Sportswriter William A. Phelon said Louis Wilhelm “Lou” Gertenrich “is not a ball player because he has to be, but because he wants to be.”
The son of a successful candy maker, Gertenrich was rumored to be one of Chicago’s wealthiest young men. He was also an excellent ballplayer and sprinter, but spent a great deal of time focused on business rather than sports. Phelon said:
“Gertenrich hasn’t played ball, even when he desired to play the game, because his business interests would not allow him the leisure time. In other words, Mr. Gertenrich, being a man of income and financial substance, cannot dally with the ball and bat as he would like, and this wealth of Mr. Gertenrich has cost the game an A-1 player.”
He began to be noticed as a ballplayer in 1891 as a 16-year-old pitcher with a team called the American Boys (later called the Mystics), the following year he joined the Clybourn Juniors.
At 19, in 1894 he joined Chicago’s City League, first with the Brands and then the Garden Cities, pitching and playing shortstop and outfield. As local clubs found they could do better as independents than as members of a league the City League went from an eight, to six to finally a four-team league before disbanding at the close of the 1895 season.
Gertenrich remained a popular figure in semi-professional circles in Chicago, playing primarily for the Maroons and the Auburn Parks.
In 1898 The Sporting Life said Hank O’Day thought Gertenrich “is a sure comer.”
On September 15, 1901 the last place Milwaukee Brewers were in Chicago for a doubleheader, the final two home games for the first place White Sox. Brewers Outfielder/Manager Hugh Duffy, and another outfielder, Irv Waldron, were injured. As a result, The Chicago Daily News said:
“Manager Duffy gave Louis Gertenrich, a city league star, a trial.”
Starting the first game in right field, Gertenrich singled in his first big league at bat and scored a run on a home run hit by another player making his debut; Leftfielder Davy Jones. Gertenrich was 1 for 2 before being removed in the fifth inning of a 5 to 4 loss.
In the second game he pinch hit for pitcher Ned Garvin and grounded out in the bottom of the ninth of a 9 to 4 loss to Chicago.
Gertenrich returned to the Auburn Parks with a .333 major league batting average.
He got a big league call again in 1903. On July 21 the first place Pittsburgh Pirates were in Chicago to playing the Cubs. Pirates Manager Fred Clarke, who was injured, had allowed outfielder Jimmy Sebring three days off to return to Williamsport, Pennsylvania for his wedding.
Gertenrich was brought in to play right field; he went 0 for 3 with a sacrifice bunt and handled two fly balls. He returned to the Auburn Parks’ lineup the following day.
He spent most of the next decade playing in the re-formed Chicago City League—spending time with the Logan Squares, Gunthers, the Roger Parks, the West Ends, the Riverviews and Anson’s Colts. He also coached baseball at the Morgan Park Academy on Chicago’s South Side.
The Daily News said:
“Gertenrich is recognized as one of the heaviest hitters in local semi-pro ranks, and there is no batter more feared by the pitchers than this speedy fielder.”
1906 advertisement for the Rogers Parks, when Gertenrich played for and managed the team
William A. Phelon wrote for The Chicago Journal when Gertenrich left Chicago briefly in 1905, at age 30, to join the Springfield Babes in the Central League and the Decatur Commodores in the Three-I League. Phelon told a story about Gertenrich’s stay in Springfield:
“Mr. Gertenrich was able to arrange his affairs for a lay-off of three months (in order to play for Springfield, and) the rich man negotiated with (Manager Jack) Hendricks for a position…The very next afternoon beheld Mr. Gertenrich, free from business care and happy as a proverbial lark, capering in the Springfield pasture and slamming that old ball like seven Cobbs and a Lajoie thrown in for luck.
“On his first day out he got three singles. Next day he amassed two triples and a double. The third day he whacked a home run and a single. On his fourth day he drew three passes and connected for a triple. On the morning of the fifth day Mr. Hendricks summoned him to headquarters.
“’Mr. Gertenrich,’ said Mr. Hendricks, pausing to wipe away a tear ‘you are a great batsman and a good fellow. You are setting this league afire. You are the wonder of the Twentieth Century. But you are breaking the hearts of my younger players. They cannot bat like you. They are losing their ambition. A few more games with you among them and they will pine away and die…Moreover Mr. Gertenrich, you have money. You do not need this job. The boys whom you are shoving into obscurity have little families and need the coin. I hate to say it Mr. Gertenrich,’—and the manager again wiped away a tear—‘but you and I must part. Here is your release. Goodbye, Mr. Gertenrich, and good luck be with you. Please go away, for I weep every time I look at you.”
