Tag Archives: Interstate League

“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.”

“The Poet-Pitcher”

17 Sep

Edward Benninghaus Kenna came from a prominent West Virginia Family; his father, John Edward Kenna was a United States Senators.  Another West Virginia Senator, William Edwin Chilton was often referred to as Kenna’s uncle—he was his father’s former law partner and best friend, but they were not related.

Edward B. Kenna, circa 1900

Edward B. Kenna,1900

He was, according to The Kansas City Star:

“(A)n unusually well-educated young man,.  He spent four years at Mount St. Mary’s College and was graduated there in 1898.  His post graduate course of one year was taken at Georgetown University, and the following three years he spent at West Virginia University, studying law.”

Kenna played football and baseball at all three schools—and coached both sports at Richmond College in 1900, the same season he made his professional debut with the Toledo Mud Hens in the Interstate League..

He was also a poet who had two anthologies of his poems published, and was later the editor of The Charleston Gazette.  While most current sources say his nickname was “The Pitching Poet,” during his lifetime he was nearly always referred to by the slightly less lyrical “The Poet-Pitcher.”

Despite his education, and pedigree, The Star said:

“Seeing Kenna on the ball field one would not think that he was the possessor of so many distinctions.  He does not attempt to hold himself aloof from his teammates, but on the contrary is one of the most energetic (players) in the pursuit of victory and when not in the pitcher’s box is on the coacher’s line haranguing the opposing players and urging the members of his own team to their best efforts.  Coaching is one of his hobbies and he is particularly successful at this line of work.  He finds special enjoyment in ‘kidding’ the bleacher element…He says that base ball is not an uplifting pursuit either morally or intellectually, but is an enjoyable one.”

He pitched two games in the major leagues—with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902, but said the two most interesting games of his career were back-to-back starts in 1904, while he was a member of the Denver Grizzlies in the Western League.

When Kenna joined the Louisville Colonels in the following season, The Louisville Times told the story of the games—both against the Des Moines Prohibitionists:

“(He) was touched up for nineteen safe hits, and yet his opponents failed to get a runner over the pan.  In one inning he was hit for a triple, a double and three singles, and still his opponents failed to get a man home.

“The first batter up hit for a triple, but was nailed trying to stretch it into a homer.  The next man doubled down the left field line, but was afterward caught off second by the poet.  The next three batters hit safely, and then Kenna got down to work and fanned the next batter with the bases full.

“Two days later Kenna was sent in against the same team.  For eight innings he did great work (allowing no hits) and his teammates made but one error.  He had perfect control and during this period gave only one base on balls.  The Denver team managed to get one runner across the pan, which looked as good as a hundred when the ninth inning was about to close.  The bard fanned the first two batter, but the third reached first on a fluke (a second error).  Then (Bob) Ganley, who is now with Pittsburgh, stepped to the plate and drove out a home run, which won the game.  Only one hit was made off his delivery, and yet Kenna lost the contest by one score.”

He was 16-13 for the Colonels in 1905 when, on September 1, he and seven other members of the team were injured in Kansas City when an electric trolley car crashed into the wagon they were riding  to the ballpark.  Kenna was the most seriously injured, and  reportedly suffered broken bones in his right (pitching) hand, a fractured left arm, a concussion, broken nose and an eye injury.  The Kansas City Star said he was listed in serious condition at a local hospital.  Despite the extent of his injuries—which ended his season– Kenna sent a telegram to family members in Washington D.C., saying simply

“Nothing serious; strained arm.  Don’t worry.  Ed.”

He never fully recovered.  He returned to Louisville in 1906, and struggled, finishing the season 12-21; but he hit .325 in 166 at bats.  Given his new found success as a hitter—his best previously recorded average was .225—Kenna decided he was through as a pitcher:

The Louisville Times said:

“Kenna announces that from now on he will be an outfielder, and he hopes (team President George) Tebeau will play him in right field on the Louisville team next season.  Kenna is simply tired of pitching.”

The Colonels accommodated him, but he struggled at the plate and was released in July after hitting just .143.

Edward Kenna, circa 1910

Edward Kenna, circa 1910

Kenna returned to West Virginia, newspapers and poetry.  About the time his book “Songs of the Open Air, and Other Poems” was published in early 1912, he left his job at the , and went to Florida to attempt to recover from what was described simply as “a heart condition.”  He died in Florida on March 22.

