Nick Altrock’s First Start

27 Jul

The Cincinnati Enquirer ran a small item about Nick Altrock in February of 1914.  The paper said of the left-handed pitcher and one of baseball’s greatest clowns:

“(E)xcellent control, combined with a stolid indifference to the surroundings and trimmings which go to make up the big league contests, were the stock and trade of Mr. Altrock and the principal asset which made him a great pitcher.”

Nick Altrock

Nick Altrock

Altrock is 31st all-time, and third among left-handed pitchers, having walked just 1.6169 batters per nine innings.

A month later a letter arrived at the paper.  The writer, Frank Torreyson, the man who discovered Altrock in Cincinnati, and signed him to his first professional contract with Grand Rapids in the Interstate League in 1898, told the paper that it was under his tutelage that Altrock got “the idea that control was everything almost in the pitching line.”

Torreyson said:

“During our exhibition season we had much rainy weather and had very few chances to play games and the championship season was upon us before we had much chance to secure any line on our players…Well, Altrock had not done any too well in his one exhibition game, although his work looked good to me and I saw that although he was somewhat green , that he had possibilities and he then was full of comedy, just as at present.”

Torreyson said he decided to leave Altrock behind in Grand Rapids when the club made their first road trip of the season:

“I took Altrock into the clubhouse and told him I was not going to take him along, and you should have seen his face.  His lip fell down and he says, ‘Are you going to can me?’ I told him I was going to leave him at home to see if he could get control during the week we were away, telling him that he had no control over his curveball.”

Torreyson said when Altrock learned he wasn’t going to be released, he “took heart and said he would work hard,” on his control:

“I had a friend who lived near the park and he told me when I came home that Altrock came out at 9 AM and never took his uniform off until 5 o’clock.  Then before supper, he would go down the street and watch to see what the boys did on the trip.”

Frank Torreyson

Frank Torreyson

Torreyson said his left-handed pitchers, Billy Campbell, War Sanders, Charles Hutton, pitched well on the road trip, and:

“Poor Nick told them all that he guessed it was back to Cincy for him.

“Well, when we came home for the opening game Nick didn’t know whether to put on a uniform or not.  I sent him to the grounds early while the other boys were on parade, and when practice came I told him I wanted to see if he could put a few of his curveballs over the plate, and you should have seen them coming over with speed—ins, outs and every ball he pitched right over the center. “

Torreyson said shortly before the game began he informed Altrock that he would be Grand Rapids’ starting pitcher:

“Well, that was the time you should have seen him open his eyes.  Then he went in and only gave up a couple of hits, struck out 12 and never gave anything like a base on balls.”

Torreyson got some of the details wrong.  Altrock did pitch the opener and went the distance in a 12-inning game that ended in a 3 to 3 tie; he struck out eight and walked two.

Altrock went 17-3 for Grand Rapids before the cash-strapped Torreyson sold him to the Louisville Colonels in July.

Torreyson said of Altrock:

“His work with us that season was of the most sensational character.  Besides his great work he was one of the easiest men to handle I have ever seen in the game; always ready and willing and never shirking.  Many a time have I seen him after pitching a winning game, keep his uniform on and play with the kids for an hour or two.  He was always a general favorite with the public and players and was a credit to the game.”

Altrock

Altrock

As for Altrock’s success, well, Torreyson was fairly sure who to credit for that:

“I feel confident that the week he was left at home to learn to get them over had much to do with his having such great control during his later career.”

“The Nomad of the Interstate League”

25 Jul

There have been several incarnations of the Interstate League, the first began in 1885 and the final one played its last game in 1952.  None was more precarious than the one that operated in the 1890s, which newspapers annually announced was on the verge of collapse.  One Interstate League franchise, in particular, was always a little closer to collapse than the rest.

Frank J. Torreyson became the owner of the Wheeling (WV) Nailers in 1897.  He had been part owner of the Dayton franchise but just as that partnership was disintegrating the Wheeling team went on strike because they hadn’t been paid.  The league solved two problems by awarding the Nailers to Torreyson.

Torreyson had been a semi-pro player in Pennsylvania and managed teams in the Tri-State League. His first effort at team ownership involved starting a Pittsburgh franchise in the Pennsylvania State League in 1892.  By July He moved the team to Wilkes-Barre citing poor attendance.

His brother, Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson, was a 2nd baseman who had some excellent seasons in the Pennsylvania State and Atlantic Leagues; but by 1897 Thayer had literally grown into his nickname, and his best playing days were behind him.

Thayer joined Frank in the ownership of the team and continued to play and serve as captain.

