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Baseball’s First Chinese Player

30 Jul

Vernon L. Ayau’s professional career lasted less than half of one season, but in the process, he became the first Chinese player in professional baseball and his signing nearly broke up a league.

Ayau, born January 31, 1894, in Maui, Hawaii, played on the Chinese University of Hawaii team that toured the US in 1913, 14 and 15.  He was said to have caught the eye many in professional baseball including New York Giants manager John McGraw.

Chinese University Team

Ayau was described as a slick fielding shortstop with an excellent arm, but a weak hitter.  In December of 1916, he was offered a contract by Bill Leard, manager of the Seattle Giants in the Northwestern League.  Leard played against Ayau when he went to Hawaii after the 1916 season with an all-star team put together by former Northwestern and Pacific Coast League player Charles “Cy” Swain.

Within weeks, Northwest League players passed a petition expressing their displeasure with the signing, and newspapers in league cities came out strongly against Ayau.

Anti-Chinese sentiment was especially strong in areas where Chinese workers were being hired as miners, and mining unions in Butte and Great Falls (two league cities) threatened to “take action to have (Ayau) removed from the league.”  Shortly before the signing, a Chinese mine worker had been dropped from a bridge into the Missouri River by members of the miners union.

Leard received death threats but along with Seattle’s ownership held his ground and Ayau was on Seattle’s opening day roster.

His time with Seattle only lasted until May 20 when Leard announced his release.  Despite the early threats of boycotts and other action, he was actually signed and released by Tacoma and later Vancouver in the Northwest League over the next six weeks.

By July 1917, Ayau’s career in professional baseball was over.  He hit only .203 in 133 at bats with the three teams.  Contemporary news reports noted his weak hitting but universally praised his glove and arm.  That month he joined a semi-pro team in Wildwood, NJ that also included his former Chinese University teammate Lee Tin.

After serving in the US Army as a member of the infantry in France, Ayau returned to New Jersey where he continued to play semi-pro ball for several years.

He died in Penns Grove, New Jersey on March 28, 1976.

“Both Organizations enjoy an Unrivaled Reputation in the World of Colored Sport”

1 May

Named after the nation’s first black governor, Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback of Louisiana, the Pinchbacks were the best black baseball team in New Orleans–and the entire South– during the 1880s.

In August of 1888 The Chicago Tribune said the Pinchbacks were coming to town:

“This is the first time a colored club from the South has visited Chicago.”

The team scheduled games with the Chicago Unions for August 21 and 22, then were traveling to St. Louis.

The paper said:

“The Pinchbacks are composed of the best colored players, and will certainly give the Chicago and St. Louis boys some trouble.”

The Tribune claimed Pinchbacks’ pitcher George Hopkins:

“(P)ossesses wonderful control over the ball, and in no game so far this season has he struck out less than ten men.”

There were wildly different estimates of the crowd.  The Chicago Herald said 300 fans saw the game, The Chicago Inter Ocean said 1500 turned out.

Despite the low estimate of the crowd, The Herald said there was great interest in the game

“No less than 150 boys or ‘kids’ surrounded the ball grounds as early as 2 o’clock (the game was scheduled for 3:45) and importuned every adult who approached with, ‘Say, Mister, won’t yer take me ter th game?’ For four or five innings those ‘kids’ took in the game through the knotholes and cracks in the fence, crouching or straining two or three deep…Finally they found an unguarded hole through which they slipped inside, and soon a policeman’s services had to be invoked to keep them from clustering on first base.”

The paper said another 50 or more fans viewed the game, “(F)rom the top of a Rock Island freight car a block distant.”

Among the fans, according to The Herald were “(A) score of colored ladies, 12 or 15 (Chinese) and 20 or 30 whites.”

The Tribune also provided as much coverage of the atmosphere surrounding the contest as the “Wildly exciting game,” at Chicago’s South Side Park, located at 33rd Street and Portland Avenue.

“Both organizations enjoy an unrivaled reputation in the world of colored sport, and the Pinchbacks are so highly esteemed in Louisiana that five carloads of gentlemen of their race came with them from the South.  The betting on the contest was unprecedentedly heavy, a colored saloonkeeper, whose probity is held beyond question, having in his pockets 124 dollars and 45 cents cash, a ring with a stone popularly believed to be an amethyst, two pencil cases, a watch chain, and a promissory note, being the stakes in various wagers made upon the result, together with a bundle of gold-topped umbrellas, and canes with silver heads and elaborate monograms.”

Fans of each team sat on opposite sides of the grandstand:

“The New Orleans contingent sat to the right of the stand, and the Chicago men to the left.  There was not much cordiality between them as hospitality demanded.  A notice board separated them.  It said: ‘Please do not throw cushions.’

“The Southerners, being men of means, had all provided themselves with cushions.  The Chicago men, being comparatively indigent, had to sit on the hard boards.”

One New Orleans fan threatened the umpire, who the paper described as “A gentleman of mild disposition.”

Unions’ manager and catcher Abe Jones admonished the fan:

 “’You won’t use any profane language on these grounds,’ cried Mr. Jones.

“’Go along,’ retorted the man…’you can’t hit the ball with a shovel.’

“On this, a partisan of the home team raised a cushion, which her purloined in the excitement from a Southerner, and brought it down with a resounding thwack on the head of the enthusiast, who was heard to exclaim as he sunk to rise no more, ‘Can’t hit the ball with a shovel.’”

Early in the game, the umpire caused another controversy when a Pinchback batter was called out on strikes:

“’Get a new umpire,’ cried the excursionists from New Orleans.  ‘The umpire’s all right,’ returned the Chicago men.”

The Pinchbacks persisted and:

“Two umpires were selected in place of the weakling whose infirmity of purpose had precipitated the crisis.”

With the new umpires in place, the paper said:

“And now the game became exciting.”

The Herald said the umpire, named John Nelson, was much more of a factor.  The paper claimed:

“He made several very bad decisions, every one favorable to the home nine.”

