Search results for 'billy evans'

“Evans, who, at the Least, is Incompetent”

2 Dec

William George “Billy” Evans was nicknamed “The Boy Umpire” when he was hired by the American League at the age of 22.  After 21 seasons  he became a front office executive, working for the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers; he was also president of the Southern Association, authored two baseball books and in 1973, 17 years after his death, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

But during his first season as an umpire, 1906, he was not held in high esteem in Chicago.

On September 10 the White Sox were in second place, a game behind the New York Highlanders.  The Sox trailed the Tigers 2 to 1 in the 9th inning.  Chicago shortstop George Davis laid down a bunt and was called out at first by Evans.  Every Chicago paper said Evans beat the throw by “at least a step.”

The call precipitated a near riot.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“Instantly a shower of bottles from the first base bleachers drove the umpire, coacher, and players away from the vicinity of the base.”

After the next two batters were retired:

“Evans walked off the field amid another volley of bottle from the third base stand.”

The Tribune and The Chicago Inter Ocean said Evans and fellow umpire Tommy Connolly were mobbed by fans as they attempted to leave the ballpark with a police escort.  Both papers said “one or two blows” from fans connected with the umpire during his retreat.

The Inter Ocean said, “Evans has been the most heartily reviled arbiter that ever worked in any league.”

The Tribune said two weeks earlier Evans cost the Sox a game in Philadelphia.  After Chicago scored two runs in the top of the sixth inning to take a 5 to 4 lead, Evans “let the Athletics take advantage of his inexperience,” and stopped the game on account of rain with two men out in the bottom of the inning.  The Inter Ocean said, “(Sox Manager Fielder) Jones and (second baseman Frank) Isbell nearly came to blows with the umpire and members of the Athletic team.”

After a half hour, the game was called and the score reverted back to the end of the 5th inning, giving Philadelphia a 4 to 3 victory.

The next day, September 11, the Sox played the St. Louis Browns at South Side Park.  Evans worked the game along with Jack Sheridan.  The newspapers said Sox owner Charles Comiskey had discontinued the sale of “bottled goods” at the park that day.

The Browns won 7 to 3, and the Chicago press put much of the blame for the loss on the rookie umpire.

The Tribune said:

President (Ban) Johnson’s persistence in sending Evans, who, at the least, is incompetent, is giving baseball a black eye in Chicago.  Half the crowd believes the charges that Evans is working under instructions from Johnson to beat Chicago.  These charges undoubtedly are founded on mere prejudice, yet, had Evans been under instructions and trying to beat Chicago, he could not have done better than he did yesterday.”

The Inter Ocean said the Browns “were aided and abetted by Umpire Evans, the boy wonder…Why Ban Johnson insists upon sending the joke to officiate at important games is more than any sane man can see.”

But the Evans’ most ardent critic was William A. Phelon, sports editor of The Chicago Journal:

“Umpire Evans is the worst that ever yet came down this or any other pike in the history of the modern universe…And Ban says he is the best in the game.  We are not selfish and we are willing to let some other city endure him.  We can get over the shock of his removal.  If he doesn’t move he may have a statue down on the lake front, a statue 200 feet high made of bottles.  Give us liberty, give us death, give us any old thing, but, by the snakes of old Ireland, give us an umpire!”

Phelon also said Evans “seems to be a gentlemanly individual, whose place in life is evidently a long ways from the profession of umpiring.”

1906 White Sox

Despite the blame heaped on the young umpire in the press, the White Sox went 17-7 the rest of the season and won the pennant by three games.  They went on to beat the Chicago Cubs 4 games to 2 in the World Series.

Things got better for Evans as well.  He worked his first World Series in 1909—the youngest umpire to do so– and participated in five more from 1912 to 1923.  He was the third umpire to be elected to the Hall of Fame; Connolly and Bill Klem were the first two.

“Schalk had Defined the Intention of the Baserunner”

25 Feb

American League Umpire Billy Evans, writing in his syndicated newspaper column in 1923, said of Chicago White Sox catcher Ray Schalk:

“(He) is one o the greatest catchers the game has ever produced largely because he does other things aside from the mere giving of signals, catching, and throwing the ball.

“Ray Schalk is a thinker.  There is a reason for everything he does on the ball field.  He gives thought to every ball pitched.  He is constantly looking over his playing field to see that infielders and outfielders shift properly for the style of pitch he has signaled for.”

schalk

Schalk

Evans said Schalk particularly excelled when Hal Chase was playing first base for the Sox from June of 1913 until June of 1914, “he and Schalk pulled of many remarkable plays.”

