Ernest Guy “Ernie” Diehl’s entire professional career consisted of less than 60 games.
Every year from 1900 to 1911 he was offered contracts by professional teams and despite his time with two National League teams and two minor league teams he never earned a penny as a ballplayer.
By the time the 25-year-old Diehl made his first professional appearance with the Pittsburgh Pirates in May of 1903, he was already a well-known player. Diehl was the star of the perennial powerhouse Avondale team in Cincinnati’s semi-pro Saturday League, which The Sporting Life called “a fast, clean league.”
Diehl was born in Cincinnati in 1877, the scion of a Cincinnati distillery empire; His father Adam G. Diehl had made a fortune in the whiskey business with his brother-in-law; together they founded The Edgewood Distilling Company.
He attended the University of Cincinnati and established a reputation as one of the area’s best athletes. Perhaps even better at tennis than baseball, Diehl was a prominent amateur tennis player during the first decade of the 20th Century.
In May of 1903 when the Pirates arrived in Cincinnati for a series, the team was decimated with injuries and Diehl joined the team for one game, playing left field on May 31, he went 1 for three in a 3-2 pirate victory.
Despite being offered a contract with Pittsburgh, Diehl chose to return to the distilling business and the Saturday Baseball League.
In 1904, with several Pirate players hurt, Diehl was again asked to join the team; this time for 12 games. The Pittsburgh Gazette said Diehl also spent time with the Pirates in Hot Springs, Arkansas that spring.
The Baltimore American ran a story before the Pirates arrived in New York in August:
“New Yorkers who attend the games between the Brooklyn and Pittsburgh teams will be treated to an opportunity of seeing the work in the field of a millionaire ballplayer.”
While he hit just .162 for the Pirates in 1904, that did not diminish Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss’ desire to sign Diehl.
Before the 1905 season Dreyfuss told The Pittsburgh Press:
“The one player I would like to get on the team is beyond my reach… His name is Ernest Diehl…He is one of the best baseball players I ever saw.”
Dreyfuss also called Diehl “One of the best all-around athletes,” he had seen. The Press said that although Diehl was required to sign a contract for his time with the Pirates in 1903 and ’04:
“Diehl never received a penny of salary from President Dreyfuss.”
Dreyfuss, and every other owner who offered Diehl a contract was unsuccessful in securing him for the 1905 season; Diehl spent the season playing in the Saturday League and in several tennis tournaments across the country.
He again played tennis and semi-pro ball in 1906, until August when the Boston Beaneaters came to Cincinnati. Shortstop Al Bridwell was injured, and Diehl was signed (again for no salary) to play for Boston in the three-game series.
The Associated Press reported:
“’Ernie’ Diehl, a wealthy young distiller of this city, an enthusiastic athlete, long known as a brilliant baseball player on local amateur teams, distinguished himself in the series just played…He played three games in the Boston ranks…He made five hits in eleven times at bat…Diehl could not afford to enter professional ball if he desired, at the highest salary paid in the organization, on account of his business, but is delighted and satisfied with his experience…Besides his heavy batting, his fielding was strictly up to the professional standard.”
Just as he had in Pittsburgh, Diehl turned down an offer to stay with Boston for the remainder of the 1906 season.
In 1907, Diehl appeared in 21 games for the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association, hitting .405. The Toledo News-Bee said Diehl was spending “His vacation…helping out the Toledo club.” The Associated Press said that as in the past, “Diehl is wealthy and refused to accept pay for his services.”
In addition to his business interests, amateur tennis and baseball career, and professional baseball “vacations,” Diehl also served on Cincinnati’s city council from, roughly, 1906-1910.
In 1909 Diehl played in one game of a doubleheader for the Boston Doves on August 12 against the Reds, he was 2 for 4 with a double—it would be his last in the National League
Diehl then joined the eventual American Association champion Louisville Colonels, at the request of his friend and fellow Cincinnatian, manager Heinie Peitz. (Baseball Reference lists a player as “Diehl,” with no first name on the 1909 Louisville roster, with a .226 average in 20 games).
The Sporting Life said Diehl “figured very prominently in Louisville’s winning the championship of the A.A. will again be in Colonel garb,” in 1910; Diehl did not play for Louisville, or any other professional team again.
In 1911 The Associated Press and Cincinnati newspapers said the 33-year-old Diehl had a deal in place with Reds manager Clark Griffith to join the team at some point during the season; as with Louisville, that deal never materialized either.
Diehl was briefly mentioned as a candidate to replace Griffith as Reds manager in 1912, the job eventually went to Hank O’Day.
Diehl’s career was summed up well in a 1914 Baseball Magazine article by William A. Phelon:
“For ten years it has been a tacitly accepted fact, around the big leagues and whenever players or managers assembled, that Ernie Diehl was not only of major league quality, but what might be called super-quality—the Wagner-Lajoie-Cobb variety. He could hit, run, and break up a defense with anybody, and was a versatile artist in five or six positions. Business held him; there never was a chance for him to spend a full season in the game; year after year, in short vacation frolics, he showed the professionals what he could do—and now, getting on in years, with business still gripping him, he sadly gives it up, and lays aside the bat and glove he never had a fair chance to use.”
Diehl’s Edgewood Distilling Company seems to have been dissolved sometime around 1918, and he eventually settled in Miami where he died in 1958.