“There’s Always Been a Need in Baseball for Another Rube”

20 Sep

In 1944, Grantland Rice of The New York Herald Tribune lamented the inability of Lou Novikoff to live up expectations well into four seasons in the National League:

“It would have ben a big lift to big league baseball if…’The Mad Russian’ of the Cubs could only have approached his minor league average under the Big Tent.”

Novikoff

The reason was baseball’s need for “color;”

“There has always been a need in baseball for another Rube Waddell, another Bugs Raymond or another Dizzy Dean. They had more than their share of color. But they had something more than color—they were also great ballplayers.”

Novikoff, Rice said had “a gob of color,” but hadn’t come close to putting up the numbers he did the Pacific Coast League and American Association:

“Novikoff on the West Coast looked to be as good a hitter as Ted Williams…But he was no Ted Williams in the major show.”

Both Williams and Novikoff had huge seasons in the American Association after leaving the West Coast—Williams hit .366 in Minneapolis in 1938 and Novikoff hit .370 in Milwaukee in 1941—but as Rice concluded:  No one had yet “wipe(d) away the dust from his big-league batting eye.”

The loss of Novikoff to pick up where Dizzy Dean left off “in the headline class, “ was a loss for baseball, Rice said:

“Baseball can use more color than it has known since Dizzy Dean retired to tell St. Luis radio listeners that someone ‘sold into third base.’

“It could use another Rube Waddell, who split his spring and summer days three ways—pitching, tending bar, and going fishing. But it should be remembered Dizzy Dean and Rube Waddell were among the great pitchers of all time.”

There was none he said, as colorful as Babe Ruth. Ping Bodie “was never a great ballplayer, but he was good enough. He was another remembered character. There was the time he bought a parrot and taught the bird to keep repeating— ‘Ping made good.’”

Rive said Bugs Raymond had color and talent—but for too short a time before the color overtook the talent.

Bugs Raymond

“There was the time when Bugs was pitching for Shreveport. He made a bet that he could eat a whole turkey, drink two quarts of Scotch and win a double header. He won his bet tradition says.”

By “tradition” Rice meant Rice. He was the source of the turkey and scotch story as a young reporter covering the Southern League.

Rice’s dream team of colorful players would include:

“Babe Ruth, Rube Waddell, Dizzy Dean, Bugs Raymond, Larry McLean, Tacks Parrott, Arlie Latham, German Schaefer, Al Schacht, Crazy Schmidt [sic Schmit] Rabbit Maranville and one or two more. I wouldn’t however, want to be manager.”

Grantland Rice

While Rice valued color, he said “two of the greatest ballclubs” he ever covered we not at all colorful:

“One was Connie Mack’s Athletics lineup from 1910 through 1914, winners of four pennants in five years. The other was the Yankees after Babe Ruth left, a crushing outfit season after season.

“These two squads were composed of fine ballplayers who were rarely prankish or the lighter side of life—Eddie Collins, Eddie Plank, Stuffy McInnis, Jack Barry, Homerun Baker, Jack Coombs, Chief Bender, to whom baseball was strictly a business matter. The same went for Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, Lou Gehrig, Charlie Keller, Spud Chandler, Joe DiMaggio and others might have made up a session of bank presidents.”

Novikoff never lived up to his minor league hype. He hit a respectable .282 in five major league seasons but only played 17 games in the big-leagues after the end of World War II.

“One of the Signs of Insanity”

17 Sep

Louis Gemmett engaged in a bizarre more than 20-year crusade. It culminated the day the 71-year-old cigar maker from Davenport, Iowa appeared in court in Chicago in front of Cook County probate Judge Henry Horner—who would later serve two terms as governor of Illinois.

 The Chicago Daily News said:

“(Gemmett) who has been a fan for 60 years, presented several arguments which he thought were prima facie evidence that ball players are not quite right… (and should be) adjudged insane.”