In 1898, the Torreyson brothers moved the Wheeling franchise to Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Frank had necessitated the move when, immediately upon acquiring the franchise, he sold off the best players and alienated the Wheeling fans–he also played the two towns against each other.  While he was already aware he had worn out his welcome in Wheeling, he told The Grand Rapids Herald:

“I would very much like to have charge of an Interstate team here though Wheeling is a pretty good ball town.  We can’t play Sunday there, though, unless we get the grounds outside of the town which we expect to have if we stay there.”

He managed to get the city of Grand Rapids’ “West Side businessmen to bear half the expense “of readying two ballparks for the season—the team played most of their games at Recreation Park, but Sunday games were played at nearby Alger Park

The first home Sunday game was a harbinger of what was ahead for Torreyson in Grand Rapids.

Despite each person who “Patronized the grandstand” receiving “‘The Art Gallery of Prominent Baseball Players of America,” fans stayed away in droves.  Bad weather limited the crowd to “a few hundred,” and “stern luck was ‘agin’ the Cabinetmakers,”  Grand Rapids lost the game 6 to 5, and their record for the young season slipped to 2-5.

Things never really improved.

Throughout the 1898 season, Torreyson complained about the lack of support from the Grand Rapids community and threatened to move the team.

For their part, the citizens of Grand Rapids, while not actually coming out to games in great numbers, seemed to appreciate Torreyson’s effort.  In August, with the team in fourth place, The Herald announced that a benefit—whereby blocks of tickets would be purchased by the city’s leaders—would be organized to try to get the owner out of the red:

“Torreyson has given the city the best team it has ever had and this being a bad season f0r the game, there has been no money in it for him.”

There was no report of how much the August 19 benefit raised, but Torreyson, at least for the moment, expressed his gratitude in a letter to the people of the city he was desperately attempting to flee:

“The results show that Grand Rapids people appreciate honest endeavors for clean baseball.  Hoping to continue to please all, I am, respectfully yours, Frank W. Torreyson.”

Frank Torreyson

Frank Torreyson

Over the next twelve months, he visited a number of cities in Ohio and Indiana soliciting the best offer to relocate the team.  Attendance in Grand Rapids decreased further in 1899—while Torreyson’s club had hovered near .500 throughout the 1898 season, they were wire-to-wire doormats, mired in last place for all of 1899– and the already struggling Interstate League was in danger of having a team fold during the season.

In order to keep the eight-team league intact, an unusual trade was made.  The Columbus Buckeyes in the Western League would move to Grand Rapids and Torreyson would take his team to Columbus, Ohio.  The move would benefit both leagues by reducing travel costs.

In mid-July of 1899, the move was made official.  Fans, thrilled to be rid of the cellar-dwelling Interstate League club, filled the ballpark for the first home game of the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers of the Western League.  Newspapers estimated the crowd between 1600 and 2000; at least double the best crowd Torreyson’s team had ever drawn.

Columbus fans were less enthusiastic; 167 attended the first home game of the Columbus Senators of the Interstate League, a 4 to 1 loss to the first place New Castle Quakers.  The Herald said of Grand Rapids’ former club’s first game in their new town:

“That same old story comes from Torreyson’s team.”

The low attendance—they drew just 288 fans for their first Sunday home game– and  not very  friendly reception from the city of Columbus made Frank restless again.  Less than two weeks later, he relocated once more, this time to Springfield, Ohio, where his team was appropriately dubbed The Wanderers.  The team finished the season 49-91, 38 games out of first place.

 

In less than two years, Torreyson had incurred the wrath of the league and each member city.  The Fort Wayne News called for the league to take the franchise away from him. The Toledo Bee said Torreyson was “Ruining the Interstate.”  The Mansfield (OH) News said the transfer of the teams would have been better for the league “If Torreyson had been lost in the trade.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“The managers of the various other teams in the league say that Torreyson has done more to injure baseball in the Interstate League since he got into it than all other drawbacks combined.  The say that if Torreyson is permitted to wander about the country with a club in Columbus this week, in Kalamazoo next week, Erie the following week, Saginaw of Bay City the week after, and God only knows where after that, the league might as well disband.”

Early in 1900, a deal was struck to buy him out of the franchise.  The Youngstown Vindicator said the league had contributed to the purchase price in order to rid them of Torreyson, who they called “The Nomad of the Interstate League.”  Torreyson, The Vindicator said, “(M)ilked at least three towns as dry as tinder. But then the fan is the legitimate prey of the magnet.  Torreyson is now running a billiard hall in Braddock (PA).”

That wasn’t the end of Torreyson’s story.

He did, along with “Heavy,” open a billiard hall in Braddock—then two more in Homestead and McKeesport.  But Frank also became a successful thoroughbred owner and managed dozens of boxers out of a gym in Braddock.

Thayer "Heavy" Torreyson

Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson

Both made headlines one more time.

