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John Bischoff

John Bischoff

Position(s):
C
Nicknames:
Smiley
Born:
October 28, 1894
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 7"
Weight:
165 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-18-1925 with CHA

John Bischoff
by Bill Nowlin
Granite City, Illinois was – despite its name – a city that specialized in manufacturing iron-based kitchen supplies and utensils. It was a planned community, a company town, and is part of the Greater St. Louis metropolitan area, just across the Mississippi River and six or seven miles north of St. Louis. The town was founded in the middle 1890s by two German immigrants, the Niedringhaus brothers, for their burgeoning firm. Employees were required to live in town. The name “granite” came from an unusual patented process they had developed to leave patterns on enamel; their most popular pattern simulated the look of granite. The company also imported tin from Wales and produced steel for its products. One employee – John Bischoff – worked as a tinner in 1900.

John was a native of Illinois, born in 1869, but his parents had both come to America from Germany. He listed his heritage as Scotch-Irish and German. His wife, Jennie, gave birth to a son on October 28, 1894, whom they named John George Bischoff but whom everyone called George. Though he shows up in baseball record books as John Bischoff, he signed all his mail as George Bischoff, even later in life. He was born in Edwardsville, Illinois, because Granite City itself wasn’t founded until 1896. George later had three siblings: Clarence, Eleanor, and Genevieve. By 1910, father John was listed in the census as a sheet-metal contractor. Young Bischoff’s formal schooling lasted eight years at the McKinley elementary school. He became a major-league baseball player, although before and after his career he was working for one or another of the Niedringhaus companies.

When Bischoff registered for the draft during World War I in June 1917, he was employed as a timekeeper by Commonwealth Steel, Granite City, and living with his wife, the former Laura May Martin, and two children. He provided his birthplace as Edwardsville. It was a plant best known for producing locomotives, the original kitchen supplies business having greatly expanded.  By the time of World War II Bischoff was working for NESCO (the National Enameling and Stamping Company, then the name of the Niedringhauses’ original St. Louis Stamping Co.) 

However fascinating the manufacture of enamelware kitchen supplies and locomotives might be, it is baseball that concerns us the most here. George grew up in Granite City and, while he apprenticed as a carpenter, as often as he could he shagged flies or otherwise tried to take part in the activities at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. He played on a number of semipro teams in Granite City, Edwardsville, and Collinsville, in Illinois, and a number of St. Louis Trolley League and Municipal League clubs (he also played semipro soccer), and became well enough known that when John McCloskey was nosing around town looking for a catcher for the Memphis Chicks, the manager of one of the St. Louis teams suggested that he check out Bischoff. George was a short, stocky catcher, standing 5-feet-7 and weighing 165 pounds, who batted and threw right-handed. McCloskey liked what he saw and signed him to the Chickasaws in the middle of the 1919 season. As it happened, Bischoff was used both behind the plate and quite a bit in right field, too, hitting for a .286 average in 65 games. In 1920, he appeared in 110 games for the Southern Association team, but saw his average drop to .252.

After the 1920 season, the Wichita Falls Spudders, a Texas League affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, purchased Bischoff’s release from Memphis. Bischoff caught three seasons for Wichita Falls (which changed its affiliation to the Cubs for 1922 and 1923). He hit over .300 all three seasons –  .367, .303, and .322.

Boston sportswriter Johnny Drohan wrote, “All these seasons he was overlooked by major league scouts, simply because he was not the flashy type that often appeals to a scout. He did attract the attention of other teams in the Texas League, however, and in preparing for the 1924 season, manager Jake Atz of the perennial first-place Fort Worth Panthers purchased Bischoff’s contract from the Spudders. After the 1923 season he traveled to Cuba with an All-Star Texas League team and then stayed, playing winter ball there for the Habana Reds under manager Adolfo Luque (and batting .304). He had less success in the Gran Premio extra season that was added on to keep Cuban baseball going into March.

In 1924 Bischoff hit .305 with a new high for him of 13 home runs, and helped Fort Worth win its sixth consecutive pennant. Facing Memphis in the Dixie Series, Fort Worth needed eight games to come out on top (the first game ended in a tie), and Bischoff caught seven of the eight. He also smacked the winning hit in Game Eight, a double that drove in the tying and winning runs. Somehow in those four years in Texas he picked up a nickname – Smiley. Whether it was because of a sunny disposition, or the sort of perverse nickname that could attach to someone unusually dour, will need to be the subject of further research. After the 1924 campaign Bischoff stayed home and put in time working as a carpenter until 1925 spring training was due to begin. The White Sox purchased his contract and he joined them in Shreveport for spring training with the big-league club. [1]

Chicago had Ray Schalk, and two other catchers (Buck Crouse and Harry Grabowski) were rated higher than Bischoff, so he saw rather little action with the White Sox. His debut game was on April 18, but only as a late-inning replacement for Crouse. He appeared in only seven games and had 11 at-bats. He struck out five of the 11 times, managing to get one hit in his White Sox career, which ended when he was sold to the Boston Red Sox on July 11. In his first game for Boston, he singled and drove in a run, his major-league RBI. His only home run came in St. Louis – no doubt in front of some well-wishers – on August 22. By the end of the year, he’d hit .278 for the Red Sox, with 16 RBIs, better than first-string catcher Val Picinich (.255, but perhaps Picinich called a better game).

In 1926 Alex Gaston became Boston’s primary catcher, but Bischoff got into 59 games and hit .260 with 16 RBIs. Two of those runs driven in provided Boston a 2-1 win over the Athletics in the second game of the year’s April 19 Patriots Day doubleheader.

Fort Worth welcomed Bischoff back in 1927 and he rewarded the team and its fans with a .304 average over the course of 107 games. He caught for the Panthers again in 1928 – though his average dipped sharply, to .266. Three more years of Texas League play rounded out Bischoff’s professional career, in succession for the 1929 Dallas Steers (111 games, .278), the 1930 Waco Cubs (103 games, .285), and the 1931 Galveston Buccaneers (just nine games, with no statistical record yet uncovered.)

After baseball, Bischoff took up work as a carpenter and retired, living in East St. Louis in 1969. He died on December 28, 1981, back in Granite City.

Sources

In addition to the sources cited within this biography, the author consulted the subject’s player file and questionnaire at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.



[1] Boston Traveler, July 31, 1925; Washington Post, February 2, 1925.

This biography can also be found at the SABR Bio project

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