Pete Knisely (Library of Congress)

Pete Knisely

This article was written by Vincent T. Ciaramella

Pete Knisely (Library of Congress)Pete Knisely’s story is a familiar one: a player who excelled in the minors, could knock a ball over fences and walls in left field,1 but failed to make an impact in the majors over four seasons from 1912 through 1915. Knisley was known as “Pickleburg Pete”2 or “Pickle Bird.”3 (The origins of these nicknames are unclear. However, the first may be a nod to the Heinz pickles of Pittsburgh, because Knisely’s origins were close to that city. The latter was likely a corruption.) His tale begins and ends in Greene County, in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania. In between, he traveled throughout the country doing what he loved, playing baseball.

Peter Cole Knisely was born on August 11, 1884, in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania (though his death certificate mistakenly lists West Virginia).4 He was one of 11 children5 born to William and Mary Anne Knisely (née Estle, though her maiden name is sometimes listed as Cole).6 According to the 1900 Census, William Knisely was born in Pennsylvania and employed as a coal miner, a career shared by Pete in his pre-baseball years.7 However, this isn’t the only similarity in their lives. Both William and Pete Knisely met their demise falling from bridges. On August 16, 1910, the body of William Knisely was discovered at the foot of the abutment of the covered bridge in the town of Jefferson, Pennsylvania. The sources state that he sat down on the abutment, lost his balance, fell 13 feet, and broke his neck while landing face down in the soft mud. His obituary also states that he was a former Justice of the Peace.8 Nearly four decades later, Pete Knisely suffered a similar fate. Mary Anne Knisely, also born in Pennsylvania, preceded her husband and son to the grave on May 16, 1909, a result of chronic gastritis.9

The day-to-day life of young Pete Knisely is unknown – no diary or letters have yet surfaced. What can be ascertained is that he began his professional baseball career in 1909 with a team in Charleroi (Pennsylvania) in the Class D Western Pennsylvania League (the full name of the club was the Charleroi/Parkersburg Parkers). This franchise folded within a month and Knisely was ready to return to the coal mines where he was previously employed.

However, Henry Swickey, who was part-owner of the Charleroi club, convinced Knisely to quit the coal mines for good and take up baseball, where he might earn as much as $200 a month. With the promise of better pay and less dangerous work, Knisely signed on with another Pennsylvania team in 1910 (though the name is not given in the article and no mention of another team can be found at this time). He wound up in the Southern Michigan League with the Saginaw (Michigan) Wa-Was, for whom he played 45 games and hit .324.10 Previously, in April 1910, Knisely had also tried out for the Wheeling (West Virginia) Stogies. Though he didn’t make it, he would play for them in 1911.11

Standing 5-feet-9 with a stocky 185-pound frame, the clean-shaven Knisely joined Wheeling for the 1911 Central League (Class B) baseball season. Batting and throwing right, Knisely was placed in the outfield. The first available box score to include him dates from May 4, 1911, and shows Knisely playing left field in the second game of a doubleheader against the Dayton (Ohio) Veterans.12 On May 9, Knisely got a triple and scored one run in a game against the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Furniture Makers. 13 Later, on June 13 he repeated that feat against the Evansville (Indiana) Strikers.14 By the end of July he was listed as one of the top batters in the Central League with 58 games played, 313 at-bats, 31 runs, 65 hits, and a .305 BA.15

In early September, one headline read: “Columbus Takes Doak and Pete Knisley from the Wheeling Stogies.”16 Though he would not suit up for Columbus, a major-league team was looking to sign him the following season.

In March 1912, Sporting Life announced that Knisely was signed by the Cincinnati Reds to play outfield.17 Although he spent most of the season playing for the Akron (Ohio) Rubbermen in the Central League, August 24 brought news that “President Garry Herrmann of the Cincinnati Club, on August 19 announced that he had purchased three players from the Akron Club, of the Central League. . . [including] Kniseley sic, an infielder.”18

The first box scores to contain Knisely’s name while he played for Cincinnati appeared in the September 14 issue of Sporting Life. On September 4, he made his debut by batting for Eddie Grant in the seventh inning but made no contributions to the game. On September 7, Knisely batted for Andy Kyle in the ninth inning, scoring one run in a game against the Chicago Cubs. The next day Knisely was in center field against Chicago. He scored another run with four at-bats.19 In his 21-game stint with the Reds, Knisley finished with an outstanding .328 batting average in 74 plate appearances, including seven doubles and three triples.