The Sporting Life said of the thirty-four-year-old’s funeral in Charleston:

“(It) was one of the largest ever seen here.  All races and creeds showed their deep grief for this beloved man.”

Kenna’s younger brother John Edward Kenna Jr. was also a right-handed pitcher; he was 15-6 for the Chattanooga Lookouts in the South Atlantic League in 1909 and 7-7 with the Worcester Busters in the New England League in 1910—also born in Charleston on January 6, 1883, he died there on May 5, 1956.

Happy Labor Day—the Oberbeck Case

1 Sep

Henry Oberbeck is barely a footnote in baseball history—he appeared in 66 American Association and Union Association games in 1883 and 1884, hitting just .176—but he scored a rare, early victory for the rights of players.

Henry Oberbeck

Henry Oberbeck

 

In 1883, after appearing in just two games with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, Oberbeck was released and signed with the Peoria Reds in the Northwestern League.

No records survive for Oberbeck’s time in Peoria, but the outfielder caught the eye of St. Louis Browns owner Chris von der Ahe, and the St. Louis native jumped his contract with Peoria to sign with the Browns on May 24.

Chris von der Ahe

Chris von der Ahe

Oberbeck’s short tenure with St. Louis was unimpressive.  He played four games, and was hitless in 14 at bats.  The Browns released him on June 23.

He found himself out of a job in the American Association, and was unable to return to Peoria because he had been blackballed by the Northwestern League.

Oberbeck filed a law suit in St. Louis claiming the Browns owed him the entire amount of his contract –$785.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the “case is regarded as a test,” and is “being fought very earnestly.”

The March, 1884 trial included testimony from  Overbeck’s teammates, catcher/outfielder Tom Dolan and pitcher George “Jumbo” McGinnis.  Dolan, a .204 lifetime hitter whose .214 average lowest among the Browns 1883 regulars testified that Oberbeck was a poor hitter who “hit wind nearly every time.”  McGinnis also said Overbeck deserved to be released.

Despite the testimony of his teammates, the jury found in favor of Oberbeck and ordered the Browns to pay him $431.12—although most newspapers incorrectly reported the amount paid as $738.

The press assumed the decision would have a lasting impact.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“The case is one of interest to base ball players, inasmuch as it proves that the contracts are binding upon the part of the club as well as the player.”

Oberbeck was signed by the Baltimore Monuments of the Union Association for 1884, and played a total of 60 games for Baltimore and the Kansas City Cowboys that season—he hit .186 as an outfielder/first baseman and was 0-5 in six appearances as a pitcher.

The Browns appealed the case and lost, but by the time the appellate court upheld the original decision in Henry Oberbeck v. Sportsman’s Park and Club Association in April of 1885, Oberbeck’s victory for the rights of baseball players was already largely forgotten.

In 1885 The Post-Dispatch said Oberbeck had been reinstated by the Northwestern League, although there is no record of his ever having returned to the league.   The Youngstown Vindicator said he had signed with that city’s team in the Interstate league for 1885 season.

No statistics survive for Oberbeck after 1884, and his groundbreaking role in baseball’s labor movement is all but forgotten.

He returned to St. Louis after his career and worked for the post office until his death from cancer in 1921.

Tragic Exits 2

5 May

Charles Rapp

Charles “Adonis” Rapp was a left-handed pitcher (he also played first base and outfield) who began his career with the Austin Senators in the Texas League in 1898.  For the next several years he played for a variety of Midwest based clubs (Fort Wayne, Saginaw, Grand Rapids) in the Interstate and Michigan State Leagues.

Contemporary newspaper reports say he was also a member of the South Bend Greens in the Central League, but he is not listed on any surviving rosters; he was also said to have been “tried out by Milwaukee, when that city was in the old Western League (1903).”

Rapp’s trail goes cold after the 1903 season until 1909.  Rapp was living in his hometown of South Bend, Indiana.  The Indianapolis News reported on May 17:

“Charles Rapp, former ball player, and well known throughout the city, killed his mother late Saturday and then committed suicide.  The weapons used were a hammer, a dull paring knife and a small pair of shears.  It is said that Rapp had a tendency towards insanity, that the tendency had been marked during the last few days and that he undoubtedly deranged when he attacked his mother.

