Search results for 'billy evans'

Billy Evans’ Best Infielders

2 Jun

In his nationally syndicated column, Billy Evans was asked to pick the best 10 infielders he saw during his career as an umpire from 1906 to 1927. He said, “The period has been more productive in great infielders than stars at the other positions.”

billyevans

Billy Evans

Evans starting four were:

1B: George Sisler

2B: Eddie Collins

SS: Honus Wagner

3B Jimmy Collins

The other six were: Hal Chase, Napoleon Lajoie, Rogers Hornsby, Pie Traynor, Buck Weaver, and Roger Peckinpaugh.

Evans acknowledged:

“(A)t only one position do I feel safe against the opinion of fandom and critics and that is shortstop with Hans Wagner as the selection. The great Honus stands out at that position, a remarkably brilliant performer in all departments of the game. I cannot name anyone who quite compares with him.”

wagner2

Wagner

And despite his bias towards the American League, Evans said “Wagner is out if front of all” AL’s shortstops he saw “by a considerable margin.”

He said of his choice for Wager’s backup:

“Although Roger Peckinpaugh was anything but a slugger and couldn’t be rated as more than a fair hitter, I like him better than any other shortstop I have ever seen in the American League. Just as great a fielder as Wagner, one of the smartest players that ever stepped on a major diamond, and a dangerous hitter, particularly in the pinch.”

He said that with “three such sterling performers” at second base, some might disagree with him but:

“I have never seen a smarter player than Collins. On every club that he ever played he was the directing genius, the spark plug. Very fast, a great hitter, an awkward yet brilliant fielder.”

Evans said he picked Weaver as his third-string third basemen, however:

“Were it not for the fact that Weaver dropped out of baseball when he was at the peak of his career, he probably would have established a standard for third base play that would have given him the number one rating.”

buckweaver

Weaver

As for the choice at first base:

“(I)t is simply a matter of taking your choice between George Sisler and Hal Chase. Sisler was a trifle the better batter, Chase a bit better fielder. Sisler a trifle faster. I would give Sisler a slight edge although it might be possible for many to see an equal margin in favor of Chase.”

“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.

“A Good Plumber’s Helper but an Inferior Umpire”

21 Apr

Edward F. Ballinger of The Pittsburgh Post described Bill Byron thusly:

“(He) is looked upon among the players as the man who rendered more peculiar decisions than any other official in diamond history.”

Honus Wagner singled out Byron for rendering “the worst decision I ever saw.”

Wagner included the incident in his 1924 series of articles about his career for The North American Newspaper Alliance. He said he was stealing third in a game against the Giants:

“The catcher threw the ball into my feet making it impossible for Devlin—I think it was Devlin— [Note: It was Milt Stock] to pick it up. We both got in a tangle as I slid through a cloud of dust. The ball was bound under my arm where nobody could find it.”

Byron

While the Giants looked for the ball, Wagner headed towards the plate:

“About ten feet from home the ball dropped on the baseline. Now here’s where McGraw got in his fine work. He rushed up to umpire Byron, who had run down to third base to make the decision and told him I carried the ball to the bench in my hand.

“’If you don’t believe it, go to the bench and make them give it to you,’ he urged Byron.

“About this time McGraw’s attention was called to the ball lying on the base path.”

McGraw then told Byron, “That proves it. See! Wagner just rolled it out.”

Wagner said a confused Byron called him out for, “Carrying the ball to the bench with your hand.”

Wagner’s recollection was a bit faulty, in addition to forgetting who was playing third base. The incident happened on July 17, 1914, during the sixth inning of what would turn out to be a 21-inning 3 to 1 victory for the Giants. The game was, to that point, baseball’s longest game and both pitchers, Babe Adams and Rube Marquard pitched complete games.

As for the play, Wagner was not attempting to steal; he was advancing to third from first on a hit by Jim Viox and the throw came from center fielder Bob Bescher.

Contemporaneous accounts in The Pittsburgh Press, The Dispatch, and The Post all said that when the ball fell from Wagner’s uniform, it was immediately picked up by Marquard who threw to third trying to retire Viox who was called safe, rather than Wagner’s version where McGraw called Byron’s attention to the ball.

McGraw, said The Press, came out on the field at that point, “and told Byron Wagner was out.” The umpire agreed and also sent Viox back to second The Post said:

“The Pirates gathered around the umpire and raised a hubbub. (Fred) Clarke read the riot act and was motioned off the lot by umpire Byron.”

Pittsburgh protested the game, but Byron’s ruling was upheld.

Fred Mitchell, manager of the Cubs, was also not a Byron fan, and told Billy Evans in 1920:

“He hasn’t improved much since the summer (1917) he gave a decision that cost me $100 and the game. We were playing in St. Louis and big Mule (Milt) Watson was on the rubber. Art Wilson was at the plate. Watson, as he started to pitch, stubbed his toe and in trying to hold back on the ball threw it wildly and hit Wilson in the back of the neck. Byron would not let him take his base, saying it was a slow ball. I protested and consequently was chased and later fined $100.”

