The Tabasco Kid and “Blind Toms”

4 Mar

Kid Elberfeld, “The Tabasco Kid,” while managing the Springfield Midgets in the Western Association in 1930 “wrote” a series of articles for The Springfield Leader:

“A young chap was in the house one day reading some of the many clippings and letters that were sent to me by fans, and even reporters who had a dislike for me”

Elberfeld

Elberfeld said, “it seemed reporters couldn’t roast me enough,” so many fans wrote as well to “bless me down the line.”

His visitor observed: “They did everything to you on a ball field but pull a gun on you.”

Elberfeld’s Response:

“Sonny, that, too happened to me twice in my life. The only reason they didn’t publish it is that it would be a knock to the police of the town to pull a gun on a poor little boy like me.”

He said the first incident took place in Atlanta while he was managing the Little Rock Travelers. 

“Both clubs were up in the race fighting for every point. Sam Mayer the Atlanta captain, and I were at home plate arguing over a decision with the umpire. Sam said something to me I didn’t approve of and I grabbed his shirt.

“Police as a rule were always johnny-on-the-spot when our team was on the field in that town, immediately I felt something stuck in my side. I looked down and saw a nice, bright and shining pistol poked in my ribs. I said, ‘Say, look here’—I put my hand on the gun and pushed it away— ‘that damned thing, might go off.’ I don’t know why, but the policeman stuck it in his pocket.’

“not a word was mentioned in the paper about the policeman pulling the gun on me.”

He said he manager of the Travelers during the second incident as well—this one took place in Memphis. Elberfeld was having a “tough time with the ‘Blind Toms,’ his term for umpires:

“Boys used to say it was the hometown of the league president and the umpires wanted to show him they could run Kid and his players. If the umpires realized what a bad effect this had on my team, they would have been a little more lenient with the players and me.”

Elberfeld had a contentious relationship with Southern Association President John D. Martin–a Memphis attorney—Martin became league president in 1919 and suspended Elberfeld twice in the first month of the season—The Kid threatened to The Memphis News Scimitar after the second suspension that he would “manage my club from the grandstand hereafter,” to avoid additional fines and suspensions.

 Already believing the league’s umpires were particularly hard on him in Memphis, Elberfeld “was putting up a verbal battle,” with the umpire, who ejected him:

“I refused to heed his request and he immediately called out a police squad.

“Here they came. I was standing at home plate. First one pushed me, then another. I finally began pushing a little myself, but they grabbed me quick. I thought they put me in a vice and pulled me along. I was about to break away and run, when a big policeman stuck a gun in my back and said, ‘walk along.’ I did, never hesitating to the street, when they turned me loose.”

Elberfeld never stopped yelling at umpires, even at the point of a gun; and he said he never listened to anyone in the stands:

“Don’t listen to the fans, for everybody who comes to a ballgame gets crazy just as soon as they enter the park, and they are not responsible for what they say or do. Even the owners, secretary, umpires, and manager are irresponsible under the stress of the game, and the newspaper men are worse.”

Elberfeld did not appear to have any brushes with police on the field in 1930, although he was regularly combative and never let up on the “Blind Toms,” his Springfield Midgets finished 64-73, fifth place in the six-team Western Association. Elberfeld was let go after the season.

“Harsh Language has Done More to Ruin Prospective Players”

3 Mar

In 1898, Buck Ewing, in his first season as a full-time manager told The San Antonio Light his philosophy for preparing players while his Reds trained in the Texas city:

“The regime that the Cincinnati players go through is not half as severe as the training of the pugilist. I make it a rule not to work out my men over three hours a day when we are training. With a pugilist it is the aim of his trainer to get him at his best for a certain day. To have him on edge, so as to be at his very best just as he enters the ring, the pugilist has to prepare for the event…In training a ball team you must bear in mind that there is a long siege of playing ahead of them. It won’t do to bring them to their very best to get them ‘on edge.’

“On the contrary, you must aim to have them robust and fast, and down to weight without getting them so fine that a continuous siege of playing may cause them to fall off weak.”

Buck Ewing

Ewing said he “trained hard every season since I have been in the business,” and because of that his players “do not feel that they are imposed upon.”

He said of his team:

“We have been very fortunate in having a collection of sensible, honest players. I have not found any bad feelings at any time. I have made it a practice to make every player feel that he is just as much a factor in the Cincinnatis as the oldest man.”