Horner, apparently to avoid a spectacle, adjourned court and heard Gemmett’s arguments in chambers.

Henry Horner

The Daily News obtained a transcript:

“One of the signs of insanity,’ said Gemmett, ‘is in the method of scoring. A batter makes a one base hit, after which he proceeds at high speed to first base, ignoring the fact apparently that his effort is useless to his team unless his mates are successful in their efforts to make additional hits in order that he continue on around the bases and register a score. That’s crazy isn’t it.

It got weirder

“There should be two pitchers, one right and one left-handed, in the box at the same time, and the batter wouldn’t know which one was going to pitch. The purpose of the pitcher is to deceive the batsman, and baseball players are crazy to think one pitcher alone could fool batters.”

Perhaps to sway the judge, Gemmett suggested rather than an umpire making a “final ruling,” there should instead be a “judicial committee to act upon” any decisions under dispute.

He also kind of saw the future:

“And it’s crazy to call a game on account of rain. There ought to be a canopy over the field, suspended by balloons, so that play could go right on, no matter what the weather.”

said in 1909It was notable that Gemmett’s day in court received national coverage, The Associated Press said it was the 18th time Gemmett had appeared in front a judge in various jurisdictions throughout the country, but until then his notoriety was limited to a handful of papers in Western Illinois and Eastern Iowa. The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald said in 1909:

“(He) annually squanders a small-sized fortune away in trying to advance a weird baseball system he calls the ‘Reality.'”

Gemmett’s system called for many of the same changes he argued for in court 21-years later.

Perhaps exercising the political skills that sent him to the governor’s mansion within three years, Horner declined to issue a ruling until Mr. Gemmett could get an audience with Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, to first make his case to the baseball commissioner.

There is no record of Gemmett meeting with Landis or appearing in court again.

The Trial of Bugs Raymond

15 Sep

John McGraw, when reminiscing about his “thirty years in baseball” for a series of articles syndicated by The North American Newspaper Alliance in 1923, called Arthur “Bugs” Raymond, “one of the greatest natural pitchers who ever lived.”

Bugs

He recalled the first time Chief Myers caught Raymond:

“’Say Mc,’ (he said), ‘that fellow can do more tricks with a baseball than any man in the world.’”

McGraw said, “Raymond’s long suit” was the spit ball and, “He could make that ball do the querist of stunts and never did he hesitate to pull one of these tricks when the team was in a hole.”

McGraw blamed Raymond’s “fondness for companionship” for continually leading him astray, no matter how many times he pledged to stop drinking. Even when McGraw tried to keep people from loaning Raymond money, the pitcher would always find a way to get some and continue drinking.

On one occasion, with his starter struggling on the mound, McGraw sent the bat boy to the bullpen to get Raymond. Not being able to locate him, the team’s trainer then looked and eventually found Raymond drinking in a nearby tavern:

“He had taken the new ball that I had given him for warming up and had sold it to the saloon keeper.”

McGraw told his version of the story of what happened after Raymond took the “Keeley Cure” in Dwight, Illinois in an attempt to quit drinking before the 1911 season:

“Bugs was very proud of his term in the Keeley Institute. He even wore a class button and very proudly exhibited an album with photographs and other souvenirs of his schoolmates.”

As the papers in New York were filled with stories of Raymond’s “wonderful reform “while the club trained in Texas, McGraw was seeing “ominous signs.”

The team stayed in the Oriental Hotel on a trip to Dallas where “they always served cocktails,” with Sunday night dinner service.:

“Knowing the head steward, Bugs decided to visit him. He left the dining room and started to the kitchen. As he stepped through the swinging doors his eye lighted on the long rows of cocktails—hundreds of them all lined in rows. Promptly, Raymond started right down the first row, drinking one after another until he had consumed more than a dozen.”

