Timothy Carroll “Tim” Hurst had an eventful season in 1906.
He had been an umpire since 1891—with the exception of one awful season managing the St. Louis Browns to a 39-111 last place finish in 1898. In 1904 Hurst retired from the National League, but months later joined the umpire staff of the Central League, and took a job in the American League in 1905.
The Kansas City Journal described the 5’ 5” umpire who was also a boxing referee::
“Hurst is a pudgy little fellow, below medium height, with sandy hair, twinkling blue eyes and a ruddy complexion.”
He was often called “pugnacious” for his on field, and off, altercations, and once told a reporter for The New York Herald how he dealt with argumentative catchers:
“Never put a catcher out of the game. If the man back of the bat is sassy and objects to your calling of balls and strikes, keep close behind him while doing your work and kick him every time he reaches out a catch a ball. After about the third kick he’ll shut up.”
The incident that earned him the most attention in 1906 happened during a May 7 game in New York between the Highlanders and the Washington Nationals. The New York Times said during the fifth inning:
“(Frank) LaPorte was declared out at first base on a close decision. Manager (Clark) Griffith rushed over to the base line, and, throwing his cap in the air, protested against the decision. He wildly gesticulated, and Hurst ordered him away. Griffith, instead of following Hurst’s instructions, stepped up to the latter, protesting all the time. In his excitement he stepped upon Hurst’s foot.”
Hurst “drew back” to punch Griffith but was held back by players from both teams.
“Hurst then took hold of the lapel of Griffith’s coat and started to lead the player-manager to the bench. The latter angrily resented this action and pushed Hurst’s hand away. Lave Cross and the Washingtons tried to pacify Griffith, and succeeded in getting him to the players’ bench.”
Hurst followed Griffith to the New York bench and again attempted to punch the manager, while Griffith “rushed at the umpire.”
According to The Associated Press Griffith claimed “’Hurst didn’t hit me.’ Then pointing to his swollen mouth he added, ‘I had this swollen lip before the game.’”
Hurst and Griffith were both suspended for five games.
The following year Henry Pierrepoint Edwards of The Cleveland Plain Dealer said Hurst had given him an explanation to “clear up the mystery” of why he reacted so violently:
“Now, it isn’t customary for Tim to wear baseball shoes on the diamond. Usually Tim appears for the fray clad in the same suit he would wear at a pink tea. His real uniform is just a cap.
“On the afternoon in question Tim purchased a new pair of patent leather shoes. The shoes glistened in the sun like a diamond and gave Tim great pleasure. Griffith forgot all about the shoes and in his rage over losing a close decision spiked and spoiled the new kicks. Great was Tim’s rage. Even greater was the clash. That’s all.”
Two months after the incident with Griffith, Hurst made what might have been the worst call of his career.
On July 7 in Washington, he was working the game between the Nationals and the Detroit Tigers. The score was tied 3 to 3 in the seventh inning, the Tigers had the bases loaded with two out and Sam “Wahoo” Crawford at the plate, facing Nationals pitcher Frank Kitson. The Washington Post said:
“’Wahoo’ lifted one a thousand miles directly over the pan. Kitson came tearing in, (Catcher Howard) Wakefield hesitated. Manager (Jake) Stahl stood still at first base. The pellet whirled in the air and finally dropped just inside the line and bounded back to the stands. (Charley) O’Leary and (John) Eubank romped home. Crawford went to second, carrying the funniest two-base hit on record. Kitson and Wakefield stood admiring each other until Hurst again yelled ‘Fair ball!’ when the boy catcher went after the bulb.”
While the Nationals argued the call, and Hurst refused to reverse his decision, The Post said “The spectators were forced to listen to the dillydallying for fully fifteen minutes, then many of them got up and left the belligerents wrangling over the decision.”
Kitson threw a wild pitch to the next batter, Matty McIntyre scoring Herman “Germany” Schaefer and Crawford. The Tigers went on to win 9 to 3. Jake Stahl filed a protest with American league President Ban Johnson.
The Washington Evening Star said:
“The only excuse that Umpire Hurst can have is that the play was an unusual one. Lave Cross admitting that he never saw its like in his experience on the diamond. Hurst was palpably rattled, and the Tigers when taking their places on the field chaffed the locals with the remark that ‘Tim certainly handed us one that time.’”
The Washington Times said it was “one of the most remarkable plays ever seen on a diamond,“ and printed for their readers rule number’s 44 and 45 from the 1906 “Reach Guide” Reach describing “A Fair Hit,” and “A Foul Hit.”
The Washington Times used “The Reach Guide” to illustrate how Hurst blew the call.
The Times said:
“(T)here seemed no possible way of calling it fair, but Hurst was obdurate, and the only explanation he would give was that the ball ‘was hit too high.” What the heighth of the hit had to do with the fact that it eventually bounded foul is still another mystery.”
Hurst’s story evolved over the next several days. The Post said his original explanation regarding the ball’s height was “to the effect that the ball was it so high it ‘settled’ inside, constituting the hit a fair one. “ This was quickly replaced by Hurst’s claim that the ball had touched Wakefield, the Washington catcher, before bounding into foul territory.
The Times’ baseball reporter Thomas Stevens Rice said of Hurst’s new story:
“This explanation is all right if it presents the facts in the case. In the press box there was not a single man who thought the ball was touched by Wakefield or anybody else.”
The Post conceded that the protest would be rejected, saying “It is almost certain that Ban Johnson will sustain his scrappy umpire, no matter what interpretation he puts on the rules,” but the paper did not let up on Hurst.
The following week when Sam Crawford brought his average up to .300, The Post said:
“Hurst last week decided that Crawford’s high rap which hit inside the base line and bounded back to the stands was fair…am would have faced the pitcher 271 times and got away with 81 hits which would have made his average .299, as it was Sam got and extra hit which brought the total to .303. He owes Tim a hat.”
Hurst was still young, just forty-one in 1906, but The Sporting Life said something had changed during that year, and by the end of the season that the umpire lacked the “Aggressiveness and enthusiasm” he had previously exhibited:
“It is feared that the cares of his office are making an old man out of Tim, who once was noted for having the finest brand of keen-cutting, kill-at-a-thousand-yards sarcasm of any umpire in captivity. Sit Timothy is very tame, and the players, even the bush leaguers who have just broken in, can tell him what they think of him and his calling.”
Hurst’s old “aggressiveness” came out in 1909. He was suspended in May for a fight with Norman “Kid” Elberfeld of the Highlanders, then on August 3 during a game between the Athletics and White Sox. The Brooklyn Eagle said:
“At Philadelphia Tim Hurst came in for considerable trouble. Hurst called Eddie Collins out at second and the Columbia youngster put up a kick.
“Whether it was with malice aforethought or quite an accident, it is a fact that the umpire distributed a mouthful of moistened union-made tobacco in the direction of the youthful Eddie, who immediately called Tim’s attention to the board of health ordinance which prohibited expectorating in public places.”
After the game Hurst had to be escorted from the field by Philadelphia police. Ban Johnson suspended Hurst, beginning two weeks of rumor and speculation about the umpire’s fate. Finally, on August 18 it was announced that Hurst had been let go by the American League.
Hurst, in poor health since 1912, died in 1915. Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner said of his passing at age 49:
“The saddest part of it is that ‘Timothy’ did not die in the blue uniform, and that during the last few years of his life he was practically blacklisted in baseball for refusing to answer or deny charges made against him for his actions during a clash with Eddie Collins…President Johnson declared that if Hurst even had replied to his telegrams of inquiry he would have kept him—but Tim, knowing he had done wrong, refused, and went out of the game.”