“They Would Never Have Been Allowed on a Team”

18 Jan

Charles “Count” Campau was unusual among 19th Century players—he was a Notre Dame graduate and came from a prominent Detroit family—his great-grandfather arrived in the city seven years after its founding and his grandfather, Joseph Campau, was at one point the largest landowner in Detroit.

He played pro ball from 1885 through 1905 with three major league stints totaling 147 games.

Count Campau

Campau worked as an umpire for a couple seasons after his playing career and spent the rest of his life working at racetracks throughout North America—he was at Kenilworth Park in Ontario when Eddie “Hotspur” McBride of The Buffalo Enquirer relayed a conversation about baseball between the Count and a “fan.”

“Why did I leave baseball? Well, I’ll tell you. When I found out that I could not hit .300 I said it was time to get out of the game and I did. In all of the years that I have played ball I never fell under that .300 percentage. And today I see real or so-called baseball stars batting .250 and even less and called ballplayers. They would never have been allowed on a team years ago.”

His memory of his batting average was selective—he hit below .300 in at least 10 of his minor league seasons; he hit .267 in 572 major league at bats.

Campau was asked if “old-time players” were better:

“Certainly, in ninety-nine instances out of 100. I can quote you by the dozen, men who were only fair ballplayers years ago, who would be stars of the diamond today.”

Campau’s interrogator suggested that the current game allowed the batter “but little show” because it gave the pitcher “every advantage today with the spitball, the foul strike rule, and every else.” He disagreed:

“The batter has ten times the show he had years ago. What would these batters of today think if they had a man like (Toad) Ramsay [sic, Ramsey] or (Amos) Rusie, or others I could mention, who could turn around in the box, throw any old way he wanted without it being called a balk, and let that ball come up to the plate looking like a pea? Not one of those stars of today could hit them, not one. They have all the better of the game today with the exception of the foul strike rule.”

Campau also told McBride a story about his first season in New Orleans—1887; he would later become a very popular figure in the city, retiring there, but said his start was rough. Campau said fans thought he was Italian, and he was greeted with slurs and they would “imitate a hand organ when I went to bat.”

Campau had arrived in New Orleans during a period of anti-Italian sentiment in the city that would culminate with the lynching of 11 Italian immigrants thought by some to be responsible for the murder of the city’s police chief the previous year.

“One fellow in particular was a daisy. He was the biggest pest I ever saw and really made me dead sore. He would throw me a bag of peanuts and call me ‘da monk. Again he would toss out one of those penny slabs of ice cream for ‘da dago.’ Finally, one day he sent ‘da monk’ a fan. I nearly exploded with rage, and not knowing what I did I walked out into the field with the fan still in my hand. I had scarcely turned around when someone hit a ball about a mile out into my territory. It was awfully sunny that day, and instinctively I put up my hand to my eyes. The fan was still in it. To my great joy I saw that it shaded my eyes and I saw the ball ten times better than if I didn’t have it. I made the putout, and it was a dandy. From that day on I always carried a fan out into the field.”

Campau also quickly became popular in New Orleans hitting five home runs—two on June 6 and three on June 7—The Times-Picayune said of the three-home run game:

“The first one was off one of the first balls pitched in the game. It was just inside of the foul mark on the right field fence, and the ball was lost under the new stand. The next home run was in the right field seats. The last hit was the best of all, because it was not only the longest, but brought (Jake) Wells is also. This time the ball did not stop to pay its respects to the stand but went clean over the fence.”

The paper said “Hats were enthusiastically passed around and Campau got about $60 from the crowd. There was a cheer when the ladies present called one of the volunteer collectors over and contributed”

Count Campau died in New Orleans in 1938.

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