J. D. Thorne

Rochester, Wisconsin’s Ginger Beaumont

Immortalized in Bronze from his selection in the first class of inductees to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1951, Clarence Howeth “Ginger” Beaumont has a plaque on display on the east wall of the U. S. Cellular Arena on Kilbourn Ave and 4th Street.

Called by the Sporting News at the time of his death in 1956, “one of the game’s all-time great outfielders,” he was a surprisingly speedy lead-off hitter and centerfielder for the Pirates, Braves, and Cubs in a major league career that spanned from 1899 to 1910.  Leading off for the Pirates against the Red Sox hurler, the immortal Cy Young, in 1903, he became the first batter in the first ever World Series.  He also made the first out, lofting a fly ball caught by the Boston centerfielder.

He is briefly described in The Ballplayers (1993) as follows:

“Beaumont was an outstanding leadoff hitter.  His chunky build (5’8”, 190 lb) belied blazing speed that helped him beat out many infield hits.  On July 22, 1899, at the Pirates’ Exhibition Park he got six infield hits in six at-bats and scored six runs.  Nicknamed for a shock of red hair, Beaumont batted .352 as a rookie, led the NL with .357 in 1902, and scored 100 or more runs each season from 1900 to 1903, with league high 137 in ’03.”

Beaumont first started playing semi-pro baseball in his hometown in Rochester, WI.  A right-hander who batted from the left side, Beaumont started as a catcher playing with Wisconsin teams from Beloit College, East Troy, Burlington, Waupon and his hometown Rochester itself starting in 1896.  Connie Mack, who was at the time owner/manager of the Milwaukee Brewers entry in the fledgling American League, signed him to his first professional contract in 1898 when the team was hit with a rash of injuries.  Because Mack needed an outfielder, he switched his position.  With his natural speed and strong arm, the move fit Beaumont well.  In 24 games he batted .354 with 11 stolen bases.  That performance did not go unnoticed by the other National League clubs.

Ultimately, Beaumont was acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates for the 1899 season.  An account of the deal reported he was a “brilliant and promising young player.”  Less than a year removed from semi-pro ball, the 22 year old began his career, but with his manager using him only as a pinch hitter and spare outfielder.  However, that manager was replaced in late May.  The new skipper, Patsy Donovan, gave Clarence the chance to play regularly.  By the end of June, the rookie had nailed down the centerfielder job, much to the consternation of the former centerfielder.

At the end of the 1899 season Barney Dreyfuss bought a half interest in the Pirates, and merged them with his team from Louisville.  The result was a powerhouse club that dominated the National League.  Beaumont was just the kind of player Dreyfuss liked:  He did not smoke or drink and devoted much of his free time to youth baseball in Pittsburgh.  Up until then the speedy outfielder was known as “Clarry” or “Beau,” but Dreyfuss nicknamed him “Ginger” due to his red hair, and the nickname stuck for life.

Beginning in 1901 and for the next five years Ginger was one of the most feared hitters in baseball.  In 1903 he won the NL batting title hitting .357 while finishing first in number of hits, third in runs scored and on-base percentage, and fourth in total bases while adding 37 stolen bases.  Now if Scooter Gennett hitting lead-off or Carlos Gomez as our centerfielder can put up those kinds of numbers, the Brewers will be OK.  Some might say Aoki had a high on-base percentage, but he no longer was capable of stealing bases consistently as a lead-off hitter should be able to do.

In 1905 Ginger still hit a league 4th best .328, but he began to suffer knee problems that would plague him the rest of his career.   Eventually, after participating in the World Series of 1910, he retired from the Cubs in 1911 to his farm in Honey Creek, WI.  By 1914 he was elected a County Supervisor in Walworth County.   The “Beaumont Little League” in Burlington, WI still bears his name.

When Ginger was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1951, he was so well respected that at the ceremony two former stars from the 1903 World Series unveiled the bronze plaque to the crowd:  Deacon Phillippe and the immortal Cy Young.  Tough to do much better than Cy Young.

J. D. Thorne