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Tony Tonneman

Tony Tonneman

Position(s):
C
Born:
September 10, 1881
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 10"
Weight:
175 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-19-1911 with BOS

Where the nickname Tony came from is unclear, other than a likely play on his last name. In all the research done for this biography, the nickname never came up once. When any nickname was employed, he was universally called Charley. We’ll call him Charles Tonneman here. He was a right-handed catcher. He had a playing weight of a sturdy 175 pounds on a 5-feet-10½-inch frame. He is typically listed as being born as Charles Richard Tonneman in Chicago on September 10, 1881 – though his death certificate says he had been born on Ellis Island, the immigration clearing center in New York City. His father was Richard Tonneman.

His first game in the major leagues was on September 19, 1911. His final game was on September 22, 1911. Those were the only two games in which he played in the big leagues. He made more errors than he did hits, hitting safely just once (a double) in five at-bats, though we will give him credit for drawing a base on balls once and sacrificing another time, thus performing creditably in three of his seven plate appearances. In those seven times in which he took his place in the batter’s box, he drove in three runs. In the field, though, he committed two errors in just 20 chances, both on the 22nd, and they helped cost the Red Sox the game.

There was a professional wrestler of the day named Ted Tonneman, but as far as we can determine, the two athletes were not related. We know that Charles’s father, Richard, was still living on West Ashland in Chicago in 1918, when Charles registered for the draft. Charles had attended Clark Elementary school for eight years, Medill High School for two, and Bryant & Stratton Business College for one year. He had blue eyes and blond hair and was working at the time in Ray (Pinal County), Arizona. It’s a town that no longer exists. Both it and a sister community, Sonora, were mining towns located about 80 miles southeast of Phoenix. The Ray Copper Company was organized in 1899, and a man named Bullinger reportedly named the town for his daughter Ray. When the mine expanded, the people living there had to relocate. In more recent years, the environmental watchdog group Earthworks issued a warning regarding the current Ray Mine: “The mine complex includes the nearby Hayden smelter, which is the largest single source of toxic pollution in Arizona, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The occurrence of lung cancer among Hayden residents is roughly 50 percent higher than for residents of the Tucson and Phoenix areas.” [http://www.mineralpolicy.org/ray_copper.cfm]  At the time of his draft registration, Charles Tonneman was doing clerical work at the Hercules Mining Co. there in Ray.

At the time of the 1920 United States Census (the first ever done in the state of Arizona, which was granted statehood on February 14, 1912), Charles was included, as was his wife, Linnie Altha Page (they’d married in January 1919), and their 3-month-old daughter, Charlotte. He was a warehouse worker, and the census tells us that both of his parents were natives of Germany. Linnie was from Texas and both of her parents were born in the United States. Charlotte was born in Arizona. Ten years later, in the 1930 Census, the family lived in Jerome, Arizona. Charles was working as a bonus clerk – an accountant – in a copper mine at Jerome, where he worked until his retirement in 1949. They had added a daughter named Jean, born around 1927. Tonneman was active in Arizona baseball, managing the Ray club in the “outlaw” Copper League in 1916 and 1917, which more than one account dubbed the best team ever developed in Arizona, and the 1926 Jerome team, which won the half-flag in the Arizona State League but lost a playoff to Miami in seven games. [Unattributed sports cartoon in Tonneman’s Hall of Fame player file] Daughter Charlotte wrote the Hall of Fame in 1968 that her sister Jean was married to D.B. Nehf, the younger son of the great left-handed pitcher Art Nehf.  

Charles died at the Arizona Pioneer Home in Prescott, Arizona, on August 4, 1951, of pulmonary atherosclerosis (emphysema, in his daughter’s words) from which he had suffered for several years. He is buried in Phoenix. Linnie died in Phoenix in 1986.

Now, about his baseball life we know relatively little. SABR’s minor-league records show his first stint in organized baseball in 1906, in Pueblo, Colorado, though news clippings in his Hall of Fame player file say that he played before that, in both 1904 and 1905 in Fremont, Nebraska. He played first base in Pueblo, getting into 43 games and batting .260 in Western League Class A play under manager Frank Selee. There was no Double A or Triple A ball at the time. Short of the major leagues, Class A was the highest level of play. The Pueblo Indians came in last in the six-team league. In 1907, Tonneman played first base for Pueblo again, but after 24 games (hitting .234), he found himself in Missouri with a Western Association ballclub, the Springfield Midgets. It was Class C competition, but his average declined to .216 in the 76 games he played for Springfield. He was a catcher for the Midgets, and never played another position on any regular basis from that point forward. He’s said to have played some in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1907 as well. The next year, 1908, he played the whole year for Springfield and boosted his average to .277.

