Grave Story: Harry Steinfeldt (1875-1914)


Harry Steinfeldt is the answer to one of baseball’s classic trivia questions – who was the third baseman in the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance infield? It isn’t a fair summary of his career, though. For 14 years, he was a dependable infielder, and most of that time wasn’t even spent with his Hall of Fame compatriots. Steinfeldt played with the Cincinnati Reds (1898-1905), Chicago Cubs (1906-1910) and Boston Rustlers (1911).

Harry M. Steinfeldt was born in St. Louis on September 29, 1875. However, his family moved to Texas when he was 5 years old. Harry Steinfeldt Sr., a German immigrant, was a traveling salesman. He and his wife Charlotte had six children, including a daughter who apparently died at an early age. Harry Jr. was the third-youngest child.

Harry Steinfeldt’s grave in Spring Grove Cemetery, in Cincinnati. His grave is at the bottom right. His widow, Myrtle, is the third from the left.

By 1894, an H. Steinfeldt is an agent for the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association and is selling ice from the company’s new facility at the corner of Front and Taylor Streets in Fort Worth. That could very well be Harry Sr. By the following year, another Steinfeldt can be found in box score of local baseball games. This was Harry Jr., one of the best young infielders in Texas.

Baseball in Texas in the 1890s had its wild moments, if this story he later related was any indication. He was playing for Dallas in a championship game against Fort Worth, and a bunch of cowboys, gamblers and outlaws had bet big money on Fort Worth. The game went to the ninth inning, and Fort Worth had loaded the bases with nobody out. At this point a group of gamblers called Steinfeldt, the team’s shortstop as well as its captain, over to the stands. “Look here,” they said, flashing guns and Bowie knives. “If you do anything to prevent Fort Worth from winning this game, we will fill you full of lead. Sabe?”

Steinfeldt returned to his position. The next batter hit a line drive up the middle. Running at full speed, the shortstop snagged the liner at second base, stepped on second base to double up one runner, and fired the ball to first base to complete the triple play. He didn’t stop running, either. Steinfeldt took off for the center field fence, dodging bullets all the while. He jumped the fence, with a bullet hole in his cap, and didn’t stop running until he reached the safety of Dallas. When he got there, there was a $500 check waiting for him from an unknown benefactor. Did it really happen, or was it a Texas tall tale?

Steinfeldt played in Texas for a couple of seasons before signing with the Detroit Tigers of the Western League for 1897 – thanks to a typographical error, it seems. He spent part of 1896 playing for the Galveston Sandcrabs, and after the season the ream placed “Steinhoff” on the reserve list, meaning that no other team could sign him. There was no Steinhoff, but that error left Detroit in the clear to sign “Steinfeldt.”

“Harry Steinfeldt, as he is called in the Lone Star State, where he outranks all the second basemen, is but 21 years of age,” wrote the Detroit Free Press. “He is 5 feet 11 inches in height and weight 174 pounds… Steinfeldt led the league in second basemen, having 573 chances, and his fielding average being .989. He batted .320 this year and has the makings of a very good hitter.”

Steinfeldt’s season with the Tigers is the first one that has available statistics, and he had a great year for the team in ’97. He batted .319 with 19 triples and 9 home runs, and he stole 28 bases, too. He did so well that the Cincinnati Reds purchased his contract for the 1898 season.

Steinfeldt was 22 years old when he debuted with the Reds in 1898. He was the ultimate utility player, playing all four infield positions as well as left and center field. Note that he didn’t play them particularly well, but his versatility was noteworthy. As shaky as his fielding was, he made up for it with the bat. He slashed .295/.354/.393 in 88 games. He also caused a bit of a stir when he took the field wearing a pair of shin guards, made of whalebone. He noted that any ground ball that hit them usually dropped dead in front of him, but that wasn’t the reason he wore them.

“I wear them for protection only. I was laid up one time for two weeks because a player deliberately jumped on me, spikes first, and ever since that I have been wearing pads,” he explained to a reporter. “Spikes can’t penetrate them. Some day all the players will be wearing pads.” He abandoned the shin guards after a couple of seasons.

Steinfeldt was such a good utility man that he was the subject of trade rumors after just one season, as teams like Washington tried to acquire him. Cincinnati held on to Steinfeldt, though the team never saw him as much more than a utility player. He spent eight seasons with the team, and only twice did he play more than 125 games in a year.

Steinfeldt suffered from a sophomore slump in 1899, as his average fell to .246. He began to be used primarily at second and third base, and his fielding improved at both positions. The Reds almost traded him at the end of the season. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported that he was to be traded to the Boston Beaneaters in exchange for catcher Marty Bergen. The trade never took place, for the most tragic of reasons. On January 19, 1900, about a month after the rumored trade was first reported, Bergen murdered his entire family with an axe before taking his own life.