Evans described the two best plays he saw Schalk and Chase pull off.  The first, a sacrifice bunt with “a very fast man” on first.  The pitcher fielded the bunt and threw to Chase at first to retire the batter:

princehal

Chase

“The third baseman, in order to get out of the pitcher’s way in fielding the ball, had purposely fallen to the ground.  The base runner…noticed that third base was uncovered as he rounded second base.  He decided to try for third.  Schalk had defined the intention of the baserunner before he reached second and had raced down to third base from his position back of the plate.

“Chase had also sized up the situation.  He held his throw until Schalk was able to get into position to receive it.  Then he made a fast, accurate throw, Schalk received the throw a fraction of a second ahead of the runner, and managed to get the ball on him by making a dive for him as he started his hook-slide”

Evans described Schalk’s other “remarkable” play:

“(I)t seems Schalk and Chase agreed that when a batsman singled to right field with no one out, Chase would continue to play deep first base and pay no attention to the runner.  This was done to cause the runner to round first and take a big lead towards second in case the ball was fumbled (by the right fielder).

“Schalk’s part of the play was to rush to first just behind the runner.  It was the duty of the right fielder to make a snap throw to Schalk, in order that he might get the runner.”

Evans said he saw Schalk, who in another column he called “One of the smartest catchers to ever don a mask,” attempt the play several times with Chase over the roughly 150 games they played together, and while he only saw them work it successfully once, “Yet, as after events proved, it saved the game.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things–Quote Edition

12 Oct

When you spend hours pouring over microfilm and web based newspaper archives you find something every day that is interesting but not enough for a standalone post—these are random quotes and observations that follow no theme or thread, I just think they should not be lost to the mists of time.

Cy Young was asked by The Cleveland News in 1909 if there would ever be a successful ambidextrous pitcher in the major leagues:

“Elton Chamberlain, who was with Cleveland in the early 90s, essayed to perform this feat occasionally, but about all he had with his left arm was a small amount of speed and a straight ball. The way pitchers have to work nowadays a man who can use one rm and use it effectively is quite a man as pitching goes.”

chamb

Elton Chamberlain

In 1909, Time Murnane noted in The Boston Globe that Billy Sunday, as an evangelist was earning more than 10 times what the “highest-paid men” in baseball were making. Of Sunday’s ability he said:

“No doubt Mr. Sunday is a very good evangelist, much better it is hoped than he ever was as a ballplayer. Mr. Sunday was a fast runner. That marked his limit as a baseball star. He could not hit or field or throw well enough to make it worthwhile talking about.”

billysunday2

Billy Sunday, evangelist

In 1946, Grantland Rice of The New York Herald Tribune asked Connie Mack during a discussion of Bob Feller which pitcher he felt had the “greatest combination of speed and curves,” of all time:

“He hesitated less than two seconds. ‘Rube Waddell,’ he said. ‘The Rube was about as fast as Feller, not quite as fast as (Walter) Johnson. But the Rube had one of the deepest, fastest-breaking curves I’ve ever seen. Johnson’s curve ball was unimportant. Feller isn’t as fast as Johnson but he has a far better curve ball.’”

Mack did, however, concede:

“’Feller and Johnson were far more dependable than the Rube who now and then was off fishing or tending bar when I needed him badly.’”

rube

Rube

In 1916, in his nationally syndicated American League umpire Billy Evans asked Napoleon Lajoie about the best pitchers he faced:

“I never faced a wiser twirler than Chief Bender…he made a study of the art. If a batter had a weakness, the Chief soon discovered it, and from that time he made life miserable for that particular batsman. His almost uncanny control made it possible for him to put into execution the knowledge he would gain of the batter’s weakness. I know of a certain big league player, and he was a good one, who would request that he be taken out of the game any time Bender worked…Best of all, he had the heart of an oak and in a pinch always seemed to do his best work.”

chiefbender

Chief Bender

In 1907, the Washington Senators hired Pongo Joe Cantillon to manage the team, Ted Sullivan, “the man who discovered Comiskey,” was never shy about taking credit for an idea, and told The Washington Star:

“As I was instrumental in enticing Cantillon to come to Washington I know the salary that was offered, and I saw the contract. It was nearly twice the salary of a United States Senator, and there is not a bench manager today in the eastern country that is getting one-half the salary of Cantillon. The Washington management has corrected all the errors of the past in getting a baseball pilot who knows all the bends and shallows in the baseball river.”

pongo

Pongo Joe

Despite the money, and Cantillon’s knowledge of the “bends and shallows,” the Senators finished 8th twice and 7th once during Cantillon’s three seasons in Washington, he had a 158-297 record during his only stint as a big league manager.