McGraw had a detective follow Raymond for the next 24 hours—while papers continued to report on his “reform.” The Giants manager questioned the pitcher who denied drinking. McGraw said he faced a “dilemma:”

“I didn’t know whether to denounce him to the newspaper men who had tried so hard to help him, or to make one more attempt to bring about reform.”

McGraw

McGraw said he never knew a newspaper reporter who would “violate a confidence” and enlisted them to serve as a mock jury in a “trial: of the pitcher:

The jury was a who’s who of legendary New York baseball writers: Sam Crane, Sid Mercer, Boseman Bulger, Damon Runyon, and Charles Van Loan, “and one or two of the younger writers,” whose names the manager could no longer recall:

“Gentlemen, I have called upon you to sit as a jury on this man. He has promised all of you not drink and you have given him every help. You have praised him in the papers. He has violated that faith. He’s a big bum that’s laid down on his friends.”

McGraw presented the evidence and asked the reporters to decide whether to share it with their readers or to give Raymond another chance:

McGraw read the detective report to the assembled jury, in a back room the Turf Exchange bar in Dallas, Raymond “drank seven glasses of beer, ate a handful of pretzels, and two Bermuda onion,” on to the nearby Knight Saloon, Raymond had “drank nine glasses of beer, ate more pretzels, and two or three more onions.”

Raymond called the report “a dammed lie.”

His defense:

“Mac, of course I might’ve had a couple dozen glasses of beer, but I’m telling you it’s a lie—I ain’t eat an onion in seven months.”

In sympathy, the jury unanimously decided to give Raymond one more chance and not report his tumble from the wagon. Raymond, of course, vowed to stop drinking.

McGraw’s ploy bought him a stretch of several weeks when Raymond “partially straightened up,” unfortunately, like every other last chance Raymond was given, he eventually relapsed.

Raymond died less than 18 months after McGraw’s mock trial.  

“Fight! Dolan! Sweeney! Cellar!”

13 Sep

Charlie Sweeney was a talented, troubled pitcher. Hall of Famer Tim Keefe called him, “The greatest twirler who ever lived,” and player turned sportswriter, The Boston Globe’s Tim Murnane agreed, and said Sweeney was the only pitcher he ever saw who could “curve and out-ball to a left-handed barrer,.”

Sweeney, after his best days were past, but still just 31, spent nearly three years in prison for killing a man in a San Francisco bar in 1894. It wasn’t the first time the pitcher pulled a gun in a bar.

In 1886, just days after being released by the St. Louis Maroons, the 23-year-old Sweeney appeared to have plenty of prospects. The St. Louis Republic said:

“In the Northwestern League he has been offered the managership of three clubs.”

The paper said he also had offers from at least two major league teams:

“The Cincinnati Club would take him, while Louisville will be glad to get him.”

Sweeney

Sweeney’s release came after what The Sporting News called “a gentle controversy” that turned into a serious altercation between the pitcher and his once close friend, catcher Tom Dolan who was also released:

“On the morning after the Maroons’ late arrival from the East, Mr. Sweeney, on going to his dressing case, found marked on it these words:

“Charles Dead Arm Sweeney.

“Only this and nothing more.

“On the very day following Mr. Sweeney’s find, Mr. Dolan, when about to enter his dressing case, found marked on it these words:

“Thomas Hamfat Dolan.

“Only this and nothing more.

“On the very next day Mr. Dolan collided with Mr. Sweeney at Sportsman’s Park. As they glanced at each other their eyes involuntary [sic] spoke

“Mr. Sweeney said ‘Hamfat.’

“Mr. Dolan muttered ‘Dead arm.’”

The two continued to taunt one another. Dolan reminding Sweeney he gave up seven home runs to the Detroit Wolverines on June 12. Sweeny pointing out that Dolan had seven passed balls in a recent game.

The following day, the two were practicing with their teammates at Union Grounds, when their tempers flared again:

“Mr. Dolan was seen to waltz up to (Sweeney) in a threatening manner.”