In October of 1911, The Pittsburgh Dispatch said Thayer was on his way to New York and, “He took with him $21,000.  He will wager this amount that the Philadelphia Athletics will defeat the New York Giants for the world’s championship.”

In 1912, The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said Frank paid passage for two boxers from Whales to come fight for him in Pennsylvania.   Leslie Williams and David John Bowen never made it to the United States; they went down with the Titanic on April 14.

Frank Torreyson died on April 10, 1918.

Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson continued to operate the billiard halls—and as The Pittsburgh Press said he was known to sell “horse race pools and (make) book on races.”  He also remained active in Pittsburgh area amateur baseball until his death on May 7, 1939.

A shorter version of this post appeared in September of 2012.

Lost Pictures–The Mechanical Pitcher

20 Jul

mechanicalpitcher

Another in the long line of attempts to create a commercially viable pitching machine, this one from 1910.  The syndicated photograph from the Underwood & Underwood Bureau:

“It has remained for a sailor to add the newest thing to base ball.  P.H.Link, warrant officer, on duty at the Annapolis naval academy, is the man for whom is claimed an invention which comes nearer perfection than any other mechanical device intended to replace the pitcher.

“Link’s invention is in the form of a gun.  It is operated by compressed air and the ball can be controlled so that all speeds, from the most leisurely floater to the fast ball of Christy Mathewson, can be used at will.

By means of a strap which Link is shown winding around the sphere, the ball can be curved accurately.  Curves of eight feet have been fired.  Mounted upon a swivel the gun can be pointed in any direction, vertical or horizontal.

“In operating the gun the preliminary motions of the pitcher are gone through with, and as the hand shoots out, the finger touches a trigger, which releases the ball.  This gives the batter time to get set, something no other mechanical pitching devices provide for”

Like the Princeton Pitching Gun 13 years earlier, the mechanical pitcher and its inventor quickly faded into obscurity.

 

The Shooting of “The Ohio Whirlwind”

18 Jul

In May of 1896 Cuban Giants, owner John M. Bright sent a letter to several East Coast newspapers.  Bright was writing to “set the public right” regarding his team—and to gloat

Two months earlier a letter had been published from Edward B. Lamar in The New York Sun which said, “The original Cuban Giants will be known this season as the X Cuban Giants.”

By the beginning of the season, the team was called the Cuban X-Giants and consisted of most of the stars of Bright’s 1895 Cuban Giants who had defected to play instead for Bright.

Despite the star power, the X-Giants got off to a poor start, dropping several games to minor league clubs

Bright’s letter informed fans that:

“Owing to the fact that there is a club (colored) calling themselves the Cuban (X) Giants, and getting most terribly defeated everywhere, and when defeated they send in their scores, calling themselves the Cuban Giants, thereby injuring the Genuine Cuban Giants great reputation.”

Bright claimed the “Genuine Cuban Giants” had “won seventeen out of the last twenty-three games played.”

Among the players mentioned in Bright’s letter was “The Ohio Whirlwind;” pitcher Charles “Doc” Howard.

The earliest reference to Howard’s baseball career —he was born Charles Allen in East Liverpool, Ohio, and adopted by his cousin’s family as an infant–is found in The Sporting Life in 1893.  The paper’s East Liverpool correspondent wrote: “Charles Howard, our famous colored player, has an offer from the Cuban Giants” for the 1894 season.

Howard pitched, and occasionally played outfield, for the Cuban Giants from 1894 to 1897 and was one of the few members of the 1895 team that chose not to follow Lamar and stayed loyal to Bright—he eventually did join the X-Giants as a pitcher and outfielder in 1898 and 1899.

The East Liverpool Evening Review said Howard was set to return to the X-Giants in the spring of 1900 when he became ill:

“The many friends of Charles Howard, the colored ball player, are taking subscription to send him to the hospital.  It is feared he has consumption.”

It is unclear whether it was tuberculosis or another illness—rheumatism, among others, was mentioned– that kept Howard sidelined all season, and spent most of the summer hospitalized in Pittsburgh.   A “benefit game and field day” was organized in his honor in August, the paper called it “an immense success” which raised the sum of $135.

Charles "Doc" Howard

Charles “Doc” Howard

Howard recovered, but never played professionally again; he did make a comeback with an integrated semi-pro club in Liverpool in July of 1901.  The Evening Review said of his performance in one game:

“(Howard) had the players of the opposing aggregation tearing great swaths in the atmosphere in a vain effort to connect with the ball.”

He continued to play occasionally with local teams and worked as an umpire in local leagues through 1903.  Reports in The Evening Review that he would be re-joining the Cuban Giants in 1902 and 1903 proved untrue.

