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Tillie Shafer, Walking Away from the Game

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  • Tillie Shafer, Walking Away from the Game

    Tillie Shafer, Walking Away from the Game

    Arthur J. Shafer
    Tillie Shafer
    Tilly Shafer

    Arthur Joseph Shafer was born on March 22, 1889 in Los Angeles, a city which he would call home his entire life. He grew up in the Lake Park District of the city.

    Both of Shafer’s parents were born in California. Fran and Alice, nee Keller, Shafer were married in 1887. Frank ran lucrative real estate and automotive agencies. As a consequence, Arthur grew up in a wealthy family which included a Japanese servant. The Shafer family (with birth circa):

    Frank H., 1863
    Alice, 1868
    Eugenia, 1894
    Dorothy, 1896
    Walter K., 1902


    Shafer grew up interested in sports and studies. Fortunately, his family could afford to appease his interests. In 1906 Shafer enrolled at St. Vincent’s College, a Catholic school in Los Angeles now known as Loyola Marymount University. He played baseball there with future major leaguer Fred Snodgrass, a catcher at the time.

    His parents convinced him to transfer to Notre Dame University in Indiana. There, he tried out for the football team but quit after taking a hard hit in his first scrimmage. At Notre Dame he joined the track team, competing as a sprinter and broad jumper. He wasn’t a Notre Dame long before he transferred to Santa Clara College, a baseball powerhouse. On an off, Shafer would spend three years at Santa Clara.

    In college Shafer collected numerous medals and trophies in the 100-yards and 220-yard dashes and in the broad jump. Later at Stanford University, he would jump a record 21’3.” Shafer was extremely fast and was once timed (without his knowledge) by the New York Giants unofficially at 3.2 seconds from home to first base. At Stanford Shafer was also part of the sailing team which set the record for circling Catalina Island at 12 hours and 14 minutes in 1912.

    In the summer of 1908 Shafer traveled to Hawaii with the Santa Clara baseball team. There, he met and played against Keio University, a Japanese college. He would later travel to Japan and train their players, becoming the first major leaguer to do so.

    In 1908 Shafer was also offered a contract by Connie Mack to join the Philadelphia Athletics; however, his parents preferred that he pursue more serious endeavors. Shafer would continue to play sports for and attend colleges through and past his baseball career.


    Shafer’s good friend and ex-teammate Fred Snodgrass players for St. Vincent’s College baseball team from 1906-07. In March 1907 the club met the Giants several times in exhibition contests during spring training in Los Angeles. On March 13 Snodgrass made a particular impression on Giants’ manager John McGraw. Snodgrass played well plus he continually argued with the umpire which McGraw notice and admired (McGraw was the umpire). At the end of the year McGraw returned to Los Angeles, touring the race tracks. He inked Snodgrass to a contract. He would join the Giants in June 908 after the school year ended.

    Snodgrass tipped McGraw off to Shafer and he signed with the Giants for 1909. Shafer left Santa Clara over his father’s objections and joined the Giants for spring training at Marlin Springs, Texas in February 1909.

    Shafer was a 5’10,” 165 lbs., switch-hitting utility infielder with lightening speed and a strong throwing arm. He was also described more than once as having one of the better batting eyes in the game.

    Shafer caught hell from the first time he entered the Giants clubhouse. He was a young, good looking, shy guy from a wealthy family unaccustomed to hardened east coast athletes. He didn’t drink, smoke or chase women, the typical ballplayer activities. As a consequence, he was quickly saddled with the feminine nickname “Tillie.”

