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“Pulling a Lave Cross,” Eddie Collins on the Life of a Ballplayer

24 Feb

In 1914, Eddie Collins contributed an article about the life of a major leaguer in The National Sunday Magazine, a syndicated insert that appeared in several papers across the country.

Eddie Collins

Eddie Collins

He described the beginning of his first road trip in the big leagues:

“It happened two days after I had joined the Philadelphia Athletics.  As ‘Mr. Sullivan,’ (Collins initially played under the name Edward T. Sullivan), still being an undergraduate at Columbia, I had watched two games from the grandstand at Shibe Park.

“The series over, Manager (Connie) Mack told me to report at the railroad station in time to catch a train that was leaving at six o’clock.  The Athletics were to make a quick September (1906) swing around the circuit.”

Collins said he was “about the first one at the depot,” and “eager as a boy” to begin his big league career.

Once on the train, he described the reaction of the players the first time the porter announced that dinner would be served:

“What transpired, immediately, might have led one to believe that the porter had insulted nearly everyone in the car.  There was a stampede.  Every one of the Athletics was up and rushing down the aisle, throwing aside magazines and newspapers, tumbling and pitching toward the door. The porter was knocked over and it is no exaggeration to state that one of our players—a very fleshy outfielder with elephantine tread (Topsy Hartsel)—walked over him in his haste.

“’What’s the matter with those fellows?’ I asked a veteran who had not joined the stampede.

“In justice to him, be it explained that he had a sprained ankle and couldn’t run.

“’They’re pulling a Lave Cross,’ he threw over his shoulder, as he hobbled after the others as fast as his lame ankle would permit.

“I came to know what ‘Pulling a Lave Cross’ meant.”

Lave Cross

Lave Cross

Collins explained the term, which referenced the former Athletics player:

“He was in the big leagues for years and during that period, he was never beaten into a dining car or eating room of any sort.  He always caught the first cab out of the station; he always was the first to plunge into the sleeper and select the best berth.  He never ran second where personal comforts or tastes were at stake.  During all his years, and the competition is keen, he was supreme.”

Collins said while Cross’ behavior might have been extreme, “haste” was “a habit inbred in all successful” ballplayers:

“I have noticed that after the game we all dress like firemen getting three alarms, race back the hotel, race into the dining room, race through our meal.  Then we saunter out into the lobby and kill two or three hours trying to see which foot we can stand on longer.  At first I marveled at this, then I found myself racing along with the rest of them.”

Calling himself, and his colleagues “rather peculiar individual(s)” Collins said of ballplayers:

“On the field, all his energies and thoughts are concentrated on one idea—the winning of the game.  His day’s work done, however, he throws that all off.  His first desire is to avoid the crowds and excitement.  Then he persistently refuses to talk baseball.  If you want to make yourself unpopular with big league ballplayers, drop into their hotel some night and try to talk baseball to them. “

Collins next provided readers with “some idea of ballplayers out of spangles,” to bring them into “closer touch.”

Honus Wagner, he said, was not a fan of fans:

“Down in Carnegie (PA) there are about twenty unfortunates…who are taken care of solely through Wagner’s generosity.  He has a heart as big as his clumsy looking body, but he hates the baseball ‘bug.’  Frequently wealthy fans have called at Wagner’s hotel on the road and tried to engage him in conversation.  Generally he will excuse himself and going over to the elevator boy will sit and chat with him for an hour at a time.  Wagner’s worst enemy will not tell you he is conceited, but he hates the fans prying into his affairs.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Connie Mack, he said, “is the same kind of man” as Wagner:

“Connie is forever handing out touches to old time players.  He is always thinking of anybody connected with baseball from the bat boys up. I know he insisted out little hunchback mascot (Louis Van Zelst) getting a share of the World Series’ money—not that any players objected—but it was Connie’s thought first.

“’Little Van comes in on this,’ he said.”

Louis Van Zelst

Louis Van Zelst

 

Collins also talked about how his teammates occupied themselves on the road:

“You will never find Chief Bender, our Indian pitcher, hanging around the hotel.  Too many original fans are apt to salute him with a war-whoop.  Besides, he is golf mad and when not on the diamond, he is to be found on the links… (Carroll “Boardwalk”) Brown, the young pitcher who did so well for us last year, is a billiard expert… (Stuffy) McInnis and (Eddie) Murphy are the ‘movie fiends’ of our club and are the only ones (Collins said many players were scared to go to the movies because they thought it would damage their eyes).  They can call the name of every star as soon as they see the face on the screen. Jack Barry, our shortstop, is inordinately fond of Hebrew literature and Biblical history.  This, although he, as well as his name, is Irish.”

