Slagle Climbs a Hill

20 May

Wilbur Goode had just been traded to the Chicago Cubs by the Boston Rustlers in an eight-player deal in June of 1911, when Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Record-Herald asked the 25-year-old to describe the greatest play he had ever witnessed:

“Of course, I haven’t been in fast company long enough to tell much about great plays, maybe not long enough to pretend to judge which are really great.”

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Goode

But Goode said Jimmy Slagle, his teammate the previous season with the Baltimore Orioles in the Eastern League made the greatest play he had ever seen:

“The play was made on the Rochester grounds and by Jimmy Slagle. The fans in the big circuit know Slagle perhaps better than I do and they have seen him make some wonderful plays—but perhaps never one under such circumstances.”

Goode said Slagle still had enough speed to live up to his nickname “Rabbit” even though he was 36 and playing his final season of professional baseball.

He said the field conditions in Rochester were thus:

“The grounds are rather strangely laid out. The diamond and outfield are cut down to a perfect level, and to make the outfield level part of a hillside was scraped down, leaving a terrace around the field, which in some spots is six feet higher than the field itself.”

Goode said it was late in a game with the Orioles holding a one-run lead over the Bronchos; Rochester had runners on first and second with no one out:

“The next batter raised the ball high and far to left center.

“Slagle had been playing deep, expecting a long fly, or at least to prevent a long hit from going through and beating us right there. The ball went high and on the line. There was a row of carriages and autos on the terrace. The runners held their bases for an instant, saw that the ball was going far up on top of the terrace, and believing no one could reach it, they both started for the plate.”

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Slagle

Slagle raced to the base of the terrace:

“He leaped, put one foot against the side of the embankment and leaped again, shooting himself upward and landing on top of the terrace. The ball was going over and straight at a big red automobile. I remember the women in the machine screeched and dodged. Just then Slagle came bounding up onto the terrace, leaped again, stuck up both hands and grabbed that ball.”

After making the catch:

“Slagle ran to the edge of the bank, shot the ball in, and although the runner got back to first, the one returning to second was doubled and the game was saved.”

A Plank Story and a Rube Story

17 May

Eddie Plank spent his off seasons giving guided tours of the Gettysburg Battlefield near his Pennsylvania home; in 1907, The Washington Times said he had a sideline to make extra money off the tours:

“(I)t is alleged (he) sells the gullible tourists bullets supposed to have been shot away during the war of the rebellion, but which his ballplaying friends claim are buried by Eddie several days before he makes the sale. But as Plank says, what’s the difference as long as the tourists are happy?”

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Eddie Plank

The paper said Plank told Lave Cross that Europeans were selling American tourists “pieces of chips said to have come from the ark sailed by Noah,” when his teammate asked him about it, and said:

“If an American wants to get ‘stung,’ let it be done by some good fellow countryman, if only from a patriotic standpoint.”

The Times said spending so much time on the battlefield “and from constant talk about the dead,” that “Plank has developed a hankering after the occult” and supernatural:

“In Philadelphia, he purchased a couple of tickets for a lecture to be given at the Academy of Music on Buddhism.”

Plank had invited catcher Mike “Doc” Powers, “a deep student on such things” to join him, but Powers stood him up at the team hotel, “the only player around the hotel was Rube Waddell…Eddie, turning to Waddell asked did he want to go,” learn about Buddhism:

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Rube

“’Sure thing,’ said the big pitcher, as he jumped up with alacrity, ‘I’m a great lover of flowers.’”

“Mendez is a Wonder”

15 May

Edgar Forrest Wolfe, the cartoonist and sports columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer who wrote under the pen name Jim Nasium, joined the Phillies on their Cuban barnstorming tour after the 1911 season.

When he returned, he told readers:

“Baseball fans throughout the United States, in trying to dig up an answer that will explain away the wallopings that have been handed our big league ball teams by the Cubans during their annual winter pilgrimages to the ‘Sunny Isle.’”