Entering the sixth inning the score was tied at one when a Chicago player doubled off of Hopkins.  The Tribune said:

“In an instant, the grandstand went mad.  One gentleman stood upon his head, his legs being supported by two friends, who held him in this uncomfortable position until somebody bowled him over with a cushion.  Another gentleman transformed himself into a windmill and swung his arms at incredible speed.  A third turned a succession of somersaults, landing at length in the midst of the New Orleans contingent, which, chafing at the prospect of defeat lifted him bodily and dropped him over the stand.”

The Union Giants scored three runs in their half of the sixth:

“The Southerners never recovered from the disaster.  One of their supporters, whose face was so freckled that it looked like fly-paper in a confectioner’s window, announced despairingly that all was over but the shouting.  The saloonkeeper began his distribution of silver-headed canes and gold-tipped umbrellas.”

The Union Giants won 4 to 1:

“Then the cushions flew.

“The women pressed around the Unions, even going to the length of embracing them.  Cigars were pressed upon the winners by their happy supporters.

“’It’s the pootiest game we’ve played for months,’ said one of them.

“And it was.”

 

pinchg1

Game 1 Box Score

 

The Pinchback came back the next day, beating the Unions 6-5. The Inter Ocean said 1800 were in attendance and  credited Hopkins, who pitched complete games in each game, with 37 strikeouts over 18 innings—a claim Abe Jones of the Unions disputed in a letter to the paper:

“There were ten strikeouts and the manager of the Pinchbacks (Walter L. Cohen) made a great mistake in his report of the game.  Hoping that he will be more truthful in his next.”

Two days later the paper published Cohen’s response:

“Jones (denied) the accuracy of the published score…I beg leave to state in justice to myself that the gentleman who scored the game was employed by Mr. Jones, and if there is a mistake it is him who is responsible and not me, for I had nothing to do with either the scoring or compiling of the score.”

 

pinchg2

Game 2 Box Score

 

The bad blood between the teams might explain why rather than playing a deciding game, The Tribune and The Herald reported that the Pinchbacks chose instead to play against a “picked nine” at Southwest Park on at the corner of Rockwell and Ogden, on their third day in Chicago.  They won 14-7.  Hopkins completed his third complete game in three days.  It was reported that he struck out 14.

The Pinchbacks swept a three-game series with the St. Louis West Ends at Sportsman’s Park before returning home. The New Orleans Times-Picayune said:

“The famous colored baseball club, the Pinchbacks, arrived home last evening after a successful sojourn in Chicago and St. Louis, where they bore away most of the honors.”

 

pinchbacksstl

Advertisement for the Pinchbacks vs West Ends

 

The Pinchbacks returned to Chicago the following year, and in 1890, Hopkins left New Orleans and joined the Unions, which brought about the end of the team’s prominence in Southern black baseball.

The Shooting of “The Ohio Whirlwind”

18 Jul

In May of 1896 Cuban Giants, owner John M. Bright sent a letter to several East Coast newspapers.  Bright was writing to “set the public right” regarding his team—and to gloat

Two months earlier a letter had been published from Edward B. Lamar in The New York Sun which said, “The original Cuban Giants will be known this season as the X Cuban Giants.”

By the beginning of the season, the team was called the Cuban X-Giants and consisted of most of the stars of Bright’s 1895 Cuban Giants who had defected to play instead for Bright.

Despite the star power, the X-Giants got off to a poor start, dropping several games to minor league clubs

Bright’s letter informed fans that:

“Owing to the fact that there is a club (colored) calling themselves the Cuban (X) Giants, and getting most terribly defeated everywhere, and when defeated they send in their scores, calling themselves the Cuban Giants, thereby injuring the Genuine Cuban Giants great reputation.”

Bright claimed the “Genuine Cuban Giants” had “won seventeen out of the last twenty-three games played.”

Among the players mentioned in Bright’s letter was “The Ohio Whirlwind;” pitcher Charles “Doc” Howard.

The earliest reference to Howard’s baseball career —he was born Charles Allen in East Liverpool, Ohio, and adopted by his cousin’s family as an infant–is found in The Sporting Life in 1893.  The paper’s East Liverpool correspondent wrote: “Charles Howard, our famous colored player, has an offer from the Cuban Giants” for the 1894 season.

Howard pitched, and occasionally played outfield, for the Cuban Giants from 1894 to 1897 and was one of the few members of the 1895 team that chose not to follow Lamar and stayed loyal to Bright—he eventually did join the X-Giants as a pitcher and outfielder in 1898 and 1899.

The East Liverpool Evening Review said Howard was set to return to the X-Giants in the spring of 1900 when he became ill:

“The many friends of Charles Howard, the colored ball player, are taking subscription to send him to the hospital.  It is feared he has consumption.”

It is unclear whether it was tuberculosis or another illness—rheumatism, among others, was mentioned– that kept Howard sidelined all season, and spent most of the summer hospitalized in Pittsburgh.   A “benefit game and field day” was organized in his honor in August, the paper called it “an immense success” which raised the sum of $135.

Charles "Doc" Howard

Charles “Doc” Howard

Howard recovered, but never played professionally again; he did make a comeback with an integrated semi-pro club in Liverpool in July of 1901.  The Evening Review said of his performance in one game:

“(Howard) had the players of the opposing aggregation tearing great swaths in the atmosphere in a vain effort to connect with the ball.”

He continued to play occasionally with local teams and worked as an umpire in local leagues through 1903.  Reports in The Evening Review that he would be re-joining the Cuban Giants in 1902 and 1903 proved untrue.

In 1904 Howard was working as a porter at Guthrie’s saloon in East Liverpool.  On the evening of August 13, he arrived at the home of his adoptive parents shortly after midnight, when, according to The Evening Review:

“(He was) Murdered with a revolver in the hands of Lottie Skiles, a well-known character of questionable reputation.  The popular colored man was killed instantly in his home (in the early morning hours of August 14—his death certificate lists the date of death as August 13)”

The two lived together at the house, and, according to the paper “The killing of Howard was the result of a long series of quarrels between himself and the woman.”

