“Hilariously and Shockingly Drunk”

11 Dec

The Philadelphia Athletics were in second place, two games behind the St. Louis Browns in the American association pennant race in June of 1889; but The Philadelphia Times said the team was underachieving, and blamed it on drinking:

“Watch your men, Manager (Bill) Sharsig.

“It is a matter of notorious publicity that a portion of the best players on the Athletic Base Ball Club are not living up to their contracts.  They drink, carouse and make exhibitions of drunkenness that are disgusting the people who so liberally contribute to the support of the national game, and unless the management put an immediate stop to such proceedings the club will be certain to finish the season with a balance on the wrong side of the ledger.”

The paper said because it was “unjust to criticize the club as a whole” they would name the guilty parties:

“It is an open secret that (Denny) Lyons, (Curt) Welch, (Mike) Mattimore, (Henry) Larkin, (Harry) Stovey and sometimes (Frank) Fennelly and (Lou) Bierbauer are frequently in a beastly state of intoxication, and it is easy to prove when and where they have recently been seen so in public places.”

The Times singled out Welch, who was out of the lineup because Sharsig said he was ill:

“Sick he may be, and those who saw him in company with Lyons last Tuesday morning at the early hour of 3 O’clock wonder that he is not laid up.  That model pair were sitting on the curbstone on the South Penn Square side of the City Hall, hilariously and shockingly drunk.

“Saloon-keeper Irwin, who keeps on Juniper Street, told a friend that Welch and another ballplayer became so vulgarly and obscenely boisterous in his place on Monday night that he had to order them out.”

Curt Welch

Curt Welch

The Times said the Athletics loss on June 16—they were defeated 9 to 5 by the Browns—“was largely due to errors made by Welch, Stovey, Larkin and Lyons, all of whom showed traces of their Saturday night’s outing.”

The team’s activities were not limited to Philadelphia, from “every city on the circuit came stories of debauches and sprees,” involving the Athletics:

Chris von der Ahe, of the champion Browns, is responsible for the statement that on the last trip made by the Athletics to St. Louis six of the players became so drunk and noisy in the big Anheuser-Busch saloon that the proprietor had to have then ejected, and a ballplayer on another club that chanced to meet the Athletics in East St. Louis said yesterday that he never saw so many drunken men on one team and that their unseemly conduct was the subject of general talk around the depot.  From Baltimore and Brooklyn come well authenticated stories of boisterous sprees and hilarious conduct in public places.”

The Times said even the most famous umpire of the era, “Honest John” Gaffney, “whom a ballplayer has no truer friend,” commented on the state of the Athletics:

“He says that he has repeatedly seen some of them come up to bat so drunk that they could hardly stand.”

John Gaffney

John Gaffney

The paper said Sharsig, “an exceedingly clever gentleman,” had completely lost control of the team:

“The ballplayers all like him and avow their willingness to do for him whatever he asks, but he is apparently unable to keep them sober even at home and when away they are absolutely beyond his control.  He does not believe in imposing fines…Stovey, Welch and Larkin know that it would be hard to fill their places and laugh at threatened dismissal.”

The Athletics lost six straight games after the story appeared, and 16 of their next 22.  They ended the season in third place with a record of 75-58.

Manager Bill Sharsig

Manager Bill Sharsig

Mattimore was released in August.  Larkin, Bierbauer and Stovey jumped to the Players League after the season ended, and Fennelly was sold to the Brooklyn Gladiators.

Sharsig’s 1890 team led the American Association until July 17, then faded badly and finished in eighth place.  There was no mention in the Philadelphia press about whether drunkenness contributed to the 1890 collapse.

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5 Responses to ““Hilariously and Shockingly Drunk””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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