 

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He said some fans tried to claim it was “change of climate” or players not adhering to “strict discipline,” but:

“While you can work this stuff and probably get away with it if you happen to be conversing with some guy who has never been south of Oshkosh, Michigan [sic]”

No, Wolfe said, climate and discipline were not the issue— “Good pitching and sensational fielding is the bulk of the answer.”

In particular, Wolfe singled out Jose Mendez, in an article that flirted with the progressive idea of integrating baseball while loaded with the racist ideas and language of the time.

Phillies manager Hans Lobert told Wolfe:

“Mendez is a wonder, and so is his catcher (Gervasio) Gonzalez. If we could give those two coons a coat of white paint and ring them in with the Phillies next summer, we’d win the pennant.”

Referring to Mendez’ first start against major leaguers in 1908, Wolfe noted:

“Mendez not only showed his ability as a pitcher, but his nerve and absolute immunity from stage fright, but going in and shutting out the Cincinnati team in this game with but one little hit, and that was a little scratch affair made by Miller Huggins in the ninth inning. Mendez fanned nine of the Reds in this game and as his own team could get him but one run to win with, you will see that he had to go some to win even with that great pitching.”

Wolfe chronicled what are now well-known highlights of Mendez’ performances against white professionals from 1908 to 1911, and then described what made him so unhittable:

“Mendez’ chief asset in a pitching way is terrific speed with a fast-breaking jump to the ball, which he mixes with a fast breaking curve, and excellent control and fine judgment in working the batsmen. Ballplayers from the states who have batted against Mendez or tried to, rather, assert that there is no pitcher in baseball, barring possibly Walter Johnson, who has as much ‘smoke’ as this ‘Black Mathewson’ of Cuba. The thing that causes the most wonderment among our players who have played in Cuba, however, is the wonderful ability of Mendez in fielding his position. He is remarkably fast on his feet and a quick starter, has a cool head and excellent judgment, and can throw from any position like a rifle shot.

“Mendez plays the whole infield when he is pitching, and it is almost impossible to lay down a safe bunt against him or even sacrifice, as he will invariably get the ball in time to nail the advance man.”

Wolfe said Mendez was so good fielding his position that he allowed his fielders to play “closer to the foul lines and leaving Mendez to plug up the holes in the center.”

And, he said Mendez worked “twice as hard” as other pitchers because of how much ground he covered fielding his position in the heat of Cuba:

“What a corking hot weather pitcher he would make up here if he could only be whitewashed.”

Wolfe also noted that Mendez had “never been the author of a boneheaded play,” and highlighted his character:

“Mendez is known in Havana as a modest and well-behaved gentleman at all times, both on the field of play and off, as he seems to realize that his color bars him from many privileges accorded to the white baseball hero. While pitching he is constantly smiling, showing his teeth in a broad grin, their whiteness forming a vivid contrast with his black skin. Every cent Mendez earns through his ball playing goes to the support of his mother, whom he can now afford to give every pleasure of the wealthy class of Cubans.”

Wolfe said during November of 1911, the pitcher earned $584 from gate receipts when he pitched:

“(A)s every time Mendez works down there, they play to capacity, the fans in Havana, white as well as colored, idolizing their ‘Black Mathewson’ much in the same way as New Yorkers idolize their white one.”

In closing, Wolfe lamented:

“It is one of the pathetic instances of life to see this Cuban negro, possessing all the characteristics of a gentleman and an ability that would make him one of the great figures in a great pastime, qualities that would bring him worldwide fame and popularity and wealth, barred from reaping the full benefits of these qualifications through the misfortune of birth. Jose Mendez will always have to be content just to be Cuba’s ‘Black Mathewson’”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

“I have Seen Many Pathetic Things”

14 May

Cy Young “wrote” in 1912:

“Baseball is not all sunshine.”

Like most players of the era, Young’s occasional syndicated newspaper columns were ghostwritten; most of Young’s were written by Sam Carrick of The Boston Post.