Sweeney suggested they go to “the cellar under the clubhouse.”

 While Sweeney and Dolan began to fight—with an audience of teammates Jack Glasscock and Henry Boyle, as well as groundskeeper Bill Richards.

Someone alerted manager Gus Schmelz, yelling:

“Fight! Dolan! Sweeney! Cellar!”

Schmelz arriving in the cellar, immediately, “released the prospective combatants from the St. Louis club and fined them $50 each.”

The two almost came to blows the following day, and:

“(Dolan) has given out from the start that blood will be spilled, so that something desperate may be looked for by the habitues of Union Park.”

The Sporting News noted that “the saddest part” of the fight was that “the writing on their dressing cases was the act of a practical joker,” and neither Sweeney nor Dolan was responsible.

Later in the week, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, Sweeney found himself in a local tavern

“The hands on the big clock on the wall pointed to the hour of 2 and the bartender thought it was time his congregation dispersed and meandered homeward.”

As the bartender attempted to move the patrons towards the door:

“Charley Sweeney was among the number, and he rather objected to leaving the place at that early hour.”

Some other patrons helped lead him out the door:

“Sweeney was furious.

“He drew the revolver which he has carried about him lately and made an attack on the front door.

“In a moment, pistol shots seemed to be coming from every direction.

 The bullets, however, all cam from Charley’s favorite weapon.”

The paper said those left inside the bar “were paralyzed with fear” as Sweeney fired shits through the door.

“Some of them climbed over the counter and his under the pop bottles and kegs of beer.

“Others jumped behind posts and held their positions with a tenacity that was simply wonderful to behold.

“Others made their escape through the windows in the rear, for the doors were all locked, ahile a few scrambled under the table and did their best to get out of harm’s way.

“Sweeney emptied his revolver and then reloaded and emptied it again.”

After firing fourteen shots, police arrived “and called upon Sweeney to cease firing.”

Sweeney, then:

“(I)n the coolest manner possible, put his revolver in his pocket, laughed, and walked away.”

Sweeney had begun carrying the gun after he was “attacked by hoodlums” earlier in the year and was granted a permit by St. Louis Mayor David Francis:

“Ever since that he has gone around carrying a small arsenal in his rear pocket, and on several occasions has seen fit to flourish his weapon and threaten to let daylight out of those who happened to be in his way.”

Not another word appears to have been printed about the incident. Two days later, The St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported that Sweeney had signed for $1400 with the Syracuse Stars in the International League. He appeared in just two games for the Stars, losing both and posting a 4.85 ERA.

“A man of the Caliber of Taft”

10 Sep

Less than a year before the Black Sox scandal, Ed Bang of The Cleveland News wrote about the need for a central authority to govern the game. He suggested his top candidate:

“William H. Taft.

“That’s the name to conjure with in any walk of life to say nothing of baseball and it may come to pass that one of these days the former president of the United States will be the sole member of the national baseball commission, the court of last resort in the national pastime.”

Taft shakes hands with Mordecai Brown, 1909

Bang called baseball “a rather sick individual” since the Federal League wars of 1914 and ’15., then “confined to bed” when the war department declared baseball a non-essential occupation. The situation became more dire earlier in the year when minor league magnates “threw down the gauntlet,” threatening to no longer honor the draft and options agreements.

“It became evident,” wrote Bang, “that baseball needed a doctor.”

Taft, he said was agreeable to most of the major league owners who, like the public had a “lack of confidence,” in August Herrmann, chairman of the National Commission as well as American League President Ban Johnson, and John Tener, who had resigned as National League president in August.

Bang said:

“A man of the caliber of William Howard Taft, one who is in no way connected with the national pastime either as league president or club owner and one who would give all parties a square deal, would add considerable prestige to the sport. Prestige is what is needed right now and if Mr. Taft or any other figure of equal ability can bring that about, the baseball magnates could well afford to pay him $50,000 a year and figure the money as well spent.”