Gertenrich also appeared in several games for Decatur after his release from the Springfield Babes, against Springfield’s other team, the Senators, and the Peoria Distillers.
For the next four seasons, Gertenrich remained one of Chicago’s best local athletes. At 33-years-old in 1908 he was still a good enough runner to win the City League Field Day title of fastest player; The Daily News said he rounded the bases in 14 and 1/5 seconds.
The Chicago Eagle called him:
“(O)ne of the best known and most popular players in Chicago.”
In 1909 he hit .318 (5th in the league) and The Sporting Life said the Brooklyn Superbas were trying to sign Gertenrich and made an offer “which he has taken under consideration.” The deal was never completed.
Gertenrich hit .350 in 1910 (3rd in the league), playing for Rogers Park.
In 1912 he returned to professional baseball as a member of the Chicago Green Sox in the United States League. William “Billy” Niessen, a long-time City League operator had initially been one of the organizers of another proposed outlaw organizations, the Colombian League, but when then venture failed, and after one of the proposed New York team dropped out of the United States League in late March Niessen was awarded a Chicago franchise; Niessen was a good fit for the fledgling league because already had a ballpark on the North Side of Chicago at the corner of Clark Street and Leland Avenue–called Gunther Park, also referred to frequently in the Chicago press and Niessen’s Park.
The Sporting Life said “Base ball men are still betting that the new league doesn’t open the season,” but Niessen had high hopes. He hired Burt Keeley, a long-time City League figure who had pitched in 30 games for the Washington Senators in 1908 and 1909.
He also signed Gertenrich, who had played for Niessen’s Gunthers in the City League the year before, and according to The Chicago Examiner had hit a home run off of Bill Lindsay of the Chicago American Giants that was “the longest hit ever seen at Niessen’s Park.”
Gunther Park, where The Examiner said Gertenrich was responsible for “the longest hit ever seen at Niessen’s Park.”
An ambitious 126-game schedule was announced, but the upstart league was under-capitalized and low attendance doomed it to failure. The league folded after just more than a month of play. The Green Sox were 10-12. Gertenrich returned to the candy business and semi-pro ball.
On March 8 of 1913 the Federal League rose out of the ashes of the United States League and was incorporated in Indianapolis. Keeley was named manager, and many of the same players, including Gertenrich, who played for the Green Sox signed with the new club.
The Chicago Inter Ocean said:
“Gertenrich will be the mainstay of the outfield and is a heavy hitter. He has made final arrangements for joining the club by procuring a competent manager for his candy business. He will devote his time to the interests of the club.”
The team won their opener on May 6 against the St. Louis Terriers, and got off to a 7-1 start. Chicago led the league until the middle of June when they were overtaken by Indianapolis. They faded quickly after that; at the same time the team’s front office was in chaos, the team’s president was removed and a new set of directors were elected in July.
On August 16 The Chicago Tribune said the team, hopelessly out of the pennant race, ten games behind Indianapolis, released Gertenrich “on the ground of cutting down expenses.”
Individual records are scare, but the 38-year-old Gertenrich was called “one of the classiest outfielders” in the league by The Associated Press. In March of 1914 The Daily News said Gertenrich “was batting .413” at the time of his release, but had not received an offer from one the Federal League teams for 1914.
While Gertenrich relinquished some of the responsibilities of his company during 1912 and 1913 he had time to receive two United States patents for inventions for his candy company, including one described as a “corn confection” called the “Ball Tosser.”
Gertenrich was finished with professional baseball after his release in 1913, but continued playing semi-pro ball for several teams in and near Chicago, and formed a team called the Gertenrich Stars which played in Chicago through 1917.
He was a regular sponsor and attendee of alumni events for semi-pro and professional ballplayers in Chicago and played on the German Club of Chicago’s baseball team until his death from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1933.
As a candy maker he had one more connection with professional baseball. An advertisement for his company appears on the back of a baseball card set. The 120 card set–the more common version advertises American Caramel on the back (E121)—was issued in 1922. The Gertenrich variations are extremely rare.
The Gertenrich back variation of an E-121 card