“The game,” he said, “has it’s shadows for every bright spot.”

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Cy Young

According to Young:

“I have seen many pathetic things that I have tried to forget. I have seen men injured; I have seen men heart-broken because they failed to make good, and I have seen others almost distracted when age compelled their retirement.”

But, he said, there was something even worse:

“(T)he most pathetic thing I ever have seen in the national game, and I have witnessed it hundreds of times in the years I have been pitching, is the fate of the fellow who has been a happy-go-lucky sort of a chap, without a thought for the future.

“Drawing large salaries and spending them freely, giving right and left to the unfortunate, these poor fellows, when their careers drew to a conclusion, were down and out financially and is many cases physically.”

Young said most had no other skills and had already been “running into debt to gratify some foolish whim or to prove what ‘good fellows’ they were—not thinking how quickly the world forgets all about good fellows.”

He said he could “mention instance after instance,” but chose not to open “old wounds.”

On the bright side, he said, players were changing:

“(B)aseball and baseball players are changing. The men who follow the game nowadays almost all realize that they can stay for a short time at best, and they are not men who are living for the present only.

“The player of the future, I believe, will show the same business ability that a successful merchant, broker or banker must show to keep up with the procession.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #33

7 May

Radbourn on Rule Changes

Old Hoss Radbourn told The Boston Journal that he thought the new rule changes for 1887—including the four-strike strikeout and abolishing the rule that allowed batters to call for high or low pitches—would have very little impact:

“Radbourn says it is a mistake on the part of anybody to think that (Dan) Brouthers can’t hit anything but a low ball. He thinks they will find that when it is absolutely necessary Brouthers can hit almost anything. When asked what effect the thought the new rules would have on Anson’s batting, Radbourn smiled and said: ‘Anson’s all right. He has more chances than anyone else. A man has to get five strikes on Anson before the umpire will call him out. Umpires don’t like to call strikes on Anson. I don’t know why, but they don’t. The pitcher who strikes out Anson does a big thing.”

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 Radbourn

Brouthers’ average dropped 32 points to .338, but he still led the league in runs, doubles and on base percentage.  Anson’s fell 24 to a league-best .347—he had 18 strikeouts in 533 plate appearances. Radbourn posted career highs in walks (133) and ERA (4.55) for the fifth place Boston Beaneaters.

Comiskey on ‘Friends’

Charles Comiskey said he had no friends in the American League. He told The Pittsburgh Press before the 1902 season:

“There’s Connie Mack, if he thought I could use one of his players he would keep him around until the Fourth of July, and then, if I hadn’t got that place filled, he would take the player out behind the grandstand and shoot him rather than turn him loose so I could sign him. The rest are getting as bad as Connie too.

“When (Tom) Loftus came back into the league I thought I would have at least one friend. Now he puts blinders on his players every time I get anywhere near them. Just to show you; before Loftus went East recently, I framed it all up for him to get a good second baseman for his team. I knew (John) McGraw couldn’t use all his infielders, so told Loftus to go after either (Bill) Keister or (Jimmy) Williams. McGraw would talk to Loftus, but not to me, when it came to players.”

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 Comiskey

Loftus ended up signing Keister as a free agent.

“Well, Loftus got Keister, you know, and I figured that would solve my third base problem, for he can’t use both (Harry) Wolverton and (Bill) Coughlin at third, and neither is much good anywhere else. So, when Tom came back, I led him up to the subject gently and proposed taking one or the other of them off his hands. Then what do you think Loftus sprung on me? He said he though of playing Keister in the outfield next year so he would need all his infielders. He looks like all the rest to me now.”

Keister and Coughlin remained with the sixth place Washington Senators all season—Coughlin at third, Keister splitting time at second and in the outfield—Wolverton, who had jumped to the Senators returned to the Philadelphia Phillies mid-season. Comiskey tried to solve his “third base problem” by acquiring Sammy Strang from the New York Giants. Strang hit .295 but committed 62 errors and was released in September.

