‘Coal miner southpaw’ led Hannibal to victory


David Kraft is pictured while a pitcher for the Hannibal Cannibal baseball team, circa 1909. Photo posted on Ancestry.com’s public files by Michelle McDaniel.

Lola Wolf Kraft and David D. Kraft. Posted on public files, Ancestry.com.

HCP DAVE CRAFT

In 1918, Dave D. Kraft was working for a coal company in Richmond Mo. Married to Lola Wolf Kraft, 36-year-old David had returned to his hometown of Henrietta, Mo., near Kansas City, and resumed a career he had started earlier in his life – that of a coal miner.

The tall, brown-eyed son of Missouri was settled down now, married, and the pursuit of his youthful ambition of playing professional baseball was but a faded memory.

But to a bevvy of loyal fans of the sport, David’s name was legend.

Wearing the proud colors of the Hannibal Cannibal baseball team, Davie Kraft – as he was known to sportswriters and fans – created a sensation for Hannibal residents during the spring and summer of 1909, the southpaw pitcher winning 24 games and losing but 13 during the Central Division season. That record contributed significantly to Hannibal’s mid-season lead in the division over rivals Burlington, Keokuk, Quincy, Kewanee, Jacksonville, Waterloo and Ottumwa.

Hannibal was new to the division in 1909, and Kraft’s pitching was aptly described by sportswriter Bert Johnson in his recount of Kewanee’s victory over Hannibal on July 23, published in the July 24 edition of the Hannibal Courier-Post. David Kraft was on the mound.

“In the first inning, only three men were up, but those three batted the ball hard and it seemed certain then that all such hard hit balls would be caught. The first two up to the second were easy outs and then one sank. Lewis lined on (second baseman Billy) Prout’s errors. Conners singles, Elliott went down for the county by being hit on the bread pan and after Wagner had two strikes we waited and Kraft torched in Lewis by walking Wagner. Johnston beat out a slow infield hit and Connors counted and Morris tried to put the pitcher clear out there and then by polling a vicious drive that Kraft managed to handle.

“(Pitcher Charlie) Swalm relieved Kraft (in the third) and worked steady and constantly, but not enough to stop the (Kewanee) Boiler Makers. On the other hand, Wagner pulled himself together and went fine from then on.”

While Hannibal lost the game, the sportswriter made note of the game’s excitement, which is evident on the faces of the fans in the photo accompanying this article.

“(Kewanee) Manager Connors didn’t want to take any chances, so had Noe on the warming pen. (Hannibal batter Bill) Regan was an easy out from Lewis to Clair. (Billy) Prout walked and (Davie) Milligan singled and then Evans hit one between Johnston and Morris. It looked good for a double at least, as it seemed that neither of the fielders would get it, but Morris came, so did Johnston and just when it seemed that the fielders would collide in their anxiety to grab the sphere, Morris nailed her fast and before Milligan could realize what had happened, Morris had sent the ball to Clair and the most exciting game in many a day was at an end.”

The sports report in the Courier-Post noted that there were 386 fans in attendance that day in Kewanee, and the game time was one hour and forty minutes. The final score was Kewanee 6, Hannibal 2.

“Stolen bases: Neer; Home runs, Johnston; Two base hits, Phelan; Struck out, by Wagner, 6; by Swalm, 5; bases on balls, off Wagner, 6, off Swalm, 1. Hits, off Kraft 3 in 2; off Swalm, 7 in 6; Hit by pitcher, by Kraft, Elliott. Double plays, Crandall to Elliott to Clair; Phelan to Lewis to Clair; Morris to Clair; Prout to Evans. Umpire, Gleason.”

To the West Coast

David Kraft pitched at least one season in Hannibal. Later, the Quincy Daily Herald announced his move to the state of Washington. “Davie Kraft, the veteran sidewheeler who pitched for Hannibal in 1909, has signed with Spokane of the Pacific Coast League. Kraft has one of the youngest arms in one of the oldest players in organized baseball.” He was about 32 years old at the time of his signing.

In Spokane, sportswriters dubbed him as “Uncle” Dave Kraft. James H. Cassell of The Sunday Oregonian described the action during Spokane’s victory over Portland in its May 26, 1912 edition.

“One of the Northwestern League axioms for this: ‘Give ‘Uncle Dave’ Kraft, of Spokane, three or four runs and he will win 90 percent of the games he pitches.’

“Spokane turned this trick for the slow but methodical mountman yesterday at Vaughn-Street Park and the gray-haired southpaw brought the winning streak of the Portland Colts to a sudden termination, score, 6-2.

“It took shutout ball to beat the Missouri coal miner (Kraft) yesterday, and Stangfield and Doty, who essayed to chalk up the fifth straight victory for the Colts, were not equal to the necessary brand of diamond behavior. Kraft allowed only five hits, with the bunching of three in the fourth inning, sending two Colts around the circuit, but from that time on he held the leaders safe.”

Kraft, the man

David Kraft was born in November 1881 in Illinois, and grew up in Henrietta, Mo., in Ray County. The son of John Andrew Kraft (1853-1939) and Julia Housan Kraft (1855-1922), he died June 2, 1964, and is buried at Richmond Memory Gardens in Ray County. He was preceded in death by his wife, Lola Wolf Kraft, in 1959. They had no children.

Manager Bert Hough

The Hannibal Cannibals, under the management of Bert Hough, won the champtionship of the old Illinois-Missouri baseball league in 1908. He was also credited with helping Hannibal secure a spot in the Central association baseball league in 1909.

In 1918, Bert was employed as postmaster at Clayton, Ill.

Fans react to action on the baseball at Kewanee, Ill., on June 23, 1909. The photographer for the match between Kewanee and the Hannibal Cannibals ended in a victory for Kewanee, 6-2. At the time of the game, Hannibal was leading the Central Division. STEVE CHOU COLLECTION

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