“The Words ‘Baseball Team’ are used Advisedly in this Instance”

22 Oct

Far from considering their local club a source of civic pride, The Springfield Leader was not thrilled about the prospects for the Missouri city’s baseball team, the Midgets on the eve of the 1907 Western Association season:

“Springfield will have a baseball team this spring.  The words ‘baseball team’ are used advisedly in this instance and with somewhat of a reserve.  A ball team is made up of nine men, not all of whom are ballplayers and sometimes not any of them.  Nine men dressed in similar uniforms and scattered in the orthodox fashion over the diamond and in the outer gardens, are generally understood to constitute a baseball team.  The difference between that sort of a team and a team as defined and understood by a genuine fan and follower of the game is almost as wide as the gulf that separates two classes of residents in the next world.

“In the cranium of the thoroughbred lover of the great national game a ball team is made up of ball players.  The mere wearing of a glove and uniform and being stationed somewhere in the playing field is not the only essential to a ball team as far as the fan is concerned.  The real test of a ball team is the ability of the bunch to play ball.  That is what the fans demand and what they expect.  Of course they do not object to the men wearing uniforms and gloves, but those are merely minor affairs, wholly secondary to the skill of the men in putting up a stellar exhibition of the game.  No ball team is a ball team unless the individuals who compose that team can play ball.  That is the doctrine of the fans, tested in the furnace of experience and labeled bottled in bond 100 percent pure.

“With these two propositions laid down and comprehended it is necessary to see which class the Queen City of the Ozarks will be when his honor, the umps, announces the batteries and informs the rivals that it is time to play ball.

“Springfield will have nine men with uniforms and gloves.  That is a settled fact.  They will undoubtedly have the pleasure of seeing a few men on the field who can play ball.  But so far as the ability of the outfield to put up a kind of game that father used to make is concerned—as Hamlet the melancholy Dane of Shakespearean repute once remarked in of  his famous after dinner speeches—‘Aye, there’s the rub.

“Somewhere in the neighborhood of two score men have been signed by Manager (Frank Richmond) Pierce (a Springfield bank executive) to try out with the bunch that is to report now in a few days.  A few, a very small few, are known to have played ball before.”

The paper singled out on player in particular for ridicule; shortstop John Welter hit .201 the previous season, and committed 60 errors in 88 games:

“(T)he big shortstop made a very poor impression last season and it is not likely that he could have signed in a 10-year-old kid corner lot league.”

The Leader was also upset about the sale of the team’s two best players, pitcher Harley “Cy the Third” Young, who won 24 games, and third baseman Gus Hetling, who led the team in most offensive categories, to the Wichita Jobbers:

“Both these players were good, and as the city did not need good players they were sold to make a little money.  As long as the fans don’t care for a good article of ball there is no use in paying the salaries to men who can play. Duds are good enough for any fan to watch and they are considerably cheaper, so what is the use in wasting money.  The fact that Wichita will likely come here and Young will allow the Midgets about one or two hits and Hetling will field without an error and knock the ball out of the lot three or four times, will make no difference.  The fans will still have the pleasure of seeing them play.”

The Leader said Pierce was not entirely to blame, because his stockholders “refused to come across with any coin.”

In response, Pierce told the city’s other newspaper, The Republican; his team would consist of “some of the highest salaried players that have ever signed with Springfield.”

Despite Pierce’s claim, the team fared about as well as The Leader predicted; winning just 46 games, with 92 losses, and Pierce sold his interest in the team in June—his first, and last, tenure as a baseball executive lasting just a few months.

After acquiring Springfield’s two best players—Young and Heitling—Wichita cruised to the league championship with a 98-35 record.

With the addition of Heitling (4) and Young (10) Wichita easily won the 1907 Western Association championship.

With the addition of Heitling (4) and Young (10) Wichita easily won the 1907 Western Association championship.

Young was 29-4 for Wichita; after the 1907 season he was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  His major league career consisted of just 14 games with the Pirates and Boston Doves, posting a career 0-3 record.  He played seven more seasons in the minor leagues, but never won twenty games again.

Heitling hit .275 for the champions and played 10 more seasons, most on the Pacific Coast.

Welter, the shortstop The Leader said didn’t belong “in a 10-year-old kid corner lot league,” hit .222 (there are no surviving fielding totals for the season) and never played professionally again after 1907.

After two more seasons as one of the doormats of the Western Association this incarnation of the Springfield Midgets folded in 1909.

Harley Parker

20 Oct

Harley Park Parker was a renaissance man; a physician, an ambidextrous golfer, a billiard player who trained champions, in addition to being a major league pitcher—he was 5-8 with a 5.90 ERA in parts of four seasons with the Chicago Colts and Cincinnati Reds.

He is also responsible for what might be the worst single game pitching performance in professional baseball history.

The 22-year-old Parker was pitching for the Grand Rapids Rippers (several newspapers in other in the other Western League cities called the team the Rustlers) against the Kansas City Blues (newspapers were split between referring to the club as the Blues or the Cowboys) on July 25, 1894.

Harley Parker circa 1895

Harley Parker circa 1895

The Kansas City Gazette said:

“The ball bats of the Kansas City Blues in the game against Grand Rapids collided with Pitcher Parker’s curves thirty-nine times yesterday, and yielded as many runs.”

The Blues actually had thirty-eight hits, to go along with 13 Grand Rapids errors.

