Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Baseball and Fishing: Joe "Unser Choe" Hauser's Sport Shop

Baseball and Fishing: Joe "Unser Choe" Hauser's Sport Shop

I was gratified at the reaction to my recent articles on Indianapolis baseball legend (and tackle merchant) Donie Bush and Red Sox slugger and world-class angler Ted Williams. By the way, Indianapolis native Dan Basore wrote in the comment section that the baseball stadium in Indy was for years named Bush Stadium after Donie Bush. "It wasn't too far from my home and I saw Herb Score pitch there," Dan notes. Herb Score, of course, was the hardthrowing righthander who's career was said to have been cut short by a line drive that damaged his vision. In reality, Score regained his 20-20 vision and claimed it was a shoulder injury that ended his career. Score did become an announcer of note for many years afterward, however, helming the mike for the Indians for over three decades.

This week we will cover another former major leaguer who also owned a sporting goods store and sold marked fishing tackle bearing his name. This man also made a significant mark on baseball history, and in fact, became known as one of the most feared home run hitters in history. The reason why most people have never heard of him before is because he hit most of his home runs in the minor leagues. Joe "Unser Choe" Hauser, Sheboygan sporting goods merchant and minor league home run king, is the subject of this weeks "baseball and fishing tackle" profile.

A Wisconsin native born and raised in 1899 in Milwaukee, his German background led to his unique nickname. Baseball fans, being the fickle creatures that they are, of course are noted for booing players when the don't perform, a strange development considering failing 7 our of 10 times at the plate makes one a superstar. While playing in the minor leagues for Milwaukee, as Joe himself noted, the predominantly German fans refused to boo "Unser Joe," or in German, "Our Joe." The nickname followed him throughout this career.

Hauser reached the majors in 1922 for the prodigious Philadelphia A's, whom he played for on-and-off (with significant time missed for injuries) for the next seven years. The 1920s A's were only slightly below the legendary Yankees in star power; his last year as an Athletic was 1928 when the team won 98 games and fielded a roster that included Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons, Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, and Lefty Grove, all of them hall-of-fame members. The A's would go on to win the world series in 1929 and 1930, although Hauser was no longer with them at the time.

Joe Hauser is sometimes called a pedestrian major league hitter, but that is not quite the truth. Take his 1924 campaign. He hit .288 with 27 home runs and 115 RBI. Those are certainly good numbers by today's standards, but baseball was just leaving its dead ball era and his 27 homers was second in the league to Babe Ruth. Sadly, just when his major league career was in its ascendancy, he broke his knee cap in four places, and although he had two abortive attempts to restart his career, his major league career came to an end in 1929 with the Indians at the age of 30.

But Unser Choe was just getting started. Banished to the equivalent of "AAA" baseball, he began to hit home runs at a prodigious rate. With the Baltimore Orioles in 1930, he smoked an incredible 63 home runs--to that point an all-time record--with 175 RBI. But after another injury Baltimore sold his contract to the Minneapolis Millers, a move brought about in large part because the Orioles had purchased Buzz Arlett's contract from the Philadelphia Phillies. In an interesting twist, Arlett would become the all-time minor league home run king, eclipsing Hauser's career record.

After 49 homers in 1932, Hauser came back with a legendary year in 1933 when he clubbed a new record 69 homers for the Millers. The next three years years saw him average 30 home runs due to injuries. In another interesting coincidence, Hauser's manager with the Millers was no other than Donie Bush, who as we learned last week went on to found the Bush-Feezle Sporting Goods company in 1937. Fascinatingly, his minor league home run rival Buzz Arlett joined him Minneapolis in 1934.

Perhaps Bush influenced Hauser, for that year, at the age of 38, when the opportunity arose for him to return home, Hauser became manager of the Sheboygan minor league team (playing Class D ball). The Sheboygan Press declared in a large headline that 225 local baseball fans "Honor Joe Hauser at Big Booster Banquet." The warm homecoming must have tugged his heart strings, for he spent the rest of his life in Sheboygan.

