George Lawson

From BR Bullpen

George Herman Lawson

Biographical Information[edit]

The brother of the infamous Al Lawson, George Lawson was a notorious confidence artist, self-promoter and womanizer who was involved in a number of unsuccessful - and usually fraudulent - schemes to launch baseball leagues in the early part of the 20th Century.

Al Lawson, at least, had played professional baseball, albeit briefly; George Lawson simply rode his brother's coattails, using his kinship with a former player to lend credibility to some of his schemes. He was born in the slums of London in 1864 and emigrated with his family to Windsor, Ontario in 1869, eventually making it across the St. Clair River to Detroit. He returned to the United Kingdom at age 16, enlisted in the army and served in Ireland and India from 1881 to 1886, earning an undistinguished service record whose highlights were hospitalization for venereal diseases and treatment for mental problems. He was discharged from the army on grounds of invalidity and returned to North America.

He contracted the first of six marriages in 1888. In 1895, his brother Al organized a team of college players from the Boston area to tour England. It appears that none of the purported Harvard, Yale and Princeton students who made up the team had actually frequented those institutions of higher learning, but the two Lawson brothers were part, with George playing under the name Anderson (his mother's maiden name and the source of his nickname Andy) and falsely claiming to be a student at the University of Michigan. The tour collapsed within two weeks because of poor gate receipts, and Al left for Paris while leaving his team stranded behind without funds.

George seemed to learn from his brother's way of operating, as he then became involved in a number of schemes to start professional leagues around New England, which usually involved raising some money and publicity and then absconding when it became clear that his plans were just hot air. In 1899, both brothers were managing teams in the fledgling Indiana-Illinois League, which dissolved shortly thereafter but not before a public feud between the siblings.

Turning away from baseball for a while, George Lawson fashioned himself a hypnotist under the name of "Professor Lawson Hermann", conning his way around New England with a vaudeville act, leaving unpaid bills behind and serving some time in jail for larceny. He claimed to be able to cure all sorts of illnesses (and charged for the service) which caused more trouble with the medical profession, who pressed charges of quackery. Still, whenever things got too hot for him in one town, he would move over to another city and start again, having time for a few months of lucrative business before his past caught up with him. He came back to some baseball-themed scams in those days, announcing the formation of a club in Greensburg, PA in the Western Pennsylvania League in 1907, then absconding from the club with the money raised after a short time at the helm; another one of his brothers, Alex Lawson, was the president of the league. He pulled a similar trick with the formation of a Pennsylvania-New Jersey League in 1908.

With such a checkered background, it is surprising that anyone would pay attention or lend a buck to Lawson, but he seemed to have had a way of mesmerizing reporters and others who should have known better. In his most-publicized scheme, he announced in December 1909 that he was forming a United States League that would compete with the two Major Leagues by breaking the color line. His plan attracted a large amount of publicity and some serious backers, who eventually kicked him out of the project when his past as a trickster and convict came to light. The league disappeared before playing a game, but some of its backers attempted a revival in 1912, and again in 1913, which became the Federal League. That tiny connection was enough for Lawson to take credit as the founder of that short-lived third major league.

When World War I broke out, Lawson offered his services to a former commander of his in the British forces, the Duke of Connaught, who had since become Governor General of Canada, and managed to obtain a commission as a recruiting officer for the Canadian Royal Engineers, first in Boston, then in Canada. He would later claim a glorious record of service in Europe, although no proof of actual combat experience has ever been found. Still, he now held the rank of sergeant major, and back in the United States at the end of the war, he claimed he would start a baseball league made up entirely of Veterans, as a means to stir the country's patriotic fiber. That project did not go beyond a single team playing a handful of games, and after another stint in jail, he emerged in 1920 as an (unsuccessful) candidate for the Massachusetts Assembly and with another league project.

The Continental Baseball Association was modeled on the stillborn United States League; it was to break the color line, allow players to be unionized and not have a reserve clause. He also talked about hiring the players banned from Organized Baseball as a result of the Black Sox Scandal. Again, there was a lot of interest from the media at first, particularly in the emerging black-owned media, then the plans became markedly less ambitious, and eventually turned into a few teams far from major-league quality playing a handful of games in May 1921, and then nothing more was heard of the project.

Now a self-proclaimed reverend and man of God, George Lawson continued along his familiar ways, using his obvious gift of the gab to sustain himself. He became a supporter of the Ku Klux Klan when that organization reached its apogee around 1924, then turned against it (likely because of disputes with the local leadership) and became and anti-Klan crusader. He tried to use that latest stance to earn electoral office, but failed. In 1926, in failing health and his sixth wife having left him, he called a press conference in New York to announce the formation of the United States Baseball Association, a plan even less reality-based then his previous efforts. After a small amount of press coverage, nothing more was heard. He died in Newark, New Jersey shortly thereafter. In a last posthumous scam, he managed to secure a plot in an American veterans cemetery in Newark, before it was discovered, at the time of engraving his headstone, that he had no record of service in the US military and did not merit this honor. His body was left in place, but without a gravestone.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Jerry Kuntz: "George H. Lawson: The Rogue Who Tried to Reform Baseball", in The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 37, 2008, pp. 42-50.
  • Jerry Kuntz: Baseball Fiends and Flying Machines: The Many Times and Outrageous Times of George and Alfred Lawson, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2009.