A fill-in catcher in a rookie-loaded lineup for Connie Mack and the World Series-bound Philadelphia Athletics on September 30, 1913, Navy man and “one-hit wonder” Joe Giebel’s only major league appearance would fortuitously occur right in his hometown of Washington, DC.
Joseph Henry Giebel was born in Washington, District of Columbia, on November 30, 1891, the seventh of eight children born to Clemmons Giebel, a wagonmaker and blacksmith, and Teresa Giebel. Both parents emigrated from Germany in the 1870s. Joseph’s siblings were John, Annie, Katie, Rose, Clemmons, Adam, and Teresa.
By 1908, sixteen-year-old Joseph was a star for the Twining Athletic Club in the local Independence League. The “star first sacker of last year’s team” became captain of the squad the next year.1 Joe also joined the Navy, soon working as a Midshipman stenographer. Playing now as a catcher on the Navy ball team in the Departmental League, Giebel was looked at as “one of the most promising youngsters who ever broke into amateur ranks.”2 He was soon discovered by Bob Doyle, scout for the Savannah (Georgia) Indians of the Class C South Atlantic League. Doyle signed Giebel.
The next spring, Giebel attended Savannah’s camp along with another 19-year-old DC-area farmhand, pitcher Dick Robertson. The Washington Post opined that “Giebel appears to have the (better) chance to stick. His arm looked mighty good in today’s workout, and chances are that he will be used regularly from now on.”3 However as camp broke, Savannah, not completely sold on their catching recruit, offered Giebel a contract worth less than the league average, with “the proviso that the same shall be materially increased should he play above expectations.”4 Giebel signed, and started as the backup backstop. Another fellow Washington sandlotter, infielder William “Sam” Brown, also played with Savannah.5 However, due to an injury to the starting catcher, Giebel assumed the mantle.
By July, reports indicated that scouts were circling around Savannah looking at the “former Washington (DC) sandlot catcher.”6 The Washington Senators signed a ten-day option on the lad, but never exercised it, so he was still free to be picked up by another team. It was said that National League teams Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were also looking to sign Giebel.7
Unfortunately, the right-handed Giebel hit a woeful .172, second-worst among regulars in the Sally League for 1911. Even so, a market developed for the 5’11”, 175-pound receiver. An August report broke that Giebel had agreed to terms with the Brooklyn Dodgers for $1,000, but that proved to be unfounded. He was granted a workout with the St. Louis Browns in mid-September, when the Brownies were in town to face the Senators. Manager Bobby Wallace surmised that he would like to secure Giebel for the 1912 season, but no transaction was consummated.8 Instead, in the fall, Giebel starred as a fullback for the Vigilant Athletic Club, producing a “long zigzagging” sixty-yard run in a loss to Georgetown University.9
As of February 1912, Giebel was “still holding out on the matter of terms from Savannah,” but he eventually signed.10 In June, Joe was looked over by a Pirates scout who wanted Giebel to be “booked for a trial with Pittsburgh.”11 However, Savannah would not let go of their starting backstop. Still, Giebel hit only marginally better in year two in Georgia, a .235 clip over 108 games. Also, he was suspended for a few days in June by Savannah management regarding in-game insubordination.12
After the Sally League season, Giebel returned to DC and participated in a September matchup between the Potomac Electric Power Company (‘Pepco’), amateur champions of DC, against a Washington-area All-Star squad.13 The Evening Star commented that “Joe Giebel is an exceptionally fast man for a catcher.”14 A week later, he showed promise at new coach Curley Byrd’s preseason football camp for Maryland Agricultural College (the forerunner of the University of Maryland).15 Giebel even caught in an indoor baseball game in late November in DC for the Arcade Stars against his buddy Dick Robertson and the National Athletic Club.16
In 1913, Giebel returned for year three with Savannah, now called the Colts. Once again, he played with his friend Robertson, now alongside another DC lad, outfielder Mike Handiboe. Giebel and fellow Capital-area catcher Gould Menefee, of Charleston, were labeled the two best receivers in the South Atlantic League.17 Giebel hit .242 in 118 games, enough to be selected in the Rule 5 draft in mid-September by the Philadelphia Athletics.
