This article was written by Tom Hawthorn
Marty Krug appeared in only 20 games in 1912, his rookie season, mostly as a pinch-hitter, or a late-inning replacement. He watched the World Series from the superior but disappointing vantage of the winning team’s bench. He never once stepped onto the field against the New York Giants in those eight dramatic games.
The knock on Krug was that he wielded a suspect glove. After the season he returned to the minors, where he lingered for a decade before gaining employment with the Chicago Cubs. He appeared in 127 games for the Cubs and had his greatest day at the plate in a game during which all players hit with abandon, as a major-league record 49 runs were scored. (Yes, Krug committed an error, too.) His stint there also lasted just one season before he returned to the minors.
An ordinary player, Krug developed a sterling reputation as a handler of young talent. Many of those he coached credited tips learned from him for their ability to keep a major-league job. Krug won a Pacific Coast League title as manager of the Los Angeles Angels in 1926. He also served for many years as a scout, spotting raw talent in need of adjustment and refinement.
Despite those successes, Krug is remembered for one judgment that now seems ridiculously mistaken and laughably inept, though understandable under the circumstances. He was the scout who thought Ted Williams too fragile for baseball.
Martin Johannes Krieg was born on September 10, 1888, at Koblenz, in what was then the German Empire, to Johannes Krieg, a brewer, and Maria O. Krieg. Johannes immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1889 and Maria came two years later with sons Karl (Charles), August, and Martin. A fourth son, Willie, was born in Pennsylvania in 1895.1
They lived at first in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, before settling in Cleveland, which would later be incorrectly cited as Martin’s birthplace. At least one account has him growing up as a neighbor to Rube Marquard. Young Martin Krieg’s formal education ended with the sixth grade, after which he became an apprentice printer.
Krug was a promising athlete. According to family lore, he signed a contract (the team is unknown, possibly a club in New England) and headed to spring training (the place is unknown, but if the team was in New England, Krug would have been far from home). He quickly became homesick, as he had never before eaten in a restaurant, taken a train, or stayed in a hotel. He came home to play semiprofessional ball in Cleveland. When a scout for a different organization tried to sign him, he balked, saying he was already under contract. The scout suggested replacing the two vowels in the family name with a single one. Thus, Krieg became Krug.
Krug’s professional career began in Kentucky with the Richmond Pioneers of the Blue Grass League, a Class D circuit. After two seasons, he moved up a notch to the South Atlantic League, handling shortstop chores for Columbia, South Carolina, of the South Atlantic League (called the Gamecocks in 1910 and the Commies in 1911). In one home-game victory against rival Columbus, fans passed the hat and collected $64 to reward Krug for a home run. He was then drafted by the Boston Red Sox.
As the Red Sox arrived at Hot Springs, Arkansas, for spring training in March 1912, the Boston Globe noted that the rookie infielder had nearly missed the train to join his new teammates. “He is a likely-looking youngster and is already in shape,” the Globe assured readers, “as he has been playing in Cuba since early in January.”
Left unstated was that Krug’s brief, 13-game stint as an outfielder with Almendares in Havana included but one double and six singles in 42 at-bats for an unpromising .167 average.
Hugh S. Fullerton, the baseball writer, wrote a preseason article predicting that the Philadelphia Athletics would face a serious challenge from the rejuvenated Red Sox in defending their American League pennant. He offered a player-by-player accounting of the Boston roster. As for Krug, “they say this fellow can slam the sphere to a fare-ye-well, but that he can’t field much. He hit .297 last season, but was down among the last, both as a third baseman and shortstop, and piled up a lot of errors without much to his assist column,” Fullerton wrote. Another preseason roundup merely noted that the rookie “needs seasoning.”2
The 5-foot-9, 165-pound utility infielder, a right-hander in the field and at the plate, made his debut on May 29, 1912, in the first game of a home doubleheader against Washington. He replaced Heinie Wagner at shortstop late in a game won 21-8 by Boston.