In 1904 Howard was working as a porter at Guthrie’s saloon in East Liverpool.  On the evening of August 13, he arrived at the home of his adoptive parents shortly after midnight, when, according to The Evening Review:

“(He was) Murdered with a revolver in the hands of Lottie Skiles, a well-known character of questionable reputation.  The popular colored man was killed instantly in his home (in the early morning hours of August 14—his death certificate lists the date of death as August 13)”

The two lived together at the house, and, according to the paper “The killing of Howard was the result of a long series of quarrels between himself and the woman.”

It was not lost on the press that Lottie Skiles—whose given name was Vincent Lottie Skiles– was white.  And despite her “questionable reputation” and Howard’s status in the community as a “popular colored man,” the local paper allowed the shooter to get a sympathetic airing of her story into print less than 48 hours after the shooting:

“Lottie does not attempt to deny that she killed Howard, but does insist that it was done in self-defense.”

The paper said, “she broke down and cried bitterly” when she found out Howard was dead.”

She told the paper the two had been living together for four months, and called Howard “The most jealous man I ever saw.”

She said the fight that evening started when Howard saw her sitting with another man at a Chinese restaurant.   She said when they arrived home, “he flew at me and struck me on the back of the neck with the flat of his hand.”  She said she told Howard “If I were a man you would not dare strike me in that manner.”  At that point, she said Howard went for a gun on a shelf behind her:

“I was afraid he would kill me and I grabbed the gun before he got to it.  I turned as quickly as I could and pulled the trigger.”

Skiles told the paper neither her nor Howard had been drinking.  The paper said the coroner had concluded that Howard had “started to turn and flee” before the shot was fired.

The paper also said, “(Skiles’) story of the affair is generally believed,” and said

Two days after the shooting Skiles was charged with murder.  When she appeared in court, The Review said:

“She had had a refreshing night’s sleep and looked exceedingly bright for one who has passed through such a tragic scene.”

The paper was clearly impressed with the defendant:

“She was well dressed, wearing a black straw hat, covered with a pretty blue veil, giving to her a rather dashing appearance.  She wore a gray skirt and jacket and patent leather shoes that were purchased for her by the man she killed.”

Lottie Skiles

Lottie Skiles

Everyone who testified at the preliminary hearing agreed on one thing: the relationship was extremely volatile, and at times violent. Howard’s adoptive parents refused to admit that the couple lived together in the room in their home—while Ohio overturned their anti-miscegenation law in 1887 the paper said if cohabitating, the two would have “lived together unlawfully…for immoral purposes,” suggesting that a local ordinance was still in place.  The police officer who took Skiles into custody told the court that she used to a racist epitaph to describe Howard.

Skiles went on trial on December 5th, 1904.  Her attorney said the shooting was the culmination of long-term abuse at the hands of Howard and described a number of alleged incidents.

As for the events of the evening of the shooting, Skiles said in the newspaper interview after the shooting, Howard struck her once on the neck with “the flat of his hand;” the defense now claimed Howard had delivered several “sledgehammer blows” earlier in the evening, and a “powerful blow on the neck” in the room.

The story from the defense of how the fatal shot was fired was also very different from Skiles’ newspaper interview, and not in keeping with the findings of the coroner.  Her attorney told jurors:

“She was afraid of his next move and grabbing the revolver from the shelf intended to throw it at him and run.  He grabbed her by the arm and waist and in the tussle the gun was discharged.”

The prosecution said despite her statement to the contrary, Skiles had been drinking that night, while Howard hadn’t had a drink “for six weeks,” and produced a witness who claimed Skiles told her she would kill Howard “if she ever caught him with another girl.”

Skiles took the stand in her own defense.  She repeated the story of long-term abuse her attorney had told in his opening argument.  She also gave a version of the story of the shooting that was closer-–but not the same in every detail she claimed for example, she planned to “throw the gun under the table,” not at him–to the version her attorney gave in opening arguments than it was to the one she gave to the paper in August.

The Evening Review, and the prosecution, never mentioned the inconsistencies in her story, but the paper said of her testimony:

“Her story very much impressed the crowded courtroom, which at times was a solid mass of humanity.  Though she had shown some signs of nervousness prior to this time, she apparently realized the need of absolute self-control and it was stated by a jurist of many years’ experience that no woman charged with the same offense ever acquitted herself in better form.”

The jury returned after eight hours.  Lottie Skiles was found not guilty.  The Evening Review said initially five jurors voted to convict her of the lesser included charge of manslaughter, but after several ballots voted to acquit.

Skiles, just 21-years-old on the night she shot Howard, had been arrested several times, and at the age of 15, she was held in custody along with three other suspects after a man was shot in East Liverpool—although she was never charged in the incident. Her attorney told The Evening Review, his client vowed, “I’ll never go back to that life again.”

