“He has not a Single Friend on the Team”

18 Mar

Having been called “The greatest team ever organized,” by The Chicago Tribune, the 1890 Chicago Pirates of the Players League turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments in baseball history, finishing fourth in the eight-team league.

The club suffered from a “lack of discipline” according to The Chicago Times. Charlie Comiskey was cited often for his inability to maintain order on the team. The most glaring, and most reported example took place on September 4.

The Pirates, 11 1/2 games out of first place, were playing the Pittsburgh Burghers.

The Pittsburgh Press said:

“Jimmy Ryan and Tip O’Neill, two of the Chicago Players’ League club outfielders, had an animated spat after Ryan had been retired at third base…Jimmy claimed that Tip had not coached him properly, and made use of some very offensive language. He then turned round to Comiskey, who had been an eyewitness to the whole proceeding, and with an oath said that unless O’Neill was laid off that he—Ryan—would lay himself off.”

The Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette said the incident was “one of the dangers” the papers had warned of when speaking against the formation of the Players League:

“(S) of the players might take advantage of a condition of affairs brought about by the brotherhood movement, and, with and idea that they had as much to do with the running of things as anybody else, refuse to submit to necessary discipline.”

Comiskey immediately suspended Ryan and told him to return to Chicago.

“Jimmy was accordingly paid up to date and furnished with a ticket for the Windy City.”

The Press said Ryan’s teammates applauded the move:

“’You have no idea of how mean that fellow Ryan has been this year,’ said a Chicago player. ‘He has not a single friend on the team today. He is a good ballplayer, he does not drink and no man on the team takes better care of himself then the same Ryan. He has a bad attack of his old complaint, the swelled head. Comiskey has been very lenient with him and he has been playing good ball.”

Ryan was the team’s leader in batting average and RBIs at the time, but Comiskey vowed to make an example of his best offensive player in order to restore discipline, and had no problem calling out a few others, although not by name.

Charles Comiskey

Comiskey

He told The Chicago Inter Ocean:

“Yes, I am through with this man and he will not play under me any longer. He has been trying to have his own way on everything. There are three or four men in this club whom I have been compelled to take, and they have an idea that they can run things to suit themselves.”

Comiskey said Ryan “acted very ungentlemanly” and blamed the play at third on him. He said Ryan was thrown out because he failed to slide, but none of the news reports mentioned whether O’Neill told him to slide.

Comiskey stayed true to word that he was “through” with Ryan—until 11 days later, when the Pirates returned to Chicago from their road trip.

Ryan was back in the lineup for the second game of a September 15 double-header with the Buffalo Bison.

The Tribune said:

“When the second game was called, Jimmy Ryan appeared to take his place at center. He was warmly received and responded by hammering the ball around in desperate fashion.”

Ryan was 3 for 4 with a triple in a 7-3 Chicago victory and continued to hit for the last two weeks of the season; he led the Pirates with a .340 average and 89 RBIs.

“The greatest team ever organized,” was broken up when the Players League folded after their inaugural season. Ryan returned to the Chicago Colts. Comiskey and O’Neill went back to the St. Louis Browns.

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