The tyro infielder got an opportunity to showcase his talents during a weekend road trip the following month when regular second baseman Steve Yerkes became ill. On June 8 at Detroit, Krug singled in his first at-bat off Detroit’s starting left-hander, Ralph Works. Batting second behind Harry Hooper and ahead of Tris Speaker, Krug went 2-for-5 with a double and a stolen base. The next day, at St. Louis, he was 3-for-4 with another double, a walk, and three runs scored. Krug also started a 4-6-3 double play as the Red Sox enjoyed two tidy victories, but he injured his ankle sliding into second base in the third inning of the Sunday game. He remained in the game even though his ankle had swelled. By evening he could barely walk. For the remainder of the season, Krug’s role was to occasionally spell Wagner at short. His lone American League triple came on September 7, off Washington’s Bob Groom.
On September 20 Smoky Joe Wood, invincible since July, faced Detroit, seeking his 17th consecutive victory. In the bottom of the third, with the game scoreless, Wood walked pitcher Tex Covington, then gave consecutive free passes to Donie Bush, Red Corriden, and Sam Crawford for the game’s first run. “Wood continually objected to the directions of the umpire,” read one account. The pitcher then induced Ty Cobb to hit a pop fly to the infield, which Krug dropped, as two more runs scored. In the fifth inning, Covington protested a call on a pitch to Krug and was tossed from the game by umpire Silk O’Loughlin. The Red Sox went up 4-3 that inning, but the Tigers answered with two of their own before eventually prevailing, 6-4. Showing no hard feelings, Wood treated the youngster to dinner that evening, a kindness Krug would never forget. He hit three singles the next day off Detroit’s Ed Willett, as Boston returned to the win column.
The Red Sox finished their home schedule in dramatic fashion, overcoming a nine-run deficit against the New York Highlanders before winning 15-12 on September 26. Krug, batting second, hit a double.
In the offseason, Krug was sold by the Red Sox to Indianapolis of the American Association, for whom he hit just .237 in 1913 while playing third base.
The utility infielder was included on Boston’s list of 22 eligible players for the World Series but he did not play. His strongest memory of the showdown was Fred Snodgrass of the Giants muffing an easy fly ball in the deciding game. The share of revenue for each player of the winning team amounted to $4,024.68. Krug said he planned to invest his stake in railroad stock.
For the season Krug batted .308 (12-for-39) with two doubles and a triple. He committed five errors (four at second, one at short) for a .900 fielding average.
Krug’s new-found fame as a member of a world championship squad caused an episode in his past to catch up to him, as the Dayton (Ohio) Veterans of the Class B Central League alleged that Krug had signed for them under his birth name Krieg. It was unknown why the Ohio club waited two years to lodge a complaint, and the outcome can’t be determined.
Krug arrived in Nebraska as an outfielder for Omaha the 1914 season, hired by team owner and manager William “Pa” Rourke, a former athlete whose playing days ended when he was struck in the eye by a pitch. Rourke stepped down before the 1915 season, asking Krug to add managerial responsibilities to his on-field duties. Krug assigned himself to the infield. The Rourkes finished in fourth place in 1915, but under their 27-year-old manager they went 92-57 to claim the Western League pennant in 1916.
The Rourkes raised the championship pennant before a July game the next year with a brass band playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the mayor, the league president, and the governor in attendance. Oddly, Krug resigned as manager two weeks later, though he stayed at shortstop until season’s end.
In the offseason the Cleveland Indians drafted Krug, a move opposed by the Western League, which made a test case by demanding immediate payment of a $1,500 draft fee. Cleveland balked, and Krug was in limbo. He missed a season of Organized Baseball, picking up cash playing as a semipro in California. Some newspapers reported that he had written a friend suggesting he was going to enlist in the Army.
By 1919 Krug was with Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League, where he followed a .310 average by holding out for more money the following spring, later still threatening to jump his contract to play in an outlaw league. He skipped the team in the middle of a pennant race in late July 1920, earning a suspension and a $100 fine from the manager.
