“A Ballplayer can’t chase ‘Chickens’ and Chase Flies”

25 Feb

With money borrowed from his brother Clarence, an oil speculator, Henry “Hen” Berry stepped in to take over ownership of the Los Angeles Angels in 1906.

"Hen" Berry

“Hen” Berry

Berry’s Angels won the Pacific Coast League championship in 1907 and ’08, and that success, along with his own profits in the oil business, made Berry a wealthy man in his own right.

He also managed, during his tenure with the Angels, to sell a player to a big league club for the highest amount ever received by a Coast League Club to that point, when he was paid $5,000 by Charles Comiskey of the Chicago White Sox for 18-year-old Lee “Flame” Delhi in 1911; Delhi appeared in just one game for the Sox the following season and was out of organized ball well before his 25th birthday.

Berry was also the driving force in getting the league to finally adopt a two-umpire system in 1912.

He also had a theory about what the type of lifestyle that best suited his players.  In 1914, he talked about it with a reporter from The Los Angeles Examiner:

“’A ballplayer can’t chase ‘chickens’ and chase flies at the same time with any degree of certainty that he’ll land the flies.’

“That is ‘Hen’ Berry’s way of saying that a player whose head is turned by the hero-worship of the fair patrons on the diamond stands a mighty slim chance at high fielding averages or of shining in the .300 batting class…Wedding bells for all players, he believes, would result in the highest possible efficiency.”

Eighteen of the 21 members of the Angels were married, and it was that way by design:

“’It is his susceptibility to the attentions of pretty hero worshippers that keep many a promising athlete from reaching the high place that otherwise would be his in the world of sport,’ asserts Berry.

“’The ballplayer is perhaps more constantly beset by these fair idolizers than any other professional athlete because women frequent the diamond more generally by far than any other sport.’

“’So we have the very thing which keeps baseball keyed up to concert pitch—the element of personal admiration for the players—becoming the most dangerous possibility in pulling a good man down or keeping him mediocre.’”

"Hen" Berry caricature

“Hen” Berry caricature

While Berry conceded that marriage didn’t guarantee that a player would be “immune from lionizing” by women, it would at least reduce the “social diversions which frazzle a man’s nerves.”

Marriage, said Berry, resulted in “Emotional calm” and provides “stability which goes far towards winning pennants.”

Berry’s theory had not resulted in any recent success; after his two pennants in 1907 and ’08, the Angels had experienced a drought that would continue in 1914 when his predominately married club finished second to the Portland Beavers.

Berry sold the Angels after the 1914 season and moved north, purchasing the San Francisco Seals.

He picked up two more championships with the Seals—it is unclear how many of the players on each pennant-winning club were married– and sold the team to group headed by former Coast League catcher Charlie Graham before the 1918 season.

San Francisco Seals owner Charlie Graham

Charlie Graham

After leaving baseball, Berry managed the family’s oil holdings in California.  On March 13, 1929 the steering broke on Berry’s car as he rounded a curve while driving near his home in Maricopa.  The car plunged 100 feet into a ravine, and the former West Coast baseball magnate was dead at age 59.

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