He said he didn’t just prepare his players physically:

“The baseball world must know that it is pretty hard for players even with years of experience to withstand the influence of the taunts of the crowd. It is one of the first lessons, I believe should be taught players, to turn a deaf ear to shouts of the attendance. Our players are especially strong in this point, although occasionally rooters do get them unbalanced.”

The Reds manager said, “No captain or manager, be him ever so great, can make a team win ball when there is lack of harmony.”

“If there are two or three men who are not speaking to each other, and who are continually talking about shirks and grumbling and muttering, it is impossible for them to play good ball. They may capture a game now and then, but for steady, reliable work they cannot be depended upon. Every man in the team should stand ready at any moment to do his best to make his nine win.”

And what was the biggest danger for the harmony of a team?

“Harsh language has done more to ruin prospective players than any other cause.”

Ewing said his club “kept uppermost in their mind,” that “there should be but one head and that he should do the ordering and they the obeying.”

That “idea” he said, portended good things for Cincinnati’s prospects in 1898:

“I have never been in a team where the players carried out this idea and were as harmonious in their work as the present one.”

The 1898 season was Ewing’s most successful as a manager—his Reds won 92 games –but finished third in the National League.

“They Make just as many Fumbles as we did”

1 Mar

The summer before his death in 1932, 73-year-old Dan Brouthers, “Sat in the shade under the Yankee Stadium bleachers where Babe Ruth hits all those home runs.”

Brouthers spoke to Harold Burr of The Brooklyn Eagle:

“(He) admits that baseball has changed quite a bit…’But it hasn’t changed either,’ the old fellow, a giant of a man in shirt sleeves and straw hat contradicted himself. ‘I notice when the boys go out on the field nowadays, they make just as many fumbles as we did, pull just as many bones.”

Dan Brouthers

Brouthers said he didn’t believe players of his generation would have “ever made an error if,” they played on the current fields.

“’Do you know I never saw a groundskeeper until I played in Brooklyn in ’82? He was a curiosity. I used to take a rake myself and clean up around first base just before the game started. Then I’d pass it along to the second baseman, the third baseman.’

“’What about the shortstop?’

“’Oh, you mean Pop Smith?’ questioned Brouthers, the old eyes that were keen enough once upon a time in the past for their owner to lead the big-league batters for five seasons, lit up in admiration: ‘Pop didn’t need any rake.’”   

Brouthers told Burr he could not recall how many homeruns he hit but “remembers ever detail” of the 1887 World Series with the St. Louis Browns:

“Charlie Comiskey was on first base for them. Detroit slugged them to death, winning eight of the first 11 games. But the contract called for 15 games and we played it out. (Beginning with game 4) we went to Pittsburgh for a game—Brooklyn –New York—two games in Philadelphia—one in Washington—Baltimore—Boston—back to Brooklyn –Detroit—Chicago—and wound up in St. Louis. We traveled in a special train and were 28 days on the road.

“The crowds were good through all the barnstorming and the traveling World Series played to 15,000 and 20,000 people a day. Regular season prices prevailed—75 cents—in grandstand and 50 and 25 cents in the bleachers.”

Brouthers didn’t mention that he was injured and had just three at bats during the series, won by Detroit 10 games to five.

“No,” said Brouthers in the end, ‘the game hasn’t changed. But I guess there are more good hitters around.”

He said:

“’I see a lot of the Babe’s homers up there,’ pointing through the skeleton scaffolding of the bleachers looming above him. ‘I like to watch (Chuck) Klein and (Lou) Gehrig ride ‘em. Gehrig is strong as a bear. And Babe Herman. The kids are the same too wanting you to sign their books and baseballs. Only it was cigarette pictures we had to autograph.”

Brouthers then asked, “‘When will this story be in the paper, mister?’” Burr said Sunday:

“’I’ll bring you up some copies of it.’

“’Bring me one,’ said the quaint Dan Brouthers, ‘I’ll read it first and let you know if I want anymore.’”

“I Could Count Every Seam and Read Al Reach’s Name”

25 Feb

Forty-one-year-old Dan Brouthers played 45 games in the Eastern League with the Springfield Ponies and Rochester Broncos in 1899.

Brouthers hit .241.