Collins also shared his manager’s rules for the Athletics when the team was traveling:

 “It is one of Mack’s rules that we are only allowed to play cards on the trains…Connie is against card playing, which only leads to-night after night sessions, ill feelings and finally, disruption. I could tell you of at least one American League team that was broken by card games…Everybody has to be in bed by half past eleven and report in Mack’s room at half past ten in the morning.  For an hour Mack talks baseball, planning our campaign for the day.”

After Mack’s meeting, it was time to eat, and Collins shared his insights on ballplayers and food:

He said a “young pitcher on our club” should be a star, but “he has a weakness for roast beef,” and “persists in stuffing himself at noon time.”  He didn’t name the pitcher.

 “Walter Johnson, the greatest pitcher in baseball, also has a noonday weakness.  It is ice cream, but he seems to thrive on it.  Jack Barry feels off-color if he does not get his slice of pie…On the day he is going to pitch, Eddie Plank, our veteran left-hander, always eats tomato soup.  He thinks he would lose if he did not observe this ritual.”

Collins concluded:

“There is great temptation for the young minor league player, being put up at first class hotels…to eat his head off.  I honestly believe that more good youngsters have been ruined for big league work simply from overeating than any other extraneous cause.”

Other than their general disdain for ‘bugs,’ Collins said, in the end, players of the current era were unrecognizable from their counterparts of a generation earlier:

“Ballplayers today are scrupulously careful never to offend anyone in any way.  Especially do they take pride in being Chesterfields when women are around.”

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.”

Collins’ “Ten Commandments”

5 Oct

The Philadelphia Inquirer said in February of 1916, Eddie Collins of the Chicago White Sox, had broken “into the ‘Gospel League,’ after  the second baseman gave a temperance speech in front of “500 persons” at the Epworth Methodist Church in Palmyra, New Jersey church.

collins2

Eddie Collins

Despite Collins telling his audience he wasn’t  “contemplating a pulpit career,” the paper said they “(A)pplauded like World Series fans when he handed ‘booze’ some wallops that would have done credit to Billy Sunday.”

Collins’ talk focused on the evils of alcohol:

“I come to bring a message to your young people, from a baseball player’s viewpoint, of the necessity of clean living and I will be glad if anything I say will help any of you fight the battle of life…Temperate living in necessary for success in any field of action.”

He also praised his former manager from the pulpit:

“Life is a whole lot like playing baseball under Connie Mack’s orders.  Mack is the greatest baseball general the world has ever known and any man who has ever played on the old Athletics honors respects and loves the boss.”

Sunday said he approved of Collins taking to pulpit and providing a “boost” for baseball:

“The way to make the great game respectable is for every player to be respectable himself.”

The Inquirer told readers the following day that the Columbia University graduate had little in common with the evangelist who often mangled the language:

“The statement that Eddie Collins is emulating Billy Sunday is entirely erroneous…Eddie had a perfect record at the bat and fielded cleanly with the King’s English.”

Billy Sunday, evangelist

Billy Sunday, evangelist

Within a week, The Philadelphia Press said:

“Eddie Collins’ dip into evangelism has had a home-run effect among church people throughout the country, and he now is swamped with invitations to address church congregations, bible classes, and Sunday school meeting.

“The requests have swept in upon him at his home in Lansdowne (Pennsylvania) in such a deluge that he said today he had reached the point where he would have to give up base ball if he were to meet all the engagements asked.”

Collins told a reporter:

“I am gratified to learn that my little talk of last Sunday and my rules of life amounted to something but I don’t rank as an evangelist and can’t follow that calling.”

Instead of leaving the diamond for the pulpit, Collins printed and had distributed to churches, several thousand copies of part of the talk, what he called “The Ten Rules of Life.”