It was not lost on the press that Lottie Skiles—whose given name was Vincent Lottie Skiles– was white.  And despite her “questionable reputation” and Howard’s status in the community as a “popular colored man,” the local paper allowed the shooter to get a sympathetic airing of her story into print less than 48 hours after the shooting:

“Lottie does not attempt to deny that she killed Howard, but does insist that it was done in self-defense.”

The paper said, “she broke down and cried bitterly” when she found out Howard was dead.”

She told the paper the two had been living together for four months, and called Howard “The most jealous man I ever saw.”

She said the fight that evening started when Howard saw her sitting with another man at a Chinese restaurant.   She said when they arrived home, “he flew at me and struck me on the back of the neck with the flat of his hand.”  She said she told Howard “If I were a man you would not dare strike me in that manner.”  At that point, she said Howard went for a gun on a shelf behind her:

“I was afraid he would kill me and I grabbed the gun before he got to it.  I turned as quickly as I could and pulled the trigger.”

Skiles told the paper neither her nor Howard had been drinking.  The paper said the coroner had concluded that Howard had “started to turn and flee” before the shot was fired.

The paper also said, “(Skiles’) story of the affair is generally believed,” and said

Two days after the shooting Skiles was charged with murder.  When she appeared in court, The Review said:

“She had had a refreshing night’s sleep and looked exceedingly bright for one who has passed through such a tragic scene.”

The paper was clearly impressed with the defendant:

“She was well dressed, wearing a black straw hat, covered with a pretty blue veil, giving to her a rather dashing appearance.  She wore a gray skirt and jacket and patent leather shoes that were purchased for her by the man she killed.”

Lottie Skiles

Lottie Skiles

Everyone who testified at the preliminary hearing agreed on one thing: the relationship was extremely volatile, and at times violent. Howard’s adoptive parents refused to admit that the couple lived together in the room in their home—while Ohio overturned their anti-miscegenation law in 1887 the paper said if cohabitating, the two would have “lived together unlawfully…for immoral purposes,” suggesting that a local ordinance was still in place.  The police officer who took Skiles into custody told the court that she used to a racist epitaph to describe Howard.

Skiles went on trial on December 5th, 1904.  Her attorney said the shooting was the culmination of long-term abuse at the hands of Howard and described a number of alleged incidents.

As for the events of the evening of the shooting, Skiles said in the newspaper interview after the shooting, Howard struck her once on the neck with “the flat of his hand;” the defense now claimed Howard had delivered several “sledgehammer blows” earlier in the evening, and a “powerful blow on the neck” in the room.

The story from the defense of how the fatal shot was fired was also very different from Skiles’ newspaper interview, and not in keeping with the findings of the coroner.  Her attorney told jurors:

“She was afraid of his next move and grabbing the revolver from the shelf intended to throw it at him and run.  He grabbed her by the arm and waist and in the tussle the gun was discharged.”

The prosecution said despite her statement to the contrary, Skiles had been drinking that night, while Howard hadn’t had a drink “for six weeks,” and produced a witness who claimed Skiles told her she would kill Howard “if she ever caught him with another girl.”

Skiles took the stand in her own defense.  She repeated the story of long-term abuse her attorney had told in his opening argument.  She also gave a version of the story of the shooting that was closer-–but not the same in every detail she claimed for example, she planned to “throw the gun under the table,” not at him–to the version her attorney gave in opening arguments than it was to the one she gave to the paper in August.

The Evening Review, and the prosecution, never mentioned the inconsistencies in her story, but the paper said of her testimony:

“Her story very much impressed the crowded courtroom, which at times was a solid mass of humanity.  Though she had shown some signs of nervousness prior to this time, she apparently realized the need of absolute self-control and it was stated by a jurist of many years’ experience that no woman charged with the same offense ever acquitted herself in better form.”

The jury returned after eight hours.  Lottie Skiles was found not guilty.  The Evening Review said initially five jurors voted to convict her of the lesser included charge of manslaughter, but after several ballots voted to acquit.

Skiles, just 21-years-old on the night she shot Howard, had been arrested several times, and at the age of 15, she was held in custody along with three other suspects after a man was shot in East Liverpool—although she was never charged in the incident. Her attorney told The Evening Review, his client vowed, “I’ll never go back to that life again.”

The following day she told the paper she was finished with her “old haunts” and finished with East Liverpool.

Lottie Skiles appears to have kept her word about staying out trouble; she relocated to Youngstown, but eventually returned to East Liverpool, where she died in 1947.

“There is only one Thing against him—he is Very Dark”

13 Jul

Vernon Ayau became professional baseball’s first player of Chinese descent when he appeared briefly in the Northwest League in 1917.

But he was the not the first Chinese player a West Coast team attempted to sign.  Two years earlier, Walter McCredie of the Portland Beavers tried to bring one Ayau’s teammates with the Chinese Athletic Club of Honolulu to the Pacific Coast League.

Fong Lang Akana was born in Hawaii in 1889 to a Chinese father and Hawaiian mother.

In the winter of 1914, McCredie announced that he had signed Akana.  The (Portland) Oregonian said:

“Akana is a big, rangy fellow and bats left-handed.  He weighs about 180 pounds, according to the dope given to Mack.”

Lang Akana

Lang Akana

The Oregon Daily Journal said he was 5’ 10” and quoted Bert Lowry, the sports editor at The Honolulu Commercial Advertiser:

“He swings from the left side and hits the ball hard at all times, Akana is well-educated, has pleasing manners and is willing to learn.”

Two former major leaguers Jack Bliss and Justin “Mike” Fitzgerald, barnstorming with Pacific Coast Leaguers in Hawaii, were impressed with Akana.  Bliss said he was a great fielder who “had eyes all over his head.”  Fitzgerald said:

“He is a good fielder and very fast.  He is by far the best player in the islands.”

