an 11-13 record for Shreveport.13 In October 1909 and back home, Rieger took the mound for the Los Angeles Maiers (which soon joined the short-lived Class D Southern California Trolley League), shutting out the Bakersfield Drillers, 5-0.14
In the off-season, the St. Louis Cardinals purchased Rieger from Shreveport. He showed up late to spring training in Little Rock, Arkansas – arriving in March, only three days before the squad was to break camp. Nonetheless, he quickly garnered close attention from Roger Bresnahan, showing “an excellent curveball…and, best of all, a good change of pace.”15 Rieger, along with fellow rookie pitcher Rube Geyer, was retained by the varsity.
Rieger relieved Johnny Lush in the Cardinals’ fourth game of the season on April 20 at home against the Chicago Cubs. He tossed two perfect innings while striking out three – at least that’s what the official box score would reflect. Rieger actually allowed a run on two hits in the top of the eighth, but a predetermined time limit was reached before the inning could be completed. Thus, he was not charged with the run.16 He then started for the only time as a big-leaguer in the Redbirds’ eighth game, allowing five runs on six hits in a 10-6 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, dropping St. Louis to 1-7 to start the season.
Rieger got into six games in May, and two more in both June and July. In his final major league appearance, on July 20, Rieger relieved in the sixth inning against Philadelphia. He and allowed four runs in two innings, as Phillies manager Red Dooin’s men held “another big field day.”17 After the game, Bresnahan sold Rieger to the St. Paul Saints of the American Association.18 In Rieger’s 13 appearances, the Cardinals went 1-12. Eventually they stumbled to a seventh-place finish.
Meanwhile, Rieger won nine games for St. Paul to finish 1910. Also in 1910, Rieger married a young lady named Bessie Etta Taylor, born in Illinois.
Returning to St. Paul for 1911, Rieger surrendered an unsightly 112 runs in 166 innings, yet still finished just below .500 with an 8-9 record.19 He started the next year with a sore arm and then was suspended by St. Paul for over 30 days because of his absence. Things improved in mid-June, however, after Rieger and his dead arm visited physical therapy guru Bonesetter Reese for “knifeless treatment.”20 Rieger ended up winning 10 straight games, ending with a solid 11-6 tally. After the season, he appeared with “Happy” Hogan’s All-Stars in November out in Los Angeles. He also appeared with a Los Angeles brewing company managed by Louie Camp in November.21 During the off-season, suffering a new “kink” in his arm, Rieger met with the Los Angeles Angels’ trainer, Dr. Finlay, who worked on him.22
Rieger balked at heading back to St. Paul’s training camp because the team no longer agreed to pay the transportation for his wife as well.23 He preferred to play in the Coast League, ideally with Venice or Los Angeles. The Angels could have selected him for the American Association waiver price of $750 early in the prior season, but after Rieger’s summer renaissance, he was off the table. After winning 12 of his last 18 games for St. Paul through mid-August, Rieger was purchased by the Boston Red Sox, for fall delivery. The Boston Globe reported that he was a “slender, not overstrong young man, whose success is due to headwork.”24 The paper also wrote that Rieger “is a delicate looking, slender fellow, extremely quiet and modest and there is nothing spectacular in his pitching. He has exceptional control, good curves, and a tremendous fast ball, which he uses occasionally. His habits are the best and his manner unobtrusive, and he is popular with the fans because of his quietness and freedom from swell head.”25 Rieger, although listed as a switch-hitter, was terrible at the plate, posting a .070 average for St. Paul in 1913 with a 6-for-86 performance.
After the 1913 season, Rieger barnstormed with Sacramento Sacts catcher Harry Cheek and other Pacific Coast Leaguers in a series of 10 games in Arizona.26 By year’s end, reports again were that he preferred to play with a Coast club, with no mention of Boston. Rieger never did go to Boston; instead, he signed with the Portland Beavers, back in the PCL. He won seven of his first eight games for the Oregonians,27 before settling for a 12-11 record for 1914.
Before the 1915 season, Rieger was threatening to jump to the nascent Federal League, in a negotiating ploy against Beavers manager Judge McCredie.28 Once Rieger’s bluff was called, he was unceremoniously cut by Portland as they reached their May 1st 18-player limit. However, he was quickly scooped up by the Venice Tigers and new manager Doc White.29 Unfortunately, Rieger soon contracted blood poisoning in the foot and was laid up. In July, the Tigers released him along with another pitcher, Charlie Chech.30 So Rieger slid over to star on a semipro Universal City (California) Sunday movie team.31 He also “cavort[ed] before the camera” during the week in his attempt at being an actor.32 In the fall, Rieger was offered a 1916 contract by the Salt Lake City Bees, but he preferred to wait until the next spring to assess his options.