Steinfeldt was a bit different from other ballplayers of his era. Where other players believed that too much exercise or ballplaying in the winter would lead to injuries, he played with teams out in California in the offseason. He managed his money well and invested in real estate and businesses in El Paso and Fort Worth.

Steinfeldt made strides with his fielding over the next couple of seasons, but his batting average stalled in the .240s. He started to show a little more power, with 6 home runs in 1901, but he was at best a slightly above-average ballplayer at that point. He finally turned things around when he became a starting third baseman in 1902. Though he would miss a week at a time with one injury or another, he was a regular part of the Reds’ infield and batted .278 with 49 runs driven in and 53 runs scored. Steinfeldt improved upon that season in 1903 with he slashed .312/.386/.481 with 6 home runs and 83 RBIs, both of which tied career highs. He also led the National League with 32 doubles. His play vaulted him into consideration as one of the National League’s top third basemen.

Stenfeldt was unable to live up to that season in his remaining time with the Reds. Though he was leading the NL in batting at .444 for the first month of the 1904 season, leg injuries cut into his playing time, and he struggled mightily in the second half of the season, ending with just 1 home run and a .244 average. Rookie infielder Orville Woodruff played in Steinfeldt’s absence at third base and lived up to him defensively, though he didn’t hit as well as Steinfeldt.

There was also this odd story published in October of 1904. He got married to a local Cincinnati girl, named Myrtle Lockwood, daughter of prominent cooking utensils manufacturer E.F. Lockwood. The only problem was that he said he was too drunk to remember it! He had been out late on the evening of October 11 and had to be helped into a cab by Cincinnati manager Joe Kelley some time after midnight. Several hours later, he and Myrtle had managed to find a reverend in Covington, Ky., who married the two. It wasn’t mentioned if he knew Myrtle before that day, though one paper mentioned that he had been courting a different woman prior to his quickie marriage.

“I don’t want to be married,” said the new groom in the papers the next day. “I had no intention of being married at this time. But if I am married, I will have to make the best of it. I don’t know what else I could do.” Apparently, they did make the best of it. They were married until his death and had a daughter together.

Source: Wikipedia

By 1905, the honeymoon was over – between Steinfeldt and Cincinnati, that is. In the midst of a pretty average year for him — .271 batting average, 98 OPS+, Steinfeldt found himself to be the subject of trade rumors. He responded to a report he’d be going to Boston by saying, “Well, I wish they would trade me; nothing would suit me better.”

Steinfeldt was given his wish. On October 20, Cincinnati dealt him and outfielder Jimmy Sebring to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Jake Weimer. Chicago Tribune columnist High Fullerton, for one, was less than enthused. “He can’t play a whole lot of ball, but he is one of the best fellows and best storytellers in the business, and if Charlie Kuhn will put in a billiard cushion on the right field bleachers so the ball will bound back when Steinfeldt makes one of those throws of his it will be all right.”

While Fullerton wasn’t impressed, Steinfeldt would become a part of one of the most heralded infields in baseball history, and he helped contribute to two World Series championships with the Cubs. He would join Hall of Famers Frank Chance at first base, Johnny Evers at second base and Joe Tinker at shortstop.

Steinfeldt responded to his new team by delivering the best season of his career in 1906. He led the National League in hits with 176 and RBIs with 83, and he had career highs in batting average (.327), on-base percentage (.395), runs scored (81) and stolen bases (29). He finished second in the batting title to Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner, who hit .339. He was one of the offensive leaders for the Cubs, who went an incredible 116-36 to win the NL pennant. They ultimately lost to the White Sox in the World Series, which was such a pitchers’ duel that both teams batted under .200 in the 6-game series. Steinfeldt, with his .250 average, was one of the few Cubs who hit in the Series, and he drove in 2 of the 11 runs the team managed to tally in the series.

Though Steinfeldt never hit over .300 again, he was an iron man at third base for the Cubs, appearing in more than 150 games each year between 1906 and 1909. He and Chance, Evers and Tinker stayed together for five full seasons, a rarity in baseball at any time. Of course, the other three infielders were immortalized in “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” a poem written by Franklin Pierce Adams of the New York Evening Mail.

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Adams penned it in 1910, near the end of the quartet’s time together. Tinker and Evers rode that poem into the Baseball Hall of Fame (you can more easily justify Chance as a Hall of Famer). Ironically, on the day that the poem came out – July 10, 1910 – the only double play hit in the Giants-Cubs game went Steinfeldt-to-Evers-to-Chance. If Adams had waited a day before publishing it, maybe the third baseman would have gotten a little more appreciation.

Source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 25, 1911.

