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Pep Deininger

Pep Deininger

Position(s):
P, OF, 2B
Born:
October 10, 1877
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Left
Height:
5' 8"
Weight:
180 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-26-1902 with BOS

Pep Deininger
by Bill Nowlin
The southpaw from Wasseralfingen? The German suburb is now part of the city of Aalen, in the Swabian Mountains, today about an hour’s drive from Baden-Württemberg’s state capital, Stuttgart. That’s where one of the pitchers for the 1902 Boston Americans was born on October 10, 1877. He pitched in only two games, and not that effectively. Converted to an outfielder, he played in Organized Baseball through 1917.

Otto Charles “Pep” Deininger crossed the Atlantic on the steamship Oder, arriving in New York from Bremen via Southampton on May 25, 1883, with his mother, Caroline, and his father, Josef. The family wound up in the Boston area and, like many young men of the day, turned to baseball for pleasure. In the 1890s, Otto pitched for a team from Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, the Eliots. After Deininger’s passing at midcentury, Eliots second baseman Carl Mittell recalled, “Otto was perhaps the best all-around ballplayer raised around Jamaica Plan. He pitched for the Eliots of J.P. in the mid-Nineties. His brother Charley – shot by Herman Barney in a gas-station holdup, was our right fielder.” Mittell said that the 16-year-olds played together for four years until their final game, in 1896 at Franklin Field. It ended in spectacular fashion, with a triple play in the ninth inning. Mittell remembered his “curly mop of hair, his quick smile and lovable personality.”[1]

Though he had begun his career playing on the same 1902 staff as 32-game-winner Cy Young and 21-game-winner Bill Dinneen, Pep threw only 12 innings for Boston. He never pitched again.

Deininger’s debut was in Washington on April 26, the fifth game of the 1902 season and Dinneen’s second start. He had been signed by the Americans late in 1901, and reported to Augusta, Georgia, for spring training at the end of March, described as a “Boston boy” and considered “promising material.”[2] He played a little center field at times during the few exhibition games that spring. Dinneen saw four runs score in the bottom of the first inning, and manager Jimmy Collins asked Otto to pitch starting in the second. The Boston Globe was blunt in its remarks: “The boy was wilder than a catbird, and lost his speed as he faced the music.” He walked seven, hit a batter, and threw a wild pitch, giving up 11 runs on 12 hits, including two home runs by Bill Keister. The only thing promising about Deininger’s outing was his work in the batter’s box; he hit a double and a triple in four at-bats. The Globe continued: “As a pitcher, he needs considerable coaching and several pounds more of steam pressure, for the day of ‘dinky dink’ slow ones has passed in the big league.”[3]

Just over a month later, Deininger got his first and only big-league start. It was on Boston’s home field, the Huntington Avenue Grounds in the first game of the May 30 doubleheader hosting the Detroit Tigers. The Globe was less than kind: “Young Deininger was given a tryout in the morning game for five innings, after which [Fred] Mitchell relieved him. Both were far from the real thing, having no control and little knowledge of the fine art of pitching.”[4] The newspaper’s notes to the game said that he was “very nervous,” playing in front of his local fans from Boston’s Roxbury section. He gave up five runs. A few days later, he was loaned to Manchester, New Hampshire for a New England League game while Boston was on a Western road trip.[5] By the end of the month Deininger was playing for Haverhill (not Manchester), pitching a bit and playing outfield for the Hustlers. On more than a couple of occasions, the word “great” cropped up in Globe accounts of his pitching. Yet the only statistics we have are his batting stats: He hit .237 in 177 at-bats.

