“So I let go a Right”

15 Oct

The Tabasco Kid had softened. Kid Elberfeld, a man so contemptuous of umpires he hit a few and once told John McGraw, “I intend to fight ‘em as long as I live,” as 64-year-old in 1939 said he’d changed.

Elberfeld was asked by Val Flanagan of The New Orleans Times Picayune if he still held the same antipathy for the men in blue:

“No, There’s a couple of nice fellows out there now.”

Elberfeld singled out John Quinn in the American League and Polly McLarry, who after a major league career that lasted 70 games with the Cubs and White Sox, worked as a minor umpire for a decade in the South.

Flanagan was shocked:

“it was unbelievable—to hear this ancient umpire-baiter, who had battled the boys in blue from Maine’s tall pines and hills of snow to where palmetto breezes blow, speak such kindly words about an arbiter.”

The former player and manager, “Old, wrinkled and with just a few whisps of hair framing a shining bald head and a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles athwart his battle-scarred nose.”

Flanagan said, “nothing loosens the tongue of the ‘Kid’ as to inject a few casual remarks about yester-year.”

Elberfeld told his version of one of his altercations with umpires a decade and a half earlier which ended when he punched an Atlanta police officer after being thrown out of a game.

Elberfeld

“The arbiter instructed the bluecoats to see that he went, peacefully or otherwise, and when the Kid balked, one of the John Laws reached over and bopped him one on the ear to show him who was the authority.

“’I didn’t see who hit me, but I figured it was the cop standing just beside me,’ the Kid said, ‘so I let go a right and whammed one of the other cops on the jaw. They took me down and put me right in the jug.”

Elberfeld didn’t just battle umpires. He told the story of a 1920 encounter with Charlie frank, the owner of the Atlanta Crackers. Elberfeld was in town with his Arkansas Travelers as two new additions to the roster: Tom Seaton and Casey Smith both were signed after being released by the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League; Seals owner Charlie Graham said the release was due to rumors of crooked play by both.

When the team arrived at Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon Park, Frank was determined to not allow the Travelers inside. He looked the ballpark and “got a squadron of cops,” to bar entry.

“’I started to climb the fence,’ the Kid explained, ‘and had my team do the same, but Frank threatened to have me arrested if I did.”

Elberfeld said he backed down when he realized Frank wouldn’t. The game was delayed to the next day, Seaton and Smith never player for Little Rock, and Elberfeld lived to fight again.

Elberfeld’s interview with Flanagan coincided with his final return to organized baseball. Having only managed one season in the previous decade, Elberfeld signed on to manage the Gadsden (AL) club in the Southeastern League. He was ejected from a game during his first week.

Elberfeld retired again after the 1936 season; he died in 1944 in Chattanooga, TN.

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