It’s not every part-time player with a brief major-league career who takes part in a historic baseball event. However, when Emil “Hap” Huhn of the Cincinnati Reds crouched behind the plate in the bottom of the first inning at Chicago’s Weeghman Park preparing for Fred Toney’s first delivery, that is exactly what was about to occur. The date was May 2, 1917. Toney’s mound opponent was James “Hippo” Vaughn of the Chicago Cubs. Nine innings later the game remained scoreless and, for the first time in major-league baseball, hitless. In the tenth the Reds scratched out a pair of hits off Vaughn, the last an RBI infield single by Native-American and Olympic legend Jim Thorpe, to take the lead. In the bottom of the tenth, Toney, with Huhn still catching flawlessly in the midst of an 0-for-3 day at bat, retired the side to claim both a no-hitter and a 1-0 victory in a game witnessed by only about 2,500 fans. Writing in 1948, National Baseball Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen labeled the duel between Toney and Vaughn “the greatest pitching battle of all time.”1 In 1976 a poll conducted by SABR seeking to identify the sport’s “Outstanding Game” ranked the contest number 3.2 A decade later author Bert Sugar listed it 17th on his list of baseball’s greatest games.3
Emil Hugo Huhn’s rise to the ranks of a major leaguer was steady, if by no means meteoric. He was born on March 10, 1892, in North Vernon, a city of about 3,000 residents in southeastern Indiana. In 1883 Emil’s parents, Peter H. and Rosalie Fisher Huhn, had arrived from Germany with their one-year-old son, Otto.4 Emil, two older brothers (Arthur, and John B.), a younger brother (Ernest), and an older sister (Roselia), were born in the US. By 1900 the family was living in Indianapolis, where Peter Huhn was a policeman5 and the boys were playing baseball. Emil completed eight years of formal schooling. He did not attend college.6
In 1910 at the age of 18, Emil began a career in professional baseball in the Class D Blue Grass League in Kentucky. He split time in 16 games playing first base with the Shelbyville/Maysville Rivermen and the Richmond Pioneers.7 A teammate on the Rivermen was 19-year-old Casey Stengel. Despite batting only .200, the right-handed-batting and -throwing Huhn caught on the next season with Hopkinsville (Kentucky) of the Class D Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League, and this time around he showed he belonged, playing in 107 games for the Hoppers and batting .296. Perhaps of more importance over the long haul, he showed he was not only a first sacker but could also catch, opening the season behind the plate in a game viewed by a record crowd of more than 1,500 fans.8
After a season in Hopkinsville, Huhn headed north to sign with the Adrian Lions of the Class D Southern Michigan League. Now a full-time backstop—he caught 248 consecutive games in Adrian9 — the youngster fell off at the plate but found success off the field when he met Bertha Wells of Adrian and married her on October 1, 1912.10 The couple made Adrian their home and had three daughters, Harriet, Ruth Marian, and Evelyn Eustatia.11
The Adrian team had a new name, the Champs, in 1913, perhaps reflecting the fact that they finished in first place the previous year. They also had a catcher with a rejuvenated bat as Huhn raised his average over 50 points, to .305. It placed him among the league’s top 25 batters and earned a promotion. In February 1914 he agreed to play for the Seattle Giants of the Class B Northwestern League. Baseball officials in Seattle seemed particularly pleased with the addition, given rumors that the fledgling Federal League team in Emil’s hometown of Indianapolis was prepared to offer him a contract.12 Emil quickly caught the eye of the local press, telling them he preferred the German pronunciation “Hoon” for his name.13 The Hoosier native, who stood 6-feet tall, was described by a local scribe as weighing “close to 200 (he actually weighed closer to 180 by most reports), has shoulders like those of a professional strong man, and is built proportionally from the ground up.” Nonetheless, Huhn was “a much trimmer individual than we were looking for.”14
At the outset of the 1914 season, Huhn was Seattle’s starting catcher, drawing raves with his bat and strong throwing arm. In May he took over at first base, where he remained for the bulk of the campaign as the Giants battled with perennial power Vancouver for the league pennant. Manager Frank Raymond moved Emil to the cleanup spot in July and the 22-year-old continued to flourish. In mid-September the manager reinserted Huhn as the catcher. At season’s end the Giants (95-61) were second behind Vancouver (96-56).15 The teams split a pair of postseason games. Over the course of the season Emil did his part, batting .295 in 139 games. His .414 slugging average was second on the team. He led the league’s first basemen in fielding.