When no offers materialized in the spring of 1916, Rieger moved to Arizona.33 In 1917, his war draft registration (completed in Globe, Gila County) showed Rieger as a miner at Old Dominion. By March 1918, he returned to the coast, re-signing (as did Chech) with Vernon, which had relocated from Venice.34 Rieger played in only 13 games.
Before the 1919 season, the Los Angeles Evening Express wrote about the Vernon club, owned by Hollywood movie star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle: “A good many of the so-called stars of the present day are not stars. They’re comets. They shine once every 99 years. Charley Chech and Elmer Rieger should not rise up on their hind legs and become peeved when they read this.”35 For 1919, Rieger posted a 14-16 record over 37 combined games for Vernon and Seattle in the PCL.
The next year, Rieger was purchased by the Salt Lake Bees, led by manager Ernie Johnson. However, he pitched in only 17 games that year.36 Returning to the Bees for 1921, Rieger led the seventh-place club with a 13-12 record. In one complete game victory in May over Portland, Rieger “spat on the ball with such good effect that his adversaries were held practically helpless. For every time he got a notion to stray from control, he merely spat a little more copiously on the ball and turned the Beavers back.”37 He even collected five RBIs on three hits in the same contest. He also played some first base and outfield during the season for the undermanned Bees. Returning to Southern California after the season, he pitched in the California Winter League.
Heading into the Bees’ 1922 spring training, spitballer Rieger stated “as long as the old saliva holds out, I’ll be in there giving ’em the best I know how.”38 He even was pressed into managerial duties during a July game when skipper Duffy Lewis was suspended, although Lewis still ran the team from a grandstand seat back of the Bees’ dugout.39 After posting a 2-8 record in 30 appearances, mostly in relief, Rieger was cut in September.40
Starting his eighth year in the PCL, Rieger latched on with his old Vernon Tigers team. He beat Salt Lake in April, one of his few successes on his way to a 3-7 record.41 Cut during the summer, Rieger signed with the Fresno Tigers of the California Valley League, and faced Dinuba’s Ray Keating in his debut. It was stated that Rieger, “with no little eclat and facile delicacy, is a pitcher of the first water.”42
In 1924, Rieger was one of the original Los Angeles-based founders of the Association of Professional Ball Players of America.43 He had one last hurrah in professional ball that year, twirling for Dallas and Shreveport in the Texas League. However, after allowing six runs and 11 hits to Galveston in early May, he was released by Dallas.44 Following a short stint with Shreveport, he was sent packing for the last time, and headed back to the Golden State. In November, Rieger faced off against Bill Drake and the Negro National League’s Kansas City Monarchs in November in L.A.45 Rieger also had a team in the All Professional Winter League in the L.A. area, with Willie Ludolph on his winter staff.46
Rieger pitched in a June 1925 “Old-Timers” game in L.A., sponsored by the APBPA to create a “home for aged and infirm” former local pro ball players. Poolhall owner and former player Harry “Dad” Meek was a leader.47 This became an annual event, with the 1930 edition announcing that “Rieger still acts like a ball player and hasn’t forgotten a few ‘cheating’ tricks out there on the rubber.”48 In 1926, he had performed for the Pasadena Merchants. In 1927, Rieger, being a former Salt Lake player, was mentioned as a potential manager for the Utah-Idaho League, saying he was still in the Southern California house-building business.49 The 1930 census shows that Elmer and Bessie lived in L.A. with Elmer’s brother Joseph and mother Mary. Elmer was working as a house painter and Joseph followed in his grandfather’s footsteps as a real estate agent. Rieger later transitioned his skill set to work as a motion picture studio painter. Bessie sadly passed away in February 1940.
Elmer Rieger remarried to a native Californian named Madeline (maiden name unknown) and moved to Culver City, a Los Angeles suburb, in his retirement years. He died on October 21, 1959, in Los Angeles and is buried at the Inglewood (California) Park Cemetery. He was survived by his wife at the time, Madeline, and brothers Paul and Joe.50
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Larry DeFillipo.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted:
MyHeritage.com Birth, Marriage, and Death Records
1 Whittier (California) News, August 5, 1905: 2.
2 “Amateurs Play Many Games,” Los Angeles Herald, July 23, 1906: 5.
3 “Morans Leave Today for Arizona Trip,” Los Angeles Herald, September 27, 1906: 5.
4 “Thirteen to Nothing,” (Tucson) Arizona Daily Star, October 14, 1906: 1.
5 “Seattle Has Fun with Amateur,” Los Angeles Herald, November 1, 1906: 8.
6 “New Busher Handed His,” Los Angeles Times, November 1, 1906: 6.
7 “Stars Defeated First League Game,” Santa Ana (California) Daily Register, April 29, 1907: 1.
