This article was written by Chris Rainey
Southpaw hurler George Henry Upp of the Columbus Senators was on top of the minor-league world in early September 1907. He hadn’t lost since late July and had 10 consecutive victories under his belt. He was dominating batters in the American Association and would end the season leading the league with 27 wins, a .730 win percentage, and a WHIP of .988, and would allow a league-low 2.72 runs per nine innings. The New York Giants, St. Louis Browns, and Cincinnati Reds were all vying for his services.
His future started to unravel on September 10 when his winning streak was broken by Indianapolis, 2-1. In his next start, versus Louisville, opposing pitcher Jim Durham unleashed an inside fastball that caught Upp in the chest/side. The blow felled him momentarily but Upp finished out the game and scored the winning run in a 4-3 Columbus victory.1 It was later revealed that the ball had cracked his ribs.
Upp missed the last week of the regular season but accompanied his team to Toronto, where the Senators were to begin a series with the Eastern League champion Toronto Maple Leafs. In practice before the series began, Upp was knocked unconscious by a batted ball from a teammate that hit him over the heart. He was listed “in serious condition, but it was expected he will pull through.”2 The combination of injuries would plague Upp the remainder of his career, often forcing him to play outfield rather than pitch.
The injuries were not the last of Upp’s worries. Just as the series with Toronto wrapped up, news broke that his wife, Audrey Mae, had filed for divorce. She contended that he had failed to provide for her and was guilty of gross neglect and extreme cruelty.3 The couple were divorced late in December in Trumbull County, Ohio. George was ordered to pay $50 immediately and then $25 a month alimony after that.4
Upp was born in in Margaretta Township in Erie County, Ohio, on December 10, 1883.5 The township is located southwest of Sandusky, where George would live much of his life. He joined his parents, Ephraim R. and Charlotte (Kennedy) Upp, along with brother Clarence R. Upp. His father had grown up working on a farm but took a job as a butcher in Sandusky after the birth of his sons. In 1910 he is listed on the census as a carpenter. The boys attended school in Sandusky, graduating from high school. George took classes at Grove City College in Pennsylvania in 1904. His main interest collegiately was to play baseball.6
Exactly how and why George became known in baseball circles as Jerry is uncertain. In fact, he appears as George better than 98 percent of the time in contemporary newspaper articles.7 Upp was blessed with a wonderful tenor voice and made a name for himself as a soloist and performer in plays and ensembles. Reviews and advertisements regarding his performances called him George, not Jerry. His vocal talents led to baseball nicknames like the Sandusky Singer or the Sweet Singer of Sandusky.8 Neither ever took hold with the fans or press.
In 1902 Upp pitched and played outfield for a local semipro team, the Sandusky Shamrocks. In 1903 he was given a tryout with the Toledo Mud Hens and appeared in an early-season exhibition game against Notre Dame University. Toledo declined to keep him for the regular season, and he returned to semipro ball in Sandusky and the surrounding towns.
In 1904 newspapers announced that Upp had been signed by the Warren, Ohio, team.9 The team was a member of the Ohio-Pennsylvania League, which was an independent league that would play in Organized Baseball as Class C the following year. Upp was delayed in joining Warren because he pitched for the Grove City College team. Upp’s college career ended on June 16 with a 12-inning, 6-5 win over Slippery Rock.10 He ignored his arrangement with Warren and instead played for Homestead, Pennsylvania, a league rival of Warren.
Upp debuted with Homestead on June 22 against Niles, Ohio, prevailing 4-2. Warren protested that he had jumped his contract. The league president ruled that Upp must return to Warren.11 Despite the ruling, the two teams wrangled over his rights while Upp continued to play for Homestead. Finally, he was transferred to Warren after most of the teams refused to play Homestead if Upp was on the roster.12 He made his first Warren appearance on August 11 with a 6-5 win over Kent.13
When the season finished, Upp returned to Sandusky and played semipro ball into late October. In December he married Audrey Mae Nash of Ravenna, Ohio. She had been a waitress in a Warren hotel where the team stayed during the summer and the two struck up a friendship that blossomed into romance. They moved in with his parents after the ceremony.14
That nuptials between the two would occur was a miracle for those who knew them. In late September, Upp tried to commit suicide by swallowing “a large quantity of chloroform liniment.”15 He was jealous because he saw Audrey Mae talking with another man; fortunately, physicians were able to save his life.
