Jennings “Hurled an Unmentionable Epithet at him”

2 Feb

In April of 1896, the reigning National League Champion Baltimore Orioles traveled to Petersburg, Virginia for a pair of exhibition games with the Petersburg Farmers of the Virginia League.

The Baltimore Sun noted that it had been a tough spring for the Orioles.  Third baseman John McGraw “the brainiest and pluckiest little infielder that ever trod a diamond,” was in an Atlanta hospital suffering from typhoid fever; he would miss most of the season.

Additionally, catcher William “Boileryard” Clarke was sent back to Baltimore with a sprained ankle, pitchers John “Sadie” McMahon and Arlie Pond had injured hands and both would be out for at least a week,  and shortstop Hughie Jennings was also slowed by a hand injury.

Hughie Jennings

Hughie Jennings

A light rain fell as the hobbled team arrived in Petersburg on the morning of April 6, the day of the first game—which ended in a 7 to 7 tie.  The Baltimore American said:

“Why the team did not trounce the Petersburgs is an open question, but whether it was because of the game on Saturday (in Richmond) or the rain, or the umpire, the Champions walked out of the gates with the humiliation of having made eight errors and feeling the added sting of having just escaped being beaten by a minor league team.”

Third-string catcher Frank Bowerman made two of Baltimore’s errors and had a passed ball.  He would be relegated to umpiring duties in the second game, scheduled for April 8.  On the seventh the Orioles defeated another Virginia League team, the Richmond Bluebirds, 4 to 3.

The American said the morning of April 8 “had been a pleasant one,” with local officials taking the Orioles for a tour of the Petersburg Civil War battlefield.  And, with the rain gone, “The warm sun put life into each club, and a pretty, snappy game was being put up by each side.”  Bowerman and Petersburg player Michael “Doc” Powers alternated as umpires for the game.

Doc Powers

Doc Powers

Petersburg was leading 1 to 0 in the seventh inning when Powers called Orioles third baseman Jim Donnelly out on strikes.  What happened next, and who was responsible, depended on whether you read the accounts in the Baltimore papers or those in Petersburg and the surrounding Virginia towns.

The Sun said:

“Several promising runs had been cut off by similar umpiring and the birds were getting very ‘sore’ at such outrages.  Donnelly objected and (Hugh) Jennings went up to Powers, who was standing behind the pitcher, and said something to him.  Just then (Charles) Sholta, who had also run up, struck Jennings a stinging blow on the side of the head without warning.  The blow drew blood.”

The American said:

“While Hughey was expostulating rather forcibly with Powers, Sholta struck him on the cheek.”

Charles Sholta--drawing from Richmond newspaper

Charles Sholta–drawing from Richmond newspaper

The Baltimore papers agreed that the punch Sholta threw was unprovoked.  Every Virginia newspaper disagreed.

The Petersburg Index-Appeal said, “Jennings resented Sholta’s interference by very foul and abusive language and was promptly struck in the face.”

Papers in Richmond, Roanoke and Norfolk agreed that Jennings provoked Sholta—The Virginia League correspondent for The Sporting Life said Jennings “hurled an unmentionable epithet at him—an epithet which does not go here.”

Everyone generally agreed with what happened next.  Orioles’ first baseman Jack Doyle punched Sholta, knocking him to the ground and Petersburg fans poured on the field and began attacking Doyle and other members of the Baltimore club.

At this point, there was more disagreement.  The Baltimore papers said Doyle was struck in the head from behind, knocked down and kicked by multiple fans.  While “Wee Willie” Keeler was allegedly “choked and beaten,” five other Orioles, Joe Kelley, Wilbert Robinson, Steve Brodie, Bowerman, and Jennings “were more or less beaten.”

The Orioles, according to The American were forced to flee the ballpark.

The Richmond Dispatch called the Baltimore accounts of the incident:

 “(S)o greatly exaggerated and so grotesquely inaccurate as to cause amazement, not to say indignation, here.  Not a man of the Baltimore team was hurt, and the grossly obscene language uttered by one of the Orioles on the park during the game, caused all of the trouble.”

After the Orioles returned to Petersburg’s Appomattox Hotel, another fight broke out between several members of the Orioles—including Brodie and Kelley—and local fans, one of whom was thrown through a glass door.   After the second fight, the Orioles were accompanied by police to the train depot and departed for Norfolk.

Arrest warrants were issued for Doyle, Kelley, and Brodie, but the three “left their team in Norfolk and (went) beyond the jurisdiction of the state courts.”  Only ten Orioles were available for the final exhibition game in Virginia, a 7 to 5 victory over the Norfolk Braves.

Jack Doyle

Jack Doyle

Sholta appeared in Petersburg’s “Mayor’s Court” along with two fans who said to have assaulted members of the Orioles.  All were released with no charges filed as a result of Doyle, Brodie and Kelley failing to appear—they were sought both as suspects and witnesses against the local defendants.

At the hearing, Petersburg’s Mayor Charles Fenton Collier said Sholta “had only acted as any other gentleman would have,” by hitting Jennings, and the mayor said he would have done the same “under similar circumstances.”

The Washington Times said the only thing unusual about the Orioles’ battle in Virginia was that it happened so early in the season:

“The Orioles are starting their rowdy tactics early.  Perhaps the champs think it just as necessary to train for ruffianly conduct as other points.  And to think that ‘college-bred’ Hughey Jennings started the riot.”

McGraw remained out of the lineup for most of the season—he did not return until August 25.  The fighting Orioles hit .328 as team—Jennings hit .401, Keeler .386 and Kelley .364—and went 90-39 cruising to their third straight National League Pennant.

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2 Responses to “Jennings “Hurled an Unmentionable Epithet at him””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Grantland Rice’s “All-Time All-Star Round up” | Baseball History Daily - August 10, 2015

    […] “Buck”) Weaver…There were (Jack) Glasscock and (John Montgomery) Ward, (Hardy) Richards0n, (Hugh) Jennings, (Herman)Long, (Joe) Tinker and (Jack) […]

  2. “That Short but Trite remark shaped my Career.” | Baseball History Daily - August 24, 2015

    […] a group of Tigers players all talking at the same time.  There is no fairer man in baseball that Hughey Jennings, the famous leader of the Detroit team, and I told that gentleman that the easiest way to settle […]

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