Brouthers

Bert Myers, Brouthers’ 25-year-old teammate in Springfield, told The Buffalo Commercial playing with the aging legend wasn’t pretty:

“It was painful to see him double up like a rusty hinge as he ducked for low-thrown balls, and I sometimes imagined I could hear his knee joints crack.

“(Manager Tom) Brown signed Dan for his batting, but the big fellow was puny with the stick and no one realized that fact more painfully than the veteran himself. ‘Young fellow,’ he said to me one night after a losing game in which he fanned out three times. ‘I ain’t the Dan I used to be. The ball looks smaller, no bigger than a pea sometimes as it shoots up to the plate. Bless you, I can remember when I could count every seam and read Al Reach’s name on it as I clouted it out for two and three base soaks. Reach’s name was branded on the balls in those days. Once I made the pitchers look like a bad dollar. But now I’m a bum nickel with a hole in it.’

‘”It’s time for the old war horse to chase himself to the stable and browse on past recollections.’ A few days later, Dan was released at his own request.”

Brouthers did request his release from Springfield in June. The Hartford Courant said:

“He told Manager Brown that he did not want to be a mill-stone about his neck, or words to that effect.”

Five days later he signed with Rochester.

Less than two weeks later he asked for his release again. The Buffalo Enquirer quoted him:

“’I am satisfied that I have seen my best days on the diamond and am ready to quit.”

Brouthers came back for more seasons, from 1903-1906. He was 0 for 5 in five in two games with the New York Giants as a 46-year-old in 1904.

He found better success in four stints in the Hudson River League—he hit .337 In 811 at bats, finally retiring for good in 1906.

“The People’s Pastime”

24 Feb

In 1911, The Chicago Tribune invited American League President Ban Johnson to write about the state of the game in the Twentieth Century.

Johnson said:

“I desire to state that I do not subscribe to the opinion entertained by a majority of the patrons, that the game’s progress in prestige and popularity in recent years is due solely to the improvement in individual and team work on the ballfield.”

Johnson

While Johnson said he did “not yield in admiration and appreciation,” for the players, he could not, “withhold recognition from other agencies” in putting “the people’s pastime on a higher plane.”

Johnson cited, “The splendid governmental system under which baseball has been operated since 1902,” enforcement of discipline, first class players, and providing patrons with superior accommodations as “potent factors “in the growth of the game.

“Skill and sportsmanship in the players, fairness and firmness in the umpires, well-kept fields of such dimensions that a fast runner may complete the circuit of the bases on a fair hit to their limits in any direction, skirted with mammoth fireproof stands crowded to their capacity with real enthusiasts from all walks of life, are from my viewpoint, essential elements in Twentieth Century baseball.”

Johnson said baseball had reached the “exacting requirements of the ideal game,” the previous season when every major league city had a “modern baseball plant,” and he said the “guarantee of the American League goes with the purchase of every ticket to one of its parks that the game will be decided on merit and will not be marred by rowdyism.”

The “best asset” of baseball was “public confidence,” and Johnson insisted that fans understand the “difference between a team in a championship race” and playing in exhibition games:

“At the close of the American League race last fall a team composed of (Ty) Cobb, the champion batsman of the year, (Ed) Walsh, (Tris) Speaker, (Doc) White, (Jake) Stahl, and the pick of the Washington club under Manager (Jimmy) McAleer’s direction, engaged in a series with the champion Athletics at Philadelphia during the week preceding the opening game of the World Series.

“The attendance, while remunerative, was not as large as that team of stars would have attracted had it represented Washington in the American League.

“Although the All-Stars demonstrated their class by repeatedly defeating (Connie) Mack’s champions, many admirers of the Athletics preferred reading the scores to seeing the contests. It was not lack of loyalty to the home team or appreciation for the visitors that was responsible for this apathy, but simply indifference toward baseball of a high quality unless it be vouched for by a league.”

The All-Stars, dubbed “the scintillating bunch” by Jim Nasium (Edgar Forrest Wolfe) of The Philadelphia Inquirer took the first four games, the Athletics won the final game.

Jim Nasium cartoon after game 3 of the All-Star–Athletic series

Johnson pointed out that “26,891 people saw the Athletics defeat the Cubs, and 24,597 came back the next day.”

The attendance at the first all-stars versus Athletics game in Shibe Park was announced as 5,000; there was no announcement of the attendance at the other three games in Philadelphia—game four was played in Washington D.C., and the crowd was reported as 1500.

