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Len Koenecke

From BR Bullpen

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Leonard George Koenecke

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]

Outfielder Len Koenecke was a professional baseball player for nine seasons (1927-1935). He was born in the small community of Baraboo, WI, located some 25 miles north of the state capital of Madison on January 18, 1904. After finishing his formal schooling, he hired on as a fireman with the Chicago & North Western Railroad where he developed his powerful physical frame that helped him immensely in his baseball career.

After playing baseball as a boy, he served with various amateur and semi-pro teams around the Wisconsin and Michigan area before signing his first professional contract with the Moline Plowboys of the class D Mississippi Valley League in 1927 at the age of 23. In his first season in pro ball, Len led the league with 20 home runs and his team with a .343 batting average in 117 games.

Back for his second year in 1928, Len was with the Moline club again for 124 games and led the league, and his team, in three categories with a .389 batting average along with 182 hits that included 22 round-trippers. This same season, Moline moved Len to the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association and in 17 outings, he hit at a .394 clip and had four home runs in 71 at-bats.

1929 found Koenecke in the Three-I League with the Quincy Indians for 110 games, hitting .325 with 13 homers, helping his team to the league title, before spending the final 32 games of the season with the Indianapolis Indians and hitting at a .319 average.

Len spent 1930 with three clubs - the Springfield Senators and the Quincy club again, both of the Three-I League and he hit at a .349 clip with 10 homers in 58 games. He also spent time at Indianapolis in 67 games, hitting .250 with 10 home runs.

The 1931 season opened the door to upstairs for Koenecke. He appeared in 163 games for Indianapolis, hitting for a .353 average with 224 base hits that included 24 home runs and was chosen for the American Association All-Star team. John McGraw of the National League New York Giants was watching closely and on August 11, 1931, the Indians traded Koenecke to the Giants for four players to be named later. On November 5th the New York club sent Johnny Cooney, Joe Heving, Jack Berly and Harry Rosenberg, in what is said to have amounted to $75,000 worth of players, to Indianapolis for Koenecke.

Koenecke played in 42 games for the Giants in 1932 and played poorly, compared to his previous standards (.255/.320/.380). He was sent to the Jersey City Skeeters of the International League, where he hit .355 and 18 home runs in 95 outings. Len spent the 1933 season with the Buffalo Bisons, hitting .334 in 161 games. The Wisconsin native was acquired by the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1934 season, where he made an excellent showing with a .320/.411/.509 batting line, 31 doubles, 70 walks and 14 home runs in 123 games. Len also set a new National League record for outfielders by fielding .994 (since broken). He was 5th in the 1934 NL in OBP behind future Hall of Famers Arky Vaughan, Paul Waner, Mel Ott and Bill Terry. He was also 8th in slugging (between Chuck Klein and Gabby Hartnett), third in walks (trailing Vaughan and Ott) and 4th in OPS+ (150, behind Ott, Ripper Collins and Waner).

Len was 31 years old and in his second season with the Dodgers in 1935 and again was not quite performing up to par with a 101 OPS+, below expectations for a corner outfielder. It was in mid-September and he had appeared in just 100 games, hitting .283/.369/.372 with but four home runs and was on the bench when called upon to pinch-hit. He failed to produce, grounding out. After the contest, manager Casey Stengel told him he was being sent home for the remainder of the season, along with teammates Les Munns and Bob Barr. The rest is a terrible piece of baseball history.

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Leonard George Koenecke died one of the strangest deaths in baseball history. After he was released by the Brooklyn Dodgers on the road trip, Koenecke took a plane from St. Louis, MO. On a flight that evening, the confused Koenecke, who probably had been drinking, tried to take the controls from the hands of the pilot. After a struggle, the pilot hit Koenecke over the head with a fire extinguisher. He was killed instantly. The pilot reported that Koenecke had appeared to be in great distress prior to the take-off. The pilot was nevertheless charged with manslaughter in Ontario but eventually acquitted.

Koenecke left behind his wife of several years, Gladys, and their three-year-old daughter, Anna. The couple and their daughter had been living in Brooklyn, NY for the summer. Mrs. Koenecke left immediately for their home in Adams, Wisconsin, and Len's father and brother had left Adams for Toronto, ON and would take the body home for burial.

Koenecke's main teammates were Sam Leslie, Van Mungo, Lonny Frey, Buzz Boyle and Tony Cuccinello.

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