This article was written by Jack Morris
George Fox was the definition of a utility player. In the minors, he played every position – including pitcher. “Fox can play any position on the nine and do it well,” wrote his hometown paper, the Pottstown, (Pennsylvania) Ledger.1 When he made the major leagues, he played first base, third base and catcher. In addition, he was extremely durable. As he got older and settled into catching almost exclusively, he played the debilitating position until the age of 39. But his hitting limited his time in the major leagues, playing 19 games over two seasons that came eight years apart.
George Bennerd Fox was born on December 1, 1868, in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, a town about 40 miles northwest of Philadelphia, the youngest of the six children of Amos P. and Christina L. (Eagle) Fox. Amos Fox was a furnace builder who worked for the Glasgow Iron Works just north of Pottstown.2 He died when George was 12 years old.
On January 3, 1889, Fox married Fanny Sabina Lazarus.3 Four months late, Fanny gave birth to twins, a boy named Harry and a girl named Bertha on May 1. Tragically, Fanny and Bertha died three days later. Harry died shortly after. George had gained and lost a family in a matter of months, all before the age of 21. 4
Before the tragedy, Fox had been playing third base for the powerful Pottstown town team. His teammates included two future Major Leaguers, brothers Harry and John Gilbert, and several future minor leaguers. When he returned to the team, he also played catcher. “Fox, besides being a No. 1 third baseman, [can] catch a game as well as the next one,” wrote the Pottstown News.5 The local newspapers weren’t the only ones that noticed Fox. Hazleton of the Middle States League noticed as well and signed Fox, as well as John Gilbert, in late August. Fox played right field for Hazleton. A few weeks later, Fox moved over to league-rival Lebanon to play shortstop. “Fox, the new short stop, made a good impression,” wrote the Lebanon Daily Times.6 After Lebanon’s season ended on September 23, Fox went back to play for Pottstown.7
The following year, Fox was signed by Lancaster of the Eastern Interstate League where he played third base.8 The team was vastly overmatched in the league, winning only one game in its first 20 and disbanding by early June. Allentown took over the franchise but understandably cleaned house. By August, Fox was back with Pottstown. He also appeared in games with the Phoenix Club of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, and Reading (against the Boston Nationals and Philadelphia’s Player League teams).9
To start the 1891 season, Fox played for Pottstown. His play gained notice. “Fox has made himself famous up-country by his fine third base play for the Pottstown club,” wrote the Philadelphia Inquirer.10 The Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association were interested but Fox’s asking price was too high. “The young man has a swelled head,” wrote the Harrisburg Patriot.11
The Louisville Colonels of the American Association, who were headed to Philadelphia for a series against the Athletics, badly need a third baseman.12 J. Monroe Kreiter, manager of the York, Pennsylvania Cuban Giants, recommended Fox to Colonels manager Jack Chapman.13 Fox was promptly signed and met the team in Philadelphia. Several hundred fans from Pottstown also made the trip to Philadelphia to watch Fox make his debut.14 He had no hits and committed one of Louisville’s eight errors. “Fox, an infielder from Pottstown, was on third for the Colonels, and though he had little to do, he did that little badly, owing probably to his over anxiety,” wrote the Philadelphia Press.15
However, the next day he collected his first Major League hit, a triple off the Athletics’ Gus Weyhing. He remained with Louisville for almost two weeks, getting into six games. He only managed two hits in 19 at bats so the Colonels waived him to sign veteran John Irwin, who himself had been released by Boston on July 16.16 For the rest of the baseball season, he played for both the Reading town team and Pottstown.
Fox was back with Pottstown for the beginning of the 1892 baseball season but played most of the season with Danville of the Class B Pennsylvania State League. Mainly a catcher for Danville (57 games), he also played three games in the outfield and pitched three games. He finished the season batting .232.
Following the season, on October 6, he married Ada Leh in Pottstown.17
Danville didn’t re-sign Fox for the 1893 season so he again began by playing for Pottstown. He spent most of the season with Pottstown though he did see time with the Reading Actives of the Pennsylvania State League, getting into 24 games (playing catcher, outfielder and pitcher) and batting .312. The Reading World wrote that Fox was an “all-around player’’ who “captivated the Reading cranks.”18 After the season, William Abbott Witman, manager of the Reading Actives, told Sporting Life that he’d probably keep Fox for the 1894 season.19
He indeed did play for Reading in 1894, getting into 71 games and batting .281 despite breaking his finger in May and missing two weeks.20 In November the Pottsville Colts of the Pennsylvania State League signed him for 1895. He had another solid season, batting .338 in 65 games. He played every position with the exception of center field and pitcher.