Some reporters, including William Peet of The Washington Herald, referred to the list as “Collins’ Ten Commandments:”

First: Safeguard your honor

Second: Don’t overeat

Third: Be a good loser

Fourth: Smile

Fifth: Keep good hours

Sixth: Have courage to do right

Seventh: Don’t think you know it all

Eighth: Be prompt

Ninth: Don’t drink alcoholic drinks

Tenth: Think clean thoughts.

Collins’ statements about alcohol were used by various temperance organizations seeking prohibition.  Ads like the one below with quotes from Collins, Ty Cobb, and Connie Mack, and Admiral Robert Peary, as well as boxers Jess Willard, John L. Sullivan, and Joe Stecher appeared in newspapers and handbills distributed throughout the country.

temperance

“We didn’t kill Albert”

29 Sep

Eddie Collins said of teammate Charles “Chief” Bender:

“I rate Bender among the first five American League hurlers, and he gets this place because he made pitching a fine art. He mastered every natural form of delivery but never bothered with spitters or other trick styles. Both (Joe) Wood and (Walter) Johnson had far more speed, (Jack) Coombs and (Jim) Scott better curves, and (Addie) Joss and (Doc) White more deceptive ‘slow balls,’ but I never saw anyone who could toss all styles with the skill that ‘Chief’ exhibited.”

Collins was “writing” a series of syndicated articles for The North American Newspaper Alliance in 1927:

Collins

Bender’s mechanics made him great, but were “only a part” of his success as “anchor” of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics pitching staff fir 12 seasons:

“He knew the strength and weakness of every batter; his control was superb, and he possessed such a wealth of courage that facing the strongest teams afforded him his greatest pleasure.”

Collins—who like Mack usually called the pitcher by his middle name, Albert–said Mack favored Bender as his choice in “a single all-important game,” over any other pitcher—born out, he said because Bender pitched the opener in four World Series. Bender was 2-2 in those games, but one loss was a 2-1 loss to Christy Mathewson and the Giants in a game Bender struck out 11. Of the other, against the Brave in 1914, Collins noted:

“The Braves batted him off the slab. Everything went wrong for us in that series anyway.”

Mack also relied on Bender when an exhibition game suddenly became a matter of American League pride.

“After the close of our season in the Fall of ’09 we made an exhibition tour to the coast. On the way we stopped to play the famous Cubs in Chicago. Reaching there we found that this game assumed more importance than attached to an ordinary exhibition. Chicago had always been a good American League territory, but (Frank) Chance had a great team and the White Sox had not done well that season, and the American League supporters were very anxious that we win.”

Mack addressed Bender in front of his teammates:

“Albert, you know you are to pitch. Now Albert, I have asked you to win some important games for me and you never failed. I want you to bring me this game.”

The Athletics beat the Cubs 2 to 0. Ring Lardner of The Chicago Tribune Said:

Bender

“The Cubs lost because Big Chief Bender wouldn’t let them hit.”

 Bender held Chicago to two singles in the victory.

Bender did, said Collins, have weaknesses:

“He was not as strong as (Ed) Walsh, (Jack) Chesbro, Coombs and other great pitchers, and for that reason, and also because any time any batter, however great, made a hit off his delivery he thought the batter was lucky; he never wanted to waste a ball. His system was to throw all strikes, if possible…Occasionally after having the batter 2-0 he would throw one in the groove and get away with it. Then he would return to the bench and grin with great satisfaction.”

His penchant to “grove one” could be costly, Collins said. In game four of the 1913 World Series, Bender was cruising to a victory with a 6-0 lead heading into the seventh inning:

“Two men got on with two out when Fred Merkle came up. ‘Chief’ had just whiffed catcher (Art) Wilson, and was bent on showing up Merkle, who was a corking good hitter, as everyone knew, but who could do little with Bender when the ‘Chief” was careful.”

After getting two strikes on Merkle, and despite “the protests of (catcher) Ira Thomas,” Bender threw:

“A pitch that came across the letters on his shirt Merkle could hit a mile. He just naturally lost that ball and the Giants had three runs.”

Bender held on to win 6 to 5, and as a result, Collins said:

“(W)e didn’t kill Albert.”

“There’s Always Been a Need in Baseball for Another Rube”

20 Sep

In 1944, Grantland Rice of The New York Herald Tribune lamented the inability of Lou Novikoff to live up expectations well into four seasons in the National League:

“It would have ben a big lift to big league baseball if…’The Mad Russian’ of the Cubs could only have approached his minor league average under the Big Tent.”

