The Southern Association kicked off their 1903 season assuming things couldn’t help but go better than the previous year. The actions of Memphis Egyptians owner/manager Charlie Frank—who continued to put players in the Memphis line up who had been blacklisted by the league—had thrown the season into chaos. The situation became so contentious that the headline in The Atlanta Constitution said after the final day of the season:
To The Relief of All the Season is Now Over
A post season agreement restored the league—and made Frank even a greater power in the league.
As part of the settlement Frank received an estimated $5000 which he immediately put towards building a contender for 1903.
Frank’s team finished strong and edged out the second place Little Rock Travelers on the final day of the season; Memphis beat the Atlanta Crackers 9 to 5 in front of 7500 fans—the then largest ever crowd at Atlanta’s Red Elm Park.
The following week Little Rock defeated Memphis 3 games to 2 in a best of five series; the Southern Association season appeared to have come to peaceful close on September 28, 1903.
That changed two days later.
Newspapers across the South reported on serious charges that were being made in Memphis. The Associated Press said:
“According to statements made by William Phyle, former National League player and this year a captain of the pennant-winning Memphis team…the Memphis club won first honors by inducing players on the opposing team to ‘throw’ the final (series).”
Phyle told reporters the scheme began earlier in September:
“The Montgomery team (Black Sox) threw to us three games by arrangement, but Little Rock kept on winning and kept it close on out heals. I knew that Birmingham (Barons) threw to Little Rock too. Then the deciding and final game of the season between Memphis and Atlanta arrived, and we had to win the last two games to keep the lead. Two of the Atlanta pitchers were given $25 each to allow Memphis to win…and another player was also bought. We won one game by (George) Winters misjudging a fly that allowed (Ted) Breitenstein a three-bagger and the deciding run.”
Winters error came in the second to last game; he was absent from the final game of the season.
Phyle later told an Atlanta reporter that the pitchers who were paid off were Frank “Zeke” Wilson and John Ely. Charlie Frank, who had just announced he was leaving Memphis to take control of the New Orleans Pelicans, denied the charges and claimed Phyle was simply angry over a “dispute involving money.”
Phyle also said the five-game post season series was “prearranged, so that the deciding game was played in Memphis before a Sunday crowd.”
League President William Kavanaugh scheduled a meeting in Memphis for October 17 to investigate the charges, and Phyle went to West Baden, Indiana.
Phyle demanded travel expenses to return to Memphis for the meeting, he initially claimed that the money the league wired came too late. Then Kavanaugh ordered him, by telegram, to “catch the first train for Memphis,” Phyle refused, now claiming he was ill.
The meeting was held without Phyle. Zeke Wilson testified that he had received $50 from Charlie Frank, but that it was given to him after the season in order to secure his release from Atlanta. He said he intended to sign with Frank in New Orleans (he ended up signing with Montgomery in 1905, but joined Frank in New Orleans in 1905).
As for Winters, who made the error that allowed Memphis to win the second to last game and was absent for the final game, The Sporting Life said that charge was “very easily explained.” It was claimed he failed to appear in the final game because of a dispute with Atlanta management over transportation money.
Without Phyle in attendance to provide his evidence the league “exonerated all clubs and players mentioned in his charges,” and suspended Phyle indefinitely.
Next Phyle was ordered to St. Louis to defend his charges before the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. He again failed to appear.
On October 25 Bill Phyle was expelled indefinitely from professional baseball.
The following week he appealed the decision; claiming his illness was the only reason he failed to appear and that if allowed “he will appear and substantiate the charges which he has made.”
He was never given another opportunity to present his case. His appeal was denied in December.
Tomorrow: More on Bill Phyle.