By BILLY HEYEN
Measuring 5-foot-7, weighing 165 pounds and relying on a spitball, Gene Krapp doesn’t fit the modern idea of an innings-eating starting pitcher. But back in the early 1900s, the Rochester-born right-hander they called “Rubber” pitched 118 games across four seasons in the American and Federal Leagues.
On May 12, 1887, Eugene Hamlet Krapp was born in Rochester, N.Y. to a German-immigrant father, Frederick, and a New York-native mother, Bertha. He was the sixth of 12 children born to the couple, and his father was a cigar maker. By the time Krapp was school-age, his family had moved to Detroit.
It was in Michigan that Krapp first made noise on the diamond, playing in the Class D Southern Michigan League. After winning 23 games for Flint in 1909, Krapp was drafted by Portland of the Pacific Coast League.
Krapp dominated during the 1910 season for Portland, finishing with a 29-16 record and a 1.26 ERA while throwing 442 innings. Across his 54 appearances, Krapp averaged more than eight innings an outing. Krapp pitched three shutouts down the stretch en route to leading Portland to a pennant.
That performance in Portland gained the notice of the Cleveland Naps (now Cleveland Indians), and Krapp joined the American League club for the 1911 season. In addition to his spitball, Krapp was said to occasionally scuff the baseball, which created a different movement than his spitball. Krapp also used a variety of overhand and underhand arm slots when he pitched.
The multitude of options in Krapp’s pitching arsenal led to career-long control issues. In that 1911 season with Cleveland, he went 13-9 with a 3.41 ERA in 222 innings pitched, but he walked a league-high 138 batters. Krapp never struck out more batters than he walked in his four seasons across the American and Federal Leagues.
Krapp was also regarded as a standout fielder on the mound, and he possessed a bit of talent at the plate. He batted .250 across his two seasons with the Naps.
A sore arm limited Krapp in the 1912 season, and he was back with Portland for 1913. A contract holdout prior to the 1914 season set Krapp up to join the newly formed Federal League, which existed for two seasons in an attempt to be the United States’ third baseball major league.
Krapp pitched for Buffalo (known as the Buffeds in 1914 and Blues in 1915) during the two seasons of the Federal League’s existence, and in those two year he combined for a 2.98 ERA. The Federal League’s folding led to Krapp’s contract rights reverting to Portland, which didn’t want him anymore. The last action Krapp would see above Class D and semi-pro baseball was for about a month with the Southern League’s Chattanooga Lookouts in 1916.
Following his professional career, Krapp joined the 85th Army Division at Camp Custer. He was never called for service overseas during World War I and was discharged in 1919.
Krapp died on April 13, 1923, due to cancer of the bowels and an intestinal blockage. He’s buried in Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit.