“Fight! Dolan! Sweeney! Cellar!”

13 Sep

Charlie Sweeney was a talented, troubled pitcher. Hall of Famer Tim Keefe called him, “The greatest twirler who ever lived,” and player turned sportswriter, The Boston Globe’s Tim Murnane agreed, and said Sweeney was the only pitcher he ever saw who could “curve and out-ball to a left-handed barrer,.”

Sweeney, after his best days were past, but still just 31, spent nearly three years in prison for killing a man in a San Francisco bar in 1894. It wasn’t the first time the pitcher pulled a gun in a bar.

In 1886, just days after being released by the St. Louis Maroons, the 23-year-old Sweeney appeared to have plenty of prospects. The St. Louis Republic said:

“In the Northwestern League he has been offered the managership of three clubs.”

The paper said he also had offers from at least two major league teams:

“The Cincinnati Club would take him, while Louisville will be glad to get him.”

Sweeney

Sweeney’s release came after what The Sporting News called “a gentle controversy” that turned into a serious altercation between the pitcher and his once close friend, catcher Tom Dolan who was also released:

“On the morning after the Maroons’ late arrival from the East, Mr. Sweeney, on going to his dressing case, found marked on it these words:

“Charles Dead Arm Sweeney.

“Only this and nothing more.

“On the very day following Mr. Sweeney’s find, Mr. Dolan, when about to enter his dressing case, found marked on it these words:

“Thomas Hamfat Dolan.

“Only this and nothing more.

“On the very next day Mr. Dolan collided with Mr. Sweeney at Sportsman’s Park. As they glanced at each other their eyes involuntary [sic] spoke

“Mr. Sweeney said ‘Hamfat.’

“Mr. Dolan muttered ‘Dead arm.’”

The two continued to taunt one another. Dolan reminding Sweeney he gave up seven home runs to the Detroit Wolverines on June 12. Sweeny pointing out that Dolan had seven passed balls in a recent game.

The following day, the two were practicing with their teammates at Union Grounds, when their tempers flared again:

“Mr. Dolan was seen to waltz up to (Sweeney) in a threatening manner.”

Sweeney suggested they go to “the cellar under the clubhouse.”

 While Sweeney and Dolan began to fight—with an audience of teammates Jack Glasscock and Henry Boyle, as well as groundskeeper Bill Richards.

Someone alerted manager Gus Schmelz, yelling:

“Fight! Dolan! Sweeney! Cellar!”

Schmelz arriving in the cellar, immediately, “released the prospective combatants from the St. Louis club and fined them $50 each.”

The two almost came to blows the following day, and:

“(Dolan) has given out from the start that blood will be spilled, so that something desperate may be looked for by the habitues of Union Park.”

The Sporting News noted that “the saddest part” of the fight was that “the writing on their dressing cases was the act of a practical joker,” and neither Sweeney nor Dolan was responsible.

Later in the week, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, Sweeney found himself in a local tavern

“The hands on the big clock on the wall pointed to the hour of 2 and the bartender thought it was time his congregation dispersed and meandered homeward.”

As the bartender attempted to move the patrons towards the door:

“Charley Sweeney was among the number, and he rather objected to leaving the place at that early hour.”

Some other patrons helped lead him out the door:

“Sweeney was furious.

“He drew the revolver which he has carried about him lately and made an attack on the front door.

“In a moment, pistol shots seemed to be coming from every direction.

 The bullets, however, all cam from Charley’s favorite weapon.”

The paper said those left inside the bar “were paralyzed with fear” as Sweeney fired shits through the door.

“Some of them climbed over the counter and his under the pop bottles and kegs of beer.

“Others jumped behind posts and held their positions with a tenacity that was simply wonderful to behold.

“Others made their escape through the windows in the rear, for the doors were all locked, ahile a few scrambled under the table and did their best to get out of harm’s way.

“Sweeney emptied his revolver and then reloaded and emptied it again.”

After firing fourteen shots, police arrived “and called upon Sweeney to cease firing.”

Sweeney, then:

“(I)n the coolest manner possible, put his revolver in his pocket, laughed, and walked away.”

Sweeney had begun carrying the gun after he was “attacked by hoodlums” earlier in the year and was granted a permit by St. Louis Mayor David Francis:

“Ever since that he has gone around carrying a small arsenal in his rear pocket, and on several occasions has seen fit to flourish his weapon and threaten to let daylight out of those who happened to be in his way.”

Not another word appears to have been printed about the incident. Two days later, The St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported that Sweeney had signed for $1400 with the Syracuse Stars in the International League. He appeared in just two games for the Stars, losing both and posting a 4.85 ERA.

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