The Kansas City Star said:

“(The Blues) hit him at will yesterday, for singles, doubles, triples and home runs.  It was a slugging match, the like of which had never before been seen in a professional game at Exposition Park, and while the Rustlers did some very sloppy fielding, there was world of free, sharp and hard hitting.”

Every member of the Kansas City line up had at least two hits, and three players, Sam Nicholl, Ollie Beard, and pitcher Pete Daniels, collected six each.

The final score was 39 to 10.

The Box Score Grand Rapids vs Kansas City

The Box Score Grand Rapids vs Kansas City

The game was indicative of Parker’s season; he finished with a 15-18 record with a 6.23 ERA—in addition to the 193 earned runs he gave up in 278.2 innings, his team gave him horrible support, and he allowed 194 unearned runs.

Parker had a similarly disastrous day as a major leaguer seven years later.  While pitching for the Reds against the Brooklyn Superbas on June 21, 1901 Parker allowed 21 runs on 26 hits in a complete game loss—“Wee Willie” Keeler was 5 for 5 with a rare home run (he hit just 33 during his 19-year career).

The Box Score Cincinnati vs Brooklyn

The Box Score Cincinnati vs Brooklyn

During his five minor league seasons Parker was only above.500 once; 5-4 in 1898 with the Minneapolis Millers; he was 5-8 as a major leaguer.

Parker briefly owned a Central League franchise in 1911, the club moved from Grand Rapids, Michigan to South Bend, Indiana, but even with the move he was forced to sell the team at mid-season because of financial difficulties.

That same year he also had a short stint as an umpire that ended with a trip to the United States Capitol.

In August, after one of Umpire Jack Sheridan’s frequent resignations—he returned to his position days later—American League President Ban Johnson hired Parker to the league staff.

Less than a month into his tenure Parker was on the field for one of William Herman “Germany” Schaefer’s stunts.  On August 4, Schaefer’s Washington Senators were playing the Chicago White Sox.  With the score tied in the ninth inning Schaefer stole second, hoping to draw a throw to allow Clyde Milan to score from third base; Sox catcher Fred Payne did not throw to second.  Schaefer then led off second base on the first-base side and returned to first on the next pitch.

The Washington Herald said:

“Umpire Harley Parker, who was officiating on the bases, was near first at the time.  When he saw Schaefer coming back to first Parker accosted the comedian ball player with the query: ‘What are you doing here?’

“’I have stolen second.  Now I am stealing first,’ said the Nationals’ troublemaker.

“’Well, if you stay down here I’ll call you out,’ said Parker.

“(White Sox) Manager (Hugh) Duffy in the meantime had ordered Doc White to throw the ball to John “Shano” Collins at first.  Germany thought discretion the better part of valor, and made a dive back toward second.  In the meantime Milan was tearing down toward home.  Collins wheeled and threw home, Milan being tagged out at the plate.”

Germany Schaefer

Germany Schaefer

Duffy was standing in the middle of the diamond arguing with Parker and home plate umpire Tommy Connolly as Milan was thrown out at home—Washington protested that “the play shouldn’t go because Chicago had ten men on the field.  Manager Duffy having stayed out to the middle of the diamond.”

Connolly and Parker finally ruled that Milan was out.  Washington went on to win the game 1 to 0 in 11 innings.

Harley Parker, 1910

Harley Parker, 1910

The following month Parker was again in Washington working a series between the Senators and the White Sox when, while sitting in the lobby of Washington’s Driscoll Hotel, according to The Washington Star he was approached by an “officer from the United States Senate,” who told Parker “I have a warrant for you.”

Parker was taken to the United States Capitol.

“The officer of Uncle Sam marched the arbitrator up to the desk of Vice President (James Schoolcraft) Sherman in the senate, the most august assemblage in the United States.

“’I guess I’ve got your man at last,’ said the officer as he introduced Parker to the vice president.

“’I sent for you to inquire about that play when Germany Schaefer went back to first after stealing second,’” said Sherman and Parker drew a sigh of relief.

“It was just like eating pie for Parker to explain the play and he did so to the satisfaction of all concerned.  Sherman admitted the play bothered him more than any problem that had come up in the extra session of congress and that was going some.”

Parker did not work as an umpire again after the 1911.  He returned to Chicago to practice medicine and teach billiard; contemporary newspaper accounts said he trained two champions—Calvin Demarest and Welker Cochran.

He died in Chicago in 1941.

“Women have been the cause of Ruin of more Good Clubs than Anything Else”

17 Oct

In 1907 Hugh Fullerton wrote in The Chicago Herald about the outside influences that he felt did the most damage to a ballclub:

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

“There are dozens of things that happen to keep a team from landing a pennant about which the general public is entirely ignorant and which never can be explained clearly.

“For instance, one of the mysteries of baseball was the breaking up of the famous White Stockings team.

“Hundreds and thousands of people cursed the management of the Chicagos for selling off star players and wrecking the club—and few ever knew why it was.  The management felt worse over it than the fans possibly could feel—but it was inevitable.  A scandal in the club concerning two members and the wife of one of them started the trouble.  Threats to kill each other were made—and the disruption of the club became absolutely necessary.  The sale of (Mike “King”) Kelly (1887) and (John) Clarkson (1888) was the beginning –and after a time all parties to the scandal were let out—and Chicago was given a decade of losing clubs.”

Mike "King" Kelly

Mike “King” Kelly

He claimed the reason for the breakup of the White Stockings was a common one.

“Women have been the cause of ruin of more good clubs than anything else.  They need not necessarily be bad women.  There was one club in the old twelve-club National League which, for two years, was knocked out of all chances of winning merely because the wife of one of the players was an inveterate gossip.  She knew everything that went on in the club and retained it until she had half the players up in arms against each other.

