“Byron was more to blame than I was”

19 Apr

After National league umpire Tim Hurst died in 1915, his American League counterpart Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“In the passing of Tim Hurst, baseball lost the quaintest character of the diamond. It was believed there would never be another one to approach him., but in Bill Byron baseball has a pocket edition of Timothy Carroll Hurst.

“No more fearless umpire ever held an indicator than Tim Hurst. Bill Byron runs him a close second.”

Evans said before coming to the National League in 1913, Byron was the subject “of many stories of wild minor league riots, in which Bill played the leading role without so much as mussing his hair.”

Fearless was one adjective used about Byron, but there were many others. After the 1911 season, Ed Barrow, president of the Eastern League removed Byron from the league’s staff. The Baltimore Sun said many celebrated the move:

“Byron’s chief fault is his stubbornness, and he, as well, is a bit dictatorial and oversteps his authority on the diamond…For the good of the game–in the face of many prejudices–Barrow has acted wisely in giving him the ‘can.'”

Bill Byron

Known as the “singing Umpire,” Byron’s “little ditties” were so well known that writers like L.C. Davis of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Willian Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star both wrote columns suggesting new songs for the umpire.

Davis suggested that when the Cubs Heine Zimmerman argued a call:

Heinie, Heinie, I’ve been thinking,

I don’t want none of your slack;

To the clubhouse you’ll go slinking,

If you make another crack.

Johnny Evers complained to Phelon:

“How can a guy tend to his batting when the umpire’s warbling in his ears?”

John McGraw was Byron’s biggest foil and foe, and Byron had a song for the manager of the New York Giants:

“John McGraw is awful sore

Just listen to Napoleon roar

The crowd is also very mad

They think my work is very bad.”

In 1917, in an often told story, after a game in Cincinnati, the Giants manager landed two punches before he was separated from Byron after an ejection.

McGraw

After the incident, McGraw provided a signed statement admitting to punching Byron, but blaming the incident on the umpire:

“Byron said to me: ‘McGraw, you were run out of Baltimore.”

When the umpire repeated the charge, McGraw said he “hit him. I maintain I was given reason.”

When Byron arrived in St. Louis the day after the incident to work a series between the Cardinals and Phillies, he refused to answer when asked by a reporter from The Philadelphia Inquirer if McGraw had punched him, instead:

“Bill pointed the right hand to the jaw. There was dark clot—which indicated that something landed as early as 20 hours ago.” 

McGraw’s justification for the attack notwithstanding, he was fined $500 and suspended for 16 days.

McGraw responded, claiming to be “discriminated against personally,” by league President John Tener,” and that “Byron was more to blame than I was.”

He said the action taken against him would result in:

“Umpires with Byron’s lack of common intelligence and good sense, will now be so overbearing with players there will be no living with them.”

But the feud had been brewing since the umpire entered the league.

In August of 1914, in a game where the Reds scored five runs in the eighth to beat the Giants 5 to 4, The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“The character of McGraw was shown by his getting into an insulting ruction with Umpire Byron…He was so angered at losing out that he pelted the official with vicious expletives and delayed the game for several minutes.”

In 1915, Sam Crane, the former player turned baseball writer for The New York Journal, and a close friend of McGraw, chronicled a clash between the two during a September 25 game between the seventh place Giants and sixth place Cardinals in St. Louis:

Byron was being taunted from the New York bench and decided utility infielder Fred Brainard was the culprit and ejected him:

“Brainard (in a startled voice: ‘Who me/ Why, I didn’t open my mouth, did I boys?’

“Chorus of players: ‘No, he didn’t.’

“A mysterious voice from a far corner of the dugout: ‘’Byron, you can’t hear any better than you can see. You’re rotten.’”

At this point, Byron walked to the Giants bench and gave Brainard one minute to leave.

McGraw responded, “You have pulled another boot Byron,” and accused the umpire of once ordering a player off the bench who was coaching at first base, and asked how he knew it was Brainard:

“Umpire Byron (turning pale): ‘I caught Brainard with his mouth open.’”

The Giants bench laughed at the umpire and McGraw accused him of always “guessing” at his decisions.

At this point Crane said Byron, “five minutes after he had given Brainard one minute,” removed his watch from his pocket and again gave Brainard a minute to leave and told McGraw he would be ejected as well. The manager responded:

“Why should I be put out of the game? I haven’t done anything. Neither has Brainard. You’re all tangled up. Do you know the rules? What time is it by that tin timepiece you have got there?”

Byron repeated the order and threatened to forfeit the game to St. Louis. McGraw said:

“Go ahead and forfeit. You will be in very bad if you do. Every one of my players here say Brainard did not say a word. You will be in a nice fix with Tener, won’t you. You will have a fat chance to umpire the world’s series. Go ahead and forfeit the game.”