Johnson said of the difference:

“No better ball was played in (the World Series) games, for which advanced admission rates were charged, than in the All-Star—Athletic series, but the World Series games were conducted under the auspices of the National Commission and the result of each figured in the winning of the game’s highest honors.”

The American League president vowed that everything was being done to ensure that there was not widespread ticket scalping “and kindred evils.” He said, “Nothing will do more to estrange patrons,” than the “treatment accorded” to fans in Chicago during 1908 World Series, when it was alleged that wide-spread scalping took place with the approval of Cubs management. Johnson said:

“It is a prudent and sensible club owner who does not have the dollar always in mind in the operation of his baseball property. The national game’s best asset is the public’s faith in its honesty. Destroy that confidence and baseball will decline rapidly as the nation’s sport.”

Johnson lauded the Athletics as an organization for whom “one of the main planks…has been clean ball.”

He said during the 1910 season he had not had to discipline a single member of the club.

“The enactment and enforcement of wholesome laws, the confidence of those who supplied the capital when investment was a speculation, as well as the conduct of those who have played and are playing baseball for a livelihood, are factors in giving the American people twentieth century ball.”

“You Could Feel his Resentment”

22 Feb

After spending years as one of the loudest voices for the integration of professional baseball, Wendell Smith broke his own color barriers. He was the second African American member of the Baseball Writers Association of America–after Sam Lacy– and the first to have a byline in a big city white daily paper leaving The Pittsburgh Courier and joining the Hearst owned Chicago Herald-American in 1948.

Smith

Years later, William Rhoden quoted Smith’s widow Wyonella in his column in The New York Times regarding smith’s move:

“When he came to Chicago to write, he told the Hearst people. ‘I will not be your black writer. I’m not going to just write about blacks in sports. If you want me to be a sportswriter here, I’m going to right about all sports, and I’m going to do it fairly.’”

In 1963 he became a sports anchor, first at WGN-TV and later WBBM-TV in Chicago.  He also began writing a weekly column for The Chicago Sun-Times; but never gave up his new crusade for the recognition of Negro League stars; in 1971 he made the case for Josh Gibson’s enshrinement in Cooperstown:

“He hit home runs higher and farther than any batter of his time, including George Herman (Babe) Ruth, whose feats are immortalized in the Hall of Fame.

“He was a big, strong, intelligent catcher. He was as magnificent behind the plate as any of his major league contemporaries, including Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, and Gabby Hartnett, all of whom have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

“He played someplace summer and winter, spring and fall over a span of 16 years. He had the endurance and stamina of Lou Gehrig, who played in 2130 consecutive games from 1925 to 1939, a major league record. Gehrig is in the Hall of Fame. He is not.”

Gibson

Smith said of Gibson’s presence in the batter’s box:

“When he planted his immense, flat feet in the batter’s box, bent his knees slightly and cocked his bat with the most muscular arms and hands in baseball, apprehension invariably seized the defenders in the field.”

Because, said Smith, ”There are no authentic records, unfortunately to substantiate the thunder in Josh Gibson’s bat, nor his skills behind the plate,” he turned to “reliable former teammates who were there with him,” and other contemporaries to tell his story:

Roy Campanella told Smith about the night Gibson hit three home runs off Andy Porter in Wheeling, West Virginia. Campanella told a slightly different version of the story than he had 12 years earlier in his book “It’s Good to be Alive:”

“’He hit three home runs that night,’ Campanella recently recalled, with a note of awe and excitement in his highly pitched voice. ‘Each one was farther than the other.’

“’There was a mountain there, a good distance behind the left field fence…His first drive landed at the bottom of the mountain. The next one landed dead center, and the next almost cleared the mountain. When he came to bat the fourth time, I said to Porter, ‘what are you going to do with him this time?’ He said, ‘I’m going to walk him. ‘And we did.’”

In the book, Campanella said Gibson hit four runs in four at-bats, with each being longer until the fourth cleared the hill.

Bill Yancey told Smith about another Gibson three-home run performance, this one in New York:

“He walloped three that day and one of them was the quickest home run I ever saw. It was out of the park before the outfielders could turn their heads to watch it. It landed behind the Yankee Stadium bullpen, some 500 feet away. He didn’t loft it, he shot it out of there.”