Haverhill manager Billy Hamilton signed Deininger again for 1903 – as a pitcher.[6] Once more we have his batting average (an improved .281 in 263 at-bats), but we don’t know just how he fared on the mound. After the season he simply said he didn’t want to pitch any more.[7]

Something happened – quite possibly a sale of his contract to Toledo – that resulted in dissatisfaction, and Deininger was reported to have jumped the team, never playing for Toledo. With a wife and three children at the time, he didn’t want to play that far west. He claimed he’d been offered a share of the purchase money, but apparently that wasn’t forthcoming from Haverhill.[8] Instead, he played in the “outlaw Vermont League,” where he was offered a fairly good deal – explaining the absence of the years 1904 and 1905 from his official record in baseball.[9] In early 1906 the National Commission reviewed his case and upheld the decision to ban him from baseball, but something was worked out with the Altoona Mountaineers after he was recommended to manager Arthur Irwin by pitcher Jimmy Wiggs; the Washington Post wrote, “Deininger was one of the players awarded Altoona last year when the Tri-State [League] agreed to seek the protection of organized baseball.”[10]

Otto played the outfield for Altoona and, after struggling in some 24 games in 1906, had a very successful 1907. He was said to have been “one of the most popular and valuable players of the Altoona club ever since he joined the team. He is considered of unusual promise by veteran players in the Tri-State.” Harry Wolverton, the manager of the Williamsport team, made an offer to buy him, and “several major-league blues made offers for his release.” On August 22 the Philadelphia Phillies purchased his contract.[11] One of the teams that took an interest was the White Sox. Altoona took on the Chicago White Sox in mid-1907 – and beat them, 6-4, with five of the six runs batted in by Deininger.[12]

Purchasing Deininger’s contract didn’t guarantee that he would be permitted to play, as the Washington Post noted a few weeks later: “Outfielder Otto Deininger of the Altoona club is ineligible to play with the Philadelphia club. He is one of the contract jumpers that were condemned to the Tri-State League for life.”[13] He had to wait most of another year, but contented himself with hitting .293 for Altoona in 113 games in 1907. After the season, the National Commission ruled that if Deininger paid a $300 fine, he would be allowed to play for Philadelphia provided that he himself paid the fine. If the Phillies were found to have slipped him the money to do so, his reinstatement would be reversed.[14]

Deininger was seen as a candidate to play first base for the Phillies, but appeared in only one game for the Phillies in 1908, leaving no trace in the statistical record, and was released back to Altoona in the first half of May. He played in 114 games for Altoona, batting .330 and becoming someone who wasn’t going to be denied come 1909. The Phils booked him to play center field.

He played in the early season but broke a finger on May 8 and then injured his leg so badly, chasing after a wild throw that flew into center during a July 3 game against the visiting Boston Doves that he had to be carried off the field and originally was expected to be out for the season. Deininger did reappear at the end of August but didn’t play much. By season’s end, he had appeared in 55 games, batting .260 in 169 at-bats. He was a stocky ballplayer, standing 5-feet-8½ inches tall and weighing 180 pounds.

The 1910 season began with Deininger on the club right through the springtime, but on April 18 he was placed on waivers with the intent to place him with the Jersey City Skeeters. He joined the Class A Eastern League team and acquitted himself well, appearing in 154 games (including some early games with Rochester) while hitting .295. Meanwhile, he was keeping his eyes open for other work and put himself forward as a candidate for head coach of Harvard’s baseball team that fall. He didn’t get the gig, but was hired for a couple of weeks in March to pitch batting practice to the Harvard batters.[15] The work finished in time for him to get in another full season (.274 in 155 games) with Jersey City. In 1912 he split time with Jersey City and Buffalo, hitting a combined .291.

Deininger positioned himself to become an owner in 1913, when the Fall River club in the New England League offered its shares for sale. He and two others obtained an option to buy the shares, thinking to move the club to Portland, Maine.[16] There is no indication that he was successful in his quest to become a magnate.

He played again for Buffalo in 1913. There was a time when it looked as though Otto might get back in the majors. Manager George Stallings of the Boston Braves got involved in negotiations to buy his contract in early April, but it didn’t come to pass. On May 23 he faced his former team in an exhibition game when the Boston Red Sox played against Buffalo and Deininger was the star of the game (in a losing effort), cracking out three consecutive doubles and then a single. He played for Buffalo and, later in the season, Montreal, hitting a combined .259.

