'Professor of Lawnology,' Part 1

Say the name "Kuhn" to a baseball fan and he likely will be reminded of Bowie Kuhn, the sport's commissioner in 1969-84.

Add the name "Charlie" and the fan may think of Charlie Finley, owner of the Oakland Athletics and a major adversary of Kuhn's, especially after Kuhn blocked Finley's attempt to sell 3 top players to the Red Sox and Yankees in 1976.

But long before then, in Chicago at least, "Kuhn" and "Charlie" brought to mind one person: Charlie Kuhn, who for nearly a third of a century was the city's celebrated "professor of lawnology": groundskeeper, then superintendent of the home ballparks of Chicago's National League team.

"A progressive, up to date one like Charlie Kuhn, who is the landscape gardener of the west side ball park, is not to found on every city block," the Chicago Tribune declared in 1903.

Five years earlier, the newspaper had called him "a student of human nature as well as an innovator."

When he started out, he had a horse that pulled a heavy roller to flatten the playing field.

"Kuhn usually has a few chickens about the grounds," the Tribune said in 1902, "and one season a litter of small porkers were turned loose until they became old enough to appear tempting for a roast."

An incident involving the ducks that he kept caused the Cincinnati Reds to file a formal protest with the league office.

Over the years, he was blamed for a couple of losses, was at the center of major malfunction when unfurling a championship flag and was startled to see a man at the park whose funeral he had attended 9 months earlier.

His daughter, Leonette, was the Cubs' mascot for several years, beginning when she was less than 4 years old, in 1907.

Her story was told in a previous post. This post is Charlie's saga.



According to an obituary that appeared in the Tribune on Sept. 24, 1935, "Mr. Kuhn was born in Philadelphia and came to Chicago as a child, making him home on the west side."

The first clause of that sentence is true; the second is not.

Both of his parents were born in Germany: Charles Karl Kuhn on Dec. 27, 1831, and Frederike Wilhemina Ackermann, known as Mehena for short, on Dec. 13, 1836.

They emigrated to the United States and were married in Philadelphia on Jan. 18, 1857, when he was 25 and she was 20.

By 1860, according to that year's Census, they had 2 children, Carl and Frederic, ages 2 and 1.

The 1870 Census does not list either child. Instead, it shows Charles Samuel Kuhn, born Feb. 13, 1858, as the eldest of 4 boys and 2 girls.

His father's occupation is shown as "shoemaker"; his mother's, "keeping house."

Ten years later, the family had 11 children, from Charles, 22, to Francis, 1. The parents' occupations were the same, but now Charles had an entry, too: "blacksmith."

So Charles hardly "came to Chicago as a child." He relocated to the Midwest city only in 1880 or 1881.

His father died in 1884. The 1890 Census is silent about the family, but in 1890, it shows his mother as a housekeeper and says she is the mother of 13 children, 9 living.

Mehena would continue to reside in Philadelphia until her death, at age 81, in 1918.



In 1902, the Cubs generally were known as the Orphans. On May 4, their game at the West Side Grounds against St. Louis was rained out. The next day's Tribune described a conversation that took place among club president Jim Hart, Manager Frank Selee, several players and Kuhn as they "sheltered in the grand stand.":

"Charley Kuhn here has us all beat when it comes to service," said Mr. Hart. "How long have you been with the club, Charley?"

"I came right after the death of Mr. [William] Hulbert, who was President. It was in 1882. I've been at the old Lake Front Park, the Congress street grounds at the South Side Park, at Thirty-fifth street, when we played alternate games on the West Side and South Side grounds in '91 following the brotherhood year, on the South Side grounds when we played all our games there in '92, and here, where he opened in '93.

"I've seen a lot of good ball players come and go, including the stars of the old White Stockings."



On Sunday, June 22, the paper published its only photo of Kuhn, under the headline, "VETERAN GROUND KEEPER AT LEAGUE PARK."