Mitchell’s details of the September 3 game were all correct, except for the outcome of the game. The Cubs beat the Cardinals and Watson 6 to 5. Mitchell had also, “had a mix-up” with Byron the previous day, according to The Chicago Tribune, when the umpire had initially called Tom Long of St. Louis out on a play at the plate, “then called him safe, although (catcher Rowdy) Elliott held the ball.”

Cardinals owner John C. Jones held the same opinion Mitchell did off Byron.  Earlier that same season, Byron made another questionable call on another play involving Tom Long. The Cardinals outfielder hit a ball off Eppa Rixey that appeared to be fair for a double. Byron, despite “the fact that a gap in the whitewash marked the spot,” where the ball hit called it foul.

Long was called out on strikes on the next pitch The Cardinals lost 3 to 2 to the Phillies.

So incensed was Jones at the umpire, whom The St. Louis Star called, “a good plumber’s helper but an inferior umpire,” that he wrote an open letter to fans that appeared in St. Louis papers. He told fans who were present, “The good of the game demands,” that they wire league president John Tener about “Byron’s judgment.”

Jones’ message resulted in bottles and other items being thrown at Byron the following day. Two fans were injured. Cardinal President Branch Rickey disavowed Jones’ comments:

“I strongly advised against it. In fact, both (manager) Miller Huggins and myself wired President Tener that the message did not officially express the club’s sentiments.”

Despite his comment that he did not support the club owners’ position, Rickey was more critical of the umpire in his telegram to Tener than Jones had been in his message to the fans:

“(His) attitude and manners generally were extremely antagonistic to the crowd…If Byron will keep his face to the filed and not parade about in front of the stands, he will have no trouble.”

The previous season, Byron “wrote” an article for The Pittsburgh Press. He said he became an umpire in 1896 only because he couldn’t find enough work in his “first love, steamfitting.” Over two decades he worked his way from the Michigan State League to the National League.

Before steamfitting and umpiring, Byron had briefly played minor league ball:

“As for myself, I am frank to admit that I was the worst ball player that ever broke into the Texas League. I managed to hold my job with the Dallas club for a while, but the race was too fast. It nearly ruined a good steamfitter. Afterward I played semi-professional ball occasionally in Michigan but gave up the game—and what was baseball’s loss was the plumbing trade’s game.”

After four seasons in the Michigan State League, he worked his way up to South Atlantic League, then the Virgina League, followed by International League and finally the Eastern League before his big-league career began.

He became well known—and versions of the story were told for the next two decades—for a call he made on August 31, 1909. In an Eastern League pitchers duel between the second place Newark Indians, with manager Joe McGinnity on the mound and Big Jeff Pfeffer pitching for the fourth place Toronto Maple Leafs.

The game was scoreless in the sixth inning with Newark batting:

The Detroit News said:

“Two were out and the batter (Joe Crisp) raised a high foul within the easy reach of both the Toronto catcher and third baseman.”

Toronto Third baseman Jimmy Frick and catcher Fred Mitchell both stopped when Newark “coacher” Benny Meyer yelled “I’ll take it.”

“The catcher backed away and the ball fell on the Dominion of Canada. Great glee broke out among the Newark contingent, who seemed apparently to conclude that the strategy of the coacher had won the batsman another chance to connect. But they reckoned without Mr. Byron.

“’Batter out!’ yelled the ump.”

McGinnity and “his entire team” came out on the field.:

Byron told the Newark manager:

“’He’s out on interference.’

“This set McGinnity fairly crazy and he frothed at the mouth, ‘But there wasn’t a man within 10 feet of Mitchell when he backed away,’ he screamed.

‘”He’s out on vocal interference; get into the field and finish the game.’ And Byron pulled his watch.”

Pfeffer and McGinnity both went the distance in a 13-inning game won by Toronto 1 to 0. McGinnity filed a protest with the league, but Byron’s decision was upheld.

Byron said the “secret of umpiring” was that “The umpire must keep his head and let the other man lose his.”

The umpire retired before the 1920 season saying he could make more money at his first love.  Evans said of his seven seasons in the National League:

“Like the rest of the umpires, he had his faults. No umpire is infallible, so Bill made mistakes like the rest of us, but they were always honest mistakes.”

He said Byron “always looked trouble in the eye,” and “no gamer fellow” ever wore a mask.