“One of the best manager s in the country today frowns upon all women and his players, under his direction, forbid their wives to mention the subject of baseball to each other.  The result is that there is the best feeling in the club.  Almost every member of the team is married, their wives meet socially at all times—and baseball is tabooed by common consent.

“I know a catcher, one of the toughest, hardiest fellows in the business, who nearly was ruined as a catcher by the women of the club.  He was so strong and tough that you couldn’t have dented him with an ax, but one day he split his hand a little bit.  He thought nothing of it, and was ready to catch the next day when the women got to pitying him and telling him he ought to take good care of it.  When he left the grounds he had tied up the injured place with a rag—and was all right.  By the next morning he was ready to go to the hospital—and he did lay off for two weeks, all because the women made a martyr of him.”

But, according to Fullerton, there was something almost as bad for a baseball team as women:

“Horse racing, however, has ruined almost as many clubs as women have.  Once a team gets interested in horse racing, and so far as winning goes, it might as well disband.

“One of the greatest troubles in the present New York National League team is the devotion of some of the players to the racing game.  (John) McGraw himself has been so successful at it that baseball has become sort of a side issue.  Many of his players have followed his example, and the result is they think more of horse racing than of baseball.

“Racing did more to wreck (Ned) Hanlon’s championship Brooklyn team than any other thing.  The Washington Park grounds are so close to the Brighton and Sheepshead tracks that players could see two or three races before the game.  Eventually baseball was forgotten and the conversation in the clubhouse dwelt only on horse racing.

(Cap) Anson had a crowd of horse race fans for several years, and the result on the work of the team was something frightful.  They talked horse racing even on the field, and had the telegraph operators throwing out messages telling what horses had won.”

And, he said, gambling in general had been detrimental to the Giants during the years Andrew Freedman owned the club (1895-1902):

“There always was a crap game or a poker game in the clubhouse, and the stakes were so high that bitter feeling was endangered.”

While Fullerton, for the most part, avoided naming names, he did single out one former Chicago manager, who had died five years earlier, for presiding over teams that were “ruined” by gambling:

“The Chicago team the second year under Tom Burns (1899) was wrecked by the same sort of deal, the manager setting a bad example in that respect.  Burns also was charged by the Pittsburgh owners with ruining their club, when he was manager (1892), by permitting and encouraging gambling.”

Tom Burns

Tom Burns

“We didn’t have any High-Faluting Baseball Paraphernalia”

15 Oct

The Seattle Star said of Dan Dugdale:

“No man in the Northwest can rival the experiences in baseball that Daniel E. Dugdale has had in the national game.”

In his 1934 obituary The United Press called Dugdale “the father of organized baseball in Seattle.”

Dan Dugdale

Dan Dugdale

Primarily a catcher, Dugdale played professional ball for more than a decade; including two stints in the National League with the Kansas City Cowboys in 1886 and the Washington Senators in 1894.  He retired after the 1897 season and made what was intended to be a brief stop in Seattle on the way to Alaska for the Klondike Gold Rush.  He never made it to Alaska, and in Seattle he organized most of the city’s early professional teams and built two ballparks.

Dan Dugdale 1894

Dan Dugdale 1894

Forty years after he began playing he shared his reminiscences about in the early 1880s in his hometown of Peoria, Illinois with Seattle reporter Leo Lassen:

“We didn’t have any high-faluting baseball paraphernalia for the deciding game of the Peoria, Illinois city championship in the summer of 1883.  I can remember that we used a piece of the curbstone for home plate.  Nobody except the catcher used glove, and he only had a fingerless glove of thin leather over both hands.

“Oh yes!  Of course my team, the Double Browns, won, or it wouldn’t start this story out right.  It was in that game that I got my start as a catcher.

“I had been playing shortstop, but the regular receiver split a finger and there wasn’t anyone else to catch, so I tried it.

“We stood back for the pitches except on the third strike, and except with men on bases, catching the ball on the first bounce when standing back.

Ted Kennedy, who later helped pitch one of Pop Anson’s Chicago teams into the championship, was hurling for our side that day, and baby but he could throw that ball with plenty of swift.

“’Don’t catch if you want to keep your health,’ Ted warned me before taking up my receiving duties…Kennedy was right.  The first time I stood up close to catch, the ball hit that curbstone plate and crashed into my mouth, knocking out teeth by the wholesale and putting me on queer street.

“But in those days no one considered quitting as long as it was possible to stand up and catch the ball.

“I finished the game and we won the championship, and I felt well repaid for it.

“That game started me on my baseball career as a catcher, after which I was to serve for 15 years as a receiver for clubs throughout the country.”

Kennedy wasn’t the only major leaguer Dugdale played with in Peoria.  In 1885 he played with one of the claimants to the title of invention of the catcher’s mitt—Harry Decker—and Dugdale talked about some of the attempts his teammate made to protect his hands four years before Decker was awarded the patent for the Decker Safety Catcher’s Mitt:

“(Catchers) had no shin guards, masks or big gloves in those days, and a fellow had to be almost a martyr to go behind the plate with fellows like John Clarkson, Amos Rusie and those old stars doing the pitching.

“The big catcher’s pad now in use in baseball, is the same glove that Harry Decker, a teammate of mine on the Peoria team in 1885, invented.

“Harry had been troubled with split fingers and he kept tinkering around with leather trying to figure out how to protect his left hand, which does the big work for all catchers.