“Rapp did not die until several hours after the double crime had been committed and after he had been removed from the Rapp home to the St. Joseph County Jail.  Before death came, and in reply to a query about the crime, Rapp said: ‘I tried to get the whole family.’

“The last person to see Mrs. Rapp alive and the first one to discover the body of the woman and the dying son was Charlotte Benz.  Mrs. Benz had spent the day at the Rapp home and left the house late in the afternoon…On her return she stopped at the Rapp place, entering by the rear door…and then suddenly a sickening sight met her gaze.  Lying in a pool of blood at one side of the sitting-room were Rapp and the body of the mother.  The heads were close together and as Mrs. Benz entered the young man cried out: ‘Get out of here, Lottie, get out of here.’  It was evidently his intention to kill the Benz woman, but Rapp was unable to move from loss of blood.”

The Associated Press said of the incident:

 “Until Rapp fell a victim to the liquor habit he was one of the most popular young men in the city.”

Henry Long

Henry Long was born in Chicago in 1870 or 1871 (cemetery and death records disagree), he was the younger brother of  Herman who had a 16-year big league career.

Herman Long

Herman Long

Little is known about Henry’s early life, or when exactly he began playing professional baseball.  Based on newspaper reports he appears to be the “Long” who played with the Battle Creek Adventists in the Michigan State League in 1895.

Before the 1896 season he was signed by the Lewiston team in the New England League.  The Lewiston Daily Sun said:

“Manager (Michael) Garrity has signed pitcher Henry Long of Chicago, a brother of Herman Long of the Bostons, and is said to be a good pitcher, a hard hitter and a good all-around man.”

Long didn’t last in Lewiston, he was 0-2 in just three games before he was released.  Long then appeared in one game for the Shamokin Actives in the Pennsylvania State League, and then joined the Hagerstown Lions in the Cumberland Valley League.

The right-handed pitcher started seven games for the Lions and was 4-3 with a 1.29 ERA.

On July 10 he missed the team’s train for a game in Hanover, Maryland.  The Philadelphia Times said he attempted to hop a freight train and fell; his right arm was crushed under the wheels.  His arm was amputated “but Long sank rapidly and died in the hospital” in Hagerstown.  While contemporary news reports said the body was to be shipped back to Chicago, where it would be “received by his brother Herman,” he was instead buried in Maryland

Matt Barry

In 1900 The Sporting Life said Matthew “Matt” Barry had been “the first player from Rhode Island to receive money for playing ball.”

Information on where he played is sketchy—he was the Rhode Islands in the New England League in 1877 and Springfield (MA) of the International Association in 1878–but beyond that, there are few references to where he played during his career.

The Providence News-Democrat called Barry, who was born in Providence in 1850, a “well-known ballplayer and one of the best-known members of the sporting fraternity in the state.”

Barry eventually returned to his hometown, Providence where he operated the Empire Saloon, on Empire Street.

After the turn of the century, Barry suffered a series of financial setbacks.   On August 30, 1907 The News Democrat said:

 “(Barry) attempted suicide by inhaling illuminating gas in his room in the Essex house, at 23 Burrill Street.”

Barry was discovered by the owner of the house:

 “The room was locked, but the door was forced, and then Barry was seen unconscious on the bed with gas streaming from an open unlighted jet…as Barry’s usual custom was to sleep with all the windows open , the fact that they were closed , indicated that he had prepared to take his life.”

He was taken to Rhode Island, where he died on September 2.

Barry’s friends disputed the story that he had taken his own life, claiming his “financial embarrassments” had been overstated and that he “was in better condition financially than he had been for years.”  His friends instead said Barry, who “had been troubled with insomnia” and took morphine to sleep, turning off the lights “at that time the morphine would begin to get in its work,” had accidentally turned on the gas when he meant to turn off the light “which was on the same chandelier.”

The cause of death was never officially determined.

“He was Not Crazy as Reported”

18 Jul

Ervin Thomas “Erve” “Dutch” Beck hit the first home run in the American League; on April 25, 1901, the second day of the season, as a member of the Cleveland Blues; Beck homered off White Sox pitcher John Skopec at Chicago’s South Side Park.

It was a highlight in a promising career, like many at the turn of the 20th Century, destroyed by alcoholism.

Beck was considered the best young player in Toledo, Ohio when he joined the Adrian Reformers in the Michigan State League as a 16-year-old in 1895, then for the next five seasons he was the star of his hometown Toledo Mud Hens in the Interstate League.  For the two seasons in Toledo for which complete records survive, Beck hit .298 in 1898 with 11 home runs and, a league leading .360 with 15 home runs in 1900.

