Alternate Realities

26 Feb

Philip “Leather Fisted Phil” Powers went from respected major league catcher to one of the National League’s most controversial and disliked umpires.

Phil Powers

Phil Powers

One of his most explosive episodes of his umpiring career involved a run in with Reds pitcher Tony Mullane in Cincinnati. The incident took place at the end of a 7 to 4 loss to the Chicago White Stockings on April 30, 1891; Mullane walked ten batters.

The Cincinnati Enquirer saw it this way:

 “Phil Powers’ Very Yellow Umpiring “

The Chicago Tribune:

“Mullane’s Cowardly Assault”

The Tribune said Cincinnati had turned on a local hero:

“That either baseball cranks are devoid of memory or that gratitude does not enter into their composition was amply demonstrated today at the Cincinnati ball park.  Back in 1882 a sallow-complexioned youth wore a Queen City uniform, and by his clever work behind the bat aided in no small way to bringing the only championship banner that ever waved over the Queen City.  That youth was Phil Powers.  Today that same man, grown gray in active service on the ball field in various capacities, was assaulted by Tony Mullane on the ball field after the game and 700 brutes in the stands urged the curly-headed twirler on in his dastardly work, and all because of fancied wrongs at Powers’ hand in today’s game.”

The Enquirer said Mullane was the aggrieved party:

“Phil Powers’ umpiring was something awful.  Mistakes were not the exception; they were the rule.  He gave Tony Mullane a terrible roast.  His miserable work was enough to rob any pitcher of his nerve, but it did not rattle Tony.  He stood up like a hero under Powers’ Jesse James tactics, and pitched ball that would have been a winner under ordinary circumstances.  The Chicagos owe their victory to Mr. Powers, not their own efforts.”

Tony Mullane

Tony Mullane

The papers couldn’t even agree on how much Mullane was fined during the game The Tribune said $75, The Enquirer said $150; the  altercation after was also given a local spin.

The Tribune version:

“After the game was over Powers started across the field with Mullane at his heels pouring out a tirade of abuse which made the air in the vicinity assume a sulfurous odor.  Powers with an expression of scorn on his face walked on towards the clubhouse.

“Mullane, like a tiger lashing itself into a fury, grew more and more angry, until finally he lost all self-control, and drawing back struck Powers in the face with a clenched fist.  The latter immediately increased Mullane’s fine to $250…The scene attracted the attention of the crowd, which, be it said to the shame of Cincinnati, encouraged Mullane’s ruffianly conduct.”

The Enquirer saw it differently:

“Tony Mullane and Umpire Powers had some trouble near the clubhouse.  Powers was to blame for the controversy.  He gave Mullane an awful deal while the game was in progress and then soaked him $150 in fines simply because Tony grumbled and asked him to come closer to the bat and pay more attention to his delivery.  On the way down to the clubhouse Powers said to Mullane in a sort of apologetic manner:  “I couldn’t rob the Chicagos to please you.’

“’Oh, get out,’ said Mullane.  ‘No one asked you to rob them.  I only wanted what belonged to me, and you robbed me bald-headed.’

“Powers said something in return and Mullane replied angrily.  Then Powers put on another fine of $100.  This so incensed Mullane that he drew back as if to assault Powers.  The latter in a most exasperating way put his face right up against Tony and said: ‘I dare you to strike me.’  It was a cowardly act on the part of Powers, for he well knew that if Mullane hit him it would mean disgrace…Mullane almost forgot himself.  It was all he could do to restrain himself.  He simply pushed Powers’ face away.  Then other players separated them.”

The papers did agree on the final total of Mullane’s fines: $250.  Mullane beat the Cleveland Spiders 7 to 4 two days later with Powers as umpire.  The game went off without incident.

4 Responses to “Alternate Realities”

  1. Tim Perkins February 26, 2014 at 7:31 am #

    I wonder what Ban Johnson had to say about this altercation. He was writing for the Cincinnati Commerical-Gazette at the time, and later tried to control the ruffians on the field and umpire baiting. Is it possible to access Johnson’s sports writing. I’d enjoy hearing his voice as a sports writer.

    • Thom Karmik February 26, 2014 at 9:27 am #

      I didn’t use The Commercial-Gazette’s recap because I just liked the stark contrast between the two I used. It was, for the most part, a home-team leaning account as well. Like much of Johnson’s work for the paper, and normal for the time, there was no by-line. Here it is:

      “Tony Mullane and Umpire Phil Powers came very near having an encounter after yesterday’s game at the League Park. Powers ‘roasted’ Mullane all through the game on balls and strikes, and when the ‘Count’ made several rigorous kicks he was promptly fined by Powers. Tony naturally was very indignant, and when Powers approached him after the game and remarked: ‘You didn’t think I was going to rob the Chicagos just to please you, did you?’ ‘No, you did nothing but rob us,’ replied Tony with some warmth.
      “‘That will cost you a hundred.’ said Powers. ‘I don’t care if you make it a thousand, you pea-headed chump.’ Powers made some reply, and Mullane, vexed beyond all measure, made a pass at him. Powers sprang back, and Tony’s good right duke just grazed his chin. Mullane then kicked at him, when some of the Cincinnati players rushed in and separated the excited men. It would have fared badly for Powers but for this interference. Mullane drew fines amounting in all to $250.”

      • Tim Perkins March 3, 2014 at 9:32 am #

        Thanks for sharing Ban Johnson’s account. Is there a way to access his writing in the Commercial Gazette? I’m working on a project and would like to capture as much of his voice as possible. Good writing Thom.

      • Thom Karmik March 3, 2014 at 10:40 am #


        I will email you.

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