Charming George

Hartford Dark Blues (Zettlein is number 7)

George Zettlein was born in Brooklyn in 1844, the child of German immigrants. He grew up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. During the American Civil War he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served on blockade duty. I’ve been unable to ascertain if he took part in either the capture of New Orleans or the attack on Mobile, but sources indicate he did serve with Admiral David Farragut, who led both expeditions.

Out of the service at war’s end, he joined the Eckford, one of the top teams in Brooklyn. He was good enough to come to the attention of the Atlantic, the premier Brooklyn team and in 1866 he joined them as their primary pitcher. It’s an era of underhand pitching from 50 feet away with a wrist snap being illegal, but apparently he did learn to break off a curve. It helped make him an effective pitcher and the Atlantic continued their winning ways with him in the box.

In 1870 he pitched the famous game against the Cincinnati Red Stockings in June, batting sixth. After giving up three runs in the first three innings, he quieted the Red Sox while the Atlantic chipped away to take a 4-3 lead. Cincy got the run back, plus another, in the seventh, but Brooklyn tied it up in the eighth. With the game tied at the end of nine, the managers (Harry Wright and Bob Ferguson) agreed to play “extra innings.” Zettlein got through the 10th without giving up a run, but the Red Stockings scored twice in the top of the 11th to take a 7-5 lead. In the bottom of the eleventh, the Atlantic tied the score and Zettlein got his only hit of the game with a single that sent the winning run to second. An error scored the runner and Zettlein became the winning pitcher in the game that broke the Red Stockings’ 80 game win streak.

When the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed in 1871, the Atlantic chose not to join the fledgling league. Zettlein decided to leave the team and join William Hulbert’s Chicago team. He went 18-9 and won the first ever professional league ERA title at 2.73 (it was his only triple crown title). In 1872 he was with Troy and with the Eckfords (his first team) going a combined 15-16. He later spent time with the Athletic (Philadelphia) and back with Chicago before the league folding in 1875. His last season was 1876 when he played one year with the Philadelphia Athletics in the National League, going 4-20 with a 3.88 ERA.

For his professional career (both the NA and the NL) George Zettlein was 129-112 with a 2.55 ERA (ERA+ of 114), 2678 hits given up in 2177 innings and 145 walks to go with 143 strikeouts (1.297 WHIP) over 250 total games.

Throughout his career Zettlein was well liked by both teammates and opponents, so much so that he was known as “The Charmer” or “Charming George.” After his playing career he spent time as both a liquor dealer (whether he ran a liquor store or was a wholesaler, I’ve been unable to determine) and later as a policeman. He died in 1905 and is buried in Brooklyn.

Zettlein’s grave (Buckholz was an in-law)




2 Responses to “Charming George”

  1. rjkitch13 Says:

    It’s worth noting when Zettlein went 18-9 in 1871, the team only played 28 games all season.

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