This article was written by Bill Lamb
The appellation applied by baseball to turn-of-the-century right-hander George Lewis Cross was largely a matter of time and place. When he entered professional ranks in 1891 with a team from his hometown of Manchester, New Hampshire, he was called Lew Cross, the name that he had grown up with. During mid-1890s tours of duty with ball clubs in the Midwest (Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Grand Rapids, St. Paul), official league bulletins and Sporting Life correspondents referred to him as George Cross. He reverted to being Lew Cross when he returned to his native New England to finish his baseball career in the early years of the new century. And it was as Lew Cross that he lived and worked in Manchester until his death in 1930.
Modern baseball reference works identify our subject as “Lem” Cross, a nickname without historical basis and most likely the legacy of a misprint for “Lew” in the original 1951 edition of The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball, the ground-breaking but error-plagued compendium of player information compiled by Hy Turkin and S.C. Thompson.1 The misnomer “Lem” was thereafter repeated in various editions of the Macmillan baseball encyclopedia and Total Baseball, and continues to be used in modern electronic references to this day.2 By whatever name, Cross was a member of a familiar baseball fraternity: the pitcher with the grit and stuff needed to make a living as a professional, but one lacking the level of talent required for much of a major league career. In Cross’s case, his stay in the bigs encompassed exactly one calendar year with the Cincinnati Reds (August 6, 1893 to August 6, 1894), during which he saw action in only 11 games. The remainder of his 17 pro seasons was spent in the minors.
George Lewis Cross was born on January 9, 1872, in Sanbornton, New Hampshire, a sparsely populated rural enclave in the mid-state Lakes Region. He was the youngest of four children born to farmer Charles H. Cross (1839-1903) and his wife Julia (nee Johnson, 1842-1919).3 When Lew was just a toddler, the family relocated 40 miles downstate to the city of Manchester, where Charles found work in the bustling textile mills. Young Lew attended local schools4, but the extent of his education is unknown. Like a legion of others, he began playing sandlot baseball while still a boy and in time graduated to organized play in city leagues.
Lew initiated his professional career as a 19-year-old member of the Manchester Amoskeags, a nine placed in the newly-formed New England League by Manchester’s Amoskeag Athletic Club.5 Primarily a pitcher who also played outfield, he dominated opposing batsmen from the outset, striking out 11 in an early-season beating of Lowell.6 Good-sized,7 a righty batter, and a hard thrower, Lew promptly established himself as Manchester’s star player. By July, Chicago Colts leader Cap Anson was reportedly interested in acquiring him.8 Thereafter, Lew impressed sportswriter Jacob C. Morse in a post-season outing against the National League champion Boston Beaneaters. Although the Beaneaters prevailed easily, Morse wrote, “Cross started the pitching for Manchester and was quite effective. He promises well, and here is a good man for some first class club next season.”9
The following spring, Cross traveled across the country, signing with the Tacoma Daisies of the Pacific Northwest League.10 Against faster competition, Lew continued to shine, throwing a one-hitter against Spokane in early June. Two months later, his record stood at 15-10, with a sparkling 1.32 ERA in 224 1/3 innings pitched. But despite being atop PNL standings, the Tacoma club was in constant financial trouble, and backers surrendered the franchise to the league in early August.11 The PNL ceased operations days later. The Tacoma players, however, remained together, proceeding en masse to Missoula, Montana, to compete in the Montana State League. Simultaneously, they filed suit against the Tacoma club management for back salary due and owing, including Lew Cross’s $150/month wage.12
In 1893 our subject entered his George Cross phase, with Sporting Life correspondent Frank H. Thyne advising readers that “George Cross, late of the Tacomas, [is] fast enough for any league team.”13 The Charleston Seagulls of the Southern League put that proposition to the test, signing the young hurler. He did not disappoint. A 17-10 record in some 250 innings pitched for Charleston included an outing against the Chattanooga Warriors that led hometown sportswriter Al Weinfeld to exclaim, “Cross’ work here was superb, and he is unquestionably as good as one can find.”14 With the rival National League Louisville Colonels reportedly culling the Southern League for prospects, Cincinnati Reds manager Charlie Comiskey left his club to engage in a two-week scouting trip of Charleston and Atlanta. When the excursion was completed, Comiskey had five new players in tow, including Cross.15
The “new Southern League recruit” made his major league debut on August 8, 1893, starting the first game of a doubleheader in St. Louis. “Cross seemed to be rather nervous and when St. Louis scored four runs in the third inning, he was taken out.”16 A late-game Reds rally spared Cross from defeat, but his performance had not impressed skipper Comiskey. After a five-week banishment to the bench, Cross was given another start, this time against the New York Giants. Toeing the slab opposite fireballer Amos Rusie, Cross outpitched the New York ace but dropped a 2-0 decision, undone by two misplays by center fielder Bug Holliday. After the game, the Cincinnati Post sounded its approval of the newcomer’s effort, declaring, “Cross … did well. He has all the curves and plenty of speed, but he is somewhat wild at times. However, he has the making of a good pitcher in him.”17 Unhappily for Cross, he undid the good impression with a subpar outing in his third and final appearance, a 13-hit, 6-walk, complete game 9-3 loss to Brooklyn in which the Grooms “had no trouble in batting Cross.”18 With one good effort in three games started, Cross completed his freshman major league season at 0-2, with a 5.57 ERA in 21 innings thrown.