Taft was, of course never hired, and baseball lacked a single, central power as commissioner through the 1919 season and scandal, until Kennesaw Mountain Landis became the first commissioner in 1920.

“He Never Liked Baseball so Much When he was in it”

8 Sep

After winning 139 games during a 12-year major league career, Fred Toney’s professional career came to an abrupt and unceremonious end after appearing in nine games (4-3 4.09 ERA) for the Nashville Volunteers in 1925.

Munce Pique, a long-time figure in Southern baseball—he had a long career as an umpire as a brief one as a player—told the story to Blinkey Horn of The Nashville Tennessean in 1935:

“They were in Mobile, and a runner was on third when a Mobile batter his a long foul. The Nashville left fielder—I can’t remember his name—caught the foul and the runner scored.

“Fred Toney walked out of the box, went over to the dressing room, knocked the lock off the door with a bat and put on his clothing and went home.

“So it wasn’t the case in Munce Pique’s opinion, of a sore arm, but rather that Fred Toney was sore at his left fielder for making a dumb catch.

“You could hardly blame him.”

The story had become relevant in Nashville 10 years later because that summer Toney returned, The Associated Press said:

“The other day the hurler, now 45 [sic, 46] and weighing 270 pounds, walked to the mound in Nashville’s ballpark and began throwing a ‘mighty small ball’ down the slot in batting practice.

“Not even the ever-enthusiastic local fans knew that the middle-aged giant out there was Fred Toney, in new shoes and a drab grey uniform.”

Toney, who had a farm and operated a tavern and gas station on Hydes Ferry Pike in Nashville, and had recently attended his first baseball game in a decade; he, “Never liked baseball so much when he was in it,” but now wanted back in the game as a coach.

Toney pitched in a couple semi-pro games in Tennessee in the summer of 1935, and in the spring of 1936 continued his quest to coach, but even he admitted it was his second choice, telling The Nashville Banner:

“I’ve been trying to get on the Nashville police force, but that has just about fallen through. If I can’t make that I want to start dickering for a coaching job.”

The prospects were dim for 47-year-old, 270-pound rookie cops and for coaches 10-years removed from the game

In September of 1936 Toney’s name was back in the news when the farm, filling station, and a “trophy room (containing) valuable relics from his baseball days; pictures, autographed baseballs, and gloves went up in smoke.”

Toney lost his home, one of his businesses, and every piece of memorabilia he had saved from his career.

The next summer, while working at a local nightclub he continued to seek a coaching job but seemed to have been annoyed by the prospect of interacting with modern players. The told The Associated Press:

“Pitchers today don’t do as they should, because they can’t. They are soft. They can’t take it.”

The pitchers of his day were, “farmers, coal miners, cotton pickers. They were physically equal to the strain.”

Toney concluded that, “young men who live normal lives, going through school and having things pretty easy can’t possibly develop into great pitchers.”

By early 1941, bed ridden with the flu and with no job prospects, Toney made another pitch for a baseball job through The Tennessean, telling a reporter:

“I’ll be up soon and all I ask is a chance.”

The best prospect for a job came from the Kitty League, Shelby Peace, the league president sent a wire to the paper:

“I would be glad for you to notify Fred Toney that if he is willing to accept a job as an umpire in the Kitty League, I will be very glad to send him a contract.”

Toney, in 1949, shows a group of minor leaguers his grip on a ball purported to be the one he used to record the final out in the 17-inning no-hitter in 1917; except more than a decade earlier, Toney was said to have lost every important piece of memorabilia in in afire.

That job never materialized, not did a coaching position.  Toney spent his final years working as a security guard and later as a bailiff in the Davidson County Criminal Court House.

Toney died in March of 1953; shortly before his death, and appropriate for his personality, he did not call either his 17-inning minor league, or 10-inning major league no-hitters his greatest moment. His greatest moment was born out of revenge. He told The Banner:

“When I first came up to the Chicago Cub from Winchester in 1911, my manager was Frank Chance. I have no doubt I’d have spent my entire career with the Cubs if Chance hadn’t left and gone to the American League.