This propelled him back to A baseball and the 1909 season was spent working under manager Bill Bernhard for the Nashville Volunteers (Southern Association). This was the first year in which we found Tonneman’s name begin to be tracked in the box scores of newspapers with a major metropolitan base. In August, the Atlanta Constitution mentioned that the Chicago Cubs were after both him and batterymate Smiling Bill Viebahn. Cubs manager Frank Chance had seen Viebahn work against his team in a spring exhibition game and was impressed. Tonneman was leading the team in hitting at the time. The Cubs were said to have made a tentative offer. [Atlanta Constitution, August 14, 1909]

The offer may have been too tentative, though it was apparently for $1,000 more than the Vols received. Less than three weeks later, the Red Sox drafted him. By refusing to sell him, and not play him more, Bernhard was reportedly trying to “cover” him up by refusing the offer and hoping that another player would be the one taken in the draft. The Boston Globe ran a feature with a photograph headlined “Tonneman A Good One” with the subhead “Red Sox New Catcher from Nashville Is Versatile Player.” The paper said that Boston Braves owner George Dovey had noted him shortly before Dovey died, and that Southern fans “regard him as the gem of the splendid lot of minor-league backstops that are to be found among the Southern League clubs this season.” [Boston Globe, September 5, 1909] Nashville finished second that year, so Tonneman stuck with the team through the end of the season on the 16th. In terms of versatility, the dispatch from Nashville said that he’d played the outfield when Harry Bay was injured and “not only took care of flies in good shape, but threw out several men at the plate.” He showed patience at the plate and was adept with the bunt as well as hitting away. One of his teammates was 1901 Boston Americans pitcher Win Kellum, who held the distinction of starting the first game in franchise play. Kellum was 5-5 that year, but Tonneman’s better batterymate was Hub Perdue, who won 23 games to lead the league. Tonneman’s .313 average for Nashville would have led the league, but he didn’t have the requisite number of qualifying at-bats; he’d appeared in only 62 games. Tonneman also played first base when James Robertson could not. The Red Sox also beat out the Cincinnati and Brooklyn ballclubs, and the New York Americans, all of which were after the catcher.

In January, the Red Sox turned him over to the Toronto Maple Leafs (Eastern League, Class A) under an agreement of some sort between the clubs. [Atlanta Constitution, January 25, 1910] He was, again, not one of the regular starters but did appear in 51 games, batting .290. Sport McAllister got the lion’s share of the catching duties. Once again, Tonneman outhit almost everyone else on the team, the one exception this year being another 1901 Boston ballplayer, Jack Slattery. The Red Sox saw to it that Tonneman played for the Jersey City Skeeters in 1911, and he handled the bulk of the backstop work – but his batting suffered, dropping a full 100 points to .190. They still decided to give him a look in Boston, and he joined the Red Sox on September 15. It was a year in which manager Patsy Donovan tried out 18 men who appeared in fewer than 10 games and 12 of the 18 didn’t appear in as many as five games. Tonneman, we know, appeared in two.

When he arrived, he was described as “a grand, all-round, seasoned catcher and a fine hitter.” [Boston Globe, September 16, 1911]

In his first game, on September 19, he was 0-for-3 at the plate, but made 10 putouts catching left-hander Ray Collins. One of the putouts was the play of the game, in the top of the ninth. The Red Sox held a 2-1 lead over the visiting Detroit Tigers. A single and a sacrifice resulted in one out but a fast runner, Jim Delahanty, on second. Collins struck out Del Gainer for the second out. Then George Moriarty singled over second base, but center fielder Tris Speaker was running in all the way, picked it up, and fired it home to Tonneman at the plate. “Straight as a rifle bullet it came and landed in Tonneman’s mitt a fraction of a second before Del slid in, feet first. Tonneman snapped the ball onto him before he touched the plate, completing as brilliant an all-around play as was ever made at the Huntington-av grounds.” [Boston Globe, September 20, 1911] That was the game. The play had required precision and economy of movement. “Not one false or unnecessary motion could have been made, either by Speaker or Tonneman.” [Ibid] The far briefer, four-sentence game account in the Washington Post ended, “Tonneman, the Red Sox catcher, secured from Jersey City, showed well.” [Washington Post, September 20, 1911]

