“I was in Sort of a Trembling Condition”

19 Jul

When George Van Haltren joined the Chicago White Stockings as a pitcher in June of 1887, California newspapers followed his progress closely.

After a disastrous first start on June 27, Van Haltren was used in relief and in right field until July 5, when he started for Chicago against the New York Giants.

vanh

Van Haltren

The Chicago Tribune said that likely “not one of each hundred of the 7000” fans in attendance thought the White Stockings would win with the rookie on the mound:

“(T)here were many who feared that the Giants would ‘get into’ the young man and hammer out a victory.”

Van Haltren beat the Giants 15-3, allowing just one earned run in the ninth inning when he experienced a bout of the wildness that plagued his first start, and walked three batters.

The Sacramento Daily Record-Union sent a reporter to Chicago who provided West Coast fans with the first interview of “The California Wonder” since he headed East:

“George Van Haltren, hot, tired, and dusty, but with a most excusable look of triumph on his face, walked into the White Stockings clubhouse at close of today’s ‘toying’ with the New York Giants and seated himself in a chair. The crowning test of his ability as a pitcher had come and been triumphantly met.”

The reporter asked “the well-tried young pitcher,” about to embark on his first road trip with the club, how he was being accepted in Chicago:

“I’ve been treated like a prince and feel sorry that we are going away even for three weeks. Talk about Southern hospitality, if it’s anything better than what I’ve experienced here, I want to go South.”

Van Haltren was asked to compare baseball on the West Coast to the National League:

“Oh, players are very much more finished, of course, and in some respects the game is almost a new one to me. There is fielding, for instance; why, if my old partners in San Francisco could see the way the ball comes into the diamond from the field in Chicago, it would make their hair stand on end.”

But, said Van Haltren, he wasn’t necessarily having a harder time in Chicago:

“On the contrary, I’ve been most agreeably surprised in that respect. You see, there I was almost expected to strike three out of every five men who faced me, and when I came here, of course, I expected that against famous sluggers of the National League I should have to get down to just so much harder playing. Shortly after my arrival here, however, Captain Anson told me that I was not expected to do anything of the sort. There are outfielders in the Chicago nine, he said, and it was part of their business to look after balls that were knocked into the field. All I was expected to do was play good ball, and if batsmen knocked me hard, men on the outside of the diamond were to attend to the rest.”

He said he was treated well by his teammates:

“I was a stranger, and they took me in and treated me in such a way that now I feel perfectly at home. They are gentlemen from way back, and I would not ask for better company.”

Anson then interjected:

“The satisfaction is mutual my boy, and don’t let it slip your memory.”

Van Haltren was then asked about his disastrous first start—after four strong innings, the rookie walked 14 batter and hit four, although most sources said umpire Herm Doescher did the pitcher no favors:

 “Well, that was a bitter dose. When I went on the ground that day my heart was in my throat and stayed there until I had struck out the first Boston batsman to face me (Joe Hornung), the it went down nearer its natural place, but all through the game I was in sort of a trembling condition. It might not have been so bad if Doescher had given me a fair show.”

He said by the end of the game:

“I wished that I had never come East of the Rocky Mountains. That was an awful roast.

‘”Should say it was,’ growled big Edward Williamson, the Chicago shortstop, who was gravely killing flies on the wall, smashing them with his baseball pants. ‘It is a wonder the colt didn’t break down entirely,’ and the speaker made a vicious lunge at an unusually big bluebottle fly.”

He said he had just one regret; he had been informed that day that Tom Daly would no longer be his catcher for his starts. The Tribune said of his performance during the game with the Giants that, “Daly’s work behind the bat was little short of phenomenal and was best ever seen on the grounds.”

daly

Daly

Van Haltren told the California reporter:

“I am only sorry I am going to lose Daly, who has been catching for me. He is the greatest man behind the bat I ever saw, and I think that he’s the only man can hold (Mark) Baldwin’s terrific delivery, and so I am to have (Dell) Darling. He of course is a first-class man, too, but Daly caught first for me and I am sorry to lose him.”

In closing he asked the reporter to:

“Be sure to tell my California friends that I am enjoying myself.”

Van Haltren was 11-7 with a 3.86 ERA as the White Stocking’s third starter; he also played 27 games in the outfield and hit .206 for the third place White Stockings.

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