Here lies Ralph Kreitz, who played in 7 games for the Chicago White Sox in 1911. But despite his short major-league career, he managed to become a South Side hero, thanks to one exhibition game.
Ralph Wesley Kreitz was born in Plum Creek, Neb., on November 13, 1885. His parents, Martin and Bertha (Branch) Kreitz, had come from Nazareth, Pa., and Glenville, W.V., respectively. A note on FindAGrave.com states that his grandfather, William Kreitz, served in the 153rd Pennsylvania Infantry during the Civil War. The Kreitz family moved out of Nebraska and continued west, eventually settling in Oregon by at least 1890. He had two sisters, Leah (1888-1894) and Ruby (1896-?), as well as a brother, Albert, who was a year older than him.
The first appearance of a Kreitz in an Oregon baseball box score occurs on May 25, 1903. Oregon City defeated Dayton 9-4, and Kreitz was 0-for-4 with a run scored, 10 putouts and 3 assists. “The visitors [Dayton] were outclassed at every stage of the game, and their play was marked by many errors,” reported the Oregon Daily Journal. “The game was too slow to be interesting.”
Kreitz (and we are assuming that this is Ralph Kreitz and not Albert or another Kreitz) was a part of the debuting Oregon State League in 1904, with teams from Vancouver, Salem, Eugene and Roseburg. Kreitz was one of the catchers for Salem, along with a man named Seuss. The team’s field was located at C.A.A.C. Park, and 25 to 30 patients from the local asylum were pressed into service as groundskeepers to get the field in playing condition. The league was troubled right from the start, with Vancouver folding and being replaced by a team from Albany. Salem was one of the better teams, but there are no statistics or box scores to determine how Kreitz fared. Kreitz played in one game for the Portland Giants of the Pacific Coast League in 1905 and was 0-for-3.
Kreitz played outfield and catcher for the Athena Yellow Kids (named presumably after the popular comic strip character of the era) in 1906. He seemed to have some formidable power. He homered, doubled and stole a base in a 19-3 pounding of Walla Walla on May 20. He also played for a team in Park City, Utah, in the fall of the year. Starting in 1907, his whereabouts get a little easier to track, as he spent three years playing for various teams in the Northwestern League. At least part of the time. Kreitz played for the Seattle Siwashes for 11 games in 1907 but also played for amateur teams in Colfax and Aberdeen, Wash.
By 1908, “Red” Kreitz was a familiar face in the Northwestern League. The nickname came from his hair color, like almost every other ballplayer called “Red.” He started the ’08 season with Butte and ended it with Spokane. From the statistics that are available, he hit .191 with 6 stolen bases in 79 games. He would have had 1 home run on the season, against Vancouver pitcher George Engle on September 16, and it would have been a 2-run shot to give Spokane a 2-1 win. However, the sharp-eyed umpire noticed that Kreitz forgot to touch first base as he made his way around the bases and was called out.
“Kreitz is a nice receiver, a very accurate thrower and better than the average hitter,” reported the Butte Inter Mountain at the start of the season. “If he had a little more pepper behind the bat he would impress the fans more, though at that he does his work very neatly.”
Kreitz was traded to Aberdeen in 1909 and batted .208 in 68 games. He headed east in 1910, signing with the Jacksonville (Ill.) Jacks, managed by former big-leaguer Clarence “Pants” Rowland. The Jacks were a part of the Northern Association, which collapsed in late July. Rowland quickly found work as the manager of the Winnipeg Maroons of the Western Canada League, and he took Kreitz with him. The catcher had his best performance among the available statistics. He batted .281 in 28 games with 4 doubles and 3 home runs. He drove in 5 runs in a 7-0 shutout of the Brandon Angels on August 26 with 3 hits, including a homer.
In 1911, the starting catcher for the Chicago White Sox was Billy Sullivan, who was near the end of his 16-year career. Never a great hitter by any means, Sullivan was 36 years old and losing playing time to backups Fred Payne and Jimmy “Bruno” Block. Owner Charles Comiskey was looking for another catcher, and he found one in Ralph Kreitz, who was then playing for the Dubuque Hustlers of the Three-I League. The White Sox bought his contract in mid-July and brought him up to the majors in August. At the time, he had committed just 2 errors in 38 games and was hitting nearly .300 for Dubuque.
Kreitz’s first major-league game came on August 1, in the second game of a doubleheader against the New York Highlanders. Payne started the game behind the plate, but Kreitz took over once New York put the game out of reach. He managed a hit in two at-bats against starter Russ Ford. He played briefly against the Senators on the next day and was 0-for-4 against the Athletics on August 9.
