“Old Pete Probably Saved my Life”

7 Dec

In a syndicated article for World Wide Features in 1942, writer Jack Smith talked to the “Chippewa Indian whom grandpa called ‘the game’s greatest money pitcher,’” Charles “Chief” Bender.

Smith said at 58, Bender “can still toss a pretty mean baseball.”

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Bender, 1942

Bender told Smith “he might be around,” anymore if not for Grover Cleveland Alexander, who “performed an operation” on Bender with a pen knife:

“It started on a lurching train carrying a Pullman-car-load of Phillies towards Boston in 1917, Bender, then a National Leaguer, started a playful wresting match with Eppa ‘Jeptha’ Rixey—and inadvertently stuck his arm through a Pullman window pane.”

Mike Dee, who was the Phillies trainer treated the six-inch gash in Bender’s arm, but he told Smith:

“’(T)here weeks later on another train my arm swelled like the head of a rookie pitcher after a no-hit game.

“’So I rolled out of my bunk and awakened Grover.  I showed him the poisoning and offered him my knife.  Old Pete said he wouldn’t mind at all.’”

Bender said he and Alexander sterilized the knife in boiling water, then after tying off the infected area, Alexander used the knife to drain the wound.

Bender said when he showed his arm to Dee the following day, “’Doc told me he couldn’t have done a better job himself.  He said Old Pete probably saved my life.’”

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Old Pete

Smith said seeing Bender work out with the Philadelphia Athletics during the spring of 1940 in Newport News, Virginia, and in 1941 in Wilmington, Delaware,

“At an age when most men creak at the joints and swell in the middle, he is still rangy and trim, still has that powerful arm, those long, sinewy fingers.”

Most importantly, Smith said, Bender was extremely humble:

“This man whose name is mentioned in the same breath with those of Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, whose million dollar arm helped make baseball the national pastime, who’s been in the game since he started playing for Pop Warner at Carlisle back in 1902 (note: Bender graduated from Carlisle in 1902, and began playing for Warner there in 1899) will tell you his career is without highlights.

‘”All games were the same to me,’ he says.  ‘I worried about each pitch and that was all…In 1910 I pitched a no-hit no-run game and didn’t know it—not until somebody told me.”

A few days after Smith’s article appeared, Bender was named minor league pitching instructor for the New York Yankees.  The Associated Press said the Yankees minor leaguers should “Get your track pants on…’When a man’s legs and wind are right, he’ll be able to pitch.”

Bender kept running and continued pitching batting practice into his sixties.  He died at age 70 in 1954.

Coast League Stories

5 Dec

Abe Kemp began working at newspapers in San Francisco in 1907, when he was 14 years old, and spent the next 62 years primarily at The San Francisco Examiner where he covered his two passions, baseball and horse racing.

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Abe Kemp

Over the years he collected a number of stories of baseball on the West Coast.

Catcher Tubby Spencer hit just .127 in 21 games for the San Francisco Seals in 1913. Contemporaneous reports said Spencer wore out his welcome with manager Del Howard in Portland. Years later, Kemp said the decision to let Spencer go was made during a team stopover in Sonoma County, and not by Howard. Kemp said he saw:

“Spencer staggering down the highway at Boyes Hot Springs one morning and President/Owner Cal Ewing yelling at him, ‘Hey, ‘Tub,’ where are you going?’

“’I’m going for a little air,’ yelled back Tub.

“’Then keep going,’ shouted Ewing, ‘because you will need it. You’re through.’”

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Tubby Spencer

Harry “Slim” Nelson was a mediocre left-handed pitcher and weak hitter who played a half a dozen years on the West Coast. Kemp told of witnessing him “hit a home run through the screen at Recreation Park” in San Francisco when Nelson was playing for the Oakland Oaks.

“(He) became so excited when he reached second base that he swallowed his cud of chewing tobacco. Later on the bench, Slim was asked how the home run felt and he replied ‘it would have felt a whole lot better if I could have cut it up into singles to last me the season.”

Kemp said when George Van Haltren made the switch from Oaks player to Pacific Coast League umpire in 1909 he told Kemp and umpire Jack McCarthy “umpiring would be easy…because he had so many friends,” throughout the league. Kemp said McCarty responded:

“You mean you had so many friends. You haven’t any now.”

