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A famous resident, nearly forgotten

Chris Schultz /The Janesville Gazette

(Published Sept. 20, 2007, 4:03 p.m.)

Clarence H. "Ginger" Beaumont holds a place in the baseball record book that can never be surpassed or overshadowed.

In 1903, Beaumont, a Rochester native, became the first batter in the first modern World Series. His ginger-red hair earned him his nickname.

He had started his career just five years earlier with the old minor league Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers traded him to Pittsburgh in 1900, and he played for the Pirates for eight seasons.

Leading off for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he faced the legendary Cy Young, pitching for the Boston Americans (later to become the Red Sox).

Beaumont flew out to center field. He would go on to play well, but to no avail.

The Pirates would lose the nine-game series, five games to three.

One of the fastest players in baseball at the time, bad knees would end Beaumont's career in just 12 seasons. He would see one more World Series, with the Chicago Cubs, but would be on the losing side once again, this time to the Philadelphia Athletics.

But that didn't end Beaumont's story. Once out of baseball, he returned to home and moved to Honey Creek where he owned a store, did some farming and auctioneering, conducted the church choir, became a grandfather and wove himself into local legend before dying on April 10, 1956 at the age of 79.

He is buried in Rochester Cemetery.

Only a very few are left who knew Ginger Beaumont personally, but they gladly work to keep his memory alive.

One is his granddaughter, Jean Cognato of Sarasota, Fla. She said she knew her grandfather as choir director at the Honey Creek Baptist Church, and as an auctioneer, whose rapid-fire auction call impressed  her.

"He could do the spiel," Cognato said of Beaumont. "I would run up to him and say, 'Grandpa, sell me something.'"

She said she didn't know her grandfather played professional ball until she was 10 or 11. "As far as he was concerned, his baseball years were over, and he didn't talk about it," she said.

But now Cognato is talking about it. Since 2003, the centennial of her grandfather's first World Series at-bat, Cognato has been regaling Pirates fans with stories of her grandfather during Pirates spring training in Florida.

Jim and Thelma Bonner of rural Rochester also remember Beaumont, not as a ballplayer, but as an older man, who played in the traditional family baseball game during the family picnics.

"He was a good ballplayer, even then," said Bonner, who is Beaumont's second cousin.

Thelma said she met Beaumont during the family picnic of 1948, and remembers the former ballplayer as a teaser.

"He teased me a lot because I was going with Jim," she said.

But it was the last time she'd see him. Health problems kept Beaumont from coming to subsequent family gatherings, she said.

Although a Racine County native, Beaumont had Walworth and Rock county connections. According to the online Baseball Biography Project, he played semipro ball for East Troy and also  played for Beloit College.

Shortly after his baseball career was over, Beaumont and his family lived in a house in Walworth County on a 177-acre farm he bought in 1904. He lived there for about three years until he built a new house in Honey Creek, just across the line in Racine County.

Beaumont called his farm Centerfield Farm. It was a mile and a half west of Honey Creek on County Road D in Walworth County.

The farm and house are still there. Don Kreft, Walworth County assistant highway superintendent, lives there with his wife. Kreft said he owns all of the old Beaumont farm, which his father bought in 1959.

Other than the old house, which has been remodeled, the only other original building left from the old Centerfield Farm is a shed that's also been renovated. The only other Centerfield Farm structure still standing isn't anywhere near the farm, Kreft said.

Beaumont's old horse barn was bought by Alpine Valley in the late 1960s. It is now a covered bridge over a creek that runs through the Alpine Valley golf course.

Cognato said her grandfather loved his farm but didn't like farm work.

"He didn't like to farm, but he loved to own the farm," she said. "He rented it out."

One of his renters was Bill Meyer, father of Norman Meyer, long-time Walworth County Fair Board president.

Norman Meyer, now 90, wrote in a letter that Beaumont would propose a project and then suggest they would do it together on Saturday. Of course, Beaumont was a no-show, Meyer wrote. His father would do the work. Several days later, Beaumont would show up on the farm and compliment his father on a job well done.