Byron then summoned three police officers to remove Brainard, but according to Crane, the police sergeant said,” I will have to take the umpire along, too.”

This elicited more laughter from the Giants bench.

Crane’s story ends with McGraw chastising the umpire while finally telling Brainard to go, and Byron returning to homeplate while singing:

“Oh, I don’t know. The multitude and the players are enraged at me; but I gained my point. Oh, I don’t know; I ain’t so bad.”

And the game “then proceeded, and smoothly throughout.”

Crane claimed the whole ordeal took at least 15 minutes.

The Post-Dispatch didn’t mention police, implied that Byron clearly won the encounter, and said, “five minutes were consumed in this senseless argument.”

The paper scolded the umpire for the “bush league trick” of pulling out his watch, but said:

“In time, however, McGraw relented under the threat of a forfeiture, which means a fine of $1000, and Brainard went his way.”

McGraw might have gotten the better of Byron in their 1917 fight in Cincinnati, but in 1915 the umpire “landed twice” on Boston Braves third baseman Red Smith after the game when Smith renewed an earlier argument over balls and strikes September 16 in Chicago. Smith attempted to get at Byron after being hit but was stopped by the other umpire, Al Orth.

Byron and McGraw continued to butt heads and the umpire’s combative style and singing continued to draw attention.

George Moriarty, the Detroit Tigers infielder, turned American League umpire—who also wrote songs—and often included poems about players in the nationally syndicated column he began writing in 1917, said—in part–of Byron:

“It’s wonderful the way you face the throng of maddened players all season long;

While other umps get busted on the bean you pacify the athletes with a song.

You know that music charms the savage beast, and as they rush to stab you in the vest,

And tell you how they’ll tear you limb from limb, you sing like John McCormack at his best.”

More on Byron Wednesday.

“He Called me the Freshest Busher he had Ever met”

15 Apr

When Tris Speaker died in 1958 it was noted that he earned $50 a month with the Cleburne Railroaders in the Texas League in 1906.

Speaker

Jesse “Doak” Roberts signed Speaker to that first contract and disputed the amount. Roberts was a prominent figure in Texas baseball.  He was the two-time president of the Texas League (1904-’06 and 1920-’29) and had an ownership stake and managed clubs in the Texas and North Texas Leagues.

Before his death in 1929, Roberts often told his version of Speaker’s signing, as recounted by The Associated Press:

“Roberts had driven in his bright new buggy to the field where Speaker was playing a semi-pro game. He called Tris over to talk contract and Speaker, wearing baseball spikes climbed onto the hub of the buggy. Roberts noted he had scraped some of the paint off, so he signed Speaker to a contract of $40 a month. Roberts had meant to make it $50 but held back the $10 to repair the buggy.”

The year before Speaker’s death, he told Jim Schlemmer—the sports editor of The Akron Beacon Journal—how he started the season in Cleburne and ended it in the outfield, while at spring training with Indians in Tucson:

“I was a good pitcher in my first six, although I didn’t win any. In one of these I allowed only two hits but lost because Benny Shelton, our player-manager, failed to cover first base on a grounder.

“I bawled him out and he called me the freshest busher he had ever met.”

Shelton took his revenge during Speaker’s seventh loss—in Speaker’s telling he had given up “22 doubles and 22 runs” to the Fort Worth Panthers:

“Shelton kept yelling ‘Stay in there, kid, they haven’t got a single off you yet.’”

Speaker always said he was 0-7 with Cleburne, but was actually 2-7.

Four years before his death, he told a similar version of the story is Ed Sullivan’s “Little Old New York” column in The New York Daily News which included how he ended up in the outfield:

“In the next game, Cleburne’s right fielder Dude Ransom, suffered a broken cheekbone, so Speaker became an outfielder.”

Julian “Dude” Ransom was struck in the face by a pitch during a game with the Waco Navigators on May 22, 1906 by pitcher Carl Hiatt, which, according to The Houston Post, “shattered and caved in his upper jawbone.”

Ransom’s professional career ended that day, but he continued to play and held ownership stakes in several teams based in Corsicana, Texas—including the one of the greatest team names in baseball history, the 1922 and ‘23 Corsicana Gumbo Busters– and became a prominent businessman in the town.

Ad for Ransom’s 1923 Corsicana Gumbo Busters home opener in the Texas Association versus th Marlin Bathers

Ransom earned his nickname because “He was always a neat dresser,” was for many years the “unofficial stout” for any clubs Roberts owned in Texas. The Post said:

“In Doak’s opinion, Ransom would have proved one of the greatest outfielders in the game but for the accident at Waco.”

“When Their Wishes Clash Something Will Break”

14 Apr

After hitting just .285 in 1897, and not managing the Colts to a finish better than fourth place in eight seasons, Cap Anson’s career in Chicago was coming to an end at age 45. His contract had expired and Albert Spalding had made no effort to sign him.

