This article was written by Jim Sandoval
“My big idol was Larry Kopf, who played with the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series. They’re still my team. That’s a big thing for a town our size to have a guy in the big leagues.” So said Abraham A. “Abe” Ribicoff, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, and a former Governor of Connecticut, in 1961. Ribicoff, who would subsequently spend three terms in the United States Senate, had grown up in New Britain idolizing the switch hitting shortstop.
Nephew Edward Kopf described Larry as “having a twinkle in his eye.” He loved to tell stories, to put people on. One time a sportswriter came up to him when he was in a slump. Not recognizing the player, the writer said, “I hear Kopf is drinking and that is why he’s not hitting…. Do you know Kopf?” Kopf answered with a straight face, “Yes I know him and he IS drinking.” According to his nephew, Kopf never drank.
William Lorenz Kopf, called Billy early in his career and Larry the rest of his life, was born November 3, 1890 in Bristol, Connecticut. His parents were Lorenz, a German baker, and Marie. Sometime between 1900 and 1910 the Kopf family moved to the fifth Ward of the Dublin Hill section of New Britain. There the Kopfs raised a large family of eight children.
Larry’s brothers were Willard, Walter and Herbert. The family was quite athletically inclined. Walter also played major league baseball, participating in two games for the 1921 World Champion New York Giants. Herb played football at Washington and Jefferson College, playing end from 1921 to 1924, and serving as Captain in 1924. Herb’s first coach was Larry’s baseball teammate Greasy Neale, just beginning a Hall of Fame football coaching career. Herb went on to be a college and pro football coach, including a stint with the NFL Boston Yankees from 1944-46.
Larry’s sisters were Catherine, Marie, Frances and Helen. Helen, the youngest sibling, later married Larry’s teammate Raymond “Rube” Bressler. For many years the brothers-in-law lived across the street from each other. In an obituary Helen stated that Larry helped the younger siblings finish college.
As a youth Kopf played all sports, developing a reputation as an exceptional basketball player. In 1909 he played baseball at Fordham University in New York.
Kopf’s professional baseball career began in 1910. He used an alias, Fred Brady, so he could continue playing collegiately at Fordham under his real name. His professional debut was with Akron of the Class C Ohio-Pennsylvania League. Playing 30 games, he struggled to a .162 average. He also may have played for a short time with Newark of the Class D Ohio State League that season.
In 1911 Kopf played 22 games for New Haven of the Connecticut League, again struggling with the bat, hitting just .202. Larry ended the season with Fall River of the New England League, improving to a .278 mark. In 1912 Connie Mack signed “Brady” for the Philadelphia Athletics and took him to San Antonio for spring training. Mack found him not ready for “fast play” and he was released to Toledo of the American Association.
Larry played two seasons for Toledo, hitting .181 in 1912 before improving to .255 the next year. Despite his lack of production, the Cleveland Indians purchased his contract and brought him to the major leagues for a trial. Throughout his career Kopf was known for being solid with the glove but not too strong at the plate, though he did have a reputation as someone who was tough in clutch situations. Perhaps it was his potential with the glove that caused major league scouts to want to give him a trial.
Making his debut with Cleveland late in the season of 1913, still playing as Fred Brady, Kopf got into six games, getting three hits in ten at bats. In his first game he replaced star Nap Lajoie at second base in the second game of a double header, and promptly doubled in his first at bat. After the season Connie Mack reacquired him, and Kopf spent two seasons with Philadelphia, hitting .188 in 37 games in 1914 but playing regularly in 1915 and improving to .225. He hit the first of his five major league home runs on June 10th off Rip Hagerman at Shibe Park. The March 1915 issue of Sporting Life said the general opinion was that he would not stick, as he was not strong enough to be played regularly. A week later Sporting Life nonetheless remarked that he was a better fielder than Home Run Baker.
In February of 1916 Sporting Life reported: “a bombshell to the A’s from Mack: he drops Billy Kopf. His release to Baltimore is surely a surprise. It was generally believed that Kopf would be the regular Shortstop.” It also noted the release of Kopf weakened the A’s considerably in that he was part of the club’s singing quartet.