Despite his contentious relationship with McGraw, Evans told a story about a game in New York.  The previous day while making a ruling on a play involving fan interference, “the umpires were criticized” by reporters for their long deliberation. The following day:

“At an amusement park near the Polo Grounds, it was customary for an aviator to do a series of stunts. Usually the aviator paid the Polo Grounds a visit before landing. On this occasion, he flew unusually low over the grounds, so that it was easily possible to see him greet the big crowd with a wave of the hand. Evidently Bill Byron had given some thought of the criticism of the day previous unjustly heaped on the arbitrators for what was called a needless delay.

“Calling time and turning toward the New York bench, he addressed manager McGraw of the Giants thusly.

“If the ball hits the airplane, John, while it is flying over fair territory, it is good for two bases. If it lands in some part of the machine and stays there while flying over fait territory, the runners shall stop at the base last touched when such thing occurs. If the ball lands in some part of the machine while the machine is outside playing territory, it will be good for a home run. Play.”

Evans said McGraw “was shaking with laughter.

The press box was as well:

“Byron’s retort courteous to their slam had not gone over their heads.”

L. C. Davis of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of Byron’s retirement:

“It will always be a moot question whether Lord Byron was greater as a singer or an umpire. But whether singing or umpiring the fans agree that he displayed all the earmarks of a good plumber.”

More Byron, Friday.

“Byron was more to blame than I was”

19 Apr

After National league umpire Tim Hurst died in 1915, his American League counterpart Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“In the passing of Tim Hurst, baseball lost the quaintest character of the diamond. It was believed there would never be another one to approach him., but in Bill Byron baseball has a pocket edition of Timothy Carroll Hurst.

“No more fearless umpire ever held an indicator than Tim Hurst. Bill Byron runs him a close second.”

Evans said before coming to the National League in 1913, Byron was the subject “of many stories of wild minor league riots, in which Bill played the leading role without so much as mussing his hair.”

Fearless was one adjective used about Byron, but there were many others. After the 1911 season, Ed Barrow, president of the Eastern League removed Byron from the league’s staff. The Baltimore Sun said many celebrated the move:

“Byron’s chief fault is his stubbornness, and he, as well, is a bit dictatorial and oversteps his authority on the diamond…For the good of the game–in the face of many prejudices–Barrow has acted wisely in giving him the ‘can.'”

Bill Byron

Known as the “singing Umpire,” Byron’s “little ditties” were so well known that writers like L.C. Davis of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Willian Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star both wrote columns suggesting new songs for the umpire.

Davis suggested that when the Cubs Heine Zimmerman argued a call:

Heinie, Heinie, I’ve been thinking,

I don’t want none of your slack;

To the clubhouse you’ll go slinking,

If you make another crack.

Johnny Evers complained to Phelon:

“How can a guy tend to his batting when the umpire’s warbling in his ears?”

John McGraw was Byron’s biggest foil and foe, and Byron had a song for the manager of the New York Giants:

“John McGraw is awful sore

Just listen to Napoleon roar

The crowd is also very mad

They think my work is very bad.”

In 1917, in an often told story, after a game in Cincinnati, the Giants manager landed two punches before he was separated from Byron after an ejection.

McGraw

After the incident, McGraw provided a signed statement admitting to punching Byron, but blaming the incident on the umpire:

“Byron said to me: ‘McGraw, you were run out of Baltimore.”

When the umpire repeated the charge, McGraw said he “hit him. I maintain I was given reason.”

When Byron arrived in St. Louis the day after the incident to work a series between the Cardinals and Phillies, he refused to answer when asked by a reporter from The Philadelphia Inquirer if McGraw had punched him, instead:

“Bill pointed the right hand to the jaw. There was dark clot—which indicated that something landed as early as 20 hours ago.” 

McGraw’s justification for the attack notwithstanding, he was fined $500 and suspended for 16 days.

McGraw responded, claiming to be “discriminated against personally,” by league President John Tener,” and that “Byron was more to blame than I was.”

He said the action taken against him would result in:

“Umpires with Byron’s lack of common intelligence and good sense, will now be so overbearing with players there will be no living with them.”

But the feud had been brewing since the umpire entered the league.

In August of 1914, in a game where the Reds scored five runs in the eighth to beat the Giants 5 to 4, The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“The character of McGraw was shown by his getting into an insulting ruction with Umpire Byron…He was so angered at losing out that he pelted the official with vicious expletives and delayed the game for several minutes.”

In 1915, Sam Crane, the former player turned baseball writer for The New York Journal, and a close friend of McGraw, chronicled a clash between the two during a September 25 game between the seventh place Giants and sixth place Cardinals in St. Louis:

Byron was being taunted from the New York bench and decided utility infielder Fred Brainard was the culprit and ejected him:

“Brainard (in a startled voice: ‘Who me/ Why, I didn’t open my mouth, did I boys?’

“Chorus of players: ‘No, he didn’t.’

“A mysterious voice from a far corner of the dugout: ‘’Byron, you can’t hear any better than you can see. You’re rotten.’”

At this point, Byron walked to the Giants bench and gave Brainard one minute to leave.