Cap” Anson

But Ned Hanlon of the Orioles said he was not convinced Anson’s career was over and offered him a contract. The Baltimore Sun said:

“Adrian C. Anson will play first base for Baltimore the coming season if he will consent to do so, Manager Hanlon will offer him every inducement that he can afford to have the ‘Grand Old Man’ come to Baltimore.”

Hanlon told the paper:

“I believe he would be a good man for Baltimore, and I shall write him at once for his terms…Anson is good for some years yet on the diamond. I consider his ability much underrated. With the things he had to contend with in Chicago it is a wonder to me he played as well as he did. With the Orioles he would bat .350 and be like a colt again.”

Ned Hanlon

Spalding, who was in the process of organizing a “testimonial” for Anson, intended to raise $50,000 for his retirement, told The Chicago Tribune Anson signing with Hanlon would be a mistake:

“(I)t will be a case of a big flash in the pan. Two or three months of praise and then, ‘Get out, you big dud.’ It is always the way, for a man of 47 [sic] cannot expect to play good ball for ever. Besides an error from Anson would not be excused. He would have to play perfect ball or be a failure.”

Orioles captain Wilbert Robinson agreed, saying that while Anson might help the Orioles  with his bat:

“I think he is too slow and too poor a fielder and thrower and baserunner to fit such a team as the Baltimores.”

In The Sun, Orioles third baseman John McGraw disagreed with Spalding and Robinson:

“I should be greatly pleased to see Anson come to our team, and if he should I believe it would be a case of Dan Brouthers and ’94 over again. When Brouthers came to Baltimore everybody said he was too old to play ball and no good, and you know how he played that year.”

Brouthers hit .347 and drove in 128 runs for the pennant winning Orioles in 1894 but was just 36 years old.

McGraw was skeptical about Dan McGann, who Hanlon had traded for to play first for the Orioles, and noted that Hanlon’s experiment the previous season had failed:

“McGann may be all right, and again he may not. In the minor leagues there are few who can hit the ball harder and oftener than George Carey, but in a club like ours he was nervous. Every time he went to bat his hand shook from nervousness. McGann may not be that way at all; I do not mean to say he would be, but he might.”

Carey hit .261 in his one season with Baltimore in 1895.

The Baltimore American reported that Hanlon said his proposal was “a joke,” but Hanlon immediately denied that and told The Sun:

“I had no interview in which I denied my intention of trying to get Anson, or did I in any way make light of that intention.”

The Chicago Journal was concerned that local “enthusiasts never would get over it,” if Anson made good in Baltimore.

The Chicago Post said:

“(T)hose who think they know how (Anson) feels say he will not entertain any such proposition.”

The Chicago Daily News said:

“Many of the veteran’s friends believe he will be glad of the chance to go with another club, especially such a team as Baltimore’s.”

The Tribune talked to Anson’s father in Iowa. Henry Anson said he wanted his son to retire so he could:

“(C)ome back to Marshalltown, the land of his birth, and assist me in the upbuilding of the city.”

While Anson remained silent about whether he would continue playing and refused to comment on whether he would go to Baltimore, he had a letter read at Spalding’s meeting at the Chicago Athletic Club to plan the “testimonial;” the letter was printed in The Daily News::

“I refuse to accept anything in the shape of a gift. The public owes me nothing. I am not old and am no pauper. I can earn my own living. Besides that, I am by no means out of baseball.”

After nearly two weeks, Anson sent a letter to Hanlon, The Sun said:

“Anson neither accepts nor declines the offer but says he has not yet decided upon his future plans., and until he does, he does not care to talk business with anyone.”

Anson told Hanlon:

“In the event I should care to do business with any club outside of Chicago, I should be pleased to negotiate with you. However, I do not care to do business with anyone just at this time.”

Anson stayed out of baseball until June when he signed to manage the New York Giants.  The Tribune said:

“Anson has been one of the few admirers of (Giants owner Andrew) Freedman. He admired him because of his stubbornness. Freedman has been an admirer of Anson. When their wishes clash something will break.”

Anson managed the Giants for just 22 games; guiding New York to a 9-13 record before he quit.  He told The Tribune:

“My experience as manager? I simply and shortly discovered that (Freedman) did not want me to manage the team. I wanted to manage it, as that was what I understood they wanted me to do. They didn’t really want me to, and so I resigned.”

“Nearly Every fan one Meets has a Grievance”

12 Apr

“Baseball, on the whole, isn’t a profitable game to magnates,” wrote Frederic Patrick O’Connell in The Boston Post in 1906.

“More men have been ruined by baseball than one can imagine.  Only a few clubs make money. Every season several minor league clubs go to the wall.

Frederic O’Connell

While many more minor league clubs were organized with the understanding that the team would lose money:

“In the smaller towns, men can always be found who will take a chance, and who, for the sake of the sport are willing to lose money. Most of the minor league teams have the backing of the street railroads. The railroads make big money out of baseball and are willing to help out some.”