In 1905 Upp pitched for the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Johnnies in the independent Tri-State Association. The Johnnies had a strong second half of the season and pulled into the pennant race with Williamsport. On the final day of the season, Upp hurled a two-hitter to give Johnstown its 14th consecutive victory.16 Williamsport also won that day and took the crown by a half-game.17 That winter the Upps returned to Sandusky. George played basketball on the town team and gave musical performances.
He returned to the Ohio-Pennsylvania League with Lancaster, Ohio in 1906, joining Walter “Smoke” Justis, Rube Geyer, and Jack Compton on the pitching staff. Upp led the staff with 19 wins and witnessed the inauspicious debut of a young lefty named Rube Marquard. George’s performance drew the attention of the Columbus Senators, who drafted him along with Geyer for the 1907 season.18
The Senators’ business manager, Bob Quinn, assembled a strong roster of talent for the 1907 season. Columbus went into first place quickly as Upp tossed shutouts in his first two starts to serve notice that the Senators were a force to be reckoned with. The Toledo Mud Hens tested them late in the season, but Columbus prevailed by a two-game margin.
In the postseason best-of-five series with Toronto, Upp played the outfield in Game Two and then started Game Three on the mound. He went five innings before his side became too painful to continue. Geyer got the win in relief when Columbus rallied with two runs in the eighth for its lone win of the series.
The Cincinnati Reds won the bidding war for Upp and paid $3,300 for his services.19 He reported to spring camp despite soreness in his chest and soon developed a sore arm. The agreement between Cincinnati and Columbus called for him to be returned to the Senators by May 1 if he was not going to be retained. Because of his injury, that deadline was extended until May 20. Cincinnati determined that Upp was not ready to help the team and returned him at the deadline.20 The Senators wasted little time in putting Upp on the mound despite the soreness. The results were dismal. He was pounded 10-2 by Louisville on May 24. Six more appearances followed with the best being a 1-0 loss to Kansas City. He was placed on the suspended list until he could get into playing condition.
In late July Upp was returned to the roster. He played left field on July 24, then tossed a complete game at Kansas City for the win on the 28th. Miraculously the lefty was back in his 1907 form. He made Kansas City a victim again on August 18 when he tossed a no-hitter on their home grounds. He drove home the first Columbus run with a perfect squeeze bunt on the way to a 3-0 win.21 He added three more wins to finish at 5-5 (according to available newspaper accounts). His last regular-season appearance was as a leadoff hitter and left fielder; he went hitless.
Sportswriters considered Upp an eccentric.22 He was a southpaw, which carried a stigma for offbeat behavior. In the offseasons he returned to Sandusky and sang in the local movie theater. Actors/performers were often not considered the most stable members of society in those days. Factor in the suicide attempt and Upp certainly had plentiful indicators evoking the “eccentricity” label.
Upp sent word to the Columbus papers that he was ready for a comeback in 1909. He even suggested that with his talent he hoped the Senators would include a bonus clause for victories in his contract. When no bonus was offered, he threatened a holdout. “I never got a square deal during all the time I was with Columbus,” Upp said. “All the other pitchers got extra money. I worked my head off and, as the record will show, did better work than any of them but all I got was my salary.”23 He threatened to take a singing job at the Cedar Point resort near Sandusky in lieu of baseball.
The holdout never materialized and Upp was in camp on time. He lost his first start of the season to Louisville, 6-5. His elbow swelled up and he was forced to miss his next start. The Senators were off to a 2-10 start and made it known to the press that they had asked waivers on Upp and four others. The hope was that they could stimulate some trade interest.