Huhn’s career took a major upward swing in 1915 when he signed with the Newark Peppers of the outlaw Federal League. In 1914, when they were the Indianapolis Hoosiers, the Peppers had won the league championship. The instability of the league was magnified by relocation of the franchise to Newark in February 1915. The club’s interest in Huhn predated its arrival in New Jersey. According to one report, manager Bill Phillips had tried to sign him for Indianapolis in 1914.16 On April 10 Emil was behind the plate as the Newfeds, as they were also called, opened their home season in front of more than 25,000 fans at Harrison Park, across the Passaic River from downtown Newark. He went 1-for-3 as his team defeated Baltimore, 1-0. Although signed as a catcher, the position he preferred, a vacancy at first plus the availability of receiver Bill Rariden pushed Huhn down the line to first base. He manned that position for 101 of 117 games that season, proving popular with fans and teammates, who nicknamed him “Hunnie.”17
Despite a lineup offering a mix of promising youngsters like future Cooperstown inductee Edd Roush and solid veterans such as the zany infielder Germany Schaefer, as well as pitching stalwarts Ed Reulbach, Cy Falkenberg, and George Mullin, the opening win was one of the few highlights for the Peppers. A 26-27 start decked manager Phillips in favor of third baseman Bill McKechnie. The future Hall of Fame manager, directing his first team, fared somewhat better (54-45), but the team finished in fifth place. Huhn’s bat did little to help the cause. For the season he hit only .227 with 20 extra-base hits and 41 RBIs in 415 at-bats. Still, there were some highlights, including driving in the winning run on at least two occasions18 and spoiling a no-hitter by Pittsburgh rookie Clint Rogge on June 20 before a crowd of 10,000.19
The handful of heroics notwithstanding, Federal League pitching had proved to be a challenge for a youngster making the jump from Class B. Another year of seasoning with the Feds might have helped, but Emil did not get the chance. In December 1915 the Federal League and Organized Baseball entered into an agreement by which the Feds ceased operations. Its players were granted immunity from charges of contract-jumping and were free to sign with the top bidder in either the National or American League. Roush and McKechnie were quickly snapped up by the New York Giants. Huhn did not go quite that quickly. However, once again his versatility in the field paid dividends. On February 10, 1916, he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds.
There can be little doubt that Emil, by now known to many because of his happy disposition as “Hap” Huhn,20 was thrilled with the chance to continue his career for a major-league team. But it was also clear from the start that if he wanted to catch for the Reds he faced an uphill battle. The Reds, a seventh-place finisher under player-manager Buck Herzog in 1915, already carried two backstops in one-time starter Tommy Clarke and his successor, Ivey Wingo. Early in the season, sportswriter Tom Swope wrote that although Huhn had “lots of pepper,” that only made him “a satisfactory third catcher” on the team. However, Swope also noted that the recent acquisition could “play a fair game at first base.”21 The incumbent first baseman, Fritz Mollwitz, only a fair hitter, was on shaky ground. If Emil was to play the field on more than an occasional basis, it would be at first base. That hope was dashed only days before the season opener when the Reds purchased Hal Chase, one of the best-fielding first basemen in baseball history, from the disbanded Buffalo Feds. Chase, who manned the darker side of the game, brought a big bat with him. He won the 1916 National League batting crown and buried Emil deeper on the bench.
Now playing behind two veteran performers at each of his positions, Hap did not make his first appearance for the Reds until May 15, an unsuccessful pinch-hit at-bat in his team’s 27th game. By mid-July Herzog’s Reds were struggling and he was replaced as manager by pitching legend Christy Mathewson, who had come from the New York Giants in a trade. The trade also united Emil with former Newfed teammates Bill McKechnie and Edd Roush. Shortly thereafter, on July 22, Fritz Mollwitz was traded to the Chicago Cubs, opening the door for Huhn to play some first base, usually as a late-inning replacement for Chase. Later, as the Reds stumbled toward yet another seventh-place finish, Mathewson gave Huhn a shot at showing his wares behind the plate. He caught 15 of the Reds’ last 21 games. All told, he played in 37 games, batting .255 in 96 trips to the plate. It was nothing to brag about, but since Huhn was only 24 and playing for a new manager, there might be some light ahead in the tunnel.