One additional observation from Lowry and Fitzgerald foretold that there would be trouble ahead:

Lowery: “He is a bit dark.”

Fitzgerald: “There is only one thing against him—he is very dark.”

McCredie told The Daily Journal that Akana would likely join the club at their Fresno, California training camp in the spring, the paper noted:

“Cubans, Indians, Poles and Italians have made good in baseball, but no Chinese or Japanese has yet won his spangles.”

Akana, top row second from left, with Chinese Athletic Club, 1909

Akana, top row second from left, with Chinese Athletic Club, 1909

It took less than a month for the plan to bring Akana to Portland to begin to fall apart.

The San Francisco Chronicle, while getting Akana’s name and position wrong, reported that:

“Portland players won’t play with a Chinese.”

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin said:

“Narrow racial prejudices, or possibly the fear that if the bars are let down someone will lose his regular job, threatens to work a grave injustice to Lang Akana.”

In late December, McCredie was ready to bend to the pressure, telling Roscoe Fawcett the sports editor of The Oregonian:

“His skin’s too dark…The Coast Leaguers who played at Honolulu on that recent barnstorming trip came back vowing boycott.  I have received a couple of letters from players telling me Akana is as dark as Jack Johnson, so I guess I will have to give him a release.”

Walter McCredie

Walter McCredie

Pitcher “Seattle” Bill James, who also played against Akana in Hawaii, disputed the account that players were refusing to play with Akana, telling The Oregonian:

“I don’t think any ballplayer will object to playing on the same team as him.  But he might have some trouble around the hotels.  He is not black like a negro, more sepia colored—and his hair is straight.”

But in January, McCredie, who was by far the most progressive PCL magnates on the issue of race, switched direction, and vowed to keep Akana when Fawcett showed him a photograph of the outfielder:

“Dark or not dark, we’ll  have Lang Akana report to us at Fresno…This photograph shows him to be extremely dark-skinned…(PCL umpire) Jack McCarthy saw him at Honolulu this winter and says Lang is just as white as most ballplayers after they have been out all summer in the sunshine.

“He doesn’t look any blacker than Barney Joy, who used to pitch for San Francisco.”

Apparently, McCredie found a way out without explicitly saying he refused to put a Chinese player on his club.  Shortly before the Beavers headed to California, The Oregonian said:

“The Hawaiian, Akana, will not be considered unless he pays his own expenses to the spring camp at Fresno.”

The paper had said earlier that it would cost $175 to bring Akana over from Hawaii.  Akana, whose father was a doctor, and whose family, according to several accounts were “wealthy,” likely could afford the cost of transportation. So, it is unknown whether he refused to pay for his own way or if the paper’s account was incorrect.

The Beavers went to California and started the season without Akana, but there was still talk of his joining the team.  In May, The Honolulu Star-Bulletin said McCredie was still considering adding Akana to the roster:

“Portland is wavering between the first and second division…’What we need here are bat artists,’ writes the sporting editor (Fawcett) of The Oregonian to a Honolulan…Naturally, Lang is watching the Portland field from a distance;  Manager Mac has not made good and Lang is playing the ‘watchful waiting’ polity to perfection.”

“Summed up, the situation now is: if Portland can gain a foothold in the Coast race within the next month or six weeks, it is probable that Akana will celebrate the Fourth of July and Christmas in Honolulu, if not then a demand for strengthening the team with a few good hitters will be forthcoming…’McCredie is silent on the Akana contract,’ (Fawcett) continued, ‘and I think that the Hawaiian-Chinese’s chances to play with the Beavers are good, unless Portland takes a sudden leap upward in the percentage column soon.”

The prediction was wrong.  Portland struggled all season, finishing in last place with a 78-116 record, but the call never went out to Hawaii for Akana to join the team.

Akana, bottom row, left, 1915

Akana, bottom row, left, 1915

McCredie finally saw Akana in person two years later when he brought the Beavers to Honolulu for spring training.  Fawcett said in The Oregonian that “Akana played left field and did not show up particularly well, owing it is said, that he had played little ball for several months.”

Akana continued to play in Honolulu—interrupted by service in the Hawaii National Guard in 1917—into the 1920s, but was “Too dark” to ever appear in a professional game.

Biographical notes: Some sources, including his Hawaii Birth and Christening (B&C) record list his name as Lan rather than Lang, the same B&C record lists his complete name as C. Fong Lan Akana.  Several sources, including the B&C record list his date of birth as April 15, 1890, several others, including his WWI and WWII Draft Registrations list the date of birth as April 15, 1889.

Cy Swain

8 Jun

Charles R. “Moose” “Cy” Swain was for a short time, one of the best-known players on the West Coast and his brief time as the West’s home run king is all but forgotten.

Born in Palo Alto, California, Swain made his professional debut with San Jose franchise in the California State League in 1904.  Years later, Mike Steffani, San Jose manager, told The San Jose Evening News that his “discovery” of Swain was an accident.

Steffani was in need of a shortstop, and Swain’s brother Ira, who played at Stanford University,  was recommended to him by pitcher Win Cutter.  Cy, who accompanied his brother to San Jose, played first while Steffani worked out Ira at short.  Steffani said he told Cutter:

“I think young Cy is the best player.  I like the way he handles the ground balls.  He acts like (Charles) Truck Eagan to me.”

Cy Swain was signed.  Ira was sent home.

Charles "Cy" Swain

Charles “Cy” Swain

Swain was called “a hard hitter,” who struck out often.  He also apparently enjoyed a drink.  After hitting a disappointing .239 for the Spokane Indians in The Northwestern League in 1907, Swain was traded to the Butte Miners.

In announcing the news, The Spokane Press said, “Charley isn’t exactly a temperance man.”   The paper said that when the Spokane owner sent him a contract with a temperance clause, Swain wired back, “Send me two of those; I may break one.”

Swain, who also struggled with weight issues, went from Butte to the Tacoma Tigers, then the Vancouver Beavers.