McGraw responded, “You have pulled another boot Byron,” and accused the umpire of once ordering a player off the bench who was coaching at first base, and asked how he knew it was Brainard:

“Umpire Byron (turning pale): ‘I caught Brainard with his mouth open.’”

The Giants bench laughed at the umpire and McGraw accused him of always “guessing” at his decisions.

At this point Crane said Byron, “five minutes after he had given Brainard one minute,” removed his watch from his pocket and again gave Brainard a minute to leave and told McGraw he would be ejected as well. The manager responded:

“Why should I be put out of the game? I haven’t done anything. Neither has Brainard. You’re all tangled up. Do you know the rules? What time is it by that tin timepiece you have got there?”

Byron repeated the order and threatened to forfeit the game to St. Louis. McGraw said:

“Go ahead and forfeit. You will be in very bad if you do. Every one of my players here say Brainard did not say a word. You will be in a nice fix with Tener, won’t you. You will have a fat chance to umpire the world’s series. Go ahead and forfeit the game.”

Byron then summoned three police officers to remove Brainard, but according to Crane, the police sergeant said,” I will have to take the umpire along, too.”

This elicited more laughter from the Giants bench.

Crane’s story ends with McGraw chastising the umpire while finally telling Brainard to go, and Byron returning to homeplate while singing:

“Oh, I don’t know. The multitude and the players are enraged at me; but I gained my point. Oh, I don’t know; I ain’t so bad.”

And the game “then proceeded, and smoothly throughout.”

Crane claimed the whole ordeal took at least 15 minutes.

The Post-Dispatch didn’t mention police, implied that Byron clearly won the encounter, and said, “five minutes were consumed in this senseless argument.”

The paper scolded the umpire for the “bush league trick” of pulling out his watch, but said:

“In time, however, McGraw relented under the threat of a forfeiture, which means a fine of $1000, and Brainard went his way.”

McGraw might have gotten the better of Byron in their 1917 fight in Cincinnati, but in 1915 the umpire “landed twice” on Boston Braves third baseman Red Smith after the game when Smith renewed an earlier argument over balls and strikes September 16 in Chicago. Smith attempted to get at Byron after being hit but was stopped by the other umpire, Al Orth.

Byron and McGraw continued to butt heads and the umpire’s combative style and singing continued to draw attention.

George Moriarty, the Detroit Tigers infielder, turned American League umpire—who also wrote songs—and often included poems about players in the nationally syndicated column he began writing in 1917, said—in part–of Byron:

“It’s wonderful the way you face the throng of maddened players all season long;

While other umps get busted on the bean you pacify the athletes with a song.

You know that music charms the savage beast, and as they rush to stab you in the vest,

And tell you how they’ll tear you limb from limb, you sing like John McCormack at his best.”

More on Byron Wednesday.

“A Colorful Critter”

17 Feb

John Walter “Duster” Mails was another left-handed pitcher with talent who never lived up expectations and was labeled “eccentric,” or “Another Rube.”

John B. Foster of The New York Sun said:

“Mails’ ability is conceded so far as his arm is concerned, but when it comes to the illuminated phases of baseball Duster must have the center of the stage or he moans in a corner like a monkey with the pip. If he’d make the best use of his left arm, he should be able to win two games for every one he loses.”

Billy Evans, the American League umpire, and syndicated newspaper columnist called him, “A colorful critter.”

In 1925, when the St. Louis Cardinals acquired Mails from the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League for what would be Mails’ third and final shot at the big leagues, Evans wrote:

“Walter Mails has as much natural ability as Rube Waddell and no southpaw ever had more stuff than George Edward.

“Mails has a dazzling fastball. I umpired back of Waddell when he was at his best. If anything, Mails’ fastball had something on Rube’s.”

Mails

Evans concluded that Waddell “seemed to have uncanny control” of his pitches, which Mails lacked.

He argued that given Mails’ personality quirks, he would be “rival Babe Ruth” as a newspaper copy generator if he could recreate his short period of major league dominance in 1920:

“Joining Cleveland late in the season, when the Indians were on the ropes because of lack of pitching, Mails proved the man of the hour.

“Taking part in nine games he turned in seven victories and didn’t suffer a single defeat.”

The Indians won the pennant by two games over the White Sox.

“Late in the season when Cleveland met Chicago in the final and all series between the two clubs, Mails remarked to me before the first game:

“Those birds are made to order for me; If (Tris) Speaker starts me against them I won’t be satisfied with anything but a shutout.”

Mails shut the White Sox out and beat Urban Faber 2 to 0; the September 24 victory increased the Indians lead over the Sox to 1.5 games.

“In one inning, after walking three men a la Waddell, he continued Rube’s trick by striking the next three out.”

Evans’ recall was slightly off.

In the fifth inning, Mails retired Swede Risberg, then walked Ray Schalk, Faber, and Amos Strunk. 