Early in 1917 it appeared that Huhn would play a bigger role as the backstop on an improved Reds team on its way to a fourth-place finish. His presence in the lineup on May 2 – when Toney and Vaughn pitched their way into the history books – was just one indication. He caught three of the next four games, garnering four hits along the way. Nonetheless, his catching competition, Wingo and Clarke were on their way to fine years at the plate as well, while Chase was immovable at first base. On July 5 the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that “(m)anager Mathewson to-day released Catcher Emil Huhn to the Indianapolis Club of the American Association. With both Clarke and Wingo catching fine ball and [outfielder Manuel] Cueto” handling warm-ups, Huhn was excess baggage. According to the report, “Huhn is much pleased with the transfer as Indianapolis is his home and he is glad of a chance to perform there.”22 His final numbers for the 1917 Reds were markedly unimpressive. In 23 games he hit safely 10 times in 51 at-bats for an average of .196. Two of the hits were triples and he had three RBIs. An unsuccessful pinch-hit effort on June 30 was his last major-league appearance. At the age of 25 he was returning to the minors.
By all accounts Huhn intended to join his new team, the Indianapolis Indians, in Louisville. But there is no record that he ever played for the Indians in 1917. His next baseball appearance was in 1918 as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association. What happened in Indianapolis? All looked in order on July 5 when a local paper advised that in separate deals the Indians had strengthened an already top-tier team by purchasing veteran major-league hurler Cy Falkenberg from the Philadelphia Athletics and Emil Huhn from the Reds. The deals were met with enthusiasm, particularly the addition of the versatile Huhn who was “born [sic] and reared in Indianapolis and has several brothers who are prominent in semiprofessional and amateur circles.”23 Falkenberg joined his new club and quickly took the mound. Emil was another story. On July 12 it was reported that although he had joined the team in Louisville and followed it to Toledo, he failed to come to contract terms with the Indianapolis club. Team president Jimmy McGill had decided to end the negotiations, content to “stand pat” with what was currently a successful club.24 Money certainly played a part in Huhn’s decision, but perhaps the presence of two catchers and a first baseman on a winning team raised the specter of additional bench sores, cooling Huhn’s ardor for a return to his hometown. Instead he landed with a semipro team, catching for the Muncie (Indiana) Grays.25
The prospect of increased playing time may have been the driving force in Huhn’s agreement to play in Milwaukee in 1918. While Indianapolis was an American Association power, the Brewers were not. Everyone involved with Huhn’s appearance in Milwaukee seemed pleased, especially since the Reds (who still owned Emil’s contract) were able to use the deal to offset the cash sent to the Brewers for the purchase of outfielder Austin McHenry.26 But the 1918 season was shortened by America’s entry into the World War. The league’s final contests were played on July 20. Huhn played in 53 games for manager John J. “Jack” Egan, batting .269 for a fifth-place finisher bolstered by strong pitching from future Chicago White Sox star Dickie Kerr.
In 1917 Huhn had listed a partial hearing problem (“can’t hear out of one ear”) in the “disabilities” section of the armed services registration form.27 For his part in the war effort he returned to Indianapolis to take a job with Nordyke & Marmon Co., helping make airplane engines.28
After the war ended Huhn’s status with the Brewers was both clarified and solidified. Included in the 1918 deal between the Brewers and Reds was an option for Reds owner Garry Herrmann to recall his former catcher-first baseman. Over the course of the winter, when it looked as though there would be no 1919 season, the Reds did not exercise that option, and Huhn automatically became the property of the Brewers.29
Playing time increased for Huhn in 1919 for a Milwaukee team with a new manager (co-owner Pants Rowland, the former field general for the 1917 World Champion Chicago White Sox), but the team finished fifth again. Huhn saw action in 117 games and his increased playing time coincided with increased production. He batted .282 with just under 100 hits. Nonetheless, the purchase of former Athletics backstop Ray Haley gave evidence that Emil would be primarily used as a pinch-hitter in 1920.30 That all changed in early April when he was pressed into service at first base due to an injury. Forced to listen to the boos and catcalls of fans who disagreed with manager Jack Egan’s choice of Huhn for the job, it was only fitting that his ninth-inning home run boosted the Brewers to their first win of the season.31 From that point on the jeers turned to cheers. He remained a fixture in the Brewers’ lineup, playing in 151 games—the majority at first base—and hitting .295, including a mid-July streak of nine hits in 15 tries that included a pair of doubles, four triples, and a home run. Once again, however, the team – now under the ownership of Otto Borchert, the colorful son of an actual Milwaukee brewer—faltered, finishing well back in the pack in the second division.