Though he’d played well, Knisely ended up as part of an eight-player trade with the Chicago Cubs featuring Joe Tinker.20 He was off to the Windy City the following season, but not without some controversy.

On February 16, 1913, a headline in the Chicago Tribune read: “Knisley Must Return Loan: National Commission Rules Outfielder Is Ineligible Until He Repays $75 Debt to Varnell.” The article goes on to state that Knisely owed that sum to President Varnell of the Fort Wayne Railroaders for transportation from Fort Wayne to Cincinnati and to send his wife home. The National Baseball Commission gave Knisely five days to repay the loan, or he would be ineligible to play for the Cubs.21 It is unclear when he honored the debt, but he soon went on to play in the 1913 season.

Another unknown about this article is the use of the word “wife.” At this time there is no documentation showing that Knisely was married at this stage in his life. He later married Nellie Green of Washington, Pennsylvania on June 13, 1914. An article about their courtship and wedding states that the couple began dating back when Knisely played in the Ohio and Pennsylvania league. This is most likely the identity of the “wife” mentioned in the 1913 article, though it cannot be assumed unequivocally.22

The Cubs held their spring training that season in Tampa, Florida.23 Manager Johnny Evers put Knisely in right field in the first game against the Cubans (the exact identity of this squad is unclear), and Knisely scored two runs, helping his team win the opener.24 On February 28, again playing right field and facing the Cubans, he scored another pair of runs.25 Knisely’s ability with the bat didn’t go unnoticed by newspapers like the Chicago Day Book, but his baserunning was open to speculation.26

On March 6, the Cubs played against the Yannigans (a squad of the organization’s less experienced players). Knisely, who was with the Yannigans, left the game early with a charley horse. However, what happened after the game gained Knisely more publicity than his play that day. According to an article published in the Chicago Tribune on March 7, Knisely was to referee a badger fight to be held in the exhibitors building after the game. Ed Reulbach was to bring a 13-pound badger that would be pitted against a bulldog. At that time, badger fights were illegal in the state of Florida. Word got around about the post-game spectacle and male attendees began hanging around the exhibitors building, drawing notice from the police. They raided the event before it got started and arrested Reulbach. However, Knisely ran from the law and was not caught. There is no documentation of any action against Knisely by law enforcement or team management for his involvement in the episode.27

Later on March 13, in another intrasquad game, Knisely injured Marty Berghammer sliding into second base, taking out the Cubs shortstop.28 He would stick around for all of April but got into just two regular-season games, going hitless in a pair of pinch-hitting appearances. He was released to the Birmingham (Alabama) Barons of the Southern Association on May 2, 1913.29

On May 9, a headline in Birmingham’s Age-Herald read, “Knisley Makes Two Costly Errors, But Smashes Out Two Nice Ones – Many Opportunities Thrown Away.”30 Of the May 13 game against the Montgomery (Alabama) Rebels, that paper stated, “In the ninth inning after two were down Sloan hit a high fly to Knisely, who called to the other players to go on to the car, that he had it. But after catching it he let it fall from his hands and Sloan was safe on first.”31 In addition to his two miscues, he did manage a double and a single. However, the hits led to nothing, and Birmingham lost 6-2.

Though he had a rough start in Birmingham, by June Knisely was the team’s top hitter with a .340 average.32 The 1913 season overall was a success for him, even with a bout of appendicitis.33 As of early August, he was leading the league with 14 triples (though Baseball-Reference credits him with only 12 for the full year).34 He finished the season hitting .326. After spending the winter in Birmingham, Knisley was re-signed by the Barons for 1914.35

“Boss, I am going to bat .350 in this little old league this summer,” Knisely declared to Carlton Molesworth, the Barons team manager.36 By late April, Knisely was outdoing his prediction, with a .389 mark.37 In early May, he was up to .397.38 In a game against Montgomery, he batted 2-for-2, scoring two runs and helping his team win, 6-5.39 The story of that early season was Knisely’s rising batting average. In mid-May he was batting .430.40 Though his numbers dropped by the end of the month, he was still hitting .350.41 On June 29, Knisely had another perfect day at the plate, again against Montgomery.42 His performance had him in line for the Randolph Rose Medal, a prize awarded to the most valuable player in the Southern Association.