Warner on Revenge

In 1906, Washington catcher Jack Warner told The Boston American how he had gotten even with Cupid Childs for spiking him. The incidents occurred, he said, in 1895 when he had recently joined the Louisville Colonels and Childs played for the Cleveland Spiders.

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Warner

Warner said he had received the throw to the plate well ahead of Childs:

“Well, sir, Cupid came in like the Empire State Express, feet first and his body high in the air. And say, he planted those mudhooks of his on my right side with such force that I flew twenty feet. Then there was absolutely no excuse, as the play was not close, me being there waitin’ there to receive him. I put up a howl but that was useless, so I made up my mind to work the next day and watch for a chance to get even. I was lucky to have the same sort of play come off.

“Up in the sky went Mr. Cupid again. But this time I was not there, only thereabout. I had plenty of time to look him over and pick out a soft spot in his architecture. They had to pry the ball out and it took half an hour to bring him back from dreamland. That’s the way to do it when you know a lad it trying to get you. And you can always tell if he is on the level after a couple of encounters.”

“A Loyal Little Rooter has Gone to his Long Rest”

3 May

Harry Davis thought he was about to make the biggest off-season acquisition in the American League before taking the reins of the Cleveland Naps in 1912. He had been given the job, as The Cleveland News said, “over the objection” of many. George Stovall had replaced Deacon McGuire after a 6-11 start in 1911 and led the team to an 80-73 third place finish.

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Davis

Davis was, according to The Chicago Inter Ocean about to steal Joe Magero from the Chicago Cubs as “the official hoodoo chaser of the Cleveland team.”

Magero had been the Cubs mascot since 1907, and several times a season “donned the White Sox of the South Side athletes.”

The paper said:

“Davis wanted Magero on account of his resemblance to (Louis) Van Zeldt, a hunchback who is the mascot of the world’s champion Philadelphia Athletics, the club with which Davis had been connected.”

Magero was “discovered” while working for Albert R. Tearney—Tearney was President of Chicago’s Amateur Baseball Manager’s League, the governing body of city’s amateur and industry clubs, of which there were more than 400. Tearney would later become president of the Three-I League and was elected to Chicago’s city council. Tearney, it was said, got Magero in “the professional mascot business” after seeing him selling gum on a street corner.

Magero first appeared as a mascot for Nixey Callahan’s Logan Squares in the Chicago City League in 1906. After the Logan Squares defeated both World Series participants—the Cubs and the White Sox—in exhibition games after the 1906 season, Magero having “brought luck” to Callahan’s club became a hot commodity and joined the Cubs in 1907.

 

Except for his occasional paid forays to the Southside and a brief stint in August of 1911 as “hoodoo chaser” for the Lincoln Railsplitters in the Western League, Magero was a fixture at West Side Park.  He was popular enough at one point that The Chicago Tribune said he and Germany Schaefer “are considering an offer to go on stage this fall with a skit entitled ‘What are we?’”

The Inter Ocean said:

“It was while acting as ‘jinx wrecker’ for Comiskey’s clan that Joe met Schaefer, the witty and able player of the Washington American League club. A warm friendship sprung up between the two and Joe and ‘Germany’ made it a point to be with each other as much as possible when Schaefer’s team was in Chicago.”

The 21-year-old Magero, who stood just three feet tall and immigrated from Italy in 1900, was ready to join Davis and the Naps for the opening of the 1912 season, but said The Inter Ocean, “The Grim Reaper intervened.”

Magero died of pneumonia at Chicago’s St. Joseph hospital on March 14.

The paper said:

“News of the death…was received with sorrow by the veteran members of Chance’s team at New Orleans, according to word received here yesterday by members of the little mascot’s family.  Mordecai Brown, Joe Tinker, John Evers, and the Peerless Leader were particularly affected by the tidings.”