Alex Pompez the one-time owner of the Cuban Stars and the New York Cubans, then a scout for the Giants, and had just joined Smith as a charter member of the Hall of Fame’s Special Committee on the Negro Leagues, told a story about a game at the Polo Grounds:

“Dave Barnhill was pitching for the Cubans. There were two on in the ninth and we were leading 3 to 2. Showboat Wright [sic, Dave “Showboat” Thomas] our first baseman, called time and walked to the mound. ‘Let’s walk him’ he said to Barnhill.

“Barnhill as a cocky pitcher. He refused (the) suggestion and insisted on pitching to Josh. He threw Gibson a curve ball and Josh hit it in the top tier of the left field stands. The last we saw the ball was when it went through an open door up there and disappeared.”

Pompez

After Pat Scantlebury gave up three home runs to Gibson in another game, he told Pompez:

“I pitched him high the first time and he hit it out of the park. So, the next time I pitched him low and he hit that one out, too. The third time, I pitched him tight and it followed the others out. When he batted the fourth time, I started to roll it to him, but instead I walked him.”

Smith also sought out Gibson’s sister, Annie Mahaffey and Ted Page who was “closer to Josh than any other player.”

Smith visited Mahaffey in her home in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s Northside. He noted “Strangely, there are no pictures of Josh Gibson,” in her home:

“The resemblance between Annie Mahaffey and her brother, Josh, is striking indeed. She has the same round, brown face. Her gentle smile is contagious.

“’He’d come here whenever he was in town,’ Annie recalls with a note of pride in her voice, ‘and he’d have us laughing about the funny things that happened on the road. He would sit here and talk, have a sandwich maybe, and just keep us amused with his stories. He loved life, Josh did.’”

Page said:

“He’d never talk about himself. I never heard him say one thing about himself that was intended to impress someone.

“He was extremely modest. I roomed with him in this country and South America and got to know him well.  If he hit four home runs in a game—which he did many times—you’d never know anything about it if you were getting your news of the game from him. He’d never walk up to you and say, ‘Well, I hit four of ‘em today.’”

Page

Page said Gibson was the opposite of Satchel Paige:

“When Satch pitched a no hitter, he told the whole world about it. We got little or no space in the daily papers, so he’d sit around and those third-rate hotels we lived in, and in taverns and restaurants, and tell everybody about his achievements. Everyone would gather round Satch and he’d spin tall tales for them, and they’d go away laughing and talking about him. Josh would never do that.”

Sportswriters, Page said, “always complained that he wouldn’t open up and talk about himself.”

Gibson’s sister said “he talked baseball all the time at home. He talked about other players and how good they were, and how many games were won or lost on certain types of strategy…Josh used to laugh so hard when telling a story he’d shake all over.”

Page said Gibson “loved baseball, never got bored with the game nor the terrible conditions we had to tolerate at times.”

Gibson also did not join his teammates “playing cards or meeting girls,” Page said:

“Josh was seldom with them. We’d go to an ice cream parlor or some other harmless place and talk baseball.”

Gibson’s sister and Page saw his reaction to baseball segregation differently.

Mahaffy said:

“There were all kinds of racial problems in those days, but Josh never let them get him down. If they ever bothered him, he never said so. He never once mentioned the fact that the color bar in the majors was a terrible injustice. He laughed off most of the things that happened to him.”

Page said:

“Josh never talked about the organized baseball ban against us. But he was always aware of it and it finally killed him. He kept things to himself, but if you knew him you could feel his resentment. We went to see a lot of big-league games and when he saw players who were inferior to him, he became sullen and the bitterness seemed to just ooze from him.”

Both agreed that Gibson didn’t drink until his final years.

After Jackie Robinson signed, his sister said:

“This was just about the time he started having dizzy spells and blackouts. He also became a heavy drinker.”

The dizzy spells, said Page, caused him to “stagger and stumble, whenever he looked up,” and “Josh’s drinking was a symptom of his affliction. He knew his time was short and that he’d never get a break in the majors…He tried to submerge his misfortune in drink.”

Smith closed:

:”The deadly curse that had been upon Josh Gibson all his life finally claimed him…Eighty days later Jackie Robinson became the first Negro player in modern big league history.

“That was 23 years ago.

“Josh Gibson should be immortalized in Cooperstown.

“What price, Hall of Fame?”

