This article was written by Chris Rainey
By all accounts Howard Lohr was an excellent ballplayer. Over the years he was described as a “powerful hitter,” “sensational,” and “a beautiful player.” He was honored as the top base runner among Philadelphia-area semipro players in 1915, and in 1924 the Trenton Evening News dubbed him “the Babe Ruth of the Penn-Jersey circuit.”1 Former major league outfielder Bris Lord commented in the Chester (Pennsylvania) Times that Howard “could really pound that apple.”2 Yet Howard played only 21 major league games and none in the minors. He spurned offers from the Yankees and from Connie Mack because he wanted assurances that he would not be farmed out. When Cleveland decided Lohr was too raw for the majors in 1916, they sent him to Columbus. Howard refused to report and went back to the sandlots in the Philadelphia area. Under the rules of the time, Cleveland continued to list Howard on their reserve list. In 1919 they traded his rights to Pittsburgh for a pitching prospect. The Pirates continued to list Lohr on their reserve list as “voluntarily retired.” On Howard’s Hall of Fame questionnaire he claimed the Pirates carried him until 1935 when he was 43 years old and playing his last season of semipro ball. Records from the Hall of Fame substantiate this claim. They show he was granted free agency in April 1935, eighteen years after Pittsburgh acquired his rights. The business side of baseball made Lohr bitter. Responding to a ‘would you play professional baseball again’ question within his HOF questionnaire, he wrote: “No, until something is done about carrying…on reserved lists for over 3 years.”
Howard Sylvester Lohr came into the world on June 3, 1892. His paternal grandparents, John and Barbara Lohr, emigrated from Baden, Germany around 1850 and settled in Philadelphia. Howard was the youngest of six children (three boys, three girls) born to John and Martha (Mullner) Lohr. Martha was of Scottish decent and a Philadelphia native. The couple wed in 1886. Lohr’s father operated a produce business in North Philadelphia. Howard was baptized at the local Evangelical Reform church and attended school at Kenderton Public. On his HOF questionnaire he listed no high school, but on a census he claimed two years of high school.
When not assisting his father in the family business, Howard grew up playing baseball on the sandlots. As a twenty-year-old he was already playing with the fastest semipro talent in the Philadelphia area. In 1912, he was one of 17 invitees to a tryout held by the Johnstown Johnnies of the Class B Tri-State League. He signed a contract, but was suspended the next week, apparently without playing any games. Howie returned to the semipro ranks: joining the Prospect Park squad in the Delaware County League, and also playing some games for the Penn Railroad Purchasing Department team that won the Railroad League. In the late summer/fall he joined a team called Fifth Ward.
Over the winter Lohr was listed on the Johnnies’ roster as “suspended.”3 The franchise was transferred to Chester, but did not field a team in 1913. The Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Patriot reported in March 1913 that Lohr was released by the Tri-State League. That summer Howie returned to both the Railroad League and the Delaware County League, this time with the Uplands. He also saw some action with an independent team called the Stetsons.
In 1914 Lohr joined the Clifton Heights White Sox in the Delaware County League. He got off to a tremendous start at the plate. The Chester Times reported “the youngster has made 13 hits in the last 4 games” and proclaimed him “the Ty Cobb of the… League.”4 In the first seven games he had eight extra-base hits and nine stolen bases. Scouts were paying serious attention to his talent. Sportswriter Chandler Richter went so far as to arrange a tryout for Lohr with manager Charley Dooin of the Philadelphia Phillies.5
Manager Buck Herzog had Cincinnati in the thick of the pennant race in mid-June 1914. Trailing the Giants by one game, Herzog felt the Reds needed another bat to close the gap. Buck watched Lohr’s tryout with Philadelphia from the visitor’s dugout and liked what he saw. He offered Howard a contract.
Lohr traveled with the club to Brooklyn, just as the Reds started to unravel. Herbie Moran was injured and the Federal League’s St. Louis team lured away Armando Marsans. Suddenly the outfield consisted of Doc Miller and Johnny Bates, both in their last major league seasons, and rookies Lohr and Maury Uhler. Lohr was pressed into immediate service in center field. The Reds went into a collective hitting slump, with Howard going 0-for-6 in his first two starts. Herzog sat him on the bench for a few games, while auditioning Harry LaRoss in center field.
Lohr returned to the lineup on June 28 and finally enjoyed a good game when he got three hits and three RBI versus the Pirates. This earned him a longer “look-see” by Herzog.6 Lohr made ten consecutive starts in center while batting eighth in the lineup. Then, after the purchase of George Twombly from Baltimore and the return of Moran, Herzog took Howard (who had contributed a 5-for-27 performance) out of the everyday lineup.
Pitcher Phil Douglas was not popular with all of his Cincinnati teammates. He could be abrasive and self-centered. For some unknown reason he took to riding Howard, calling him a “bush leaguer” and worse. At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Douglas towered over the 6-foot Lohr and outweighed him by 15-25 pounds. This did not deter Howard from threatening Douglas with a punch to the nose if he did not stop the harassment. The stubborn Douglas kept up the verbal abuse until Howard knocked him cold one day. Herzog was not on the field at the time, but quickly found out there was a problem. Buck weighed his options and decided the veteran pitcher was more valuable to the team than Lohr. On July 15 Howard was optioned to Memphis.7 Howard refused to report and after some wrangling got his unconditional release on July 24. The Reds continued their tailspin and landed in last place. They played 15 different men in center field in 1914.