The Chicago Daily News said:

“Joe, bent of frame and physically a weakling, nevertheless played his part in bringing victory to the Cubs. He twirled no games like Brownie, he slammed no home runs like Schulte, neither did his inside work win games as did that of Evers. But he was the mascot of the team, and as a mascot his services proved as valuable as did the work of those upon whom nature had bestowed more generous gifts…There is sorrow in all of belldom, for a loyal little rooter has gone to his long rest.”

Without his mascot, Davis was 54-71 and resigned on September 2. The Cleveland News said:

“The team’s poor showing and the fact that he had been subject to severe criticism by the public and the press are given as Davis’ reasons.”

He never managed again.

“He Took a Needling From Jackie Every Day”

29 Apr

In 1952, “Jet Magazine” featured an article about the “feuds” between several former Negro Leaguers who were currently starring in the major leagues.  The article contained no byline but was likely written by Andrew Sturgeon “A.C.” “Doc” Young, who wrote most of the baseball articles for the magazine during the early 50s; Young later became Hollywood’s fist black publicist in the late 1950s.

Young said Satchel Paige arrived in Cleveland in 1948 “a bit confused by some of the regulations,” of big league clubs. Paige did not understand why players did not have mustaches, as he did, nor did they were hats with their street clothes:

“One day Satch asked of Larry Doby, then a fledgling major leaguer “Why don’t they wear hats up here?’

“Doby, who had crawled in diapers while Satch was getting started on his fabulous career, said shortly, ‘Do as we do. Don’t ask questions!’

“Ít was the unkindest cut. Satch didn’t like it. And, later, when Doby told a white writer that Satch ‘carries a gun,’ failing to explain the pitcher was a collector of antique firearms, a feud was on. To this day it still flairs every time Doby faces Paige in a game.”

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Doby and Paige

Young said the “feuds” tended to get “little publicity,” but would put “the Hatfields and McCoys episode to shame.”

Artie Wilson appeared in just 19 games for the New York Giants in 1951, but Young said it was enough time for two feuds to develop between Wilson and fellow, former Negro Leaguers.

The first involved Doby before the beginning of the season.

“The Indians and Giants had played an exhibition game at Charleston, West Virginia, after which a party was organized.”

Wilson went back to the hotel rather than attending.

“(H)e was in bed when someone knocked on his door and insisted he attend the affair. Finally, not wanting to offend the man, he agreed to go. He went, had a few dances, and returned home.

“Later, on the train, Doby sought to collect $5 from Wilson, explaining that the players had agreed to chip in for the party. Wilson declared he knew nothing of any such arrangements. Doby insisted Wilson should chip in anyway. An argument ensued, during which the 155-pound Wilson invited the 185-pound Doby to settle it with fists in back of the car.”

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Wilson

Wilson’s other feud was with teammate Hank Thompson. Thompson, who had hit .289 and drove in 89 runs in 1950, got off to a slow start in ’51:

Although he was a rookie with the Giant, Wilson was an experienced player and a former manager in Latin league ball. He sought to give Thompson some good advice.

“Thompson heard him out, then snapped, “Listen, you can’t tell me nothing. You just got up here.”

Doby, said Young was involved in a bit of a “feud” with every other black player on the Indians in 1950:

“When the club went to Tucson, Arizona for spring training, they were housed at a local Negro family because the swank resort Santa Rita Hotel had refused them. To facilitate their travel the two miles between the home and the ballpark, the Indians arranged for the Negroes to have a rented Ford, with Doby holding the keys. Luke Easter and others became disgruntled when Doby wouldn’t let them drive the car. As the pioneer Negro with the club, he felt the car was his responsibility.”

Young said there were several feuds among the black players on the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In 1949, Don Newcombe “had been labeled lazy” by manager Burt Shotton, and:

“(He) took a needling from Jackie every day he pitched and between games. It was Jackie’s way of ‘lighting a fire’ under the big, easy-going rookie. But Don didn’t take it that way.