Erve Beck

Erve Beck

Earning the Nickname “Home run Dutch” in the Toledo papers, Beck was credited with 67  during his five seasons with the Mud Hens;  he would remain the team’s all-time career home run leader until 2007 when Mike Hessman (currently with the Louisville Bats in the International League) hit his 68th as a Mud Hen.

Beck also had a brief trial with the Brooklyn Superbas in the National League in 1899, hitting .167 in eight September games.

It’s unclear exactly when Beck’s problems with alcohol began, but according to fellow Ohioan Ed Ashenbach (alternately spelled Ashenback by several contemporary sources), a minor league contemporary,  it was well-known during Beck’s career that he was “addicted to strong drink.”

Ed Ashenbach

Ed Ashenbach (Ashenback)

Before the 1901 season, Beck, whose rights were held by the Cincinnati Reds, jumped to the Cleveland Blues in the newly formed American League; the twenty-two-year-old hit .289, and accounted for six of Cleveland’s twelve home runs.

Beck jumped back to the Reds before the 1902 season, and received rave reviews early in the season.  The Cincinnati Tribune seemed to like him more at second base than veteran Heine Peitz:

“Erve Beck looks more like a second baseman than anyone who has filled the position since (Bid) McPhee went into retirement (in 1899).  He covers the ground, seems to know where to play and is capable of swinging the bat with some effect.”

His teammate, pitcher Frank “Noodles” Hahn claimed Beck hit the ball “harder than (Napoleon) Lajoie.”

Beck hit better than .300 playing second base in May, but went to bench when Peitz got healthy.

In June first baseman Jake Beckley missed a week with an injury and Beck filled in there; The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Ren Mulford said:

“(Beck) played the bag in splendid style…In handling ground balls Beck is as good as Beckley, and he is a better thrower… Beck gave another display of his versatility by plugging up a hole in right field.  He made one catch that was a lollapalooza…Most players would have lost heart when benched as Beck was, but he remained as chipper as a skunk during his term of inactivity, and gladly accepted the opportunity to get back into the swim. Beck is a phlegmatic soul, who takes life, as he finds it without a growl.”

In spite of a .305 batting average in 48 games and the great press he received, Beck was released by the Reds in July.  Whether the release was simply because he was the odd man out with Peitz, Beckley and right fielder Sam Crawford healthy or as a result of drinking is unknown.

Beck was signed almost immediately by the Detroit Tigers where he took over at first base after Frank “Pop” Dillon was sent to the Baltimore Orioles.  Beck hit .296 in 41 games, but was again released at the end of the season.

Beck would never return to the big leagues.

In 1903 Beck .331 for the Shreveport Giants in the Southern Association, he jumped Shreveport the following season and played for the Portland Browns in the Pacific Coast League.   He returned to the Southern Association with the New Orleans Pelicans in 1905.  After starting the 1906 season in New Orleans he was released in July and signed by the Nashville Volunteers; his combined average with both Southern Association teams was .211.

Beck’s drinking was, according to Ashenback and contemporary newspaper accounts, common knowledge by the time he wore out his welcome in Nashville in August, and was sold to the Augusta Tourists in the South Atlantic League.

That stop would last for only one game.

The 27-year-old, four years removed from the American League, played first base for the Tourists on August 6.  Augusta second baseman Ed McKernan said “It was evident when he reported there was something amiss with him,” and claimed Beck chased “an imaginary flock of geese away from first base” during the game.

The following day, according to The Augusta Chronicle, Beck “created a sensation in the clubhouse…causing all but two of the players to leave the house.”  As a result, Augusta released him.

The following day The Chronicle said:

“(Beck) ran amuck this morning and created great excitement on the street.

“While in a room on the third floor of the Chelsea hotel the big infielder suddenly began to see things and sprang from the third story window to the ground below.  Only two intervening telephone wires and a rose bush saved his life.

“He then darted down an alley and hid himself in a store.  He was finally captured and came quietly back to his room with a policeman and (Tourists outfielder Frank) Norcum.”

The Sporting Life assured their readers that Beck “was not crazy, as reported, but only suffering from the effects of a (drunken) spree.”

McKernan said “During his convalescence…Beck would smilingly avow his determination to abstain from strong drink.”