The pitching-thin Reds reserved Cross for the 1894 season, and he showed well enough in spring camp to make the Opening Day roster. Making his situation even brighter was marriage to Manchester sweetheart Jennie (Mary Jane) Brown, with the happy couple forsaking a honeymoon and heading directly to Cincinnati.19 The union was life-long, and in time produced daughters Mildred (born 1897) and Blanche Leona (1907). Regrettably, marital bliss did not spark an upgrade in Cross’s pitching. Given an early-season start against Boston, Cross was hammered: seven hits, five walks, and a hit-batsman yielding 10 runs in only three innings pitched. Shortly thereafter, Cross was among Cincinnati players “loaned” by Reds owner John T. Brush to the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the Western League, also owned by Brush.20
Historian David Nemec relates that “Cross complained upon leaving Cincinnati that he hadn’t been given a fair shake with the Reds, but quieted after he gave up 48 runs in his first two starts with Indianapolis.”21 After two months of much better pitching, Cross was recalled to Cincinnati, and on July 14 he posted his first major league win – an unsightly 14-12 conquest of Boston. Briefly placed in the Reds rotation, he alternated adequate efforts (like a 12-4 victory over Pittsburgh on July 21) with ghastly ones (e.g., a 17-6 loss to Cleveland on July 17, and a 19-13 win over Chicago on July 28). His final major league appearance came on August 6, 1894, the one-year anniversary of his debut, and was one of the latter, a complete game 12-9 loss to Chicago in which Cross gave up 17 hits and four walks. Shortly thereafter, he was returned to Indianapolis where he completed a bifurcated minor league season record of 15-12.
When the 1894 dust settled, year-end statistics revealed that Cross’s Cincinnati log of 3-4 (.429) was actually a marginal improvement on the combined 52-71 (.423) record posted by other Reds pitchers. But his 2.170 WHIP was awful, and his 8.49 ERA in 53 frames even worse – the highest of any National League pitcher who worked at least 50 innings that season.22 Still, given that Cross was young (22), sober, and a hard worker, there was every prospect that he might sometime receive a return major league engagement. But despite some good work in the high minors, it never happened. Instead, Cross became a minor league journeyman.
The name George Cross appeared on the Cincinnati Reds reserve list for the 1895 season, but he was given his outright release before spring training started. Cross thereupon rejoined Indianapolis, and turned in an outstanding season, going 26-17 for the Western League’s pennantwinning Hoosiers. Inexplicably, he went undrafted by major league clubs in the off-season. Returning to Indianapolis, Cross, hampered in the early going by a lame wrist, got off to a slow start. But by season’s end, his 18 wins topped Indianapolis hurlers.23 From there, however, Cross’s pitching went downhill. He posted a combined 15-21 log pitching for WL clubs in Grand Rapids and St. Paul in 1897, and went a dismal 7-19 for the Eastern League Montreal Royals in 1900. In between, he was demoted to the Chatham (Ontario) Reds of the Class D Canadian League, where his disappointment and frustration appear to have gotten the better of Cross. If a Sporting Life report is credited, Cross “was either fined or expelled in every game [six] in which he took part for Chatham until Chatham was disbanded” in early-July 1899.24
Cross regained both pitching form and better humor upon his return to the New England League in 1901. He also reverted to being Lew (not George) Cross.25 In short order, he became one of the league’s standout hurlers. In 1903 for the Lowell (Massachusetts) Tigers, he won 26 games,26 including both ends of a season-concluding doubleheader that clinched the NEL crown for his club.27 Lew finally hung up the glove in September 1907, following a 9-13 season with the Brockton (Massachusetts) Tigers. Although his minor league stats are missing some years, Cross doubtless won well over 200 professional games.28 He was also a decent hitter and spare outfielder, posting a lifetime batting average around .250. In all, Lew Cross had been an accomplished ballplayer, albeit not one of major league caliber.
After his playing days, Cross led a quiet life, living with his family in Manchester and working locally, first as a steamfitter, later as a master mechanic. All the while he remained a close and enthusiastic follower of the game. On October 9, 1930, Lew was felled by a cerebral hemorrhage (stroke) while standing in the work yard of his employer, the F.M. Hoyt Shoe Company, and died within minutes. He was 58. The following day, the Manchester Union Leader captioned his obituary: “‘Lew’ Cross, Ex-Big League Ace, Dead,” and followed with a suitably-inflated account of his baseball exploits.29 Funeral services were followed by interment at Pine Grove Cemetery in Manchester. Survivors included his wife Jennie, and daughters Mildred and Leona.