After his personal success in 1920, it would have appeared that Huhn’s future in Milwaukee was assured. Apparently owner Borchert did not see it that way. In November he sold Huhn to Augusta (Georgia) of the Class B South Atlantic League. At first glance it would seem a startling demotion for a player not yet 30. But Borchert quickly clarified it. “Huhn has always had an ambition to manage a ball club,” he said, “and we sold him so he could land a job as a pilot. He will manage Augusta next year and we wish him all the luck in the world.”32 Word in Augusta was that the amount the club paid Milwaukee was “substantial,” but less than that offered by a number of other clubs seeking to purchase Huhn as strictly a player. The difference maker: the opportunity for Huhn to manage.33
The move to the Old South appeared a good one for Huhn from the outset. Early on he hit it off with the fans. On the field he prospered as well, although again playing first base rather than his preferred spot behind the plate. The drop in playing levels certainly helped his work with the bat. In 155 games, batting mostly cleanup, he hit a then career-high .359. Sixty-five of his 172 hits were for extra bases. He fared well as a manager, too, leading the Georgians to a third-place finish with a 73-73 record. The results more than likely earned Emil another season in Augusta, but his hitting caught the eye of the Mobile Bears of the Class A Southern Association. The lure of the higher classification (and perhaps a larger pay check) was apparently enough to encourage Huhn to forgo managing; the Bears were managed by Bert Niehoff, a former major leaguer in the first of 24 seasons as a minor-league skipper.
If Huhn missed managing in 1922, you could not tell it from his batting record: He batted .311 for a pennant–winning team. His career-high 12 home runs tied future major leaguer Johnny Schulte for team honors. The next season brought even more batting plaudits for Emil as he hit a league-leading .345, and almost a third of his 183 hits were for extra bases. In his two years in Mobile, Huhn became a fan favorite. Thus it came as no surprise that when Bert Niehoff took his managing skills to a league rival, the Atlanta Crackers, the fans stumped for Emil’s appointment to the post.34 By early December the fans’ faith in their first baseman was validated by ownership.
As he prepared to manage a minor-league team for the second time in his career, Huhn realized he had big shoes to fill. In two seasons directing the Bears, Bert Niehoff had fashioned one pennant winner and a second-place finish. Despite predictions of continued success under player-manager Huhn, the Bears finished the 1924 season in fifth place. Explanations ran from weak pitching to some type of illness that may have affected Huhn (although he still managed to bat .292).35 Whatever the real reason for the dropoff, management decided a change of leadership was in order. Huhn was released over the winter.
Now 33 and a man without a team, Huhn headed west to play for the Dallas Steers of the Class A Texas League. A mere 28 games into the season and with only a .225 average to show for it, Emil was happily on the road again. On June 2, 1925, he was announced as the new manager of his former team in Augusta as a midseason replacement for first-year manager Troy Agnew.36 Now known as the Tygers, the club was mired in sixth place when Huhn took over the reins. He was greeted warmly by fans and the local press alike. According to local sports columnist Bob Parks, “There are many who attend the games now who remember the rather quiet, calm individual who was at the helm of the Augusta team in years gone by—in 1921 to be exact. Quiet and modest though he is, Huhn always has the welfare of his team at heart, and will see that justice is meted out in all quarters.”