The following day she told the paper she was finished with her “old haunts” and finished with East Liverpool.

Lottie Skiles appears to have kept her word about staying out trouble; she relocated to Youngstown, but eventually returned to East Liverpool, where she died in 1947.

Lost Advertisements–“Napoleon Lajoie Official League Ball”

15 Jul

lajoieball

A 1906 advertisement for “The Napoleon Lajoie Official League Ball”  The $1.25 ball was produced “by special contract” by P. Goldsmith’s Sons–Phillip Goldsmith’s took over the Goldsmith Sporting Goods Companys and moved it from Covington Kentucky across the Ohio River to Cincinnati, Ohio after his death in 1894.

The ball was “(M)ade according to the requirements and specifications of the Major Leagues.  The highest quality materials are used in its construction and each ball is guaranteed for a full game of nine innings.”

There is no evidence that ball was produced in large quantities, and no ads appeared afeter 1906.

 

 

“There is only one Thing against him—he is Very Dark”

13 Jul

Vernon Ayau became professional baseball’s first player of Chinese descent when he appeared briefly in the Northwest League in 1917.

But he was the not the first Chinese player a West Coast team attempted to sign.  Two years earlier, Walter McCredie of the Portland Beavers tried to bring one Ayau’s teammates with the Chinese Athletic Club of Honolulu to the Pacific Coast League.

Fong Lang Akana was born in Hawaii in 1889 to a Chinese father and Hawaiian mother.

In the winter of 1914, McCredie announced that he had signed Akana.  The (Portland) Oregonian said:

“Akana is a big, rangy fellow and bats left-handed.  He weighs about 180 pounds, according to the dope given to Mack.”

Lang Akana

Lang Akana

The Oregon Daily Journal said he was 5’ 10” and quoted Bert Lowry, the sports editor at The Honolulu Commercial Advertiser:

“He swings from the left side and hits the ball hard at all times, Akana is well-educated, has pleasing manners and is willing to learn.”

Two former major leaguers Jack Bliss and Justin “Mike” Fitzgerald, barnstorming with Pacific Coast Leaguers in Hawaii, were impressed with Akana.  Bliss said he was a great fielder who “had eyes all over his head.”  Fitzgerald said:

“He is a good fielder and very fast.  He is by far the best player in the islands.”

One additional observation from Lowry and Fitzgerald foretold that there would be trouble ahead:

Lowery: “He is a bit dark.”

Fitzgerald: “There is only one thing against him—he is very dark.”

McCredie told The Daily Journal that Akana would likely join the club at their Fresno, California training camp in the spring, the paper noted:

“Cubans, Indians, Poles and Italians have made good in baseball, but no Chinese or Japanese has yet won his spangles.”

Akana, top row second from left, with Chinese Athletic Club, 1909

Akana, top row second from left, with Chinese Athletic Club, 1909

It took less than a month for the plan to bring Akana to Portland to begin to fall apart.

The San Francisco Chronicle, while getting Akana’s name and position wrong, reported that:

“Portland players won’t play with a Chinese.”

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin said:

“Narrow racial prejudices, or possibly the fear that if the bars are let down someone will lose his regular job, threatens to work a grave injustice to Lang Akana.”

In late December, McCredie was ready to bend to the pressure, telling Roscoe Fawcett the sports editor of The Oregonian:

“His skin’s too dark…The Coast Leaguers who played at Honolulu on that recent barnstorming trip came back vowing boycott.  I have received a couple of letters from players telling me Akana is as dark as Jack Johnson, so I guess I will have to give him a release.”

Walter McCredie

Walter McCredie

Pitcher “Seattle” Bill James, who also played against Akana in Hawaii, disputed the account that players were refusing to play with Akana, telling The Oregonian:

“I don’t think any ballplayer will object to playing on the same team as him.  But he might have some trouble around the hotels.  He is not black like a negro, more sepia colored—and his hair is straight.”

But in January, McCredie, who was by far the most progressive PCL magnates on the issue of race, switched direction, and vowed to keep Akana when Fawcett showed him a photograph of the outfielder:

“Dark or not dark, we’ll  have Lang Akana report to us at Fresno…This photograph shows him to be extremely dark-skinned…(PCL umpire) Jack McCarthy saw him at Honolulu this winter and says Lang is just as white as most ballplayers after they have been out all summer in the sunshine.

“He doesn’t look any blacker than Barney Joy, who used to pitch for San Francisco.”

Apparently, McCredie found a way out without explicitly saying he refused to put a Chinese player on his club.  Shortly before the Beavers headed to California, The Oregonian said:

“The Hawaiian, Akana, will not be considered unless he pays his own expenses to the spring camp at Fresno.”