He is standing on the playing field, the basepath barely visible behind him, staring at the camera. He is wearing a floppy hat, an open jacket, a light-colored shirt and trousers. His face is in shadow, but he appears to have a mustache. His hands may be in gardening gloves. His left hand is at his waist. His right is holding the shaft of a rake that is taller than he is.

The 2-column caption calls Kuhn "the patriarch of the Chicago league ball club" and says he "can remember back to the time when Chicago was feared in the baseball world. Kuhn has been connected with the club in one capacity or another for twenty years, and thus has survived the managerial changes which saw the rise of Captain Anson, Tom Burns, Tom Loftus, and now Frank Selee."



The names Charles or Charlie Kuhn appeared frequently in the Tribune throughout the 1880s and 1890s. There was a recorder of deeds, a jockey, even a real estate agent accused of embezzling from his clients.

But the groundskeeper at the ballpark was not mentioned until more than a a decade and a half after his arrival in the city, on Aug. 29, 1898.

Overflow crowds at weekend games had become a common occurence, with hundreds of fans spilling onto the field, forcing the outfielders toward the infield and occupying all the foul territory along the first and third base lines.

But when 18,000 flocked to the West Side Grounds on Sunday, Aug. 28, to see if the Orphans could win an eighth straight game, Kuhn was ready for them.

He had "tried every method of holding big crowds in check on the field," the paper said, "and in despair struck a new idea.

"He nailed planks together and built a circle about the field, leaving plenty of space for playing; then he admitted the crowd.

"In the rush over the field the first comers made a dash and sat down on the planks, forming an almost immovable barrier, and holding those in the rear in check.

"Only once did the line break yesterday and the only for a moment."

The Orphans won the game, 12-7.


The following year, on April 30, the Orphans defeated St. Louis, 4-0, in front of 27,489, largest crowd ever to see a baseball game.

"[Pitcher] Clark Griffith was doing a land office business out at the clubhouse during the game," the Tribune reported. " 'Grif' sold off everything around the clubhouses to people who were looking for something to stand on, and finally he rented a sleigh and wagon that belonged to Charlie Kuhn, after which he did a thriving business selling boards to the crowd that piled on the bridge over the clubhouse.

" 'Grif' declares he had to make some money to pay the fine assessed on him after being put out of the game at Louisville."


About 6 weeks later, on June 11, Griffith and Kuhn teamed up to help defeat the Cardinals again, 2-1:

"Kuhn is the inventor of a patent pitcher's slab," the Tribune explained. "It consists of a sheet of rubber, placed in front of the regular hard rubber slab, and was designed to give the pitcher a firm hold with his pivot foot while pitching and to do away with the price of digging footholds in the dirt.

"Yesterday Griffith took advantage of the device and stole a foot of ground in pitching and kept the St. Louis players howling at the umpires all through the game."


"When President Hart determined to put in a system of drainage which would make games possible shortly after heavy rains it was Kuhn to whom he turned for suggestions," the Tribune noted in 1902.



On July 6, 1901, the last-place Orphans, aka the Remnants, opened a 6-0 lead over Brooklyn in the second inning, only to wind up losing.

"It really was Charlie Kuhn who lost the game for Chicago," said the Tribune's unnamed reporter.

"Kuhn's name does not appear on the score. He is professor of lawnology at the West Side park, his chief duties being to place pebbles along the lines so as to give [shortstop Barry] McCormick and [second baseman Cupid] Childs opportunities to excuse fumbles.

"Kuhn was to blame for the defeat. He left a patch of tall and uncut grass in center field fetlock deep. In his landscape gardening scheme Kuhn probably designed that patch to be emblematic of the Remnants' centerfielder.

"It so happened that in the third inning McCormick made a wild throw which let [Willie] Keeler reach first in safety, and after two were out Tido Daly came to bat.

"He hit a liner to center which rolled into the long green, and before [Danny] Green could find the sphere two runs had scored," bringing Brooklyn to within 3-6. It added a run in the fourth, 3 in the seventh and 1 in the eighth to prevail, 8-6.



Kuhn also was blamed for a loss to the Doves, today's Braves, on July 28, 1907, in which one of his innovations backfired.