“Johnny Evers, who was known as ‘the Crab.’ And I never got along. I never could go for a brow beating manager. Evers sent me back to Louisville and I had to battle my way back to the big leagues with Cincinnati in 1915.

“Evers was then managing Boston. In my first start against him, boy, I beat him good. That one win did more for me than any other.”

Unfortunately, Toney’s greatest moment wasn’t quite accurate either . He lost three decisions to the Braves in 1915 before beating them with a one-hitter on September 1.

“Brain Counts More Than Slugging”

6 Sep

Amos Rusie’s return to the Seattle area to purchase a farm in 1929 made his briefly as interesting to West Coast baseball writers and his arrival at the Polo Grounds eight years earlier had briefly made his reminiscences of great interest to the New York scribes.

There is some disagreement about whether Rusie enjoyed his time in New York. What’s certain is his eight years caused him to retract his opinion from 1921 that the game had not substantially changed.

Rusie

When he arrived in Washington, The Associated Press asked the former pitcher/ballpark superintendent turned farmer for his views on the game and  to select his all-time team.

Rusie said he couldn’t understand how modern pitchers “don’t pitch to sluggers,” enough:

“None of the pitchers in my day were afraid to pitch to the best of them. You didn’t find us walking the slugger almost every time he came to bat, as they do nowadays. We figured we would either make him hit the ball or sit down. That’s what he was up there for.”

Rusie said “brain counts more than slugging,” and selected an all-time team that included just one (barely)  active player:

Pitchers: Christy Mathewson, Kid Nichols, Cy Young

Catchers: Buck Ewing, Roger Bresnahan, John Kling

First base: Dan Brouthers, Fred Tenney

Second base: Napoleon Lajoie, Eddie Collins

Third base: Jimmy Collins, John McGraw

Shortstop: Honus Wagner, Hughie Jennings

Left field: Ed Delahanty, Joe Kelley

Center field: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker

Right Field: Willie Keeler, Fred Clarke

Eddie Collins appeared in just nine games in 1929 and three in 1930 while coaching for the Athletics. Babe Ruth, who made such an impression on Rusie when eight years earlier he watched major league baseball for the first time in two decades, didn’t make the cut.

“I lay Awake All-Night Suffering from the Pain”

3 Sep

After taking in three Yankees games upon his arrival in New York—the first major league games he had seen in 20 years—New assistant Polo Grounds superintendent, Amos Rusie talked to Robert Boyd from The New York World, who asked “What impressed you the most,” after twenty years away.

“Babe Ruth.

“We had great hitters in my time, Napoleon Lajoie, (Honus) Wagner, and Ed Delahanty. But they didn’t hit the ball near as hard as this boy.”

Rusie, having seen the current baseball for three games, conceded it was livelier, and said, “I suppose the fans want hitting, and it looks like their getting it.”

Rusie

The Hoosier Thunderbolt also refused to say if pitchers of his era were better, telling Boyd he wanted to see a few more games before weighing in. He did share his general philosophy:

“I don’t approve of being too severe with pitchers. Do not curb their development. In my time we were not allowed to soil the ball. There were no freak deliveries. The spitter and shine were not heard of. We had to depend on speed and fast breaking curves, and we had a great advantage over the batsman. But today the batter has the edge. The livelier ball and the rules imposed on the pitcher are the cause of it.”

Rusie said he was pleased to see the large crowds at the Polo Grounds:

“Baseball has grown into a great national institution.”

He also said he felt the Black Sox scandal, “did not hurt the game much,’” and lauded the selection of Kennesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner, saying his presence would make the game “grow infinitely more powerful.”

Three weeks into his return to New York, the city’s baseball writers had not tired of talking baseball with Rusie.