McCarthy appears to have been correct. Van Haltren was criticized throughout his short time as a Coast League umpire, and became a West Coast scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates the following two seasons. Van Haltren made one more attempt as an umpire, joining the Northwestern League staff in 1912; he was no more successful, lasting only one season after incurring the season-long wrath of Seattle Siwashes owner Dan Dugdale who demanded Van Haltren not be retained for the 1913 season.

George Van Haltren

Another player who had similar training habits to Tubby Spencer, according to Kemp, was Charles “Truck Eagan. Kemp said he was with Vernon Tigers manager Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray one day when Eagan played for the Tigers near the end of his career in 1909:

“Eagan, suffering from the effects of a bad night (told) manager Hap Hogan he was suffering from an attack of ptomaine poisoning.

‘”What did you eat’ the artful and suspicious Hogan asked.

“Eagan scratched his head a minute, then said guiltily, ‘It must have been the (bar) pretzels and herring, Hap.”

Lost Pictures: 1902 Oakland Clam Diggers

3 Dec

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A 1952 photo of 80-year-old Bill “Brick” Devereaux holding a picture of the 1902 Oakland Clamdiggers of the California League.

The Oakland Tribune said Devereaux was able to remember the first and last names of every player in the photo “but one, Cristall, a pitcher.”  Bill Cristall was briefly with Oakland, and spent most of the season in Los Angeles.

Devereaux said the other ten players, in addition to him and Cristall, were Jack “Ike” Walters, Lyle Gorton, Charles “Buck” Francks, Ernest “Kid” Mohler, Julius Streib, Bill Dunleavy, Pete Lohman, George “Hardy” Hodson, Walter “Judge” McCredie, Henry “Smilin'” Schmidt.

Devereaux who spent 1894 and ’95 primarily as a pitcher for teams in Lincoln, Nebraska and Troy, Kansas, told the paper after those two seasons he ‘refused to go east again,” and spent the next 17 seasons playing for California based clubs.  He only left the state to play for a team once, spending his final year in pro ball, 1914, in Calgary, Canada.

Devereaux was something of an eccentric during his playing day.  Del Howard told a story about Devereaux, late in his career, to The San Francisco Call in 1921:

“Brick swiped six bases during the battle (against the San Francisco Seals) and promptly claimed a world record.  ‘Not bad for an old man, eh?’ He chuckled.

“(Seals Manager) Danny Long, sitting on the Frisco bench shouted over ‘Record, where do you get that stuff?  When I was with the Baltimore Orioles I stole seven bases myself in one game.  Read it up.'”

Howard said Devereaux “grew red as a beet,” but didn’t respond.

“Next day, when he came up for the first time, Devereaux hit an easy grounder to short and was out at first base by 20 feet.  Instead of stopping, he turned first at full speed, dashed for the Frisco bench and slid feet foremost into the visitors’ pile of bats scattering them in all directions and throwing dust and cinders in Long’s face.

“Brick rose and carefully brushed off his uniform.

“Well, I’m the best base stealer in Alameda County, anyway, Danny.”

 

 

“I Never Felt More Sorry for a Fellow Player”

30 Nov

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said Hugh Daily, the pitcher who lost his left hand—the result of an accident with a gun—used a “mask” that protected his right hand when he batted.  The paper said he began the practice which was “a case of locking the door after the horse had been stolen” as a result of an incident that involved George “Stump” Weidman.

Daily and Weidman had been teammates with the Rochester Hop Bitters in the National Association in 1880.

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Hugh Daily

According to the paper, Weidman told the story to a some fans “gathered around a table in his little sanctum at his place of business down State Street way,” in Rochester:

“I never felt more sorry for a fellow player than I did that day,  I was pitching for Detroit and Daily was in the box for Cleveland.  It was a tight game and when the ninth inning opened we were one run to the good.

“In the ninth though, Cleveland had a man on third and another on second, with two out.  Daily was at the bat.  I had two strikes on him .  I couldn’t afford to take a chance on even a one-armed batter…So I pitched as hard to Daily as I would have the heaviest sticker on the team.

“The next ball I gave him was aimed for the outside corner.  It was a fast ball with a sharp twist.  Daily evidently expected that kind of ball, for he reached forward a little.  It couldn’t be helped—I couldn’t warn him of what was almost sure to happen.  The ball struck him fairly on the fingers which were tightly grasped about the bat.  The bones of two fingers were broken.”