O’Connell asked his readers to, “think of the money made” by the Boston Elevated Railroad “in this city,” the previous season:

“At the very lowest the L Road received around $25,000 from the fans who witnessed the big league games…The L Road owns the Huntington Avenue park. (Americans owner) John I. Taylor pays around $7500 rental.”

Further complicating the finances of teams, O’Connell said, was that, “There isn’t one club in the two big leagues” that didn’t exaggerate attendance numbers:

“They do it at the South End (home of the National League Beaneaters) and they do it at Huntington Avenue, but at Huntington Avenue they pad the figures less perhaps than any other city. In Chicago and St. Louis, the figures given are farcical.”

Why they insisted on padding attendance was, “hard to explain” because it caused harm to the magnates who padded figures:

O’Connell said how can players be blamed “for kicking” about salaries when “Daily he reads the attendance figures.”

But despite “how ruinous baseball has been” to many owners, “You will always find men willing to take a chance.”

O’Connell warned that anyone wanting “to hold public office had better leave baseball alone,” because the rabid fan “seldom forgives and never forgets.”

He said, he was stopped on the street the previous week by a fan angry for an error O’Connell, as official scorer, charged Freddy Parent in a game three years earlier.

“It took me off my feet, and while the game had long ago been forgotten by me, my new friend went into every detail, telling me just how it was played and who scored the runs.

“It is now some time since (Boston) Mayor (John F. ) Fitzgerald desired to buy the local American club. Does anyone for a moment suppose he would now be mayor if he happened to own the Collins team last summer?”

The Americans, under manager Jimmy Collins, were never in the race and finished in fourth place, 16 games behind the Philadelphia Athletics.

Jimmy Collins

Had the mayor owned the club:

“Not a single fan would have forgiven him because he didn’t make Collins take out (Norwood) Gibson one day last August, because he didn’t order Collins to send someone to bat for (George) Winter another day…Mayor Fitzgerald has no doubt congratulated himself for this. He is now mayor of the city, and as owner of a losing team he would have surely been beaten, for nearly every voter in Boston is a fan, and nearly every fan one meets has a grievance.”

The ire that Fitzgerald avoided by not buying the team was visited upon the manager, said McConnell:

“When Jimmy Collins won the world’s series from Pittsburg he was hailed as the greatest ever by fandom…How different now.”

Collins lasted until August 25 in the 1906 season, he was let go with a 35-79 record. 

McConnell came from a prominent Massachusetts family; his brother Joseph helped organize the first football team at Boston College and served two terms in Congress.

He became baseball editor at The Post at the age of 23 but died just three years later.

He was with the Americans in the spring of 1907 in West Baden, Indiana when he contracted pneumonia and died after a three-week illness.

“Is the Home Run a Menace to Baseball?”

8 Apr

Boyden Sparkes worked on newspapers in Cincinnati, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, and later became a feature writer for “The Saturday Evening Post,” and was the author of several fiction and nonfiction books. In 1922, he asked the question in The New York Tribune, “Is the home run a menace to baseball?”

Sparkes talked to Brooklyn owner Charles Ebbetts about Babe Ruth and the increase in home runs.:

“All of the home runs are to be accounted for by heavier bats. I don’t mean that the bat actually weighs more, but there is more of the body of the wood down where it meets the ball.

“Rule 15 says the bat must be round and no longer than forty-two inches and no thicker than two and three-quarter inches and didn’t concern themselves so much with heft or thickness. Now they are mostly using bludgeons…I’d say 85 percent of the increased number of home runs is due to this.”

Ruth’s Bat

Sparkes then sought out:

“(A) mortal with a perspective on the true merits of the rise in the home-run market…But where is one to find a baseball star who was lost from the firmament a decade ago?

“It is not so difficult when the star is (Willie) Keeler and information is sought in Brooklyn, a few months ago in an invalid’s wheelchair he was trundled off the boat that ferries between Sheepshead Bay and Rockaway Point.”

Keeler, just 50, was only months away from death:

“(H)is friend and physician, Dr. Charles Wuest watches with tender solicitude while the old ballplayer who used to go from home to first like a flash doles out a precious energy ration for a short walk on the beach.”

Asked what the “old boy” thought of Babe Ruth, Keller said:

“He’s got a beautiful swing. Yes, he’s got a beautiful swing. Ruth is better than anyone. I don’t mean that he is a scientific hitter (Billy shook his head here), but he certainly is a wonder with home runs.

“I don’t know whether the ball is anymore ‘live’ or not. I’ve only seen one game—the last championship—since they claim the ball has been changed, and I couldn’t judge by that, but there are several factors that have altered the chances of the pitchers and the batters.”

Keeler

Keeler called those factors “a changing struggle.”