“Baumgardner Ought to be one of the Greatest Pitchers in Baseball”

30 Jul

Two things were certain after George Baumgardner’s major league debut—a 4 to 1 victory over the Big Ed Walsh and the Chicago White Sox—he had talent, and he was a bit odd.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“He had a lot of speed.  The best thing he had was splendid control.  He seemed able to cut the ball across any portion of the plate except the middle, and he seldom gave the Sox a chance to belt a good one, yet he was getting them over for strikes.”

The Chicago Daily News said Baumgardner was told it was a big deal that he had beaten Walsh:

“’Who is this fellow Walsh?’ he asked.  He was told that Big Ed is considered by many the greatest pitcher in the game.  ‘If he’s so good why don’t some National League clubs draft him?’  Inquired Baumgardner innocently.  He has since been told that the American League, in which he promises to earn fame, is a major organization just like the National.”

baumg

Baumgardner, 1912

He was 37-47 with a 3.12 ERA in his first three seasons for Browns teams that lost 101, 90, and 88 games.

However, he was sent home by the Browns after appearing in just seven games in 1915—he was 0-2 with a 4.43 ERA.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, the pitcher “has hit the lonesome trail of the West Virginia pines…and has been advised to go home and get in shape.”

After the 1915 season, American League umpire Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column that, “Baumgardner…ought to be one of the greatest pitchers in baseball, but he is not, and thereby hangs a rather interesting tale.”

Evans said:

“Baumgardner has wonderful speed and a beautiful curve.  He is fleet of foot and a corking good fielder.  There are in the major leagues today any number of pitchers rated as stars who do not possess one-half the natural ability.”

Evans said in addition to his slow start, the Browns gave up on the pitcher so easily because of the financial stress the Federal League had caused American and National League clubs:

“Baumgardner’s salary was surely $4,000 or better, because George Stovall tried to sign him for the (Kansas City) Feds.  Stovall, having managed the Browns (Stovall jumped to Kansas City before the 1914 season) was familiar with Baumgardner’s ability. There are few players who would let such a salary slip away from the without making some effort to retain it.”

Evans claimed that after they sent him home, the Browns never heard from their pitcher, and “his whereabouts during the summer was unknown,’ to the team.

“The only news ever received from the eccentric pitcher came through a St. Louis traveling man, who made the small towns in the south.  He bumped into Baumgardner in a West Virginia hamlet pitching for one of the village clubs.  He watched him perform, said he never looked better; so good in fact he could have gotten a long without his outfield.”

Evans said the man asked the pitcher if he had been in touch with the Browns:

“’I am waiting to hear from them,’ was Baumgardner’s reply.  ‘I guess if they really thought they could use me they would have me rounded up.  I ain’t much on letter writing; they don’t need to expect any word from me.”

Evans said:

“It hardly seems possible that in times of war, when big salaries were almost possible fir the mere asking, a fellow would let it get away from him (but) nothing worries the big fellow, it is easy come, easy go with him.”

Baumgardner’s 1916 season was even more unusual than 1915.  He again reported to the Browns out of shape, and struggled.

In June, the Browns attempted to sell him to the Memphis Chickasaws in the Southern Association.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“George Baumgardner of Barboursville, WV, the heart of the Blue Ridge belt, is all puffed up like a pouter pigeon because he has signed a new contract with the Browns.  All of which proves how easy it is to get Baumgardner all puffed up.

“This contract, which Baumgardner considers and asset, according to his own statement, calls for $75 a month.”

The paper said Baumgardner would have earned $200 a month with the Chickasaws, but told manager Fielder Jones:

“Who’ll ever see me pitch in Memphis?”

Baumgardner lasted just one more month in St. Louis.  He appeared in four games for the Browns and posted a 7.88 ERA before being released on July 20.

The Sporting News said the Browns attempted send Baumgardner to the Little Rock Travelers, where he would have earned $250 a month and he again said he wasn’t interested:

“But even that ($75 a month) was too much, thought Fielder Jones, so one day last week he handed Baumgardner another release, his second or third in three months, and told him positively to get away and stay away.”