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Stump Weidman

Weidman said he and his teammates felt so bad they “took up a collection” and gave Daily $207.

Despite Daily’s reputation for having a volatile temper, Weidman said when he “told Daily I was sorry for the accident, he said that he knew it couldn’t be helped.”

Despite the injury, Daily appeared in 45 games and was 23-19 with a 2.42 ERA for the Cleveland Blues.

Things I learned on the Way to Looking up Other Things #27

28 Nov

Chicago’s American Association Franchise

At the close of the 1891 season, The Chicago Tribune assured their readers that Chicago would be a two-team town:

“The Chicago club of the American Association of 1892 is a certainty.  Fred Pfeffer will be its manager and leading spirit, and Sam G. Morton (an executive with A.G. Spalding and Bros. Co.) well known here, its business guardian.”

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Fred Pfeffer

According to the paper, the new club’s roster would include:

“(Bill) Dahlen, (Ad) Gumbert, and (Malachi) Kittridge probabilities.  Such men as (Bill) Hart, the Sioux City pitcher, (Bid) McPhee of Cincinnati, (Jake) Beckley of Pittsburgh, Danny Richardson of New York, and (Herman) Long of Boston are in sight.”

The Tribune said the new American Association franchise would build a park on Chicago’s west side:

“Convenient to cable and railroad, and their accommodations will be for 20,000 people.”

The stockholders in the team were said to be some of the most prominent industrialists in Chicago.

The planned team never materialized after the American Association folded and four teams were absorbed into the National League.

Pfeffer, the would be manager, was traded to the Louisville Colonels for Jim Canavan and $1000.

 Weidman’s Swan Song

George “Stump” “Kid” Weidman spent parts of nine seasons in the major leagues, he appeared in his final game in 1888, and posted a career 101-156 record.

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Weidman

Ten years after he left the game, C. H. Steiger, The Detroit Tribune sportswriter, quoted an unnamed former teammate about how Weidman wore out his welcome in Detroit during his second tenure with the Wolverines.  Weidman had rejoined Detroit after the Kansas City Cowboys folded:

“He had pitched for us before, and was at that time considered a great pitcher, and he really was.  When he was with us before, he was the most popular boy on the team.  Everything was Kid, and he got the glad hand from everyone until one day he lost it all at once.  It goes to show how easily a man can throw away what it has taken him a long time to acquire”

Weidman won 13 games for the eventual pennant winning Wolverines before being sold to the New York Metropolitans in August, after the former teammate said Weidman was playing right field one day, while Detroit ace Pretzels Getzein was on the mound:

“(The) batter on the opposing club, Philadelphia I think it was, popped up a slow outfield fly to Weidman.  He had lots of time to get it, and it was the easiest kind of chance, but he ran up to within about ten feet of where it would strike, stopped, let it strike and bound into his hands, then threw it in.

“Well, it was the only time I ever saw Getzein mad.  He looked at Weidman, shrugged his shoulders and said to his catcher, ‘What do you think of that?’

“(Manager Bill) Watkins saw it from the bench, and was mad as a hornet.  When Weidman came in, Watkins called him down, and the Kid said he was afraid of over-running it, and thought it was best to do as he did, otherwise the batter might have made two bases on it,  But his explanation didn’t go.”

The teammate concluded:

“I don’t think he meant to throw the game.  He just wanted to let the other fellows get another hit off Getzein.  But the other players in the club rather soured on Weidman after that, and so did the crowd.”

After being sold to the Metropolitans, Weidman appeared in just 15 more games, his major league career was over at age 27.

“The Things That Bring Good Luck to the Various Clubs”

26 Nov

In 1886, The St, Louis Post-Dispatch noted:

“Gamblers and old women are not the only ones who are given to superstitious observations of signs and to the carrying of luck tokens…Baseball players are more given to that sort of thing of late years than any other class of men.”

Under the Headline The Things That Bring Luck to the Various Clubs, the paper laid out the different “mascottic tastes” of the teams.

The paper said the success of the Cincinnati Red Stockings the previous season, was attributed in part to “Kid Baldwin’s pink jersey,” but the team’s fortunes turned in 1886 after:

“(A)fter a St. Louis laundry women’s daughter eloped in ‘Kid’s’ jersey and the club is now in last place.”

