Lou Polchow

This article was written by Terry Bohn

Lou Polchow (BASEBALL-REFERENCE.COM)Throughout his minor league career, pitcher Lou Polchow was a notoriously slow starter, struggling with his control and effectiveness until the weather warmed. When he failed to round into shape in the spring of 1911, there were claims that he was “an indifferent sort of fellow”1 and, “not in the best of condition.”2 No one other than family and close associates knew the reason for his poor performance: he was afflicted with Bright’s disease.3 The kidney disorder claimed his life just a year later at the young age of 32. It was about a month short of a decade since the hurler’s one appearance in the majors.

Louis William Polchow was born on March 14, 1880, in Mankato, Minnesota. His father was Frederick Christian “Christ” Polchow;4 his mother was Willhemine (née Schultz), known familiarly as “Minnie.”5 Both were born in Germany. Louis was the fifth of the Polchows’ eight children. Brothers Fred, William, and John, as well as sister Caroline (Lena), were older. Louis was followed by younger sisters Bertha and Anna and a younger brother Herman.

The elder Polchow was an active member of the Republican Party in Minnesota and for a time was an agent for the Minneapolis Brewing Company. He also partnered with a man named Willard in a brick manufacturing business in his hometown of Mankato. Their classified ad in the local newspaper noted that they also dealt in the sale of coal and wood and that Willard & Polchow was “two of the largest brick yards in the state.”6 The success of his business ventures allowed the family to have a live-in servant by the time of the 1900 U. S. Census.

At age 19, Polchow started out pitching with area amateur teams in 1899. He later joined an independent club in Flandreau, South Dakota. Early reports of the 5-foot-97 right-hander noted that he had “excellent control of the ball and some good curves.”8

Polchow started his professional career with the Des Moines Hawkeyes of the Class B Western League in 1900. He went 2-1 in three games. Prior to the 1901 season Polchow was “loaned”9 to the Evansville (Indiana) River Rats of the Class D Three-I League. He pitched in 21 games before being sent back to Des Moines at the end of the season. After that he was placed on the reserve list of both Des Moines and Evansville until the National Association of Minor Baseball Leagues awarded his rights to Evansville.10

Despite being fined for “indifferent work,”11 Polchow was regarded as one of the best pitchers in the league. One report noted, “He uses his brain at all stages of the game and has about all that could be required in the way of benders, slants and steam.”12 Consequently, his strong season with Evansville in 1902 resulted in attention from major league scouts. In August he was signed by the Cleveland Bronchos of the American League with the understanding that he would come to Cleveland for a trial once Evansville’s season ended.

Polchow (or “Polly” as he was often called in the press) made his major league debut on September 14 in the second game of a doubleheader against the Browns at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. Understandably nervous, he surrendered several walks and hits as the Browns built a 5-0 lead after two innings. Polchow then settled down and held St. Louis scoreless over the last six innings. His Cleveland teammates scored three late runs, but it was not enough as he dropped a 5-3 decision. Overall, in the eight innings pitched, he allowed five earned runs and nine hits, walked four, and struck out two. Reviews of his performance were generally positive, one writer noting, “Polchow’s baptismal effort in fast company has been a success.”13 Nonetheless, this would be Polchow’s only appearance in the major leagues.

On November 11, 1902, Polchow married Julia Huettl. In. December Evansville, which still held his contract rights, traded him to Concord (New Hampshire) of the Eastern League.14 This began a string of stops in the low minors over the next decade. Before suiting up for Concord, Polchow was released and signed with Montgomery (Alabama) of the Class A Southern Association for the 1903 season.15 He went 11-15 in 30 games and returned to Montgomery in 1904. After posting a 3-4 record in seven games, he was released in early June owing to roster limit rules. He was picked up by the Augusta (Georgia) Tourists of the Class C South Atlantic League.16 In August, he was traded to Macon of the same league.17

Polchow was back with Augusta in 1905, forming part of a three-man starting pitching staff that included Nap Rucker and Eddie Cicotte. Another teammate was an 18-year-old outfielder named Ty Cobb, whose greatness Polchow predicted. One account summarized his remarks: “If Cobb continues to improve as he has done since spring, he will be a wonder…has every confidence in Tyrus’ ability to be a star in the big leagues, and …spots him to hit about .275 his first year.”18 (Cobb hit .238 after being called up to Detroit later that season.)

Polchow had a record of 12-13 for Augusta in 1905.19 After three years in the Deep South, he joined the Scranton (Pennsylvania) Miners of the Class B New York State League for the 1906 season. He was still reserved by Augusta, so his case again went before President John Farrell of the National Association, who decided that Polchow was free to sign with Scranton. He pitched for Scranton for two seasons (1906-1907) and had another famous teammate, Moonlight Graham.