Mails then struck out Buck Weaver and Eddie Collins, The Chicago Tribune said, with a full count, Collins:

“(H)it three fouls in succession, swung at a bad ball and struck out.”

Mails’ dream season continued through the World Series, he relieved Ray Caldwell in the first inning of game three, pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings in a 2 to 1 loss to the Brooklyn Robins.

Evans said Mails told him:

“If Speaker had only started me that one run we made would have been enough to win. He says he is going to give me a chance against (Sherry) Smith the next time he starts. Those birds will be lucky any time they score on me.”

He shut out the Robins and Smith 1 to 0.

Mails posted a 1.85 regular season ERA in 1920 which ballooned to 3.94 in 1921 and 5.28 in 1922, before he was sold to Oakland.

Mails’ final big-league stint ended like his first two, flashes of brilliance punctuating an overall lack of control and discipline.

He returned to the minor leagues for another decade. 

Early in his career, Mails tried to explain his control issues to The Spokane Spokesman Review:

“In my younger days, my folks used to live just a short distance from the San Quentin penitentiary. It was always a hobby with me to throw stones at the guards on the ramparts to kid them. One day I thought I could get control by aiming at them, but the darn fools always used to be on the move and even today when I am out on the mound pitching, the home plate seems to act like those guards, always on the move. So, you can see I have an excuse coming.”

Collins, Evers and Umpires

27 Jan

Billy Evans said:

“No American League umpire can ever recall the time that Walter Johnson questioned a ruling. In fact, I have often heard him tell other members of his team that the umpire was right when the general opinion was that the official had erred in his ruling.”

Evans

In 1916, Evans, the umpire and syndicated columnist claimed that “real stars” seldom argued calls—he said National League umpires told him Grover Cleveland Alexander and Christy Mathewson “the two best pitchers in the league…never dispute a called ball or strike.”

It wasn’t just limited to pitchers, he said:

“(T)he really great catchers, the crack infielders, and the brilliant outfielders, as a rule, accept the decisions of the umpires without any protest to speak of…They often believe the umpire has erred in a good many cases they let the official know just what they think of the decision, but they invariably do it in such a way that any umpire with any common sense would have no reason for taking offense.”

Evans cited Eddie Collins as an example, sating people often told him the second baseman wasn’t aggressive enough:

“They form this opinion because Collins is not being put out of the game ever so often.  . It is a fact that Eddie Collins is an aggressive player, but of a type that is not known to the public. Collins can protest as strongly as any player in the business. When he believes the umpire has erred, he never fails to register his protest, but there is nothing of the grandstand variety in the protest. He does nothing by word or action that will cause the crowd to believe the umpire has erred.”

Collins

He said, as a result, Collins was “always listened to and given consideration” when he questioned a call.

“The real good ballplayer can always make good on natural ability,” and Evans said “they never find it necessary to seek an alibi in order to cover up either lack of ability or failure to have properly completed a play.”

He said he had the most problems with players who “believe they are start yet fall considerably shy of that class.”

He said Johnny Evers was one of the “few really great players” who was “in constant hot water” with umpires.

“Evers has just one thing strongly in his favor in this respect—his kicks are actually from the heart, not actuated by a desire to alibi. Evers is one of the greatest players of all times, reputed to be one of the brainiest infielders in the history of the game, yet he is unable to see the error of his way toward the umpire.”

Evers

In comparing the two second basemen, Evans said:

“In all his career Collins has never been put out of a ball grounds, while Johnny has been given the gate in so many contests that he has probably quit keeping track of his banishments a long time ago.”

To that end, he said “Collins has a decided and distinct advantage over Evers. He is always in the game, giving his club his very best efforts. Evers does the same when in the game, but Johnny is often playing the role of spectator, because of his failure to see things as the judge of the play did. Taking Collins and Evers from the game is just like taking the leading man from a play.”

Oyster Joe Martina

26 May

Joseph John “Oyster Joe” Martina made a name for himself in New Orleans before he threw his first professional pitch. Martina’s father Anthony was at one time the city’s largest oyster dealer, a business he passed on to his sons.

Martina was playing semi-pro ball for the Sam Bonarts—a team sponsored by the owner of a local clothing store, and for a club called the Beavers  when he decided in addition to pitching, he had a talent for distance throwing.

He won $25 in a contest at Pelican Park in July of 1909, The New Orleans Times-Democrat said Martina “threw the sphere from home plate over the back fence.”

martina

Martina, circa 1909

The throw was said to be 394 feet; just 11 feet short of what was considered the world record—there was some dispute in contemporaneous accounts about who actually held the record, some credited it to Larry Twitchell, said to have accomplished the feat in 1888 and others to Same Crane, whose was made in 1884.

Martina made his next attempt on July 31.