“He had a thin, fingerless glove to start with and one day he slipped a piece of raw beefsteak between the glove and his hand and that glove gave him his first idea.  He used this protection for almost a season, using a fresh piece of meat each day.

“Then he tried shot in the pocket of the glove and put a piece of leather on top of the shot, leaving it between the two pieces of leather.

“This gave him the idea of building the mitt up bigger and lacing fingers on the back of the glove.

“One day he hit upon the idea of stuffing the glove with rags in the mitt for protection, and finally got some good felt and used that.  It has been in use ever since.”

Decker Safety Catcher’s Mitt

Decker Safety Catcher’s Mitt

Dugdale remained the most prominent figure in Seattle baseball until he was hit by a truck and killed in 1934.

Accounts vary over how much Decker received from the sale of the mitt patent to A.G. Spalding.   He  is one of the enigmatic 19th Century players for whom there is no information on the date or location of his death.

After his career ended in 1891 he was convicted of numerous crimes—most involving forgery, but also including larceny and bigamy; several of his crimes involved other ballplayers.

Throughout his career Decker had a reputation as a womanizer; The Philadelphia Inquirer called him “The Don Juan of the Diamond,” but by 1890, perhaps exacerbated by his being hit in the head by a pitch, he went from lovable rogue to serial offender.  He racked up arrests and convictions in at least six states and an involuntary commitment to the Elgin State Hospital in Illinois over the next 25 years.

Victims of his crimes included Dugdale, and Al Reach, both of whose names appeared on forged checks in separate cases, and Jack Horner and Pat Pettee, teammates of Decker’s in 1891 during his brief stay with the New Haven Nutmegs in the Eastern Association.  Decker was convicted of stealing property worth $150 from Horner and $55 from Pettee after the two had allowed him to stay in the apartment they shared.

Decker’s trail goes cold after he was released from California’s San Quentin Prison in 1915.

Leo Lassen, the reporter Dugdale spoke to, went on to become the radio voice of the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League from 1931 through the 1961 season.  Some surviving audio can be found here.

Lost Advertisements–George Gibson for Coca-Cola

13 Oct

gibsoncoke

Pittsburgh Pirates Catcher George Gibson was coming off one of the most impressive seasons ever–he caught in 134 straight games, and a total of 150 for the World Series Champions–when this advertisement appeared:

George Gibson of the Pittsburgh Nationals

(Champions of the World)

led the league as a catcher with a percentage of .983 and caught more games than any other catcher last year.  He writes us that he is enthusiastic about Coca-Cola.  You, too, will like Coca-Cola, because it relieves fatigue, refreshes, quenches the thirst and is absolutely wholesome.

The Coca-Cola Company wanted to attribute Gibson’s iron man performance in 1909 to his choice of beverage, but before the season Gibson, from his home in London, Ontario wrote to Barney Dreyfuss, Pirates president and told him about his secret for getting in shape for the campaign.  The Pittsburgh Dispatch printed the letter:

I had a letter from (Pirate outfielder John) Chief Wilson the other day.  All he writes about is hunting.  He says the quails are so thick down where he is (Bertram, Texas) that you have to cut a path through them when you go hunting.  Nothing like that up here.  I have seen a lone jack rabbit this season and I have been chasing him to keep in condition, but to date I have not captured him.  He is the limit for speed.  One jump and he lands in the next town.  He would make a good trainer.  If I can catch him alive I will take him to Hot Springs and let the boys get in condition by chasing him.”

Jim Delahanty’s Idea

10 Oct

Before the 1911 season, Hugh Fullerton, in The Chicago Examiner, told the story about Jim Delahanty’s plan to improve his hitting.  The Detroit Tigers second baseman was having a conversation with teammates:

Jim Delahanty

Jim Delahanty

“’I think,’ said Delahanty, ‘that if someone would kick me between the eyes real hard, I’d lead the league in hitting.’

“’What’s the angle of that remark?’ Asked Sam Crawford.

“’If I were you,’ said Davy Jones, ‘I’d hire a mule to kick me three of four times, and maybe I’d hit 1000 per cent.

“’I’ll tell you what I mean,’ said Del.  ‘When I went to the Atlantic League I was just a fair hitter—fair, bordering on rotten.  If I hit .225 I felt pretty good, and if I fell below that I wasn’t much surprised.

‘”Well, I had been going along fairly well for a few weeks, when one day I started stealing second.  I intended at first to slide behind the bag, but the baseman changed position, and I tried to switch and slide in front.’

“’The result was I slid awkwardly, and as he touched me out and blocked me his knee hit me bang between the eyes.  I saw forty million stars, and got up dizzy and feeling funny.’

“’Everything seemed changed, and I seemed to be looking through a veil all the time.  Everything on mu right side looked uphill and everything on the left downhill.  For about ten days I was the worst hitter in the world, not excepting Jack Pfiester.  It worried me.’

Jack Pfiester

Jack Pfiester

“’I think in three weeks I got two base hits, and what seemed funny to me was that I made both these hits off curve balls that fooled me.  The fact is my eyes had been banged out of gear and I was swinging about four inches below where the ball really was, and the only times I hit it was when it fooled me.’

“I was all upset and ready to quit when one day I drew a base on balls and tried to steal.  The shortstop was coming to cover the bag, and as I slid his knee caught me right between the eyes and knocked me cold.

“’When I batted the next time I saw the ball perfectly, or thought I did, and up I went into the .250 class.  A year later I got another crack between the eyes—and immediately improved still further in hitting.  Now I’m waiting for the kick that will put me in the .350 class.’

