William Ingraham “W.I.” Harris was one of the most important baseball writers of the 19th Century, but like Charles Emmett Van Loan three decades later, he died young and is mostly forgotten today.
He was sports editor for The New York Press, which was billed as “The aggressive Republican newspaper of New York,” and The New York Star. The Sporting Life said of Harris:
“He feels strongly in any given direction and talks earnestly. One cannot be long in his presence without being convinced of his unswerving honesty and sincerity.”
He was, along with Ren Mulford Jr. of The Cincinnati Times-Star, an outspoken critic of the Players League, and said he agreed with Mulford’s assessment that the appearance of the Brotherhood, and the resulting “baseball war” was “a campaign for the preservation of baseball law on one side and its destruction on the other.”
Harris was also considered the best prognosticators among contemporary baseball writers, and before the 1890 season began he said:
“For the past two years I have had the satisfaction of naming the champions of both major associations before a championship game had been played…and last season (in the National league), with the exception of Pittsburgh and Cleveland, I located the exact position at the finish.”
He said he would not attempt to handicap the results of the three leagues in 1890:
“The writer who ventures to make predictions as to the results of the championship fight in any one of the many leagues at this stage of affairs takes an enormous risk on masticating a pretty tough crow later on.”
But, said Harris, he was “willing to take my chances on giving one tip,” before the beginning of the season. The “tip” went against the conventional wisdom, in fact, it went against what the entire baseball world considered a certainty; the fate of the club The Chicago Tribune called “The greatest team ever organized.”
“(I) shall not undertake to pick any winners this year until the season has been well started. I propose, however, to nominate one team that will not win a pennant, and that is the Chicago Brotherhood team. In making this assertion I am bucking against general sentiment, or rather general belief. The consensus of opinion is the other way. There is no doubt that on paper the Chicago Brotherhood team is in many respects one of the greatest aggregations of baseball stars ever got together, but there are some potent reasons against its success.“
Harris was critical of the team’s catchers and pitchers:
“(Conrad “Dell”) Darling never was a first class catcher and never will be. (Charles “Duke”) Farrell is a strong hitter, and at times a most brilliant catcher, but he is not a steady or remarkably heady catcher. Boyle is a good one, but he isn’t in it with such good men as (William “Buck”) Ewing, (Jack) Clements, (Charlie) Bennett, (Charlie) Ganzel, (George “Doggie’) Miller, (Connie) Mack, (Michael “King”) Kelly, (John “Jocko”) Milligan, (Paul) Cook and (Cornelius “Con”) Daily. On catchers the team is all right on quantity, but short in quality.
“As to pitchers, (Mark) Baldwin, in 1887 and 1889, was a star In 1888 he was not to be depended on. Baldwin doesn’t take care of himself as he should in the winter time. As a pitcher he ranks among those who may be great at any time, but who keep you guessing on the dates.
“(Charles “Silver”) King, in condition, is a ‘tip topper.’ He was a failure in the League once before, and in the world’s Series against New York didn’t astonish people to any extent.”
He dismissed the other two pitchers, Frank Dwyer and Charlie Bartson as a “medium man” and “unknown quantity,” and said “Unless strengthened in the battery department, and probably not then, this team will not land first.”
He conceded that “The outfield and infield are well-nigh perfect.” But, there was a bigger problem than the weak pitching and catching; Harris predicted tension between second baseman Fred Pfeffer, who had raised $20,000 for the creation of the Players League, recruited most of his Chicago White Stockings teammates to jump to the Brotherhood, and was one of the club’s directors, and team captain and first baseman Charles Comiskey:
“(T)he Comiskey-Pfeffer or the Pfeffer-Comiskey combination. By the way, which is it? The answer to this will have quite a bearing on the general result…There will be cliques. Germany and Ireland will be at war in less than a month. The public may not know, but the lack of harmony will be there and will have its effect. Comiskey is a great baseball captain. At least he was in the American Association. His methods are well-known. He was supreme at St. Louis. Everything went. The men had no respect for (owner Chris) von der Ahe. They feared Comiskey. At Chicago Comiskey will find some men who have just escaped from the rule of a greater captain than himself, perhaps a harder task master. They have reveled all winter over the prospect of freedom from that restraint, proper and effective though it was. They are stockholders—yes magnates—now. Will they swallow Comiskey’s manners on the field and in the dressing room? As Charlie Reed sings, ‘Well, I guess not.’ (Reed was a famous minstrel performer in the 1880s and 18890s)
“Comiskey must change his methods. He will have to gag himself; he will have to, figuratively, kiss the baseball blarney stone; he will have to be cheerful, under protest; and, above all, if harmony be his objective point he will have to please Director Pfeffer. He may not try to do these things; he probably won’t. Comiskey will have his way. He always has had it. He can only rule by practically despotic methods.”
Harris correctly concluded that Brooklyn, New York, and probably Boston (the eventual champions) would finish ahead of Chicago. At season’s end, The Chicago Times summed up how prescient Harris had been about the fourth place team in the Players League:
“The outside world cannot fully realize the bitter disappointment felt here over the poor showing made by Comiskey’s team during the season just closed. Surely it was strongest aggregation of players ever collected in one club, but its lack of success was mainly from two causes—lack of discipline and the miserable condition of certain members of the club.
“There has been absolutely no discipline in the team, and some of the men paid as much attention to Comiskey’s orders as they would to a call from some church congregation. An order to sacrifice was met with a smile of scorn, and the ball was hammered down to an infielder, who made an easy double play.”
Harris died the following summer on July 7, at age 33, of tuberculosis. The Boston Globe, the first paper he worked for, said:
“Being of a most observing nature, a ready thinker and as it were, a lightening calculator, he managed to foretell many of the leading baseball events of the year weeks ahead…Mr. Harris was without exaggeration, one of the brightest of his class, a ready and graceful writer and a hard worker.”