John B. Foster of The Daily News walked the ground of Manhattan Field—the former Brotherhood Park built for the Players League in 1890 and the Giants home park beginning the following season, Rusie’s second with the Giants—with the former pitcher, who said

 “Remember the old wooden stand after you got in, and the little old lake in left field and center field after every heavy rain and high tide?

“Sometimes there’d be a lake in right field too. Remember that old two-story shed for the visiting club, and how the players used to cuss (Giants owner Andrew) Freedman because he didn’t build a better place.

“The old wooden stand wasn’t an old wooden stand when it was built. We used to think it was some theater. It was four times bigger’n the stands out West. The first time I saw it I didn’t think there’s ever’d be enough people to fill it.”

He stood firm on the question of whether the game had changed substantially:

“Nope, not as I’ve been able to see.”

Rusie talked more about his “gone” arm:

“I was sent from New York to Cincinnati. I pitched a little there (he appeared in three games and pitched 22 innings) but after a game I lay awake all-night suffering from the pain in my shoulder. I made up my mind to quit…if I couldn’t pitch the kind of ball that I had been accustomed to pitch when I was good, I wasn’t going to pitch. No bush league for me.”

At that point, New York pitcher Fred Toney—having eavesdropped on the conversation—said:

“’We are going to have him in a game before the season is over.’

“Rusie grinned and shook his head negatively

“’My old wing might break off if I took such a chance,’ replied Amos laughing.”

Despite his response, Rusie did wish he could face one more batter:

Fred Toney

“Sometimes, I’ve thought that I’d like to pitch just once against Ruth if I was up to my speed. Just for an experiment. I ‘don’t say that I could fool him anymore’n pitchers fool him now, but I’m like the kid and the buzz saw. I want to monkey with it just once.”

Rusie worked at the Polo Grounds until June of 1929—he picked a poor time to return to Washington and buy a farm—just months before the stock market crashed. His views about the modern game had also changed during his eight years back at the ballpark. 

More Rusie Monday

“The Fastest Curve Ball Extent”

1 Sep

In 1921, John McGraw secured employment for Amos Rusie at the Polo Grounds; most current biographies of the “Hoosier Thunderbolt” say he first served as a night watchman and later became the superintendent of grounds at the ballpark—contemporaneous accounts said he was hired as assistant to superintendent Arthur Bell.

The suggestion that the job was an act of charity by McGraw was questioned by some of Rusie’s friends. John Crusinberry of The Chicago Tribune said when rumors had circulated in late 1920 that the former pitcher was destitute in Seattle, his former teammate Jack Doyle, then scouting for the Chicago Cubs, sought out his former teammate on a West Coast trip:

“But it wasn’t a tired and worn laborer who called. It was Mr. Amos Rusie, prominent in the business, social, and political life of Seattle.”

Crusinberry told his readers, Rusie owned a car and a home and was not simply a gas fitter, but rather the “superintendent of the municipal gas works of the city.”

His first day on the job in New York was the first time he had seen a major league game since 1900—the Yankees beat the Tigers 7 to 3.  William Blythe Hanna of The New York Herald talked to the man with, “speed like Walter Johnson’s and the fastest curve ball extent,” a couple of days later.

Ruse at Polo Grounds, 1921

Miller Huggins, the manager of the Yankees said he handed Rusie a baseball when the former pitcher arrived that first day:

“’So, that’s the lively ball?’ Said Amos. ‘Well, it feels to me exactly like the ball I used to pitch in the nineties. If it’s any livelier I have no means of telling it, so I’ll have to take you work for it.”

Rusie grips the “lively” ball

Rusie said even the ball in the 1890s made it “hard enough then to keep the other fellows from making hits,” and as for his legendary speed:

“My speed?’ added the big fellow, diffidently, ‘Oh, I dunno. They said I had a lot of it.’

“’They also say nobody ever had as fast a curve ball as you.’