Kopf signed with the minor league Baltimore Orioles. There he finally broke through offensively; hitting .292 with 26 stolen bases. Late in the season he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs, with his contract then being assigned to Cincinnati. The Reds also purchased George Twombly from Baltimore in the deal. The reported sale price for his contract was $3,700. He finished the season with the Reds, hitting .275 in eleven games.
Kopf became the regular shortstop for the Reds in 1917, appearing in 148 games and hitting .255 with 17 steals. He hit the second and third of his five career home runs that season. On April 24th he hit an inside-the-park homer off Al Demaree at Redland Field. On July 23rd he connected off Sherry Smith at Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn.
Perhaps his greatest single feat in baseball occurred on May 2nd. Kopf broke up the famous double no-hit game pitched by Jim “Hippo” Vaughn of the Cubs and Fred Toney of the Reds. For 9 innings that day at Wrigley Field neither team had recorded a base hit. With one out in 10th Larry broke up the dual no-hitter with a single off Vaughn. He advanced to third base when Cy Williams dropped Hal Chase’s fly ball, and scored the only run of the game on a tapper in front of the plate by Jim Thorpe. Vaughn was quoted as saying he knew he had no chance to get the Olympic champion sprinter at first base so he threw home. Kopf was able to beat the throw to score the game’s only run. Toney completed his no-hitter in the bottom of the inning for a 1-0 Reds victory.
Kopf was out of professional baseball in 1918. He first attempted to break into the Aviation Service but was not selected. He was offered a sales manager position with a Tire and Rubber Co. Many players left baseball because of the Great War; some going into military related industries, as Kopf was to do later in the year. In late April or early May Cincinnati had agreed to a deal with the Boston Braves for Kopf until it was learned he would not report, and Boston called the trade off.
The September 12, 1918, issue of The Sporting News reported that Kopf was drafted, but he went to work for a shipyard munitions plant to avoid military service. He played shortstop and managed the Fore River team of a shipyard league. The 1919 Spalding Guide indicates he played third base for less than 5 games with the Fisk Red Tops of Chicopee, Massachusetts, and also that he was the team captain for Bethlehem Steel.
The October 1918 Sporting News mentioned that he was to report to an army camp in Georgia, then on to Camp Taylor. A later issue relates he passed the exam for Officer’s Candidate School, and would be commissioned as First Lieutenant. The war soon ended and Kopf was released from the service, apparently before he was actually commissioned as an officer.
In February 1919 Kopf and Tom Griffith were traded by the Reds to Brooklyn for Jake Daubert. Kopf refused to report, saying he would retire and go into business. Two months later, just as the season was to begin, new Reds manager Pat Moran reacquired Kopf from Brooklyn in exchange for Lee Magee. Kopf was happy with the change in Reds management, as he was not enamored of Christy Mathewson as manager. Matty had not returned from his military service in France, so the Reds turned to Giants coach and former Phillies manager Moran to guide the 1919 club.
Kopf played a solid shortstop for the World Champion Reds team in 1919. He fielded well and teamed with second baseman Morrie Rath to make the Reds strong in the middle of the diamond. He also contributed offensively, hitting .270 with 58 runs batted in, the latter figure placing him third on the champion Reds and tenth in the National League.
The 1919 Series was tainted by the Black Sox scandal, the throwing of games by eight members of the Chicago club. In an obituary Kopf was quoted as saying that the Series appeared on the up and up, with the exception of the first game. He said, “Cicotte didn’t have a thing but I couldn’t get a hit off him.” Kopf had a two run triple in Game Two of the series that led to a 4-2 Reds victory. He also drove in the go ahead run for the Reds as they won Game Four on their way to the championship.
In 1920 Kopf broke his thumb on a play at second base, when a throw hit him on his left thumb. He remained with the Reds through the 1921 season, although there was often discussion of deals that would send him to another club. One rumored trade had the Reds acquiring Rabbit Maranville for Greasy Neale, Kopf and cash.
Early in 1921 Cincinnati requested waivers on Kopf when he did not report to camp. All teams passed on him, as it appeared he was seeking a contact of $9,000. The Sporting News reported he had a new business venture, selling oil to garages, and had already invested $12,000. Later that year The Sporting News reported that Kopf and Bressler owned several gas stations. Late in April Kopf finally signed with the Reds, playing out the rest of the season.
