Bowerman by TKO

5 Nov

“The Popular Magazine,” a literary magazine that billed itself as a “magazine for men and women who like to read about men,” was published by Street & Smith from 1903 until 1931.

In 1904, the magazine told the story of a fight the previous season involving New York Giants catcher Frank Bowerman.

Frank Bowerman

Frank Bowerman

Bowerman was not kept by Fred Clarke when the Pirates and Louisville Colonels merged after the 1899 season; his contract was assigned to the  Giants.  Apparently some bad blood remained into 1903, and according to the magazine, Giants manager John McGraw used Bowerman’s grudge and some comments made by Clarke to try to light a fire under his team:

“When the Giants were in Pittsburgh (on June 1) last season McGraw noticed that there was bad feeling in the team.  The men stood in little knots in the hotel corridor glowering at other players; they rode to the field in a bus without exchanging a word; the preliminary practice, usually so brilliant, was dull and lifeless.  This worried McGraw.”

John McGraw

John McGraw

The article said McGraw had figured out the cause a few days later in Chicago; Bowerman had sat in the grandstand for that June 1 game, being unable to play due to an injured thumb.  Jack Warner caught Christy Mathewson that day.  What McGraw discovered was that Clarke said Bowerman was overheard criticizing Warner’s work behind the plate, blaming his teammate for one of the two runs scored off of Mathewson:

“This, of course, was tantamount to Bowerman’s asserting his superiority over Warner, a boast that ballplayers are rarely guilty of.”

McGraw cornered Bowerman who insisted Clarke had told “the meanest lie that ever was told, and I told Jack Warner so, but he don’t believe it.”  McGraw told him to keep quiet about it until the Pirates visited New York on June 26.

“(McGraw) proceeded to reinject that esprit de corps by a measure so drastic that it horrified ball patrons all over the country, who, however, thought it merely an incident of the brutality of ballplayers.  Instead of that, it was a well-planned scheme of a crafty general.”

When the Pirates arrived at the Polo Grounds on the morning of the 26th, McGraw took Bowerman aside:

“’Frank, have you got a good right swing?’  The Michigan Lumberman smiled grimly and clenched a fist knotted and as hard as Hercules’ war club.  ‘Well, it’s up to you, then,’ advised McGraw, “to put life in the team. Don’t lose any time.’ Bowerman understood.

“”’I’d like to speak to you a minute,’ he said to Clarke, as the Pittsburgh captain was passing through the gate on his way to the clubhouse.  They went into the stuffy box office; where there was hardly room to swing a cat.  Three times Bowerman demanded an explanation, offering to bring McGraw and Warner in as witnesses…Clarke went down three times and finally admitted he had enough…The Giants played that day, to use the expression of a rooter, as though they were ‘fighting their weight in wildcats.’  Bowerman and Warner coached each other with pet names, and walked lovingly from the victorious field arm in arm, while Fred Clarke was buying a pound of raw beef.”

Fred Clarke

Fred Clarke

“The Popular Magazine” story added an element that differed from the coverage in New York and Pittsburgh newspapers—while each town pointed fingers at the other (in Pittsburgh Bowerman was an out of control thug, while in New York, Clarke got what he deserved for stirring up trouble) no one else suggested that McGraw engineered the fight to motivate his club against the first place Pirates.

The Giants weren’t able to catch Pittsburgh, finishing in second place six and a half games behind the Pirates.

National League President Harry Pulliam initially announced that there would be no punishment for either player because the fight did not take place on the field, three weeks later, under pressure from Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss, Pulliam fined Bowerman $100.

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2 Responses to “Bowerman by TKO”

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