“When he sought to buy a house later, he was very much impressed with one in St. Albans, L.I. [sic, Queens] Everything was fine until the real estate broker, thinking he was embellishing its attractiveness, said the house was in Jackie Robinson’s neighborhood. Newcombe immediately cancelled the deal. Explaining he did not want to live in the same neighborhood as Jackie Robinson.”

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Campanella, Newcombe, and Robinson

After the 1950 season, Young said, Robinson had “perhaps the hottest feud of all” with Roy Campanella after the catcher felt Robinson did not pay him enough during the Jackie Robinson All-Stars barnstorming tour:

“Campy, a man who watches money with eagle eyes, was greatly put out. Though they play together every day, and perhaps, will fight for the other team’s rights, the feud has not completely burned out, evidence indicates. Only recently, Campy refused to let his children attend a birthday party for one of Jackie’s children.”

And Campanella, said Young, sought out a feud with Giants Rookie Willie Mays in 1951:

“Campy, who had earned his place in the sun by playing both Latin ball in the winter and Negro ball in the summer, catching doubleheaders, and riding broken-down busses before entering organized ball, was miffed because Mays became a major leaguer in less than a year following graduation from high school.

“Every time the teams met, Campanella rode Mays unmercifully. It got to the point where Mays complained to his manager Leo Durocher, who said Campy had no right to do it.

“Mays, a naïve youngster, was at bat one day, Campy went into his needling routine. Mays turned and told the catcher, ‘Stop talking to me. Mr.  Durocher says you have no right to keep talking to me that way.’ But Campy didn’t stop talking until Mays went into the army this year.”

Young said “likeable, hard-hitting Monte Irvin” was one of the few who seemed to avoid “feuds” with fellow players.

The “strangest feud of all” according to Young started over a joke in 1949.  Two of the stars of the Wilkes-Barre Indians in the Eastern League were “Tall’ slender Harry Simpson,” the 24-year-old outfielder who hit .305 and hit a league-leading 31 home runs, and “rotund, left-handed Roy Welmaker,” the 35-year-old, long-time Negro League pitcher who was 22-12 with a 2.44 ERA in a league where only six pitchers who qualified for the league lead had an ERA below 3.45.

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Doby and Welmaker

“After a game one day, Welmaker almost used an entire bar of soap lathering himself in the bath. A startled white player inquired, ‘What’re you doing, Roy?’ The pitcher replied, ‘I’m trying to get white like you.’

“From that day on, Simpson and Welmaker were in sharp disagreement. Simpson said Welmaker was an ‘Uncle Tom.”’

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Smashing Circuit Clouts all Over the Island”

22 Apr

Edgar Forrest Wolfe was a cartoonist and feature writer who wrote under the pseudonym Jim Nasium at several Eastern newspapers including The Philadelphia Inquirer from 1907-1922.  In 1920, he told readers about “the Black Babe Ruth.”

Wolfe had seen Cristobal Torriente play against barnstorming major leaguers in Cuba:

“While Boston Babe Ruth is insisting that he will not be thumping home runs next season unless he receives $20,000 a season for the service (Torriente) is smashing circuit swats all over the island for a percentage of the gate receipts and doing it with such consistent regularity that one is led to believe he might be able to take ‘Boston Babe’s’ place.”

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Torriente

Wolfe said against the barnstorming major leaguers including Jeff Pfeffer and Leon Cadore of the Brooklyn Robins and Elmer Ponder and Hal Carlson of the Pittsburgh Pirates:

 “Torriente, ‘The Black Babe Ruth’ pasted the pellet for the healthy batting average of .377 (and) in six games against the All-Americans, batting against Jack Quinn, Bob Geary, and ‘Mule’ Watson, Torriente managed to compile a batting average of .408.”

Torriente, he said:

“(I)s the surest and hardest hitter Cuba has ever produced. He broke up one of the Pittsburgh games with a terrific home run belt off pitcher Carlson that traveled so far into right-centerfield that he had completed the circuit of the bases before outfielder Max Carey had reached the ball.”