In July of 1910, he was leading the league with a .298 batting average when the Washington Senators offered $1800 for his contract.  The Vancouver Daily World said the offer was turned down.  The club’s owner/manager/shortstop Bob Brown told the paper:

“That pennant looks awfully good to me, and until I have it clinched I intend to hold the team intact.  There have been numerous other clubs after Charlie’s services, but they will all have to wait until the season is over.”

Swain slumped badly the rest of the year and finished with a .250 average (and a league-leading 11 home runs). The Beavers finished second, six and a half games behind the Spokane Indians.

Despite Swain’s sluggish finish and questions about his weight—The Seattle Star said he was “carrying 220 pounds”– Washington purchased his contract at the end of the season.  Just before he reported to the team in Atlanta in February of 1911, The Washington Herald said:

“There is a reason why this man Swain should not be overlooked when the time comes for the final selection of the Nationals.  It was Cliff Blankenship who was sent scouting for Walter Johnson five years ago and who signed him…and Blankenship is sponsor for Swain.”

Cliff Blankenship

Cliff Blankenship

Swain responded to a letter from William Peet, The Herald’s baseball writer, about his weight:

“I note what you say about certain of my friends on the Western papers claiming I have taken on so much weight that I am handicapped thereby.  Just write them a personal letter and bet them all you’ve got that I haven’t taken on more than five pounds since I quit playing last fall…I will join the Washington club in shape and try my best to make good.”

Early reports from Atlanta in the Washington papers, The Post, The Times, and The Herald sounded promising:

“For a big fellow Swain is a wonder when it comes to covering ground in the outfield.”

“Though a six-footer, weighing 200 pounds, he runs like a sprinter.”

“He hits hard…his most distinguishing trait (is) a willingness to work and an inexhaustible fund of good humor.”

Swain was hitting .273 in spring games when he became sick (either a cold or the flu, depending on the source) and did not appear in a game, or practice with the team for a week.

Swain in Atlanta with the Senators

Swain in Atlanta with the Senators

On April 6 The Herald said:

“Swain and Manager Jim (McAleer) had a long talk this morning in the clubhouse and when the Vancouver husky emerged his face was wreathed in smiles.

“’It’s all right, boys,’ he said.  ‘I will probably go back to the Pacific Coast.  Had a nice chat with the boss and told him that if he decided he couldn’t use me to ship me (West) and he promised to do so.”

Swain was returned to Vancouver, where he hit. 309 and helped lead the Beavers to the Northwestern League pennant.  After hitting .286 for the last place Sacramento Sacts in the Pacific Coast league in 1912, Swain was sold to the Victoria Bees in Northwestern League in May of 1913, setting the stage for his record-breaking season.

On August 1, The Oakland Tribune said:

“(Swain) is electrifying the natives in the Northwestern League.  Playing for Victoria, up to last Sunday, Cy had connected with 17 home runs and was hitting .329.”

He hit 17 more by September 18.  Swain’s 34 home runs broke the previous West Coast high—Ping Bodie hit 30 for the San Francisco Seals in 1910 (Art Bues had the previous league record with 27 in 1910)—and his .329 average was a career high.

He benefitted from the small dimensions of the league’s parks; The (Portland) Oregonian said fourteen of his 34 home runs cleared Victoria’s 270 foot center field fence and 11 more came at Seattle where the left and right field fences were just 237 feet from home plate.

After another solid season in the Northwestern League in 1914–.310 with 12 homeruns—Swain was traded to the Minneapolis Millers in the American Association for Fred “Newt” Hunter on November 24.

While most of the newspapers in Northwestern League cities shared the view of The Spokane Chronicle, that “The exchange will effect a promotion for Swain as he will play in a class AA league, which has been his ambition.”  The Seattle Star, however, despite the numbers he put up, raised some doubts about Swain:

“It is not likely that Seattle will be disappointed in the trade…Swain did not deliver last season like the fans had hoped and expected.  He was the joke of the league in the pinches.”

Swain

Swain

Just three days after the trade, Swain was working his off-season job for the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company in San Francisco, when he fell from the back of a company truck which ran over his right leg.  On December 4, the leg was amputated.

The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“He was counting on making good with Minneapolis with the view of someday stepping into the big league, the dream of every ballplayer.  What Swain will do now with one limb lost has not been decided, for the unfortunate player is overwhelmed with grief at the sudden termination of his diamond career.”

Benefit games were held in San Francisco and Tacoma, drawing 4000 and 7000 fans; the games raised more than $4000 for Swain.

He used the money to open a cigar store in San Francisco with another former player, Tommy Sheehan.  The two also organized a team, managed by Swain, called the Independents.  The team was comprised of West Coast professionals—including Ping Bodie, Spider Baum, and Biff Schaller–and played during the winter and early spring.  One of their games in the spring of 1916 was the first game ever played by an outside team on the grounds of San Quentin Prison.  Swain’s team won 15 to 10.

In November of 1916, Swain and Sheehan organized team made up of major leaguers and West Coast players to travel to Hawaii for a series of games.  The team played local and military teams, as well as the All-Chinese team which included Vernon Ayau, the first Chinese player to have appeared in a professional game.

Ayau, played against Swain's team in Hawaii

Ayau, played against Swain’s team in Hawaii

News of the games in Hawaii was sketchy; based on various reports the team played between eight and 12 games on the trip; all sources agree the only game they lost was against a US Army Infantry team.

Swain continued to manage the Independents in 1917 and ’18.  He and Sheehan also sold the cigar store and opened the Maryland Bowling Alleys in Oakland with Cliff Blankenship, the former catcher who recommended Swain to the Washington Senators in 1910.

Early in the fall of 1918, Swain’s brother, Ira, who accompanied to the tryout in San Jose in 1904, contracted the Spanish Flu and died on October 21.  On November 5, The Oakland Tribune said:

“Charlie Swain, one of the most popular ball players in the history of the game in the West, died here last night, a victim of Spanish Influenza.  Two weeks ago today Charlie’s brother Ira fell victim to the malady.”