However, Knisely left the league, signing a $5,000 three-year contract with the Cubs in late July.43 He started seven straight games in left field from July 30 through August 6 while the regular, Frank Schulte, was out of action. During this stretch, however, Knisley batted just 1-for-25. Thereafter, he served mainly as a pinch-hitter.

On September 16, Knisely got his biggest hit of the year, a triple against Wilbert Robinson’s Brooklyn Robins.44 By the end of the 1914 season, he had taken part in 37 games with the Cubs and hit just .130.

Nonetheless, the following March, Cubs President Charles Herbert Thomas announced, “Knisley, who will be our reserve outfielder, is bound to hit. He cracks the ball too hard to have them all taken in by the other side.”45

Knisely started the season with a facial injury that required stitches – a foul tip from his own bat struck him.46 However, his luck shifted. During a game against Brooklyn on May 14, Knisely got five singles in six times at bat, scoring two runs, and helping the Cubs win, 19-4.47 As of June 20, he was batting .294.48 But a couple of days later, during an exhibition game against the Waukegan (Illinois) Silvers, he was accidentally spiked by the catcher while sliding into home. Though only severely bruised and not cut, it was feared that he would be out of action for a few weeks.49 However, he was back on June 26.50

Over the remainder of the 1915 season, Knisley’s average cooled to .246, but he had some good outings while pinch-hitting and playing in the outfield and at second base. In a September 12 game against the Boston Braves, he had three RBIs, helping his team to a 6-3 victory.51 By the end of the season, he had played in 64 games with the Cubs.52 This was Pete Knisely’s last year in the majors. He was cut from the Cubs in January 1916.53 However, he was quickly snatched up by the Memphis (Tennessee) Chickasaws of the Southern Association and remained with them for the entire 1916 season.54

In 1917, Knisely was picked up by the Nashville (Tennessee) Volunteers on waivers.55 In a game on April 25 against his former Memphis team, he got three hits, including a double.56 On May 26, Knisely’s batting led the Volunteers to a victory against the Mobile (Alabama) Sea Gulls; he scored four runs with five at-bats.57 By early July, Knisely ranked fourth in the Southern Association in batting at .332.58 For the remainder of the season, the papers would report on the up and downs of his batting average.59 Knisely finished the season in fourth place in the Southern Association with a mark of .320.60

In 1918, Knisely played for three teams. At the start of the season, he was still with Nashville.61 Though he played well, he was purchased by the Louisville (Kentucky) Colonels of the Class AA American Association (though one paper mistakenly lists his new team as the Cardinals) in late June.62 His time in Kentucky would be short; he was sold to the AA Toledo (Ohio) Iron Men. However, for reasons that are unclear, he went to the Binghamton (New York) Bingos of the International League for the remainder of the 1918 season.

Knisely wound up with Toledo in 1919 but was there only until late August, when he went to play for the Oil City (Pennsylvania) baseball club in the Two-Team League (so called because Franklin, Pennsylvania was the only other team).63

In 1920, Knisely went south to play for the San Antonio (Texas) Bears in the Texas League.64 On April 12, the San Antonio Evening News wrote that: “Pete Knisely, Frank Fuller, and Hub Northern were hitting demons.”65

In a game against the Galveston (Texas) Pirates, Knisely scored two runs, helping San Antonio win, 7-6.66 On July 1, Knisely was injured when a ball struck his eye, taking him out of the game for two weeks.67 By mid-July it looked like he would be back, but the eye injury persisted, cutting his 1920 season short.68 He resurfaced later that summer playing for the Masontown (Pennsylvania) baseball club. In the second game against the Pittsburgh Strollers in a doubleheader, Knisely scored two runs, helping his team win, 10-7.69