The Louisville Colonels had recently found a new “lucky hanger-on,” for a mascot; a calf born with a caul—the rare instance has long been the subject of superstition. The team took the calf ad proceeded to take five out of six games from the defending champion St. Louis Brown Stockings.

Pete Browning of the Colonels,“(C)arries a loaded die in the hip pocket of his knickerbockers for luck.  Before a recent game somebody took the die out of Pete’s pocket and he failed to make a hit that day,” ending a long hitting streak.

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Pete Browning

The paper said that Brown Stockings captain Charles Comiskey and third baseman Arlie Latham disagreed on the best mascot for the team:

“Comiskey argued in favor of a mule, for which he has a kindly fellow feeling, and he said he knew where he could get one cheap.  Latham held out for (a small white) mouse because he owned one and won the day, though Comiskey still believed in the efficacy of the mule, and had his heel spikes made out of a cast-off shoe from the foot of his favorite animal.”

The mouse died–suffocating when Latham, carrying the mouse, got in a fight with teammate Doc Bushong—right around the time Louisville acquired their calf and the Brown Stockings dropped those five games to Louisville,

The Post-Dispatch said New York Giants President John Day had recently had a prospect for a new mascot for the team:

“(He) tore his hair out the other day when he was informed that the youngster born with a full beard in Williamsburg had died. Day was sure that he would have in him one of the best mascots in the country.”

The paper noted the better known mascots, “Little Willie Hahn,” of the Chicago White Stockings and Charlie Gallagher of the Detroit Wolverines—who was said to have been born with a full set of teeth—and said of other National League clubs:

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Willie Hahn

“The Bostons never had a mascot because they haven’t luck enough to find one.  The Washington and Kansas City teams are unable to get a mascot to even look at them.”

And concluded:

“The strangest thing about a baseball mascot is that he is occasionally traitorous and transfers his services to the other side without the slightest warning.  He will never play with a cripples, badly-managed or broken-up team, and as soon as a club begins to go down hill it is a clear case of desertion by the mascot.”

 

 

Lost Advertisements–Falstaff Game of the Day

23 Nov

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A 1952 advertisement for the Falstaff Game of the Day over the Mutual Broadcasting Network:

“Falstaff brings you Dizzy Dean–baseball’s most colorful and exciting commentator!  Al Helfer, regular Falstaff–Mutual Network announcer…Diz will be teamed with Al for many of these exciting Major League broadcasts.”

 

“It is a sad and Pitiful Story”

21 Nov

Thomas Frank “Tully” Sparks had a reputation for being a bit more cultured than his contemporaries: The Nashville Tennessean said of the Georgia born pitcher::

“(A)lthough so successful in his business as a ball tosser, has decided to acquire a professional education.  He is temperate and studious in his habits and is always in condition to pitch a star variety of ball.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer called him a “silent and modest gentleman.”

Sparks attended the University of Georgia and Beloit College in Wisconsin, and spent his off seasons working for prosperous cotton firms in Louisiana as a cotton sampler and buyer, so there was a great surprise in the Southern press when he became part of what would be a tabloid scandal today.

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Sparks

Sparks had spent the off season after posting a 22-8 record and 2.00 ERA working in Opelousas, Louisiana for the New Orleans based Oliver, Voorhies & Lowery cotton company.  After he had returned to the Phillies for the beginning of the 1908 season after a brief holdout, The Monroe Star reported “a sad story which arouse the tenderest sympathies of everyone in Monroe.”

The paper said:

 “Bride secretly married to Frank Sparks, Phillies’ pitcher, goes insane on hearing he deserted her.

“The principal in this sad story was formerly Miss Mabel Winter, the beautiful and accomplished instructor of the kindergarten department of the City High School, who was serving her fifth term in the school prior to her sudden and almost secret departure from the city one week ago tonight.

“Frank Sparks, the man who won her love, secretly married her and caused this bright and beautiful woman to go insane by deserting her.”

The Star said the couple had married just five months earlier on New Year’s Day:

“After the wedding the couple visited Galveston.  The marriage was kept a secret and Miss Winter returned to the city and resumed her position in the school and Mr. Sparks went to Opelousas.”

While the Phillies were training in the South, the paper said the couple “spent several days together’ in Atlanta.  In late April, Winter quit her job at the school and left for Philadelphia to join her husband:

“The secret of her marriage to Sparks then became public and has since been the subject of gossip.”