Baumgardner said his right arm had “gone back on him,” and that he was going to “go back to the mountains and practice with my left arm.”

After several days he joined the Travelers.

He only lasted a month in Little Rock.  Baumgardner was 2-1 in five appearances on August 21 when The Arkansas Democrat said he was heading back to West Virginia:

“(He) says he is going home this week and stay there until next season—maybe.  Or he may come back and help the Travelers in the last few days.”

Baumgardner promised the paper he would return and “not lose more than four games” in 1917.

baumgardner

Baumgardner, 1917

The Arkansas Gazette summed up his 1917 season:

“Every time “Bummie” goes out he gets a beating.”

And he didn’t keep his word.  He lost five games in 1917, winning three, before being released by Little Rock on June 7.

After winning 37 games in his first three major league seasons, Baumgardner’s professional career was over six weeks before his 25th birthday.

“The Decomposition of a Perfectly Healthy Game”

1 Jun

Umpire Billy Evans said:

“Perhaps nothing shows up an umpire worse than for the catcher to hold up the ball on him, after he has declared the pitch a ball, while the receiver is equally confident it should have been a strike.  Repetition of the stunt often draws a tin can and sometimes several days’ rest.”

billyevans

Billy Evans

After the 1908 season, in his nationally column, Evans said that some umpires took it more personally than others:

(Gabby) Street, who broke into the American League last season and established a record that makes him stand out as one of the best backstops in the business, looks on his first run in with Silk O’Loughlin with a lot of humor.  Nothing hurts the arbitrator any more during the game more than to intimate that he possibly could be wrong, and when Street held up a ball, to inform Silk that his judgment was questioned, he almost keeled over.

“’Throw it back; throw it back, busher,’ yelled Silk in his loudest voice.

“Street complied at once and didn’t question the arbitrator any more during the game, but admits that O’Loughlin kept up a continual chatter over the incident throughout the rest of the contest.

“’Don’t forget this is your first year in the league Street, and I’ve been up here six or seven seasons.  I’ll do the umpiring and you tend to the catching, and you will find you have plenty of work to keep you busy.  Sometime you will hold one of those balls up to me when I’m not feeling good and you will probably draw a week’s vacation.”’

gabbywash

Gabby Street

And, the umpire said, it wouldn’t just be him:

“’Unless you want to have all the umpires in the league a bunch of soreheads you had better forget that trick of holding up the ball.’ These were just a few of the things Silk got out of his system during the remainder of the game, and Street didn’t make any effort to contradict him.”

Four years later, after ejecting Street, then a member of the New York Highlanders,  from a game with the Tigers, for arguing balls and strikes, O’Loughlin faced one of the most harrowing incidents of career.  The New York Sun said:

silk

Silk O’Loughlin

“First, (Manager Harry) Wolverton was chased off the field, then (pitcher Jack) Quinn… was put out for kicking over a called ball and throwing his glove, and then Street aired his opinion of O’Loughlin as an arbiter and was summarily dismissed..”

The ejections led to “Certain spectators in the grand stand with an acute sense of fair play threw bottles out at O’Loughlin, who stood his ground without flinching in the face of the glassware bombardment and the hooting which went with it.”

The New York Tribune said the incident was “the decomposition of a perfectly healthy game (and) was a frightful site.”

After the game, a 9 to 5 Detroit victory, The Tribune said:

“O’Loughlin was surrounded by a lusty corps of Pinkertons after the game, and was protected from a crowd of spectators who acted threateningly.”

When O’Loughlin died during the 1918 influenza epidemic at age 42, Evans, who worked behind the plate in the last game O’Loughlin worked,  said, “Baseball was a serious proposition for him,” and told the late umpire’s hometown paper, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that he “planned to write a biography of O’Loughlin’s life soon.”

Evans never wrote the book.

“When Wilson wanted to Play he was a Star”

10 Oct

When campaigning for Woodrow Wilson in 1912, former North Carolina Governor Robert Broadnax Glenn would tell crowds about the year he spent as Wilson’s teammate on the Davidson College baseball team.

Governor Glenn

Governor Glenn

The Baltimore American said, while stumping for Wilson in Maryland, Glenn told supporters that the candidate had an “(A)rm like iron and the speed of the wind,” and could have been a great player:

“Woodrow Wilson was a fine baseball player but too darn wrapped up in reading to come out for practice…(he) was a good player but he was too confounded lazy to make a star. When the team would be called out for practice, we’d have to go to his room and drag him away from a book.