Novikoff

The reason was baseball’s need for “color;”

“There has always been a need in baseball for another Rube Waddell, another Bugs Raymond or another Dizzy Dean. They had more than their share of color. But they had something more than color—they were also great ballplayers.”

Novikoff, Rice said had “a gob of color,” but hadn’t come close to putting up the numbers he did the Pacific Coast League and American Association:

“Novikoff on the West Coast looked to be as good a hitter as Ted Williams…But he was no Ted Williams in the major show.”

Both Williams and Novikoff had huge seasons in the American Association after leaving the West Coast—Williams hit .366 in Minneapolis in 1938 and Novikoff hit .370 in Milwaukee in 1941—but as Rice concluded:  No one had yet “wipe(d) away the dust from his big-league batting eye.”

The loss of Novikoff to pick up where Dizzy Dean left off “in the headline class, “ was a loss for baseball, Rice said:

“Baseball can use more color than it has known since Dizzy Dean retired to tell St. Luis radio listeners that someone ‘sold into third base.’

“It could use another Rube Waddell, who split his spring and summer days three ways—pitching, tending bar, and going fishing. But it should be remembered Dizzy Dean and Rube Waddell were among the great pitchers of all time.”

There was none he said, as colorful as Babe Ruth. Ping Bodie “was never a great ballplayer, but he was good enough. He was another remembered character. There was the time he bought a parrot and taught the bird to keep repeating— ‘Ping made good.’”

Rive said Bugs Raymond had color and talent—but for too short a time before the color overtook the talent.

Bugs Raymond

“There was the time when Bugs was pitching for Shreveport. He made a bet that he could eat a whole turkey, drink two quarts of Scotch and win a double header. He won his bet tradition says.”

By “tradition” Rice meant Rice. He was the source of the turkey and scotch story as a young reporter covering the Southern League.

Rice’s dream team of colorful players would include:

“Babe Ruth, Rube Waddell, Dizzy Dean, Bugs Raymond, Larry McLean, Tacks Parrott, Arlie Latham, German Schaefer, Al Schacht, Crazy Schmidt [sic Schmit] Rabbit Maranville and one or two more. I wouldn’t however, want to be manager.”

Grantland Rice

While Rice valued color, he said “two of the greatest ballclubs” he ever covered we not at all colorful:

“One was Connie Mack’s Athletics lineup from 1910 through 1914, winners of four pennants in five years. The other was the Yankees after Babe Ruth left, a crushing outfit season after season.

“These two squads were composed of fine ballplayers who were rarely prankish or the lighter side of life—Eddie Collins, Eddie Plank, Stuffy McInnis, Jack Barry, Homerun Baker, Jack Coombs, Chief Bender, to whom baseball was strictly a business matter. The same went for Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, Lou Gehrig, Charlie Keller, Spud Chandler, Joe DiMaggio and others might have made up a session of bank presidents.”

Novikoff never lived up to his minor league hype. He hit a respectable .282 in five major league seasons but only played 17 games in the big-leagues after the end of World War II.

“Brain Counts More Than Slugging”

6 Sep

Amos Rusie’s return to the Seattle area to purchase a farm in 1929 made his briefly as interesting to West Coast baseball writers and his arrival at the Polo Grounds eight years earlier had briefly made his reminiscences of great interest to the New York scribes.

There is some disagreement about whether Rusie enjoyed his time in New York. What’s certain is his eight years caused him to retract his opinion from 1921 that the game had not substantially changed.

Rusie

When he arrived in Washington, The Associated Press asked the former pitcher/ballpark superintendent turned farmer for his views on the game and  to select his all-time team.

Rusie said he couldn’t understand how modern pitchers “don’t pitch to sluggers,” enough:

“None of the pitchers in my day were afraid to pitch to the best of them. You didn’t find us walking the slugger almost every time he came to bat, as they do nowadays. We figured we would either make him hit the ball or sit down. That’s what he was up there for.”