He said:

“Every baseball player who studies the game is really an inventor seeking ways to alter it. It’s like the centuries-old contest between the makers of armor and the makers of projectiles…It’s the same way with bank burglars and bank vaults.”

Keeler said outlawing the spitball was a key factor in aiding hitting:

“The spitball was one I couldn’t figure. I never did approve of it either. It doesn’t look right to see fellow spitting on a ball. It’s unhealthy, too, as far as that goes. Then they got to using all sorts of tuff on the ball, rubbing it with emery paper and putting paraffin on it.”

Noting the many changes in baseball’s rules over the years, Sparkes said, “Other countries do not change the rules of their national sports as Americans do. A bull fighter of today could use the swords of a matador of a century ago.”

This, he said was true of cricket as well and spoke to Harry Rushton, secretary of New York’s Metropolitan District Cricket League, who said:

“What? Revise the rules of cricket! Why, my dear sir it wouldn’t be cricket.”

Rushton said:

“The revision of rules in cricket is usually for clarification. The only change that I can recall which altered the balance of chance between the batsman and the bowler was really due to the American influence, I should say, and England, of course, has never accepted the change.”

Rushton said a “movement among American cricketers” attempted to “increase and ‘over’ from six to ten balls.” A change from six to eight was made in Australia, but “the Briton at home clings to the six ball over.”

After talking to Ebbetts and Keeler, and the cricketer, Sparkes arrived at the conclusion that many have when faced with another radical change to the game:

“Clearly, if baseball is to remain baseball. The men who control it will have to stop tampering with it.”

“Suspend him Again, Brother Petit”

7 Apr

Edward “the Only” Nolan, the 22-year-old rookie pitcher for the Indianapolis Blues was scheduled to pitch against the Providence Grays on June 20, 1878, but just over a month after his major league debut, “The Only” was already mired in controversy.

The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“Nolan did not pitch today—cause why, he was suspended, and is at present under a very dark cloud of suspicion.”

The paper said W.B. Petit, president of the Indianapolis club had received, “telegraphic information” from Indiana that it was “generally understood in the pool-rooms” that the Grays would win the game if Nolan started, and alluded to, “several decidedly loose plays” made by Nolan during his two previous starts.

On June 15, Nolan and Indianapolis lost 7 to 4 to the Boston Red Stockings; Nolan committed three errors—“inexcusable muffs” according to The Boston Globe. The day before the suspension, Nolan gave up nine runs and committed five errors in a loss to the Grays.

The Hoosiers play in recent days, just a month and a half into the season led The St. Louis Globe-Democrat to predict that the team, “stands a much better chance of disbanding than of winning the championship.”

The Enquirer said the pitcher had been suspended based on the charges:

“Nolan seems quite indifferent, while the rest of the nine show discontent and disgust with his conduct.”

Petit met with the team before the game in Providence, and during the game:

“(Catcher Silver) Flint appeared to be broken up about something and was quite morose…The Nolan business seems to have demoralized the whole party.”

The Indianapolis People pronounced the pitcher guilty and yawned at the news:

“It was discovered that (Nolan) was selling out the games to the gamblers. As if this was anything new in base ball literature!”

The Indianapolis Journal said of Nolan, who had played for Indianapolis the previous season when the team was a member of League Alliance:

“It is known to many that he was picked up in that sort of rascality last fall, and in the judgment of the elect he should never have been given his place again. He was only retained through the clemency of the directors, and his play all through the season thus far indicates that the confidence of the directory in his reformation was misplaced”

The Journal addressed the team’s directors directly:

“If they didn’t know it before, The Journal will hasten to inform them that the only way to make a club successful is to preserve its integrity.”

The paper was not waiting for an investigation and said Nolan, “should never be permitted to pitch another game for the Indianapolis club.”

Five days later the Indianapolis directors issued a letter reinstating Nolan, which said in part:

“The charges against you of crooked ballplaying have been carefully investigated and we fail to find proof of an irregularity on your part in this respect.”

The People noted:

“We believe the Scotch used to return the verdict ‘not proven,’ declining to take the responsibility of saying the accused was ‘Not guilty.’”

“The Only” beat Cincinnati in his first game back. A 9 to 5 victory: he committed one error and gave up just one earned run.  The Indianapolis News said he was, “Quite effective.”

The suspicions never completely dissipated. When Nolan was “batted out of his position” by Boston in 12 to 4 loss on July 14, O.P. Caylor in The Enquirer said:

“Suspend him again, Brother Petit.”

The Journal also questioned Nolan’s performance in the game with Boston:

“(He) acted in a very disagreeable manner and threw the game away from the start.”

Nolan’s relative honesty on the field was overshadowed in August by his general lack of honesty when, days after leaving the team for the funeral of his brother “William” in Paterson, New Jersey, The Chicago Tribune said:

“(He) has been acting strangely of late, and Thursday refused duty on the ground that his brother was daed…It appears from the best evidence at hand, that no brother was dead, or ill.”

