Maury Uhler (COURTESY OF BILL LAMB)

Maury Uhler

This article was written by Bill Lamb

Maury Uhler (COURTESY OF BILL LAMB)Like other clubs in the established major leagues, the 1914 Cincinnati Reds suffered from player defections to the renegade Federal League. The task of signing suitable but low-cost replacements fell to incoming Reds player-manager Buck Herzog, acquired during the offseason via a trade with the New York Giants. That winter, the locales scouted for new talent by Herzog included his hometown of Baltimore. And among the prospects subsequently engaged by the Reds skipper was a longtime acquaintance with a unique resume — Maury Uhler, a 27-year-old clerk at Baltimore City Hall. Uhler had never played the game as a professional. Rather, he had been one of Baltimore’s leading amateur ballplayers for more than a decade and was a well-known commodity locally.

Over the first three months of the 1914 season, Uhler (who batted and threw right-handed) appeared in 46 games for Cincinnati, often as a pinch-runner or late-inning defensive replacement, occasionally as an outfield starter. The audition ended in late July when the light-hitting Uhler was shipped to the Minneapolis Millers of the Double-A American Association. He finished the season with respectable numbers, but his professional career — indeed, his life itself — had now entered end stage. After a brief attempt to continue playing in 1915, Uhler was released because of ill health by his final pro club, the Denver Bears of the Class A Western League. He then returned to Baltimore, but soon even the sedentary duties of a government functionary proved too much for him. Ravaged by tuberculosis, Uhler died in May 1918. He was only 31. The story of his sadly abbreviated life follows.

Maurice William Uhler was born on December 14, 1886, in Pikesville, Maryland, a town located just northwest of Baltimore city limits. He was the eighth of nine children born to railroad brakeman Nicholas Uhler (1846-1927) and his wife, Annie (née Anna Rebecca Spurrier, 1851-1932), both Maryland natives.1 Of German descent, the extended Uhler family had been Baltimore area residents for generations that stretched back to Colonial times. And by 1900, the surname Uhler inhabited all strata of local society. Our subject and his immediate forebears were members of the clan’s blue-collar faction and often railroad workers.2

Little was discovered about Maury Uhler’s early years except that he was raised in Baltimore proper and attended city grammar schools. The extent of his education, however, is uncertain. With elder ballplaying brothers to emulate, Maury presumably took up the game at an early age. In any case, in spring 1903 Uhler (then 16) organized a baseball team dubbed the Brighton Athletic Club and began soliciting matches with other junior age baseball clubs.3 Before the season was out, the youngster graduated to faster competition, joining older brother Leonard in the outfield of the Western Maryland Railroad Athletic Club team. The following year, the Uhler brothers organized another amateur nine, the Mount Hope club.4 Maury played for other local clubs as well, including the Elms, a standout team in the Baltimore Suburban League. By season’s end, it was reported that the impressive young performer had received offers from minor-league clubs in the Tri-State and New England Leagues.5 The terms of such offers, however, were not publicly disclosed. But whatever they were, Uhler turned them down.

In succeeding seasons, Maury Uhler played for an array of Baltimore-area amateur ballclubs, including the one fielded by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the transportation giant for whom his father, Nick, and several other Uhler brothers worked. But not Maury. Formerly a common day laborer, in 1907 he secured a position in Baltimore City Hall, hired as a clerk/stenographer for the Board of Fire Commissioners — a post likely gained through the intercession of an uncle (also named Maurice Uhler) who served as a fire commissioner. With the exception of his 1914 fling in professional baseball, our subject would hold this job for the remainder of his short life.

As he matured physically — eventually topping out at 5-feet-11, 165 pounds — Maury developed into a versatile ballplayer, capably handling duties at first base, shortstop, and pitcher. But with fleet feet and a strong throwing arm, Uhler showed best as an outfielder. In addition to peripatetic playing through 1913, he managed a number of local amateur teams, including the Glenmore Club and the Woodlawns of Baltimore County. To keep himself busy during the fall, Maury also dabbled in football as a player and coach, and occasionally served as a referee of local gridiron battles.6 During this period, Uhler expanded his domestic horizons, as well, marrying Baltimorean Myrtle Frizzell in 1909. The couple would remain together for the rest of Maury’s life, but have no children.