Back in Philadelphia for the remainder of the 1914 season, Howard returned to the semipro ranks with the Clifton Heights team. He also married Etta Winnet Wright on August 12. The marriage lasted until Howard’s death. The couple had no children of their own, but Howard did help raise his stepson, William. In 1915 Lohr stayed with Clifton Heights. Unlike the previous season he struggled with the bat in Delaware County League games. He did distinguish himself on June 10 in a game versus the Lincoln Stars. The Stars featured Negro League greats John Henry Lloyd and Louis Santop, and that day sent a young Doc Sykes to the mound. Howie blasted a two-run homer in the seventh inning for the 7-5 victory. Bill Pierce homered twice for the Stars.
Howie switched his Delaware County League allegiance in 1916, joining a new sponsor called Brill. In addition, he played with a Jersey City team that featured Eddie Grant, Rivington Bisland, and other former major leaguers. Howie’s batting eye returned and he was offered a tryout with the Athletics in July while Cleveland was in town. Indians manager Lee Fohl liked what he saw and signed Lohr before Connie Mack could.
Returning to Cleveland, Fohl started Lohr in right field, and batting fourth, for the July 31 game versus the Senators. He hit the ball well in four trips to the plate, but thanks to Sam Rice robbing him on a liner in the gap, was held hitless. Lohr started the next day, but was pulled partway through the game. He saw his final major league action on August 5 when Fohl rested Tris Speaker in the last part of a game against Philadelphia. Lohr went 1-for-2. The Indians wanted to farm him out to Columbus, but as he had two years earlier with Cincinnati, Lohr refused a minor league assignment. He instead returned to the Delaware County League. The Indians made one more attempt to lure Howard to the professional ranks. On an eastern trip that winter, Fohl visited Lohr, and made his case.8 Howard listened, but chose to stay in Philadelphia.
Howard had a well-paying job within the accounts department of the Pennsylvania Railroad and he earned extra cash playing baseball locally. It certainly made life easier on Etta to have him stay at home. It is uncertain just how much Howard made playing semipro, but some players of his era earned as much as $100 a game. He was described as a “high-priced semi-pro” by one scribe.9 In 1917 Lohr joined the Chester, Pennsylvania team in the Penn-Jersey League (which paid better than the Delaware County League). In 1918 he switched to the Paterson, New Jersey Silk Sox and stayed with them through 1922, serving as manager the last two seasons. In 1922 he also joined an independent team called the South Phillies. Their roster included Jeff Tesreau, Lafayette College football star Herb Steen, and Buck Lai, a Chinese third sacker. In 1923 Lohr returned to Chester after hitting 40 homers for Paterson.10 Chester won league titles in 1923 and 1924 while playing nearly 100 games each season, many against Negro League clubs.
In 1926 the Chester franchise switched league affiliation and joined the Interstate League. The Interstate was a remarkable combination of Eastern Colored League (ECL) teams and white ballclubs. The Negro League teams were Hilldale, the Harrisburg Giants and the Bacharach Giants. Chester was joined by white clubs from Camden, New Jersey and Allentown, Pennsylvania. The white teams hosted three home games a week, but left Sunday open for the black teams to play in the ECL.11 In addition to the games scheduled in the Interstate, Chester took on regional black teams like the Lancaster Black Sox and the Richmond, Virginia Giants. Lohr served as manager and center fielder. The team’s season highlight came on May 14 when Chester snapped the winning streak of Oscar Charleston’s Harrisburg Giants, 6-5. Howard contributed a run-scoring double in the fifth. Lohr’s personal highlight came on June 16 against Hilldale when he launched a bases-loaded double to center field to clear the bases in a 4-3 win. The black/white experiment ended soon after when Allentown dropped out of the league. The Baltimore Afro-American published standings on July 3 showing Hilldale at 16-7, Harrisburg at 15-7 and Chester in fifth place with an 11-16 record.
Howie hung up his spikes in the mid-1930s. After that he devoted his time to his family, job and church. A well-respected member of his community, he became a Mason and served on the board of directors of a local savings and loan. In January 1957 Lohr was inducted into the Delaware County Sports Hall of Fame, a special exception being made as he was a Philadelphia resident. Later that summer he retired from the Pennsylvania Railroad after 45 years of service. A large retirement fete was held in his honor and he was presented with a baseball signed by the current Reds. Lohr became a fixture at Old-Timers gatherings in the region.12 In 1959, sports editor Matt Zabitka of the Chester Times named Bris Lord, Hack Wilson, and Lohr as the best outfielders in Delaware County history. Howard passed away on June 9, 1977.
In addition to the sources cited:
Online: Ancestry.com; Baseball-Reference.com; SABR Encyclopedia
James Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994)
Lloyd Johnson & Miles Wolff, eds. The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (Durham, N.C., Baseball America, Inc., 1993)
Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati Press, Cleveland Press, Jersey (Jersey City, N.J.) Journal, New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Defender
Various Spalding and Reach baseball guides. The 1924 Reach has an excellent picture on page 532 of Lohr with Chester.
1 Trenton (New Jersey) Evening News, July 22, 1924.
2 Chester (Pennsylvania) Times, June 18, 1952.
3 Trenton Evening News, December 9, 1912. The various obituaries for Howard list his first baseball team in 1911 as Elizabeth City, N.J. in the Tri-State League. None of the reference sources list a franchise in that city. The Hall of Fame file lists his first team as Johnstown.
4 Chester (Pennsylvania) Times, May 27, 1914.
5 Sporting Life, July 11, 1914.
6 Cincinnati Times-Star, June 15, 1914.
7 Chandler Richter, “A David and Goliath Story,” Sporting Life, December 5, 1914, 12
8 Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 30, 1916.
9 Chester (Pennsylvania) Times, April 6, 1953. Lohr’s Philadelphia Inquirer obituary suggested that he also traveled to New York to play with semipro teams.
10 Philadelphia Inquirer, December 16, 1922
11 Chester (Pennsylvania) Times, April 16, 1926
12 Chester (Pennsylvania) Times, August 30, 1957.