In 1914 it was Montreal and a .276 average. That year Deininger was named to the board of directors of the Baseball Players’ Fraternity, an early effort to organize players.[17]

Otto played for Syracuse in 1915 (.268 in 116 games), but it was his brother, Boston police patrolman Charles, who made the news more than once, collaring men involved in shootings, stabbings, and holdups.

In 1916 Otto was tapped to return to Syracuse but refused to report and talked about retiring. Instead, Bridgeport made a deal for him, and he played there, now 38 years old. He appeared in 107 games, hit .241, and was named field captain of the Eastern League team in July. An article his daughter found in his scrapbook years later said that even though Bridgeport was in last place almost all year, “Deininger was at all times playing first division ball. The opposing pitchers used to sarcastically remark that Otto was the only man on the team they had to pitch to.”[18] The article declared that the 1909 leg injury with the Phillies had been more serious than perhaps known at the time, and was the main thing that had prevented Deininger from a long-term major-league career.

Over the winter of 1916-17, he applied for the position of manager at Bridgeport but didn’t land the job. His last games as a ballplayer were in 1917, playing for Bridgeport, then Portland, and finally New London, hitting .247 in 328 at-bats for the three Eastern League teams. One obituary at the time of his death claimed he’d been the highest-paid player in the International League.

Charles Deininger was shot and killed at point-blank range by a car thief in Chelsea, Massachusetts, in February 1919. Herman L. Barney of Arlington was charged with murder. Barney escaped from prison in May; after he was recaptured, a couple of women were arrested for aiding his escape. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 15 to 20 years. He escaped from prison again in May 1920. After five weeks of freedom, working on a farm in Vermont, he was found and surrendered to police.

Otto played semipro baseball around the Boston area, for the St. Ambrose Base Ball Club of Dorchester and other nines. The most notable of his games came on July 8, 1922, when he came to the plate as a pinch-hitter for the Boston Blues. It was the bottom of the ninth and the Blues were trailing the Roxbury Red Sox, 7-3. Pep put some pop in his bat and hit a grand slam to tie the game, 7-7. Four innings later, the game was called after 13 innings on account of darkness.

After baseball, Otto took up work as a foreman in a shoe factory, married to German immigrant Anna Voegele (in February 1900) and with three sons and four daughters. Ten years later the 1930 Census found him as a printer working in a shoe factory. He did do some work as a groundkeeper. In fact, Deininger became “staunch friends” with Eddie Collins, according to Otto’s sister Caroline in a 1963 letter to the Hall of Fame. This may have helped him get the position he held for a number of years, as night watchman at Fenway Park. His daughter Ruth wrote that he was a “rather modest man” and there were not that many personal articles in his scrapbook. He died on September 25, 1950, in Boston of pulmonary asthma and kidney failure.

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Deininger’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball.


[1] Reminiscence provided by Otto’s daughter Ruth Deininger, now contained in Deininger’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
[2] Chicago Tribune, March 24, 1902.
[3] Boston Globe, April 27, 1901.
[4] Boston Globe, May 31, 1902.
[5] Sporting Life, June 14, 1902.
[6] Boston Globe, March 25, 1903.
[7] Sporting Life, November 14, 1903.
[8] Sporting Life, February 20, 1904.
[9] Washington Post, August 23, 1907.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Chicago Tribune, July 24, 1907.
[13]  Washington Post, September 12, 1907.
[14] New York Times, October 15, 1907. The American Association apparently considered the decision to reinstate Deininger a slap in the face and remonstrated with the National Commission. See the Washington Post of January 9, 1908.
[15] Christian Science Monitor, March 22, 1911.
[16] Boston Globe, January 8, 1913.
[17]  The New York Times of October 17, 1914, mistakenly listed Deininger as with Minneapolis, but Baseball Magazine’s December issue had him correctly listed as with Montreal.
[18] Unidentified scrapbook clipping transcribed and sent to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by Ruth Deininger.

This biography can also be found at SABR Bio Project

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