Whatever his local renown, there is no evidence that Uhler gave serious thought to a career in professional baseball — until the arrival of the upstart Federal League changed everything during the winter of 1913-1914. Abandoning its niche as an independent Midwest minor league, the Feds placed franchises in large Eastern venues like Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Buffalo and proclaimed major-league status for the 1914 season. The new circuit then set about signing established National and American League players, the reserve clauses in their contracts notwithstanding. As was the case elsewhere, a number of Cincinnati regulars succumbed to Federal League enticements, leaving the Reds a club roster with various holes that needed filling. The task of finding and signing the necessary replacement talent fell largely to incoming player-manager Buck Herzog, a firebrand personality just acquired from the New York Giants.

A native of Baltimore, Herzog naturally placed his hometown on the recruitment itinerary. This brought him into contact with longtime acquaintance Maury Uhler. The two were close in age (Herzog was one year older), had both played sandlot and amateur ball in the city, and may even have been teammates on the nine fielded by the Maryland Agricultural College, the forerunner of today’s University of Maryland.7 Indeed, it was later asserted that Uhler was Herzog’s “best friend.”8 Whatever the case, Uhler signed with Cincinnati for the coming 1914 season, quitting (at least for the time being) his city hall job in the process.9

Uhler had a decent spring-training camp where, oddly, he mostly distinguished himself in the sliding pit.10 He earned a backup outfielder spot on the Reds’ Opening Day roster. As noted by one amused newspaper, the addition of Uhler expanded the Teutonic brigade — Hoblitzell, Groh, Berghammer, Niehoff, Lohr, Von Kolnitz, Yingling, Schneider, Mollwitz — available to manager Herzog, such a complement of “Dutchmen” being seen as entirely apt for a city as heavily German-American as Cincinnati.11

Uhler made his major-league debut in the April 14 season opener against the Chicago Cubs. With cold weather and a steady drizzle compounding Chicago starter Larry Cheney’s control problems, the Reds galloped to an early lead. By the eighth inning, the game was safely in hand and manager Herzog began lifting his regulars. With the bases loaded and the score already 8-1, Uhler pinch-hit for left fielder Armando Marsans. A force-out grounder to second plated the Reds’ ninth run and gave Uhler his first big-league RBI. He then assumed Marsans’ spot in left and caught the only fly ball hit his way in the Reds eventual 10-1 victory.12

For the next three weeks, Maury’s game action was confined to sporadic pinch-running and late-inning defensive assignments. Replacing center fielder Johnny Bates in midgame on May 9, Uhler finally broke into the base-hit column, singling off St. Louis right-hander Hank Robinson late during a 3-0 Cincinnati triumph. Maury’s most productive appearance came a month later in a rare start on June 13.13 In a 15-inning, 5-4 loss to Philadelphia, Uhler went 2-for 5 (including a double) with two walks and scored a run. Prior to a July 10 home contest against Brooklyn, Uhler found a lucky four-leaf clover during pregame outfield practice. As fate would have it, he was thrust into the action early in the contest when an errant Elmer Brown fastball put recently acquired Reds outfielder George Twombly out of commission. Uhler thereupon proceeded to register the second, and final, two-hit game of his major-league career in an 11-6 loss to the visitors.14

On July 23, 1914, Uhler was sent in to run for Doc Miller in the eighth inning of a 13-4 home loss to the Giants. It was his final major-league appearance, bringing to a close a 101-day regular-season run with Cincinnati. As a pinch-runner, outfield defensive specialist, and occasional starter, he had gotten his name into the box score of more than half of the 86 games the Reds had played to that date. But his contributions to club fortunes were meager: a 12-for-56 (.214) batting average, with only two extra-base hits and a paltry three RBIs. As a runner, he had stolen four bases and scored 12 runs. Defensively, he had been adequate, but no more, playing all three outfield positions to the tune of a .932 fielding average.

With the Cincinnati record standing at a noncontending 39-47 (.453), Uhler was among those shipped out when manager Herzog decided to clean house. Maury and infielder Johnny Rawlings were sent to the Minneapolis Millers of the Double-A American Association in return for outfielder Red Killefer.15 Initially, Rawlings balked at the demotion and flirted with jumping to the Federal League.16 But Uhler departed for his new assignment immediately, arriving in Minneapolis in time to hit a double in four at-bats for the Millers on July 26.17 Later, it was reported that Herzog had been reluctant to part with Uhler, “destined to become a great player” in the estimation of Washington Senators club boss Clark Griffith and Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Bill Killefer. Rather, the major-league “novice … was the victim of friendship. … When Herzog had to pick someone for release he selected Uhler — because Uhler, a Baltimore boy, was his own best friend, and Buck wouldn’t stand for the fans to even think that he would show favoritism to his pals.”18

