Happy Birthday, Goldie Rapp!

Third baseman Goldie Rapp spent nearly a decade entertaining fans in the minors with his acrobatic fielding exploits and willingness to mingle with the fans before the New York Giants gave him a shot in 1921.  His major league career was interesting, but short.  Rapp was returned to the minors in 1923.

Goldie Rapp in 1915

At 19 or 20 (depending on the source) Rapp got his start with the Wichita Witches in 1913 where he’d play alongside former major league player, Peaches Graham.  (See photo at right.)  Then, he just drifted throughout the Midwest. Suspended by Wichita management, he was sold to St. Joseph in the Western League. St. Joseph decided not to keep the light hitting glove man, so he was allowed to sign with Peoria for 1916. After his season in Peoria, Rapp was signed by Richmond (IN) in the Central States League for the princely sum of $250, but that team lost his rights when the league folded at the start of World War I. So, he took a job at a cigar store and played baseball on weekends with the Muncie (IN) Grays until Uncle Sam sent him to training camp.

After World War I, Rapp was released from duty and returned home to Cincinnati where he played in high level semi-professional leagues. Local scouts got the word out and the Reds gave Rapp a look. He didn’t stick, though, and the Reds tried looking for minor league suitors. After a few failed attempts, the Reds let him go to New Orleans and the Beaumont Oilers (Texas League) in 1919, and after spring training in 1920 he was dispatched to the St. Paul Saints without attaching any strings.

Rapp hit .335 with 37 doubles, nine triples, and another 49 stolen bases for St. Paul in 1920 – it was easily the best season he had in the minors.  That November, the Giants purchased Rapp from the Saints for $15,000 and brought him to spring training for the 1921 season, John McGraw liked the switch hitting infielder, but thought he was 25 years old (and not likely 28). However, he could have been a Yankee had not a scout known something different than McGraw.

Bob Connery was a scout for the Yankees and had assembled many of the players that surrounded Babe Ruth when the first great Yankee clubs came together. Colonel Jake Ruppert was furious that McGraw got to Rapp first and called Connery to ask why he hadn’t been signed by the Yankees. Connery knew that Rapp wasn’t really the right choice for the Yankees (a combination of age and occasional mental errors) and figured this would lead to McGraw giving Rapp his walking papers quickly.

McGraw liked Rapp’s fielding because he always seemed to get in front of all grounders. “Rapp has this most necessary scooping qualification,” he told the New York Tribune. “Just watch his outstretched hands as he goes after a ball and note his position when the ball reaches his grasp. That big glove of his affords a target as big as a house, and he will not be as apt to make many errors. He also, like Bancroft, will make the hardest plays appear easy.” He was mobile as a fielder, but he threw with a near underhanded loop to the first baseman.

Goldie Rapp in 1923

Rapp at Spring Training with the Phillies.

As Connery predicted, Rapp didn’t make a good an impression right away, including a time when Rapp froze on a sure double and was thrown out between first and second base. And, for someone with a reputation as a good base runner, it didn’t help that Goldie was thrown out trying to steal eleven times in fourteen attempts. Two months later, hitting only .215, Rapp was moved to Philadelphia mid-season where he batted better (.277) – but wasn’t really putting a lot of runs up on the board. He batted .253 with the Phillies in 1922, and though he rarely struck out (29 times in 551 plate appearances), he also rarely walked and hit for little power.

Goldie Rapp in 1923 with Phillies

Captain Rapp, prior to being sent to the Texas Leagues.

There was at least one sore moment in his major league career. In May of 1922, he missed a month of games after he fell into the dugout chasing a foul pop, breaking a rib, spraining an ankle, and knocking himself unconscious.

Still, Philadelphia management liked him enough. In 1923, Rapp was named a team captain by manager Art Fletcher, and was so impressive as a captain and player that he was released to Fort Worth in the Texas League in July.

Rapp stayed in the minors for the rest of the 1920s and played well enough in various leagues, even as he was sinking from the American Association to Richmond in the Central States League, and finally to Allentown in 1929. At one point, he purchased his own release to play semi-professional ball with the Texon Oil Company team in Texon, TX for the 1928 season, where he was recruited to play by Snipe Conley (Conley knew Rapp from their days in the Texas League). Rapp would play semi-pro ball after his professional career ended into the 1930s.

Goldie Rapp and his Golden Tooth

Source: Craig Schultz (Ancestry.com).

You might expect that someone with that nickname sported golden blond hair. Nope. Joseph slipped on ice as an eight-year-old while skating and lost one of his front teeth. The dentist gave him a gold tooth as a replacement. When he returned to school, kids called him Goldie and the name stuck.  (See photo at right.)

In his early days, Rapp was considered a bit of an eccentric personality and, in addition to making remarkable fielding plays, the fans loved him. Rapp was suspended and released in the minor leagues for refusing to play unless Wichita owner Miles Elbright gave Rapp an advance on his salary. (This also happened years later, while with Toledo in 1925. Toledo balked and sold him to Rochester.) And sometimes his willingness to act on or say whatever came into his mind got him in trouble with umpires.