Parks added, “Emil Huhn is a competent leader. Taciturn he is, but quick to act. He is a smart baseball player and a leader who is quick to discern the weaknesses of his machine, and equally as quick to provide remedial measures for these weaknesses.”37
It seems big things were expected from Huhn upon his return to Georgia, both at the plate and in the dugout. The Tygers’ record stood at 16-21 when he took over. In less than two months the team moved from sixth to fourth place, squaring its record at 41-41. At the plate Huhn was enjoying a fine season, as well. Between games he even had time for a bit of fishing, hooking a “rock fish weighing something over six pounds.”38
On September 5 the Tygers improved their record to 13 games above .500 with a 6-5 win over second-place Charlotte. Their record of 67-54 found them in third place, only six games behind first-place Spartanburg in the loss column. Huhn played first base and aided the cause with a double in five trips to the plate. It was his 31st double and left him batting a sterling .361 in 87 contests.
After the game Huhn drove six of his players back to Augusta in a large touring car. A second touring car followed a few minutes behind with team president J. Marvin Wolfe and the remaining players. When Huhn’s vehicle was about 14 miles from Camden, South Carolina, it entered a “blind” curve in the road and went out of control, overturning and landing in a deep ditch. The vehicle was reportedly traveling 30 mph at the time. It was approximately 9:30 p.m. Emil was killed instantly. He was but 33. His front-seat passenger, 30-year-old catcher Frank Reiger, died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. Others in the vehicle and their injuries—none life-threatening— were pitcher Harry Smythe (broken collarbone), pitcher Kenneth “Duke” Sedgwick (bruises to the head), shortstop Joe Buskey (back injury), catcher Tobe Livingston (bruises to the head), and pitcher Chris Haury (shoulder and back injuries). 39
In the days that followed the accident, the city of Augusta mourned the death of Huhn and Reiger. Hundreds of fans marched past their coffins, which remained at a local funeral home pending further disposition of the bodies. An editorial in the Augusta Chronicle recognized that the deadly automobile accident had “enveloped a large portion of this community in sadness.”40 The editors called for the owners of the Tygers to dedicate the proceeds of a coming game to the families of the deceased. Team president Wolfe was only too happy to comply. He had roomed with Emil on road trips and considered him a close friend dating from his term as manager in 1921.41 The benefit game was played on September 12, the last day of the season. The gate receipts went to the Huhn and Reiger families, along with an additional $250 collected from the large crowd.42 (Collections were taken up in other cities in the league as well.) The Tygers won the game shortened by darkness, ending the season in fourth place. Their record after the accident was 2-5.
Huhn was survived by his wife and three young children. While the proceeds from the benefit game undoubtedly eased some of the financial burden, there must have been significant concerns in that regard. To some extent those concerns were eased in early 1928 when the Georgia Supreme Court upheld a workers compensation award of $3,825 to Huhn’s family. A similar award was made to the beneficiaries of Frank Reiger. In doing so over the protestations of the Augusta ball club and its insurers, the Supreme Court determined professional baseball was a business and not merely a sport.43
Augusta was not the only city that mourned the loss of Emil Huhn. At the time of the accident his wife, Bertha, was in her husband’s adopted home of Adrian, Michigan, caring for her ailing mother. Arrangements were made to bring her deceased husband home for burial. The funeral service was held at Adrian’s Christ Episcopal Church on September 9, 1925. Burial followed at Oakwood Cemetery. 44
Despite an early death, Emil “Hap” Huhn’s professional career spanned 16 seasons, including 2½ seasons at the top rung of his chosen sport. When asked in 1921 for his career highlights, he had not hesitated as to one of them. In Emil’s own words he had “caught a world’s record game.”45
The author wishes to thank SABR members Pete Cava and Rex Hamann, as well as Sheila Kell of the Jennings County (Indiana) Library and Mindy VanHouten of the Westerville (Ohio) Public Library for their contributions to this article.
Lee Allen, The Cincinnati Reds (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1948).
Susan Dellinger, Red Legs and Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series (Cincinnati: Emmis Books, 2006).
Brian A. Podoll, The Minor League Milwaukee Brewers, 1859-1952 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2003).
James K. Skipper, Jr., Baseball Nicknames: A Dictionary of Origins and Meanings (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 1992).