Knisely spent the rest of his baseball career in the Class B Three-I League. In 1921, he suited up for the Bloomington (Illinois) Bloomers.70 The following season, he started out with the Danville (Illinois) Veterans. Though he was still hitting .300, his fielding was beginning to weaken – he was letting balls get by him. Danville cut him loose on July 3, 1922.71 However, just a few days later he was with the Peoria (Illinois) Tractors in center field.72 On August 25, Knisely’s 11th-inning double against the Moline (Illinois) Plowboys drove in Al Platte for a 5-4 victory.73 Knisely finished with a .324 batting average with 114 games played for Peoria.74

The 1923 season was Knisely’s last in baseball. He fell ill in early March with influenza but was able to bounce back in April to suit up for the team.75 On May 7, Knisely got a triple in a game against the Rockford (Illinois) Rox and scored one run, helping Peoria to a 13-4 victory.76 By the end of May he was hitting .348, yet he was released on May 31.77 He was quickly snagged by the Evansville (Indiana) Evas, for whom he hit .297 in 116 games.78

The post-baseball career of Pete Knisely is hard to pin down. According to the 1930 US Census he was living in Evansville and employed as a clerk. However, the industry listed is “Lunch Room” (the exact meaning of this is unknown). Knisely was also listed as single, which meant that he’d gotten divorced sometime before the census. When this took place remains a mystery – no documentation can be located. All that can be stated is that he was still married when he filled out his World War I draft card.79 However, no further mention of wife Nellie can be found. There is also no indication that the couple had children.

The 1940 Census shows a Pete Knisely living in Henderson, Kentucky, employed as a laborer. Though it’s not a stretch to think that Knisely may have moved to that state for work, the age of the man listed is wrong. The Census states that he was born about 1875, whereas Knisely the ex-ballplayer was born in 1884.80

Regardless, Knisely was back in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1948, living in Denbo, a coal patch town in Washington County (to the north of Greene County). On June 29, 1948, he fell 15 feet off a railroad trestle to the highway below. What made him walk along that trestle and why he fell will never be known. According to his death certificate, he died two days later in Brownsville (Pennsylvania) General Hospital of head injuries (though his obituary states that he died at home).81

The Pete Knisely story’s final chapter unfolded in Greene County, the place of his birth. His body was interred in an unmarked grave in the back of Hewitts Cemetery next to his parents in Rices Landing, Pennsylvania.82


This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Tony Oliver.


In addition to the sources shown in the Notes, the author used



1 “Barons Bunch Hits for Victory Over the Chicks,” Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee), June 29, 1916: 11.

“Pete Gets a Homer,” Nashville (Tennessee) Banner, April 30, 1917: 8.

2 “Thunder to Pitch Soon,” Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1915: 14.

3 “Pickle Bird Pete Showing Speed in Tractor Workouts,” Dispatch (Moline, Illinois), April 21, 1923: 21.

4 US Social Security Application ( Peter Knisely Death Certificate.

5 Mary Anne Knisley, (

6 Peter Knisely death certificate. Mary Anne Knisley, Grover Cleveland Knisely death certificate

7 US Census 1900. “Rosy Dream of $200 a Month Salary Tempts Knisely to Quit Coal Mine,” Chicago Tribune, March 22, 1913: 11.

8 Willliam Knisley, (

9 Mary Anne Knisley,

10 “Rosy Dream of $200 a Month Salary Tempts Knisely to Quit Coal Mine.”

11 “The Central League,” Sporting Life, April 30, 1910: 17.

12 “Vets Win and Tie with Smokes in Double Bill,” South Bend (Indiana) Tribune, May 4, 1911: 10.

13 “Wheeling Stogies Make It Two Straight from Indiana Team,” Pittsburgh Post, May 10, 1911: 11.

14 “Evas Drop Final to Wheeling Stogies, 5-3,” South Bend Tribune, June 13, 1911: 8.

15 “Central League,” Sporting Life, July 29, 1911: 19.

16 “Players Taken by the Class A Clubs,” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, September 17, 1911: 18.