Less than a year later, Gibson was enshrined along with Buck Leonard; Smith died nine months later, he was 58. He was awarded the JG Taylor Spink Award 21 years after his death.

“He Made Base Ball More Dignified”

18 Feb

Oliver Perry “O. P.” Caylor’s death from tuberculosis in October of 1897 at age 47 took one of the most important chroniclers of 19th Century baseball.

The New York Herald, his last paper, said:

“Mr. Caylor’s fight for life was pathetic in its boldness.”

Caylor

Caylor, who had left the paper a month before his death to go to Winona, Minnesota to seek treatment from a “throat and lung specialist” in a sanitarium, engaged in a “one-sided” struggle, “but on his part it was heroic.”

The paper recounted Caylor’s final visit to the Polo Grounds before he departed for Minnesota:

“(Arriving in) a carriage, accompanied by his wife, and though scarcely able to reach his old seat in the stand, his courage never faltered.”

Caylor had been ill for several years. William “Billy” Norr, the sports editor of The New York World had a morbid wager with Caylor, Sporting Life said:

“(Norr) had made a bet with Caylor every New Year’s Day for seven years that he (Caylor) would die in twelve months.”

The 33-year-old Norr died seven weeks before Caylor after contracting Typhoid Fever:

“Caylor chuckles between hemorrhages, tickled with the idea that he has outlived Norr and is $35 ahead of the game.”

The tragedy of Norr’s early death was compounded when, just a week after the New York Giants and Brooklyn Bridegrooms played a benefit game for his family, his widow, Olga Norr, took her own life, The World said:

“So generous and so greatly beloved had her husband been that it was intended she should never need. She took her life because her heart was broken.”

Caylor’s friends and family were briefly optimistic about Caylor’s chance for recovery:

“He reached (Minnesota) as he predicted he would, and lighthearted letters were returned. He advised that he had gained in both strength and flesh…buoyed with the hope as he was that his fight for life might after all be successful.”

In a letter to friend in St. Louis, Caylor said the specialist he was seeing , “speaks confidently of pulling me through.”

The illness had robbed Caylor of his voice in the last months of his time in New York, but “he wrote column after column in his old-time forcible style, clearly defined, and then smiled at his friend who were astonished with the determination shown and the strength he displayed.”

Of Caylor’s legacy, The Herald said:

“Mr. Caylor was never rugged, but his blows for the welfare of the national game were those of a giant. Delinquent players were never given any quarter. Pitiless sarcasm in the face of abuse and threats of bodily harm were showered upon them, and reformation alone caused his suspension. He deemed it criminal to disappoint the public, and when the lapse of a player was due to his own folly his pointed allusions to the offending cut as a two-edged sword.”

He was, a, “Master of humor, he made giants appear as pygmies, but was quite as ready with words of praise and encouragement as he found them deserved.”

Al Spink of The Sporting News agreed with the assessment, and said that Caylor was unpopular among many players because of his style, but:

“The base ball world will sincerely mourn him, and he will be missed by all newspaper men, for he was a newspaper man in the truest sense. He was sincere in his though, he was above caprice or prejudice in his judgment, he was beyond the reach of corruption in all things. He made base ball more dignified, honorable, and more commendable to honest men by his thirty ears of labor in the legitimate field of sport.”

Francis Richter, the founder and editor of Sporting Life said:

“Hurlburt [sic, Hulbert] and Mills have no successors. There will never be another Harry Wright in our day, nor a successor to Anson when he, too, shall retire. No player is in sight to take up the mantle of the inimitable Latham; no magnates to duplicate the brilliance of Spalding, Reach, Young, Soden, and Byrne, all grown gray in the service of the king of sports; no writer to equal the brilliance of our dead brother Caylor.”

“A Colorful Critter”

17 Feb

John Walter “Duster” Mails was another left-handed pitcher with talent who never lived up expectations and was labeled “eccentric,” or “Another Rube.”

John B. Foster of The New York Sun said:

“Mails’ ability is conceded so far as his arm is concerned, but when it comes to the illuminated phases of baseball Duster must have the center of the stage or he moans in a corner like a monkey with the pip. If he’d make the best use of his left arm, he should be able to win two games for every one he loses.”

Billy Evans, the American League umpire, and syndicated newspaper columnist called him, “A colorful critter.”

