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Charlie Chech

Charlie Chech

Baseball Birthdays

Position(s):
P
Born:
April 27, 1878
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 11"
Weight:
190 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-14-1905 with CIN

Charlie Chech
by Bill Nowlin
Charlie Chech was a Czech, or at least appears to have had Czech ancestry. He was born to parents Joseph and Anna Chech, both of whom had immigrated to the United States from Bohemia, on April 27 of either 1878 or 1879, arriving in Madison, Wisconsin. Charlie’s draft registration form, completed at the time of the First World War, cites 1879 as did his obituary in The Sporting News. His death certificate, completed by his wife Katherine, says he was born in 1878.

What his parents did for a living, we do not know - though Charlie (Charles William Chech) told census enumerators that they spoke "Bohemian" in the home (as the Czech language was commonly known in English-speaking countries some 100 years ago.)

Charlie grew up in the Madison area, learning to play ball in high school, and attended the University of Wisconsin, graduating with a degree in Pharmacy in 1901. A right-handed pitcher, he had appeared briefly for a couple of teams while still in college: he played in the Wisconsin State League in 1898, and for both the 1899 Milwaukee Brewers Western League team (under manager Connie Mack) and the 1900 Cleveland Lake Shores, an American League outfit managed by Jimmy McAleer. In each case, he seems to have only played after school got out in the summertime. A record of his performance with the Brewers does not exist to the present day, but he had been expected to sign with them in 1900. Instead, he signed with the Sioux Falls, South Dakota ballclub, but wound up instead working briefly for Cleveland (0-2), and also managing four hits in 20 at-bats. He was let go in mid-July, seeming bewildered but self-confident: “I cannot see why Manager McAleer let me go and kept Smith and Braggins. I can pitch rings around either one of them. I only had one good chance to pitch and that was at Indianapolis, where we lost the game 4 to 3. I will finish my course at the university before making any other arrangements.” [1]

He apparently played some more semipro ball and performed well enough that he was signed by the St. Paul Saints right after graduation. (There was also a brief stint in 1901 with the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers, but no records are available from that work, either.

In 1901 for St. Paul, he performed very well indeed, posting a 15-9 record in the 25 games he appeared in, with one of his first appearance a July 6 three-hitter (a 7-1 win) for the Saints against Minneapolis.  He was drafted by the Cubs after 1901, but had an “unsatisfactory trial” with them so he stuck with St. Paul. [2] He put up some good numbers over the next few years for manager Mike Kelley, all for the Saints: 15-19, 24-9 (including a one-hitter), and 27-8, leading the league in wins. St. Paul won the American Association pennant in 1903 and 1904. Chech’s work in those two years truly caught the eye of big-league scouts (there was another tryout reportedly in August 1902 for Washington) and St. Paul was looking for a big payday, perhaps from Pittsburgh's Barney Dreyfuss, early in 1904. [3] On July 26, the Washington Post reported that the Cincinnati Reds - seeking to sign him up before the drafting season began - purchased his contract. He was to report after the American Association season, in late September, and be prepared to play in 1905. "The price paid for him runs into the thousands," the Post reported.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder debuted for manager Joe Kelley with the Reds on Opening Day 1905, a 9-4 loss to the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates, coming on in relief of starter Jack Harper, Chech pitched the final three innings, yielding one run on three hits. His first start came against the Cubs on April 21, a six-hit 5-2 win.

By season's end, Chech had won 14 games, though he'd lost 14, too, third on the staff in wins behind Bob Ewing (20-11) and Orval Overall (18-23.) His record wasn't far off from the club's 79-74 mark and his 2.89 ERA was somewhat better than the team's 3.01 mark.

A 1905 census in St. Paul found him living in the city with his wife Edith, an Iowan by birth. He was listed as a druggist and she as a housewife.

Chech opened the 1906 season with the Reds and pitched through May 31, his last start (six runs in the first inning, though in part due to poor support.) He appeared in a few more games in relief but he and outfielder Fred Odwell were traded to Toledo on July 7 for another outfielder, Frank Jude. For the Reds, he was 1-4, albeit with a decent 2.32 ERA. A Sporting Life columnist noted, “Chech has shown little of the winning form that enabled him to do the lion’s share in winning two American Association flags for St. Paul. This is where class comes in. A king in the A.A. may be a trey-spot in the National League.” [4]

Perhaps a bit dispirited, he was 9-11 in 1906 - but rebounded with a strong 25-11 season for the Mud Hens in 1907. One highlight was certainly the June 14 home game where he broke the American Association strikeout record by whiffing 14 Brewers in a 2-1 victory.

Before the 1908 spring season got underway, the Cleveland Naps signed Chech to bolster their pitching staff. His ERA for the year was 1.74, his record 11-7. The Naps staff as a whole had a 2.02 ERA, but Chech had clearly contributed. And then John I. Taylor of the Boston Red Sox traded Cy Young to get him. Young had been with the franchise from the beginning, for all eight seasons. Taylor sent him to Cleveland for Chech, 1-1 rookie pitcher Jack Ryan, and "a money consideration" reported to be rather large. Though Young had been 21-11 with a superb 1.26 ERA in 1908, Taylor figured - more or less accurately - that Young only had a couple more seasons in him, and was disgruntled to boot since Boston had traded his "personal catcher," Lou Criger. Young himself was pleased with the trade, as it brought him much closer to his home in Ohio.