17 “News Notes,” Sporting Life, March 30, 1912: 15.

18 “Latest News by Telegraph Briefly Told,” Sporting Life, August 24, 1912: 4.

19 “The National League,” Sporting Life, September 14, 1912: 8.

20 “At Heavy Cost,” Sporting Life, December 28, 1912: 3.

21 “Knisely Must Return Loan,” Chicago Tribune, February 16, 1913: 26.

22 “Knisely Springs Surprise Among Ranks of Barons,” Age-Herald (Birmingham, Alabama), June 14, 1914: 14.

23 “Knisely Must Pay Fort Wayne Club or Be Barred,” Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), February 16, 1913: 22.

24 “All the Sporting Dope in a Nutshell,” Day Book (Chicago, Illinois), February 22, 1913: 30. “Cubs Win Opener – Johnston Looks Good to Cal,” Day Book, February 27, 1913: 21.

25 “Cubs, 12: Cubans, 4,” Inter Ocean, March 1, 1913: 13.

26 “Cubs Win Opener – Johnston Looks Good to Cal,” Day Book, February 27, 1913: 23.

27 “Smokeless Rally Fails,” Chicago Tribune, March 7, 1913: 13.

28 “Reulbach Still Unsteady – Sox Improve – Douglass Good,” Day Book, March 14, 1913: 10. “Miller Hits Home Run,” Chicago Tribune, March 14, 1913: 11.

29 “All the Sport Dope,” Day Book, May 3, 1913: 11.

30 “Turtles Smash Benders of Hardgrove and Romp off With First Battle,” Age-Herald, May 9, 1913: 7.

31 “Prough Baffles Bold Billikens and Barons Cop,” Age-Herald, May 14, 1913: 7.

32 “Long Leads at Bat Over Gull Robinson,” Age-Herald, June 15, 1913: 15.

33 “Pough’s Sore Arm Worries Baron Boss,” Age-Herald, July 23, 1913: 8.

34 “Big Dave Robertson Leads the Southern Hitters of Circuit Clouts,” Age-Herald, August 3, 1913: 17.

35 “Baron Aggregation Returns from Cuba,” Age-Herald, November 26, 1913: 8. “Moley Sending Out Contracts for 1914 to Baron Players,” Age-Herald, December 31, 1913: 7.

36 “On the Level,” Birmingham (Alabama) News, February 21, 1914: 8.

37 “Pete Knisely Runs Second with Willow,” Birmingham News, April 26, 1914: 14.

38 “Ty Cobb Slumps; Batting But .240,” Birmingham News, May 2, 1914: 8.

39 “Hip, Hooray! Three Games Won in Row,” Birmingham News, May 4, 1914: 8.

40 “Flying Dutchman Knisely Tops Dixie Batters,” Birmingham News, May 10, 1914: 8.

41 “Hope Moley’s Men Will be the Guys That Put the Crack in Crackers,” Birmingham News, May 27, 1914: 10.

42 “Third Straight is Annexed by Locals,” Birmingham News, June 30, 1914: 10.

43 “Knisely Boosted to Win Randolph Rose Medal,” Birmingham News, July 18, 1914: 8.

“Knisely Bought by Cubs and Leaves Today,” Birmingham News, July 28, 1914: 10.

44 “Pierce and Smith Also Hurl,” Chicago Tribune, September 17, 1914: 15.

45 “Phelan Regains Health,” Chicago Tribune, March 18, 1915: 10.

46 “Vaughn Probable Choice,” Chicago Tribune, April 13, 1915: 10.

47 “Cubs Torpedo 3 Brooklyn Gunners and Win 19-4,” Chicago Tribune, May 15, 1915: 13.

48 “Batting Averages of the Players in the National, American and Federal Leagues,” Chicago Tribune, June 20, 1915: 22.

49 “Cheney Pitches Rogers to Win Over Waukegan,” Chicago Tribune, June 22, 1915: 21. “Bresnahan Boosts Search By ‘Tribune’ For Star Amateurs, “Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1915:14.


51 “Pete Knisely Beats Braves for Cubs, 6 to 3,” Chicago Tribune, September 13, 1915: 11.