Uhler turned in solid, if unspectacular, service in Minneapolis. In 70 games, he batted a Deadball Era-respectable .267 and played a capable center field.19 As a result, Uhler was among the players reserved by Minneapolis for the 1915 season.20 That spring he was often sidelined from practice, reportedly suffering from malarial fever or pneumonia that he seemed unable to shake.21 Two weeks before Opening Day, he was sold to the Class A Western League Denver Bears, where it was hoped that the high mountain air would hasten his recovery.22 When he joined his new club, it was obvious that Uhler was not well. Nevertheless, he saw some sparing action during Denver’s season-beginning road trip.23 Within days, however, Uhler was sent back to Denver,24 and given his outright release on May 5. According to local sportswriter Pyke Johnson, Uhler “was not yet in condition to play his best game.”25 While “condition” was often sportswriter code for a ballplayer with a drinking problem, Uhler’s release was occasioned by something far more dire: the likely onset of the tuberculosis that would ultimately claim his life.

His dismissal by Denver marked the end of Maury Uhler’s professional career. He returned home to Baltimore and was soon reinstalled as clerk to the city fire commissioners.26 But failing health was not Uhler’s sole misfortune. A June 1916 fire destroyed the cottage where he and his wife resided, taking all of their valuables with it.27 By the time that he registered for the World War I military draft a year later, Maury’s condition had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer perform even a desk job.28 Soon thereafter, he was committed to a Baltimore hospital. Maurice William Uhler died on May 4, 1918, age 31. The cause of death was officially listed as “tuberculosis of the lungs.”29 Following at-home funeral services, his remains were interred in the Uhler family plot at Druid Ridge Cemetery, Pikesville.30 Survivors included his widow, Myrtle; parents Annie and Nick Uhler; sisters Daisy Uhler, Alice Holston, and Pearl Stewart; and brothers Charles, Harry, and Leonard.

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Len Levin and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.

 

Sources

The biographical info provided herein was taken from the Maury Uhler file maintained at the Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York; US Census reports and other government records accessed via Ancestry.com; and from certain of the newspaper articles cited in the notes. Unless otherwise specified, stats have been taken from Baseball-Reference.

 

Notes

1 Maury’s siblings were Charles (born 1865), Daisy (1872), Harry (1874), Albert (1876), Alice (1878), Pearl (1881), Leonard (1884), and Hugh (1892).

2 Dozens of Uhlers appear in turn-of-the century Baltimore city directories.

3 As reported in “Amateur Baseball,” Baltimore American, May 13, 1903: 10. The day before, Uhler had pitched the Brightons to a 6-2 victory over a team called the Don’t Thinks.

4 See the Baltimore American, May 12, 1904: 6.

5 Per “Offers for Local Men,” Baltimore American, October 13, 1905: 16.

6 See e.g., “Carlisles to Play Opening Game,” Baltimore Sun, November 25, 1913: 15, announcing that “Maurice Uhler of Maryland Agriculture College is expected to referee” the championship game of Baltimore’s 115-pound gridiron league, and “One of Baltimore’s Teams,” Baltimore Sun, December 7, 1913: 3, for a photo of Coach Maurice Uhler and his Mercury Athletic Club football team.

7 Before he turned professional, Herzog played for the 1904-1905 Maryland Agricultural College team. Uhler’s connection to the school is less sure. The November 1913 Baltimore Sun article cited in Note 6 affiliated Uhler with MAC, and reportage of Uhler’s 1914 stay with the Reds sometimes described him as a University of Maryland man. See e.g., Hugh S. Fullerton, “More College Men and Better Behaved Fellows in Big Leagues Now Than Ever,” a widely syndicated column published in the Saginaw (Michigan) News, March 31, 1914: 8; Detroit Times, April 7, 1914: 7; Jackson (Michigan) Citizen-Patriot, April 13, 1914: 7; and elsewhere.

8 See “Baseball Gossip,” Providence Evening Bulletin, March 10, 1915: 16, and “Sport Snap Shot,” Seattle Times, March 16, 1915: 13.

9 Per “Five Kids Quit Jobs to Try for Redleg Club,” Cincinnati Post and (Covington) Kentucky Post, April 4, 1914: 6. See also, “New Players for Cincinnati,” Sporting Life, January 10, 1914: 7.