“Crawford was silent for some time.  Then he said:

‘”Say, did (Napoleon) Lajoie ever mention being hit between the eyes with a pile driver?’”

A .283 lifetime hitter, Delahanty had his best season at the plate in 1911, with career bests in nearly every offensive category, including average (.339) and RBI (94).

There is no record of him having received the desired blow to the head before the season began.

“Stories of his Badness are told all over the League”

8 Oct

After “Bad Bill” Eagan finished the 1898 season with the Syracuse Stars –he hit just .227, his lowest recorded minor league season average—then returned to his native Camden, NJ–Eagan started his amateur baseball career in Camden as a pitcher, his catcher was another Camden native, William “Kid” Gleason.

Bad Bill Eagan

Bad Bill Eagan

The Harrisburg Telegraph—Eagan had spent two seasons playing in the Pennsylvania city—told the story:

“Bill Eagan the once great second baseman of the Harrisburg Club, in a fair example of what rum will do when it gets the upper hand of a man.  Eagan would have been one of the leading players of the profession if he had left strong drink alone.  He was a sure fielder, hard batter and quick baserunner and ought to be in his prime as a player by this time, but he has drained too many mugs and now winds up in a police court at his home in Camden, NJ, on a charge of attempted murder.

“Eagan was intoxicated yesterday and displaying a 48-caliber revolver, placed it to his temple and remarked: ‘I am going to kill my wife and blow my brains out.’ He paid Barber Riceman fifty cents which he owed him, and also paid a nearby saloon keeper $1 for drinks that he had bought.  Then he returned to the barber shop, said good-bye to his friends, and exclaiming; “Now I am free from debt and am ready to do the job,’ he started for his home and put the threat into execution.

When he arrived home Eagan fired two shots at—and missed–his wife, and then attempted to shoot one of the responding police officers, but because of “a quick blow from (another police officer’s) club the murderous weapon was knocked from the crazed man’s hand.”

The Chicago Tribune said:

“William Eagan, or, as he is known in the baseball profession, ‘Bad Bill’ Eagan, is a player of national reputation.  He is an ignorant man, and stories of his badness are told all over the league.  He was considered one of the best ball players in the profession.”

The Tribune said about Eagan’s brief stay with Pittsburgh earlier in 1898:

“He failed to behave himself, and drunkenness was the charge which let him out as a Pirate.”

Eagan was held in the Camden jail from October of 1898 until March of 1899; it is unclear what he was formally charged with, and he was never tried.

In spite of his reputation, baseball wasn’t done with “Bad Bill” yet.  Shortly after his release from jail, Syracuse sold Eagan’s contract to the Western League’s Detroit Tigers.  His statistics for the season don’t survive, but Eagan seems to have gone back to his old habits.  After he sat out both games of a double-header with the Kansas City Blues in July, The Kansas City Journal said:

“’Bad Bill’ Eagan acquired a jag yesterday and succeeded in making a holy show of himself.  Such creatures and ‘Bad Bill’ should be out of the game.”

Eagan was also seriously injured the same month when, according to The Associated Press, during a game with the Columbus Buckeyes, while trying to stretch a double into a triple:

“Eagan threw himself, feet foremost toward the bag.  His spike caught in the base sack and his right leg was given a terrible wrench.  ‘Bad Bill’ screamed with pain and in an instant was surrounded by members of both teams… (He) had thrown out his kneecap.  (A doctor) pushed the cap back and then the injured player was carried to the bench.”

Whether the injury contributed or not is unknown, but by August The Sporting Life reported that he had again worn out his welcome:

“Bad Bill” Eagan has worn a Detroit uniform for the last time. Eagan has not behaved at all and (George) Stallings has got through for good and all with him.”

George Stallings

George Stallings

One more team was willing to take a chance on Eagan; he was signed for 1900 by the Youngstown Little Giants in the Interstate League.  After appearing in just 26 games The Sporting Life reported that:

“Eagan has been playing ball in Youngstown, OH, but he said he needed a rest.  He came to Detroit for that purpose Saturday morning, and he paid $5 in the police court this morning for the first installment. “Bad Bill” said he was so glad to get back and he met so many friends that he rather lost track of the proceedings. He had fallen Into a Rip Van Winkle sleep when the policeman picked him up. “Bad Bill” paid his fine and went out for the “rest.” Bill doesn’t think much of Youngstown, he says. “

The Youngstown Vindicator said Eagan was released by the Little Giants before he left for Detroit

In either case, he had finally run out of chances, and never played another professional game.

The Indianapolis News said, in late August of 1900, that Eagan was:

 “(P)icked up on the streets of Detroit) insane.  He was removed to the emergency hospital, where he became violent and it took a number of men to overpower him and take him to the station and confine him in a padded cell.  Drink caused Eagan’s downfall. Sober he was a hard working ambitious ball player; if a drink or two were given to him he became a dangerous maniac.”

He was released after several days, and the the many premature rumors of his death began at that point, while Eagan continued to tend bar in Detroit. In April of 1904 w he became ill and was sent to a tuberculosis sanitarium in Denver.  Ten months later “Bad Bill” was dead at age 35.

