February 4th, 2014

February 4 – Happy Birthday Germany Schaefer

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Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had over 4,300 plate appearances during his fifteen-year big league career but only one of them was in a Yankee uniform. That was too bad for that era’s Yankee fans because William Herman Schaefer, or “Germany,” as he liked to be called, was one of the funniest, most entertaining Major League baseball players in the history of the game. He came up with the Cubs in 1901 and spent most of the rest of his career with Detroit and Washington. He played all of the infield positions at one time or another but mostly second base. He got his only Yankee at bat during the 1916 season and made an out. He also served as a coach on that New York team.

I don’t know who first came up with the saying, “You can’t steal first base,” but before 1920, Major League Baseball players actually could and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant invented the maneuver. During a game against the White Sox in 1911, Germany was the runner on first and with a teammate on third the signal was on for a double steal. Schaefer did his part, making it safely to second. But when he looked over at third, the runner was still standing there. On the next pitch, old Germany became the first player in history to steal first base. He figured he had to do it so that the double steal could be attempted again and because it had never been done before, the umpires allowed it. Eventually the league passed a rule outlawing the maneuver.

In 1907, he hit his only home run of the season off Philadelphia A’s, Rube Waddell. Schaefer carried the bat with him around the bases and when he got to home plate, aimed it like a rifle at Hall of Fame hurler’s noggin and pulled the trigger. Every pitch Germany saw from Waddell for the rest of that season was aimed directly at his head. He once hit a home run and slid into every base on his way to home plate. If his team was ahead late in a game and it started raining, Schaefer would come to the plate wearing a raincoat or carrying an umbrella. Schaefer was so good at making the fans laugh he started a baseball-related vaudeville act after his playing days were over. That act served as the inspiration for the Hollywood film, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. Schaefer also quickly changed his nickname from “Germany” to “Liberty” when America entered WWI .

He died of a heart attack, while on a train bound for Saranac Lake in northern New York state in 1919. Germany shares his birthday with this long-ago starting Highlander outfielder.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1916 NYY 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
15 Yrs 1150 4305 3784 495 972 117 48 9 308 201 333 499 .257 .319 .320 .639
WSH (6 yrs) 380 1267 1092 157 321 34 17 1 91 62 129 135 .294 .372 .359 .731
DET (5 yrs) 626 2519 2236 278 558 75 25 8 195 123 158 305 .250 .300 .316 .616
CHC (2 yrs) 83 330 296 32 60 3 3 0 14 12 21 48 .203 .260 .233 .493
NEW (1 yr) 59 183 154 26 33 5 3 0 8 3 25 11 .214 .328 .286 .613
CLE (1 yr) 1 5 5 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
NYY (1 yr) 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/13/2014.