Wilson

Wilson

“But when Wilson wanted to play he was a star. He played left field and while he had an awkward way of running, he covered a lot of ground and was the best pinch hitter on the team.  His only trouble was he cared more for history than for Spalding’s rule.”

Wilson withdrew from Davidson in 1874 when he became ill, Glenn said:  “After that, Wilson went to Princeton and I went back to the plow.”

Not much else was said about Wilson’s interest in the game, and after he was elected, some questioned if the new president would support baseball the way his predecessor William Howard Taft had.  The Associated Press said:

“Washington fans have wondered whether or not the new administration, of which a former college president is the head, would give as much support to the great game as did President Taft, an irrepressible fan.”

The question was answered April 11, 1913, when Wilson threw out the first pitch for the Washington Senators’ home opener:

The Washington Star said:

“Wind, weather, and press of duties permitting, President Wilson is believed likely to be a frequent attendant at the American League Baseball Park…The belief is based on the interest shown by the president in the first game of the season and his applause when the bird of victory which had shown itself exceedingly coy, finally decided to perch on the shoulders of the Nationals.”

The paper noted that excitement overtook the chief executive on one occasion:

“President Wilson at one point in the game arose to his feet in his enthusiasm.  Official dignity prevented his yelling.  A cheer arose in his throat, but did not pass his lips. He could and did applaud frantically, however, by clapping his hands.”

The American Press Association said:

“There is no doubt about it—President Wilson is a real baseball fan.  He knows all about the game, and he is going to be seen often at the ballpark here.  At the opening game of the season between the Washingtons and the Yankees the president was given a new ball in a box by Clark Griffith, manager of the Senators, and he threw it—not tossed it, mind you—with speed and precision into the hands of pitcher Walter Johnson…For a few hours he forgot all about the intricacies of the tariff situation and gave himself up to enjoyment.

Woodrow Wilson at the 1912 Opener--"Catching new ball in Box from Clark Griffith" and "Wilson the fan."

Woodrow Wilson at the 1912 Opener–“Catching new ball in Box from Clark Griffith” and “Wilson the fan.”

And Wilson did appear often, attending five Washington games during the first six weeks of the 1913 season.  He would attend just one more that season and a total of six more during his presidency.

Wilson, program in hand, after throwing first pitch to umpire Billy Evans in 1915.

Wilson, program in hand, after throwing first pitch to umpire Billy Evans in 1915.

“One of the Most Mysterious Cases in Baseball”

16 May

Before the 1925 season, Billy Evans, the American League umpire and syndicated columnist, said St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Allan Sothoron was:

“One of the most mysterious cases in baseball.”

sothoron

Evans said the 32-year-old who had spent parts of nine seasons in the major leagues:

“Here was a pitcher who was recognized as one of the richest prizes ever found.  He had a fast ball, a spitter, a curve, a change of pace; control—well, just everything that a great pitcher requires.

“And Sothoron lived as a pitching star, but not for long.  A weakness was discovered.  Show the opposing side a weak spot and it plays through it.

“Sothoron, with an iron arm are rare intelligence, could not control his throw once he fielded the ball.”

During five seasons in the American League from 1917-1921, Sothoron made 50 errors in just 356 total chances.

“On bunts or easy taps hit straight to him he lost his bearings.  With one swish of his arm, he threw—threw in any direction which usually was yards away from his fielder.

“To first, second, third base or the plate, Sothoron aimed and fired.

“And eventually, he threw himself out of the American League.”

Evans said Indians manager Tris Speaker “thought he could correct the fault’ when he acquired Sothoron in June of 1921, and for a time he thought he had–Speaker told The Cleveland News when he acquired the pitcher that the problem was Sothoron “throwing flat-footed.”

Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker

He won 12 and lost four, with a 3.24 ERA for Cleveland—although he did commit four errors in just 36 total chances.  But in 1922, Speaker “gave up the job” after Sothoron appeared in just six games—he was 1-3 with a 6.39 ERA and made one error on six chances.

Evans said after he was released by Boston:

“Sothoron, disgusted with himself, retired from baseball.”

He returned to baseball in 1923, with the Louisville Colonels in the American Association.  Despite a 6-9 5.92 season with the Colonels, Evans said:

“The scene changes.  Branch Rickey, as manager of the St. Louis Browns in 1914, discovered Sothoron.  And he refused to believe that such an evil could not be corrected.  He took a chance and purchased Sothoron for his St. Louis Cardinals in 1924.”