52 “Official Batting Averages of National League Players for 1915,” Chicago Tribune, November 22, 1915: 12.

53 “No Chance to Release Tinker,” Chicago Tribune, January 27, 1916: 15.

54 “Hogg and Knisely Bought by Memphis,” Commercial Appeal, January 27, 1916: 9.

55 “Pete Knisely Secured by Volunteers via Waiver Route from Memphis Chicks Reports To-Morrow,” Nashville Banner, March 28, 1917: 12.

56 “Champions Find Memphians Easy,” Nashville Banner, April 26, 1917: 12.

57 “Pounding of Knisely Aids Vols in Trimming Gulls 13-6,” Nashville (Tennessee) Tennessean and the Nashville American, May 26, 1917: 10.

58 “Pete Knisely Fourth Batter in Southern,” Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville American, July 1, 1917: 15.

59 “Pete Knisely Still Topping Team Mates With the Mace,” Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville American, July 8, 1917: 13. “Pete Knisely is Fifth Batsman with an Average of .320,” Nashville Banner, July 28, 1917: 8.

“Knisely Leading Vols,” Nashville Banner, August 11, 1917: 8. “Pete Knisely Manages to Hold Fourth But is Passed by Hard-Hitting Mobile Performer,” Nashville Banner, September 1, 1917: 9.

60 “Pete Knisely in Fourth Place at the Finish,” Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville American, September 23, 1917: 23.

61 “Vol Muddle Now Made Clearer,” Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville American, March 4, 1918: 7.

62 “Colonels to Secure Two New Flingers,” Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), June 27, 1918: 7. “Ellamites Sell Knisely to Cardinals,” Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville American, June 25, 1918: 12.

63 “Franklin and Oil City Planning for Next Year,” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, August 31, 1919: 22.

64 “Benson Signs Pete Kniseley (sic) for Outfield,” San Antonio Evening News, March 25, 1920: 8.

65 “Bruins Trim Lone Star by 15 to 1 Score,” San Antonio Evening News, April 12, 1920: 7.

66 “Melee, Filled with Thrills and ‘Bitter Pills’ Ends with Secondary Victory for Pirates,” San Antonio Evening News, May 4, 1920: 7.

67 “Pete Knisely Out of Game for Two Weeks Account of Injury,” San Antonio Evening News, July 3, 1920: 2.

68 “Pete Knisely is Ready to Don Uniform Again,” San Antonio Evening News, July 14, 1920: 11. “Knisely Forced to Quit Game Rest of Season,” San Antonio Evening News, July 24, 1920: 8.

69 “Strollers Split with Masontown,” Pittsburgh Post, August 10, 1920: 8.

70 “Score Four in Second,” Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois), June 3, 1921: 10.

71 “Sport Spotlight,” Moline (Illinois) Dispatch, July 3, 1922: 10.

72 “Player Arrested; Fans Fight; Trax Lose Two Tilts,” Moline Dispatch, July 5, 1922: 13.

73 “Trax Win in Eleventh,” Pantagraph, August 26, 1922: 12.

74 “Baseball Statistics,” Decatur (Illinois) Herald, September 3, 1922: 5.

75 “Davis’ Sport Stuff,” Decatur Herald, March 22, 1923: 10.

76 “3-1 Attendance Mark Shattered by Peoria Fans,” Moline Dispatch, May 8, 1923: 12.

77 “How They Bat and Field,” Decatur Herald, May 27, 1923: 27. “Luke Nelson, Pete Knisely, among 5 Released by Trax,” Moline Dispatch, June 1, 1923: 25.

78 “How They Bat and Field,” Decatur Herald, September 9, 1923: 25.

79 Peter Knisely World War I Draft Registration Card

80 US Census 1940.

81 “Pete Knisely Dies,” Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania), July 2, 1948: 16. Peter Knisely Death Certificate

82 Confirmed by the author with the help of the cemetery caretaker, Donald Weinschenker.

Full Name

Peter Cole Knisely


August 11, 1884 at Waynesburg, PA (USA)


July 1, 1948 at Brownsville, PA (USA)

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