    Throughout his tenure in New York, Shafer would be branded as a momma’s boy and razzed by his teammates accordingly. For his part, Shafer was very sensitive to his teammate’s rebukes, continually complaining and whining about quitting the sports. It was even said that McGraw was the only thing standing between him and continued abuse. The following SABR Biography Project blurb describes how Shafer got his nickname:

    Mrs. John McGraw describes the day in 1909 when her husband introduced the shy, good looking young Shafer to the Giants in the Polo Grounds clubhouse:

    "Big Cy Seymour, an Oriole in word and deed, responded first with 'We're all damned glad to meet you Tillie!' Then came the chorus! Yes sir, Tillie glad to see you. Yes sir, Tillie glad to see you. Make yourself home, Tillie! Good Luck, Tillie...Save Your Money Tillie...Get the last bounce Tillie." Another report of the same incident has Seymour rushing over to Shafer and planting a kiss on Shafer's cheeks saying "Tillie how are you?" Shafer hated the nickname, but it stuck with him.

    Shafer rejoined the Giants in 1910, appearing in only 29 games (and only 38 in 1909). Tired of warming the bench and hearing his family’s gripes about his chosen profession, Shafer looked for other opportunities. He did however sign with the Giants through 1911 on November 19, 1910.

    In December 1910 he agreed to sail to Japan to instruct the Keio University baseball team that he had apparently kept in touch with since 1908. Keio was planning a U.S. tour in 1911 and wanted to gain as much seasoning as possible.

    On December 24, 1910 Shafer and his boyhood friend Fuller Thompson (also hired by Keio) arrived in Yokohama. They spent three days in chilly Tokyo (site of Keio’s home campus) before moving 500 miles south to Kobe. They trained there from December 27 to January 18, 1911. Keio produced a book of the instructions they received titled “The Art of Keio Baseball.” It was passed down through generations as the methods of John McGraw taught through Shafer and Thompson.

    Shafer arrived back in California in mid-February. He was immediately given the news that McGraw had tried to trade him (actually he did). On January 20, 1911 McGraw trade Shafer to the Boston braves for second baseman Dave Shean. The deal was made with Boston manager Fred Tenney; however, three days later Braves’ president William Hepburn Russell nixed the deal. (Backlash from Boston fans prompted club officials to make a public announcement on January 25 in which the club ceded such decisions to Tenney; though, the Shafer deal was still a no-go.)

    This sealed the deal with the flaky Shafer. He enrolled at Stanford University in Palo Alto to study agriculture, holding out from the Giants. Shortly though, Shafer’s mother took ill and he was called back to Los Angeles. Despite prodding, Shafer never joined the Giants in 1911.


    Shafer did though join the Giants at Marlin on February 23, 1912 for spring training. Since he held out in 1911, he was officially suspended. The National Commission reinstated him on the 26th with no penalty since he didn’t play in an outlaw league or any such circumstance.

    Shafer appeared in 78 games for the Giants in 1912. On May 3 he was involved in the rare successful triple steal in a game versus the Phillies. With the Giants down by a run in the ninth with two outs and two strikes on the batter, Buck Herzog, on third, took off for home and scored. Shafer landed at third base and Chief Meyers at second. The desperation play tied the game; however, Christy Mathewson relieved in the tenth and gave up two runs in an 8-6 defeat.

    In the World Series Shafer appeared in three games as a replacement fielder (no at bats). An incident in the clubhouse after the final game soured Shafer on his teammates and baseball in general.

    After Shafer’s buddy Fred Snodgrass made his infamous error in the final game, some Giants’ players jumped on Snodgrass in the clubhouse. They were griping and belittling him about the $1,500 difference between the winning and losing World Series’ shares. The arguments became particularly vile with Shafer jumping to Snodgrass’ defense and engaging in numerous heated arguments.

    A reporter caught Shafer in December 1912 and the player declared that he was through with baseball. The reporter quoted Shafer as saying something silly - something to the nature that Shafer was quitting because he received “way too many perfumed notes.” (This is the origin of the whole good looking, single guy perspective on Shafer.)

    The real story here is Shafer’s soreness over the Snodgrass incident plus the fact that his mother passed away in 1912. He was bequeathed a number of assets including cash, real estate holdings and business ventures. His father was pressuring him to stay in Los Angeles and run the family’s automobile business and tend to the family’s business holdings.