Branch Rickey

Branch Rickey

And the pitcher responded:

“The story is not closed.  Sothoron was one of the few pitchers with a perfect fielding average in the National league last season.”

He was 10-16 with a 3.57 ERA, but handled 37 total chances without an error, which included “making 35 perfect throws in aiding in the retirement of batters or runners.”

Evans attributed Sothoron’s fielding to:

“Branch Rickey’s system of training… (Rickey) saw that Sothoron…simply scooped in the ball and made his throw.  He did not steady himself.

“For days and weeks, Sothoron was put through such a course—fielding a ball, pausing, steadying himself, then following through with the throw.”

Evans suggested that “after 10 years of drifting” Sothoron had “finally found himself.”

It did not last.

He pitched for the Cardinals for two more seasons, he was 13-13 with a 4.09 ERA, and he committed five errors in just 31 chances.   He finished his career with an .871 fielding percentage.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #19

23 Mar

“Strikes Never got a Pitcher Anything,” 1911

Two days before he collapsed on the field in Chattanooga, Tennessee on April 3, 1911 (and died 11 days later) Addie Joss spoke about pitching with a reporter for the final time.

Joss and the Cleveland Naps were in New Orleans when he told The Associated Press:

“Every time I fool a batter and he misses the ball I feel disappointed.

“Strikes never got a pitcher anything.  Strikeouts don’t win baseball games and increase a man’s salary.  It’s the man who wins games who gets the credit.

Addie Joss

Addie Joss

“What I have said may sound heretical.  But just think it over for a moment, and you will see why a pitcher should want the batter to connect when he is outguessed.

“When the pitcher outguesses the batter the batter is off his balance.  The chances are ten to one he hits at the ball in a half-hearted way.  The chances are twenty to one that if he does connect he will be an easy out.

“Now when that fellow strikes and misses don’t you see that the pitcher must start all over again?  The last strike is just as hard to get as the first one.  When a man misses a ball on which he has been fooled it is just like having an entirely new turn at bat.”

“In the Second Inning, things began to Happen,” 1909

William “Dolly” Gray was a 30-year-old rookie with the Senators in 1909; he came to Washington after pitching seven years for the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League compiling a 117-65 record.  That season he set a record which still stands: the most walks in an inning.

Dolly Gray

Dolly Gray

In 1923, in his syndicated column, Umpire Billy Evans called the game in which it happened, “The weirdest game I have ever seen.”

Evans said of the August 28, 1909, game:

“Gray allowed only one hit—a very questionable one—yet he was beaten 6 to 4. Not an error was made by his supporting cast…I umpired the game, and can recall the happenings of the unusual game as vividly as if they were just being staged.”

[…]

“In the second inning, things began to happen.  Pat Dougherty led off with a high bounder to Bob Unglaub, playing first base for Washington.  Unglaub jumped after it, the ball struck the top of his glove and was deflected into right field.  It was scored as a hit, but I have always thought that Unglaub should have easily handled the ball.

After Dougherty had reached first base, Gray developed a streak of wildness—the most unusual streak I have ever seen.  He walked seven men in succession, forcing in five runs.  The count was three and two on practically every batter.  A couple of outs and another base on balls were responsible for the sixth run of the inning.

Joe Cantillon, managing the Washington club, was short on pitchers at the time and let Gray take his medicine.  In the next inning Gray recovered control and for the rest of the game held the Sox runless and hitless.  Washington staged several rallies and Chicago had a hard time winning 6 to 4…Gray, who really pitched a no-hit game, was beaten…That game stands out in my memory as the most peculiar ball game I ever worked.”

The Box Score

The Box Score

Gray walked 69 batters in the other 217 innings he pitched in 1909.  His hard luck that day in August of 1909 extended for the duration of his short big league career; in three seasons with the Senators he posted a 3.52 ERA and was 15-51.

Meyers’ “Gnarled and Broken” Hand

Like all catchers of his era, John “Chief” Meyers’ hands were, as The New York Tribune described them “gnarled and broken.”

But the paper said he had found a cure after being drafted into the marines in November of 1918:

“(At Paris Island, Meyers) hands toyed with a Springfield, and when he swung the bat in the bi-weekly baseball games on the sand diamond at the great Marine Corps Training Station, where there is no fence, the horsehide pellet generally soared well out into the sea.

