One Man’s Hero

Ted Breitenstein while with the Pelicans

As I’ve mentioned previously, my wife’s grandfather was a big St. Louis Browns fan. He was still young when they were formed and followed the new team in town. His father, however, was a diehard Cardinals fan and didn’t switch allegiances. Well, it’s good to have a favorite team and stick with it, but sometimes it blinds you to a player’s abilities. My wife’s grandfather once told me the following story about that.

Back in the 1890s the Browns, which were what the Cardinals were called then, had a new kid, a local, named Ted Breitenstein. He was a lefty pitcher who threw a no hitter in his first start. He’d relieved earlier in the season, but with the Cards (which is what I’m calling this team to keep down the confusion with the later Browns) out of the pennant race, he got the start on the last day of the season (4 October). He knocked off the Louisville Colonels (both teams were in the American Association in 1891) giving up a single walk.  Of course it made him the toast of the town. The Cardinals finished second that season and Breitenstein looked like a sure ace for years to come.

And my wife’s great grandfather loved him. He was certain that the team was going to flourish with Breitenstein, a local boy, leading the pack. Of course a couple of things changed in 1892. First the Association collapsed and St. Louis ended up in the newly expanded National League. Second, Ted Brietenstein had a bad year. He went 9-19 with an ERA north of 4.50 and walked more men than he struck out (his WAR was a career low -0.7). But apparently my wife’s grandfather’s dad was undeterred in his affection for good ole Ted.

But the Cards languished in their new league, and Teddy languished right with them. The move to a mound didn’t seem to do much for him one way of the other. He finally had a winning record in 1894 (27-23), won an ERA title in 1893 (3.18), and generally gave up more walks than strikeouts and tended to give up more hits than he had innings pitched.

He lost 30 games in 1895 and 26 more in 1896. It was finally too much for the Cards and he went on his way to Cincinnati (where he did get better for a while). But my wife’s great grandfather was crushed. St. Louis was throwing away their best pitcher, they were throwing away the pennant. Heck, they were throwing away the entire season. You might as well shut down the team. When Breitenstein fired another no hitter in 1898 (in April against Pittsburgh), my great grandfather-in-law was sure the team was done for.

So he continued to follow Breitenstein in the newspapers through 1900. By then Breitenstein had a career record of 160-167, in 2900 innings had given up 3100 hits, and about 300 walks ahead of his strikeout total. But he got one more chance. The Cards brought him back for 1901. And apparently great grandfather was in heaven. His hero was back, the Cardinals had a chance, and all was right (more or less) with the baseball world.

Except it wasn’t to be. Ted Breitenstein went 0-3, gave up 24 hits in 15 innings, walked 14 in the same 15 innings (while striking out three). His ERA went to 6.60. He was, frankly, through. He played several more years in the minors but he was done in St. Louis. He died in St. Louis in 1935 (and outlived my wife’s great grandfather by several years).

According to my grandfather-in-law his dad took a long time to recover, but eventually came around to going to the game again and rooting for the Cardinals. But to his dying day he always maintained that any new St. Louis pitcher he saw just “wasn’t as good as Breitenstein.” We all have heroes.

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7 Responses to “One Man’s Hero”

  1. Jackie, The Baseball Bloggess Says:

    I love this story … and I love your great-grandfather-in-law’s devotion to a single player. Everybody needs to have a favorite player. And, every player — even the mediocre ones — deserves to have a super-fan.

    (ERA 6.60 you say? That’ll be an improvement. Is he available to start for the Orioles this week?)

  2. rjkitch13 Says:

    Hey, are you stealing my material? Lol

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