Fielder Jones and the Chehalis Gophers

11 Feb

Most biographies of Fielder Jones—player-manager of the 1906 World Champion Chicago White Sox, the Hitless Wonders—mention that he managed the Chehalis Gophers, a team in the Washington State League, in 1910;  they never mention that he ended up there because of a near-fatal assault before he arrived.

The 36-year-old Jones left the White Sox after the 1908 season to settle in the Portland, Oregon and tend to his many business holdings in the area.  In 1909, he was named president of the Northwestern League, and served for one season.  According to West Coast newspaper reports, Jones was in the running to named president of the Pacific Coast League in 1910, before Thomas Graham was elected as a compromise candidate.

In the spring of 1910, Jones coached the Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State) baseball team to the school’s first conference championship.

At the same time, Jones was coaching at OAC, the Washington State League was getting underway—the league had been operating for at least three seasons, but 1910 was the first year it was recognized under baseball’s national agreement as an “official” minor league.

The Chehalis Gophers were led by 27-year-old Fred Nehring; he had previously played on the Pacific Coast, Northwestern and Connecticut State Leagues.  Nehring, who was born in Pueblo, Colorado in 1883, but grew up in Chehalis, had been playing on and off with the local team since leaving the Tacoma Tigers in 1908

1908 Chehalis team. Fred Nehring standing 2nd from left, Tamp Osburn, standing 4th from left.

1908 Chehalis team. Fred Nehring standing 2nd from left, Tamp Osburn, standing 4th from left.

Another player who had spent time with Chehalis since 1908 was a pitcher known variously as “Tamp” Osburn, Osborn or Osborne (for the purpose of this story we’ll call him Osburn—most common usage by contemporaneous sources).  Tamp Osburn has, at least, two separate, partial listings on Baseball Reference.

Osburn was considered a talented pitcher, but an erratic character.  While pitching for the Spokane Indians in Northwestern League in 1907, he quit the team in June.  According to The Spokane Daily Chronicle:

“The whole trouble yesterday started when a couple of misplays in the eighth inning put a losing aspect on the game…Tamp blames the whole trouble on (William ‘Terry’) McKune, who he says ‘threw’ the game on him.”

Osburn had additional problems with teammates and developed a reputation as an eccentric, and like all eccentric pitchers of the era there was one he was often compared; The Daily Chronicle called him “The Rube Waddell of the Northwestern League.”

After playing together for Chehalis in 1908, both Nehring and Osburn played in the short-lived Inter-Mountain League in 1909; both returned to Chehalis after that league folded in July.

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“Tamp” Osburn, 1908 with Spokane Indians

On May 20, just after the 1910 season opened, the Chehalis team boarded a train.  According to The Chehalis Bee-Nugget:

“(Osburn) who had been drinking before the train left Chehalis became so unruly on the train that the train crew called on Fred Nehring, captain of the Chehalis team to quiet him.  Tamp resented Nehring’s efforts to keep him from cursing in the presence of ladies, and pulled a knife and began to slash Nehring…Two severe cuts…in the left arm, and the other was in the breast.  If the latter had been an inch farther over, it would have penetrated the lungs.”

Nehring had the wounds dressed, left the hospital against doctor’s advice and managed the Chehalis team “from the bench.”  Despite the seemingly quick recovery, Nehring only appeared in a few games the rest of the season.  Osburn was arrested.

The Chehalis team floundered for the next several weeks.  In late June, it was announced that Fielder Jones would join the team as manager and centerfielder.

Under Jones, who was still property of the White Sox and needed Charles Comiskey’s approval to play, Chehalis easily won the league championship; Jones hit .358 in 37 games.

Jones had agreed to play for the team for no salary and was only reimbursed for his expenses.  This arrangement nearly cost Chehalis the league championship.  According to The (Portland) Oregonian, the second place Raymond Cougars protested to the league and the National Commission that all wins under Jones should be forfeited because Jones “was not under contract.”  The protest was denied and Chehalis was declared league champion.

Osburn was sent to the Lewis County Jail while awaiting trial, and according to The Oregonian was involved in an attempted escape along with other prisoners who occupied the jail’s first floor, a week after his arrest.  The paper said of Osburn “the baseball player, and one other man were taken to the cells on the second floor and locked up securely.”

There is no record of whether Osburn was convicted; in any case, he was free by July of 1911 and was pitching for the Missoula, Montana franchise in the Union Association when The Helena Daily Independent reported that Osburn:

“The Missoula pitcher, who started a rough house in a Missoula cafe and pulled a knife on a stranger, drew a severe panning from the judge, who, after fining him $25, -said: ‘There are some good men on your team, who behave themselves, but there is a lot of you whose conduct is a disgrace to the city and the national game. We don’t want that kind of men in Missoula uniforms, and you fellows have got to stop such actions.”

Contemporaneous newspaper accounts say he was a native of Utah, but given the inconsistent spelling of his last name, and a full first name never being listed, the trail for Osburn ends after this 1911 incident.

Nehring remained in Chehalis where he died on February 19, 1936.

Jones returned briefly to baseball in 1914 and 1915 as manager of the Saint Louis Terriers in the Federal League.  He died in Portland in 1934.

Fielder Jones, 1914

Fielder Jones, 1914

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4 Responses to “Fielder Jones and the Chehalis Gophers”

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