There were varying reports regarding the extent of his injuries, and it’s unknown whether he was physically able to play after the fall, but Beck would never play professionally again.

He returned to Toledo where he operated a tavern and appears to have been unable “to abstain from strong drink;” he died in 1916 of Articular Rheumatism complicated by Hepatic Cirrhosis.

Crazy Schmit in Cleveland

10 May

Crazy Schmit pitched for the Cleveland Spiders in 1899; compiling a 2-17 with a 5.86 ERA for the 20-134 last place team (in Schmit’s defense the 1899 Spiders were one of the worst teams in history, losing 24 straight at one point, and Schmit’s ERA was a half of a run better than the team ERA).

The pitcher had grown tired of his nickname “Crazy,” and of references to his behavior as “tacky.”  After being called both by The Cincinnati Enquirer in August, he responded:

“I have stood this sort of thing just about long enough.  I am neither tacky nor crazy, and without wanting to throw any flowers at myself, I will make the statement that there is not another left-handed pitcher in the business who used as good judgment when pitching as I do.

“Furthermore, I am the only left-hander in the business who has an effective slow ball.  Some of these ten-thousand-dollar beauties and phenoms look like thirty cents to me.  I can also swell up and say that I threw the Phillies down this year.  I beat that hard-hitting gang by a score of 6 to 2.”

1899 Cleveland Spiders--finished 20-134

1899 Cleveland Spiders–finished 20-134

Within weeks Schmit was let go by Cleveland;  The Baltimore American reported on the release of the former and future Oriole:

“Pitcher Schmit, that queer and original baseball character, was yesterday given his ten days’ notice of release by the Cleveland club management and afterward notified that he had been fined for insubordination.”

The American quoted Schmit:

“I was released I suppose because it had been reported that I was not doing my best to win and because the owners were displeased with me for several accidents that happened to me.  I missed the train in Chicago, and while I was riding into Cincinnati from one of the suburbs with a young lady who may one day be Mrs. Schmit, lightning struck the trolley wire and I missed the train again.  I guess that is why I was fined.  They wished to make an example of me.  I do not mind the release, as I can easily get another and better position, but I hate that $50 fine, because my salary is not quite as high as that of some bank presidents.”

Despite his release and his record, Schmit still considered himself a great pitcher, blamed his career statistics on the teams he played with, and the more he spoke the more valuable he became as a player:

“I have in my career pitched for fourteen tail-end clubs and I am done with them.  Unless I can pitch for some club that can win a game occasionally I will stop pitching ball.  The longer I pitch the more stuck I am on myself as a pitcher.  I have pitched good ball for Cleveland, but who could win with six and eight errors behind him, and misplays that are far worse than errors and that go as hit.

“I am the most popular player on the circuit and the only man who knows how to coach as a science.  If some of these managers knew something of the theatrical business they would wire on and advertise I am to pitch a certain game.  When it is known I am to pitch I have often brought enough into the box office in a single game to pay my whole salary for the season several times over.  We played before 14,000 people in Chicago and of that number fully 5,000 came to see me.”

Schmitt did not “easily get another or better position” in 1899 or 1900—he sat out the remainder of 1899 and spent 1900 in the Interstate and New York State Leagues.  Schmit opened the season at 2-3 in five games with the Columbus Senators before being released; there are no surviving records for his New York State League games with the team that split the season between Elmira and Oswego.  The next season John McGraw would give him a chance to pitch in the American League.

More Crazy Schmit next week.

Alamazoo Jennings

16 Apr

Alfred Gorden Jennings earned his nickname the day after his only National League game, as the catcher for the  Milwaukee Grays in 1878; and it was given to him by the most famous baseball writer of the era.

The Grays had three catchers in 1878; Charlie Bennett, Will Foley and Bill Hobart, all of whom were injured in August while Milwaukee was in Cincinnati for a series.   Manager Jack “Death to Flying Things” Chapman found Jennings, who had been playing with local semi-pro and amateur teams for a decade, and put him in the lineup for the August 15 game.

Pitcher Mike Golden was on the mound for Milwaukee, and Jennings told sportswriter Rem Mulford Jr. in 1892:

“We were all mixed in our signs.  I signed for an outcurve and got an inshoot which broke a couple of fingers.  ‘Go ahead,’ I said, ‘ I’ll stay here all day even if I have to stop ‘em with my elbows.  You can’t drive me away.’  Well they didn’t.”