Connie Mack’s Athletics had already clinched the American League pennant the week before they arrived in the nation’s capital for their final three road games of the regular season. Thus, Mack wrote Giebel, asking the backstop to report, in order to work at least one of the games in the upcoming series in DC. The sub-headline in the Washington Herald proclaimed, “Local Boy Will Join Champions Here Tomorrow to Catch Game.”18 In the first game of the series, 15,000 fans witnessed Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators winning his 36th game of the season with a 1-0 shutout over the Athletics. For the Athletics, new catcher Wickey McAvoy and shortstop Monte Pfeffer both started, making their major league debuts, while Giebel donned an Athletics uniform for the first time.19
The next day, September 30, 1913, only 1,300 attendees watched “Mack’s team of recruits and substitutes.” For the Athletics, rookie first baseman Billy Orr and right fielder George Brickley started in their third major-league games. Rookie pitcher Charlie Boardman, second baseman Press Cruthers, and third baseman Harry Fritz, all started in their second major-league games. Pfeffer, at short, was also supposed to start his second major-league game, but got hit by a batted ball in fielding practice and was carted off the field. Even Senators outfielder Merito Acosta was starting in only his second major-league game.
Enter Joe Giebel. He started behind the plate in his hometown.20 Mack had pre-announced the battery of Boardman and Giebel the morning of the game.21 In his first plate appearance in the top of the third inning, Giebel “popped a little fly which (second baseman Ray) Morgan, (pitcher Doc) Ayers, and (shortstop George) McBride watched fall safe and Giebel was credited with a hit.”22 Giebel’s bloop infield single accounted for one of only four Athletics hits off Senator rookie Ayers, who won his first major league game, 3-0. Giebel also allowed four stolen bases and a passed ball but, nonetheless, apparently “made a good impression and may be retained for future development.”23
The Senators shut out the Athletics in three straight games, as the Mackmen lost eight of their last nine games heading into the Series. Still, Philadelphia won the World Series in a five-game triumph over the New York Giants. There was no word, although it is highly doubtful, if the late-September tryouts participated in any of the Athletics’ World Series winning purse.
Acknowledging that the Athletics were quite strong with the catching duo of Jack Lapp and Wally Schang, Philadelphia sold Giebel in November to the Kansas City Blues of the Class AA American Association, although Mack still had “a string on the player.”24 This was to complete a 1912 transaction when Cy Morgan was sent to Kansas City by the Athletics, and the Blues claimed they were owed another player.25
Giebel headed west for Kansas City in March 1914, with the hope of being recalled by the world champions sometime during the upcoming season.26 He was reunited with old Savannah teammate shortstop Chuck Wortman. In August, Giebel caught all of Bert Gallia’s 18 innings in a doubleheader sweep at home against the Cleveland Bearcats.27 For 1914, Giebel hit .243 in 109 games. The next year, he hit only .229 in 77 games, sharing catching duties with Walt Alexander.
In 1916, Kansas City owner George Tebeau was forced to cut players’ salaries. The rival Federal League’s Kansas City Packers impacted attendance in Kansas City. Giebel was among those facing a pay cut and “Joe doesn’t want to stand for it.”28 He left professional baseball and returned to Washington, DC. Giebel caught for the Holy Name team of the Catholic Church League in the summer and fall of 1916, winning the championship against the Union Printers contingent. He also married Vernell Reynolds, a Kentucky-born young lady only 17 years old at the time of their marriage.
On his June 1917 war registration, Giebel listed his occupation as the Chief of the Purchasing Division for American National Red Cross in DC, and claimed an exemption due to a married dependent. In 1918, Giebel played for and managed the Clarendon (Virginia) Athletic Club team in a Northern Virginian civilian amateur league. They played in the District Baseball Association alongside teams such as the Navy Yard and Army Medicos.29 Also in 1918, Joe and Vernell welcomed daughter Dorothy into the world.
According to the 1920 census, the Giebel family lived with Joe’s parents. Joe worked as a Red Cross supervisor and his father (Clemmons) owned a public garage. Joe and Vernell welcomed a boy, Joseph Jr. in the same year. Joe occasionally played ball with the Rex and Mercury Athletic Clubs, then with the Navy and later Treasury teams in the Government League.30 In 1922, Joe coached football for the Quincy Athletic Club. The Giebels had a second son, Richard, in 1926.