Swain was 36-years-old.  The Tribune said:

“Good-bye, Charlie, we’re going to miss that happy smile.”

Sam Crane on International Baseball

30 Jul

Samuel Newhall “Sam” Crane, like Tim Murnane, turned to sports writing after his career on the field ended.  His involvement in a scandal might have contributed to his departure from the diamond—but contrary to oft-repeated stories it was not the direct result.

Sam Crane

Sam Crane

Crane was named as a respondent in a Scranton, Pennsylvania divorce in 1889—a prominent Scranton businessman named Edwin Fraunfelter (some contemporary newspapers incorrectly said “Travenfelter”) charged that Crane had stolen his wife, and $1500.  Crane had played for the Scranton Miners in 1887 and ’88 and departed the city with Fraunfelter’s wife Hattie in 1889, relocating to New York.  Crane and Hattie Fraunfelter were returned to Scranton to face trial for the theft.

In October of 1889, they were acquitted.  The Philadelphia Times said the two were released and Mr. Fraunfelter was ordered to pay the court costs, and “The congratulations which were showered on the second baseman and the woman made a scene in the courtroom.”

Despite the scandal the New York Giants (twice) and the Pittsburgh Alleghenys were happy to sign Crane in 1890.  The end of his career was more of a result of the 36-year-old’s .179 batting average and diminishing fielding skills—twelve errors in 103 total chances at second base–and, of course, he probably wouldn’t have found himself in Scranton in 1887 and ’88 had his career not already been on a downward trajectory.

Crane immediately went to work for The New York Press upon his retirement and remained one of the most respected sports writers in the country.  He edited the “Reach Guide” from 1902 until his death in 1926.

In 1905 Crane, then with The New York Journal, wrote about the boom in International baseball on the eve of the visit of the Waseda University baseball team:

“The Japanese are nothing if not progressive, and even with their country in the throes of a disastrous war (The Russo-Japanese War) they have found time to devote attention to our national game.”

Crane said the Waseda visit would:

“(M)ark a red letter day in the history of the game,  It will be a sensational era in the life of the sport, and in fact, that of all athletic sports.”

Japan was not alone in embracing the game:

“Baseball is also flourishing in South Africa.  The Transvaal Leader, a progressive newspaper, has taken up the sport and publishes full scores of the games and the records of the players.

“There is a South African baseball association and the players of the different teams can hit the ball, even if they have not yet attained the accuracy and agility in fielding their American cousins have reached.  According to The Leader, out of thirty-seven batsmen who figure in the official  record from July 1 to October 8, twenty-three of them batted over .300…A batter named Suter of the Wanderers was the Lajoie of the league, and he made our own ‘Larruping Larry’s’ record of .381 look like a bush league mark.  Suter’s batting percentage was .535.

“The second batter to Suter was Hotchkiss, also of the Wanderers, who walloped out a base hit every other time at bat, making his average .500…Wonder what the Africans would do with ‘Rube’ Waddell and the Chesbro ‘spit ball?’”

As evidence that the South Africans had “grasped the American style of reporting games” Crane gave an example from a recent edition of The Leader:

“’The diamond was very hard, and, as a consequence, the ball frequently wore whiskers, as some infielders can testify.’”

Crane expressed surprise that baseball had taken such a “stronghold” in an “English possession”  like South Africa:

“Britons, wherever found, look upon the great American game as a direct infringement on the sporting rights as established by cricket.

“’It is only an offshoot of our rounders,’ they are wont to say, and that ancient game is about on the level of ‘one old cat’ and ‘barnball.’

“Englishmen are extremely conservative about their sports, especially of cricket, which is considered their national game, and in their own stanch little island they have always pooh-poohed baseball.  But when the Briton gets away from home influences he becomes an ardent admirer of the American game and is loud in his praise of the sharp fielding it develops.

“In Canada, South Africa and Australia, where there is more hustling, and time is more valuable than in the staid old mother country, the quick action, liveliness and all around hustling of baseball that give a result in a couple of hours, is fast becoming more popular with the colonials than cricket, that requires as many days to arrive at a decision.

“Great strides have been made in baseball in the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands.  Honolulu is the headquarters just now, but the game is fast spreading to other localities.  The game has been played in the Sandwich Islands for many years, but it was not until the United States was given possession that it flourished.”

Crane mentioned that his late brother Charles–who died in 1900, and incidentally, married his brother Sam’s ex-wife who Sam divorced before leaving Scranton with Mrs. Fraunfelter) had been the catcher on the team representing the naval vessel the USS Vandalia and frequently played games against teams in Hawaii and Samoa during the 1880s:

“The natives took to the game very quickly and soon learned to enjoy it.  They welcomed every arrival of the Vandalia with loud demonstrations of joy, and there was a general holiday whenever a game was to be played.”

Crane predicted that baseball would continue to flourish in the islands, and throughout Asia, noting that a Chinese player “plays third base on the leading club, and has the reputation of being the best player in the whole league.”

He was likely referring to 20-year-old Charles En Sue Pung, a teammate of Barney Joy’s on the Honolulu Athletic Club team who was also one of Hawaii’s best track athletes.  Pung was rumored to be joining Joy when the pitcher signed with the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League in 1907, and in 1908 there were brief rumors in the press that Chicago Cubs Manager Frank Chance wanted to sign the Chinese third baseman—neither materialized, and he remained in Hawaii.

Charles En Sue Pung

Charles En Sue Pung

Crane said the growth of the game internationally would be endless; he said the introduction of the game in the Philippines was a prime example:

“(T)here are several enclosed grounds in Manila to which are attracted big crowds…I know they can learn to play the game, for when the (New York) Giants were in Savannah (Georgia) for practice last spring a team of soldiers from a nearby fort played an exhibition game with the Giants.”

Crane said the team was accompanied by “a young Filipino, who, while he did not play on the soldier team, practiced with them and showed surprising proficiency… (The) youth knew all the points of the game as well as Henry Chadwick.”