He was su a pended by the club.

The Indianapolis News, in reporting Nolan’s expulsion acknowledged that “his habits have utterly ruined him,” but defended his integrity and used the occasion to take a shot at Caylor:

“Nolan’s expulsion is believed by the stockholders of the club to be caused by his bad habits ad not from crookedness. Last spring, in the knowledge of one of the stockholders, the gamblers of Cincinnati made several attempts to buy him and failed. That they did not succeed has prejudiced the reporter of The Cincinnati Enquirer against him to the full extent of his ability and from that time forward that paper has studiously abused and misrepresented not only Nolan but the entire Indianapolis club.”

Nolan was not reinstated until 1881 and had four more brief major league stints in the National League, American Association, and Union Association. He finished his career 23-52 record in 79 games with five different clubs.

Nolan’s hometown newspaper, The Patterson Morning Call said he gave up baseball in 1887—he was just 30—after signing a contract to play in the Eastern League:

“He was met by Mayor C.D. Beckwith of this city. The mayor offered him to name him to the police force.”

Sgt. Nolan

Nolan spent 16 years on the force, rising to the rank of sergeant; he died in Patterson in 1913.

“Keister was Bogus”

5 Apr

In March of 1901, second baseman Bill Keister jumped the St. Louis Cardinals for the Baltimore Orioles; St. Louis signed Dick Padden a week later to replace him.

Patsy Tebeau, who had managed the Cardinals to a 42-50 record before being let go in August, had no shortage of vitriol for his former player. He told The St. Louis Globe-Democrat:

“Padden has Keister beaten in every department of the game, and when it comes to ‘inside play’ the Baltimorean is entirely lost sight of.”

Keister had been purchased by the Cardinals with John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson before the 1900 season. The purchase of Keister had, said Tebeau, cost St. Louis “a good round chunk. And while not “Knocking any, it was illy spent.”

Tebeau

Then more knocking:

“Keister was bogus, a gold brick, a nonentity or what you will, and much of our ill-success in the early part of the race was due to his bobbling.”

Keister was not just bad, but historically bad, he said:

“If I live to be as old as Henry Chadwick, I never will forget a play Keister made in Philadelphia. We were playing a red-hot game with the Phillies, with a score of 2 to 1 in our favor along about the seventh inning. (Roy) Thomas and (Jimmy) Slagle both began by getting on base and (Ed) Delahanty sacrificed them along. (Napoleon) Lajoie followed with a stinging bounder straight at Keister. It came to him quick as a flash and on the first bound.  Fast as Thomas is, he was a goner at the plate had Billy slapped the ball home.

“But he didn’t, nor did he play it safe and shoot to (first baseman Dan) McGann. He balked for a moment and then slammed the sphere to the third corner. McGraw wasn’t within 15 feet of the sack but seeing the throw he ran over best he could. Biff came the ball, McGraw, and Slagle all in a heap.

“Slagle was safe, McGraw had his ankle turned, and the sphere kept on to the fence. All three runners scored, we were beaten, and McGraw, besides, was laid up for several weeks.”

Keister

Tebeau called it, “the worst play that was ever made by a professional.”

The play in question happened on May 25, and he got most of the details correct; except the score was 2 to 0 and it happened in the sixth inning. The Globe-Democrat described the play less dramatically the previous spring:

“Lajoie hit fast and high to Keister. The little second-sacker threw to McGraw at third, in an attempt to head off Slagle. The ball and runner reached ‘Muggsy’ at the same time. In the collision McGraw was spiked in the foot and the leather rolled to the fence, giving the Quakers their lone three runs in the contest.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The Republican both wrote that McGraw was on the bag awaiting Keister’s throw, contrary to Tebeau’s recollection.

All three papers agreed that McGraw was badly injured beyond having his “ankle turned.” In addition to the collision, the Cardinals captain was spiked in the foot. The Post-Dispatch said the game was delayed 10 minutes before McGraw returned to the field—he was removed from the game after the end of the inning. The Republic said his toe was “badly split” and that he, “dropped like a poppy cut down by a cane twirled in the hands of a careless stroller.”

With McGraw in and out of the lineup over the next several weeks, the Cardinals went from 3 ½ games back to 11 games back after a disastrous 5-15 June.

Tebeau held a grudge:

“I consider that Keister was a star in Oysterville in 1899, but out in Missouri, where the ‘fans’ have got to be shown, he was about the worst I ever saw.”

“The worst” Tebeau ever saw played three more seasons in the major leagues; Keister was playing outfield and hitting .320 for the Phillies in August of 1903 when he tore a ligament before the August 26 game in Brooklyn. He never played in the major leagues again but played eight more seasons in the minors.

