Elton Chamberlain

17 Dec

Elton Chamberlain (for the last thirty years always referred to by the nickname “Icebox,” but that name was not in common use for him contemporaneously) was primarily known for two things:  A righthander, he pitched ambidextrously in at least one game, and on May 30, 1894 he gave up four home runs and a single to Bobby “Link” Lowe—17 total bases, a record which stood for 60 years.

He was also embroiled in one of the early controversies over gambling while playing for the Cincinnati Reds in 1893 when he was accused by his manager, Charles Comiskey, of throwing the first game of a July 4 doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“Pitcher Elton Chamberlain of the Cincinnatis (sic) is accused of throwing the game to the Philadelphias (sic) yesterday morning.  He is charged with being in league with Joe Brill, a local gambler.”

The story said Comiskey, notified of the allegation:

“(D)ecided to investigate (and) after a consultation with a club official, put Chamberlain in for three innings to watch him. Chamberlain’s pitching was very bad and be was taken out of the game in the third inning.”

Chamberlain’s teammates Jim Canavan and Silver King quickly came to his defense.  King said he thought he would be the starting pitcher, not Chamberlain, until just before the game started; therefore Brill and Chamberlain could not have conspired.

Chamberlain said of the story:

“It was cruel and cowardly to try to ruin a man like that.”

The Sporting Life ripped The Enquirer and Comiskey:

“This is not the first time The Enquirer has accused ball players of dishonesty, and once it got into and lost a libel suit with Tony Mullane for accusing him of crookedness. Comiskey in his time has also made similar charges and Insinuations against guiltless players.”

The New York Herald said “The whole affair was so silly,” and seemed to have Comiskey in mind with this statement:

“The club official who suspends a player on the charge of dishonesty should be made to prove his charges or himself be forever barred from further connection with any club.”

The Herald also recommended that steps be taken to officially clear Chamberlain and punish those who accused him:

“The National Board should at once take up pitcher Chamberlain’s case and investigate it beyond the limit of doubt and when they reach the facts, whatever the facts; someone should be made to suffer.”

Cincinnati’s management, Comiskey included, quickly repudiated the charges that appeared in The Enquirer, although from all indications they were directly responsible for the charges being reported in the first place.

Elton Chamberlain

Elton Chamberlain

The headlines of July faded by August; there was no official investigation and no one was “made to suffer.”

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

Chamberlain finished the season with a 16-12 record and his 3.73 ERA led the Reds’ pitching staff.  The following year was his last full season in the Major Leagues.

In 1895 he played for the Warren (PA) franchise in the Iron and Oil League.  The team won the pennant behind the pitching of Chamberlain and another former Major Leaguer, Tom Vickery.

They also had a 21-year-old shortstop named Honus Wagner.

No statistics survive for that season, but forty years later Wagner, writing for The Pittsburgh Press, said Chamberlain “Seldom lost a ballgame for us,” and that Chamberlain and Vickery “gave out plenty of their knowledge to us youngsters.”

Chamberlain bounced around minor and semi-pro leagues after one last Major League trial with the Cleveland Spiders in 1896.  In 1898 he accepted, then rejected, an offer to serve as a National League umpire.  After turning down the umpire job Chamberlain, a Buffalo native, said he would become a professional boxer and challenged a local middleweight named Jack Baty to a fight that would include a $500 side bet.  Baty’s fight record indicates the bout did not take place.

Chamberlain attempted to resume his baseball career with the Buffalo Bisons in the Western League in 1899—by July he was released and The Sporting Life reported that Chamberlain, a rabid horse player “is once more following the races.”

Chamberlain Died in Baltimore in 1929.

Chamberlain and Comiskey as teammates with the St. Louis Browns.  Chamberlain is 5, Comiskey 8.

Chamberlain and Comiskey were also teammates with the St. Louis Browns. Chamberlain is 5, Comiskey 8.

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6 Responses to “Elton Chamberlain”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] weeks there was speculation about whether Charles Comiskey, captain and manager of the St. Louis Browns, would remain in the American Association or join the […]

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    […] good behind the bat as any white man of his time.  It was said of Walker that when he was catching Tony Mullane, the latter refused to stand for a Negro giving him battery signs.  Walker then agreed to work […]

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  6. Sam Barkley and the Mobster | Baseball History Daily - May 24, 2015

    […] selling five players, including Barkley, to the St. Louis Browns—the sale included pitcher Tony Mullane, who attempted to sign with Cincinnati after agreeing to sign with St. Louis, leading to his […]

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