“The Decomposition of a Perfectly Healthy Game”

1 Jun

Umpire Billy Evans said:

“Perhaps nothing shows up an umpire worse than for the catcher to hold up the ball on him, after he has declared the pitch a ball, while the receiver is equally confident it should have been a strike.  Repetition of the stunt often draws a tin can and sometimes several days’ rest.”

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Billy Evans

After the 1908 season, in his nationally column, Evans said that some umpires took it more personally than others:

(Gabby) Street, who broke into the American League last season and established a record that makes him stand out as one of the best backstops in the business, looks on his first run in with Silk O’Loughlin with a lot of humor.  Nothing hurts the arbitrator any more during the game more than to intimate that he possibly could be wrong, and when Street held up a ball, to inform Silk that his judgment was questioned, he almost keeled over.

“’Throw it back; throw it back, busher,’ yelled Silk in his loudest voice.

“Street complied at once and didn’t question the arbitrator any more during the game, but admits that O’Loughlin kept up a continual chatter over the incident throughout the rest of the contest.

“’Don’t forget this is your first year in the league Street, and I’ve been up here six or seven seasons.  I’ll do the umpiring and you tend to the catching, and you will find you have plenty of work to keep you busy.  Sometime you will hold one of those balls up to me when I’m not feeling good and you will probably draw a week’s vacation.”’

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Gabby Street

And, the umpire said, it wouldn’t just be him:

“’Unless you want to have all the umpires in the league a bunch of soreheads you had better forget that trick of holding up the ball.’ These were just a few of the things Silk got out of his system during the remainder of the game, and Street didn’t make any effort to contradict him.”

Four years later, after ejecting Street, then a member of the New York Highlanders,  from a game with the Tigers, for arguing balls and strikes, O’Loughlin faced one of the most harrowing incidents of career.  The New York Sun said:

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Silk O’Loughlin

“First, (Manager Harry) Wolverton was chased off the field, then (pitcher Jack) Quinn… was put out for kicking over a called ball and throwing his glove, and then Street aired his opinion of O’Loughlin as an arbiter and was summarily dismissed..”

The ejections led to “Certain spectators in the grand stand with an acute sense of fair play threw bottles out at O’Loughlin, who stood his ground without flinching in the face of the glassware bombardment and the hooting which went with it.”

The New York Tribune said the incident was “the decomposition of a perfectly healthy game (and) was a frightful site.”

After the game, a 9 to 5 Detroit victory, The Tribune said:

“O’Loughlin was surrounded by a lusty corps of Pinkertons after the game, and was protected from a crowd of spectators who acted threateningly.”

When O’Loughlin died during the 1918 influenza epidemic at age 42, Evans, who worked behind the plate in the last game O’Loughlin worked,  said, “Baseball was a serious proposition for him,” and told the late umpire’s hometown paper, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that he “planned to write a biography of O’Loughlin’s life soon.”

Evans never wrote the book.

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