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Baseball History: There Was Once a Player Named Pretzels

As many article ideas for Diamond Digest begin, I looked through Baseball Reference to try to find some unique, less-talked-about nugget of the sport. One particular day, I looked at the Bio Index page to try to find what countries had few players. At one point, I found myself gravitating towards the list of the 42 German-born players to ever play in professional organized baseball. On this list, there are multiple interesting individuals including current Minnesota Twins outfielder Max Kepler, former Atlanta Braves second baseman Glenn Hubbard, and former journeyman pitcher Edwin Jackson, who holds the record for the most MLB teams a player has played for in his career with 14.

However, for the sake of this article, I want to write about Charles H. Getzien, a pitcher from the late 19th-century, who was affectionately called Pretzels. Pretzels Getzien, was born on February 14th, 1864, in a small north Prussian village known as Kletzin, located in modern northeastern Germany. When he was young, Charles and his family emigrated to the United States and they settled in Chicago where he began playing baseball.

In 1884, Charles debuted in the National League for the Detroit Wolverines, going 5-12 with a 1.95 ERA in 147.1 innings. The high point of the season came on October 1st, 1884, when he pitched a six-inning no-hit game. He gained the nickname Pretzels, not because of his German heritage as some historians once believed, but because of his wicked breaking ball.

In an article by Sporting Life at the time, they mentioned that batters “Describe the course of the ball from his hand to their bats as a ‘pretzel curve’.  In delivering his ‘pretzels’ ‘Getz’ faces third base with one foot in either corner of the lower end of the box. Bending the left knee slightly, he draws his right arm well back. Then, straightening up quickly, he slides the left foot forward with a characteristic little skip, and, bringing his arm around with a swift overhand swing, drives the ball in at a lively pace.”

Pretzels was so famous for his curveball that in an 1886 edition of the Scientific American magazine, text published by famous pioneer baseball journalist Henry Chadwick, he used him to explain that the curveball was real, contradicting an idea that another newspaper had at the time where they argued that Pretzels’ curveball was all in the imagination of the batters and fans.

That 1886 season was one of the better ones for Getzien, as he went 30-11 with a 3.03 ERA in 386.2 innings. However, it was his 1887 season that would prove to be his most valuable. He went 29-13 with a 3.73 ERA in 366.2 innings, leading the league in winning percentage for the season. His real value would be shown in the 1887 World Series* versus the St. Louis Browns, where he pitched six complete games, going 4-2 with a 2.48 ERA in 58 innings, and helped the Wolverines get ten wins compared to the Browns five wins in the series. (*Post-season games before 1903 were considered exhibitions.)

He pitched one more year with the Wolverines, one where he posted a 19-25 record and a 3.75 ERA in 404 innings. After stories began appearing in newspapers about a possible feud between Getzien and Wolverines manager Bill Watkins as well as publications suggesting that Pretzels’ lost his desire to pitch, his contract was sold to the Indianapolis Hoosiers in the offseason. There, he pitched the majority of the 1889 season to a tune of an 18-22 record and a 4.54 ERA in 349 innings, until he missed the last few weeks with an arm injury.

Unfortunately for Pretzels, he was becoming far too erratic and wild with his command, causing him to give up 411 hits and 54 walks in his last year for the Wolverines, and 395 hits and 100 walks during his shortened 1889 campaign with the Hoosiers.

The Indianapolis Hoosiers folded after the 1889 season, and he was signed by the Boston Beaneaters in 1890. He then went on to win 23 games with the Beaneaters that season, but after spending a short time with the Cleveland Spiders and St. Louis Browns in 1891 and 1892, Pretzels’ last professional game came on July 19, 1892. He was out of major league baseball before his 29th birthday. Like the Greek tale of Icarus, Pretzels Getzien flew too fast and too close to the sun, crashing and burning while he was young; and unfortunately for him, nobody likes burnt pretzels.

After his playing days were over, he and his wife moved to Chicago where, according to the 1900 Census, he was working as an assistant grain-elevator inspector. Sometime later, Pretzels took a job as a typesetter with the Chicago Tribune. He suffered a heart attack in 1932 and died shortly after at the age of 68. According to Baseball Reference, his 18 WAR is second all-time for a German-born player, and to this day, his 145 wins are a record for a German-born pitcher.

For the information in this article, the author consulted and

Jonathan Hoffman

Jonathan Hoffman is a graduate student at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism. He's a lifelong Dodgers fan from Los Angeles who grew up in a family full of Phillies fans. Follow on Twitter/X and Instagram @JHoff100 if you also obsess over Clayton Kershaw and sports uniforms.

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