In the spring of 1938, Joe Hauser opened a sporting goods store to supplement his meager income as a D Ball manager. His partner was local sportsman Les Kuplic, "a well-known member of the Sheboygan Chairs baseball team, now known as the Sheboygan Indians," as the The Sheboygan Press noted on July 31, 1942. "Mr. Kuplic will be remembered as a former tennis champion." Kuplic also played for the Sheboygan Red Skins from 1938-1940, a professional basketball team that was one of the charter seven members of the N.B.A. The store was known as "The Hauser & Kuplic Sports Shop" and was located at 522 North Eight Street. According to the aforementioned article, the company:

was known as 'Pond's Sports Shop' before 1938 at which time it was owned by a Mr. Pond and managed by Mr. Kuplic. When Mr. Pond's lease expired, Mr. Kuplic decided to go into the business if he could get Mr. Hauser to form a partnership. Seeing an opportunity to retire from the active sports field and still continue in the profession of his choosing, Mr. Hauser was glad to take over a half share of the business...bowling, tennis and fishing are among the leading sports which Hauser supplies.

Picture of Les Kuplic from 1942.

Business must have been good--Hugh Fullerton, Jr. wrote in his syndicated baseball column on May 29th, 1945 that "Joe Hauser, the old minor league home run king, is running a sports goods store in Sheboygan, Wis. and making more dough than he ever did in baseball." By that time he had moved to 522 N. 8th Street, and then in 1946 purchased property at 914 N. 8th Street and remodeled the entire building. The new store opened on April 12 and 13, 1946, and was "virtually the talk of the town. Sporting a cream and maroon glass front inscribed with Joe's signature, the building is one of the most attractive in the business district."

Assisting Hauser in the new store was Harold Kaye, who "will handle the store while Joe makes trips with the Indian baseball team," as an article in The Sheboygan Press declared on April 10, 1946. It is not known when the partnership with Kuplic ended but by this time there was no mention of Kuplic; Hauser's wife Irene was the bookkeeper. The firm still carried "all types of fishing tackle." As another article dated August 10, 1953 in Sheboygan Times declared, Hauser's shop was "one of the finest sporting goods stores in this section of the state, [and is] known as Joe Hauser's Sports Shop."

When the Wisconsin State League folded with the coming of major league baseball to Milwaukee, Hauser (after a brief stint as manager in Union City, TN) ended his career managing my home town Duluth minor league team in the old Northern League. From 1955-1958 he skippered the Duluth-Superior White Sox (the only time I know of when they were not called the Dukes) and won a Northern League pennant in 1956. That team was led by Don Mincher (who later spent 13 years in the majors) and included four other future major league players: Jack Kralick, Hal Trosky, Jr., Glen Hobbie, and Cam Carreon. In 1958 Unser Choe retired from baseball and returned to his sporting goods store in Sheboygan, where he remained until retiring in May, 1984.

Joe Hauser was inducted into the Wisconsin Sports Hall-of-Fame.

When baseball writer John Pierce interviewed Hauser for a piece published in the February 1954 Baseball Digest, the retired slugger could declare that the sporting goods trade "hasn't made him rich, but it's provided a steady income and given him a good outlet for the yarns and anecdotes about the game he loves." He became a beloved fixture of the local scene, and was the subject of frequent interviews. Here are two interesting facts he related at various times. "I never got knocked down all the time I was playing," he related to Tom Flaherty in an interview in 1992, and as he told an earlier interviewer, he was never once pinch hit for in his long career.

Most native Sheboyganites over the age of 50 will remember Hauser's Sports Shop. He was a legend in town and ran an expansive sporting goods store for almost fifty years, selling a ton of fishing tackle to the local angling community. Occasionally Hauser-marked items come to market; they are mainly snelled hook envelopes or other paper ephemera. The one pictured below was wholesaled to Hauser-Kuplic Sporting Goods from Ed. K. Tryon, the massive Philadelphia-based jobber who sold tackle nationwide to tackle and sport shops. This one came in a dealer box of twelve, all of which were stamped with the same non-descript marking depicting the pre-1942 Hauser address. I would bet this dated to before WWII.

Unser Choe Hauser passed away in 1997 at the age of 98. He was truly the Minor League Home Run King.

-- Dr. Todd

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