Tebeau never managed in the big leagues again. He killed himself 18 years later; Louis Dougher of The Washington Times said Tebeau wrote in a suicide note:

“I am a very unhappy and miserable man.”

“I’m Disappointed in Baseball”

2 Apr

“I don’t want no rockin’ chair, I don’t want no triple-A. I want to pitch in the majors again. I want a chance. I never really had a chance.”

In 1962, 55-year-old Satchel Paige was looking for one last chance.

He talked to Tom McEwen, sports editor of The Tampa Tribune about his frustration while, “on one of those hurry-up barnstorming tours with the Kansas City Monarchs.”

Paige spent a large part of that summer playing for Goose Tatum’s Harlem Stars in dozens of games with Ted Rasberry’s Kansas City Monarchs in the Midwest and South.

Tatum and Paige

Any notion that traveling with those two great stars was glamorous was addressed by a 19-year-old member of the Monarchs, named Eddie Brooks, who told The Charlotte Observer when the teams played there that he was “disillusioned after two months” on tour:

“Somehow I thought it would be different from this. The only reason I’m here is that some major league scout might see me somewhere and give me a chance in organized ball.”

Brooks never got a chance in organized ball, but became a well-known high school basketball coach in his hometown, and more than 50 years later told The Peoria Journal Star the experience with the Monarchs—he also played with the team in 1965–motivated him to finish college:

“I was still a young man, so to see those older guys I looked up to like Satch and Goose out there scrapping for money from town to town, it left an impression on me…I got my rear end back to Macomb (Western Illinois University) to finish the few hours I needed for my degree.”

Brooks with Tatum and Paige

Paige shared Brooks’ frustration:

“Paige doesn’t really like what he’s doing. He doesn’t like the role he’s in. He believes he is a pitcher, not an antique, that his long, remarkably durable arm is still good enough for the big time.

“’I’d rather pitch against Mantle and Maris tomorrow than anything else in the world,’ he said.”

So certain that he could still compete in the major leagues, Paige said:

“Nobody in the world can tell me I can’t hold up my end and if I can’t, they don’t have to pay me a nickel.”

The lack of a chance to prove himself, left him disillusioned:

“I’m really a disappointed man. I’m disappointed in baseball.”

He said that he’d never gotten over his release from the Baltimore Orioles after the franchise relocated from St. Louis:

“I still got that letter. The letter said I was a number one pitcher, but they didn’t want no old men on the team. They said they were going for youth. Well, they ain’t won the pennant yet and I see where clubs are paying $100,000 bonuses for players that never throwed a ball.’

“The time they turned me a-loose, I was in the All-Star game, this is the first time I said this to anybody, but I got to answer back. You asked and I got to answer. The more I think of being turned a-loose, the madder I get.”

Rasberry said Paige had “pitched 159 innings this summer, pitching every night, three or four innings.”

Paige said he could likely throw a lot harder than he was that summer, “if I could have a little rest, As it is you ride and pitch, ride and pitch, sometime 500 to 700 miles between games.”

An ad from the 1962 tour

He admitted he could no longer pitch nine innings, but:

“I’m as good as anybody for five or six, Yes, as good as (Don) Drysdale. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like to talk about myself. But if I get a chance and I’m wrong, I’ll hush up.”

It took three years for his final chance.

“The Cream Puff Era in Baseball”

31 Mar

During his scouting trip to the West Coast looking for talent for the Boston Braves, Johnny Evers talked to Brian Bell, the Associated Press Bureau Chief in San Francisco:

“(He) has been sitting up late looking at games in the Pacific Coast League. The once great second baseman frankly is puzzled.

“Night baseball has turned the game topsy-turvy. A scout dislikes to recommend the purchase of an infielder or pitcher because with the lights the players have to adjust themselves to various conditions.

“’Recently, I looked at a promising shortstop.’ said Evers. ‘He was playing almost in left field. The next time I saw him in another park he was almost in back of the pitcher. When I spoke to him about it, he said that each park in the league has its dark spots and he has to play accordingly.’”

Johnny Evers

The shortstop Evers was scouting, according to The Los Angeles Express was Carl Dittmar. The club was said to be looking for a replacement for 39-year-old Rabbit Maranville, in order to move the veteran to 2nd base; the Braves instead purchased Billy Urbanski from the Montreal Royals.

Pitchers told Evers they would have to throw low pitches at the parks with lights mounted on top of the grandstand and high pitches at the parks with lower mounted lights:

“How can a scout tell whether these pitchers that are so good at night can pitch in the majors in the daytime?”

As for baseball as a whole?

“Evers calls the present ‘the cream puff era’ in baseball. ‘There’s no more fight in the game.”

He complained that one West Coast manager told him a player we wanted to scout had ‘a bad cold’ and would not be in the lineup:

“I cannot understand players staying out of a ball game because of a cold.”

