Twenty-one years before catcher Gabby Street caught a baseball dropped. From the Washington Monument, another catcher attempted it with less success.
When news of Street’s feat was reported in 1908, Oliver Romeo Johnson, who had been a sportswriter for The Indianapolis News in 1887, recalled the circumstances:
“On one of our eastern trips we followed the Chicagos in Washington, and while there the catching of a ball dropped from the monument was much talked of, because one of the Chicago players was said to have done it a few days before. My impression is that it was (Cap) Anson himself, although it might have been Silver Flint.
“One of our team, John Thomas ‘Tug’ Arundel, a catcher, said it was ‘dead easy’ to catch a ball dropped from the monument, and a bet was made on it. A crowd of us went out to see the attempt. Arundel wore catcher’s gloves—which were not so thick as they now are—on both hands and put layers of cotton under them. He tried eight or ten times to catch the ball…but failed every time, and after he had battered up his hands so he could not play for some days he gave it up.”
Several days after Johnson’s recollection appeared in The News, Horace Fogel, who had been Arundel’s manager with the Hoosiers and dropped the balls from the monument, weighed in. Fogel, then sports editor of The Philadelphia Telegraph, disputed the claim that Anson or Flint had caught a ball and said of his catcher’s attempt:
“Arundel, if I remember alright, only succeeded in getting his hands on one ball and it almost tore them off at the wrists. Tug explained afterward that he had not figured on ‘A ball weighing a ton coming from that distance.’ The other balls, a dozen or more, I tossed out to him, Arundel missed, some by fifty feet, he misjudged them that badly.”
Bad judgment was a staple of Arundel’s career which was marred by arrests for drinking and fighting. He appeared in just 76 major league games over four seasons from 1882 to 1888 and played for at least 16 different professional clubs during his 10 seasons in professional ball, often quickly wearing out his welcome.
The Memphis Appeal said he was:
“(T)he handsomest player in the profession, who would sooner fight than eat.”
The Washington Critic summed up the opinion many had of Arundel when he was acquired by the Nationals in 1888:
“’Tug’ Arundel has been secured by the Washington management, as last week’s reports indicated he would be. He is not popular here. However, it is to be hoped that Manager (Ted) Sullivan can keep him muzzled.”
After his release, when it was rumored he might join the Detroit wolverines, The Detroit Free Press told readers:
“Detroit wouldn’t have Tug Arundel under any circumstances.”
After every incident, Arundel pledged to change his ways.
After an 1887 drunken melee in Indianapolis, which resulted in the arrests of Arundel along with teammates Jerry Denny and John (Patsy) Cahill, he told The Indianapolis News he took “a total abstinence pledge for six months.”
In the spring of 1889, he was arrested in his hometown, Auburn, New York twice. First for assaulting a police officer and then for a bar fight with another former major leaguer, and Auburn native, Mike Mansell. The Auburn Bulletin said Arundel “Got the worst of it.” A month after the fight, The Sporting Life said Arundel “writes he is in fine shape and looking for an engagement.”
In 1890, the 28-year-old Arundel was nearing the end of the line. He signed with the Saginaw-Bay City (Michigan) club in the International Association and told The Detroit Free Press that he was serious about sobriety this time:
“I lost splendid situations and almost ruined my reputation through liquor, but, sir, I realize the baneful effects of over-indulgence in intoxicating liquors and I have resolved never to touch another drop. I have kept aloof from it for the past three months and am now in as good condition as I ever was in my life.”
It is unclear whether, or for how long, Arundel kept his last public pledge. He appeared to have played fairly well behind the plate for Saginaw-Bay City. Although he hit just .152, The Free Press, which three years earlier assured readers that Arundel was not wanted on the city’s National League club, was pleased when he signed with the Detroit Wolverines of the Northwestern League:
“(Arundel) has faced the greatest pitchers on the field and held them all. Arundel is a good trainer for young ones, and did good work while with the Hyphens in 1890.”
Whether because of drinking or injuries (The Free Press and The Detroit News said he suffered from “Split fingers” several times throughout the season) Arundel was finished after the 1891 season, at age 29.
Arundel returned to Auburn and was eventually committed to the Willard State Hospital for the Chronic Insane in New York where he died in 1912.