10 One spring-training dispatch maintained that “two University of Maryland boys, especially Uhler, twist around the base in a manner that would disconcert even the cleverest baseman.” See “Training in Sliding Pits Will Do Away with Stories about Players’ Limbs Being Injured in Taking Bases This Summer,” Detroit Times, March 25, 1914: 6. Meanwhile, Hugh Fullerton was “still wondering who taught the art of sliding at Maryland. … [I]n the sliding pits, every one of them looks a champion, and Uhler hits the dirt a la Cobb.” See again, “More College Men …,” Saginaw News, March 31, 1914: 8; Chicago Day Book, March 31, 1914: 25; and elsewhere.

11 See “A Game Manager,” Grand Forks (North Dakota) Herald, June 25, 1914: 8.

12 A detailed account of the game is provided by sportswriter Sam Waller in “Cubs Slip in Mud, Reds Winning 10-1 in Opener,” Chicago Tribune, April 15, 1914: 17. Uhler’s at-bat came against reliever Ernie Koestner.

13 The recent defection of Armando Marsans to the Federal League afforded Uhler a bit more playing time.

14 As reported in “Clover Gets Two Hits for Uhler,” Cincinnati Post, July 11, 1914: 2.

15 As reported in “Killefer Goes to Reds by Transfer,” Muskegon (Michigan) Chronicle, July 24, 1914: 12; “Cincinnati Team Given Shakeup by Herzog,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 25, 1914: 10; “Reds Let Go Five,” Washington Post, July 25, 1914: 8. Simultaneously, Herzog returned catcher Tex Erwin to Brooklyn; sold pitcher Jack Rowan to the Dayton Veterans of the Class B Central League; and sent outfielder Harry LaRoss back to the Battle Creek Crickets of the Class C Southern Michigan Association.

16 See “Rawlings Stops Killefer Trade by Leap to Feds,” Cincinnati Post, July 25, 1914: 2. Within days, Rawlings reconsidered and joined Minneapolis.

17 Per “Uhler Starts with Hit,” Cincinnati Post, July 27, 1914: 4.

18 Per “Baseball Gossip,” Providence Evening Bulletin, March 10, 1915: 16, and “Sport Snap Shot,” Seattle Times, March 16, 1915: 13. Bill Killefer was the brother of Red Killefer, the player acquired by the Reds in the Uhler deal.

19 The Uhler defensive line of 178/14/8 translated to a .960 fielding average, per American Association statistics published in the 1915 Reach Official Base Ball Guide, 163, and the (Denver) Rocky Mountain News, December 23, 1914: 11. Baseball-Reference provides no fielding stats for Uhler’s stay in Minneapolis.

20 As noted in “The Reserves,” Sporting Life, October 24, 1914: 17.

21 See “Uhler Is Sick,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 29, 1915: 8, and “Hickman Notes,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 7, 1915: 14.

22 Per “Uhler Goes to Denver,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 9, 1915: 14. See also, “Bears Leave for Opening Game of Season,” Rocky Mountain News, April 22, 1915: 3.

23 Western League box scores indicate that Uhler appeared in two regular-season games for Denver, going 0-for-2 at the plate. Baseball-Reference provides no 1915 stats for Uhler.

24 As noted by sportswriter Horace Harris in “Topeka Goes Wet for Day and Grizzlies Get Lay Off,” Rocky Mountain News, May 1, 1915: 10.

25 Pyke Johnson, “Old Jinx Worries Way into Fans’ Plans and Opening Day Game Is Postponed a Day,” Rocky Mountain News, May 6, 1915: 8.

26 Per the Uhler listing in the 1915 Baltimore City Directory.

27 As reported in “Woodlawn Cottages Burned,” Baltimore Sun, June 18, 1916: 16.

28 Uhler’s June 5, 1917, draft registration card lists him as unemployed.

29 Per the death certificate contained in the Uhler file at the Giamatti Research Center. Despite the fact that he was suffering from a highly contagious and deadly disease that usually required quarantine, the Uhler death certificate indicates that he died in his Warwick Avenue residence.

30 Per “Died,” Baltimore Sun, May 6, 1918: 14.

Full Name

Maurice William Uhler

Born

December 14, 1886 at Pikesville, MD (USA)

Died

May 4, 1918 at Baltimore, MD (USA)

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