“He Used to Knock Down Infielders”

4 Nov

William Alexander “Bill” Lange is best known for a play that likely never happened.  The legend was that he had made a spectacular catch that culminated with the Chicago Colts’ outfielder crashing through the left-field fence in Washington in an 1897 game with the Senators.  It is most likely another in a long line of exaggerations and apocryphal stories from Lange’s friend, Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton—a story that first appeared in that paper with no byline in 1903, but was repeated by Fullerton many times in later years.   A nice analysis of that story appears here.

Bill Lang, seated fourth from left, with 1896 Chicago Colts

Bill Lang, seated fourth from left, with 1896 Chicago Colts

Lange played just seven seasons, retiring after the 1899 season at age 28 to join his father-in-law in the insurance and real estate business in San Francisco.

During the spring of 1900, The Chicago Daily News said “The wise ones in the baseball business” were certain he’d be back, including Chicago’s manager Tom Loftus and President James Hart, and Charlie Comiskey, “’When the season opens and the sun warms up he can’t stay away,’ remarks Comiskey, with a knowing wink.”

Despite the certainty that he would, Lange never returned.

Lange, who stole 400 career bases, was called “Little Eva” because of his gracefulness.  In 1909 Billy Sunday called him “the greatest outfielder in baseball history.”  Connie Mack called him the best base-runner he ever saw.  In fact,  Mack and Clark Griffith considered Lange so good that they petitioned the Hall of Fame in 1940 to change the “rules (which) restrict membership to players of the twentieth century” in order to allow for Lange’s induction.

Griffith said Lange was “the best outfielder that ever played behind me:”

“Lange here was rougher base-stealer than (Billy) Hamilton.  He used to knock down infielders.  Once I saw him hit a grounder to third base.  He should have been out, but he knocked down the first baseman.

“Then he knocked down the second and third baseman and scored.  Connie Mack was the catcher.  No he didn’t knock Connie down because he didn’t have to.”

Mack told the same story over the years.

Lange never made the Hall of Fame.  He died in 1950.

Bill Lange 1931

Bill Lange 1931

In his final years the story about the “catch” had become so ingrained in the legend of Bill Lange that other players told essentially the same story Fullerton did (the most widely disseminated versions appeared in “The American Magazine” in 1909 and in Johnny Evers‘ book “Touching Second,” coauthored by Fullerton), but inserted themselves into the story.  In 1946 Griffith told reporters:

“It happened right here in Washington, I was pitching for Chicago.  Bill missed the train from New York, and arrived in the fourth inning.  We were then with the Chicago Colts and Cap Anson fined Lange $100 before he put him in the game.

“I had a one-run lead when Al (“Kip”) Selbach of Washington hit a terrific drive.  Lange ran back hard, and when he crashed into the wooden fence his 210 pounds took him right through the planks.

“He caught the ball at the same time and held it.  All we could see were his feet sticking through the fence and Bill’s arm holding the ball.  When he came back to the bench, he handed the ball to Anson and said:

‘This ought to cancel that $100 fine.’ It did too.”

When Lange died Griffith said:

“I have seen all the other great outfielders—Speaker, Cobb, DiMaggio –in action and I consider Bill Lange the equal of, if not better than, all outfielders of all time.  There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.”

Advertisements

9 Responses to ““He Used to Knock Down Infielders””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “The Cleverest bit of Quick Thinking I ever Witnessed” | Baseball History Daily - November 26, 2013

    […] of hundreds of stories. Some, like the story the story of Bill Lange’s fence crashing catch, are likely untrue.  Others may be apocryphal, or […]

  2. “You are mostly Fakes, and yet I love you all!” | Baseball History Daily - March 19, 2014

    […] famous long after his career was over, Fullerton’s most often repeated story about Foster was a dubious one involving a catch—a story that was repeated over the years as having happened three years after Foster’s big […]

  3. Lost Team Photos–Delhanty’s last | Baseball History Daily - April 11, 2014

    […]  Delehanty, Albert “Kip” Selbach, Al Orth, George “Scoops” Carey, Casey Patten, John “Happy” Townsend, Charles […]

  4. Giants Versus Phillies in Verse | Baseball History Daily - May 30, 2014

    […] Hamilton’s small infield fly […]

  5. “Baseball is now Played by certain Mathematical rules and Regulations” | Baseball History Daily - July 16, 2014

    […] of the yeas that Bill Lange led the league in base running.  It was a close race between Lange and (Billy) Hamilton for the honors and the season was drawing to a close.  The game was close, and Lange led off the […]

  6. Tom Lynch’s Broom | Baseball History Daily - September 24, 2014

    […] “’Bill’ Lange, who is now a prosperous real estate dealer in Frisco, and former Umpire Tom Lynch, who is a theatrical magnate in New Britain, Conn., were sworn enemies of the diamond.  On the ball field Lynch insisted on being addressed as ‘Mr. Lynch’ and was probably the strictest disciplinarian that ever wore a mask. […]

  7. “People who saw the Sport are still Laughing” | Baseball History Daily - December 17, 2014

    […] threw a ball:  (Bill) Dahlen hit it.  He threw another: (Bill) Lange hit it.  He threw one more: (Walter) Thornton hit it.  And the picnic might have gone on had not […]

  8. “Baseball is full of Authenticated instances of Woman’s Influence over it” | Baseball History Daily - July 27, 2015

    […] “Bill Lange is a case in point.  Up to (1899) he was one of the best ground coverers in the profession, and as a batsman had a high average.  From the day of his wedding, his wife kept at him to leave the game, urging him to take the step on the grounds of personal safety.  Bill reasoned with her and told her time and again that he knew of no other job for which he could make $4,500 in six months.  But Mrs. Lange was obdurate, and so, when his last season closed Bill ruefully announced to his manager that the diamond would never know him again.  And it has not, though he has annually been tempted by numerous flattering offers. ‘I have given my word to my wife,’ he says simply, ‘and so long as she feels as she does about the game I shall not take up the bat.’” […]

  9. Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #16 | Baseball History Daily - October 21, 2015

    […] Outfielders—Bill Lange, George Gore, Jimmy Ryan and Hugh Duffy […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s