Saturday, September 1, 2012

Player Profile: Gus Munch

Gustave E. “Gus” Munch made his Fargo debut on July 8, 1896 in an 8-7 ten inning loss against Crookston. The young left-hander went eight innings in the box for the Fargo club, giving way to manager/pitcher Lee Roberts, who pitched the final two innings. Despite giving up three runs in the eighth inning, Munch left the game with his team ahead 7-6, having struck out an impressive twelve Crookston players. The Crookston club scored once in the ninth to tie the score, and Ignatius Comiskey scored the game winning run after leading off the tenth inning, as he reached home on a triple and a throwing error.

The 1896 season was the beginning of a long career for Munch in professional, semi-pro, and amateur baseball in the Midwest. Leading up to the 1897 season, Munch was considered among the best young talent in the St. Paul area. The St. Paul Globe touted him as a “robust young fellow, with plenty of speed and good curves, and …a disposition to play ball.” (3-28-97)  He began the season with the St. Paul Saints of the Western League, pitching well in an exhibition win in mid-April. With this impressive performance, the fans were anxious to see the talented twirler make his regular season debut against the Minneapolis Millers on May 16. It was not a happy ending for Munch or the 5,500 home fans in attendance, as the Saints were pummeled 16-5. Munch was hit hard by the Millers, but didn’t receive any help from his defense, which committed an atrocious 11 errors. Despite only allowing five earned runs, the St. Paul Globe still was not convinced that Munch was ready to compete against the talent of Western League.

Munch’s poor debut for the Saints meant more seasoning in the Red River Valley League, and the beneficiary was the Fargo club. Munch made his 1897 debut for the Divorcees on June 4, facing the Grand Forks Senators in Fargo’s home opener. He pitched well, striking out nine men and allowing just eight hits, but the Senators’ F. W. Harris (a.k.a. Myers) was the better pitcher on that cold Friday afternoon in Fargo. Harris walked seven, and the Senators committed five errors, but Harris surrendered only two hits in the 4-2 Grand Forks win.

Munch pitched the remainder of the season with Fargo, and after the RRVL disbanded, he bounced around the region playing for town teams. On September 6, he was in the box for Brainerd, MN in a contest against Staples, MN. Munch was impressive and struck out 13 in his team’s win.  Later that month, Munch led the West Superior, WI amateurs to the interstate championship against the club from Marquette, MI. Impressively, the young lefty pitched complete games on both Saturday and Sunday in front of 3,000 excited fans.

Throughout the next decade, Munch played mainly for amateur teams in the Upper Midwest, including clubs from his home town of Chicago. Showing immense talent as a crafty left-handed pitcher, Munch’s best pitch was his curveball, and he also had a solid fastball and respectable changeup in his pitching repertoire. His deceptive sidearm delivery further fooled batters, who struck out against Munch often. He likely would have made the major leagues if he had devoted himself to baseball full-time. Instead, Munch was more satisfied with his job at a street lighting company in Maywood, IL. In 1900, he was treasurer of the company, and would eventually become its president. Seemingly not wanting to be tied to a contract with any single baseball club, Munch instead rented out his services to the highest bidder.

Munch became a coveted commodity for any club wanting to beef up its roster for a big game or series. This led him to appearances with amateur, semi-pro, and professional clubs in St. Paul, Chicago, Davenport, IA, Minneapolis, and Springfield, IL. During this stretch, Munch flirted with the idea of playing major league baseball, drawing strong interest from ­­­the New York Highlanders of the American League and their manager Clark Griffith. Though he never appeared in a major league game, Munch became part of a series in 1907 in Chicago that drew great interest in that city and beyond. Interestingly, his greatest moments in baseball would result from the dominance of Chicago’s talented all-black team, the Leland Giants.

Throughout the summer of 1907, the Leland Giants had dominated all competition in Chicago, leading the team to look for a more challenging opponent. As a result, a group of “All-Professionals” from the Chicago area was assembled by former major leaguers “Turkey” Mike Donlin and Jimmy Callahan. The select group of ballplayers would play a seven game series against the best team in the city not named the Cubs or White Sox. Negro League innovator Rube Foster was the star of the series, which went to the Giants four games to two. Foster was on the mound for all four of his team’s wins, pitching four complete games while allowing just seven runs to the All-Professionals. Though he didn’t face Foster head-to-head, Gus Munch pitched brilliantly in the two victories by the All-Professionals. In game two of the series, Munch scattered seven hits in a complete game win, 6-2. In that game, he picked off two runners, demonstrating another deceptive piece in his collection of pitching tricks. In game five, Munch was even more dominant, surrendering just two hits and striking out seven Giants in a 3-1 win. Despite Munch’s efforts, Rube Foster's Leland Giants became the “undisputed champions of Chicago” (p.115)

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican
July 3, 1896 “At the Ball Park” p. 8
July 9, 1896 “Played Ten Innings” p. 4

St. Paul Globe
February 14, 1897 p.9 “Drafting Local Ball Talent”
March 28, 1897 p. 8 “ ‘Commy’ Has Signed Munch – The ‘Packers’ Star Pitcher of a Year or So Ago”
May 17, 1897 p. 5
Sept. 7, 1897 p. 5 “Munch’s Good Record”
Sept. 28, 1897 p. 5 “Munch Was the Twirler”

The Sporting News
May 8, 1897
May 22, 1897 p.3

Andrew “Rube” Foster: A Harvest on Freedom’s Fields by Phil S. Dixon. p.109, 114-116

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