8 “Southern Baseball Players Make Good,” Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1907: 90.
9 Arizona Daily Star, October 23, 1907: 8.
10 “Morning Game,” Tucson (Arizona) Citizen, October 22, 1907: 5.
11 “First Game at Douglas with Cananea,” Bisbee (Arizona) Daily Review, April 5, 1908: 5.
12 “Austin Loses to Shreveport,” Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, April 19, 1908: 3.
13 “Pirates Beaten,” Shreveport (Louisiana) Journal, July 21, 1909: 8.
14 “Afternoon Heat is 12-Inning Tie 3 to 3; While Maiers Win Second 5-0,” Bakersfield (California) Morning Echo, October 19, 1909: 3.
15 “Rieger’s Work Makes Roger’s Smile Expand,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 5, 1910: 17.
16 “Lucky Break Gives Cubs Victory, 4 to 2,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 21, 1910: 13. A two-hour time limit was agreed upon before the game so the Cardinals could catch a train to Pittsburgh for the next day’s game.
17 “Phillies Hit Home Team Twirlers Hard,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 21, 1910: 10.
18 “Game Sidelights,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 22, 1910: 10.
19 “Waddell Foots List,” Davenport (Iowa) Democrat and Leader, December 18, 1912: 7.
20 “Rieger is Happy,” Henryetta (Oklahoma) Standard, June 13, 1912: 3.
21 “Camp Coming with Strorg (sic) Team for Sunday Game,” Oxnard (California) Courier, November 15, 1912: 8.
22 “Between Innings,” Los Angeles Evening Express, February 21, 1913: 20.
23 “Elmer Rieger Having Trouble with Club,” Los Angeles Evening Express, March 4, 1913: 18.
24 “Pres McAleer Also Announces Purchase of Rieger, a St. Paul Pitcher,” Boston Globe, August 2, 1913: 5.
25 “Rieger Has Won 12 of 18,” Boston Globe, August 2, 1913: 5.
26 “Coast League Stars Arrange 10 Games,” El Paso (Texas) Herald, October 31, 1913: 9.
27 “Down Goes Ehmke! Beaver Boxman Leads League,” San Francisco Examiner, June 23, 1914: 13.
28 From Rieger’s file at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
29 “New Chief Signs Hurler Rieger for Bengals,” Los Angeles Evening Express, May 24, 1915: 17.
30 “Pitchers Go Off Disabled List; Two Men Released,” Bakersfield Morning Echo, July 6, 1915: 6.
31 “Bill to Take Foxes to Southland Covert,” Los Angeles Evening Express, September 21, 1915: 22.
32 “Notes,” Salt Lake Tribune, September 15, 1915: 13.
33 “Former Beaver and Tiger Hurler Seeks Position with Bees,” Evening Express, January 10, 1916: 21.
34 “Check (sic) and Elmer Rieger Sign Vernon Contracts,” San Bernardino County Sun, March 22, 1918: 3.
35 “Food for Fans and Acorns for Squirrels,” Los Angeles Evening Express, April 4, 1919: 16.
36 “Elmer Rieger is Bought by Saints from Seattle Club,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 26, 1920: 12.
37 “Bees Whale Two Beaver Pitchers for Hefty Gains,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 25, 1921: 12.
38 “Bees’ Pitching Staff Much Strengthened by Addition of Big Sam,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 20, 1922: 10.
39 “Howard & Rieger, Exclusive Dealers in 2-0 Shutouts,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 5, 1922: 12.
40 “Bee Boss Releases Veteran Elmer Rieger,” Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), September 18, 1922: 10.
41 Lee Delaney, “Elmer Rieger, Castoff, Drags Our Bees Out of First Place,” Salt Lake Telegram, April 24, 1923: 7.
42 “Rejuvenated Tigers Tackle Dinuba in Fresno To-morrow,” Fresno (California) Bee, August 25, 1923: 16.
43 Stub Nelson, “The Second Guess,” Los Angeles Evening Post-Record, May 31, 1930: 10.
44 “Crabs Pound Steer Hurlers,” Houston Post, May 10, 1924: 10.
45 “Monarchs to Battle Joe Pirrone Team,” Los Angeles Evening Post-Record, November 15, 1924: 5.
46 “White Kings Tackle Reiger (sic) Team Sunday,” Los Angeles Evening Post-Record, November 29, 1924: 13.
47 “Diamond Stars of Long Ago in Benefit Clash,” Evening Vanguard (Venice, California), June 13, 1925: 2.
48 Stub Nelson, “The Second Guess,” Los Angeles Evening Post-Record, June 24, 1930: 10.
49 Wahoo Crawford and Elmer Rieger are Prospects for Managership,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 13, 1927: 14.
50 “Elmer Jay Rieger,” Los Angeles Times, October 25, 1959: 66.