Germany Schaefer was not the most talented player, but became a fan favorite. Schaefer exuded an intelligence and humor on the field that endeared him to Detroiters. In fact, he was known more for his antics than his play. Despite this, the pranks often helped the Tigers in their first decade of existence.
Baseball helped Schaefer escape Chicago’s south side. He debuted with the Cubs in 1901 and played in 83 games over two seasons before being purchased by Detroit. The Tigers made him the starting second baseman and he played regularly until 1909. In addition to second base, Schaefer also played shortstop and third base.
The infielder joined a mediocre club in 1905. By 1907, they won three straight pennants. However, Schaefer was a marginal piece. He happened to join the team the same year as Ty Cobb. While Cobb won batting titles, Schaefer hit .250 for the Tigers over five seasons. He enjoyed his best season in 1908 when he hit .259 with 52 RBI and .646 OPS.
Cobb and Sam Crawford starred for Detroit on the field. Schaefer starred for the Tigers in another way. His teammates nicknamed him “the Prince” for his performances. On July 26, 1906, he announced his entry into the game, “Ladies and gentlemen, you are now looking at Herman Schaefer, better known as ‘Herman the Great’, acknowledged by one and all to be the greatest pinch-hitter in the world. I am now going to hit the ball into the left field bleachers. Thank you.” He actually hit the ball into the bleachers as promised. After reaching home, Schaefer addressed the crowd once more, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this concludes this afternoon’s performance. I thank you for your kind attention.” During the 1907 World Series, he pulled the hidden ball trick on the Cubs.
Not all of his antics won games or praise. Sometimes, the umpires took umbrage. The infielder occasionally wore a raincoat onto the field when steady or heavy rain struck to make a point. Other times, Schaefer wore a fake moustache to bat. These incidents tended to get him ejected. The Tigers decided they could win without “Herman the Great” and traded him to Washington in 1909. He played until 1918 and continued to display the same hijinks. Schaefer finished his big league career with a .257 average, 9 home runs, 308 RBI, and .639 OPS.
Germany Schaefer played 15 seasons in the majors, including five in Detroit. Although a .250 hitter, he displayed a flare for the dramatic with pinch hit home runs and trick plays. At the same time, Schaefer considered himself a performer. He entertained the crowds while playing the game. In the end, he might be the greatest character in Tiger history.