In 1925, when the St. Louis Cardinals acquired Mails from the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League for what would be Mails’ third and final shot at the big leagues, Evans wrote:

“Walter Mails has as much natural ability as Rube Waddell and no southpaw ever had more stuff than George Edward.

“Mails has a dazzling fastball. I umpired back of Waddell when he was at his best. If anything, Mails’ fastball had something on Rube’s.”

Mails

Evans concluded that Waddell “seemed to have uncanny control” of his pitches, which Mails lacked.

He argued that given Mails’ personality quirks, he would be “rival Babe Ruth” as a newspaper copy generator if he could recreate his short period of major league dominance in 1920:

“Joining Cleveland late in the season, when the Indians were on the ropes because of lack of pitching, Mails proved the man of the hour.

“Taking part in nine games he turned in seven victories and didn’t suffer a single defeat.”

The Indians won the pennant by two games over the White Sox.

“Late in the season when Cleveland met Chicago in the final and all series between the two clubs, Mails remarked to me before the first game:

“Those birds are made to order for me; If (Tris) Speaker starts me against them I won’t be satisfied with anything but a shutout.”

Mails shut the White Sox out and beat Urban Faber 2 to 0; the September 24 victory increased the Indians lead over the Sox to 1.5 games.

“In one inning, after walking three men a la Waddell, he continued Rube’s trick by striking the next three out.”

Evans’ recall was slightly off.

In the fifth inning, Mails retired Swede Risberg, then walked Ray Schalk, Faber, and Amos Strunk. 

Mails then struck out Buck Weaver and Eddie Collins, The Chicago Tribune said, with a full count, Collins:

“(H)it three fouls in succession, swung at a bad ball and struck out.”

Mails’ dream season continued through the World Series, he relieved Ray Caldwell in the first inning of game three, pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings in a 2 to 1 loss to the Brooklyn Robins.

Evans said Mails told him:

“If Speaker had only started me that one run we made would have been enough to win. He says he is going to give me a chance against (Sherry) Smith the next time he starts. Those birds will be lucky any time they score on me.”

He shut out the Robins and Smith 1 to 0.

Mails posted a 1.85 regular season ERA in 1920 which ballooned to 3.94 in 1921 and 5.28 in 1922, before he was sold to Oakland.

Mails’ final big-league stint ended like his first two, flashes of brilliance punctuating an overall lack of control and discipline.

He returned to the minor leagues for another decade. 

Early in his career, Mails tried to explain his control issues to The Spokane Spokesman Review:

“In my younger days, my folks used to live just a short distance from the San Quentin penitentiary. It was always a hobby with me to throw stones at the guards on the ramparts to kid them. One day I thought I could get control by aiming at them, but the darn fools always used to be on the move and even today when I am out on the mound pitching, the home plate seems to act like those guards, always on the move. So, you can see I have an excuse coming.”

“Negro Baseball is Staggering about Grotesquely on its Last Legs”

15 Feb

Lucius “Melancholy” Jones, after a college football and basketball career at Clark College—now Clark Atlanta University—served as sports editor for several black newspapers, wrote for The Pittsburgh Courier and the Southern Newspaper Syndicate which served many black newspapers across the country.

Jones

In 1941, he enumerated the “frailties of Negro baseball,” which were:

“1. Selfish, dishonest, and insecure owners and higher ups;

  2. Absence of records, lack of publicity, failure to give the fans their money’s worth; and

  3. Trampish tendencies, jumping of clubs, moral indecency, and respect of a baseball contract as more than a piece of paper.”

Satchel Paige, “rated by the immortal Grover Cleveland Alexander as one of the five greatest pitchers of all time, regardless of race, creed, or color and declare by Joe DiMaggio to be the best pitcher he ever batted against…should be the idol of his race; the pride of colored kids everywhere,” he said

But, instead, “(T)he average Negro boy knows 10 times as much about Joe DiMaggio as he does about Oscar Charleston or Turkey Stearns; 10 times as much about Bob Feller as he does Paige or Hilton Smith; 10 times as much about Lou Gehrig as he ever knew about Buck Leonard or Red Moore; and the average colored fan knows the standings of every club in the white major leagues but hasn’t the faintest idea as to just which of the Negro clubs is in first place. Published standings, game-to-game box scores, and official scoring are more or less mythical.”

