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Joe Hauser was once such a hero in Milwaukee, where he was born and lived for 38 years, that he was called Unser Choe, German slang for "Our Joe." He's a big man, trim and splendidly erect. He looks as if he would have been perfectly content playing schafskopf (a card game) instead of baseball, or as happy being in the Wisconsin Hall of Fame as he would have been in Cooperstown.
Like Babe Ruth. Hauser was a hot left-handed pitching prospect when he first tried out for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics in 1918. He'd lost only one game in three years for the Zunker Comers on Milwaukee's West Side.
Hauser didn't catch on with the A's, but was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association, and was farmed out to Providence, where he was switched from pitching ("I was a little wild") to the outfield. In 1920 he joined the Brewers, and the A's signed him in 1922. He hit .323 as a rookie. He had two more good years, batting .288 with 27 home runs and 115 RBIs in '24. But his right kneecap was shattered while he was running to cover first base during a preseason game in 1925, and he never had another good season in the majors.
The suspect advice of Ty Cobb wrecked what might have been a fine season with the A's in 1928. Hauser was hitting about .365 with eight homers through his first 35 games, when Cobb, closing out his career with the A's, tried to make him into a dead pull hitter. "Stand closer to the plate." Cobb counseled. "Hit everything with your elbows."
Hauser began hitting everything off his fists. Then Cobb, who, Hauser maintains, didn't want another player stealing his thunder, told him to stand on top of the plate, and Hauser's slump got worse. He wound up at .260.
Hauser played 37 games in Cleveland in 1929, but he never again put on a big league uniform. He spent 10 more years in the minors before closing out his career as player-manager of the Sheboygan Indians in the Wisconsin State League. He had his best seasons in 1930, when he smacked 63 homers in 168 games for the old Baltimore Orioles, and in '33, when he hit 69 in 153 games for Minneapolis. A good Class AAA team then might have been better than a lot of major league teams today. "The bigs were scared off by my knee," Hauser says. "They figured I was a mechanical man all wound up."
Hauser made $2,200 in the Depression year of 1933. Though he batted .332 and knocked in 182 runs, Minnesota wouldn't give him a raise. The Boston Braves offered him $400 a month in '34, but Hauser declined. "What the hell." he says. "I'd just as well be a big fish in a little pond."