The paper had said earlier that it would cost $175 to bring Akana over from Hawaii.  Akana, whose father was a doctor, and whose family, according to several accounts were “wealthy,” likely could afford the cost of transportation. So, it is unknown whether he refused to pay for his own way or if the paper’s account was incorrect.

The Beavers went to California and started the season without Akana, but there was still talk of his joining the team.  In May, The Honolulu Star-Bulletin said McCredie was still considering adding Akana to the roster:

“Portland is wavering between the first and second division…’What we need here are bat artists,’ writes the sporting editor (Fawcett) of The Oregonian to a Honolulan…Naturally, Lang is watching the Portland field from a distance;  Manager Mac has not made good and Lang is playing the ‘watchful waiting’ polity to perfection.”

“Summed up, the situation now is: if Portland can gain a foothold in the Coast race within the next month or six weeks, it is probable that Akana will celebrate the Fourth of July and Christmas in Honolulu, if not then a demand for strengthening the team with a few good hitters will be forthcoming…’McCredie is silent on the Akana contract,’ (Fawcett) continued, ‘and I think that the Hawaiian-Chinese’s chances to play with the Beavers are good, unless Portland takes a sudden leap upward in the percentage column soon.”

The prediction was wrong.  Portland struggled all season, finishing in last place with a 78-116 record, but the call never went out to Hawaii for Akana to join the team.

Akana, bottom row, left, 1915

Akana, bottom row, left, 1915

McCredie finally saw Akana in person two years later when he brought the Beavers to Honolulu for spring training.  Fawcett said in The Oregonian that “Akana played left field and did not show up particularly well, owing it is said, that he had played little ball for several months.”

Akana continued to play in Honolulu—interrupted by service in the Hawaii National Guard in 1917—into the 1920s, but was “Too dark” to ever appear in a professional game.

Biographical notes: Some sources, including his Hawaii Birth and Christening (B&C) record list his name as Lan rather than Lang, the same B&C record lists his complete name as C. Fong Lan Akana.  Several sources, including the B&C record list his date of birth as April 15, 1890, several others, including his WWI and WWII Draft Registrations list the date of birth as April 15, 1889.

Hulbert’s Dog

11 Jul

During a Red Stockings road trip in May 1881, The Boston Herald said “An incident occurred at Chicago on the occasion of the Bostons’ recent visit, wherein (Jack) Burdock proved a bigger man than (Chicago) President (William) Hulbert.

burdock

Jack Burdock

Days earlier, when the Worcester Ruby Legs played in Chicago, Tom Burns of the White Stockings hit an unusual home run.

The Herald said of Burns’ blast:

“Burns knocked the ball down to left field…It appears that Mr. Hulbert has an office in the left field corner of the Chicago ball ground, and he is also the possessor of a huge dog, which, for some reason, he stations at said office, outside and unchained…(Worcester outfielder Lewis “Buttercup”) Dickerson went for it, but was brought to a sudden standstill by the appearance of the dog before him, with his mouth open and emitting the fiercest  growls.  Dickerson viewed the animal, and not caring to lose an important part of his uniform pants, he concluded it was not best to try for the sphere.  The dog guarded the ball till Burns had made a home run.”

Buttercup Dickerson

Buttercup Dickerson

The Chicago Tribune had described the play a bit differently:

“Burns, swinging his bat at the first ball pitched, sent the ball clear to the clubhouse for a clean home run.  The big black dog owned by the Chicago Club was sleeping on the platform as the ball rolled up to him, and Dickerson pretended to be afraid of the animal, but the latter paid no intention to the fielder, and did not hinder him in the least.”

The Herald said the Red Stockings were told about the incident, and, when they “arrived on the (Chicago) grounds” two days later:

“Burdock went to reconnoitering.  Sure enough, the dog was there doing duty.  Burdock marched up to Mr. Hulbert, in a manner that is perfectly familiar to Bostonians, and demanded that that dog be locked up or taken off the field.  Mr. Hulbert replied in effect that he knew no rule that forbade a dog being on the grounds.  He was informed by the earnest ‘bean-eater,’ as Mr. Hulbert delights to call the Bostons, that unless the dog was removed, Burdock would not commence to play.  Result—Mr. President yielded, the dog was removed, and the game proceeded.”

The Tribune countered that Burdock protest was simply the result of “a ball-tossers superstition” and Hulbert acquiesced to the “red-legged kicker,” despite there being no rule “covering dogs.”

The paper said Hulbert told Burdock:

“(I)f it will make you any happier the dog shall be bounced.”

William Hulbert

William Hulbert

The removal of the dog was not enough to help Boston.  The White Stockings won the game 5 to 4.

