by Lynn Bevill
Ed Karger was born and raised in Texas. In 1903 at the age of twenty he, and his brother Art, came west to what was then Arizona Territory to play baseball. Art signed on with a team in the Douglas/Bisbee area. He never left the area, became a businessman and even served a term as mayor of the city of Douglas. Ed took a different path when he signed on with the
local city baseball team in Clifton. At that time Clifton was an isolated mining town, close to the city of Morenci but tied by means of the railway to a much wider range of like-minded towns. Sports were important in these small, isolated mining towns. They served as entertainment but were also an important part of the identity of the town. The Clifton ball team was independent but played regularly against teams from El Paso, Las Cruces, Morenci, Globe, Miami, and Tucson and would schedule other contests when possible. Whether Ed came to Clifton on his own initiative or was recruited is unknown. The mines were known to recruit far and wide. James Patton in his 1945 University of Arizona thesis titled “The History of Clifton,” reports “Most of the players were college boys from Texas colleges or from Colorado. They were given jobs in the Company store or mills. Usually they left during the winter months.”
Karger was an instant success. Fairly tall for that time at five feet eleven inches, he weighed in at over one hundred and ninety pounds. He threw and batted left-handed and was said to have a devastating fast ball. While few records survive to indicate how well Karger pitched in Clifton, we can infer that he was very successful, for by the following 1904 season Ed had been recruited and was pitching for the Tucson City team. The inducement to young Karger was the opportunity to pitch in a larger city with more exposure. But more important was the promise of a real job, walking a beat as one of Tucson’s finest. As a member of the Tucson Police Department Ed appeared to be securing a good stable life with a future. But then fate struck, fate in the form of William Warren “Hick” Carpenter.
Carpenter, a journeyman ball player, had played with Syracuse, Worchester and Cincinnati of the National League and Cincinnati in the American Association. By 1904 he was out of baseball and had secured a government position with the custom’s service in Nogales, Arizona. Like many retired ball players he still enjoyed the game and may have even picked up a little extra money scouting local talent. He was sitting in the stands one afternoon when Tucson visited to play the Nogales nine. What he saw that afternoon and what he said to the young fire balling Karger can only be left to imagination. But what he later said to the newspaper has been left for all time.
When Carpenter was quoted for the Arizona Daily Star on September 16, 1906, it was with a thick Irish brogue that he claimed to have said “Tis a fool ye are lad, to be swingin’ a cloob, whe ye could be hurlin’ the ball at fancy prices in the Leagues.” The article waxed eloquently over the young pitcher announcing that “…he was a desert star, born to bloom and blossom, not unseen, but be picked up…by a National League magnate,” and “He laid aside his club andhis (sic) forty-five and his uniform of Khaki, and went to Houston.”
Whether it was indeed Carpenter who set this in motion or other events, it is a fact that Karger signed with Houston, of the Class C South Texas League in 1905. His rise was meteoric. Records from the league are scarce, but in a 125 game season, Karger dominated play with a record of 24-8 and was an overwhelming choice of the league’s most valuable player of the year.
Flush with success Karger signed with the high flying Pittsburgh Pirates for the 1906 season and started the season on the Pirates roster. Shortly into the season was traded to the last place St. Louis Cardinals. Pitching a combined 220 innings, he had an ERA of 2.62 and a record of 7-19. In 1907 he had a career year, pitching 310 innings for the last place Cardinals, with an ERA of 2.03 and a very respectable record of 15-19. He never again reached these levels. He toiled for four more years, first with the Cardinals, briefly with the Cincinnati Reds and finely switching to the American League with the Boston Red Sox. After the 1911 season he hung up his cleats and seemingly walked away from the game.
He married in 1915, went to work in the construction industry working in the western United States and Canada and helped raise three children. In 1957 he died and was buried in Delta, Colorado where his obituary, after covering the obligatory information, noted that Ed Karger had also been a “ballplayer.”