Cognato said the farm wasn't sold until after her grandfather died, but she doesn't remember when.

Frank Steele and Ray Barber, both of Rochester, are avid Ginger Beaumont fans. Steele, who is from Milwaukee, played ball for the UW-Milwaukee team in the 1970s. He said he hadn't heard of Beaumont until six years ago when he moved to Rochester.

Now Steele works at being a repository of Ginger Beaumont knowledge.

He rattles off facts and anecdotes.

For example, in addition to his historic first at-bats in the World Series, Beaumont also holds the record of getting on base six times with six infield hits and scoring six times in one game, Steele said.

Just before spring training, Beaumont would run from his home in Honey Creek to his farm and then back again, sometimes tethered behind the family carriage with his wife driving.

Beaumont was also the first player in major league history to lead the league in hits three consecutive years. He won a free pair of shoes for winning the 1903 batting title.

Forced to retire because of leg problems, Beaumont left the majors with a .311 career batting average.

He played one more season in the minor leagues before retiring to his Honey Creek farm.

Steele and Barber want to find some permanent way to memorialize Beaumont in his hometown.

Beaumont's friends and teammates, Honus Wagner and Rogers Hornsby, are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Beaumont's name is not enshrined there.

Barber said he believes that Beaumont's short career due to leg problems, and not being on a World Series winning team probably hurt his chances at the Hall of Fame.

Beaumont was one of the first inductees to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1951. Beaumont suffered two strokes in his 70s, and died at age 79 in Burlington, Wis.

Steele said he wants to get professional baseball to erect a major league marker on Beaumont's grave in Rochester, to acknowledge his place in baseball history.

"That's the least they can do for him," Steele said.

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Short history of Ginger Beaumont

Clarence Howeth "Ginger" Beaumont was born to Thomas and Mary Beaumont on July 23, 1876 at 105 N. State St., Rochester. Thomas Beaumont was a butcher.

The house still stands and is owned by Joe Radewan. Radewan is well aware of his home's history.

He said records indicate the house was built in 1845. Ginger was born in the house. He would later buy the house from his mother in 1933.

Radewan moved into the house in 1970, after buying it from his father.

A genuine Beaumont cigarette baseball card is framed and hangs in the kitchen. Radewan also owns a dog named Ginger.

Beaumont's professional baseball career went from 1899 to 1911. He played eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, three with the Boston Nationals (which a half century later would become the Milwaukee Braves) and one season with the Chicago Cubs.

While in the dugout during games, he would embroider to relieve the tension. He once embroidered an entire tablecloth for his wife. The tablecloth is still in the family.

Beaumont married Norma (Vaughan) Beaumont in November 1901.

They raised two daughters, Marion and Janet, and one son, Charles.

Beaumont had saved his money during his playing career and by all accounts was comfortably well-off later in life.

He is remembered for shoveling walks for neighbors and friends in the winter and firing up the stove in the local schoolhouse early in the morning.

Beaumont loved to sing. His favorite song was "Old McDonald had a Farm," and he could sing it faster than anyone else.

Beaumont's health began to deteriorate in 1948 when he suffered a stroke, and a second stroke in 1950 confined him to a wheelchair for the last years of his life.

In 1951 Beaumont was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame as a charter member. Two stars of the 1903 World Series, Deacon Phillippe and Cy Young, unveiled his plaque at the ceremony.

Beaumont died at 79 on April 10, 1956, in Burlington Hospital. His obituary in The Sporting News called him "one of the game's all-time great outfielders."

His obit also appeared in Time Magazine and The New York Times.

The Beaumont Little League in Burlington bears his name, and in 1968 the Old-Timers Athletic Club of Racine erected a flagpole and plaque in his memory.

Relatives and friends mounted campaigns in the 1940s and again in the 1980s to get Beaumont into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but to no avail.

 

(Information from Joe Radewan, Jean Cognato and the online Baseball Biography Project.)

~Chris Schultz

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