Lost Advertisements–American Giants at Dyckman Oval

8 Jul

amgiants1919

An advertisement for the final day of Rube Foster and the Chicago American Giants’ 1919 barnstorming tour of the East Coast–an August 24 doubleheader against Guy Empey’s Treat ‘Em Rough at Dyckman Oval

The “Treat ‘Em Rough,” also occasionally called the Treat ‘Em Roughs, were a barnstorming team composed of some current and former professional players–including Jeff Tesreau, Pol Perritt as well as East Coast semi-pro players.  The team was a promotion for “Treat ‘Em Rough Magazine,” published by Arthur Guy Empey, an American cavalry sergeant who, opposed to the United States neutrality during the early stages of WWI, left the country to join the British Army.  Empey returned to the United States after being wounded in the Battle of the Somme and became a national celebrity after the publication of his biography, “Over the Top,” which was turned into a film–written by and starring Empey–in 1918.  Treat ‘Em Rough was a reference to what had become Empey’s famous tagline: “Treat ‘Em Rough Boys.”

Guy Empey

Guy Empey

Empey’s team spent the 1919 season playing against local clubs and Negro Leaguers, including the Bacharach Giants:

amgiants19193

amgiants19192

The Bacharach Giants swept two doubleheaders from Empey’s club that month behind the pitching of “Cannonball” Dick Redding and Frank Wickware.

Empey’s team, with Tesreau and Perritt on the mound, faired no better against the American Giants.  In an August 17 Doubleheader, Smokey Joe Williams pitched a one-hitter, beating the Treat ‘Em Rough and Tesreau 2 to 0.

"Smokey" Joe Williams

“Smokey” Joe Williams

 

Oscar Charleston started the second game for the American Giants but was hit hard and relieved by Dave Brown.  The Giants came back to win 9 to 7 in 11-innings.  Perritt pitched 11 innings and took the loss.

The next meeting went about the same for Treat ‘Em Rough.

The New York Age said “The stands were filled to overflowing” for the final doubleheader, “The last two games of Rube Foster’s Chicago American Giants’ Eastern tour.” The paper also noted that:

“The majority of the fans were supporters of the Chicagoans.”

Tom Johnson started the first game  for the American Giants, beating Tesreau and the Treat ‘Em Rough 2 to 1, and Williams outpitched Perritt in the second game, the American Giants winning 7-1.

The American Giants returned to the Midwest the following day.  Empey’s Treat ‘Em Rough baseball team appears to have disbanded sometime in 1920.

 

“We had to take a Bath with the Cows and the Pigs”

6 Jul

Johnny Evers was another in a long line of former players who felt baseball began to decline sometime around the day they stopped playing.

In 1931, he made his case to reporter James L. Kilgallen of the International News Service.  Kilgallen, called “an editor’s dream of a reporter,” by Damon Runyon, occasionally wrote about baseball in between covering, as he said, “every conceivable type of story in this country and abroad.” He was also the father of columnist Dorothy Kilgallen.

James L. Kilgallen

James L. Kilgallen

Evers told him:

“What a cinch they have nowadays.  And look at the dough they get.  Today everything is hunky dory for the ballplayer who makes the big league grade.  Fine hotels.  Excellent grub.  Best trains.  Pullman accommodations.  Taxi’s to the ballparks.

“What a difference from the old days, why, do you know when I used to play with the Cubs we had to take a bath with the cows and the pigs in that old West Side ballpark in Chicago.  No needle shower baths for us in those days.”

Kilgallen said of the former Cubs second baseman:

“I found Evers an interesting personality.  He did not display any bitterness when he compared the game today with his time.  Rather there was a note of surprise in his conversation because of the fact he does not believe the players now in the major leagues appreciate the easy comforts they enjoy in these times and the sensational salaries they receive.

“Evers used to be a slim, nervous, crabby little player, full of the old fight when he was in his prime.  The National League never had a scrappier player and he can be pardoned for showing impatience for the ‘easy come easy go’ attitude of some of the players of today.  Evers, now a middle-aged man is still well-preserved.  He is heavier of course but he has no paunch.  The glint in his light blue eyes is not as combative as it used to be but the old, aggressive underslung jaw of his suggests there’s a lot of scrap left in the old boy yet.”

Johnny Evers

Johnny Evers

As for that “easy come easy go attitude” of current players, Evers said “With a tinge of asperity in his voice:”

“It used to be an honor to break into the big leagues.  Nowadays, however, a lot of fellows who are signed up take it as a matter of course.  They don’t seem to feel the pride in our uniforms that we used to in the old days.  Today they play for a big batting average, knowing that when they talk salaries it’s their batting average that governs their pay to a large extent.”

The man who co-authored a book with the subtitle “The Science of Baseball,” had something to say about that as well:

“And if I do say it myself, we played as good ball—if not better—than they do today.  We played more scientific ball, at any rate.”