Steinfeldt hit .266 in 1907, with 70 RBIs. The Cubs returned to the World Series, and Steinfeldt slashed .471/.550/.647 as the Cubs knocked off the Tigers. He also contributed to the very first tie in World Series history. Game One ended at 3-3 after 12 innings, but the Cubs had a chance to win in the bottom of the tenth. Jimmy Slagle had singled, stole second base and advanced to third on a double steal with Chance. That left the winning run 90 feet away with Steinfeldt at the bat.

“Slagle dashed home on a passed ball,” read the news the following day. “He seemed to have it beaten, but Steinfeldt, the batsman at the time, was in the way [of the ball thrown from the catcher to the pitcher], and Hank O’Day, National League umpire, called Slagle out for interference. After that neither team could score.”

Steinfeldt signed a 3-year contract with the Cubs prior to the 1908 season, when he was 32 years old. He continued to be one of the best defenders at third base, but his offense started to sputter. He hit .241 in 1908 and .252 in both 1909 and ’10. The Cubs kept rolling, winning the World Series again in 1908 and the NL pennant in 1910.

While the Cubs were winning consistently, Steinfeldt suffered a rare loss… in a Birmingham, Ala., courtroom. The plaintiff, a local umpire named Charles W. Harris, alleged that he got into a disagreement with Steinfeldt at a practice game in Birmingham on April 2, 1908, and when the players came in from the field he was spiked and kicked. Harris filed a $5,000 suit against Steinfeldt and won his case that October.

Despite threats to retire and go into business after the 1908 World Series, Steinfeldt carried on until 1910 with the Cubs. He played in just 129 games in 1910 due to illness, and backup Heinie Zimmerman played well in his absence. Manager Chance opted to break up his famed infield, selling Steinfeldt to St. Paul of the American Association in April of 1911. Steinfeldt vowed to quit the game and go back to work in his father-in-law’s business. But he eventually returned to the majors when Saints manager Mike Kelley sold him to the Boston Rustlers (aka the Braves). He batted .254 in 19 games but broke his finger on July 1 and had to leave the game. As it turned out, he would never play in the majors again.

About three weeks after his last game, it was reported that Steinfeldt was back at his home in Bellvue, Ky., and was seriously ill. The initial diagnosis was “nervous prostration” – his sudden departure from the Cubs had left him worried to the point of a breakdown. He tried out with the Cardinals in 1912 and signed with a couple of independent leagues later that season, but he was never truly healthy again.

In his 14-year career, Steinfeldt slashed .267/.330/.360 with an OPS+ of 102. He had 1,578 hits that included 284 doubles, 90 triples and 27 home runs. He scored 759 runs, stole 202 bases and had 762 RBIs. He was a career .260 hitter in 21 World Series games, and his career .926 fielding percentage at third base marks him as an above-average fielder for his era. At the time of his retirement, the A.G. Spalding Official Baseball Record listed him as part of the Grand National All-America baseball team, which honored the best all-around players at each position who were part of a champion team. He joined an infield that included Cap Anson, Ross Barnes and George Wright.

Steinfeldt briefly appeared with Covington of the Federal League in 1913, and there were plenty of rumors that he would sign with multiple teams, either as a player or a manager, or both. His health was failing rapidly, though. Harry Steinfeldt died in his home in Bellvue, Ky., on August 17, 1914, at the age of 38. He had been staying at a private sanitarium and was brought home shortly before his death. The official cause of death was listed as a cerebral hemorrhage, but journalist Fullerton – the one who disparaged his abilities when he came to Chicago – reported that he never got over his release from the Cubs.

“It was Steinfeldt who completed the team and made pennants a possibility. It was Steinfeldt who, steady, reliable, always in the game, carried them through those fierce campaigns… Three times he was selected as the All-American third baseman and many experts have picked him as the third baseman of the greatest team of all time. On average, at least, he deserved the honor,” Fullerton wrote.

Harry Steinfeldt is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, in the Lockwood Family plot. Myrtle, who lived until 1954, must have remarried, as she has the name “Myrtle Keam” on her gravestone and is not buried next to Harry.

A bonus: Harry Steinfeldt was reported to be a good storyteller, and this is one of his tales that was often reprinted. I make no claims to its accuracy:

“The gamest man that ever broke into the game was the second baseman we had down in Dallas in the Texas League. We were playing against Galveston. In the first inning the center fielder of that Galveston team got to first and tried to steal. Our catcher threw him out a block, and, instead of sliding, he just took a flying leap at the second baseman and came down on his feet with his spikes.

“The game fellow limped around for a minute, and then went on playing. That afternoon he made four putouts, eight assists and four hits, including a double and a home run. After the game he and I were walking over to the clubhouse together when he said, ‘I believe there’s something in my shoe.’ He stooped down, took off his shoe, and shook out two toes.”

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One thought on “Grave Story: Harry Steinfeldt (1875-1914)

  1. Thank you for the interesting story. I love reading about the old-time ballplayers and the different challenges they faced. It is sad Harry died so young.

    Like

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