A street leading to the annex baseball fields at Reid Park bears the name of a man who groomed those fields for many years.
Emil Bossard was born on May 20, 1891, in Luthern, Switzerland. He was the fourth of five sons born to Joseph and Rosa Bossard. The following year, Rosa and her four older sons departed Le Havre, France by ship (a fifth son was born later), arriving in New York City on Nov. 28, 1892 before traveling to St. Paul, Minn. The father, who is believed to have immigrated earlier that year, later had a hardware store and a plumbing business in St. Paul.
In 1908, Emil Bossard became a naturalized citizen of the United States. In April 1910, he was working as a laborer (likely for his father), in St. Paul. But by the following year his fortunes changed when the groundskeeper for the St. Paul Saints, a minor-league baseball team, died and, as Bossard later said, “I stepped in and got the job. I moved right in, but I didn’t know a damned thing about the work.” But he learned and spent many years as the groundskeeper for Lexington Park.
Emil married Elizabeth “Lizzie” Tischler in St. Paul on Jan. 4, 1912. They had three sons: Harold, Marshall and Eugene — all of whom followed in their father’s footsteps as groundskeepers in Major League Baseball.
Around 1936, Emil was hired by the Cleveland Indians as head groundskeeper for League Park. In 1946, Bill Veeck purchased the Indians and the following year he moved the team to Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
While working for the team he gained the nickname “Doctor of the Diamond” because he tailored the fields to help his team win. In an interview in 1969, he said, “You did those things when your club was up there with a chance to win the pennant.” “Some of those things weren’t my ideas. Bobby Avila (second baseman) wanted me to tilt the base paths so his bunts wouldn’t roll out ... Lou Boudreau (shortstop) wanted me to soak the hell out of the field ... Joe Gordon (second baseman) wanted it the opposite ... and Kenny Keltner (third baseman) wanted the field to be solid so the ball would come right to him and with Bill Veeck (owner) we used to move in the fences, but you can’t do that during the season now.”
Cleveland players felt that he helped so much that, one year, they voted him a three-fourths World Series cut of $5,034.45.
Team owner Veeck also owned Tucson’s Lazy V Ranch (it later became part of the Rocking K Ranch). Hiram S. “Hi” Corbett, a member of the Tucson Baseball Commission, persuaded him to make Randolph Municipal Baseball Park (renamed at the behest of Roy Drachman, in 1951 to Hi Corbett Field) and Tucson the spring-training home of his team.
Bossard, as a groundskeeper for the Indians, came to Tucson in late 1946 to review the baseball field at Randolph Park (now Reid Park) for the Indians’ first spring training in 1947.
He spent many spring trainings here and was known for being the first member of the team to arrive in the Old Pueblo, even before the trainers and publicity team. He commonly worked with sons Harold and Marshall, as well as local groundskeeper Frank Brazaskas, to prepare the field. He also worked with Gene C. Reid, director of Tucson Parks and Recreation and the namesake for Reid Park.
The late 1950s, saw many changes for baseball in Tucson: the installation of an electronic sprinkling system at Hi Corbett Field in December 1958; the use of a new type of automatic pitching machine capable of shooting a ball faster than any human pitcher, built by Bossard in 1959; and the Indians, with Bossard’s help, becoming the first major-league team to have two official spring-training fields when the annex field behind the right-field wall of Hi Corbett Field was made into the second official field.
Additional changes to Hi Corbett Field during late 1950s included more bleacher seating on the first-base side, which increased seating capacity from about 5,000 to about 5,500, and replacing sections of the adobe wall in the outfield with cement blocks.
On Jan. 19, 1959, the Tucson Daily Citizen said Bossard had been “rated unanimously as the No. 1 groundskeeper in all baseball.”
By January 1961, Bossard had retired as the Indians chief groundskeeper and was replaced by his son Harold. That year or the next, three more fields were added onto the annex field. The expansion likely was to provide enough fields for the Cleveland Indians minor-league training camp in Tucson. It’s believed that Bossard was involved in the construction of these fields as a consultant.
About this time Bossard moved permanently to Tucson and continued to work at Hi Corbett Field. In 1970, at the age of 79, he decided to hang up his rake for good.
On Dec. 20, 1970, Bossard was asleep in Room 1123 of the Pioneer International Hotel on Stone Avenue, when he was awakened about midnight by sirens.
He saw smoke in his room and opened his door, seeing people running down the hall straight into the thick smoke. He closed the door, opened his window and climbed out on the ledge of the 11th floor. He inched along the ledge to get away from the smoke pouring out of his window. He saw people jumping to their death to escape the fire and heard fireman shouting at him not to jump. His room was on the east side of the building, and he kept looking down at Reilly’s Funeral Home (now Rielly Craft Pizza & Drink), figuring he would soon be there. After almost two hours firefighters got him off the ledge and carried him down 11 flights of stairs to safety.
In the 1970s, Bossard worked as a consultant for several different ball parks, including Hi Corbett Field. On May 6, 1980 he passed on to his field of dreams.
Bossard was the patriarch of a legendary groundskeeping dynasty. His sons Harold, Marshall and Eugene all worked as major-league groundskeepers. His grandsons Brian and Roger, great-grandson James and great-great-grandson Andrew all carry on the legacy.
Emil Bossard was inducted into the Major League Baseball Groundskeeper Hall of Fame on Jan. 8, 2012.
Note: There is also an Emil Bossard Field in Reid Park.