Despite having played just six games with Chicago in 1893 Eagan made such an William A. Phelon that more than 20 years later he wrote in “Baseball Magazine:”

 “Although the poor fellow had few chances given him in the big league, I always thought there never yet was a second baseman who mixed and mingled in the furtherance of infield plays like Bad Bill Eagan. Possibly I can best symbolize Eagan’s style of second-basing, for the present generation, by stating that he played second just about as (Fred) Tenney played first. (Eddie) Collins doesn’t go so far from second as Eagan did, nor does he carry out nearly so many plays—but it’s quite likely he could if he had to—if he didn’t have, through the past few years, the marvelous (Jack) Barry cutting in and taking his half of the proceedings.

Eagan, though, was almost uncanny at times. I saw him working with (Cap) Anson on first and (Bill) Dahlen at short. It might be taken for granted that Eagan would have to move round considerably on the side toward first, with the ponderous and fast-aging Anson on station one, but Dahlen was then in the flush of his youth and a moving streak at short—when he wanted to be. Yet I saw Eagan bewildering Dahlen as well as Anson by the phantom-like rapidity of his movements, and the way in which he suddenly appeared at the spot where the play should be kept going, arriving on the ground before Dahlen could even draw back his arm to throw.”

Bad Bill Eagan

6 Oct

William “Bad Bill” Eagan was just 35-years-old when he died from tuberculosis in 1905, but many people probably didn’t believe it when the news was first reported.  The hard-living Eagan’s demise had been predicted and reported several times.  In 1901, the year after his professional career ended, The Fort Wayne Sentinel said:

“’Bad Bill’ Eagan who died two or three times last year, is running a poker room in Detroit.  Eagan dies on the average of three times a year and is about due for the first of this year’s series.  Eagan captained and played first base for Youngstown before his second demise last season.”

Bad Bill

Bad Bill

In 1899 Connie Mack told The Philadelphia North American:

“Eagan would be one of the best second basemen in the business if he would keep in condition.”

Eagan quickly wore out his welcome during all three of his brief stints in the big leagues.  The first, with the St. Louis Browns in the American Association in 1891, ended, according to The Syracuse Standard after an incident with team owner Chris von der Ahe:

“(Eagan) was a jolly fellow and not afraid of discipline.  The Browns got on a train at St. Louis to come East…von der Ahe’s nasal organ was rather large and red for its age and ‘Bad Bill’ determined to have some sport.

“Walking up to his employer, he caught the nose between his fingers, and said: ‘Say, Chris, how much did it cost to color that?’

“The owner of the cerise nose was furious with rage.  He released Eagan at once.  The train was ninety miles east of St. Louis, and at von der Ahe’s order the conductor put the nose twirler off the train.”

Two years later Eagan joined ‘Cap’ Anson’s Chicago Colts.  Hugh Fullerton  told the story of how he wore out his welcome there after just six games:

“Anson was a quick thinker on the ball field, but once he released the best second baseman that ever wore a suit for thinking a little quicker than anybody else on the nine.

“The second baseman in question was “Bad Bill’ Eagan. Everybody who remembers ‘Bad Bill’ will admit his supremacy on the second bag.  When the play we celebrate came up there was a base runner on second.  Chicago was one run to the good, and it was in the last half of the ninth inning.

(Bill) Dahlen was playing third base for Chicago.  The man hit a sharp liner down to second.  ‘Bad Bill’ started for it and at the same instant the man started for third base.

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen

“The liner was a clipper and the ball struck ‘Bad Bill’s’ hands and bounded out.  It struck the ground ten feet away, with ‘Bill’ right after it.  Once he got his hands on it and without stopping to look where he was throwing.  ‘Bill’ let the ball fly to third base.

“Most ball players after fumbling the ball would have tossed it to the pitcher or thrown it home if, after looking around, they saw that the base runner had started to try to score.

“In this case the base runner, after touching third, went on for twenty feet and then stopped for an instant to see what had become of the ball.  He saw it coming straight as a die for third base, and went back there like a flash.  But the ball beat him by ten feet.  Unfortunately for the game, and also for “Bad Bill’ Dahlen had taken it for granted that Eagan would throw the ball to the home plate, and was not looking for it to be thrown to him.  Consequently the ball went by him, going within four inches of his nose, and striking the grand stand far behind.

“The result was that both base runners got safely home before Dahlen recovered himself and the ball, and the game was lost to Chicago.

“Anson was furious and immediately after the game gave ‘Bad Bill’ his release for making that throw.  As a matter of fact, it was the best possible play under the circumstances, and Dahlen, rather than “Bad Bill’ was to blame for it not coming out as planned.  If ‘Dal’ had thought as quickly as ‘Bill’ the game might have been settled right then and there.”

Eagan received one more trial with a major league team in 1898.  He started the season on the bench for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but was given the opportunity to start when regular second baseman Dick Padden left the team over a dispute with Manager Bill Watkins in May.

Eagan hit .328, but committed 10 errors, in 19 games at Pittsburgh.  He was sold to Louisville Colonels on June 5. The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“He is a clever fielder, a fair batsman, extremely aggressive and absolutely fearless (and will) certainly strengthen the team in one of its weakest spots.”

But Eagan never appeared in a game for Colonels.  The following day The Courier-Journal said the deal was off, and Manager Fred Clarke would only say, via telegram:

“Called deal for Eagan off for good reasons.”

The Colonels passed on Eagan despite being a team badly in need of a regular second baseman—Clarke tried nine different men at there during the season, and his primary second baseman, Heine Smith hit .190 and committed 16 errors in 26 games.

Eagan finished the 1898 season with the Eastern League’s Syracuse Stars, where he had played from 1894 to 1897.  He finished the year of 1898 in jail in his native Camden New Jersey.

