Here lies Ernie Diehl, who played professional baseball as a hobby; he was independently wealthy and didn’t need to play ball, and he reportedly didn’t take a paycheck when he did. Diehl played for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1903-04) and Boston Beaneaters/Doves (1906, 1909).
Ernest Guy Diehl was born in Cincinnati on October 2, 1877. His father was Adam Guy Diehl, a prominent Cincinnati businessman. The elder Diehl was listed in the 1880 census as a cigar maker, but whiskey was what made the family rich. He and his brothers-in-law, Thomas and John Paxton, went into business as liquor wholesalers. A.G. Diehl & Co. Wines and Liquors (thanks to Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men! for the history lesson) started in 1874; separately, they started a distillery eventually known as Paxton Bros. & Co. The company changed its name to Edgewood Distilling Co. in 1887, and the Diehls took over the operation from the Paxtons in the 1890s. Edgewood lasted until about 1916 or so, when Prohibition doomed it and other businesses like it to closure.
All of that explanation is to say this: Ernie Diehl came from a wealthy family. Sports were a passion for him at an early age, and he was playing baseball whenever he wasn’t at school, whether it was at his Twenty-Second District school or Walnut Hills High School. Diehl was a well-rounded athlete. He was a football star in high school and also a champion tennis player. While in his early 20s, he competed across the country in singles, doubles or mixed doubles matches. He and tennis partner Nat Emerson won a tri-state tournament in July of 1903 in Cincinnati, defeating a champion duo from Chicago.
In the meantime, Diehl had become one of the top amateur baseball players in Cincinnati. He was third baseman on the Linwood Shamrocks, and his brother George was the second baseman. He then moved to the Avondale team as a second baseman, which was a champion ballclub in a Saturday league.
Diehl had a chance to show his abilities at a higher level when the Pittsburgh Pirates had him play a game with them on May 31, 1903, while the team was in Cincinnati. At the starting left fielder, Diehl went 1-for-3 with a walk and an RBI against the Reds’ Jack Sutthoff. He also caught the only fly ball hit his way. The Pirates were impressed enough to try and sign Diehl to a full contract, but he refused to give up his mercantile work. A few weeks later, a minor-league team from Indianapolis wired him to request his terms to be the team’s second baseman.
“There is no chance for Indianapolis or any other team to get me to go out,” Diehl told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “My business interests with the Edgewood Distillery company are too great to sacrifice for the diamond.”
How important were his business interests? Diehl was reportedly a millionaire. He politely refused to discuss his own finances, but he acknowledged that he had some money and didn’t have to play baseball for his livelihood.
Diehl would, however, volunteer his services if a need arose. That’s exactly what happened in 1904. Diehl became good friends with Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss when he was invited to join the team at its spring training camp in Hot Springs, and he played a couple of games for the team in June. Then, at the end of July, Pittsburgh lost outfielder Jimmy Sebring to a sprained ankle. Diehl took some vacation time away from his job as treasurer of Edgewood Distilling to go play baseball.
“I love to play baseball, as I have been an admirer of the national game ever since I was a small boy,” he explained. “I was pleased to get the offer from Mr. Dreyfuss to play with his team, as it made me feel good to be a member of such a great team as Pittsburgh. I am spending my vacation this way, and I don’t know of any other way that I could pass away the time and also enjoy myself as much.”
In 12 games with Pittsburgh in 1904, Diehl hit .162 with 4 RBIs, 3 stolen bases and 6 walks. He played well in the outfield, but he committed 3 errors in 4 games at shortstop. He was just coming into his own when Sebring recovered well enough to return to the lineup. Diehl had a 4-game hitting streak in his last 4 games and picked up all of his RBIs in those appearances. In lieu of a salary, Dreyfuss gave Diehl a diamond stickpin as a thank-you gift.
If you’re wondering how the rest of the ballplayers felt about a gentleman ballplayer, veteran Herman Long imagined the worst-case scenario of a lineup with Vanderbilt at catcher, Rockefeller at pitcher and Carnegie at second base. “If professional ball should become a fad, what would we old-timers do for a living?” he asked. “Just imagine how it would be if a lot of plutocrats were willing to pay their thousands for baseball jobs instead of asking for salaries. Suppose a manager had a team of sixteen millionaires, each giving up $25,000 for the privilege of playing – that would be $400,000 in cash in hand at the start of the season. And the club would draw, easy, $500,000 at the gate… they’d buy their individual bats and uniforms – couldn’t expect them to wear common things or hit with common sticks and they’d travel in their own coaches.