He was back with Reading to start the 1896 season. It was a tumultuous season for Fox. First Reading moved to Shamokin, Pennsylvania, then the entire Pennsylvania State League folded around July 11. Fox moved over to the Shamokin team in the Central Pennsylvania League for a few weeks.21 By August, he was with the Philadelphia Athletics of the Class A Atlantic League where he played mostly first base and catcher. He batted .248 in 41 games for the Athletics. Sporting Life dubbed him “Always Ready” Fox during the season.22
He returned to the Athletics for 1897, playing in 119 games, 103 as a catcher, and batting .242 with a career-high six home runs. After the season, on October 1, the Athletics gave Fox and four other players to the Philadelphia Phillies in lieu of rent the Athletics owed the Phillies.23
In turn, the Phillies loaned Fox for $250 back to an Atlantic League team, the Norfolk Jewels, for 1898.24 After the season, Fox received rave reviews, first from veteran minor leaguer Gus Klopf, who called Fox one of the three best catchers in the Atlantic League.25 Atlantic League umpire Jack Brennan remarked that Fox was a “first-class talent.”26
The Phillies didn’t need Fox for 1899,so they first attempted to trade him to Boston, then finally released him in May.27 Reading of the Atlantic League picked him up, releasing former Major League veteran Doggie Miller to do so.28 Fox played 40 games with Reading, batting .205, before the Atlantic League dissolved after the games of August 6.
With Fox free to go to any team, the Pittsburgh Pirates picked up Fox. Art Madison, who was playing for the Pirates and was a former teammate of Fox with the Atlantic League’s Philadelphia Athletics in 1896, recommended Fox to the Pirates.29 The Pirates moved him to first base to replace Frank Bowerman, who moved back to his natural position behind the plate.30 Fox played 13 games for the Pirates, nine at first base and three at catcher. He batted .244, including his only Major League home run against Nixey Callahan on September 5, 1899.31 Two days later, he played his last game as a Major Leaguer.
In December, Fox was involved in one of the most controversial trades in baseball history. He was bundled with Jack Chesbro, Art Madison and John O’Brien along with $25,000 and traded to Louisville for Fred Clarke, Bert Cunningham, Mike Kelley, Tacks Latimer, Tommy Leach, Tom Messitt, Deacon Phillippe, Claude Ritchey, Rube Waddell, Jack Wadsworth, Chief Zimmer, and Honus Wagner. As a result, Louisville owner Barney Dreyfuss was given a stake in the Pirates and named the president of the team.32
When Louisville folded on March 9, 1900, Fox was assigned back to the Pirates.33 A month later he was released. He landed back with Reading in the Atlantic League. The league again folded, this time after the June 11 games.34 Shortly thereafter, he was picked up by Mansfield of the Class B Interstate League. He finished out the season with them playing 99 games (all at catcher) and batting .294.
In April 1901, Fort Wayne of the Class A Western Association purchased Fox, Ed Ames and Frank Quinn from Mansfield.35 However, Grand Rapids of the same league claimed they had secured a deal for Fox and Ames.36 The matter wasn’t settled until mid-May when both Fox and Ames were awarded to Grand Rapids.37 In August, league-rival Wheeling obtained Fox to be a player-manager for the team.
The next two seasons Fox played with the Columbus Senators of the American Association. He was brought to Columbus by business manager Bob Quinn, who was “impressed with players who know the game and have the ability to help develop young talent.”38 He was the team’s main catcher, playing 126 games in 1902 and 87 in 1903.
In 1904 he was traded to New Orleans of the Southern Association for Zeke Wrigley.39 Fox played in 98 games but batted just .214. Despite his batting average, the New Orleans Item called Fox “a consistent and hard-working backstop, always in the game from beginning to end.” The newspaper noted that “as a catcher and thrower, he is all that the league requires of him and more. He has an excellent head, good habits and an earnest spirit.”
The following year, Fox held out when the team tried to cut his salary.40 An outlaw league, the Tri-State League, courted him during the offseason. In April, he signed with Altoona of the Tri-State League and played the entire season with them.
Fox came back to Organized Baseball for the 1906 season, signing with Mansfield of the Class C Ohio-Pennsylvania League. He was named captain and played 110 games for Mansfield, batting .236 at the ripe old age of 37. The Cleveland Plain Dealer noted that Fox had “taken a new lease on baseball life” and was “one of the best men that played in the O. and P.”41 One of the reasons for his longevity at catcher was that he took to wearing shin guards under his stockings, a year before Roger Bresnahan famously wore shin guards in the Major Leagues.42
In December 1906, Fox announced his retirement but backed out of it two months later when he signed with Lancaster of the Ohio-Pennsylvania League.43 He played 78 games, batting .260. He also recorded the best fielding percentage among qualifying catchers in the league with a .991 mark.44
Fox was named Lancaster’s player-manager for the 1908 season. “Fox’s long suit is in developing youngsters,” wrote the Marion Daily Mirror.45 It also turned out that his long suit was winning championships as Lancaster cruised to a 92-57 record. Lancaster pitchers threw seven no-hitters including four by Walt Justis.46 As a player, Fox limited himself to 35 games. He caught 33 games and led the league again in fielding percentage.47 But he batted only .118. His playing days were over at the age of 39.