That story  Wednesday

“Then the Harder I threw the Harder they hit them”

3 Oct

Walter Newton Justis–often misspelled “Justus” during his career– performed an incredible feat in 1908.  While posting a 25-17 record for the Lancaster Links in the Ohio State League, he pitched four no-hit games between July 19 and September 13.

Walter Justis

Walter Justis

The performance earned him his second shot to make the big leagues.  The first consisted of two relief appearances (8.10 ERA in 3.1 innings) with the Detroit Tigers in 1905 when he was 21.  He said later that he wasn’t ready:

“All I knew was to burn them over.  And the harder they hit them the harder I threw.  Then the Harder I threw the harder they hit them.  Most of the time in the three months that I was there I lugged the big bat bag, and I guess I earned my salary then about as much as at any time I know of.”

Justis’ bizarre behavior often made as big an impression as his pitching.  Roy Castleton was pitching for the Youngstown Ohio Works in 1906 when Justis joined Lancaster (the team was in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League in 1906 and ’07, and joined the Ohio State League in 1908).

Castleton, while playing for the Atlanta Crackers two years later told The Atlanta Constitution  he thought “Rube Waddell and Bugs Raymond, two players well-known for their eccentricities…will have to take off their top pieces,” to Justis.  Castleton was staying in the same hotel as the Lancaster team:

“Early one morning he heard someone raising a disturbance in the hotel hallway and taking a look to see what was doing, he observed pitcher Justis…running down the hallway.

“’At the end of the hall Justice placed a pillow against the wall.  He would get a good start down the hall and after the fashion of a man on the paths would take a running slide at the pillow.  When he arrived at his destination he would hold out his hand as umpires do and yell ‘safe!’  Justis would keep this up for hours at a time playing base runner and umpire out in the hall at daybreak.’

“’Sometimes he would stop the double existence of umps and runner and would (just) be the judge of the play.  Standing over the pillow he would hold out his hand and yell ‘safe’ so loudly that he could be heard a block off.’”

The Constitution also said that Justis was superstitious:

“He never goes into a game without wearing a pair of ladies’ silk hose supported in the usual manner.  Regular baseball stockings would never do for him, as he believes his career as a pitcher would be cut short if he were to wear them in a game.”

He was signed by the St. Louis Browns, and Manager Jimmy McAleer told The St. Louis Globe-Democrat the pitcher’s eccentricities were a positive:

“McAleer says that the reason he signed pitcher Justis of Lancaster was because Justis bears the reputation of being a baseball ‘bug.’  ‘Bugs,’ says McAleer, ‘make good in St. Louis.  We have Waddell, while the Cardinals have ‘Bugs’ Raymond.’”

Justis joined the Browns in Dallas in the spring of 1909.

The Globe-Democrat said after he had a poor outing in an exhibition against the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League:

“Justis pitched two innings for the Browns Saturday and the Houston team got six runs.  Until this bombardment he was tagged for the regular club, and the label hasn’t been removed yet, though slightly loosened.”

And Justis appeared to have made the team when they broke camp in Texas and returned to St, Louis in early April, but The Associated Press reported on April 6:

“Walter Justus, a pitcher recruit of the St. Louis Browns, is confined to his room by a severe nervous collapse, and the nurse in charge says he may be able to leave for his home in Indiana in a few days.  Justis lost his power of speech at the end of a wrestling bout with Arthur Griggs in Sportsman’s Park today.  It is claimed Justus fell to the floor, striking his head, and reopened an old wound received when a boy.”

Justis suffered similar attacks at least four other times during his career; in June of 1907, twice in 1908, and August of 1909.  In July, 1908 after a double-header with the Lima Cigarmakers, The Marion (Ohio) Daily Mirror said “(Justis) suffered a sudden brain stroke akin to apoplexy.  He fell in a dead faint at the close of the second contest.  He was removed to his hotel in an unconscious condition.”   In September, after another attack left Justis hospitalized, The Sporting Life said prematurely “physicians say he will never twirl another game.”   It is likely that he suffered from epilepsy.

Within days of returning to Indiana from St. Louis Justis fully recovered.  The Associated Press said “His recovery is one of the most remarkable in the history of athletes.”  But, despite his recovery, Justis was returned to Lancaster by the Browns, and lost his opportunity to return to a major league team.

He threw another no-hitter for Lancaster in 1909, on May 18 against the Marion Diggers, and went 19-16 for the season.  Justis continued pitching until 1913, finishing with the Covington Blue Sox in the Federal League—where he played with the equally eccentric, enigmatic Fred “Humpy” Badel.

Justis shut out the St. Louis Terriers 4 to 0 on the opening day of the Federal League season, but no complete records remain for the season.  By late September of 1913 he was back home in Greendale, Indiana pitching for a local team.  He remained in Greendale until his death in 1941.

Bill Setley

1 Oct

William Warren “Wild Bill” Setley was a career minor league player and umpire, and one of the most colorful figures in 19th and early 20th Century baseball.

He was born in New Jersey in 1871—Setley often claimed he was born in 1859; his grave marker and several sources still list this date, but there is a New Jersey birth certificate that confirms the 1871 date.

Bill Setley 1895

Bill Setley 1895

Setley spent the early part of his playing career in the Pennsylvania State League (PSL).  The Shenandoah Evening Herald said in 1893:

“(Setley) kept the home management on the anxious bench for many weeks last summer by his daring and acrobatic plays on the diamond and his eccentric whims between games.”