Chech won his first four starts for Boston, including a 1-0 two-hit beauty against New York on April 26. Things were looking up, the Washington Post observed: “Chech, who was only a fourth-rater with the Cleveland team, has developed into a star for Boston, and is pitching more consistent ball for the Hubites than Cy Young…Had anyone suggested last season to make an even trade of these two pitchers, he would have been considered ready for a lunacy court.” [5]

His stardom flamed out, however. His last start for the Red Sox was July 19, a 6-1 loss to Cy Young, the same game in which Neal Ball recorded an unassisted triple play for Cleveland - and then homered his next time at bat. Less than a week later, the Sox traded both Chech and his trademate Jack Ryan to St. Paul for two other pitchers, Charlie Hall and Ed Karger, and another "money consideration." He was 5-9 for St. Paul in the remainder of the 1909 season. Looking back, we can now see that his major-league career was over.

In 1910 and 1911, Chech was 19-15 and 11-13 respectively for the Saints. He'd almost departed St. Paul in early July, 1911. The Los Angeles Angels had announced his purchase on July 2. Manager Henry Berry had been after him for some time, but St. Paul couldn't get him past waivers. Finally, they succeeded and the purchase was agreed to. There was a holdup, though, and a month later the story came out in a direct wire to the Los Angeles Times from St. Paul: Chech "will not be permitted to go West, because the local club needs his services as the American Association race is too close to permit of taking chances." [6] The deal was finally consummated on November 16.

The signing paid off immediately for the Angels; Chech was 25-14 in his first season, with a 2.85 ERA. He followed that with an 18-20 year in 1913 and a 20-16 year in 1914. Joining him again was pitcher Jack Ryan, who threw a no-hit game early in 1913. It was the fourth time the two had wound up on the same club, and some had taken to calling them "the Siamese twins of baseball." [7] The combination was broken up on April 29, 1915, when Chech was released by the Angels, a fairly remarkable development for a 20-game winner who was already on board, albeit one who had just turned 36 or 37 two days earlier. Angels manager Pop Dillon was determined to balance left-handers and right-handers in the Angels rotation, and Chech was deemed surplus. (Fortunately, Dillon kept Ryan, a right-hander, too, though only 30 years old; Ryan had won 24 games in 1914, but he won 26 in 1915 and 29 in 1916.) On May 7, Charlie signed on with Hap Hogan's Venice Tigers, allowing him to continue to live in the L.A. area. He won 12 games that year and lost 14. He even did some umpiring on the side, to keep busy, working semipro games in Santa Barbara.

As with many ballplayers in the Golden State, Chech played winter baseball, too, and in December 1915 he threw a no-hitter for Vernon against San Diego’s Pantages team. [8]

Before 1917, he was offered the job of manager for the Topeka team in the Western League, but turned it down, saying he was out of baseball and doing too well in the insurance field to give a thought of returning. Nonetheless, the game lured him back for at least parts of two more seasons. Chech was 9-7 in the war-shortened 1918 season, and 2-3 in 1919, his last year as a player, both for Vernon. He was 41 years old.

Chech had put up winning numbers both in the majors (33-30, 2.52) and the minors (236-180, ERA incalculable). He batted .152 in the big leagues, and .187 in the minor leagues. There was one play in which he excelled. One sees it often, but it's rarely executed successfully: "He would step off the mound, fake a throw to third and, in the same motion, wheel and throw to first. The runner on first would invariably have taken a longer lead, thinking the throw to third, and was picked off easily." [9] Rarely do baserunners fall for that trick anymore. He was, in the words of columnist Bill Henry, one of "those old-time pitchers who thought that since they had to take their head out onto the mounds, they might as well use 'em. Folks went out to see Charlie out-think the opposition - and he did it, very regularly." [10]

Chech built up his business selling insurance and did quite well, so well in his area that he won a trip to New York courtesy of his company, Penn Mutual Life. He was active in annual old-timers games in the Los Angeles area. Though not one of the original founders, he helped in the earliest days of the Association of Professional Ball Players of America, and was elected a director in October 1926, later becoming Third Vice-President and then Treasurer, a post he held until his death on January 31, 1938, of a heart attack and kidney disease. [11] He was survived by his second wife, Katherine.

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed his player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.


[1] Sporting Life, August 11, 1900
[2] Sporting Life, December 23, 1911
[3] Chicago Tribune, May 10, 1904. The July 10 Washington Post that year said that the Saints owner "thinks more of his Chech than of Barney's check."
[4] Sporting Life, June 9, 1906 
[5] Washington Post, May 14, 1909 and Sporting Life, June 5, 1909
[6]  Los Angeles Times, August 3, 1911
[7] Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1915
[8] Sporting Life, December 25, 1915
[9] Los Angeles Times, February 5, 1938
[10] Los Angeles Times, February 11, 1938
[11] The Association information was provided by Dick Beverage, in an e-mail on May 17, 1910. He was up for re-election in 1938 and “died the day before the polls closed, after holding the office for ten years.” He never learned that he’d been defeated. [The Sporting News, February 17, 1938]

This biography can also be found at the SABR Bio Project

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