Injuries forced Chicago White Stockings player-manager Cap Anson to dip into his reserve team early in the 1884 season and call up a promising right-handed pitcher named George Crosby. He actually pitched respectably in the three games he started, but those three games were the extent of his major-league career, and as far as can be determined, his career at any level of Organized Baseball.
But that was not the last anyone heard of Crosby. Some years later he moved to San Francisco and gained a reputation of having one of the finest tenor singing voices in the Bay Area. Crosby also gained some note in a less favorable way. His wife was the subject of a scandalous attempted murder-suicide investigation involving another man that made front page headlines in California newspapers for several weeks.
George Washington Crosby was born in September of 1857 (no specific birth date is known) in Lyons, Iowa. This town was located at the eastern edge of the state, across the Mississippi River from Illinois. It later merged into the city of Clinton, Iowa. His parents were John B. Crosby, a carpenter originally from New Hampshire, and Hannah (née Phillips), a native of New York. He had three older sisters named Mary Agnes, Eva, and Ada; a younger brother, John; and another sister called Miriam who followed George. George’s father, John, served in the Civil War and died of typhoid fever in 1870. When the 1870 US Census was taken, Hannah was listed as head of the Crosby household.
According to the 1878 Chicago City Directory, George was living in that city and employed as a clerk. By the 1880 US Census, he was living with his sister Ada and brother-in-law William Merkler in Chicago and employed as a floor inspector. Although he likely played with area amateur or semipro teams soon after his arrival in Chicago, the first press report of Crosby pitching was from August 1883 as a member of the Chicago Unions, an independent team formed earlier that season.1
Around that time a rival league called the Union Association (UA) was formed. It lasted just one season, 1884, and although there are conflicting opinions, it was considered a major league. Because some UA team owners offered large salaries to entice top players from the more established American Association (AA) and National League (NL), many NL teams formed reserve, or auxiliary teams. These reserve teams were for players under contract with NL clubs (and thus protected from signing with the UA) and functioned much like modern football taxi squads. According to A.G. Spalding, president of the Chicago White Stockings, the purpose of his Chicago Reserves was to be “always ready to be called upon to fill a position in the league team at the shortest notice.”2 George Crosby was one of seven players signed to Chicago’s reserve team in February 1884.3
The Chicago Reserves played preseason intrasquad games against the White Stockings’ regular nine and other area professional teams. After a mid-April game with the Chicago Regulars, “Crosby confirmed the good opinion already formed of him, and gives promise of proving a success in the pitcher’s position.”4 Later in April he struck out 13 in a win over the Peoria Reds of the Northwestern League.
By May they were facing other NL reserve teams, who’d formed their own league. On May 2, Opening Day of what was called “the reserve championship season,” Crosby struck out 15 in a 2-0 shutout of Cincinnati’s reserves.5
On May 21 it was announced that Crosby and infielder Walt Kinzie had been called up from the Reserves to the Regulars and would join the big club on their road trip.6 Crosby made his major-league debut the next day, on May 22, against the Blues in Cleveland. Using an effective drop ball, Crosby engaged Cleveland starter John Harkins in a pitcher’s duel and the game remained scoreless after nine innings. In the tenth, a walk, three hits, and a costly throwing error by Chicago right fielder Billy Sunday allowed three Blues to cross the plate and Cleveland won 3-0. Nonetheless, the game story noted that Crosby “proved himself to be a pitcher of ability.”7
Two days later, on May 24, he started against the Bisons in Buffalo. He allowed just two runs over the first five innings, but Buffalo surged ahead with three runs in the sixth, and two more in the seventh, eventually taking an 8-4 victory. Pud Galvin picked up the victory for the Bisons.8
On May 30 Crosby faced the Detroit Wolverines in the morning game of a doubleheader at Lake Front Park in Chicago. The White Stockings led the Wolverines after eight innings but Crosby surrendered four runs in the ninth to allow Detroit to take a 10-8 lead. Chicago rallied for three runs in the bottom of the inning, the winning run coming on Crosby’s one and only big-league home run. One of the Chicago dailies said Crosby “pitched a first class game.”9 Another was less complimentary, saying his pitching was “very wild and only moderately effective.”10
No release by the White Stockings or transfer back to the Reserves was reported, but this ended Crosby’s major-league career. In three games, all of them complete game starts, he had a record of 1-2 with a respectable 3.54 earned run average. He struck out 11 and walked 12 in 28 innings pitched. At the plate, Crosby rapped four hits in 13 at-bats (.308), including the aforementioned home run.