Chief Meyers

Chief Meyers

“Meyers says that his marine training has done wonders for him and that it has made him good for many more seasons behind the bat.”

After his discharge, the 38-year-old Meyers played just one more season, with the New Haven Weissmen in the Eastern League, hitting .301.

 

“Those Freak Balls have no Place in the Game”

16 Dec

Billy Evans, “The Boy Umpire,” was a newspaper reporter in Youngstown, Ohio before he worked his first game as an umpire and continued writing about baseball in syndicated articles throughout his nearly 50-year career as an umpire and front office executive.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

In January of 1917 he wrote about a conversation he had the previous summer with Cy Young, the 49-year-old former pitcher, out of baseball for five seasons:

“I met him in the lobby of a Cleveland hotel.  Jokingly, I asked him how his arm felt and if he would be able to pitch that afternoon.  He looked as well as ever.  His waist line alone showed the effects of not being in constant training. At the mention of his arm and the chances of him pitching, Cy’s eyes flashed with the old spirit.”

Young told Evans he was “ready and willing:”

Cy Young

Cy Young

“’Honestly Bill, the old arm feels as good as ever,’ was his reply to my query.  ‘Never hurt me in my life, don’t know what it is to have a pain in that good old right arm.  When I quit I had more speed and a better curve than a lot of fellows who are still big leaguers, and I didn’t develop that curve until I had been a big league pitcher many years.  You know, it was excess weight, and not a glass arm, that made me quit pitching. My fielding failed me long before my arm showed signs of weakening, and when I was in my prime I was hardly (Napoleon) Lajoie on ground balls, bunted ones in particular.  During my last two or three years as a big leaguer the boys were wise to my inability to field, even as well as I once did, and they made life miserable for me in many a game.  You might say I was practically bunted out of baseball.”

Young said control “more than any other feature” was the key to his longevity:

“I saw many a pitcher come and go and it was lack of control that started most of them on their way to retirement or to the bushes.  Wasted effort ruins man a pitcher’s arm.  I never used any more energy than was necessary.  I have known a lot of pitchers who invariably did enough pitching for three games every time they were called.  It seemed as though they would have three balls and two strikes on every batter. “

Young said early in his career he learned to warm up differently than most pitchers:

“In the old days pitchers when warming up prior to pitching used to do so at random.  They would hurl the ball to the catcher without any definite purpose.  The sole aim was to get the muscles of the pitching arm loosened.  When I warmed up I always had the catcher take off his cap and set it on the ground for an imaginary home plate.  I figured this scheme would not only loosen up the muscles but help my control, for instead of throwing every ball aimlessly to the catcher, I made an effort to get every ball over the plate…Many pitchers used to warm up from any old distance.  They might pitch from forty to sixty feet.  I always insisted on warming up from the regulation pitching distance.”

[…]

“That I was right in many of my theories has been proven by the methods now used by every major league club.  Practically all have regular places for the pitchers to do their preliminary work.  I mean they have the distance carefully measured to conform to the rules, and have regular pitching rubbers and home plates.”

Evans asked Young what he felt about “new fangled” pitches like the spitball and emery ball:

“’I don’t think about them,’ answered Young.  ‘I just laugh.  We didn’t have to resort to that stuff in the old days, and there were some pretty good pitchers serving them up then.  Speed, curves and a change of pace ought to be enough for any pitcher.  Those freak balls have no place in the game, but it is a pretty hard matter to legislate them out.”

“That Short but Trite remark shaped my Career.”

24 Aug

In 1906, William George “Billy” Evans became the youngest umpire in major league history.  “The Boy Umpire” was just 22-years-old.

A decade later, in a syndicated newspaper article, he told the story of how he, by chance, he began his career as an umpire.  Somewhat altered versions of the story were told over the years, including a version in his obituary; however, this was his earliest, direct telling of the story:

Billy Evans

                                         Billy Evans

“It was one day in 1903 that I journeyed out to the ballpark to cover the game for the paper (The Youngstown Vindicator).  There was a delay when the time arrived to start to the contest.”

Evans said the umpire had become ill and while “a number of ex-players” were at the ballpark, the opposing managers could not agree.

“Finally, my name was suggested and proved acceptable to both managers.  I was informed of their decision but declined with thanks.

“The crowd was impatient.  It became noised about that I was the only man acceptable to both managers, and that since I refused to work the game would probably be called off.”