In May 1908, new Scranton manager Malachi Kittridge sold him to the Utica Pent-Ups of the same league.20 Citing a disagreement over salary, Polchow refused to report to Utica; one report stated that Kittridge then gave him his unconditional release.21 Believing himself to be a free agent, Polchow then wired his terms to Utica management and another New York State League team, the Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Barons. Both Charles Dooley (Utica) and Abel Lizotte (Wilkes-Barre) accepted his terms. However, Lizotte’s telegram reached Polchow an hour before Dooley’s, so Polchow signed with Wilkes-Barre.22

Naturally, Utica lodged a protest, so President Farrell – who seemingly had to deal with Polchow’s contract situation every year – suspended him pending resolution of his status.23 National Association rules stated, “The first notice of terms accepted received in the secretary’s office by wire or otherwise (followed by proofs) shall have precedence and be binding.”24 Farrell determined that the acceptance telegram from Utica officials arrived at his office in Auburn, New York, at 6:07 p.m. on the evening of June 2, while Wilkes-Barre’s wasn’t received until 10:01. Therefore, he awarded Polchow to Utica.25 He reluctantly reported and finished the 1908 season there.

That December, Utica sold Polchow to Altoona (Pennsylvania) of the Tri-State League, which in turn traded him back to the New York State League and the Elmira Colonels.26 He had a 15-14 record in 190927 but slipped to 8-16 the following year.28 An undisclosed “illness” was said to be the reason for his poor showing in 1910, but he reported to Elmira in the spring of 1911 claiming to be in good health. However, after a couple of poor outings he was shipped to Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) of the Tri-State League.29 There he was pummeled in two games and promptly returned to Elmira, complaining of a sore arm. Elmira released him in early July.

It is not known when Polchow was diagnosed with Bright’s disease, or how many people knew of his condition, but the illness was clearly affecting his pitching. His teammates and managers were likely unaware, as was the local press, who called him a “has-been”30 and “an easy mark”31after poor performances. He kept insisting his trouble was due to a sore arm, so perhaps he thought that was a believable excuse and that he might still return to his former health. Whatever his thinking, there is no evidence that Polchow ever complained or felt sorry for himself.

After Elmira released him, Polchow returned to his home in Mankato, where he continued to work as a barber, in partnership with his brother, as he had done most offseasons. A year after his once-promising baseball career ended, Polchow died on August 15, 1912, in Good Thunder, Minnesota. He was buried at Pilgrims Rest Cemetery in nearby Mankato. He was survived by his wife and a son, William, born in 1908.



This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Paul Proia.



Unless otherwise noted, statistics from Polchow’s playing career are taken from Baseball-Reference.com. Genealogical and family history was obtained from Ancestry.com. The author also used information from clippings in Polchow’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.



1 Elmira (New York) Star-Gazette, May 17, 1911: 8.

2 “Colonels Sell Louis Polchow,” Elmira Star-Gazette, May 22, 1911: 8.

3 “Polchow Dies in Minnesota,” Elmira Star-Gazette, August 22, 1912: 9.

4 The spelling varied across records; some also showed additional middle names. This was the most common way the name was given.

5 Reflects the spelling of her given name in German records.

6 “Willard & Polchow, Manufacturers of Brick!” Mankato (MN) Free Press, November 11, 1892: 4.

7 No playing weight was found but he was once described as “rather squatty and thickly set.” In a photograph from 1908 Polchow appears to be a sturdily build man so it is estimated he weighed 175-180 toward the end of his playing career.

8 Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Argus-Leader, May 15, 1900: 5.

9 Davenport (Iowa) Daily Times, August 16, 1901: 6.

10 “Baseball Gossip,” Decatur (Illinois) Herald and Review, October 4, 1901: 2.

11 “Baseball Directors Hold Important Meeting,” Evansville (IN) Journal, August 3, 1902: 18.

12 “Three-Eye Will Send Players to Big Leagues,” Evansville (IN) Journal, August 18, 1902: 5.

13 “Blues Lose Both Games,” Cleveland Plaindealer, September 15, 1902: 3.

14 “Polchow Goes East,” Evansville (Indiana) Courier and Press, December 12, 1902: 5.

15 “New Pitcher Signed; Bunch of Slab Artists,” Montgomery (AL) Advertiser, March 14, 1903: 12.

16 No 1904 season pitching records are available on Polchow’s Baseball-Reference page, but year-end statistics indicate he had a 10-9 record in 28 games for Augusta. See Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle, December 11, 1904: 3.

17 “Polchow Goes to Macon,” Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser, August 16, 1904: 7.

18 Augusta Chronicle, August 25, 1905: 8.

19 “Pitcher’s Averages,” Augusta Chronicle, November 5, 1905: 8.

20 “Pitcher Polchow Sold to Utica,” Scranton (Pennsylvania) Truth, May 29, 1908: 1.

21 “Barons Should Land Polchow,” Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) News, June 4, 1908; 7.

22 “Polchow Has Been Signed by Barons,” Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, June 5, 1908; 9.

23 “Polchow Under Suspension,” Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, June 9, 1908; 9.

24 “Farrell’s Decision,” Scranton Tribune, June 16, 1908: 8.

25 “Farrell’s Decision.”

26 “Polchow Is Signed,” Elmira Star-Gazette, April 12, 1909: 8.

27 Elmira Star-Gazette, October 7, 1909: 8.

28 Elmira Star-Gazette, December 12, 1910: 8.

29 Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Telegraph, June 5, 1911: 6 and June 8, 1911: 8.

30 “Business Opens Fine in N. Y. State League,” Binghamton (NY) Press, April 8, 1911: 8

31 “Tiger Sluggers Browbeat Sells,” Harrisburg (PA) Daily Independent, June 5, 1911; 4.

Full Name

Louis William Polchow


March 14, 1880 at Mankato, MN (USA)


August 15, 1912 at Good Thunder, MN (USA)

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