Here lies (in the unmarked grave in the center of the photo) George Ziegler, who pitched one game for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in 1890. While a little is known about his baseball career, almost nothing is known about his life outside of baseball – particularly how or why he came to a tragic fate in a town near Portland, Ore.
As can happen with 19th century ballplayers with brief careers, there is not a lot of information about Ziegler. Most of what we do know comes from the work of SABR researcher extraordinaire Peter Morris. A search of George Ziegler turns up two hometowns, two places of death and two dates of death, largely because this George Ziegler sometimes gets confused with a George Zeigler (note the different spelling of the last name) who played around the same time. Zeigler was a catcher who died of sunstroke in Illinois in 1916. He was also with the 1890 Allegheneys, to make matters more confusing, but he never played in a game. Oh, and his last name was sometimes misspelled “Ziegler,” as if it wasn’t complicated enough.
George Ziegler, the 1-game wonder, was born in Cincinnati in 1866. Morris narrows it down to September 1866, but we don’t have an exact birthdate. Ziegler started playing ball professionally in 1889, with a team from Wheeling, W.V., in the Tri-State League. He was the team’s Opening Day pitcher on April 8, 1889 and led them to a 6-4 win over Springfield. Apparently he missed some time due to an illness but returned on May 5 to beat Hamilton 9-6. Later that same month, it’s reported that Ziegler had all but signed with a team in Sacramento but needed to secure his release with the Wheeling team before he could play out West. By mid-June, he was pitching for the Sacramento Altas; he whipped Stockton 11-3 on June 16.
“Concerning Ziegler’s pitching Umpire Van Court says that he has the quickest curves of any pitcher he has ever seen, and his control of the ball is perfect. Batting was his weak point, fanning three times,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle. His offense had picked up by October 13, when he went 4-for-4 and knocked in 3 runs while again outpitching Stockton 8-1. Stockton’s newspaper The Mail noted that Ziegler was grinning the whole time.
Baseball Reference has barely any statistics for Ziegler’s minor-league career. I get the impression from the few game accounts I found was that he had good speed and normally had excellent control. He did pick up a few losses when his control deserted him or when his defense let him down. He also lost one game when he was distracted in mid-windup by a visiting player’s dog trotting toward the bench and lobbed a weak pitch that the batter smashed for a walk-off hit.
Ziegler was named player/manager of Sacramento in 1890. The arrangement didn’t last too long, as a news item in the June 21, 1890 edition of The Philadelphia Enquirer reported, “George J. Ziegler, the ex-manager of the Sacramentos, who has just returned from the Pacific Coast, has signed a contract to pitch for the Pittsburg (sic) League Club.” The blurb was a little out of date, since by the time it ran, Ziegler’s MLB career had started and ended.
Pittsburgh was a well-balanced team – their offense was equally as terrible as their pitching. They went 23-113 and went through a total of 20 starting pitchers that season. They paid Ziegler $50 to pitch plus expenses, so they must have been desperate to find anyone who could pitch a decent ballgame.
Pittsburgh played a doubleheader against Cleveland on June 19, and both starting pitchers made their major-league debuts. Billy Gumbert, brother of two-way player Ad Gumbert, started Game One and pitched like a veteran by all accounts, picking up a rare Pittsburgh win. Ziegler’s start didn’t go nearly as well. He gave up 7 runs on 12 hits in 6 innings, with 1 strikeout. He also threw 2 wild pitches. “Young Ziegler was put in to pitch the second game and he proved pie for the Clevelands, who have not been hitting anybody lately,” reported the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette. He was released after the game, though the Pittsburgh Daily Post reported that he was satisfied with his treatment.
Ziegler finished off the 1890 season pitching for Wheeling once again. He played in the minors until 1896 at least. When he enlisted in 1898 for the Spanish-American War, he listed his occupation as “ball player.” Then he vanished for more than 40 years. Certainly, there are reports of George Zieglers all around the country, but none of the listings can be linked conclusively to our ballplayer.
SABR research eventually found that he killed himself on or around February 15, 1942 in Milwaukie, Ore. His body was found about a month later. Peter Morris located the one newspaper blurb that we can link to Ziegler. It was in the March 29, 1942 issue of The Cincinnati Enquirer under the headline “Seek Veteran’s Kin.”
James C. Caine, service officer of the United Spanish War Veterans, Portland, Ore., requester Police Chief Eugene T. Weatherly yesterday to attempt to locate relatives of George J. Ziegler, a Spanish-American War veteran, who is dead in Portland. Ziegler’s mother, Mrs. Mary Ziegler, formerly lived at 2135 Turner Street, Weatherly was informed.Cincinnati Enquirer, March 29, 1942
George Ziegler was buried on March 23 in Lincoln Memorial Park in Portland, Ore., in the veterans section He was about 76 years old. The cemetery records do not indicate who had bought the grave, but judging by the lack of a headstone, a next of kin was likely never found.