The New Orleans Picayune said:

“Joe Martina met with success this afternoon in his effort to break the world’s record for throwing a baseball, his best throw being 416 feet and 2 inches.”

The paper said he “threw a standard league baseball, which was inspected by several representatives of the southern division of the American Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).”

The event was of interest to local gamblers and when Martina made the record-setting throw it created a stir:

“Disputes also arose over Martina being allowed five throws. Those placing wagers against his breaking the record claimed that only three throws should be allowed. It was on the fifth throw that Martina made the record.”

There was also initially some doubt that the record would be accepted by the AAU because of the five throws. The Times-Democrat said:

“Usually only three throws are allowed. But as there are no definite rules governing contests of that kind, Martina’s record will likely stand. Whether it was his fifth of fiftieth it was a great heave and one which should go as a record.”

The Picayune said there might be another problem with the record:

“One regret remains, that the throw was not measured with a steel tape. It was measured with a linen tape, and may not be accepted by the AAU officials, although the throw was so much over the record the is no question of it being farther than Crane’s”

The record, and Marina’s performance in New Orleans’ semi-pro league earned him a tryout the following spring with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association—pitching three innings in the first game of Atlanta’s exhibition series with the Philadelphia Athletics. Marina gave up one run and struck out three.

The Atlanta Georgian and News said:

“Martina is nothing if not confident.

“After his try-out against Philadelphia he said: ‘Why, it’s just as easy to pitch against those big leaguers as it is against the New Orleans semi-pros. I don’t see anything very hard. I think I can make good in the Southern league all right I certainly had the steam against the Athletics. How many his did they make, anyhow’”

The Crackers did not agree, and sold the 20-year-old to the Savannah Indians in the Sally League

Martina bounced from Georgia, to Louisiana, to Mississippi and then Texas over the next four years.

In the spring of 1914, entering his third season with the Beaumont Oilers in the Texas League, Martina faced the New York Giants.  The Giants beat him 5 to 2, but The New York Sun said:

“The Giants had practice hitting speed the other day. Joe Martina, who prescribed the medicine for the National League champions, had it in caloric quantities…I yearned for a chance in the majors, felt I had more stuff than many pitchers sent up from the South but the big opportunity always passed me by.”

Red Murray of the Giants, barely avoided getting hit in the head with a Martina fastball, and told the paper:

“’That fellow’s got as much speed as I ever saw.’ Said John after the game, and the other Giants corroborated him. He’s as fast as (Chief) Bender.”

The Sun took notice of more than the pitcher’s speed:

“This Martina is something of a character. In the course of the game the umpire announced that Mathewson would pitch today. ‘Mathewson?’ queried Martina, who appears to be n iconoclast. ‘What busher’s that?’

“’Say,’ exclaimed the skeptical Martina to Chief Meyers when the latter made a base hit after several fruitless tries in that direction, ‘you’re lucky to get a hit off of me,’ and then, by the way of an afterthought: ‘All the hits you ever get are lucky.’

“Evidently, Mr. Martina is no hero worshiper.”

When he struck out Fred Snodgrass, he asked, “How do you like that, busher?”

Throughout his 20s, Martina was considered an “iron man,” pitching from 261 to 330 innings every year from 1910 through 1915; he also, according to The Picayune regularly pitched Sunday games in New Orleans throughout each off season.
In 1916, he injured his arm—or as The Arkansas Democrat said, his “arm cracked after hard usage.”

Speed Johnson of The Chicago Record Herald compared Martina to White Sox ace Ed Walsh, “The spitball king of other days now is a bench-warmer.”

Johnson said Chattanooga Lookouts manager Kid Elberfeld was the culprit:

“Performing under orders from (Elberfeld) Martina pitched seven games in the first sixteen games of the season. From May 1 to May 13 he officiated in five engagements, toiling with a sore arm.”

Elberfeld claimed that Martina injured his arm throwing too many spitballs, Johnson said, “it behooves young pitchers bent on winning fame as iron men to work only in their turn.”

Despite the reported injury, and a release from Chattanooga, Martina pitched 278 innings in 1916 with three teams.

Martina went back to the Texas League for four more seasons—including a 28-win season for Beaumont in 1919.

In 1921 he came back to the Southern Association, with his hometown Pelicans. From 1921-1923 he won 56 games, including a 22-6 mark in 1922. He told The Times-Picayune:

“It’s the old story, “You don’t learn how to pitch until your arm is gone.”

His three-year run with the Pelicans finally earned him a major league contract in 1924.  Umpire Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“Speaking of miracle workers, supermen, and rookie phenoms of baseball, don’t overlook pitcher Joe Martina of the Washington Nationals.

“At the age of 34, when most big leaguers are wondering how much longer they will be able to stand the pace, Joe Martina is making his debut.”

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Martina, 1924

Martina told Evans:

“I had as much stuff fifteen years ago as I have today, and with-it youth, but somehow the major leagues scouts would annually pass me up.”