Jennings was officially credited with 10 passed balls (he claimed he had 17), a record that stood until 1884.

The following morning in The Cincinnati Enquirer, the headline on Oliver Perry “O. P.” Caylor’s story read:

“Alamazoo Jennings Makes His Debut; His Hands Gave Out, But His Gall Lasted.”

Jennings told Mulford:

“I read a few lines and wanted to fight.  I read a few lines more and had to laugh.”

It was the end of Jennings’ professional career, but the beginning of a 15 years run as a minor league umpire in the Bluegrass, Southern, Northwestern and Interstate Leagues.  He also served as an umpire in the Union Association in 1884, his only season in a Major League.

When Mulford wrote about Jennings in 1892, the longtime umpire had just quit to become “The Parched Corn King of America,” selling his product in “three cities–Cincinnati, Covington and Newport—and netting every day ten times the amount of the original capital invested in the enterprise.”

Two years later, in November of 1894, Jennings had moved on from the “parched corn” business, to “pushing an insect killer,” when as The Sporting Life said: “Death entered another victory upon his scorebook.”

Filling in the Blanks—Eastman, Huntington 1913

18 Feb

Baseball Reference lists “Eastman” as a player with the 1913 Huntington Blue Sox in the Ohio State League— he quickly became one of the biggest baseball stories in the spring of 1913, and just as quickly disappeared from the game.

George A. Eastman was born in South Dakota.  In 1862 his grandfather was one of the 284 Santee Sioux warriors who participated in the  Dakota War and  had their death sentences commuted by Abraham Lincoln—38 others were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota.

His father John Eastman was a farmer and Presbyterian minister in Flandreau, South Dakota and his uncle, Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman was a prominent writer, nationally known lecturer and activist.

Exactly when Eastman began playing baseball is unclear, but in 1912 he played on a semi-pro team in Sisseton, South Dakota with former Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Homer Hillebrand.  According to The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times Hillebrand “Considered him very promising material,” and recommended Eastman to Pirate manager Fred Clarke, the paper said “Clarke says Indian players are the style, and the Pittsburgh club will be in style.”

George Eastman in Hot Springs, 1913

George Eastman in Hot Springs, 1913

When Eastman joined the Pirates in Hot Springs, Arkansas, The Gazette-Times, who of course dubbed him “Chief,” said:

“Eastman is a well built fellow, from the baseball standpoint.  He is 5 feet 10 ½ inches tall, weighs 150 pounds and is very fast.”

The paper said Eastman’s preacher father “does not know much about baseball, and does not think very well of it as a profession.”

A shortstop, Eastman quickly became the source of great interest in Hot Springs.  The Associated Press said even the Pirates best player took notice:

“Honus Wagner has taken more than a passing interest in the Indian Chief Eastman.  (Wagner) isn’t given to indulging in extravagant statements and when he says a recruit is a ‘mighty good ballplayer’ it means something…and he added that “chief throws like Mickey Doolan (Doolin) and fields just like Jack Miller.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

The Associated Press said:

“(A) Sioux Indian is burning up things around short field at Hot Springs with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Fred Clarke probably will retain him as an understudy to Hans Wagner.”

The Sporting Life thought he was bound for stardom:

“The Pittsburgh players are very enthusiastic over George Eastman, the Sioux Indian player, now being tried out at short. They say that he is a wonderful natural ball player, including hitting ability. They say he is sure of a place on the team, as he can play most any position and can ‘outhit Larry Lajoie.’

Despite the fanfare, Eastman did not make the team and was released to the Steubenville Stubs of the Interstate League.  It’s unclear whether Eastman ever appeared in a game with Steubenville, and was returned to the Pirates in early May; he was then sent to Huntington for the remainder of the 1913 season.

Eastman hit .210 in 57 games for Huntington.  There is an Eastman who appeared in 18 games in the Central League in 1914, but there’s no evidence that it’s George Eastman, who is never mentioned in connection with professional baseball again.

In fact, the trail for Eastman goes cold from the end of the 1913 until 1937 when he became the first tribal president of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe.  He served seven terms as tribal president before his death in 1954.