Upp became the odd man out on the pitching staff. He relieved and started sporadically. In July he was nearly traded to Lima of the Ohio State League before management decided to retain him. On August 24 he was left in Columbus when the Senators hit the road. The next day he offered his services to the Class D Lima Cigarmakers, who were playing the Marion Diggers. He took the loss, 3-0.24
The Cleveland Naps had an option on Senators lefty Fred Link and wanted him to be sent to the big time. Business manager Quinn balked because Columbus had clawed its way back into the pennant race and needed Link. He offered to lend them Upp instead. Manager Deacon McGuire said, “Let him start on the first train.”25 The addition made Upp the lone lefty on the Naps’ staff. He had gone from the forgotten man with a 5-9 record in Columbus to a starter for a major-league club.
Upp’s first appearance in Cleveland came as a first-base coach where he put his strong tenor voice to work guiding baserunners and entertaining the fans.26 His major-league pitching debut came on September 2 in League Park against the New York Highlanders. He surrendered an unearned run in the first but held New York scoreless after that. In the ninth he drove a ball over the head of Willie Keeler in right field to score George Perring with the winning run in a 2-1 victory. Upp ran into right field after the game and retrieved the ball for a souvenir.27
Upp also dazzled with the glove. He handled bunts and covered first base with equal skill. In the fourth he went high to grab a bouncer from Jimmy Austin and threw him out at first. Quinn from Columbus, who went on to be the owner of the Boston Red Sox and part-owner of the Boston Bees, called him “the best fielding pitcher” he ever witnessed.28
Four days later, Upp took the hill at home against the White Sox and emerged with a 5-2 win. He doubled and drove in a run to help his cause. His next start came on September 10 in Detroit, where the Tigers treated him harshly. They plated six runs in the third (four charged to Upp) on their way to a 9-1 win. Three relief appearances followed before he started again versus the Athletics in Philadelphia. He surrendered two first-inning runs and was lifted for a pinch-hitter in a game Cleveland won, 5-4.
Upp’s major-league career totals show a record of 2-1 in seven appearances with 26⅔ innings pitched and a 1.69 earned-run average. He struck out 13 batters and walked 12. He was 2-for-9 at the plate, with a single and a double, and two RBIs. He committed one fielding error in 15 chances.
Upp returned to Sandusky for the offseason, playing left field and first base for the town team. When they took on Bill Bradley’s Boo Gang, he went hitless against Rube Marquard. Away from the field, Upp performed in the local movie theater once again. In 1910 the Naps returned him to Columbus, which in turn sold him to the Williamsport Millionaires in the Class B Tri-State League.
He opened his season with the Millionaires tossing a shutout over Wilkes-Barre. Williamsport got off to a fast start with Upp winning his first five starts. Injuries hit the Millionaires and they fell from the pennant race in June. Upp ran his record to 7-1 but then found himself on the short end of numerous one-run ballgames. He was sold to first-place Altoona on September 1. He played outfield and made one losing start for the Rams to finish the season at 11-10.
Upp returned to the Tri-State League in 1911 with his “chief ambition to make the folks in Williamsport sore they ever peddled me.” He had experienced some friction with the Williamsport management and a couple of teammates the previous year.29 Upp joined the Harrisburg Senators and played mostly outfield. He posted a .303 batting average while leading the team with 13 triples and a .465 slugging percentage. He played 18 games the following year with the Senators before being released in July. The pain in his side had reached a point at which Upp gave up pitching after two starts in 1911.
Back in Sandusky, Upp returned to the semipro game. He attempted a pitching comeback in 1919 but was nowhere near his previous form. He kept playing until he was nearly 40 years old and then made appearances at old-timer’s games and special events.
On January 1, 1920, Upp married Belle La Rue and the couple made their home in Wyandotte, Michigan. George worked as a store clerk for some years before becoming a car salesman. His mother moved in with the couple, but like the previous marriage to Audrey Mae Nash, this one ended in an unpleasant divorce on October 27, 1927. Upp maintained his residence in Wyandotte and turned his attentions to the insurance business and work as a notary public.