For Crane, that was enough to declare that “in short order” the Philippines would adopt the game as had, and would, “all people that are blessed with real red blood and progressive.”

“Fatty Weakened and Portland scored four runs”

24 Jan

Walter “Judge” McCredie went ahead with the scheduled spring series in California between his Portland Beavers and the Chicago American Giants despite criticism from Pacific Coast League (PCL) President Allan T. Baum and other league executives.

Much of the concern was the result of the Negro League team beating the Beavers four out of five games in the spring of 1913.

The results of the 1914 series were much different.  Foster, and most of the rest of the pitching staff were injured, and catcher Bruce Petway missed most of the games with a bad ankle.

The series began in Santa Maria with an 11-inning 8 to 8 tie.  “Smokey” Joe Williams, of the New York Lincoln Giants joined Rube Foster’s club for the series.  The Beavers pounded him for 14 hits.

"Smokey" Joe Williams

“Smokey” Joe Williams

Portland won the second game in Santa Maria 5 to 0.  Harry Krause (who would win 22 games for Portland in 1914) shut out the American Giants on eight hits; Lee Wade struck out 9, but allowed 11 hits and took the loss.  The Portland Oregonian said Krause’s:

“Southpaw slants and spitballs stood the Negro Giants, of Chicago, on their heads.”

The series moved to Santa Cruz.

Portland beat “Smokey” Joe Williams again in game 3; 6 to 2.  The Santa Cruz Evening News said Williams “Had a nice curve, plenty of speed, but was a little wild.”  The American Giants loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth, but 19-year-old rookie Elmer Hanson struck out pinch hitter Frank Duncan to end the game.

Watsonville was the site of the fourth, and final, game.

The Santa Cruz Evening News said while McCredie and Foster made the trip together to Watsonville, McCredie asked which pitcher Foster was starting the next day:

“Foster replied that he did not know, as all were ailing, one way or another.

“McCredie suggested that he (Foster) pitch.  Foster said that he would pitch if McCredie would play, and an agreement was made.”

McCredie’s last season as a regular was 1909.  After playing in 61 games in 1910, he had appeared in just eight games from 1911-1913.

“(McCredie and Foster) appeared on the ball field in uniform and the Portlanders went to bat first, big Foster began to pitch and retired the side…Then it was that McCredie got cold feet.

“He refused to carry out his side of the agreement to play, and all coaxing and teasing and jibes from  both teams could not feaze him.”

Foster pitched five innings of one-hit ball, but in the sixth “Fatty weakened and Portland scored four runs.”

Rube Foster

Rube Foster

After the final game The Oregonian said:

“Perhaps it was taking unfair advantage, but in the recent Beaver-Negro series the Portland Coasters knew in advance nearly everything the twirlers tossed up the plate.

(James) Hi West and (Irv) Higginbotham were out on the coaching line every game stealing the catcher’s signs.”

The American Giants salvaged their West Coast trip in their series against Nick Williams’ Portland Colts. They won the opener on March 28 in Santa Rosa 6 to 0 behind a “Smokey” Joe Williams no-hitter.  Williams struck out nine of Portland’s  Northwestern Leaguers.  The Oregonian said:

“Williams, a tall, rakish looking mulatto (Williams’ mother was a member of the Comanche nation) set the Colts down without a hit or a run.”

The American Giants committed two errors, including one by third baseman Bill Francis.  The paper said:

(Duke) Whitt rolled one infield grounder toward third that might have been construed a safety, but the scorers graciously agreed to swallow race prejudices.  It was scored as an error.”

The series then went to Chico, California, and Medford and Grants Pass, Oregon, before finishing in Portland.

The Colts only managed one victory, beating the Giants 9 to 8 in Medford.  Although the colts won the game The Oregonian said the highlights were two long home runs hit by American Giants shortstop John Henry “Pop” Lloyd, including “one of the longest hits ever seen on the local field.”

John Henry lloyd

John Henry Lloyd

The American Giants continued the spring tradition of traveling west to play Portland teams through the 1916 season.

Walter “Judge” McCredie later created some doubt that playing Foster’s team was simply a business relationship and not an expression of his opinion of the color line in baseball.  When he was criticised by PCL executives in 1914 he said: “the games are nothing more or less than training affairs.”  Later that season his attempt to sign a Hawaiian player of Chinese decent named Lang Akana was thwarted by PCL officials and his own players who threatened to revolt. In 1915 McCredie was quoted in The Chicago Defender:

“I don’t think the color of the skin ought to be a barrier in baseball…If I had my say the Afro-American would be welcome inside the fold.  I would like to have two such ball players as Petway and Lloyd of the Chicago Colored Giants who play out here every spring.  I think Lloyd is another Hans Wagner around shortstop and Petway is one of the greatest catchers in the world.”

It wouldn’t be until 1917 that a Chinese player would play professional baseball.

“Mique” Fisher 2

7 May

On October 12, 1906, with the World Series between the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs deadlocked at two games apiece, August “Garry” Herrmann, President of the National Commission, received a telegram from Fresno, California:

“Fresno will give $25,000 guarantee; guarantee 40,000 fans and sunshine for deciding game of World Series.

–Mike Fisher”

Fisher said the offer to bring the series and Fresno native Frank Chance to town was backed by “the businessmen here.”

It is doubtful Herrmann took the offer seriously, and it’s probably just as doubtful that Fisher took it seriously, but it was picked up by newspapers across the country, and Fisher enjoyed the publicity.

It was a last bit of publicity before his career in organized baseball ended.  Later in the month he was dismissed as manager of the Fresno Raisin Eaters, and the team was dropped from the Pacific Coast League (PCL) the following spring.

Within weeks Fisher had moved on to a new project; he announced that he was in the process of forming a team to travel to Hawaii.  The San Francisco Call said “It will be the first American ball team to make the trip across the Pacific in a little over nineteen years,” since Spalding’s world tour.

