“He fell off the Face of the Earth”

28 Aug

Charles Hazen Morton could run.  When he was playing shortstop and managing the Akron Independents in 1881 The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“Morton, shortstop with the Akrons, can run like a deer.  It is probably that no one in the country can beat him for fifty yards.”

Morton’s major league career in the National League and American Association was unspectacular; he hit less than .200 with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys and St. Louis Brown Stockings in 1882, and the Toledo Blue Stockings and Detroit Wolverines in 1884 and ’85, he also managed Toledo and Detroit–Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Welday Wilberforce Walker played for Morton with the Blue Stockings  He also managed the 1890 Toledo Maumees; Toledo’s only other season as a major league city.

Morton continued to manage minor league and independent teams through 1899.

After five years away from baseball he was the driving force in organizing several independent teams in Ohio and Pennsylvania into the eight-team Ohio-Pennsylvania League.  He was named president.

For two seasons, the league ran smoothly.  So smoothly that, according to The Akron Beacon Journal he was being aggressively pursued by owners in the Central League to assume the presidency of that league during the summer of 1906.  Morton chose to stay put.

As smoothly as things ran for two seasons, the tide turned badly in 1907.  Attendance was down all season and several franchises were on the verge of bankruptcy, and four teams wanted to leave the league entirely.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer said:

“Four O and P League clubs want a new league; four do not.  Four assert they will retire from baseball rather than be associated with the other four.  The league is deadlocked.  Neither side will give in.”

The Youngstown Vindicator said, “There seems to be no question that President Charles H. Morton will have strong opposition.”  Despite efforts to unseat Morton, he was narrowly reelected president of the league.

Ultimately, four teams did leave to form the Ohio State League.  But Morton told The Sporting Life at the beginning of 1908 that he had managed to bring in four new clubs and was confident for the future of the O and P despite rumors that the league was in financial disarray:

“No, I do not think this is going t0 be a disastrous campaign.  The money stringency may hurt the crowds to a certain extent, yet people in this section of Ohio differ little from their brothers in other parts of the country. The germ of baseball Is not sporadic.”

He predicted that attendance would increase.

It didn’t, and things never got better for Morton.  After the 1908 season, it appeared all but certain he would be removed as president.

In December, two days before the league meeting was to begin in Pittsburgh, Morton abruptly canceled it.  A new meeting was scheduled for January in Cleveland and Morton’s fate seemed to be sealed.

On January 12 he traveled to Cleveland with representatives from the Canton Watchmakers and Akron Champs, likely his last two supporters.  But when the meeting was called to order Morton was nowhere to be found.  Samuel Wright, who had managed the Youngstown Champs the previous season, was elected president.

The Youngstown Vindicator said:

“He fell off the face of the earth so far as anybody knows.”

Charles Hazen Morton

Charles Hazen Morton

Some speculated he had run.

He disappeared with $2500 of the league’s money.  As days dragged into weeks there was no sign of Morton.

The Chicago Tribune said his friends were concerned that he had “done away with himself,” despondent over his pending removal as president.

The Marion Star said, “It is feared he has been thugged.”

The Pittsburgh Press advanced a conspiracy theory.  Under the headline “See Deep Plot in Morton’s Absence.”  The paper claimed  the Canton and Akron clubs realizing that he would be ousted had conspired with the president to have him disappear so, “Wright while really elected is far from president (of the league).”

But there was no conspiracy, Morton had really disappeared and remained missing for more than two months.

On March 16 he resurfaced.  Morton was found “wandering aimlessly” on Wabash Avenue in Chicago, near his brother’s home.  The Akron Beacon Journal said he was diagnosed with “Acute dementia (and) his mind is now a blank.”

The only clues where Morton had been for more than two months, were papers in his pockets which indicated he had been in Mexico and Texas and, The Beacon Journal said, “He mutters incoherently about Corpus Christi.”

He recovered enough to return to Akron by August of 1909.  His brother reimbursed the league $1500 that was not recovered after he was found.

Morton faded into obscurity after his return to Akron.  There was no follow-up to his story.  None of the many questions about his disappearance were ever answered.  And whatever happened in Corpus Christi died with him in 1921.

This is a longer version of a post from 12-14-2012.

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2 Responses to ““He fell off the Face of the Earth””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “Three or four Men who looked like Wonders in the Big Leagues Disappeared” | Baseball History Daily - January 13, 2014

    […] said Moses Fleetwood “Fleet” Walker’s short stay with the Toledo Blue Stockings demonstrated that even the most bigoted of teammates […]

  2. Sam Barkley and the Mobster | Baseball History Daily - May 24, 2015

    […] the Toledo Blue Stockings in the American Association in 1884.  Among his teammates in Toledo were Fleetwood and Welday […]

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