Grave Story: Leonidas Lee (1860-1912)

Here lies Leonidas Lee, who played 4 games for the 1877 St. Louis Brown Stockings. He never appeared in any other professional baseball league, so you might think that there’s not much to his story. Actually, one of the reasons that I enjoy the baseball research of this particular hobby is tracking down interesting people like Leonidas.

First of all, “Lee” is not his real name. He was born in St. Louis on December 13, 1860 with the given name of Leonidas Pyrrhus Funkhouser. Is that not one of the best names in baseball history? Feel free to use it in your Harry Potter fan fiction as a Defense against the Dark Arts professor. He also had a brother who was named Millard Fillmore Funkhouser; I think Leonidas got the better name, honestly.

Their father, Robert Monroe Funkhouser, was a prominent St. Louis businessman who was the president of the Chamber of Commerce at one point and one of the directors of the Gas Consumers Co. of St. Louis. He operated multiple businesses from St. Louis to New York. Leonidas was also the great-grandson of Zachariah Cross, who served as a scout in the Revolutionary War for his cousin, General Francis Marion, “The Swamp Fox.” This entitled the Funkhousers to join the Sons of the American Revolution.

Leonidas Lee is buried in Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago under his given name, Leonidas P. Funkhouser.

Lee (that is how he’s referenced in the baseball archives) was the first MLBer to have attended Princeton University. He was the catcher on the baseball team, and he also played football and gymnastics. He even participated in an orator club. He may have played under “Lee” with the Browns to maintain his college amateur status, though I don’t think he was fooling anyone in St. Louis. The rest of the world didn’t figure out Lee was Funkhouser until after his pro ball career was over.

Lee played ball with local clubs in St. Louis, such as the Cote Brilliantes in 1875. One wonders how his father liked seeing “Funkhouser” in a box score, as this was the era when pro baseball was considered a less-than-reputable living. Perhaps amateur ball didn’t have the same connotations.

Princeton, being located close to so many early pro teams, frequently played exhibition games against professional clubs from Philadelphia, Brooklyn, New Haven and Elizabeth. Lee faced early star pitchers like The Only Nolan, Terry Larkin and Larry Corcoran in 1877. Naturally, the Princeton Nine also battled Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale. Later that summer, while back in St. Louis, Lee and his brother Millard both played for a local team called the West Ends. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat called him the “crack catcher of the Princeton College (N.J.) club” and said he “filled the position to perfection.”

The Browns signed him, and he debuted on July 17, 1877. At 16 years, 216 days old, he was the youngest player in the National League. He played center field and doubled off Larkin in a 13-3 blowout loss against Brooklyn. He played his last game on August 25 and ended up with 5 hits in 18 at-bats for a solid .278 average. His fielding was pretty rough, as he committed 3 errors in the outfield and an error in 5 innings at shortstop. St. Louis catcher John Clapp played all of the Browns’ 60 games, so Lee had no chance to play his most familiar position.

I owe a debt of gratitude to the SABR Pictorial Twitter account (@SABRPictorial) for helping track down the only two photos of Leonidas Funkhouser I’ve ever found.. Here he is, seated second from the left, as part of the Princeton University gymnastics team.

In October, the Chicago Tribune reported, “It turns out that Lee who has been playing with the St. Louis is named Funkhouser. It would seem wise to let go of the latter long-tailed appellatiot entirely.”

Lee went on to graduate from Princeton in 1878 and a St. Louis medical college as well. An 1879 blurb in the Princetonian reported: “Dr. Funkhouser is on his way West, to Salt Lake City, where he enters upon the responsible position of Managing Surgeon of St. Marks Hospital. The doctor is a genial and entertaining gentleman, well known in St. Louis for his professional ability, and has our best wishes for his future success.” He also became the first baseman of the Deseret Baseball Club in Salt Lake City.

The medical profession didn’t suit him, and he moved to Denver. He married there on October 22, 1887, to Caroline Lush Bishop. She came from a well-connected family as well. Her ancestor, Richard Lush, was one of the first settlers of Albany, N.Y.

The Funkhousers (no need to hide behind “Lee” anymore) moved to Omaha, where he worked for the Pacific Express. He organized an amateur baseball association there and was also president of the Princeton Alumni Association of Omaha. There is a box score from an 1883 game in which the Union Pacifics of Omaha defeated the Redcaps of St. Paul. A Funkhouser played left field and had a single and an outfield assist. Curiously, the centerfielder for the team was named either “McKeloy” or “McKeluy” (it was spelled both ways on the box score). I believe that was Russ McKelvy, a former major-leaguer himself and a past Grave Story profile. McKelvy did work for the same railroad after his own baseball career was over, and he also played for the Deseret baseball team, so it’s likely the two had a connection that went back several years. An 1884 article about the Union Pacific baseball team puts Funkhouser at first base and McKelvy (spelled correctly) at second base, so two former pro ballplayers ended on the same company railroad team.

Funkhouser also played on the Princeton University football team. He is seated at the far left in this picture.

After leaving the railroad, Funkhouser worked for McCord Brady, a wholesale grocer, for several years before joining his brother in the insurance business. Funkhouser & Funkhouser was located first in Omaha and moved to Lincoln, Neb., around 1900. He later became a secretary for the Farmers and Merchants’ Insurance Co. in Lincoln. He was a 33rd degree Mason, an Elk, a member of the IOOF (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) and was a vestryman (deacon) in his parish in Lincoln.

Funkhouser moved to Chicago after 1910, but his health began to fail. He headed South for his health but found Florida unappealing. He tried the cooler climate of North Carolina and died in Hendersonville, N.C., on June 11, 1912 at the age of 51 from myocarditis. With all the careers he had in his life, he was listed as a physician on his death certificate.

He is buried in Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.

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