Louis Graff’s long, successful life included building upon his father’s successful grain exporting company to eventually serving two long terms as the president of the Philadelphia Commercial Exchange, getting the ear of Woodrow Wilson, and influencing the government’s role in supporting and supervising grain exportation.
And, he happened to play in one major league baseball game and a full season of minor league baseball.
Louis George Graff, Jr. was the sixth child born to Louis George Graff, Sr. and Martha (Bell) Graff, arriving in Philadelphia on July 25, 1866. Louis, Sr. would have a bio worthy life himself. Born in Saxe-Coburg – a duchy eventually swallowed into Germany, he was a childhood friend of Prince Albert, the future consort of Queen Victoria of England. His family left Saxe-Coburg around 1833 and came to Westmoreland County in Pennsylvania. He first moved to Pittsburgh, but soon left to work boats along the Mississippi River. After that, he became friendly with the future mayor of New York, William Strong, who was placing dry goods franchises throughout the United States. Graff would run stores for Strong in Massillon, Ohio. Learning how to exchange goods, he eventually moved to Philadelphia where he started his own commission to exhange grains. By 1886, Graff’s train cars were moving record amounts of wheat through Philadelphia to places all over the country and the world.
Two of the youngest of Louis and Martha’s seven children would have a bit more free time than the older brothers. Joseph would take up cricket, while Louis, Jr. would take up baseball. The younger Louis graduated from the Hastings Academy in western Philadelphia and, when he wasn’t working for his father, became a catcher for his local amateur team in Riverton, New Jersey, where his father had moved in his later years. Louis was an athletic and smart player – especially fast – but not especially muscular or gifted with an unusually strong arm. But – he was smart and dependable, someone you would want supporting a pitching staff.
It was while he was an amateur that the 1890 Syracuse Stars came to Philadelphia for a series with the Athletics. Syracuse was short healthy catchers, so they gave Graff a chance to catch the first game of a double header on June 23, 1890. In fact, this was the second time in 1890 that Graff was hired on an emergency basis, He had signed to play for Altoona in May when three of Altoona’s catchers were suffering from hand injuries.
Philadelphia defeated Syracuse rather handily in both games, but it wasn’t Graff’s fault in that first game. While a wild throw by Graff allowed two runners to score in the top of the fourth, in the bottom of the fourth Graff laced a double that scored two runners. He had a single later in the game, and in the eighth inning, he grounded out to drive in a third run. When the game was over, Graff sported a .400 batting average and three RBI.
He wouldn’t play another game for Syracuse. He returned to Riverton and played in 44 games behind the plate there, getting 88 hits and leading his team in stolen bases. In one game, Riverton beat the Philadelphia Phillies, though the National League club had given a tryout that day to a local amateur pitcher.
It was that reputation – a very good amateur in a very good baseball town – that earned the attention of Chicago Colts captain, Cap Anson. Anson liked what he saw and heard and signed Graff to a contract for the 1891 season. Graff joined the Colts as they headed to Denver for spring training and made the team that April. However, he never appeared in a game for Anson’s Colts and eventually he was released at the end of the month.
“…Graff does not seem to have enough beef for the work. He is a clever fellow personally, but there is not the promising timber in him…”
“Concerning Chicago’s Colts,” Chicago Inter-Ocean, April 21, 1891: 6.
Another player who didn’t make it with the Colts that year was infielder Bob Glenalvin, who went west and captained Portland’s entry in the four-team Pacific Northwestern League. Glenalvin brought Graff to the Gladiators, where he became the team’s regular catcher for the rest of the year. Along the way, the nickname given to Graff in Chicago, “Lord Chumley,” was replaced by the kinder “Chappie.” Chappie still made note that Graff was a bit aloof, having been raised in a family of consderable means – and had those mannerisms, too. On the year, Graff hit .242 in 74 games, adding just ten doubles and a triple. The league’s regular season ended with Portland as the pennant winner. Then, the Gladiators continued playing games against a team from San Jose, California through the end of December. Graff only left Portland when a brother became ill and he was asked to return home to help care for the family and his father’s business in January, 1892. The last note about Graff’s baseball career came six months later when it was rumored that New York expressed an interest in signing the quick catcher.
Returning home was the right decision. A decade later, Louis, Sr. passed away and Louis, Jr. took over the top job. Continuing to build the Graff & Co. business and his own reputation, Graff became an influential member of the Philadelphia Commercial Exchange. He eventually become a director, a vice president, and then voted president of the Commercial Exchange in 1911. He served for a number of years in that role, providing smooth leadership to the Exchange, and guidence to the government during the war years. He would encourage Woodrow Wilson to put banking operators in London to deal with currency and grain exchanges and then asked the government to provide oversight to all exports so that neutral European countries couldn’t resell US grain to Germany during the first World War.
When the Great Depression hit, Graff was pulled out of retirement to again lead the Commercial Exchange during the 1930s. He wouldn’t completely retire until the the 1940s. Like his father, he worked until he was approaching 75 years old – fit and in good health.
Soon after his professional baseball days were over, Graff married Nellie Horner. They had two daughters, Catherine and Lillian, and a son, Walter. Nellie passed away of a pelvic malignancy in 1949. Louis Graff would live almost six more years. In early April he fell and broke his hip. After surgery to repair the hip, Graff caught pneumonia and passed away in the same Lower Merion (PA) hospital as his wife. He died on April 16, 1955, and was buried in George Washington Memorial Cemetery in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.
Notes and Sources:
1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950 US Censuses
PA Death Certificates
PA Marriage Index
Church of the Good Shepherd (Episcopal) church records (accessed via Ancestry.com – like everything listed above this…)
FindaGrave.com (includes image uploaded by Gordon Brett Echols)
“Grain and Produce,” Philadelphia Times, December 11, 1886: 7.
“A New Battery Signed,” Altoona Tribune, May 10, 1890: 1.
“Riverton Downs the Phillies,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 6, 1890: 3.
“The League Team Complete,” Chicago Tribune, November 1, 1890: 6.
“Strength of the Clubs,” Chicago Tribune, April 19, 1891: 43.
“Concerning Chicago’s Colts,” Chicago Inter-Ocean, April 21, 1891: 6.
“Baseball Notes,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 4, 1891: 3.
“Baseball Notes,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 10, 1891: 3.
“Tacoma is Disgusted,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 11, 1891: 3.
“The Flag is Won,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 5, 1891: 3.
“Gossip of Baseball,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 18, 1892: 3.
“Gossip of Baseball,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 4, 1892: 3.
“A Close Game at Riverton,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 2, 1892: 3.
“Louis G. Graff, Jr.,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 11, 1900: Ad Section, Page 14. (Image)
“Louis G, Graff Dies Suddenly At His Home,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 30, 1901: 3.
“Hope to Adjust Grain Shipments,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 6, 1914: 5.
“Approves Control of Grain Exports,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 6, 1917: 2.
“Louis G. Graff, Exporter, Dies,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 18, 1955: 10.