By the 1930 census, Joe was a motor truck salesman. A telephone directory from 1937 shows Joe as a manager for Mack International Motor Trucks. Daughter Dorothy also worked at the Red Cross. Like her father, she was a stenographer. Vernell, in charge of floral arrangements for the St. John’s Mothers’ Club, helped host an annual card party and dance attended by none other than First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in the winter of 1938.31 Joe continued to work as a salesman at Mack Motor Truck through at least 1958.
Years later, Giebel justified his hasty departure from the professional game. “I’ve never regretted quitting baseball. I’ve made a comfortable living for my wife and two children and we’ve been happy, and that’s everything.”32
Joe Giebel died on March 17, 1981, at the age of 89, in Silver Spring, Maryland, and is buried at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in the same town.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Bruce Harris and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.
1 “Twining Primed to Open Season,” Washington Times, March 13, 1909: 8.
2 Alfred L. Stern, “Catcher Joe Giebel Booked for Trial with Pittsburgh,” Washington Post, June 9, 1912: 4.
3“Local Boys at Savannah,” Washington Post, March 16, 1911: 8.
4 Alfred L. Stern, “Jack Sherman Will Umpire in the District Circuit,” Washington Post, April 3, 1911: 9.
5 “Washington Boys Making Good in South,” Washington Post, August 27, 1911: 41.
6 “Big League Clubs After Joe Giebel,” Washington Herald, July 15, 1911: 11.
7 “Giebel Goes to Old League,” Washington Post, July 28, 1911: 8.
8 William Peet, “White May Pilot Nationals in 1912,” Washington Herald, September 19, 1911: 10.
9 “Joe Giebel Stars in Contest with Georgetown Team,” Washington Times, November 12, 1911: 14.
10 “Washington Sends Its Good Players to Many Leagues,” Washington Times, February 29, 1912: 15.
11 Alfred L. Stern, “Catcher Joe Giebel Booked for Trial with Pittsburgh.”
12 “Pennant Chances Narrow in Many Amateur Leagues,” Washington Post, June 24, 1912: 8.
13 “Great Interest Shown,” Washington Herald, September 21, 1912: 11.
14 “Pepco Plays Its Last Exhibition Game Today,” Evening Star, September 12, 1912: 14.
15 “Aggies Begin Practice,” Washington Herald, September 21, 1912: 11. (Note: two months later, in late November, the Great Fire of 1912 decimated the M.A.C. campus).
16 “Defeat Arcade Nine in Interesting Indoor Baseball Game,” Washington Post, November 27, 1912: 8.
17 “Menefee is Leading His Team in Batting,” Evening Star, May 28, 1913: 17.
18 C.W. Swan, “Giebel Reports to Connie Mack,” Washington Herald, September 28, 1913: 32.
19 “Johnson Blanks Mack’s Recruits,” Morning Post (Camden, New Jersey), September 30, 1913: 8.
20 “Mack’s Infants Made but One Real Hit off Recruit Doc Ayers,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 1, 1913: 12.
21 “Johnson Had No Cinch Winning,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 30, 1913: 12.
22 “Mack’s Infants Made but One Real Hit off Recruit Doc Ayers.”
23 William Peet, “Ayres Blanks Mackmen Allowing Four Swats,” Washington Herald, October 1, 1913: 12.
24 Stanley T. Milliken, “Joe Giebel is Sold,” Washington Post, November 4, 1913: 8.
25 “Notes” Winfield (Kansas) Free Press, November 6, 1913: 3.
26 “Catcher Giebel on Way,” Washington Post, March 11, 1914: 8. (Note: he was listed as Geibel for these two seasons in Baseball-Reference.com).
27 “Kansas City, 2-2; Cleveland, 0-0,” Wichita (Kansas) Beacon, August 3, 1914: 7.
28 “Five Blue Men are Holding Out,” Indianapolis Star, April 2, 1916: 56.
29 Bryan Morse, “Navy Yard Will Battle Operations for Honors,” Washington Times, September 25, 1918: 16.
30 “Shops to Tackle Navy’s Men Today,” Washington Times, August 26, 1920: 16.
31 “Mrs. Roosevelt Heads Sponsors of Benefit Dance,” Evening Star, February 20, 1938: 43.
32 “Sporting Moment,” Kansas City Star, August 20, 1940: 9.