    McGraw sent Shafer two contracts but they were both returned unsigned by the end of January 1913. Shafer wasn’t asking for any contract demands; in fact, the contract actually contained a decent raise. Rather, Shafer’s implication was simply that he was quitting. He also told reporters that he was planning an extensive European vacation.

    The Giants finally did coax Shafer to spring training though. He arrived in Texas in March 5, 1913, signing a three-year deal calling for $7,500 a year. He turned in a fine year for the Giants in his only full-time major league activity. He played 79 games at third base, 25 at second, 16 at shortstop and 15 games in the outfield. He also batted .287 with 52 RBI. In the World Series he started and played in all five games, batting .158 in 19 at bats with two runs and an RBI.

    On May 16 that year Shafer didn’t show up for a game at the Polo Grounds without a word to McGraw. He was immediately suspended by Nation League president Tom Lynch but was reinstated the following day. Shafer merely stated that he had business affairs to attend to.

    Once again Shafer announced his retirement on December 16, 1913. This one stuck. He had told McGraw when the manager stopped by Los Angeles during the world exhibition tour. Shafer offered a slew of reasons for his departure:
    -He was going to work managing his father’s holding.
    -He didn’t like the baseball life stating, “While playing with the Giants in New York, I aged ten years and my hair is turning gray.”
    -He didn’t like the east coast.
    -He didn’t like the fact that McGraw had him play fifteen games in centerfield, Snodgrass’ position, in 1913, thus, putting his friend on the bench.

    Shafer summed up his feelings:

    I have satisfied every ambition in a baseball way. Now I want to forget I was ever in it. It is an episode in my life that I am trying hard to forget. I have plenty of money and I’m not dependant upon the $7,500 a year from the Giants.
    McGraw considered Shafer one of the best utility players he’d ever seen. He repeatedly tried to coax him to camp (Giants’ president Harry N. Hempstead even went to Los Angeles trying to sign him). It was all to no avail. Shafer was done with baseball. McGraw would annually (at least through 1919) contact Shafer and offer him the third baseman’s job. Amusing, the Giants didn’t finally release Shafer until it was sure he wouldn’t come back – in 1926. The questionable reserve clause permitted such eccentricities.

    1914 AND BEYOND

    Shafer still played a little baseball exhibitions with Stanford in 1914. In May the local Los Angeles franchise of the Pacific Coast League asked the Giants to release Shafer so he could play third base for them. LA president Tom Darmody was convinced that he could land the hometown boy if McGraw withdrew the suspension. It all came to naught.

    In November 1914 Charles Weeghman, president of the Federal League Chicago Whales, contacted Shafer about joining the club. Weeghman sent George Stovall to Los Angeles to no avail.

    In 1915 Shafer began to show a serious interest in amateur golf. In July he won a tournament at his local Los Angeles Country Club and then applied for reinstatement as an amateur to the United States Golf Association. He was granted amateur status (in question because of his relationship with the Giants) in August. He won several tournaments in the fall and registered an official handicap of six.

    Shafer registered for the draft in June 1917, listing himself as self-employed in real estate. He had also married earlier in the year to Gwendolyn W. Shafer, also from California. The couple had at least four children:
    Mary M., circa 1918
    Suzanne, circa 1919
    Barbara, circa 1920
    Arthur W., circa 1924

    In August 1917 Shafer joined the U.S. Navy and was stationed on the west coast. He joined the reserve officers training program. In March 1918 he was assigned to the naval training station in San Diego. There, he was also captain of the baseball team. At armistice time Shafer was learning to fly a hydro-aeroplane. He was released from the navy at the end of the year from the University of Washington Naval Training Station.

    As noted, Shafer was financially well off. His adult family had multiple live-in servants. Professionally, he administered a real estate agency, an automotive agency, a large fruit distributorship and a menswear store. His haberdashery was noted in Los Angeles for catering to celebrities.

    In 1933 Shafer told Baseball Magazine that he regretted walking away from the game – “I shouldn’t have broken and run that way. I’ve been sorry ever since…”

    Shafer dies at age 72 at his home in Los Angeles on January 10, 1962 after a long illness. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.

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