“The defection of Krug is the worst blow manager Ernie Johnson of the Bees has experienced,” Los Angeles Herald reporter Matt Gallagher told readers of The Sporting News. “He has been the keystone of defense for the Salt Lake team and his hitting against Los Angeles and Vernon has been timely. Also there is a broad intimation in his desertion that all is not as harmonious under Johnson’s management as outsiders have been led to believe.”
The second baseman soon returned to the fold, only to be traded to the Portland (Ore.) Beavers in the offseason. His response was to threaten to retire, before holding out.
After a string of seasons batting in the .290s with one .310 campaign thrown in, Krug’s hitting dipped with the Beavers, a failure the Oakland Tribune attributed to the team’s poor fortunes. “It is no wonder that Marty Krug, last year a big star in the Coast League, is not playing up to his form,” the newspaper noted on June 24, 1921. “Marty is one of those type ball players who hates to be on a losing ball club, and he seems to be very much saddled up with one this season.”
But despite his difficult reputation, Krug’s hitting placed him in some demand. Ty Cobb let it be known that he was interested in enlisting Marty for the Tigers. Instead, Portland traded Krug to Seattle, where he refused to sign unless paid a $100 bonus, announcing yet again his intent to retire to become a manager. Then, on March 25, 1922, Seattle sold him to the Chicago Cubs for $7,500. At the age of 33, a decade after leaving the Red Sox, Krug returned to the major leagues.
The infielder got off to a slow start in the 1922 season, hitting just .191 through the first 13 games. He improved within a fortnight to .219 and was hitting .271 by mid-June.
“When (John) Kelleher was incapacitated, Krug was placed at third and performed there with as much dexterity as he did at second, showing that the Cubs picked up a versatile infielder in the former Pacific Coast League athlete,” The Sporting News reported. “Krug was taken off the keystone bag because he had fallen into a slump in both his fielding and hitting, but he showed the rest had done him a lot of good, for he cracked the ball vigorously as soon as he filled in at third.”
In a game at the Polo Grounds on June 7, before which the Giants raised the 1921 National League pennant, the home team jumped to a quick 5-0 lead. In the third inning, with the score 5-2, Krug’s triple to right scored two, narrowing the Giants lead, but the home team prevailed in the end, 9-4. Marty’s first major-league home run came the next day, in the seventh inning off Giants reliever Red Causey.
One surprising game stands out – on August 25 at Cubs Park. In the second inning, Charlie Hollocher at short committed at error (his 23rd) and Krug did the same (his 25th), allowing the Phillies to score three runs. The visitors’ lead was short-lived. The Cubs scored 10 in the bottom of the inning, adding another 14 runs in the fourth. The game seemed all but done, but Cubs pitchers proved characteristically generous and the Phillies managed to take a big bite out of the lead with an eight-run eighth, followed by more manic baserunning in the ninth. Six runs had scored and the bases were loaded with the Cubs desperately clinging to what had become a 26-23 lead. Philadelphia’s Bevo LeBourveau stepped to the plate having gone 3-for-3 since being used as a replacement center fielder early in what had been a blowout. The terrible possibility of the home team squandering what had once been a 19-run lead ended when he struck out to end the farce. Krug went 4-for-5 with two doubles and four runs scored. He was mentioned in dispatches in a game that went into the major-league record book for the most hits (51, since bettered) and runs scored (49). The nine errors committed by both teams seemed appropriate to the occasion.
Krug’s first full season on a major-league roster, coming at the age of 33, showed modest contributions at the plate. Krug wound up with a .278 average in 147 major-league games spread over two seasons a decade apart. His totals included 25 doubles, five triples, and four home runs. He had 67 runs batted in.
Millionaire chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. hired Krug to manage his Los Angeles Angels team in 1923. (Wrigley purchased the Cubs two years later.) The new skipper also covered second base at Washington Park, making his debut on April 4. The managing infielder went 0-for-4 in a 4-1 victory over the Oakland Oaks. The Angels finished in sixth place that season.