In conjunction with Jesse Woods, a Honolulu promoter, Fisher organized a tour of the Hawaiian Islands with a team of PCL stars.

Mike Fisher

Mike Fisher

Upon his return, Fisher got more ink on the West Coast, when he headed to Nevada with Charlie Irwin of the San Francisco Seals; the two met with businessmen in the mining towns of Goldfield and Tonopah to discuss forming a professional league—Fisher told The San Jose Mercury News that he was now “against organized baseball,” and if he got involved in the league “it will be an outlaw organization.”

Fisher chose not to get involved in the new league, but immediately went to work on an even more ambitious tour than the 1907 Honolulu trip.

With the sponsorship of the Reach Sporting Goods Company, Fisher would accompany a group of stars to China, Japan and the Philippines.  Early publicity promised the travelers would include Ty Cobb, Hal Chase, and Frank Chance.

When the ship set sail in November of 1908 those three stars were not on board, but “several hundred fans and friends” were present when the steamer China left the port in San Francisco to see the group off.  The team was substantially the same as the one that toured Hawaii the previous year—an aggregation of PCL stars and a few National and American League players– and consisted of: Jim Delahanty, George Hildebrand, Bill Burns, Pat Flaherty, Jack Bliss, Babe Danzig, Harry McArdle, Nick Williams, Joe Curtis, Heine Heitmuller, Jack Graney and Bill “Brick” Devereaux.

Despite the failure to land Cobb, Chase or Chance for the tour, the West Coast press applauded Fisher for even attempting the trip, The Call said:

“The undertaking which he has fathered and which is so successfully underway at the present time is a big proposition.  With the single exception of the around-the-world trip of the A.G. Spaldings years ago, nothing on as big a scale as this has ever been attempted.  To take a team of American baseball players over a journey that will total 10,000 miles before they return, to play games in China, Japan, Manila and Honolulu is something that two or three years ago would have been laughed at as an impossibility.”

The tour lasted more than three months, with the team barnstorming through Japan, China, the Philippines and Hawaii, playing local and US Service member teams.  Though reports varied, the team played between twenty and thirty games, and lost no more than four.

While they drew large crowds throughout the trip, the newspapers back home reported that the tour was a financial disaster; when the players arrived back in San Francisco on February 15, 1909 aboard the Tenyo Maru, Fisher responded to the reports:

“I hear that it has been said that the trip was a financial frost.  Well, anybody who says that is a liar.  We broke even in Japan and made money in Manila and Honolulu.  I am satisfied with the trip.”

Fisher didn’t mention the financial results in China; likely because that leg of the tour was a disaster financially.  Years later he would tell a story about the team’s experience there, complete with his usual exaggerations:

“In one game we played in Canton we had 150,000 people inside, and as the gatemen had been instructed to accept Chinese money it required the combined efforts of the entire team to tote the money up to the hotel.  A special staff of accountants was busy all night totaling it up and in the morning we discovered we had $46.15.”

Fisher promised to take a team to Australia the following year.  The trip never took place; instead Fisher purchased a Seattle dance hall called the Dreamland, and quickly became the target of the pious women of the city.  Early in 1910 Fisher was indicted by “The King County grand jury, as a direct result of the activity of the Women’s Clubs,” for violating liquor laws, allowing “unescorted women” into his dance hall, and other assorted charges.  A special prosecutor, Justice William Henry White, one of the most respected jurists in Washington State, was appointed to prosecute Fisher and other club owners targeted by the women.

Ever the promoter, Fisher used the indictment to promote his dance hall and rally public support.  After the indictment was handed down Fisher sponsored a “Sermon in the Dreamland rink.”  According to The Seattle Times, Fisher engaged Reverend Frank Herthum, who “has liberal ideas about amusements.”

Mike Fisher's Dreamland Dancehall, Seattle

Mike Fisher’s Dreamland Dance Hall, Seattle

Herthum preached, and Fisher presented a free vaudeville show.  The paper said Fisher had stirred up a “protest against the effort to close the dance hall without having provided a substitute where clerks, servant girls and employees in the shops may pass an evening to their liking.”  At the same time The Times noted that the prosecutor was becoming impatient with the women who brought the charges because they continually promised to provide evidence that “has not yet come to light.”  The charges were quietly dismissed within weeks.

Fisher left Seattle sometime in 1911 and began operating the Arcadia Dance Hall in San Francisco.

Advertisement for Fisher's Arcadia Dancing Pavilion.

Advertisement for Fisher’s Arcadia Dancing Pavilion.

In January of 1917 Fisher made headlines in California when he announced that he was directing an effort to restart the California State League, which had folded after the 1915 season.  He said he would have clubs in Sacramento, Fresno, Stockton and San Jose.  Within two weeks Fisher abandoned the plan.  The San Jose Mercury News was not surprised:

“Mr. Fisher, the wonderful getter of publicity, has his publicity and is through.  Probably he has done wonders for his dance emporium or whatever it is he runs.”

The following year the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League came on the market; the first name reported as a potential buyer was Mike Fisher.  Fisher again got his headlines, but it was his old friend Charlie Graham who got the team.  Graham, and a group of investors purchased the Seals and the former catcher was installed as manager.

Charlie Graham, left, Mique Fisher, right, with World Middleweight Champion and actor Freddie Steele.

Charlie Graham, left, Mique Fisher, right, with World Middleweight Champion and actor Freddie Steele.

With his friend in charge The Mercury News said Fisher became a fixture “around the San Francisco ballpark ever since Graham bought in on the Seals in 1918,” he would remain a fixture at Recreation Park, and later at Seals Stadium for more than 20 years , and continued to provide copy for West Coast s sports writer

As a result of his friendship with Graham, who recommended he get the honor, 77-year-old Fisher was selected to travel to Cooperstown to represent the PCL at baseball’s centennial celebration in 1939.  The man who so loved seeing his name in the paper  received headlines one more time, when he died in San Francisco on June 6, 1943.