A couple of weeks after Crosby’s final game with the White Stockings, he was pitching for a team called the Chicago Blues. By the middle of June all of the NL reserve teams, with the exception of the Boston and Chicago entries, had disbanded; by mid-July the Chicago Reserves ended play as well. In late July Crosby was signed by Baltimore manager Billy Barnie.11 However, he was released by the Orioles before playing in any games.12 Crosby finished the 1884 season with an independent club in Fort Worth, Texas.13
Crosby resurfaced with a semipro team in Sioux City, Iowa in September 1885. The following year he played with various area teams (including Sioux Falls, South Dakota), filled in as umpire when not pitching, and even participated in the obligatory Fats vs. Leans, Benedicts vs. Bachelors, and Kids vs. Elders games that were common at the time.
The Pacific Coast League began play in 1902 but teams representing San Francisco and Oakland had been playing in independent leagues on the West Coast since the late 1870s. In 1887, the California League was reorganized with four teams, the Haverlys and Pioneers of San Francisco, the Oakland Greenhood & Morans, and the Sacramento Altas. Andrew Piercy, a long-time West Coast professional player and two-game major leaguer, was president of the league and also owned the Alameda baseball grounds. Crosby was one of the many players from the East recruited by Piercy for the California League. In the spring of 1887, Crosby and a catcher named Joe Morgan who’d played with him in Sioux Falls arrived in San Francisco.
Apparently, after initial tryouts, Piercy assigned players to the respective teams, with the Crosby/Morgan battery joining the San Franciscos. In June he and Morgan were released but a month later signed with the Pioneers of the California League. Crosby continued pitching for the Pioneers during the rest of 1887 but was released in September and would not be asked back the following season. It was an obvious exaggeration, but apparently the Pioneers tired of Crosby’s excessive salary demands, one report saying, “He wanted the earth, or the money portion of it, and was desirous that it should be parceled off to him in sums like this; Fifty dollars for going out to the grounds, $50 for putting on his uniform, $100 for walking out to the diamond, $1,000 for pitching in the game, $500 as a donation for his old catcher Morgan, and an additional $1,000 as a pension for himself in case he should be batted out of the box, or, in other words, the entire share of the Pioneers in the gate receipts for a month in advance.”14
Over the next decade Crosby continued to play for various amateur teams in California. He was with Santa Cruz in 1888, the London Clothing Company nine in a commercial league in Los Angeles in 1890, and an amateur club in Alameda in 1892. However, most of his pitching engagements were on teams formed at his place of employment. As traced through San Francisco and Oakland city directories, Crosby listed his occupation as a clerk, salesman, or manager in retail establishments most of his working career. He suited up for the “Golden Rules” sponsored by the Davis Bros. Golden Rule Bazaar, where he worked as a salesman, and later with Will & Finck Cutlers, a sporting goods store on Market Street. There his occupation was described as “outside man.” In the 1910 US Census, he was shown employed as a purchasing agent in the barber supplies and cutlery industry, presumably with Will & Finck.
The first suggestion that Crosby was involved in the performing arts was from September 1886, when he was featured singing the solo White Wings at a garden party in Sioux Falls.15 Described in one report as a “silver voiced tenor,” Crosby also was a member of both the Beach & Bower and Hake & Queen’s minstrel companies around the same time. On his journey to San Francisco, “he exercised his voice considerably during the trip, and in consequence the reigning favorite on the train.”16
After arriving in California, he continued to accept singing engagements. In 1888 Crosby sang Life’s Dream, a duet with a Miss Henneberry of the Italian Musical Institute at Union Square Hall.17 In a program at Irving Hall in February 1891, Crosby’s rendering of Traveling Back to Dixie received an encore.18 Later that year he was called out for another encore after singing Spirto Gentil “with all the delicacy and sweetness the work requires, and his hearers would not be denied a second song.”19 In 1892 he performed The Song That Reached My Heart for the Presbyterian Church Singing Society “with much feeling.”20
Crosby married Ada Smith, described as “the well-known proprietress of the newsstand at Bay-street station” on August 1, 1896 in San Rafael, California. He was employed at the Golden Rule Bazaar at the time.21 At the time of the 1900 US Census, the couple was living in San Francisco with two boarders and a nine-year-old boy named Reuben Crosby, presumably Ada’s son from a previous marriage whom George had adopted. By 1910 Reuben had left home but George and Ada were living in Alameda with two daughters of their own, eight-year-old Muriel and Mignon, age one. A previous marriage is verified by Mignon’s birth record, which listed her father’s name as Crosby but her mother’s maiden name as Augustine.
Sometime in 1911 the Crosbys hired a man named Adolph Hillman to do some repair work at their house. He boarded at their home for a time and became friends with George and Ada. Hillman later opened a secondhand furniture store on East Fourteenth Street in Oakland. Around 3:00 on the afternoon of May 2, 1912 he lured Ada down to his store under the pretense of selling some furniture belonging to the Crosbys that was being stored at his business.