When facing Bob Geary in another game, Wolfe said Torriente hit a ball ‘so far into the same pasture,” and:

“(He) loafed coming up the third base line and had crossed the plate on a slow trot before the ball had been returned to the infield.”

Wolfe said the home run gave the Cubans a victory in a game that appeared “hopelessly lost,” and the fans threw money at Torriente who “collected thirty-two dollars from the grass around home plate.”

Wolfe noted that in another game, Torriente homered twice, one to left field, the other to right “with equal force.”

He called Torriente “the perfect picture of a natural hitter,” and gave the final word on his ability to Frank Schulte who while watching the games in Cuba called Torriente “one of the best-looking hitters he had ever seen:”

“He looks natural up there, and he takes the right kind of cut at the ball that doesn’t swing at any bad ones. If they could whitewash that bird he’d help some big league club a lot.”

Connie Mack Calls “Bunk”

19 Apr

In the month leading up to the 1944 season there were concerns about there being a season.

Ty Cobb told an Associated Press (AP) reporter that “the baseball men have a mission to perform” by keeping the game alive during the war, even if “it is played by old men.”

Cobb said:

“If worst comes to worst, I’d get back into the harness myself to help preserve it.”

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Cobb

The thought took hold in some circles.

Nearly fifty-year-old Howard Ehmke, whose business making canvas tarpaulins was now making protective covering for naval warship guns, told The AP:

“I’ll be 50 in April and I’m pretty busy around here, but if baseball needs me, I’ll come running. I won’t say much about my arm, but I ought to be able to do something. The game was good to me when I was in it, and I feel I owe it something.”

The idea was shot down by baseball’s oldest manager.

Connie Mack said the idea was “all bunk.”

He told The Philadelphia Record:

“We don’t need them; we don’t want them; I doubt if any of them wants to come back, and they can’t play anymore anyway. I’d much rather keep the game going with 14 and 15-year-olds.”

Mack said he felt there were enough men classified as 4-F combined with those not yet drafted and those too young to serve to carry on.

And he didn’t spare any of the former greats who suggested they might be willing to come back:

“It’s a joke to talk about such men as Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, and Al Simmons making comebacks.

“We appreciate the fine spirit they have shown to help baseball, but they can’t play now. Once a man has passed 35 or 40 and then gives up the game for a year or so, he can’t come back.”

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Mack

Mack said he “pitied” the old-timers he watched play in a war bond game the previous summer.

“Great outfielders like Speaker—one of the finest flycatchers of all time—looked pitiable. I was afraid he would get hit on the head.”

Besides, said Mack, all fans cared about baseball, not the caliber of the game, and kids and 4-F’s could carry the load:

“They don’t look for super-excellence these days.”

“The one man in Baseball who did not Want to Rise”

15 Apr

William Malcolm Bingay of The Detroit News found a player he could not figure out:

“Somewhere in the big state of Pennsylvania there is a lean, wiry lad with a big under jaw and a crop of wire hair, who is eking out an existence tinning roofs. He escaped an awful fate, so he is happy. He might have been a major league ball player. His name is Johnson and he is on the Tiger reserve list, but he will not be taken South this spring.”

Charlie “Home Run” Johnson was an enigma—he was said to have a huge ego; The Trenton Times once said of him:

“If Home-Run Johnson gets his chest out much further he will crack his wish bone or else curve his spine so that it will never regain its normal shape.”

But Johnson refused to play far from Pennsylvania—he lived just outside Philadelphia in Chester. When he spent the spring of 1907 with the Tigers, but when he was assigned to the Montreal Royals, The News said:

“The heavy hitting outfielder…is averse to playing in Montreal.”

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Home Run Johnson

Johnson instead played for the Johnstown Johnnies in the Tri-State League.

Bingay said:

“Johnson was the one man in baseball who did not want to rise.”

Johnson told Bingay

“’I don’t want to ply in the American League. I don’t want to play in any big league. I want to play around home.”