Upp and his mother eventually returned to Sandusky, where he headed a movement to establish a municipal ball diamond in a local park in 1933. He was elected president of the Sandusky Baseball Federation and sponsored a semipro team called the Shamrocks. “It was his untiring efforts that gradually rounded together various baseball clubs in the city and section.”30 Upp struggled with health issues and in late June 1937 he was hospitalized in Sandusky, where he died on June 30. The ballplayer/entertainer was buried in Oakland Cemetery in Sandusky.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Nowlin and Len Levin and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
Thank you to SABR member Bill Carle for his advice on how to list Upp’s birthplace. At the time this bio was completed it was commonly thought to be Sandusky, Ohio. As mentioned in Note 6, my thanks to Hilary Walczak at Grove City College for background on Upp’s enrollment.
Baseball Reference supplied statistics for all seasons except 1908 and 1911. Those came from contemporary newspapers and the Reach Baseball Guide.
1 “Friel’s Dandy Bingle Saves Game in the Tenth,” Columbus Dispatch, September 14, 1907: 6.
2 “Upp Is Injured Again,” Cincinnati Post, September 25, 1907: 7.
3 “Geo. H. Upp Is Sued for Alimony,” Columbus Dispatch, October 3, 1907: 1.
4 “Upp Must Pay,” Columbus Dispatch, December 21, 1907: 6.
5 search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=2541&h=4600920&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=VjY2300&_phstart=successSource. Last accessed November 3, 2019.
6 Thank you to Grove City College archivist Hilary Walczak, who verified that Upp was a student (possibly part-time) at GCC. Email exchange November 8, 2019. She used the phrase “irregular/unclassified student” to describe his academic interest.
7 The author used three search engines of newspaper archives and found nine contemporary articles that used Jerry instead of George.
8 “Ebbets Really Glad to Be Rid of Old Responsibility,” Brooklyn Standard Union, December 16, 1910: 12.
9 “Crisp Sporting Talk,” Sandusky Star-Journal, June 24, 1904: 6.
10 “Grove City Wins in Twelfth,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, June 17, 1904: 8.
11 “Crisp Sporting Talk,” June 24.
12 “Crisp Sporting Talk,” Sandusky Star-Journal, July 2, 1904: 7.
13 “Upp Lands Warren a Victory,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, August 12, 1904: 6.
14 “Bride,” Sandusky Star-Journal, December 16, 1904: 14.
15 “Took Chloroform,” Pittsburgh Press, September 22, 1904: 1.
16 “Johnstown 1; Altoona, 0,” News-Journal (Lancaster, Pennsylvania), September 18, 1905: 4.
17 “Tri-State Ends Season,” Harrisburg Telegraph, September 18, 1905: 8.
18 “Gossip of the O&P,” News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio), January 15, 1907: 9.
19 J.C. Hamilton, “May Be Placated,” The Sporting News, February 27, 1908: 5.
20 “Upp’s Trial Extended,” Indianapolis News, April 27, 1908: 12.
21 “Hitless Hitting Runless Running Upp Is Uppish,” Columbus Dispatch, August 19, 1908: 11.
22 “Hitless Hitting.“
23 “Upp Has Another Bad Day,” Columbus Dispatch, March 15, 1909: 6.
24 “Parson Great Against G. Upp,” Marion (Ohio) Daily Mirror, August 26, 1909: 7.
25 “Upp Joins Cleveland,” Columbus Dispatch, August 28, 1909: 6.
26 “Second Game,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 1, 1909: 6.
27 “Sidelights on the Double Header,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 3, 1909: 8.
28 “George Upp’s Death Recalls His No-Hit Game Back in 1908,” Sandusky Register, July 1, 1937: 6.
29 “Were Jealous of Upp,” Harrisburg Daily Independent, March 28, 1911: 1.
30 “George Upp’s Death,” July 1, 1937.