July 25, 2024

Play Ball!!

Strike one the umpire shouted.  Only the batter didn’t hear him.  Four pitches later the batter launched the ball over the centerfield fence for the longest hit ever seen on the Clay Street Grounds.  As he rounded the bases the home fans roared in appreciation.  Only the batter didn’t hear them.  The batter was George Kihm, star catcher for the semi-pro Delphos Reds.  And George was deaf and mute. 

George Pius Kihm was born August 31, 1873 in New Washington, Ohio, one of seven children of Nicholas and Katherine (Lux) Kihm.  George grew up in various parts of Ohio as Nicholas, a school teacher, taught in a number of schools across the state.  Katherine died when George was eight and Nicholas remarried to Magdalina Leng.  The couple together had four children giving George eleven siblings. 

George and his older brother Anthony, who was also deaf and mute, began attending the Ohio Institute for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb in 1880.  The residential school in Columbus is where George first learned the game of baseball.  The Institute began a baseball program at the school in the 1870’s, the first school of its kind to do so, with shoemaking teacher Parley P. Pratt as their coach.  George, who was nicknamed Dummy like most other deaf-mute players of the time, was an athletic right hander who was mainly a catcher and infielder but occasionally took the mound.  Like some of his classmates, during summer breaks he would join amateur or semi-pro teams with hearing teammates. 

In May 1891 George turned 18 and graduated from the Ohio Institute.  He rejoined his family, now in Landeck where his dad, Nicholas, was a teacher.  While in Landeck he met a local girl, Katherine Mueller, and they were married on October 10, 1893.  The couple resided in Delphos and had five children; Alfred, Margaret, Otto, Earl and Robert. 

In Landeck, George continued playing baseball, joining the popular, local semi-pro team, the Delphos Reds.   George played with the Reds on and off from 1891 to 1894 and later often joined them after the end of his professional seasons.  It was in 1893 that he was joined by brothers Zane and Romer “Reddy” Grey, ballplayers he knew from his days in Columbus, as teammates on the Reds.  Zane Grey would later go on to become a world famous Western novelist. 

The 1893 season for the Delphos Reds was one for the ages.  An Association was formed in May by lovers of baseball in Delphos to secure and retain a first rate team.  Frank Wulfhorst and H.W. Beckman were accepted to manage the team.  The roster published in the Delphos Herald included: 

George Kihm, catcher

Pearl (Zane) Grey, pitcher

Clarence Eysenbach, first base

Charles Smith, second base

George Sigler, third base

Herman Jettinger, shortstop

Chris Kleinhans, right field

Xavier Imber, left field

George Fisher, center field

The Reds got off to a rough start, going 1-3 in their first three games.  However, the fifth game, a 35-8 rout of rival Findlay, was the start of an amazing run as they won 21 of their next 23 games.  Led by the hard hitting of Kihm and the pitching of Pearl Gray, the Reds stormed to a 33-12 record and were recognized as the “champions of NW Ohio”.  They dominated NW Ohio and took on all comers including teams from Columbus, Sidney, Cincinnati, Fort Wayne, Kokomo, Decatur and Battle Creek.  Kihm spent time with the Reds in 1894 and was again joined by Pearl Grey when Grey was re-signed after being brought back to Delphos from Delaware, Ohio to face a paternity charge.  The club couldn’t duplicate the success of 1893 but finished with a more than respectable record of 17-13. 

It was in 1895 that George Kihm began his nearly twenty year career in professional baseball.  He spent most of his career in the Midwest with teams such as AA Columbus and Indianapolis along with Toledo, Fort Wayne, Findlay and Jackson and Grand Rapids, MI.   He also spent time with Los Angeles of the California League, Troy of the New York State League and Tacoma (Washington) of the New Pacific League.  His longest stint with any team was five years with AA Columbus Senators from 1904-1908.  During his stay in the Capitol City, the Senators won three consecutive pennants from 1905-1907, finishing second in the Junior World Series in 1906 and ’07.   Kihm batted .285, .278 and .288 in those three seasons and in 1906 had a consecutive errorless streak of 51 games.  When he retired from professional baseball in 1912 he had a career batting average of .293 in 2,115 games with 79 home runs and 331 stolen bases.   His best season may have been 1897 when he hit .350 with 17 home runs and 31 stolen bases for the Fort Wayne Farmers of the International League. 

Not only was George Kihm an accomplished baseball player, he was an outstanding athlete who spent time wrestling, playing football and boxing.  He was a powerful boxer who toured northern Ohio under the name “The Mute” or the “Delphos Cyclone”.  His manager Jack Kirwin scheduled matches and sparring exhibitions during the baseball offseason.  George was strong, athletic and quick and gave quite the drubbing to many unsuspecting opponent. 

In 1912, nearing age 40, George Kihm’s professional baseball career came to a close.  He played off and on with the Delphos team for a few more years as a player and manager.  He continued to work at the Schaffer Sawmill and Handle Factory in Delphos, owned by his brother-in-law J. Schaffer.  He died October 10, 1936 and was buried in St. John’s Cemetery.  His wife Katherine died on March 5, 1956 and was laid to rest next to her husband.    

*The title of this story is “Play Ball” written in American sign language.   

Some information for this article came from a biography of George Kihm written by Brian McKenna for the Society for American Baseball Research.  The entire article can be found at www.sabr.org or from a link on the Delphos Canal Commission Facebook page.  Also thanks to Dave Kihm and his mother Martha of Hamilton, Ohio.  Martha, who turned 100 years old last October, was married to George Kihm’s son Robert.  They supplied newspaper articles, photos and other information.        


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