According to later testimony by Mrs. Crosby, at around 5:00 p.m. Hillman, “went into the back room and took off part of his clothes. Suddenly he came running out into the room, grabbed me by the hair and dragged me into the back room and threw me on the bed.”22 Another report added that Hillman “made violent love to her.”23 In the struggle to get free, Mrs. Crosby grabbed a rusty ice pick, which Hillman used to stab her in the abdomen. Hillman then produced a 32-calibre revolver and fired a shot at her as she was fleeing the store. One her way out, Ada heard a second gunshot which was later determined to be Mr. Hillman committing suicide by shooting himself in the head.
Despite her injury Ada made her way home to Alameda on a streetcar. When George arrived home later that evening, she told him what had happened. He notified two friends who went to the furniture store late that evening and finding Hillman’s body, notified the police. Later that evening, described as being “in a hysterical condition,” she was placed under a doctor’s care at the Alameda sanitarium. Although she later developed blood poisoning, Ada eventually recovered from her stab wound.
San Francisco police conducted an extensive investigation and later interviewed Mrs. Crosby, the only witness to the crime. It was learned that there was more to the relationship between Ada Crosby and Hillman. The Crosbys had recently been separated and during that time Hillman had become infatuated with Mrs. Crosby and pleaded with Ada to leave George and run away with him. She testified that right before the attack Hillman said, “We will go together and the old man won’t have you. I have provided for the little girls.”24 It was only after Ada rejected his advances that Hillman attacked her. When interviewed by the police George also admitted that he had been worried about the intentions of Hillman towards his wife. Despite several conflicting statements by Ada, George corroborated her story, and no charges were brought.
Less than a year later, on January 9, 1913, George Crosby died at the age of 53. His death certificate lists cardiac dilatation as cause of death with arteriosclerosis a secondary diagnosis. He was survived by Ada, their two daughters, and his stepson Reuben.25 Services were held at the funeral parlor of Samuel McFadden & Co. and he was buried at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Coloma, California.26 Later that year, in November 1913, Ada remarried to a man named Walter Duncalf. She died in Alameda in 1941.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Dennis Pajot.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics from Crosby’s playing career are taken from Baseball-Reference.com and genealogical and family history was obtained from Ancestry.com.
The author also used information from clippings in Crosby’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
1 “Unions — Union Pacifics,” Chicago Inter-Ocean, August 21, 1883: 2.
2 “Sporting Matters,” Chicago Inter-Ocean, December 1, 1883: 3.
3 “Base Ball,” Chicago Inter-Ocean, February 10, 1884: 3.
4 “Base-Ball,” Chicago Tribune, April 18, 1884: 5.
5 “Chicago Reserves 3, Cincinnati 0,” Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1884: 7.
6 “Evansville 8, Chicago Reserve 2,” Chicago Tribune, May 21, 1884: 6.
7 “Base-Ball, Cleveland 3, Chicago 0,” Chicago Tribune, May 23, 1884: 3.
8 “Buffalo 8, Chicago 4,” Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1884: 14.
9 “Chicago, 11; Detroit, 10,” Chicago Tribune, May 31, 1884.
10 “The National League. Morning — Chicagos, 11; Detroits, 10,” Chicago Daily News, May 31, 1884: 2.
11 “Base Ball,”, Baltimore Sun, July 30, 1884: 4.
12 Baltimore Sun, July 30, 1884, above.
13 Fort Worth Gazette, September 14, 1884: 8.
14 “Base Ball,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 1, 1887: 5.
15 “Pleasant and Successful”, Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Argus-Leader, September 9, 1886: 2.
16 “Piercy’s Catch,” San Francisco Examiner, April 6, 1887: 3.
17 “The Speranza Recital,” San Francisco Examiner, July 2, 1888: 2.
18 “In Memory of Lincoln,” San Francisco Call, February 13, 1891: 7.
19 San Francisco Chronicle, November 6, 1891: 12.
20 “Their First Entertainment,” Alameda (California) Argus, March 30, 1892: 3.
21 “Alameda Wedding,” San Francisco Call, August 9, 1896: 20.
22 “Love Crazed Man Stabs Alameda Woman and Suicides,” Evening Times-Star and Alameda Argus, May 3, 1912: 5.
23 “Stabs Women, Then Commits Suicide,” San Francisco Examiner, May 3, 1912: 5.
24 “Police Accept Woman’s Story,” Oakland Tribune, May 4, 1912: 2.
25 “Former Alamedan Dead,” Oakland Tribune, January 11, 1913: 14.
26 “CROSBY,” San Francisco Examiner, January 10, 1913: 4.