Bert Randolph Sugar, Baseball’s 50 Greatest Games (New York: Book Express, 1986).
Robert Peyton Wiggins, The Federal League of Baseball Clubs: The History of an Outlaw Major League, 1914-1915 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2009).
Adrian (Michigan) Daily Telegram
Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle
Hopkinsville (Kentucky) Kentuckian
Newark (New Jersey) Evening News
The Sporting News
SABR’s Minor League Database, www.minors.sabrwebs.com
1915 Newark Peppers, www.toyou.com/fl/teams/Newark.html
National Baseball Library, Cooperstown, New York, Player file for Emil Huhn.
US Census Bureau, 1900 US Census.
1 Lee Allen, The Cincinnati Reds, 119.
2 Bert Randolph Sugar, Baseball’s 50 Greatest Games, 7.
3 Sugar, Baseball’s 50 Greatest Games, 74-76.
4 Ship’s Log, General Vedder, Bremen, Germany, to Baltimore, Maryland, arrival September 1883. Information furnished courtesy of Sheila Kell, Genealogy Department, Jennings County Library, North Vernon, Indiana.
5 US Bureau of the Census, 1900. See also Adrian (Michigan) Daily Telegram, September 7, 1925.
6 Information form for Emil Hugo “Hap” Huhn completed by his brother Ernest Huhn. Emil Huhn Clippings File, National Baseball Library, Cooperstown, New York.
7 Unless otherwise specified, all minor-league statistics are from SABR’s Minor League Database, http://minors.sabrwebs.com.
8 Hopkinsville (Kentucky) Kentuckian, May 18, 1911.
9 Newark (New Jersey) Evening News, April 3, 1915.
10 Information form, Emil Huhn Clippings File, National Baseball Library.
11 Adrian (Michigan) Daily Telegram, September 7, 1925.
12 Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 22, 1914.
13 Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 21, 1914.
14 Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 20, 1914.
15 Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 14, 1914.
16 Newark Evening News, April 3, 1914.
17 Newark Evening News, April 16, 1915.
18 Robert Peyton Wiggins, The Federal League of Baseball Clubs, 199 and 251-252.
19 Wiggins, The Federal League, 226.
20 James K. Skipper, Jr., Baseball Nicknames, 133.
21 Cincinnati Post, March 27, 1916.
22 Cincinnati Enquirer, July 5, 1917.
23 Indianapolis Star, July 5, 1917.
24 Indianapolis Star, July 12, 1917.
25 Milwaukee Journal, February 8, 1918.
26 Milwaukee Sentinel, February 10, 1918.
27 Susan Dellinger, Red Legs and Black Sox, 113.
28 Baseball Magazine form, Emil Huhn Clippings File, National Baseball Library.
29 Milwaukee Journal, December 4, 1918.
30 Milwaukee Journal, December 29, 1919.
31 Milwaukee Journal, April 19, 1920.
32 Milwaukee Journal, November 11, 1920. See also Milwaukee Sentinel, November 10, 1920, which had Huhn heading to Atlanta as player-manager.
33 Augusta Chronicle, November 17, 1920.
34 The Sporting News, November 29, 1923, 1.
35 The Sporting News, June 11, 1925, 2. See also Augusta Chronicle, May 31, 1925.
36 The Sporting News, June 4, 1925, 1.
37 Column “Sparks From the Parks,” The Sporting News, May 31, 1925.
38 The Sporting News, August 19, 1925.
39 The Sporting News, September 6, 1925. The article indicated that Smythe had just been sold to the Philadelphia Phillies. He did pitch for the Phillies, but not until 1929. Sedgwick and Buskey each had brief careers in the major leagues. Livingston, who appeared as a catcher in the box score of the September 5 contest with Charlotte, is not listed on the Augusta Tygers roster for 1925 as carried in SABR’s Minor League Database.
40 The Sporting News, September 7, 1925.
41 The Sporting News, September 9, 1925.
42 The Sporting News, September 13, 1925.
43 The Sporting News, February 17, 1928.
44 Adrian Daily Telegram, September 7 and September 10, 1925.
45 Baseball Magazine form, Emil Huhn Clippings File, National Baseball Library.