The Angels were in a tailspin early in the 1924 season, losing five of seven in a series against the Oaks and six of seven to the San Francisco Seals. In the last of those, the manager disappeared. Krug “was so disgusted with his own play and with that of his club that he left the game in the fifth inning,” The Sporting News reported. “He went to the club house, dressed hurriedly and left the park. Seemingly he did not want anyone to know that he was connected with the Los Angeles team.” But Krug brought the Angels home in second place that season, and in fourth place in 1925.
Then, a decade after winning his first pennant as a manager, Krug took another in 1926, as the Angels won 121 games against 81 losses to claim the top spot in the standings by 10½ games over the Oaks. The club was led by a stalwart pitching staff including Earl Hamilton (24-8), the veteran Doc Crandall (20-8), Elmer Jacobs (20-12), and Wayne Wright (19-7). A free-swinging offense was powered by an outfield featuring Jigger Statz, whose stats were impressive — a league-leading 291 hits, including 68 doubles and 18 triples, for a .354 average. Even the manager hit an impressive .389 in spot duty over 52 games. He platooned himself so he faced only left-handers.
After the first-place finish, the Angels tumbled to the basement in 1927, then finished in sixth place in 1928. Midway through 1929, with the team playing .500 baseball (56-54), Krug resigned to be replaced by Jack Lelivelt.
The veteran catcher Harry “Truck” Hannah, who spent nearly three decades in a crouch behind the plate including 3½ seasons with Krug and the Angels, looked back on his career to describe Krug as “the best at reading a pitcher’s mind I ever saw.” One example involved Harry Krause, a former Philadelphia Athletic who was a longtime Coast League nemesis with the Oaks. A spitballer, Krause held the ball to his mouth on every pitch, but it was Krug who spotted and deciphered a slight ducking of the head when phlegm was being applied to the ball.
He was also a tough boss who did not brook dissension. During one rough game, pitcher Clyde “Pea Ridge” Day made a snide comment about the proceedings from the bench. Failing to see that he may have been trying to keep the bench loose, Krug instead accused him of not having his head in the game. Soon after, the manager tried to trade him in a deal that fell though. Nonetheless, Day was sold to Wichita after season’s end.
Wally Berger arrived on the Angels as a 21-year-old rookie center fielder with only 92 games of experience with the Pocatello (Idaho) Bannocks, a Class C team. He hit .327 and .335 in two full campaigns with the Angels before going on to become an All-Star with the Boston Braves in the 1930s. He credited Krug for making him good enough for the major leagues.3
Krug scouted for Detroit and the Philadelphia Athletics for many years. One of his finds, George “Sam” Vico, a postwar first baseman with the Tigers, was discovered playing semipro ball in the San Fernando Valley.
Krug coached the University of California, Los Angeles baseball team for three seasons beginning in 1937. During the World War II years he was on the coaching staff of the PCL’s Hollywood Stars.
In 1936 Krug scouted a skinny teenager from San Diego’s Herbert Hoover High, a school from which he had earlier signed its star pitcher. The scout watched a doubleheader, telling the boy’s mother, “If you let this boy play baseball now, it will kill him.” Young Ted Williams, just 17, stood 6-foot-3½ and weighed a scant 145 pounds. Krug’s pronouncement left the mother in tears. Said Krug: “The kid is nothing but arms and legs now. He’d collapse if he tried to play regularly for a month. He needs to add at least 30 pounds to his skinny frame before he’ll be ready for a pro trial.”
Krug did not have to travel far to evaluate one young talent. He had married the former Emma Hartzke in 1920 and the pair had a son, Russell, in 1921. A namesake son was born at Glendale, California, two years later, toward the end of his father’s first campaign as Angels manager. Marty Krug, Jr., a first baseman and sometimes outfielder, had a brief minor-league career, including a season in the British Columbia capital with the Victoria Athletics of the Western International League. His father returned to a professional dugout in 1950 as manager of the Athletics for the first time since leaving the Angels 21 years earlier.