 There were at least two players of “the cream puff era” that Evers approved of:

“Babe Ruth and Lefty O’Doul are the greatest hitters today. They realized that conditions are changing in baseball. Ruth’s mighty swings eliminated the bunt and put the homerun at a premium some years ago. With the slowing up of the baseball, Ruth is accepting the changed conditions.

“The big fellow of the Yankees now just meets the ball most of the time. Because of his strength, the ball leaves the bat like a shot and is past the infielders before they are able to take a full step.

“O’Doul is meeting the ball in a sweeping motion, which results in many base hits. He started the season in a terrible slump, but he was smart enough to discover the trouble.”

O’Doul

The scout, and co-author with Hugh Fullerton of “Touching Second: The Science of Baseball” remained a fan of the dead ball:

“Evers thinks the slower the ball the better the players and the game. Brainy players and plays have been sacrificed by the lively ball for fellows who can do nothing but ‘cut and slash.’”

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“Crying as if our Hearts Would Break”

29 Mar

Many different versions of how and when Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker finally reconciled—and when—after years of mutual animus have been told over the years. Evers told the story himself—and talked more about both Tinker and Frank Chance—while he was scouting for the Boston Braves in Georgia, in a 1931 interview with Ralph McGill of The Atlanta Constitution

McGill, incidentally, was an outspoken anti-segregationist who rose from assistant sports editor to managing editor and publisher at The Constitution and won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for his editorials on the civil rights movement.

“(W)hen Johnny Evers sat in a room at the Atlanta Athletic Club until a late hour Saturday morning and recalled the old days he held a dozen men on his words: Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

 

Johnny Evers,

McGill said Evers, “told the story of how the trio played for 12 years and were then parted for 11 to meet for the first time two days before Jack Dempsey went into the ring against Luis Firpo (1923)”

With “something glistening in his eyes,” Evers told the story to McGill and the others:

“Joe Tinker and I never got along well. We were both high strung. If a man bumped me at second, Joe was over there to help me. But when it came to just us—well, we often raced off the field into the clubhouse and went to it with fists. If I made a good play, he told me. If I made a poor one, he told me. And I him. As I said, we didn’t get along.”

Then, he said, “came the breakup…And not for 11 years did I see either of them or them one another.”

Days before the Dempsey/Firpo fight Evers received a telegram from Chance who was in New York:

“Come on down. Joe is here.”

Evers said:

“I got on the train and went. I got the number of the room from the clerk. And I went up and knocked.

“’Come in,’ yelled Frank Chance.

“’I knocked again.

“’Come in,’ he yelled louder than ever.

“I knocked once more.

“’All right, you so and so, stay out,’ yelled Chance.

“I turned the knob of the door slowly and then swung it open.

“Tinker and Chance were sitting there at a table, staring at me and I at them across a span of 11 years. We stared there motionless and wordless for five minutes.

“And then I took a step forward and we were all together with our arms about each other’s shoulders and we were all crying as if our hearts would break.”

Tinker to Evers to Chance

Evers turned his attention to Chance, who had died seven years earlier. McGill said:

‘”The Peerless Leader’ they called him. And he must have been. Johnny Evers thought so. He didn’t say, but as he talked of Chance there was something in his voice, something he felt in the old days when they were helping to make the Cubs famous.”

Evers said of his former manager:

“Chance had more courage than any man I ever saw. He was a born fighter.”

 Evers cited Chance’s sparring with Joe Choynski, a heavyweight contender who finished with a 59-17-6 record, with 39 KOs; Jim Corbett said no opponent ever hit him harder:

“Chance stayed four rounds when he was a student in California with Joe Choyniski [sic], one of the greatest of the heavyweights. (He) was touring then and offering $100 to any man who would stay four rounds. Chance was the college champion, and he went in there and stayed four rounds. He was cut to pieces and knocked down innumerable times. But he stayed four rounds.”

Evers either embellished the story in places or heard an embellished version to begin with.

Chance took part in a three-round exhibition with Choynski on May 18, 1896. The fight was not part of some challenge offered by Choynski, but rather a benefit for one of the instructors at the Fresno Athletic Club. Chance’s bout was part of what was advertised in The Fresno Bee as a night of “vaudeville and novelty.”

The bout with Chance was the first of two sparring matches for Choynski that evening—the other was with the honoree E.V. Bradstreet—and The Bee makes no mention of any knockdowns or the savage beating Evers implies:

“Chance is Fresno’s best boxer and did nobly, but Choynski taught him several things…Chance did comparatively well.”

Evers also suggested that the “fight” with Choynski did permanent damage to his former manager:

“It left him with an impediment in his speech from which he never recovered.”

Finally, he suggests the embellishments were Chance’s and not his:

“’Johnny,’ he used to say to me. ’that was hardest $100 I ever earned.’ What a fighter he was.”

More insights from Evers from his 1931 scouting trip for the Braves, Wednesday.