Three days later, again batting eighth, Tonneman started against Detroit once more. This time, the Tigers scored first, in the top of the fourth. Eddie Cicotte was pitching. Ty Cobb singled, stole second, and kept on trucking to third as Tonneman’s throw to second base went wild. Before the inning was over, four Tiger runs scored. In the bottom of the fourth, Tonneman doubled to right-center and drove in a pair of Red Sox runs. When Hooper singled, Charley Hall, serving as third-base coach, had to grab Tonneman by the head (!) to hold him up so he wasn’t thrown out at the plate. Later in the game, he successfully sacrificed and drew a walk as well, officially 1-for-2 at the plate before being replaced by pinch-runner Walter Lonergan. At some point, he apparently suffered a “permanent injury” to his right hand but managed to play for several more years. [Hall of Fame player file]

The Red Sox signed Tonneman to a new contract on October 21 but put him and another player on waivers and the New York Highlanders claimed Tonneman at the end of January for the $1,500 waiver price. Boston had five catchers – Carrigan, Cady, Nunamaker, Rip Williams, and Pinch Thomas. They didn’t need a sixth and were hoping to give him more work back in Jersey City. With the claim, the New Yorkers now had five catchers of their own; it wasn’t a formula likely to see Tonneman make the cut come springtime – though by year’s end, the Highlanders had used six men behind the plate. He was sent to Memphis for the 1912 season, where he played for the Chickasaws under his old manager Bill Bernhard. They’d paid New York the same $1,500. There he hit .258 catching in an even 100 games. And got himself into the headlines by being arrested in Atlanta. On the evening of September 4, four members of the Memphis club were arrested at the New Kimball Hotel “on the charge of throwing cigarette boxes and other trash out of the windows of the hotel into Pryor Street.” They were caught red-handed. Each was released from the stationhouse on $10.75 bond apiece. [Atlanta Constitution, September 5, 1912] The ultimate disposition of the case has not been researched.

On January 12, 1913, Tonneman was sold to the Venice Tigers of the Pacific Coast League. The Atlanta Constitution said his “belligerency” was the reason he was sent out from the Southern League. On May 31, 1913, when the Venice club needed to trim its roster to 20, Tonneman and pitcher Harry L. Stewart were both given unconditional releases. It was intended to send him to Stockton, but he rebelled at the idea. “Tonneman has had more than his share of misfortune since joining the Tigers, and believes that he should be given a longer hearing,” remarked the Los Angeles Times.  [Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1913] The San Francisco Seals “eagerly sought” to sign him. Tonneman held out for a few days and worked a better deal for himself, then became a Seal. His combined PCL stats for 1913 show a .245 average and apparently not one extra-base hit.  

In 1914, he hit .299 playing in D ball for the Salt Lake City Skyscrapers, and in 1915 he caught for two teams – the Topeka Jayhawks and the St. Joseph Drummers, both in the Western League. It was Class A ball, and Tonneman’s average was an anemic .231. And then he dropped from the historical record for five full years. He reappeared in 1921, playing for his old batterymate Hub Perdue, who was now managing the Nashville Volunteers in the Southern Association. Clarence “Bubber” Jonnard was the first-string catcher and Tonneman appeared in only 12 games. What he’d been doing for the prior five years is not known, but with Nashville in the year he turned 40 he hit only .205, again without an extra-base hit. He departed abruptly in late May, reported Hamilton Love in The Sporting News: “Catcher Charley Tonneman jumped the team and left for the West, a move that seems to have met with the entire approval of the fan flock. Tonneman is all in as a player and was kept only as a coach for the young pitchers.” [The Sporting News, June 2, 1921] It wasn’t a good week for ex-Red Sox players on the Vols. Hugh Bradley, who’d hit the first home run ever hit over Fenway Park’s left-field wall, was indefinitely suspended and fined $100 “for continued breaking of the rules. Manager Perdue has let it be understood that he will not stand for the breaking of his rules, especially in regard to dissipation.” [Ibid]

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in this biography, the author consulted the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and Bill Lee’s Baseball Necrology.

This biography can also be found at The SABR Bioproject

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