Sources for the biographical detail provided herein include the Cross player file maintained at the Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York; the profile of Lew Cross by David Nemec in The Rank and File of 19th Century Baseball: Biographies of 1,084 Players, Owners, Managers and Umpires (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2012); Cross family tree info posted on Ancestry.com; and various of the newspaper articles cited below, particularly the Cross obituary published in the Manchester Union-Leader, October 10, 1930. Unless otherwise noted, stats have been taken from Baseball-Reference.
1 See The Rank and File of 19th Century Baseball: Biographies of 1,084 Players, Owners, Managers and Umpires, David Nemec, compiler and editor (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2012), 25. As explained therein, the “Lem” nickname is a probable misprint for “Lew,” the diminutive of Cross’s middle name “Lewis” and the moniker that he was known by for most of his life.
2 During research, not a single mention of “Lem” Cross was found in contemporaneous newsprint examined by the writer. An effort to delete the misbegotten “Lem” from contemporary baseball reference work listings for Lew Cross is presently ongoing.
3 The older Cross children were Malzena (born 1863), Nellie (1867), and Charles (1869).
4 As per the Cross obituary in the Manchester Union-Leader, October 10, 1930.
5 Per Sporting Life, April 11, 1891.
6 As reported in Sporting Life, April 25, 1891.
7 Baseball reference works list Cross as 5’9”, 155 pounds, but he was likely larger. Contemporary news articles sometimes described him as “big,” and he appears taller than 5’9” and broad-shouldered in surviving photographs.
8 According to Sporting Life, July 25, 1891.
9 Sporting Life, October 24, 1891.
10 As per the Tacoma Daily News, March 26, 1892. In reporting the signing, Sporting Life, March 26, 1892, described Cross as “the best pitcher in the New England League and one of the most promising twirlers in the country.”
11 As reported in Sporting Life, August 13, 1892.
12 As per the Tacoma Daily News, August 26, 1892, and Sporting Life, October 8, 1892.
13 Sporting Life, April 29, 1893. For the next few years, our subject was invariably called George Cross in newsprint. See e.g., Sporting Life, August 11, 1894: “George Cross claims that he was roasted on strikes …”; Evansville (Indiana) Courier and Press, February 25, 1896: “George L. Cross, one of the pitchers of last season’s Indianapolis club …”; Sporting Life, July 16, 1898: “George Cross’s split finger is about mended.”
14 Sporting Life, July 22, 1893.
15 Per Sporting Life, August 5 and 12, 1893. In a quasi-fire sale, Charleston club owner Long sold several other key members of his first-place Seagulls to the highest bidder. He then disbanded the club. The Southern League stopped play for the season shortly thereafter.
16 Baltimore Sun, August 7, 1893.
17 Cincinnati Post, September 15, 1893.
18 Philadelphia Inquirer, September 25, 1893.
19 As reported in Sporting Life, March 31, 1894.
20 As reported in Sporting Life, May 12, 1894. Decades before St. Louis Cardinals visionary Branch Rickey instituted his farm system, Brush had utilized the practice of revolving players on an as-needed basis between his Cincinnati and Indianapolis clubs. In the late-1890s, chagrined fellow Western League club owners succeeded in having simultaneous ownership of a major and minor league club outlawed.
21 Nemec, The Rank and File of 19th Century Baseball, 25.
23 Baseball-Reference provides no 1896 record for Cross, but Western League win/loss statistics published in Sporting Life, October 10, 1896, put Cross at 18-13.
24 Sporting Life, July 15, 1899.
25 The New England League was regularly covered by the Massachusetts dailies and Sporting Life, and references to “Lew Cross” abound. See e.g., Worcester Daily Spy, September 2, 1901: “Lew Cross, with Montreal part of last season …”; Boston Herald, July 10, 1903: “Lew Cross, Lowell’s grand old man …”; Sporting Life, August 25, 1906: “Old Lew Cross is playing fine ball with Manchester.”
26 Baseball-Reference provides no 1903 pitching record for Cross, but Sporting Life, September 26, 1903, noted that “the veteran Lew Cross … gathered 26 victories in 35 games for Lowell.”
27 Per Charlie Bevis, The New England League: A Baseball History, 1885-1949 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2008), 122. Bevis credits Cross with 27 wins in 1903.
28 Combining his Baseball-Reference stats with his 1896 (18-13), 1903 (26/27 wins), and 1905 (11-16) numbers published elsewhere gives Cross 193/194 pro wins, with three full seasons (1891, 1901, and 1904) unaccounted for.
29 Manchester Union Leader, October 10, 1930.