“’Yes, they said that when I was pitching, but it isn’t for me to say.”

Back to the difference, or lack thereof from his perspective—between the current ball and ball of the nineties, the 50-year-old said he wouldn’t be able to tell by trying to throw one:

“I couldn’t do anything with a baseball now. It’s been a good while since I could. Arm’s gone.”

Rusie was a rarity among veterans of his era—he didn’t insist that the players and the game of his era was superior:

“I can’t see much difference in the game now and then, either. They’re doing what we did, the hit and run and the bunt and all that. Maybe outfielders play back farther now. You know we didn’t have the foul strike rule, and that made it harder on the pitchers. They had to pitch more balls.”

 To a reporter from The Associated Press, Rusie conceded some things had changed:

“In the old days the Polo Ground’s stands were wooden affairs, not nearly so large as the steal ones now. The ‘L’ trains were drawn by steam engines then, and there weren’t any subways. Instead, if taxicabs, the sports used Hansom cabs. But—it’s the same old game.”

More Friday

“O’Connor Called me a big Fat-Head”

30 Aug

Jake Stenzel’s nine-year big-league career came to an end at age 32 in July of 1899. The Cincinnati Post said the abrupt end was the result of, “suffering from a lame throwing ‘wing’ all season.”

Stenzel had joined his hometown club, the Cincinnati Reds, after being released a month earlier by the St. Louis Perfectos.

Stenzel drew his release after an altercation with teammate Jack O’Connor during a June 18 game with Washington. He came to the plate in the fifth inning with the bases loaded and no outs. Stenzel attempted to bunt and pooped up to first baseman Pete Cassidy who doubled Emmet Heidrick off first.

Stenzel

The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said:

“O’Connor, who was coaching, addressed some remarks to Stenzel, and by the looks on the faces of both men they could not have been good natured ones. Stenzel made a rush at O’Connor, and they came to a clinch.”

Stenzel was “very bitter” at O’Connor and manager Patsy Tebeau over the release which was made official several days later

“When I made that bunt that resulted in a double play O’Connor called me a big fat-head and used all kinds of profanity. When I walked to the bench Tebeau told me I was released. A few minutes later when, when someone in the stand asked Tebeau why he released me he, Pat said because I was a thick-headed Dutchman.”

O’Connor denied having a role in Stenzel’s release, telling The Globe-Democrat he was, “in no position” to have influenced Tebeau—despite being the club’s captain—and claimed after the altercation the two shook hands in the clubhouse.

Stenzel signed with the Reds weeks later and hit .310 in nine games before being released again for his lame arm.

Stenzel bought a bar on Western Avenue, across the street from the three ballparks the Reds called home until 1970 and was frequently sought out by reporters for his opinions on the game until his death in 1919.

In 1915, he told The Pittsburgh Chronicle-Telegraph:

“Delicate and dainty, indeed, are the athletes of today.”

Current players, he said:

“(H)op out of the game on the least pretext; their managers and club owners uphold them in retiring from the fray as soon as they suffer the slightest damage, and a cut finger is amply sufficient to secure a week’s vacation on full pay.”

Earlier that summer, Reds pitcher Rube Benton was on the mound two days after having a finger broken by a line drive during a game with the Cubs. He was, said Stenzel:

“(A)bout the gamest fellow I’ve heard of recently. Most of them would have laid off two weeks and then told the manager that the hand was still tender.

“Back 30 years ago things were very different. Players prided themselves on their nerve and often had to be actually forced out of the game before they’d stop. Best evidence of the difference between then and now; in the old days a player couldn’t leave the game unless disabled, and the clubs carried only twelve or thirteen men. If a pitcher or a catcher broke his finger it meant that he would have to play right field awhile…Show the manager a broken finger ad it meant an assignment to right field for the next afternoon instead of a vacation. The player expected it too, and would have felt insulted if he had been told to take a layoff instead of getting into action.”