The beloved 8 Nights of Brendanukkah series returns! Tonight's installment focuses on Hans Lobert, the Chris Sabo of the 1909 Reds.
According to riverfront76’s list of the 100 greatest Reds, our awesome right fielder Jay Bruce is #71 all time. So who’s #70? Hans Lobert. That’s right, the Hans Lobert.
Back in 1905 when baseball was officially racist, what with the segregated leagues and all, the casual racism of western Pennsylvania sufficed for white players. One of these was the speedy Carnegie Mellon player, John Bernard Lobert. The Pittsburgh Pirates noticed this young man, and signed him up to the squad. One of his teammates, noticing that Lobert was a German-American, called him "Hans" as a form of "Johannes," and the name stuck. Fascinatingly, Lobert played third base next to Honus Wagner – who also was actually named John and nicknamed "Honus" as another form of "Johannes." Wagner actually referred to Lobert as "Hans Number 2."
Lobert only ever played five games with the Pirates. From there he moved on to Des Moines, and then to the Cubs in 1905. He didn’t play many games, but when he did, he was the part of the infield that wasn’t named Tinkers, Evers, or Chance. After that season, the Reds decided they had to have this player with 19 career games played, a 32 OPS+, and five stolen bases. But this was 1906. Statistics hadn’t really been invented yet. Cincinnati just saw a guy with a German name and had to have him!
Interestingly, Baseball Reference lists Tony Womack and Miguel Cairo as similar players to Lobert. So the dubious acquisition of a utility infielder who can’t really hit is actually a proud Cincinnati tradition dating back to the original Roosevelt administration.
Turns out that Lobert could hit, and he started doing so upon his arrival in the Queen City. He didn’t have any power, but he got on base at a .366 clip while batting .310, and posted a 125 OPS+ over 79 games that season. And he was fast. Some said he was the fastest player in the game. And while Billy Hamilton is currently scoring from second on grounders to the pitcher and catching fly balls at the wall while playing shortstop (all while patrolling Central City), Hans Lobert was adding to baseball in lore in his day, racing racehorses around the baseball diamond. Although I guess the closer Cincinnati comparison these days would be Chad Ochocinco.
Lobert was primarily a third baseman, but played second base and the outfield in Cincinnati, and was even the regular shortstop for the 1907 season. In 1910, the Reds traded Lobert to the Phillies as part of an 8 player swap. He continued to be a fine player there, even garnering some MVP votes in 1911. His career ended in 1915, and he spent the 1920s and 30s managing in the minors, presumably whilst also doing the Charleston with Al Capone on top of a flagpole. In 1942, at the age of 60, he got his first managing gig in the majors, leading the Phillies to 109 losses. He rejoined Cincinnati as a coach in the post championship years of 1943 and 1944 before calling it quits.
He was once portrayed in a movie by Edward G. Robinson ("The name is Hans, see?"), in what we can only assume was the best cinematic Hans until Alan Rickman.