“I was Pretty Fast in Those Days”

3 Jul

“We did everything 30 years ago they do today, with the possible exception of sacrificing. Little of that was done, and I consider the game was better.”

So said “The hero of the first unassisted triple play in baseball,” to a reporter for The Pittsburgh Press in 1913:

“Holding a good position in the department of agriculture, Washington D.C., is a blonde individual of comfortable corpulence who answers to the name Paul A. Hines.”

Later, The Associated Press would say he got the government position because he, “became a favorite of Rep. William McKinley, who later became president, and when Hines retired from Baseball McKinley found a government job for him.”

The Press described Hines, who would turn 58 that year, as:

“Well preserved, genial a comfortable looking businessman (who) little resembles the dashing outfielder of three decades ago.”

He told the paper that Charlie Buffinton, Tim Keefe, and Old Hoss Radbourn where the greatest pitchers he saw. He said Ned Williamson was the greatest player he witnessed, and that Silver Flint was “the most banged up and best catcher that ever lived.”

Hines also gave the paper a first-hand account of his most famous moment:

“It was made May 8, 1878. I was playing a deep center field and there were runners on second and third when a short fly was hit over the second base.

“I ran in after the ball, believing I had the speed to reach it, for I was pretty fast in those days. Both base runners thought the ball would fall safe and ran for the plate.

“I got the ball off my instep, near second, touched the base and then ran to third, reaching that base before the runner who had occupied it could return, thus completing the play.

“The play has been questioned, but I see that Umpire (Charles F.) Daniels, who worked that day vouched for it recently.”

Daniels’ version of the play differed from Hines’ however, as did the contemporary accounts of the play; even Hines told a different version that year in the October issue of “Baseball Magazine”—none of those versions included the part where Hines claimed to have touched second base before going to third base.

The other versions said he threw to second baseman Charlie Sweasy, but that the throw was unneeded because both runners had rounded third and had been retired. The only version that matched Hines’ The Pittsburgh Press recollection was William Wrothe Aulick’s description of the play that appeared in a syndicated article that eventually became part of the book “The National Game,” published in 1912

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Hines, standing at left, with Providence Grays, 1882

In Hines’ “Baseball Magazine” version–in addition to getting the date wrong, he said May 15, rather than May 8–he claimed he went to second and stepped on the bag after stepping on third, then:

“Sweeney [sic], our second baseman, took the ball and danced around with it, cutting up monkey shines.”

Hines told the The Press that after he completed the play:

“Of course, I remember distinctly how the crowd, when it realized what had happened, went wild. It was one of the proudest moments in the life of Paul Hines, I tell you.”

Hines likely had one of his worst moment years later; he was arrested when caught stealing a pocketbook from a policewoman at the corner of Ninth Street and New York Avenue.

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Hines circa 1900

The Washington Evening Times said:

“The gray-haired man has been under surveillance for some time. When his room was searched at 233 Rhode Island Avenue, a number of purses and pocketbooks were found in it, as well as twenty-five pairs of eyeglasses and spectacles.”

The Washington Star said Hines was released on $1000 bond, and:

“According to the police, Hines, who is 69 years old, when confronted with the charge broke down and said: ‘I have played my last game and lost.’”

Hines, almost completely deaf—his longest obituary, written by Guy M. Smith, who wrote for The Sporting News, and knew Hines, said the deafness was the result of a beaning by Grasshopper Jim Whitney in 1886—and destitute spent the last years of his life at the Sacred Heart Home in Hyattsville, Maryland, he died there in 1935.

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