In the end, the not “bitter” Evers was convinced that many of the players who followed in his footsteps just didn’t care that much about playing the game:

“A stool pigeon is just what a lot of fellows in uniform develop into.  This type sit on the bench month in and month out, and don’t seem to care whether they are in the lineup or not.  They’d have to keep me out of the lineup.  That’s the way we all used to be.  Fighters for our place on the team.”

“The Fourth of July in Baseball has Always been a Day of Reckoning”

4 Jul

During the 19th Century, when completing any given season in the black, or finishing the season at all, was not a foregone conclusion for a large percentage of professional teams; in 1892 O.P.  Caylor of The New York Herald said of Independence Day:

“The Fourth of July in baseball has always been a day of reckoning, as it were.  All clubs, associations or leagues endeavor to retain their breath of life until after America’s natal day so that they may partake in the feast of the turnstiles upon that baseball festival.  The great anniversary of liberty has served many times to lift a weakened club out of financial distress and give it a chance to continue in business probably till the season’s end—at least for a month or two longer.”

O.P. Caylor

O.P. Caylor

Caylor said everyone in baseball held their breath two years earlier during the run up to the holiday:

“In the early fight between the League and the Brotherhood in 1890, old League generals declared that if the Fourth of July that year should be a rainy day, generally on the circuit many of the Brotherhood clubs would be compelled to suspend before the season ended, but if the day should be fair they might pull through to the season’s end. The day was fair, and the attendance everywhere was large.  That meteorological condition was a blessing not only to the Brotherhood but to the old League clubs as well.”

According to The New York World, on the day after the holiday in 1890, Caylor’s recollections were mostly correct; while the weather was “mostly fair” in several cities, the paper said there was “Bad weather in Boston, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.”  Overall, the Players League won the day, drawing more than 48,000 fans, followed by more than 38,000 for the American Association.  The “old League clubs” were not quite as “blessed“ as Caylor indicated; with home games in two of the three “Bad weather” cities, the National League drew just more than 31,000 fans.

Caylor said while the 1892 season—which included the National league’s only scheduled split-season schedule, with a 12-team league which included four clubs picked up from the defunct American Association —was a struggle for the National League, the only remaining major league would not face the fate of some minor leagues.  The Eastern League’s New Haven franchise folded in June, and in order to not play out a schedule with a nine-team league, “The Athletics of Philadelphia were a little more than willing to ‘cash in,’ and so the circuit was hewed down to an octagon.”

Caylor called the situation in the National League “not so promising,” but said:

“(A) club franchise in that body is so valuable as a piece of property the year around that no fears are entertained of even the most unfortunate of the twelve putting up its shutters and turning its grounds into a sheep’s pasture before the season ends.”

Despite the fact that no team would be “putting up its shutters” before the end of the season, Caylor said that as of Independence Day, only the Pittsburgh Pirates, who “Not one reader in a hundred would have picked,” were operating in the black for the first half of the season, and only because Pittsburgh “has a cheap team.”

Caylor said:

“Of the other eleven clubs a few were about even on receipts and expenditures and some were far behind with losses.  Especially was this the case with the New York and Chicago Clubs.”

Hindsight being Hindsight, just six weeks later, Caylor would suggest that the decision made by league magnates to pare down rosters and institute across-the-board pay cuts at mid-season (July 15), was, at least in Cincinnati, “(A) way to squeeze the old hen into more active and valuable work (laying golden eggs), and on the squeezing they killed her.”

But on “America’s natal day,” he seemed to support the decision of baseball’s executives:

“(They decided the) remedy much be retrenchment. Clubs must employ only the minimum number of players…and salaries must come down…The fact that at least four of the twelve clubs pay over $50,000 each in team salaries proves the ruinous and unbusinesslike height to which baseball salaries were forced by the two years of conflict between the fighting factions.  (John Montgomery) Ward and (Charles) Comiskey each receive $7,000 salary for seven months’ service—a sum proportionately larger than that paid to United States Senators and more while the service lasts than is received by the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

John Montgomery Ward

John Montgomery Ward

The most egregious example, according to Caylor was:

“The present New York team is a whole sermon against expensive teams.  It draws $50,000 from the club treasury and is one of the bitterest disappointments ever placed upon the field.  There is not even the excuse of ‘hard luck’ or accident to lift the team out of its disgrace.”

The Caylor of August—who called the season “a Dog’s Day Depression,” still held out hope in July:

“There is every reason to believe that this (the second half) will be a much more exciting fight than the first.  The clubs will all start into it with much more certainty of equality, and those that have been weak will make a mighty effort to strengthen the vulnerable places of their teams.”

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