“The Sock on the jaw ended the game and their Friendship”

2 Sep

In June of 1922, Seventy-two-year-old Cal McVey was still working; more than 40 years after his final game with the Cincinnati Reds, he was a night watchman at a San Francisco lumber company.

A reporter from The San Francisco Call and Post called him to let him know the National League had just voted him a monthly pension.

“It was welcome news to the old-timer.  Jobs have been more and more infrequent and difficult to hold…Rheumatism and other ills of advancing age have meant weeks in the hospital…The idea of a benefit for the veteran had been suggested and abandoned, for the name ‘Cal McVey’ carried little significance to the bulk of 1922 fans.”

A benefit game on McVey’s behalf between two military teams held in 1919 at San Francisco’s Recreation Park had drawn a very small crowd.

The paper said

“(T)he league will only be doing what is partially due a man who was one of the real founders of organized baseball and one who did his full share toward keeping the game out of the clutches of the gamblers.”

McVey had been “approached” while playing for the Boston Red Stockings.

“This gambler was a friend of Cal and the two were playing billiards one day in Boston when the proposition was made…(McVey hit the gambler) so hard on the jaw that he forgot all about baseball and everything else for awhile…The sock on the jaw ended the game and their friendship.”

Cal McVey

                   Cal McVey

The Call and Post claimed McVey left major league baseball behind while still in his prime at the age of 30 partly as a result of his disdain for gamblers.  After the 1879 season, McVey, then manager of the Reds came to the West Coast with the team for a series of games with the Chicago White Stockings and local teams:

“Cal suspected two men on his team of being too friendly with gamblers.  But he could not prove anything on them, nor could he get the owner of the club to fire them (and) he was disgusted that fall because his team did not win the pennant when he thought it had the class to do so.”

After finishing in second place in 1878, the Reds added shortstop Ross Barnes and had high expectations for the 1879 season—McVey replaced Deacon White as manager in June—they finished the year 43-37 (34-28 under McVey) in fifth place.

McVey “took a flyer” on an investment in a mine while in California and The paper said he was “unlucky enough” to have quickly made a $3500 profit—he earned $2000 with the Reds that season.

“That settled it.  No more baseball for him (not entirely, McVey did play in the California and Pacific Leagues in 1880 and played with some independent teams in the mid-1880s). He was cut out for a mining broker.  He sold his stuff in Cincinnati and moved to San Francisco.”

McVey was successful in San Francisco until the 1906 earthquake and resulting fires:

“Cal was running a cigar store at Third and Folsom Streets…His wife (Abbey) was hurt in the disaster and, after a lingering illness of two tears, she died.  Cal says the light of his life went out when his wife died.”

After the loss of his wife and business, McVey worked a series of jobs.  In 1913, a wire service report said he had been “crippled” in a mine explosion in Nevada and friends in California asked many of his former teammates to help him financially.

It is unclear how incapacitated McVey was from the accident, in 1919 he was healthy enough to travel to Cincinnati for the World Series, but by 1922, when the National League granted his pension, McVey was nearly destitute and in poor health.  He told the reporter who called him with the news he “was proud today that the National League had ‘remembered an old fellow like me.’”

McVey 1922

                  McVey 1922

McVey died in San Francisco four years later.

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