He was 6-8 for the World Series Champion Senators, he pitched one perfect inning in game three of the World Series. In the off season, Washington Manager Bucky Harris told The Washington Post that Martina “will win at least 15 games this year and may reach the 20 mark.”

He was due to join the Senators in Tampa, Florida on February 19, 1925, but failed to show up. The Post said Martina wired President Clark Griffith and asked to report later because he was having a new home built. Griffith refused and he was “notified by telegraph” that he was suspended. The Washington Evening Star said he would be fined and forced “to labor at a smaller salary,” for the season.  The paper suggested that the pay cut would not impact him greatly because:

“The Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, with the resulting big crowds in attendance and the consequent increase in the oyster business conducted by Martina probably mean that the pitcher can suffer these financial setbacks and still be ahead of the game.”

He arrived in Tampa on March 1; The Star said Griffith withdrew the fine because Martina claimed he had received a letter from the Washington owner that he could report late:

“Griff admitted that in the stress of arranging for the annual pilgrimage South of his club he might have forgotten the original letter to Joe.”

On April 9, Martina, along with left-handers–Jim Brillheart and Jim McNamara—were released by Griffith. The Star said

 “(Martini’s) work this spring indicated he has passed the peak of his form which is not quite good enough for fast company.”

He returned to New Orleans for four more seasons—winning 77 games and leading the Pelicans to Southern Association championships in 1926 and 1927. The 39-year-old went back to the Texas League for one more season in 1929; after a disappointing 10-13 campaign for the Dallas Steers, Martina purchased—or bartered for—his release. The Times-Picayune said:

“Martina has been given his unconditional release at the price of two barrels of oysters. This was the price demanded by Fred McJunkin, president of the Dallas club.”

He played two more seasons in the Cotton States League and took a crack at managing with the Baton Rouge Standards in 1931—he was released mid-season at age 41.

With both the Pelicans and the Knoxville Smokies hopelessly out of the 1931 Southern Association pennant race, Knoxville signed Martina to pitch against New Orleans on the final day of the season. He started the first game of a double header, gave up six runs over eight innings and lost his final game as a professional.

Zipp Newman, sports editor of The Birmingham News and official scorer for the Birmingham Barons for 44 years said Martina’s strong arm was with him to the very end::

“After pitching a full game for Knoxville against New Orleans Sunday, Joe went to the outfield and made the longest throw-in. Joe threw the ball right up to the grandstand. There wasn’t a youngster on the field who could come close to him. Joe Martina arms are few and far between in baseball.”

Martina, who died of a heart attack in 1962, said in an interview with Newman in 1941:

“I am convinced I had more human endurance than any man who ever lived. In all my life I was never tired, even when it was 110 out there on the mound. The answer is simple: I was a good boy. I behaved myself and every at 8 o’clock I was in bed…When my arm was live the ball would sail slightly upward, and nobody could hit me. When it was dead, although the pitch was just as fast, the ball went straight, like on a string, and I was a goner.”

“Fellows Like Cy are Rather few”

27 Feb

In his nationally syndicated column on 1909, umpire Billy Evans said:

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Billy Evans

“If it were possible for the American League umpires to issue any special dispensation, they would give Cy Young the right to go on pitching forever.”

Evans said the leagues ball and strike callers liked Young so much:

“Did you ever hear of a bunch of umpires coming across with the cold cash and making a present to a ballplayer? No? Well that’s just what the American League staff did last year, and Cy was the recipient of the gift.”

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Cy Young

Evans said that when the Red Sox held a benefit day honoring Young in 1908 “and gifts galore were heaped on him,” he was working the game.

The decision to give Young a gift was made by the dean of American League umpires, Tim Hurst, who told Evans:

“Well, Billy, I’ve been umpiring about as long as Cy has been pitching, and I pride myself on having a pretty good memory, but I’ll be blamed if I ever remember Cy kicking over a decision, no matter how rotten it may have been. Perhaps I’ve missed a thousand strikes on him in the last ten years, but never a protest has he uttered.

“Fellows like Cy are rather few in this strenuous game, and I tell you the umpires ought to give the old fellow some little token, just to show him that we appreciate the way he has always acted on the ballfield.”

Hurst suggested that each umpire “come across with a five-spot.”

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Tim Hurst

Evans said his colleagues were all on board:

“’I’m in on the deal. Go as far as you like with money,’ was Jack Sheridan’s reply.

‘”Count me in on anything that old Cy is connected with,’ was Tom Connolly’s answer.

“’Buy anything you like and send me my share of the bill; glad you thought of the stunt,’ was (Silk) O’Loughlin’s reply.

“’Sure, count me in on anything you want,’ wired Jack Egan.”

At the game, Evans said, “In a very humble” he presented the pitcher with “a swell traveling bag to old Cy as a little gift from the umpires.”