George Eastman, circa 1937

George Eastman, circa 1937

“A Gilded Youth”

26 Dec

Byron D. J. McKeown was born to wealth in 1873.  His father, John, immigrated to Western Pennsylvania from Ireland and struck it rich in the oil business.  By the time he died in 1891 he owned oil wells throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and more than 40,000 acres of land in Mississippi; depending on the source he was worth from $2-$10 million.

Byron, one of five brothers, inherited a large portion of his father’s fortune, although there was a legal battle over the estate for more than 20 years—John’s Irish relatives said they were his proper heirs because they claimed John and his wife were never married.

In 1896 the wealthy 23-year-old, who had been playing amateur baseball, decided to become a professional baseball player and bought his own team.  A story that appeared in several newspapers across the country:

“There are but few men of wealth among baseballists, and in all the world there is but one millionaire player.”

McKeown organized a team in the Interstate League in his hometown called the Washington (PA) Little Senators (Baseball Reference incorrectly places the team in Washington D.C.)

The Sporting Life called McKeown “A gilded youth who follows the game for pastime.”  McKeown said:

“I am just playing for the sport of it; I have nothing else to do.  I have a leaning towards baseball and thought I would cultivate it”

There are no statistics for McKeown, but the few surviving assessments of his ability as a player are positive.  Toledo Mud Hens manager Frank Torreyson said:

“McKeown can hit the ball…sometimes he is liable to drive it out of sight.”

The Washington (PA) Observer said:

“McKeown is making quite a record as a first baseman.”

Things didn’t go smoothly for McKeown’s team.

Washington, Pennsylvania, with a population of just more than 7000 was, by far, the smallest town in the Interstate League.  Initially, there was excitement for McKeown’s team.  The Observer said that Western Pennsylvania Agricultural Association was providing a home field for the team at the Washington County Fairgrounds.

The Sporting Life said McKeown was “Sure to receive strong financial support from Washington enthusiasts.”  He didn’t.

Professional baseball was not a hit in Washington in 1896.  By the end of July The Sporting Life said the team had lost more than $4000 dollars and had recently played a home game that had only brought in $3.50 in total receipts.

By September McKeown had lost more than $8000 and decided to disband the team before the end of the season. The Observer said that at one August game there was not a single paid attendee.

Over the next several months McKeown attempted to buy another Interstate league franchise, the Saginaw Lumbermen.  After the bid to buy the Lumbermen fell through McKeown seems to have lost interest in the game.  After November of 1896 there are no further references to him and baseball.

Two years later McKeown joined the 10th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, “The Fighting 10th” and served in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection.

McKeown returned to Pennsylvania where he died in 1904.

Del Sayers

21 Nov

The line between professional and amateur athletes has always been a little blurry, and it certainly was the case at the turn of the 20th Century.  Delbert Bancroft Sayers is a good example.

Born in Ohio in 1876, Sayers first made a name for himself as a pitcher with the Ohio Wesleyan University team in 1895 and ’96 and with amateur teams in Galion and Marion, Ohio.  In 1897 he  signed with the Youngstown Puddlers of the Interstate League.

Del Sayers

Sayers struggled with Youngstown (no statistics survive, but in a May game against Mansfield he walked six batters before being pulled in the third inning).  In June he was sent to the Guelph Maple Leafs in the Canadian League.  The Youngstown Vindicator said:

“(Sayers) had difficulty in locating the plate and it is thought a little more practice in a minor league will aid him for Interstate work.  He leaves with the best wishes of all concerned.”

After the 1897 season Sayers returned to college; this time at Ohio State University.

He played baseball and football at Ohio State, and it was in football where he made a name for himself.

Sayers, a tackle, was named captain in 1899, Ohio State’s first undefeated season.  The team went 9-0-1 and only gave up five points all season, in a 5-5 tie with Case University.  In a 6-0 victory over Oberlin Sayers returned a fumble for the game’s only touchdown.

By the middle of the decade a college star’s former professional status would have been cause for controversy, but there was hardly a mention of Sayers’ minor league experience.

After leaving Ohio State in 1900 Sayers considered offers from several teams in the Interstate League and eventually signed with the Columbus Senators.  He appears to have only pitched one game with Columbus and there is no mention of him until 1903 when The Sporting Life reported he had signed with the Terre Haute Hottentots in the Central League—there is no record of Sayers playing for the team.

In 1904 he returned to Ohio State to finish school.  After graduating Sayers was employed as chief engineer at the Stonega Coke and Coal Company in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, he passed away in 1949.

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