When he joined the Tigers on the trip south, Bingay said Johnson “had a strange idea of the power of baseball law,” thinking he had to come.

“’What did you come South for, then?’ ‘I was drafted.’ He said that in the voice of some Russian prisoner explaining why he was sent to Siberia.”

According to Bingay, Johnson, who picked up the additional nickname,“Little Ban” after American League President Ban Johnson, not only wanted nothing to do with major league baseball, he barely had anything to do with his teammates:

“Johnson never spoke to anybody on the team unless spoken to. He spent his nights in his rooms with a massive book about the size of a family dictionary. It was entitled ‘Tales of the Seven Murderers” and described life in the ‘Wild and wicked West.’ He was often so deeply interested in the doings of his bloodthirsty heroes that he would take the book to the dinner table with him.”

On his way the his “forced” spring service with the Tigers, Johnson’s trunk apparently went missing, forcing him, according to Bingay to use borrowed clothes on and off the field:

“Johnson on the ball field was a sight never to be forgotten. If you had never seen Little Ban in his makeup, (vaudeville actor) Eddie Foy would appear as an imitation. He had a pair of Sam Crawford’s pants, once white; George Mullin’s shirt and (Germany) Schaefer’s cap; which completely covered his ears.”

Bingay said Johnson played that spring with a pair of congress gaiters in the place of his lost baseball shoes, and:

“Once, during a heated scrub game he lost his shoe running from first to second, and they tagged him out because he stopped to sweat at (first baseman Claude) Rossman, who had kicked it into right field.”

Johnson apparently managed to annoy his manager as well:

“He used to keep Jennings up night after night until almost dawn, knocking at his door to find out ‘just how he could get his trunk.’”

Johnson went home to Chester and stayed there. Throughout May it was rumored he was joining the York White Roses in the Tri-State League; that fell through and he played for a semi-pro team in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At the end of July, he joined the Johnstown Johnnies in the Tri-State.

He hit .262 in 1907 and returned to Johnstown the following season; hitting, hitting .296 and leading the Tri-State with nine home runs.

On September 1, Johnson was drafted by a major league team agreeable to him—one 18 miles away from his home in Chester–the Philadelphia Phillies.

Johnson made his major league debut on September 21, pinch hitting in the first game of a double header; he started the second game in left field. The local boy’s arrival to the big leagues was barely noticed by the local press, The Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“(Sherry) Magee started the first game in left field but gave way to young Johnson in the second battle…Johnson failed to get a hit during five times up but managed to take care of everything which came his way in the field.”

Johnson appeared in six games for the Phillies, he was 4 for 16 with two RBI,

By the end of the season, The Philadelphia Press predicted:

“Johnson, the Johnstown pickup, undoubtedly will get a thorough trial with the Phillies next spring. He is a natural batsman and hits the ball with terrible force.”

After the 1908 season, the Detroit Tigers filed a claim against the $750 draft price paid by the Phillies for Johnson’s contract, claiming they still held his rights. The Tigers were eventually awarded half.

The prediction that Johnson would return to the Phillies was wrong, shortly before the team when South in the spring of 1909, The Press reported that 31-year-old journeyman Pep Deininger and minor leaguer Charlie Hanford would instead be given the opportunity to be the Phillies extra outfielder; Deininger made the club. Johnson returned to Johnstown.

Johnson never went to camp with another major league club, but stayed a star, near home, with the New York State and Tri-State League clubs. The biggest highlight of his career was his league-leading .403 average for the Trenton Tigers in 1912—he also hit 14 home runs.

Johnson hit better than .300 for two more seasons in the Tri-State League but battled injuries and returned home to Chester after the 1914 season. He worked for the rest of his life in a clothing factory—for the American Viscose Company—in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. He and his wife had eight children.

He died of a heart attack at the factory at age 55. His obituary in The Delaware County Daily Times mentioned that he was a local baseball legend but said he had only had a “try-out with the Phillies,” and did mention his two weeks as a major leaguer.