“He Never Liked Baseball so Much When he was in it”

8 Sep

After winning 139 games during a 12-year major league career, Fred Toney’s professional career came to an abrupt and unceremonious end after appearing in nine games (4-3 4.09 ERA) for the Nashville Volunteers in 1925.

Munce Pique, a long-time figure in Southern baseball—he had a long career as an umpire as a brief one as a player—told the story to Blinkey Horn of The Nashville Tennessean in 1935:

“They were in Mobile, and a runner was on third when a Mobile batter his a long foul. The Nashville left fielder—I can’t remember his name—caught the foul and the runner scored.

“Fred Toney walked out of the box, went over to the dressing room, knocked the lock off the door with a bat and put on his clothing and went home.

“So it wasn’t the case in Munce Pique’s opinion, of a sore arm, but rather that Fred Toney was sore at his left fielder for making a dumb catch.

“You could hardly blame him.”

The story had become relevant in Nashville 10 years later because that summer Toney returned, The Associated Press said:

“The other day the hurler, now 45 [sic, 46] and weighing 270 pounds, walked to the mound in Nashville’s ballpark and began throwing a ‘mighty small ball’ down the slot in batting practice.

“Not even the ever-enthusiastic local fans knew that the middle-aged giant out there was Fred Toney, in new shoes and a drab grey uniform.”

Toney, who had a farm and operated a tavern and gas station on Hydes Ferry Pike in Nashville, and had recently attended his first baseball game in a decade; he, “Never liked baseball so much when he was in it,” but now wanted back in the game as a coach.

Toney pitched in a couple semi-pro games in Tennessee in the summer of 1935, and in the spring of 1936 continued his quest to coach, but even he admitted it was his second choice, telling The Nashville Banner:

“I’ve been trying to get on the Nashville police force, but that has just about fallen through. If I can’t make that I want to start dickering for a coaching job.”

The prospects were dim for 47-year-old, 270-pound rookie cops and for coaches 10-years removed from the game

In September of 1936 Toney’s name was back in the news when the farm, filling station, and a “trophy room (containing) valuable relics from his baseball days; pictures, autographed baseballs, and gloves went up in smoke.”

Toney lost his home, one of his businesses, and every piece of memorabilia he had saved from his career.

The next summer, while working at a local nightclub he continued to seek a coaching job but seemed to have been annoyed by the prospect of interacting with modern players. The told The Associated Press:

“Pitchers today don’t do as they should, because they can’t. They are soft. They can’t take it.”

The pitchers of his day were, “farmers, coal miners, cotton pickers. They were physically equal to the strain.”

Toney concluded that, “young men who live normal lives, going through school and having things pretty easy can’t possibly develop into great pitchers.”

By early 1941, bed ridden with the flu and with no job prospects, Toney made another pitch for a baseball job through The Tennessean, telling a reporter:

“I’ll be up soon and all I ask is a chance.”

The best prospect for a job came from the Kitty League, Shelby Peace, the league president sent a wire to the paper:

“I would be glad for you to notify Fred Toney that if he is willing to accept a job as an umpire in the Kitty League, I will be very glad to send him a contract.”

Toney, in 1949, shows a group of minor leaguers his grip on a ball purported to be the one he used to record the final out in the 17-inning no-hitter in 1917; except more than a decade earlier, Toney was said to have lost every important piece of memorabilia in in afire.

That job never materialized, not did a coaching position.  Toney spent his final years working as a security guard and later as a bailiff in the Davidson County Criminal Court House.

Toney died in March of 1953; shortly before his death, and appropriate for his personality, he did not call either his 17-inning minor league, or 10-inning major league no-hitters his greatest moment. His greatest moment was born out of revenge. He told The Banner:

“When I first came up to the Chicago Cub from Winchester in 1911, my manager was Frank Chance. I have no doubt I’d have spent my entire career with the Cubs if Chance hadn’t left and gone to the American League.

“Johnny Evers, who was known as ‘the Crab.’ And I never got along. I never could go for a brow beating manager. Evers sent me back to Louisville and I had to battle my way back to the big leagues with Cincinnati in 1915.

“Evers was then managing Boston. In my first start against him, boy, I beat him good. That one win did more for me than any other.”

Unfortunately, Toney’s greatest moment wasn’t quite accurate either . He lost three decisions to the Braves in 1915 before beating them with a one-hitter on September 1.

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