Sox manager Hugh Duffy was high on Kreitz and pitcher Joe Hovlik, another rookie from the Three-I League. “We have tried out Joe Hovlik and Ralph Kreitz, our newest recruit battery, on the road, and they have shown us something more than we expected. Of course, these youngsters have a great deal to learn,” Duffy noted. Of Kreitz, he said, “He caught an excellent game against the Athletics in Philadelphia. He had two chances to peg to the bases and his throws were perfect. His throw to second base to catch Eddie Collins stealing was as straight as it well could be [though the speedy Collins nabbed the base anyway]… It takes a new catcher some time to become accustomed to his pitchers and to work in harmony with new conditions and strange surroundings.”
Kreitz played sparingly, not seeing any action in the entire month of September. He got a start against the Cleveland Naps on October 7 and picked up 2 hits, including a double, off Josh Swindell, who was making the only start of his 4-game career.
Kreitz appeared in a total of 7 games for Chicago, getting 4 hits (3 singles and 1 double) and 2 walks in 19 plate appearances. He had a .235/.316/.294 slash line. He spent 40 innings behind the plate and had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. He threw out 3 of 8 baserunners but committed 4 passed balls.
It’s no understatement to say that his greatest moment in a White Sox uniform took place in an exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs on October 13, 1911. Cubs and White Sox had by then faced each other in other exhibition games and even a World Series, so it wasn’t exactly a novelty match-up. But in the era before interleague games, the rivalry between the two teams and their fanbases was a fierce one. If you went to a Cubs-Sox exhibition game in the 1980s, you probably saw a couple of fights in the stands. The audience in the 1911 series of games was hopefully better behaved, but the series still captured the attention of the city’s baseball fans.
The first game of the series featured a marquee showdown between Ed Walsh of the White Sox and Mordecai Brown of the Cubs. Walsh held the Northsiders to 5 hits, though he gave up 3 runs thanks to an RBI single by Joe Tinker and a 2-run throwing error by shortstop Lee Tannehill. The Cubs held a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning. Consecutive singles by Ping Bodie, Jimmy Callahan and Rollie Zeider tied the game and brought up Kreitz. He had taken over for Sullivan in the top of the ninth inning as a defensive replacement and faced future Hall of Famer Brown. Undaunted, he ripped a single over shortstop and into center field to score Zeider with the running run, making the final score 4-3.
Yes, it was an exhibition game. But when it comes to White Sox vs. Cubs, there is no such thing as a meaningless game. “Kreitz, subcatcher, bench-warmer – in short, an unknown quantity during his brief sojourn with the White Hose – has suddenly won his spurs,” reported the Chicago Record-Herald. “The ‘rookie’ of yesterday morning now is qualified to carve his niche in the hall of fame with Radbourne, Rohe, Adams, Coombs, Overall, Mathewson and other truly greats of the post-season battles.”
“I was never so tickled in my life,” Kreitz told the Associated Press after the game. “I felt like someone had given me a million dollars to spend. When I came to bat in the ninth with one run needed to win and Brown on the mound, I was a trifle nervous. I have been reading about the ability of Brown for some time. He fed me a couple of curves and then put a fast one over. It looked good and I swing. The ball went safely and we won the game. There are few things that would have pleased me more than getting that hit at that time.”
Kreitz’s newfound celebrity even reached his old hometown in Nebraska, where the area newspapers played up his local roots. He and his wife visited there after the season on his way back to Oregon, where he worked as a butcher in the offseason.
It was thought that Kreitz would see regular work as a White Sox catcher in 1912. Instead, the team signed rookie Walt Kuhn, whose nickname was also “Red,” from Portland of the Pacific Coast League. Kreitz was sent to Sacramento of the PCL, where he hit .184. He finished his professional playing career in 1913 with the Venice Tigers and Oakland Oaks, also in the PCL. He broke a couple of fingers while catching for Venice, was released, and finished the season with Oakland. His stats with Venice are unavailable, but he batted .157 for the Oaks.
In 7 seasons in the minor leagues, Kreitz had a .194 batting average with 4 home runs. He does have some missing statistics on Baseball Reference, so those numbers are subject to change if more data ever gets added. He announced his retirement in 1914 to go into business in Dayton, Ore. He kept up with baseball and played for local teams into the 1920s. In his primary profession, Kreitz was the owner and operator of a produce business in Dayton before moving to Hillsboro, Ore., in the 1930s. At the time of his death, he was working as a gasoline distributor.
Ralph Kreitz married Ethel Maud in 1909, and they had three children, Richard, Ralph and Norma. She died in the 1920s, and he married at least once more, to a woman named Golda. Depending on which family tree you view on Ancestry, he may have been married at least once and possibly twice more. Kreitz agreed to participate in an Old-Timers Game on July 20, 1941, in Portland, Ore. During the game, he smacked a single, and as he was running to first base, he collapsed and died from a heart attack. He was 55 years old. Kreitz is interred in Lincoln Memorial Park in Portland.