Evans was determined not to work the game, but said a voice from the stands changed his mind.

“Just when it seemed that I was to escape the ordeal a fan in the bleachers with a decidedly loud voice yelled: ‘What’s the matter—have you lost your nerve?’

“That short but trite remark shaped my career.”

Evans said one of the managers told him he’d earn $15 for the game—later versions said Youngstown Ohio Works Manager Marty Hogan told him what he’s be paid:

“Fifteen dollars for a couple of hours’ work—almost as much as I was getting for carrying the title of sporting editor for an entire week!  It made umpiring appeal to me.  Attired in the very best clothes I had, I took the field for my debut.”

Evans said that first game—a 1-0 victory in thirteen innings for the visiting team from Homestead, Pennsylvania—had “but few close decisions, and I got along famously.”

The regular umpire was still sick the following day.

“I gathered in $15 more.  My bankroll was so large that for the first time in my life I felt that a pocketbook was a necessity instead of a luxury.”

The following day, Evans accepted a permanent position “(A)lthough there were many times when I seriously doubted my wisdom in accepting the position.”

Three years later, Evans made his big league debut in New York.

“When I stepped on the field it seemed that wherever I looked I could see grinning faces.  I imagined that all of them were laughing at me when as a matter of fact I suppose there was scarcely a single person on the field who noticed me.”

Evans, who was harshly criticized early in his career, also wrote about his most dangerous incident on the field.

“I have dodged a million pop bottles…I have had them pass just above my head, between my legs, and, in fact, graze almost every part of my anatomy; but never have I been hit by a missile really intended for me.  I did stop a bottle that was intended for somebody else, and that stop almost resulted in the Great Umpire declaring me out.

“I was working a game at St. Louis, between the Detroit and the St. Louis clubs in the fall of 1907.”

The Tigers were locked in a three-team race  with the Philadelphia Athletics and Chicago White Sox—entering the series in second place, the Tigers fell to third after losing a doubleheader on September 14.

On September 15 the teams met for another doubleheader.  An overflow crowd filled an area of left field in front of a “swinging gate about six feet long out in the left field fence, about ten feet above the ground…used to facilitate the delivery of bottled goods into the park.”

With the game tied in the fifth inning, St. Louis pitcher Harry Howell was batting:

“(Howell) hit a ball into left field.  As I followed its course I was surprised to see the opening in the fence.  A few minutes before I had occasion to glance in that direction, and had observed nothing wrong.  I afterward learned that the gate had been opened only a few seconds before Howell hit the ball.

“It was my bad luck to have the ball pass squarely through the opening.  When Howell made the hit I had run toward third base in order to be able to follow the ball more closely.  When it passed through the opening I was about fifteen feet back of third base.  Howell paused at second base, and I motioned for him to continue home.”

[…]

“I was at once surrounded by a group of Tigers players all talking at the same time.  There is no fairer man in baseball that Hughey Jennings, the famous leader of the Detroit team, and I told that gentleman that the easiest way to settle the argument was to get rid of the players, and the two of us would thresh it out, which he proceeded to do.”

As Evans and Jennings wrapped up the argument, Evans suddenly slumped to the ground unconscious.

“The next thing I remember was when I came to in the hospital, and inquired what happened.”

What happened was a 17-year-old Browns fan named Hugo Dusenberg threw a pop bottle which struck Evans at the base of his skull.  As Evans lay unconscious on the field, fans attacked Dusenberg.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said:

“(Dusenberg) was saved from lynching by the quick action of the players who formed themselves into a guard and held back with bats a mob that swarmed.”

The St. Louis Republic said:

“Fifty policemen fought their way through the mob, rescued the assailant and with the greatest difficulty conducted him out of the grounds.”

Initial reports said Evans’ injury was serious—The Associated Press said his chance of recovery was “slim,” The Washington Post said he was “Probably fatally hurt.”  By the following day, it was reported that Evans would recover, but would likely miss the remainder of the season. Despite the grave predictions, Evans returned to work on October 5, the second to last day of the regular season; he worked the bases, with Jack Sheridan behind the plate, in a game between the Tigers and Brows in St. Louis.

Dusenberg, an American citizen who worked as a clerk at the German consulate in St. Louis, was charged with assault with the intent to kill Evans.  The Republic said in the days following the incident that “Sentiment is for the prosecution to the limit.”

Two months later Dusenberg was released after paying a $100 fine.