Young told Evans:

“Well, of all the gifts, I never did expect one from the umpires, but just tell the boys for me that I prize it more highly than anything ever given to me.”

Evans said he once heard Young explain to a fan why he never argued calls:

“What’s the use of kicking? The umpires, like me, are doing their level best, and doing it honestly. Of course, they make mistakes; lots of them; we all do. On the whole, however, I think the breaks of the year are about even. Often, I pitch a ball that I think is just over the corner of the plate and is a strike, but the umpire calls it a ball. Then again, I send one up to the batter, that I figure is an inch or two outside, but the judge of play calls it a strike. No real umpire has ever been known to change a decision of judgement, so it’s simply wasting time to kick.”

“This Little Comedy of Superstition”

29 Jan

Billy Evans wrote a nationally syndicated column throughout his time as an American League umpire; he also wrote occasional articles for “St. Nicholas Magazine,” a monthly for children that operated from 1873 until 1943.

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 Evans

In the April 1914 edition, Evans told a story to illustrate how “Baseball players are perhaps the most superstitious class of people in the world.” Evans’ story was from the 1913 World Series:

“The Athletics, a team made up mostly of college men, and supposed to possess more intelligence than the average ball team, were the actors in this little comedy of superstition. For years the Philadelphia club stayed at the same hotel in New York, one very close to Forty-Second Street.”

Evans said Connie Mack decided:

“Perhaps it might be better to have the players stay at a hotel further uptown during the series. He thought his would enable the team to be free from the noise and excitement in the downtown hotels. Arrangements for the change had been practically completed when the players heard of the proposed shift.”

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Mack

Evans said the players met in small groups, then convened in one large group to discuss the move.

“Then the meeting ended, and one of the players, a college graduate, (likely the notoriously superstitious Eddie Collins) made his way to manager Mack. He called the latter aside, and advised him, in substance, as follows:

“’The boys understand that you intend changing hotels.’

“’Only During the World Series,’ answered Mack. ‘I thought they would like to get away from the noise and bustle,’

‘They have delegated me to request no change be made in hotels during the World Series.’”

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Collins

Mack argued that the new hotel “far surpassed” the team’s current lodgings. The player responded:

“We have won several pennants, and always stayed at this hotel. When we beat the Giants for the World Series in 1911, we stayed at this hotel. And the boys would much prefer staying here during the present series. Most of them think a change in hotels would surely ‘jinx’ or ‘hoodoo’ them.”

Mack backed down, “Right here then is where we’ll stay.”

Said Evans:

“The player who had acted as a committee of one rejoined the others and made known the outcome of the conference. And then to justify their superstition, the Athletics went out and beat the Giants.”

“The most Aggravating Pitcher”

13 Jan

Louis Lee Arms, writing for The St. Louis Star in 1913, like many of his contemporaries, presaged the pitch clock when reporting on the ace of the Philadelphia Athletics pitching staff:

“The next time Eddie Plank pitches at American League Park many fans who desire to get home approximately during the same month that they started for the ball yard, so that their friends may not think they have been upon a European tour or some other long vacation, will forego the pleasure of watching even such  a brilliant baseball scientist as Plank in action.”

Arms called Plank “the most aggravating pitcher” in the league.

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“He draws himself within himself after the fashion of a mud turtle once he finds himself in a pinch and there is nothing but the shell.”

Arms said in his last start against St. Louis, Plank “consumed from thirty to sixty seconds” between each pitch:

“Plank’s reasoning is obvious. He figures that wit a man in the batting box anxious to hit, the longer he hesitates in throwing the ball the more perturbed and overwrought becomes the batsman, with the result that he cannot hit normally, highly psychological as anyone can see.”

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Plank

Arms described Plank’s routine after a pitch:

“Receive the ball from the catcher.

Then drop it.

Rub dust on it.

Expectorate upon the glove.

Rub the ball vigorously upon the glove.

Turn and talk in an animated way to Eddie Collins.

Step upon the pitching slab facing the catcher.

Nod dissent to several signals.

Expectorate again upon the glove.

Nod an assent to the signal of the catcher.

Back off the pitching slab.

Pluck several blades of glass.

Walk up to it again.

Turn and gaze about the ball field to see that the outfield is properly placed.

Wave one outfielder into position

Make a sarcastic remark to the umpire.

Make ready to pitch.

Consume five seconds in looking steadfastly at the ground.

Pitch.”

Arms concluded:

“Exaggeration Not a bit of it. This is exactly what Plank did on several occasions Monday in the first and second innings when he was in a pinch.”

Plank slowly won 18 games and one more in the World Series for the World Champion Athletics.

When he died 13 years later, Umpire Billy Evans said of Plank’s routine:

“No pitcher in the history of the game ever kept the batter or umpire as much on edge.”

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