“Steiny is Dead”

29 Aug

Harry Steinfeldt cheated death in 1904.

According to The Cincinnati Times-Star, the Reds third baseman, “suffering from a severe attack of lumbago,” returned home to the Biedebach Hotel after a road trip in St. Louis when he “accidently pulled down a chandelier, causing the gas to escape.”

Steinfeldt

Steinfeldt

Steinfeldt in “his crippled condition” failed to turn off the gas completely before going to bed.  Later in the evening, overcome by gas, “in a semi-conscious state,” he attempted to crawl out of the room and “cried for help.”

Fifteen-year-old Mabel Biedebach, the daughter of the hotel’s proprietor, sprang into action:

“She heard Steinfeldt’s cries and ran to his room, where she found him on is hands and knees trying to force himself out of the door.  With rare presence of mind, the young lady raised the ball player’s head and with one mighty effort dragged his body to the hallway.”

The incident sidelined Steinfeldt for five games, and a leg injury and the back pain that led to his near death experience, limited him to 99 games, and his batting average plummeted 68 points from 1903.

Ten years later, the 36-year-old died of a cerebral hemorrhage after a long illness that began during his final big league season in 1911.

Hugh Fullerton eulogized the third baseman, one of his favorite subjects when Steinfeldt played for the Cubs in the pages of The Chicago Herald:

“Steiny is dead.

“The first of the famous Chicago Cubs is gone and every one of that magnificent crowd of men who whirled through the National League to so many pennants will drop a tear.  There was no more beloved member of the team.

“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.  It was when Steinfeldt was let out (before the 1911 season) that the old machine commenced to misfire and its tires flattened.  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.”

Fullerton compared Steinfeldt to more celebrated third basemen:

“Steiny was not great in the sense that Jerry Denny, Jimmy Collins or Billy Nash was great.  He was a different type; solid, strong, rather slow, but possessed of a wonderful throwing arm that enabled him to block down balls and throw out runners.”

Fullerton said Cubs Manager Frank Chance wanted Steinfeldt badly when he was still with the Reds in 1905:

“Chance forced President (Charles Webb) Murphy to get him.  Murphy made three trips to Cincinnati and each time returned to dissuade Chance and relate awful tales he had heard of Steinfeldt, but finally he surrendered, made a trade and got Steinfeldt. The day Steiny reported to the Cubs (in 1906) Frank Chance said to me:

“’Let’s have a drink.  We’ll win the pennant sure now.’ And he did.”

Steinfeldt, third from left, center row, with the 1906 Cubs

Steinfeldt, third from left, center row, with the 1906 Cubs

Fullerton said Steinfeldt was one of the game’s best storytellers as well—and his stories, like many of Fullerton’s were often more colorful than accurate:

“One I shall never forget.

“’The gamest guy that ever played ball, Steiny remarked, ‘was a fellow who played second base for Dallas when I was down there.  One day Dallas was playing Fort Worth and, in the first inning the Fort Worth center fielder tried to steal.  He was thrown out a block, but took a flying leap and lit on the second baseman’s foot with his spikes.  He limped around  a few minutes, said he was all right and went on playing.

“’In that game he had six putouts, nine assists, and no errors, was in three double plays, one of them a triple, and was all over the field.  After the game, he and I were walking out to the clubhouse and he said, ‘I believe there’s something in my shoe,’ and stooping down he took off his shoe and shook out two toes.’”

Fullerton said of his best quality:

“There never was an ounce of harm in Steiny. He was always for the weakest.  I saw him with tears rolling down his cheeks one day as he listened to a hard luck yarn and he was not ashamed to weep when one of the players was released.

“It was his discharge from the Cubs that broke Steiny’s heart and led to the breakdown that resulted in his death.

Steinfeldt, 1908

Steinfeldt, 1908

“When Steiny left the Cubs the reporters who had been with the team for years got up a little bit of parchment on which was inscribed:

“This is to certify, that we, the undersigned, testify that Harry Steinfeldt was a good fellow and a good ball player and that we will miss him even more in the first capacity than we will in the second.

“He treasured that, and perhaps no better obituary can be written for him.”

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