From the Tribune:





Boston Bats Mordecai the Great

Off the Slab and Beats

Cubs, 5 to 2.




Groundkeeper Fails to Watch

the Clouds


By SY.

Those Beantown Doves grew great claws on their feet over night and grabbed off the fourth and last game of their series here yesterday by a score of 5 to 2.

Worse than that, they gave the Cubs' boss pitcher, M. Brown, such a clawing he was removed before the second inning was finished to save the rest of his fingers.

It is many long moons since the three fingered hurler has been compelled to retire under fire from National League batters. In fact, memory does not go back far enough to fix a date when such a thing has happened to Mordecai before.

Oft and again he has been summoned to save others of his crew from pending disaster, but it was an unwonted spectacle to see another pitcher put in the warming span while the once miner was on the slab.

It was all the fault of Charley Kuhn and his "shadow ball" -- and the weather man.

The boss groundkeeper has been working for weeks on something to beat the "fade away," the "spit ball," and the "smoke ball," and found it in this "shadow ball."

It is a funny device, whereby the pitcher is able to retain the ball in his hand and deliver only the shadow to the batter, who naturally strikes out trying to wallop the shadows of straight balls into the bleachers.

Great Things on a Bright Day.

The device had been perfected so that it fooled the Cubs in practice and was expected to deceive even the umpires. Brown was selected to spring the new fooler because his hand is peculiarly adapted to it.

By a slight change from the "swivel ball" Mordecai was able to rivet the ball with shadow attachment to the bone of his stub finger and make sure it would not follow its shadow.

Every emergency was prepared for, apparently, but so intent were the conspirators in working the phony ball into play, they forgot all about the clouds which completely obscured the sun yesterday. Without sunshine there could be no shadow.

When Brown faced the first Dove batsman, therefore, he also faced an awful dilemma. He could not pitch that "shadow ball" without having a balk called on his every time.

There was no sunshine and no way to get the phony thing out of the game without giving the snap away.

And, being made entirely of rubber, if he pitched the ball itself it was sure to bound off the enemy's bats terrifically every time it was touched. Brown's only hope was it might be fouled out of the enclosure and he took the chance.

Biff, bang, bing! It rebounded to all parts of the field and eight hits and three runs scored before a scheme could be worked to get that thing out of the game. Near the end of the second Manager Chance wigwagged to Jack Taylor, the magician who plants umbrellas and grows umbrella trees in Cuba.

Jack had been down in the clubhouse under pretense of warming up and concealed a real league ball in his sleeve. As he took the phony from Brown's hand Jack made a couple of deceptive passes and changed spheres.



A year earlier, it seemed unlikely that Kuhn would be around to tinker with the ill-fated "shadow ball."

On June 1, 1906, a short story in the Tribune disclosed:




Guardian of Local National League

Park for Twenty-four Years

Quits His job.


Charley Kuhn, groundkeeper of the Chicago National League club for the last twenty-four years, has announced his resignation, and will give up the position at the end of this week.

President Murphy will find the place a hard one to fill, for the veteran west sider has been recognized generally as one of the best groundkeepers in the country, and the National League park here is a guarantee of his ability. It has been widely known as the best kept park in the old league for years.

Kuhn had charge of the old Congress street grounds before the present plant was started, and was considered a fixture.


Three days later, the paper said Kuhn "retired last night from service. He severed his connection with the club on account of a wage argument."

The dispute was resolved, although neither the Tribune nor the rival Inter Ocean ever said how it was done.

By June 17, 1907, the Tribune made it known that "Mr. C. Kuhn is not a groundkeeper any more. He is superintendent, and as such wears his Sunday-go-to-meetings on week days."


TOMORROW: Flags, ducks and more

FanPosts are written by readers of Bleed Cubbie Blue, and as such do not reflect the views of SB Nation or Vox Media, nor is the content endorsed by SB Nation, Vox Media or Al Yellon, managing editor of Bleed Cubbie Blue or reviewed prior to posting.