“Sunday was not a ‘real’ Ball Player”

15 Jan

Fred Pfeffer, a member of the Chicago White Stockings “Stonewall Infield” in the 1880s, became the proprietor of a number of popular saloons in Chicago.  He opened Pfeffer’s Theater Court Buffet on State Street in 1911; the tavern, located in the alley between the Majestic and  McVicker’s Theaters, was a popular meeting place for athletes, vaudeville performers and newspaper reporters.

Fred Pfeffer

Fred Pfeffer

In 1912 Harvey Woodruff of The Chicago Tribune was present when Pfeffer and Jimmy Ryan held forth on some of their teammates:

Billy Sunday was the only successful ‘made’ ball player I ever heard of in the history of baseball.  Not a man on our team except (Cap) Anson had any confidence in Sunday when he joined the club (in 1883), nor for a long time afterward, for that matter.  Anson liked Sunday because he was like lightning in getting to first base.  Sunday was not a great hitter.  He could scarcely be called a great fielder, but he was the fastest man of his time in legging it down to first base.  My, how he could run!  But after Billy was on first I would sooner have had Anson there, and none of us accused Anse of being the best base runner of his time.  We thought Billy was too daring.

“But Anson insisted Sunday would make a ball player.  So he was taught to bat, to field, and to run bases.  Anson spent more time with him than with all the rest of us put together.  What skill Sunday attained was developed.  Most of us finally admitted that Anson’s judgment was justified, but others on the team retained to the last their opinion that Sunday was not a ‘real’ ball player.

“Those who obstinately kept that opinion might have been influenced in part by prejudice, for those were times when team discipline was not as severe as now, and Sunday chose his companions.”

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday

Pfeffer told The Tribune reporter that Ned Williamson had the best arm he had seen.

While playing as an amateur in his native Louisville in 1881 Pfeffer had “won a gold medal, which is still in his possession for throwing a ball 400 feet.”  After joining the White Stockings he participated in a throwing contest at Chicago’s Lake Front Park “and threw the ball 399 feet and six inches.”  He was beaten by six inches by Williamson.

The mention of Williamson’s arm strength reminded Ryan of “an incident of the trip around the world taken by the White Stockings” after the 1888 season:

“Following one of the exhibitions in England, some native cricketers were holding a competition in throwing a cricket ball.  A crowd circled the field beyond the range of the throws, taking a keen interest in the sport.  Williamson, who had not allowed his baseball duties to prevent his enjoyment at a nearby pub, watched the proceedings for a time with growing impatience.

“Finally, swaggering up to the circle, Williamson said: ‘Let me take that ball for a minute.’ Then, scarcely setting himself for the effort, he hurled the ball.  It soared clear over the heads of the crowd on the outskirts. “

Ryan claimed no one knew exactly how far Williamson’s throw traveled because “everyone was so surprised (by the distance of his throw) no attempt was made even to recover the ball.”

Ned Williamson with White stockings mascot

Ned Williamson with White stockings mascot

The subject next turned to bunting.  Pfeffer said

“We knew the bunt, but seldom practiced it.  Those were the days when long hits were wanted, and the play would not have been popular.  We more often played a variation of what is known now as the hit and run.  It seems to me there were more players who could hit to right field then.

“I often have been asked whether all the great hitters of that time were swingers who clasped their bats at the end of the handle.  I do not recall that we held our bats any differently from the players of today.  Some held it near the end and some did what you now call ‘choking it.’ I think, perhaps the proportion of chop hitters was less then, for everyone liked to see long drives.”

Pfeffer continued entertaining patrons and reporters at the Theater Court Buffet until the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment put him out of business—his obituary said he sold “bar and all” for $1.50.  Pfeffer died in Chicago in 1932.

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6 Responses to ““Sunday was not a ‘real’ Ball Player””

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