Grave Story: Ed Springer (1867-1891)

Here lies Ed Springer, who pitched one game in the major leagues, for the Louisville Colonels of the American Association in 1889. The rest of his short life is largely a mystery, but thanks to some modern-day SABR research, we know a little more about him.

Edward Ellsworth Springer was born in 1867 – the exact day isn’t known. For the longest time, it was thought that he was born in California. SABR researcher extraordinaire Peter Morris dug into Springer’s life and determined that he was actually born in Detroit. His brother Oscar became a lawyer of some renown in Detroit, and Morris was able to use that information to find out about Ed. Baseball Reference, though, lists Springer’s birthplace as Oil Springs, Canada, which is located in Ontario and is the site of the first commercial oil well in North America. The 1871 Canadian census shows Ed Sr., his wife Nancy and five children living in Ontario in Petrolia, a subdistrict of Lambton. The father was working as an oil well driller. Ed Jr. was 4 years old.

Fast forward to 1889. The Louisville Colonels are horrible and will finish the season with a 27-111 record, which will put them dead last in the American Association. Outfielder Jimmy “Chicken” Wolf and first baseman Guy Hecker had good seasons, but everyone else on the team was pretty awful. The Colonels went through nine starting pitchers, which was a lot in 1889. Clearly desperate for pitching help, Louisville brought in young Ed Springer.

According to Baseball Reference, Springer’s previous experience in professional baseball was limited. He is said to have played for the Dallas Hams of the Texas League in 1888, though I can’t find a contemporary reference to him playing there. It’s not even known what position he played.

On July 9, The Courier-Journal wrote, “Ed Springer, the new pitcher, arrived yesterday and witnessed the game. He practiced before the game and showed remarkable speed. He has good curves and perfect command of the ball.”

On July 17, the paper wrote, “If Springer practices a couple of seasons he may be able to pitch.”

What happened between those days? Springer’s debut on July 12 against the Brooklyn Bridegrooms happened. After Hecker took the mound in game one of the doubleheader and threw a gem against the eventual pennant winners, Springer started game two and was knocked around for an 8-1 defeat. Here’s how the Courier described it:

“Young Springer, the California phenomenon, who came all the way from Detroit on trial, was given an opportunity to demonstrate his ability as a pitcher. The trial, however, was not a successful one, and it took but one inning to show that the Association was too fast for the pitcher from Detroit.”

(This is probably where all the confusion about Springer’s birthplace came from.)

“Springer appeared to have suddenly lost the speed of which he was said to have possessed, for the Brooklyn batters took kindly to his delivery and batted out seven runs in the first two innings. They would doubtless have knocked out more, but they had some consideration for his debut as an association pitcher. His delivery is too slow, and he goes about it with the deliberation of a backwoods minister.”

Brooklyn scored three in the first inning off 4 hits and a walk and added four more in the second with a hit, a throwing error by the young pitcher, a single and two doubles. He allowed just one more run the rest of the way, as darkening skies led to the game being called after five innings. The Colonels apparently saw all they needed to see of Springer, as he never pitched in the major leagues again.

Springer’s one game in the majors resulted in an 0-1 record, 9.00 ERA, 8 hits and 8 runs (5 earned) in 5 innings pitched, with 2 walks, 1 strikeout and 2 hit batters. He went 0-for-2 with a strikeout at the plate and made 2 errors in 3 chances for a .333 fielding percentage.

Baseball Reference also reports that Springer pitched a couple of games for the Hamilton Hams of Hamilton, Canada (seriously, what is it with 1880s teams calling themselves the Hams?), with an 0-1 record and 4.20 ERA.

Springer played for professional teams in Ft. Wayne, Ind., and Lansing, Mich., in 1890, but no statistics are available. There is a reference to an Ed Springer playing on a team representing the Michigan Athletic Association in a 4-team amateur league. The Detroit Free Press took the “reprehensible” team to task in the August 24 article for featuring former pro players in what was supposed to be an amateur league, including “Al Buckenberger, late manager of the Columbus club, James Banning, late catcher of the Detroit club, and Ed Springer, late of several professional clubs.” Springer played third base against the YMCA and went 1-for-4 with a run scored in an 11-0 rout.

Ed Springer died on December 17, 1891, in Minneapolis. He was around 24 years old, and I cannot find a cause of death. He was buried the following spring in Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis — with the wrong birth year on his headstone. There are three other people buried in the same plot: his mother, Nancy, who died on November 24, 1916; Blanche Springer, who I believe is his niece, who died on August 26, 1924, and Emma May Kaumeyer, who died on June 24, 1930.

UPDATE: Thanks to a fellow baseball researcher who got in touch on Twitter, we now know that Ed Springer died from tuberculosis. See below.

This may be a long shot, but if anyone knows more about the life or the death of Ed Springer, let me know! I’d love to fill in some of the gaps about his life.

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