In September 1921 Larry’s younger brother Walter was called up to the New York Giants. After appearing in just two games he was made eligible for the World Series against the New York Yankees, and he was voted a $1,500 World Series share. There was talk of another brother, Herbert, being signed by a major league club after his success on the football field in college this season, but this did not occur.
Early in 1922 Rube Marquard and Kopf were traded to the Boston Braves for John Scott. Kopf ended his major league career playing two seasons with the National League’s Boston franchise. He was already looking for more business propositions, bringing two of his younger brothers to Cincinnati to help with his various concerns.
After playing just 39 games in 1923, Kopf finally retired in June to devote time to his oil and gasoline business. He could not get the sport out of his system just yet, as it was reported that he jumped from the Boston Braves to one of the industrial teams in Wisconsin. In 1924 he played shortstop for the Simmons team of the Kenosha Midwest Semi-Pro league, also serving as the manager. It appears he recruited his brother Walter to play third base for the club as well.
Larry made one more foray into organized baseball in 1927, holding down an infield job with Indianapolis of the American Association. The following season Kopf was hired as the head baseball coach at Georgetown University. His brother Herb was already coaching football there, under head coach Lou Little. After one season Georgetown released Kopf as coach.
With brother Willard, Larry developed a prosperous real estate and general contracting business in Cincinnati, called Kopf and Kopf. The company developed the Watch Hill area of the city. Walter Kopf later worked for the business as well. Even with company doing well, Kopf never completely got baseball out of his system. In 1935 he and other former big leaguers organized an independent team out of Philadelphia, playing a series of games along the East Coast. They played under the name “Old Timers Baseball Club of Philadelphia.” Teammates of Kopf’s, former major leaguers all, included brother-in-law and business partner Rube Bressler, Sam Crawford, Harry Hooper, Rube Marquard, Jimmy Archer, Sam Agnew, Bill Wambsganss, Mike Gazella and Jesse Orndorff. On the mound were Cy Young, Paul Zahniser, Bob McGraw, Hap Collard, and Rolla Mapel.
In 1940 Kopf attended the World Series in Cincinnati, along with former 1919 Reds mates Slim Sallee, Heinie Groh, Bressler, Edd Roush, and Pat Duncan. Larry’s nephew Edward Kopf later related that Larry had taken him to the Series, where he was introduced to the legendary Connie Mack, Larry’s former manager. About this time Larry married his wife Irma, whom he met in a dental office where she was working.
Larry spent some of his free time hunting. In an interview in 1961 just before the Reds played in the World Series Kopf said “he spends most of his days training Mike, Sal, and Pete to be good bird dogs.” He also was a member of the Ball Players of Yesteryear, a Cincinnati-based group of former major league ballplayers. In 1965 Larry was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame.
Larry Kopf passed away on October 15, 1986, in a nursing home in the Anderson Township area of Cincinnati at the age of 95. He was the last surviving player of the double no-hit game. His wife had died previously and they had no children. Survivors included his brother Herbert and sisters Frances and Helen. A Memorial Service was held at Mount Washington Presbyterian Church. He was laid to rest in the Mt. Moriah Cemetery of Withamsville, Clermont County, Ohio.
Letter from Edward Kopf, 11 Nov 1999
Phone interview with Edward Kopf, 19 December 1999 (nephew, son of Willard Kopf)
Player file: National Baseball Library, Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York
SABR’s Home Run Log
Spalding Guide, 1919
Who’s Who in Baseball, 1923
Reach Guide, 1920, 1925
The Sporting News, 1914-1928, 1934
Sporting Life, 1915-16
St. Louis Dispatch, April 18, 1919
Hartford Times, August 23, 1919
Cincinnati Enquirer, March-October 1919
New York Times, June 19, 1923
Chicago Tribune, April 23, 1924
New York Times, February 26, 1928
Washington Post, February 26, 1928
Washington Post, January 16, 1929
Cincinnati Enquirer, October 5, 1961
Washington Post, February 26, 1961
Obituary, New York Times, October 17, 1986
Obituary, Cincinnati Enquirer, October 17, 1986
Obituary, The Sporting News, 1986