As a pitcher Setley was credited with introducing the hidden potato play (made famous nearly a century later when Williamsport Bills Catcher Dave Bresnahan pulled a similar stunt), and he was known for turning routine plays in the outfield into spectacular circus catches.

William A. Phelon said Setley, who was “crazier than Rube Waddell ever thought of being,” and described an incident “when the pennant hung on the final game,” when, with the winning runs on base in the ninth inning:

“Out came a fly to Setley.  Instead of catching it squarely in both hands he deliberately turned his back, reached out behind and made a dazzling circus catch—almost an impossibility.”

Years later, another Pennsylvania paper, The Mount Carmel Item described him as:

“(O)ne of the most erratic players in his day and while here a dozen years ago he was in his prime, but for a pack of cigarettes or a drink of whiskey he was liable to throw a game.”

George McQuillan who played in several leagues Setley worked as an umpire said:

“He is one of the real wonders of the game, and it’s too bad the big league fans have never had the chance to see him in action.”

There were many versions of the most often told story about Setley, and  Clarence “Pants” Rowland told the version that most often appeared in print:

Pants Rowland

Pants Rowland

“’I was managing Dubuque in the Three-I League at the time,’ says Rowland.  ‘The game was being handled by Wild Bill Setley, who was quite the character in those days.

“’I was coaching at third base and we got a runner to first during the early innings.  The next batter made a single and our runner started on the dead run from first, rounded second and bore down on third.  Right at his heels was Bill Setley.

“The ball was quickly recovered and beat the runner to third by a couple of steps.  Setley waved him out, and I had nothing to say.  But you should have heard me yell when, on turning, he also called my other man out at second, although he was standing on the base.  The third sacker had whipped the ball down to the second sacker, trying to complete a double play on our man who was trying for the base.

“’Where do you get that way? I demanded.  You had your back turned on the play how could you call him out?’

“’Setley grinned, came over to me, and showed me a small mirror he had concealed in his hand.  ‘I had my eye on the play all the time,’ he said, ‘and you know he was out.’  I was stopped all right, had nothing further to say.’”

Setley, on a few occasions, told a different version of the story.  This one placed the event in Pennsylvania, and substituted Jack Tighe for Rowland.

In this rendition Setley claimed that on the way to the ballpark he received “an advertising mirror” as a present for his daughter.  During the game Tighe scored from second base on an infield hit, but Setley said:

“(I) knew he couldn’t have reached there if he had gone within 50 feet of the third bag.  The crowd kept yelling ‘Throw the ball to third,’ and when the first baseman did so I called Tighe out.  ‘What’s that?  Out! What do you mean?’ He yelled, chasing out on the diamond like a wild man.  ‘You are out for cutting third.’  ‘Well, if I did you didn’t see me’…’Be reasonable, Jack’ I replied, pulling out the mirror and holding it up in the palm of my hand before my face.  ‘When I was running over to first I had this glass up this way watching you.’  That wilted Tighe and he walked back to the bench as meek as a lamb.”

The Texas League was one of the many minor leagues Setley worked as an umpire.  On September 5, 1910 a triple-header (the first two games were five innings each) was scheduled between the Houston Buffaloes and the Galveston Sand Crabs on the season’s final day, with Setley working as umpire in all three games.  After the teams split the first two games, The Houston Post said:

“The last game of the Texas League race progressed nicely here until the second inning when (with Galveston at bat) (Gus) Dundon singled to left and (Joe) Kipp had walked.  Then (Houston pitcher  Roy) Mitchell and umpire Setley, while (Bert) James was at the bat, had some words.  Suddenly Mitchell turned on the umpire and knocked him down.  Setley arose and ran towards short position, when Mitchell threw the ball at him, striking him in the back of the head rendering him unconscious.  Immediately the crowd surged into the field.”

The Associated Press added a few details, including that Mitchell “ran up and cuffed (Setley) several times,” after hitting him with the ball, and:

“(S)everal thousand fans had swarmed into the field, all of them apparently in sympathy with Mitchell.

“Setley remained motionless on the ground and the rumor spread like wild-fire over the field that his neck was broken.  Six men picked him up, shouldered him and carried him to the club house, where a physician examined him only to discover that his pulse was perfectly normal and that he was uninjured.  It suddenly dawned on the physician that someone was playing possum.

“’Come out of it Setley,’ said the physician, ‘no one is going to hurt you.’

“Setley ‘came back’ with a grin and said nothing but his feelings had been hurt.”

During the “riot” on the field, the Galveston club left the ball park in a wagon “and returned to town.”  The game was awarded to Houston as a forfeit.

Mitchell was arrested, but quickly released on bond.  Five days later he made his big league debut for the St. Louis Browns, beating the Chicago White Sox 7 to 2.

Roy Mitchell

Roy Mitchell

Somehow the Texas League and the National Commission failed to take any action against Mitchell for more than a month.  The Sporting News said:

“It was a matter of surprise that Mitchell was allowed to come direct to St. Louis and continue play, as if nothing had happened.”

He was fined $50, and while it was announced he was also suspended indefinitely, he was allowed to begin the 1911 season with the Browns.

Setley was let go by the Texas League in November.  The Fort Worth Star-Telegram said:

“(He) will always remember his short sojourn in this league as an umpire, as it probably was one of the most strenuous periods of his existence.  His first appearance was in Fort Worth, where he narrowly avoided a serious conflict with a spectator, and he precipitated wrangles at nearly every point he officiated, with the climax coming in the memorable last day’s game at Houston.”

More Setley stories later this month.

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