Junior hit a respectable .278 under his father’s guidance, but the team lost more than they won, finishing the season at 66-84. (The son suffered an on-field angina attack the following season while with Salt Lake City, his father’s old team. He recovered, but soon became a manager. He took part in Saturday morning clinics on Salt Lake’s WFYL-TV, an early televised broadcast of baseball coaching.)
In the 1950s the elder Krug made appearances as a manager in at least two old-timers’ games at Wrigley Field.
He lived in retirement in Glendale, dying in a hospital there, after a short illness, on June 26, 1966. (The cemetery offers that date, while newspaper accounts more often give the following day.) He was survived by two sons, Russell and Marty, and a brother, Willie. His remains were interred in a niche in the Iris Columbarium of the Great Mausoleum at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.
Interview with Marty Krug, Jr. on March 26, 2010.
The Sporting News; New York Times; (Elyria, Ohio) Evening Telegram; Indianapolis Star; Dunkirk (New York) Evening Observer; Oelwein (Iowa) Daily Register; Washington Post; and other contemporary newspapers.
Aronoff, Jason. Going, Going … Caught!: Baseball’s Great Outfield Catches as Described By Those Who Saw Them, 1887-1964. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. 2009).
Ned Cronin. “Stones in Their Shoes,” Baseball Digest, May, 1957
Jorge S. Figueredo. Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1978-1961 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2003).
Robert Long. New York World Champions, 1933. (Victoria, British Columbia: Trafford Publishing, 2003).
Bill Nowlin, ed. The Kid: Ted Williams in San Diego (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Rounder Books, 2005).
Bill O’Neal. The Pacific Coast League, 1903-1988. (Austin, Texas: Eakin Press, 1990).
Michael Seidel. Ted Williams: A Baseball Life. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003).
1 The family is listed on the 1900 US census in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, with the family name Kriag. Maria and the three boys came on the S.S. Karlsruhe out of Bremen, Germany, arriving in May 1891. Their place of origin is listed as Württemburg, a kingdom within the German Empire. Ancestry.com has them in the Baltimore passenger database but the ship’s manifest says New York, New York. On his World War I draft card, Martin lists his place of birth as Bremen.
2 His being named to the roster caught the attention of a writer interested in ethnic heritage. “Twelve Teutons on the Red Sox team,” read a headline over a two-sentence article in the Evening Telegram of Elyria, Ohio. “With 12 Germans on the team the Boston Red Sox are the real pretzels this season. Here’s the delicatessen outfit: Stahl, Bedient, Bushelman, Pape, Hageman, Leonard, Nunamaker, Yerkes, Wagner, Gardner, Engle, and Krug.”
3 A few months after resigning, Krug was the inadvertent instigator of a tragedy. On February 2, 1930, he drove to 3666 Cimarron St. in Los Angeles, the home of Gus Sandberg and his wife and two children. Sandberg was a steady if not always productive backup catcher for Krug’s Angels squads. Before he came to the West Coast, he enjoyed two fine seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. The Cincinnati Reds called him up, penciling him in in 31 games over two seasons. His batting averages in those campaigns never matched his weight of 189 pounds. If he seemed at times lethargic at bat and behind the plate, it could have been excused for his having donated blood for transfusions for his ailing infant daughter. On days when he perhaps should have rested, “he went about his work grimly, pale and underweight,” one writer later noted. A weak hitter at the plate and slow on the basepaths, Sandberg was the target of boobirds even at home games. The Los Angeles critics called him Old Antelope. As Krug’s visit came to an end on that winter’s day, it was discovered the guest’s automobile was out of gas. Sandberg siphoned fuel from his car to Krug’s. “Then Gus struck a match to peer into his tank and see if he couldn’t spare me a little more, leaving just enough for him to reach a gas station,” Krug said. “A terrific explosion resulted.” Krug suffered slight burns as he tried to quench the flames with his own coat. Sandberg died the following day from burns to his face, head, neck, and shoulders. The Sporting News eulogized the dead player as “an amiable and well-behaved catcher.” Wrigley had his Angels and Cubs, both of which teams he owned, play a preseason exhibition game, investing the $6,500 gate on the widow’s behalf.