“I hope the example of this man Diehl doesn’t spread any further. It’ll be an awful thing if it does.”
Dreyfuss, for his part, called Diehl one of the best all-around athletes he ever saw, but moaned that, ‘The one player I would like to get on the team is beyond my reach.”
Diehl returned to the distillery world in 1905, and he was also elected a city councilman that fall. That didn’t stop him from playing amateur ball with the Avondales, and it didn’t even stop him from returning to the major leagues. The Boston Beaneaters played a series in Cincinnati in mid-August, and they found themselves a few players down, thanks to injuries and the fact that Fred Tenney wouldn’t play in a doubleheader on August 19, which was a Sunday. Both teams ended up filling out their rosters with amateurs from the Saturday League. Boston’s shortstop for both games of that doubleheader was Jack Schulte, who went 0-for-7 with 4 strikeouts in the only games of his career. Cincinnati used amateur Eddie Tiemeyer at third base.
Then there was Diehl. Playing left field in both games, he picked up a couple of hits in the first game and slammed a clutch triple in the second one. He added two more singles on August 20 to give him 5 hits and a .455 average in the three games. In doing so, I believe he is the first and possibly only active politician to play a major-league game.
Diehl joined the Toledo Mudhens at the tail end of 1907 for the only extended playing time of his professional baseball career. He was recommended to the team by Toledo pitcher Sutthoff, who gave up Diehl’s first MLB hit back in 1903. Diehl agreed to help the team finish off the season, provided he would play regularly – he wasn’t about to leave the distillery for an extended period to be a benchwarmer. Once he got into the lineup, he played so well that there wasn’t any question about him playing regularly. In 22 games, he hit .405 and had 6 doubles and 3 home runs among his 34 hits. Only 3 Mudhens outhomered Diehl, and they all played more than 120 games. He led the American Association in hitting, though of course he wasn’t given the batting title after playing in just 22 games. The official award went to 39-year-old Jake Beckley, who hit 40 points lower than Diehl.
Baseball finally had its answer of what Diehl could do if he decided to play every day. “If he should lose his money… and have to get down to hard toil, the game would gain another Wagner or Lajoie,” wrote J.P. Glass of The Dayton Herald.
For all that ability, Diehl chose to stay in amateur baseball, with the Avondales and later the Hamilton Krebs, rebuffing offers from the Reds and other teams to join the majors. He played in just one more major-league game, and it came on August 12, 1909, when Boston (now called the Doves) came to Cincinnati and needed a left fielder due to an injury to Ginger Beaumont. Diehl joined the team for the second game of a doubleheader and had 2 hits in 4 at-bats, including a double. He also scored 1 of the Doves’ runs in an 8-2 loss.
Shortly after that game, Diehl joined the Louisville Colonels of the American Association. He batted .226 in 20 games as the Colonels made a late-season push to win the AA championship. Louisville benefited from its Cincinnati contingent, as Diehl was joined by player/manager Heinie Pietz and Orville Woodruff as valuable contributors to winning the title. (Baseball Reference does not include these statistics as a part of Diehl’s player profile, but there are plenty of newspaper reports that verify that this Diehl is indeed Ernie Diehl.)
At the end of the 1909 season, Diehl was 31 years old. He continued to play amateur ball in Ohio and continued to refuse offers to sign with any major-league team. In his 4-year career in the majors, Diehl played in a total of 17 games and had a .255/.349/.309 slash line, with 14 hits that included 1 double and 1 triple. He scored 8 times, stole 3 bases and drove in 4 runs.
Diehl eventually left politics, though athletics was still a big part of his life. He was elected President of the Independent Semi-Professional Baseball Association, a league of teams in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, in 1915. But he knew his days as a baseball player were over when he struck out three times in a game against a bunch of local businessmen. As he grew too old to play baseball, he became a fine golfer. He broke a course record at the Hamilton County Golf Course in 1915 by shooting a 78, setting the record with a 20-foot putt. He played in numerous tournaments in Cincinnati into the 1920s.
When Prohibition came to Ohio, Edgewood Distilling converted to The Edgewood Co., distributors of refrigerators. George Diehl served as president and Ernie Diehl acted as treasurer. Diehl moved to Miami in the late 1920s and was involved in real estate there until his retirement. He was married and divorced twice and had no children.
Ernest Diehl died on November 6, 1958 in Miami. He was 81 years old and had lived in Florida for nearly 30 years. He was buried in Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery in the Diehl family plot. I could not find a specific grave marker that bore his name, though the Diehl obelisk is one of the tallest and most impressive monuments in the cemetery.