Happy Birthday, Mase Graffen

Mase Graffen managed the 1876 St. Louis Browns winning 39 of 56 games (according to Baseball-Reference.com) in the initial season of the National League.  Seven years later the Philadelphia native was gone – having passed away in New Mexico.

Samuel Mason Graffen was born to Robert and Eliza Graffen on 8 December 1843, and baptized six months later at the Church of the Evangelist, his family’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia.  He was born into a rather large family – the sixth of seven children.  His father, Robert, was a real estate agent having recently arrived in the US from Ireland, while his mother had been born in the Philadelphia area.  Graffen was reasonably well educated, having attended the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania during the Civil War.  For a time in the 1870s, he was a clerk in his father’s company.  Graffen likely played both baseball (Major League Baseball Profiles says he was a member of Philadelphia’s Olympic Base Ball club) and cricket – there are cricket scores in local newspapers with Graffen’s name in the box score.

His brother, Charles, was a well respected journalist who helped develop baseball interest in Philadelphia.

By 1875, however, Graffen had left his Philadelphia brethren to help form the St. Louis Base Ball Association.  Starting with $20,000 in capital stock, the association was housed in the back of Graffen’s cigar and baseball goods store, which included a fine reading room fully furnished with files of all the major sporting papers.  Among the players the Association was able to assemble were Thomas Miller, Lip Pike, Dickey Pearce, and George Bradley.  Taking his players to a gymnasium for fitness and practicing, he’s among the first to introduce off-season and preseason training to baseball.

The St. Louis club completed a successful season in the final year of the National Association, and when the National League was formed the Brown Stockings were a charter member of the National League. Virtually the entire roster was maintained from the old Association to the new League.  Graffen, who was more of a business manager in 1875, was treated like the field manager in 1876.

Graffen was considered a very good (and shrewd) manager.  He maintained good control of his team and his temperament was “…generous and sympathetic to an unusual degree.”  Some of this was because he came from a “a remarkably talented and brilliant family, and his personal qualities were such as to draw and attract all men to him.”  However, at the time of his being fired, a Chicago Tribune scribe wrote, “Now that Mr. Graffen has been shipped, the question naturally comes to every person acquainted with the game.  What was he ever engaged for?  He was a clever writer of untruthful letters, but otherwise nil.”

That seems rather harsh.  In the same paper, St. Louis is listed in second place having won 32 of 50 contests with just ten games to play.  (For what it’s worth, Chicago may have had the best record, but St. Louis won six of ten matches between the two teams and four of five in an informal post-season series.)  Graffen’s replacement was George McManus.  A year later – with McManus at the helm – the team was kicked out of the National League for its role in fixing games.

Out of baseball, Graffen started a business called The Headquarters, but that failed – so he became a railroad man frequently traveling throughout the Midwest, West, and Mexico.  At least for a short time, he settled in Keokuk, Iowa – he is listed as a founding member of the Keokuk Rowing Club in 1878, with the lead boat named for him.  In the 1880 census, he is listed as an accountant for a railroad office in Sedalia, MO, married to Matilda and with three boys (Charles, Paul, and George). On the road, Graffen caught pneumonia in Colorado and passed away a few days later on 18 November 1883 in Silver City, NM.  He’s buried in Keokuk, Iowa.


“Cricket – Germantown Second Eleven vs. Philadelphia Second Eleven”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 31 May 1870, Page 2.

“Our Professionals.”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 18 January 1875,  Page 4.

“Baseball. Conference At Louisville.”, Chicago Tribune, 19 December, 1875, Page 13.

“Baseball Notes”, Chicago Tribune, 14 September 1876, Page 5.

“Racy Reading”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3 August 1878, Page 5.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 15 November 1883, Page 5.

“Death of Mase Graffen.”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 14 November 1883, Page 4.

Nemec, David (Editor/Compiler). “Samuel Mason (Mase) Graffen”, Major League Baseball Profiles, Volume 2, University of Nebraska Press (2011), Page 126.

Philadelphia City Directories, 1871 to 1875.

Agricultural College of Pennsylvania Records, 1864.

US Census Data, 1850, 1870, 1880.

Philadelphia Church Records – Church of the Evangelist, Philadelphia, PA.

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