Rapp told the story of how umpire Joe Becker tossed him from a game while he was with Peoria in the Three-I league. Becker had been getting a rough go of it from the home fans in Peoria and at one point asked Rapp why the Peoria players were gathered around a commotion in the stands near the first base grandstands. Rapp, who had just walked to home plate to bat, told Becker “A woman fainted after you called that last one right at first…” Becker didn’t see the humor. “You can go over and help bring her to,” Becker replied. “You’re too wise for a guy to be wasting your time in a rotten game like this.” And with that, Becker gave Rapp the heave ho.

Perhaps the best play he made in the field came to end a game in Wichita in 1914. The Witches held a 5-4 lead in the ninth but a runner was on third base with only one out. Connie Callahan launched a line drive down the line and Rapp leaped at least three feet into the air to grab it. Then, on his descent to the earth, reached over and tagged Pepper Clarke for the third out to win the game.

Certainly Rapp’s greatest catch, however, came in St. Paul in 1920. He was walking to the ballpark before a game when he met an active child playing in the street. Thinking it was a boy he laughed in surprise when she quickly announced she was a girl. As he walked away, he heard the girl yell as a runaway horse team dragging a wagon belonging to the People’s Coal and Ice Company barreled down the street toward her. Rapp, the only adult to react, ran over and grabbed the girl, raising her up over his head as the horse and wagon sped by.

Joseph Aloysius Rapp, Jr. was born on 06 February 1894 (or 1893) to Joseph and Gertrude (Benerd) Rapp; both were children of German immigrants. In 1900, his father was listed as a policeman; by 1910 he was polishing furniture for a furniture maker. Joseph was the second of four children (Elinora, Grace, and Irene). Somewhere in there, he learned to play the piano…  In 1913, he married Charlotte Eichhorn (the Wichita papers noted his batting average rose from .042 to over .300 after he got married), and after his baseball days were over, he sold water heaters and helped take care of two daughters, Laverne and Faye.

As to his birth date – Baseball Reference says he was born in 1894.  His World War I draft registration says his birth date was in 1893 (at the time he was playing for Richmond, Indiana; his 1900 US Census record also claims an 1893 birth year). Rapp was already married to Charlotte at the time he registered for service, where he did fifteen months with the Army before heading home in 1919. Years later, Rapp was a member of the US Naval Reserves working as a Chief Ship Fitter in World War II and is buried in Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, CA after his death on 1 July 1966 next to his second wife, Julia.


Baseball Reference

Taylor, Charles A. “‘Goldie’ Rapp Slated to Play Third as Regular for McGraw”, New York Tribune, 13 March 1921, Page 19.

“New Giant Regular Was Sent to Minors By Reds Last Season”, New York Tribune, 13 March 1921, Page 19.

“‘Goldie’ Rapp Tells Of Losing Clash of Wit with Umps in Game at Peoria”, Moline Dispatch, 19 June 1923, Page 11.

“Dentist Gave Goldie Rapp His Baseball Nickname”, Fayetteville Observer, 12 April 1921, Page 7.

“Goldie Rapp Badly Hurt Chasing Fly”, Honolulu Advertiser, 16 May 1922, Page 1.

“Goldie Rapp Is Suspended”, Wichita Daily Eagle, 08 June 1915, Page 7.

“Baseball Notes”, Chicago Eagle, 07 May 1921, Page 2.

“Goldie Rapp, Of Wichita Fame, Is Sold To Giants”, Wichita Daily Eagle, 17 November 1920, Page 8.

Cullum, Dick. “Cullum’s Column”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 23 July 1964, Page 23.

“New Star Infielder Of Giants Once Cost Richmond Club $250”, St. Bernard (Arabi Louisiana) Voice, 21 May 1921, Page 6.

“‘Goldie’ Rapp Still On His Wanderings”, Richmond Palladium-Item, 11 June 1919, Page 9.

“Will Captain Phils”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 13 January 1923, Page 16.

“Former Three-I Stars Set Pace in Major Loop”, Moline Dispatch, 19 May 1922, Page 20.

“Allentown Signs Goldie Rapp To Play Hot Corner”, Hartford Courant, 26 February 1929, Page 12.

“‘Goldie’ Rapp Goes South With Reds”, Richmond Palladium-Item, 06 March 1920, Page 9.

“Girl’s Life Saved by ‘Goldie’ Rapp”, Lincoln Star, 02 June 1920, Page 8.

“Goldie Rapp Signed”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 26 March 1931, Page 16.

“‘Goldie’ Rapp Leaves Toledo; Sold Outright”, Fremont News-Messenger, 18 May 1925, Page 6.

“Goldie Rapp is Released by Phils to Fort Worth”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 06 July 1923, Page 15.

“Wichita Again A Winner”, Wichita Daily Eagle, 17 September 1914, Page 8.

“Goldie Rapp, Former Local Player Now With Cincy Reds”, Richmond Palladium-Item, 12 May 1919, Page 14.

“Former Local Player Now With The Giants”, Muncie Star Press, 10 April 1921, Page 9.

“On the Bench”, Topeka State Journal, 04 June 1913, Page 3.

1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 US Censuses
World War 1 Draft Registration
Find A Grave (which notes not just his gravestone, but the USNR designation)