Paige

Paige had in 1941, appeared with four teams, including organizations “in both of the Negro major leagues,” and as a result “of his trampish tendency of playing with so many clubs.” And, despite the fact the was “a surprisingly clean liver…his utter lack of respect for a baseball contract,” resulted in him lacking the type of following enjoyed by white players.

Jones said:

“But what is more remarkable than Paige’s pitching for four different clubs in a season is just three months old at this writing is the fact that this strange thing has been done with approval of officials of both leagues—or so it would seem, because instead of handling him severally for his trampish practices which automatically amount to ineligibility went to the other extreme, removing the bar against his participation in the annual East-West Classic.”

Both leagues required “overhauling,” because each stood “for little more than personal gain, and even in this selfish motive are not together. There is continuous bickering between” the two leagues’ officials.

Negro League baseball was, according to Jones, in such precarious shape because of its lack of organization that if steps were not taken to shore up the “tottering empire,” it would be “doomed to oblivion.” Jones cited a popular vaudeville comedian and actor’s signature bit as an analogy:

“Negro baseball is staggering about grotesquely on its last legs like a Leon Errol. Most of us fear for the worst.”

Leon Errol

Jones’ regular rancor directed at the magnates of black baseball was continuous and based on his conclusion that:

“White major league baseball is good. The white baseball loops are better organized and better patronized than the colored leagues. But the brand of ball played in those white circuits is not superior to that played by the best Negro teams.”

Jones, like Wendell Smith, his colleague at The Pittsburgh Courier continued calling for an “overhauling” of the Negro Leagues while at the same time pushing for integration in baseball. Jones outlined the “three important steps” to successfully integrate the game:

“1. Crystallization of a favorable public sentiment; 2. Numerous experimental contests between white and Negro stars of major league caliber in the larger cities where mass reaction will be greatest; and 3. attainment of total endorsement from Commissioner Kennesaw M. Landis and organized baseball as an institution.”

Jones went on to become the New Orleans editor for The Courier and  the first black host of a radio sportscast on a white station in the deep south when he hosted a show for 16 weeks on WDSU-AM in New Orleans in 1949—he also helped bring the first sports telecast in the deep south featuring two black teams to WDSU-TV on April 30, 1950 when the station aired a game between the Kansas City Monarchs and the New York Cubans with Jones presenting “between inning highlights.”

He also was a co-founder—along with his former Clark College teammate and fellow Courier writer Ric Roberts—of Atlanta’s “the 100% Wrong Club” which was established for the purpose of recognizing black collegiate athletes.

Jones was just 47 years old when he died in 1952.

“Diary of Babe Ruth’s bat”

12 Feb

Several Babe Ruth biographies quote the 1924 “Colliers” magazine story “My Friend Babe Ruth” by Arthur Robinson, a New York newspaperman who leveraged the fact that Ruth “has very few secrets from me,” for fodder for the article.

Robinson told readers diverse facts like Ruth’s skin “is not thick,” that he “Made and spent almost a quarter of a million dollars” in 1921, and that he “Does not wear underwear.”

Babe Ruth

The oft quoted “Colliers” piece was preceded by nearly three years by a lesser known article Robinson wrote in The New York American headlined “The Diary of Babe Ruth’s bat,” after game one of the 1921 World Series.

“The Yankees won and I am happy. I have no way of expressing myself outside the typographical confines of the box score and there I find that my batting average for the day, in the first game of New York’s first all New York World Series is .333.

“Not particularly good, but by no means bad. I am content.”

In the first inning:

“(Phil) Douglas sent a fast spitball over the heart of the plate, and I shot it out into center field with the assistance of Mr. Ruth. (Elmer) Miller was on second base at the time and he scored on the hit. So far, so good.”

The “bat” said Ruth walked on three Douglas spitballs, a curve, and a “high, slow floater” on three and one in the fourth inning,  

In the sixth, on a 3-2 count, “Douglas threw a fast curve…I though it was a ball, and so did Mr. Ruth but the umpire called Mr. Ruth out on strikes and some odd language passed between the two. I heard it.”

Ruth struck out for the second time in the eighth when he “missed a low spitter, on the outside.”

“Well, today, dear diary, is another day. Perhaps I’ll get a homer. I rather expect I will.”

Not the writing bat, but another Ruth bat

Ruth’s bat did not hit a home run in game two—he was 0-1 with three walks—he hit .313 in the series with one home run and four RBI.

The Giants won the last three games to win New York’s first all New York series” five games to three.