Ex-major leaguer with a tie to KY3 now famous for his buttons

The former player, his buttons and his tie to KY3
Published: Apr. 12, 2022 at 6:33 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - We’ve witnessed opening days in Kansas City, St. Louis, and here in Springfield. Other cities are holding their opening day ceremonies too. And, if anything, baseball embraces tradition. This story is about a tradition from the 1890′s that has attracted modern-day collectors. One that’s also connected to KY3′s Paul Adler.

Opening Day. The parades, the loud fans, and in some places…, big horses. And, once upon a time…, the buttons.

“He had buttons... made little buttons that said Stenzel’s Rooters on them, and probably handed them out to everybody. Well, over the years, those have become a very rare and very valuable collector’s item,” explained Cincinnati Reds Team Historian Greg Rhodes.

Jake Stenzel handed out the buttons. The guy racked up a .339 lifetime batting average in 9 major league seasons. An incredible accomplishment from a modern viewpoint.

“It didn’t stand out as much as it would today. But anybody who can hit 330, in Major League Baseball is quite a player and quite an athlete. And so yes, he doesn’t get the recognition that he might have gotten had he played in another era,” says Rhodes.

A baseball researcher even noted Stenzel’s streak of eleven hits in consecutive at-bats. Stenzel played in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and even a few games in his hometown of Cincinnati.

“He hit 310 in those last games with the Reds so he, he could still hit at age 32. But then he decided to retire,” commented Rhodes.

Stenzel soon opened a bar across from the Reds ballpark. He called it Jake Stenzel’s baseball exchange.

“The real social center for people living in Cincinnati, especially the immigrant community, and especially the Germans were the German saloons, the beer, the beer halls, the saloons were the center where people gathered and opening up a saloon, especially a saloon close to the Reds Park, this was a very popular place to come. And this was from a business point of view, a very shrewd move,” says Dan Hurley of Applied History Associates.

And, that brings us back to the buttons. That’s how collectors these days really know Jake.

“Those have become a very rare and very valuable collector’s item. And we happen to have a full set of those buttons here at the Reds Hall of Fame, one of the very few full sets of the full collections that exist,” says Rhodes.

Jake’s bar celebrated opening days for just a few seasons before World War I. And things changed then for German immigrants like Jake in Cincinnati.

“When the United States enters the war on April 9, 1917, there’s a real anti-German sentiment that sort of explodes in Cincinnati and in a lot of cities in the United States. So for example, here, within days after the United States entered the war, 13 street names are changed, German street names are replaced with English street names,” explained Hurley.

Stenzel sold the bar. He went to work as a night watchman. And, just two years later he died. An obituary mentions influenza.

“I don’t know whether he died of influenza or not, we haven’t found any indication of that. But the point is, there’s a lot of turmoil going on at the very end of his life around being German being a saloon keeper, and it is problematic at the very end,” reflected Hurley.

Years and years later, Paul Adler’s family is researching their history. They came across Jacob Charles Stelzle on Ancestry.com Turns out that’s Jake Stenzel. We understand Stelzle changed his name to make it easier to pronounce for sportswriters.

So, in this season of opening days. Here’s to Jake. And.., Let’s Play Ball.

Greg Rhodes from the Reds Hall of Fame tells us depending on the condition a single Stenzel’s Rooters button could go for anywhere between $500 and $2,000. Another expert told KY3 a single button in good condition could sell for $1,500.

To report a correction or typo, please email digitalnews@ky3.com

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