The Star said Sparks’ wife “became so violent” in her room in Philadelphia’s Hotel Walton, she was taken to the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane as a result of the desertion, which she learned about when a man met her at the railroad station and “pressed a note into her hand,” from Sparks.

The paper concluded:

“It is a sad and pitiful story”

The story was picked up by many papers in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Georgia, but virtually ignored in the North; limited to brief articles in a handful of papers in National League cities.

By May the story was forgotten.  Troubled by shoulder pain—which led to a trip to Youngstown, Ohio to consult with the famed John “Bonesetter Reese, according to The Philadelphia North American—the 34 year-old Sparks had his final winning season 16-15, 2.60 ERA in 1908.

Sparks’ big league career came to an end in June of 1910; he was 6-13 during his final two seasons.

By the time his major league career was over, the story of Mabel Winter was so forgotten, that when Sparks was granted a divorce from her in October of 1910, he claimed he was seeking the divorce because she had deserted him, Sporting Life said:

“(Sparks) testified that his wife left him in June of 1908, and has refused to live with him under any consideration.”

When Sparks died in Anniston, Alabama in 1937, his hometown paper, The Anniston Star said he was “modest and retiring and never sought the limelight of publicity.”

Lost Advertisements: Designed by Babe Ruth

16 Nov

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“Here they are for you fellows,” a 1927 ad for “The Babe Ruth Home Run Specials” from Reach:

“At Last–every fellow who plays ball can have the kind of mitt or glove he’s always wanted.  Not small size, shoddy gloves.  Not the cheap-looking, cheap-wearing kids that go to pieces in a single season.  But Full-sized Big League gloves.”

The Babe Ruth Specials retailed from $3.50 to $5.00  The catcher’s mitt was $8.

“Waddell is Considered a Freak”

14 Nov

On his way to a 24-7 record for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902, Rube Waddell pulled a no show in Chicago on August 5.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“Waddell had not caught all the fish he wanted, and so Manager Mack was forced to use his other southpaw (Eddie) Plank.”

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Rube

The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“(This) advertisement was submitted to his manager as a handy one to have filed with all the principal newspapers in the country:”

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Waddell had pitched the first game of the series, losing to the White Sox and Roy Patterson 3-1—both pitchers threw four hitters, but the Sox scored two runs in the fifth on errors by Lave Cross and Topsy Hartsell.

The Inter Ocean said:

“Mr. Waddell rode in from the American League grounds (after the game) ate his dinner and—disappeared.”

Waddell was not with the team when they left Chicago for Cleveland two days later, then:

“(W)alked into the grounds at Cleveland and announced that he would pitch the game.  Feeling that a pitcher in hand was worth two in the country, the manager permitted him to do so.”

Waddell lost his second straight game, giving up 12 hits to Cleveland in a 5 to 4 loss to Charlie Smith, who was making his major league debut.

The Inter Ocean said of Waddell, his disappearance, and reappearance:

“His career as a baseball player is so chock full of such incidents that they have ceased to attract attention.  He is the champion contract jumper in the business.  His word is as good as his bond, but his bond isn’t worth a cent, according to numerous baseball managers with whom he has broken agreements.”

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Waddell

The paper said Waddell, “is considered a freak, and apparently he glories,” in the description:

“(President James) Hart of the Chicago National League club, who at the present holds a signed contract for this season and a receipt for money advanced, when urged to prosecute Rube for obtaining money under false pretenses, declared that he never wanted to meet the young man again, even in police court.”

The Inter Ocean told the story of what it said was one of Waddell’s earlier “mysterious disappearances” while he was playing in the minor leagues:

“(H)e suddenly reappeared during a game and took a seat in the grandstand.  He watched the play until the fifth inning, and seeing his club was being beaten, jumped out of his seat, over the railing and onto the field. and declared that he was there to ‘save the game.’ Without more ado he began taking off his clothes, was hustled to the dressing room, and into his uniform—pitched the rest of the game and won it.  When it was over, he dressed, went to the hotel with the club, was assigned to his room in the evening, and the next day could not be found.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer said of Waddell’s next start after his back to back loses in Chicago and Cleveland:

“The eccentric left hander drifted into (Detroit) nearly in the forenoon and assured Manager Mack that no team on earth could beat him feeling as he did.”

He allowed the Tigers just four hits over 13 innings, and won 1 to 0; Waddell scored the winning run after hitting a triple in the top of the 13th.