However, he was signed as the manager of Lancaster for the 1909 season with the intent that he may play as catcher if needed.48 He managed the entire season for Lancaster, then moved to Mansfield for 1910.49 Two incidents stand out during the two seasons. On June 4, 1909, he struck an umpire during the game and was escorted from the field by police.50 And on July 5, 1910, the East Liverpool, Ohio mayor, J.L. Pyle, had Fox arrested for swearing at an umpire.51
It was initially announced that Fox would be back to manage Mansfield in 1911 but instead, former Major Leaguer Ed Hahn was named manager.52 Shortly after, Fox announced his retirement from baseball.53
After baseball, Fox became a bartender in Pottstown, eventually working at an establishment called the Fryer Café.54 In December 1913, just two years after retiring from baseball, his health took a turn for the worse. He moved in with his brother-in-law in Philadelphia to be near his doctor who was treating him for heart disease. On May 8, 1914, Fox died at his brother-in-law’s home at the age of 45.55 He was survived by his wife, Ada. He was buried in Mount Zion Cemetery, in North Coventry Township, Pennsylvania, just across the Schuylkill River from Pottstown.
The Pottstown Ledger, in his obituary, noted, “One of his best stunts was to pitch one day and catch the next.”56 Even in death, he was remembered for his versatility on the baseball diamond.
The author would like to acknowledge the generosity of Mike Osiol, who supplied most of the information on Fox’s early playing days in Pottstown. It was invaluable.
1 Pottstown (Pennsylvania) Ledger, June 19, 1890.
2 Pottstown (Pennsylvania) Ledger, July 1, 1881.
3 Montgomery (Pennsylvania) Ledger, January 8, 1889.
4 Pottstown (Pennsylvania) Ledger, May 6, 1889.
5 Pottstown (Pennsylvania) News, August 9, 1889.
6 Pottstown (Pennsylvania) News, September 10, 1889.
7 Pottstown (Pennsylvania) News, September 24, 1889.
8 Sporting Life, April 5, 1890.
9 Philadelphia Inquirer, September 14, 1890; Pottstown (Pennsylvania) Ledger, September 5 & 18, 1890.
10 Philadelphia Inquirer, July 14, 1891.
11 Harrisburg Patriot, July 8, 1891.
12 Sporting Life, July 18, 1891.
13 Harrisburg Patriot, July 21, 1891.
14 Philadelphia Inquirer, July 14, 1891.
15 Pottstown (Pennsylvania) Ledger, July 14, 1891.
16 Sporting Life, July 25, 1891.
17 Pottstown (Pennsylvania) News, October 7, 1892.
18 Pottstown(Pennsylvania) News, March 24, 1894.
19 Sporting Life, October 28, 1893.
20 Sporting Life, March 31, May 19 and June 2, 1894.
21 Philadelphia Inquirer, July 28, 1896.
22 Sporting Life, August 1, 1896.
23 Sporting Life, November 13, 1897. The other four players were Pete Childs, Robert Schaub, Ed Ames and Carl McVey.
24 Sporting Life, April 2, 1898.
25 Sporting Life, October 8, 1898.
26 Sporting Life, November 19, 1898.
27 Sporting Life, April 8 & May 6, 1899.
28 Sporting Life, May 13, 1899.
29 Sporting Life, August 19, 1899.
30 Sporting Life, September 9, 1899.
32 Robert Peyton Wiggins, The Deacon and the Schoolmaster, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), 25.
33 Ronald T. Waldo, Honus Wagner and his Pittsburgh Pirates, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015), 15.
34 Sporting Life, June 16, 1900.
35 Sporting Life, April 13, 1901.
36 Grand Rapids Press, April 20, 1901.
37 Sporting Life, May 18, 1901.
38 Jim Sandoval & Bill Nowlin, Can He Play? A Look at Baseball Scouts and Their Profession (Phoenix: SABR, 2011), 12.
39 Sporting Life, January 16, 1904.
40 Harrisburg Patriot, February 20, 1905.
41 Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 26 & December 16, 1906.
42 Sporting Life, May 25, 1907.
43 Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 16, 1906; Sporting Life, February 2, 1907.
44 Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 24, 1907.
45 Marion (Ohio) Daily Mirror, March 9, 1908.
46 Sporting Life, September 26, 1908.
47 Sporting Life, February 27, 1909.
48 Sporting Life, February 6, 1909.
49 Sporting Life, May 7, 1910.
50 Sporting Life, June 19, 1909.
51 Sporting Life, July 16, 1910.
52 Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 10, 1911; Canton Evening Repository, February 23, 1911.
53 Pottstown (Pennsylvania) Ledger, March 18, 1911.
54 Lima (Ohio) Daily News, April 25, 1911; Pottstown (Pennsylvania) Ledger, May 8, 1914.
55 Pottstown (Pennsylvania) Ledger, May 8, 1914