Rusie said “brain counts more than slugging,” and selected an all-time team that included just one (barely)  active player:

Pitchers: Christy Mathewson, Kid Nichols, Cy Young

Catchers: Buck Ewing, Roger Bresnahan, John Kling

First base: Dan Brouthers, Fred Tenney

Second base: Napoleon Lajoie, Eddie Collins

Third base: Jimmy Collins, John McGraw

Shortstop: Honus Wagner, Hughie Jennings

Left field: Ed Delahanty, Joe Kelley

Center field: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker

Right Field: Willie Keeler, Fred Clarke

Eddie Collins appeared in just nine games in 1929 and three in 1930 while coaching for the Athletics. Babe Ruth, who made such an impression on Rusie when eight years earlier he watched major league baseball for the first time in two decades, didn’t make the cut.

Ed Barrow’s All-Time All-Stars

26 Mar

“The old-timers. They were better hitters! No question about it.”

Said Ed Barrow after he became president of the New York Yankees in 1939 and Jimmy Powers of The New York Daily News had the 71-year-old pick his all-time team.

Barrow

Powers said of Barrow:

“The beetle-browed executive, one of the few remaining links between the gas-lit, coach-and-four, Wee Willie Keeler era and the moderns, boomed at us across his wide, flat-topped desk in the offices of the New York baseball club.”

Barrow was “a great believer in ‘natural born’ stars,’ telling Powers, “A fellow has it—or he hasn’t it.”

He explained his theory:

“Once in a while a manager will make a few minor corrections in stance, or change something here and there, but if player hasn’t the natural coordination, the God-given physique, the reflexes for rhythm and timing, he’ll never get ‘em. Sometimes one man will get more mileage out of his talents than another because he will work harder. That’s why the old-timers were better hitters. They looked at better pitching, and they practiced and practiced and practiced.”

Barrow said there was one reason in particular for why old-timers were better hitters:

“The tipoff is in the strikeout column. The moderns strikeout oftener—and there’s your answer. The present-day hitter is so homerun crazy that half the time he closes his eyes and swings; four bases or nothing! Usually, it’s nothing.”

Barrow’s told Powers:

“Now, on my All-Star, All-Time team I’d put Cobb, Speaker and Ruth in the outfield. Chase, Lajoie, Wagner, and Jimmy Collins in the infield. Matty, Johnson, Waddell, and McGinnity, pitchers. And Bill Dickey, catcher…I’d put Joe DiMaggio on that team as utility outfielder. I’d put Lou Gehrig as substitute first baseman and pinch hitter. Bill Bradley, Eddie Collins, Swede Risberg, and Buck Weaver would also get contracts on this ‘Dream Team.’ Keeler would be another utility outfielder and Bresnahan would be my second catcher. Ruffing and Gomez would fill out my pitching staff!”

Barrow’s All-Stars

Barrow said he could offer “a million reasons’ for the rationale for each selected player. 

“(R)ecords can be misleading…I won’t quote you records of my All-Timers…A man must be in the dugout or in the stands to weigh the merits of a player and not be influenced by a record book.”

He said in choosing his team, he held “no grudges,” which is why he selected Risberg and Weaver, “Black Sox scandal or not.”

He said he would add Joe Jackson to the team, “if I thought he was smart enough. But Jackson, strange to say, was the only dumb one on that whole team. Up until 1938s Yankees—those Black Sox were the best team in baseball!”

As for some of his picks:

“Chase on first base! Nobody near him. He could throw a ball through a knothole, covered the whole infield like a cat, and remember he used a glove that just covered his fingers and seldom had a palm. The ‘peach baskets’ first basemen use today would have been barred years back, Chase could hit behind the runner, bunt, steal, fake a bunt at third and then bunt over the third baseman’s head. He could do all the tricks.”

Chase

He called Napoleon Lajoie “the most graceful second baseman I have ever seen. He had a rifle arm and was as slick as a panther,” and gave him the edge “by a slight margin” over Eddie Collins.

Honus Wagner, who Barrow signed for the Patterson Silk Weavers in 1896, “is my nomination as the greatest individual ballplayer of all time.”

Of his first impression of Wagner, he said:

“He was pretty terrible when I first ran across him, looked awkward as all get-out. But suddenly he would come through with a perfectly dazzling play that had everybody on our bench swallowing his tobacco cud in astonishment.”

Like Lajoie, Barrow said Jimmy Collins just edged out the second choice—Bill Bradley—because:

“Collins could make perfect throws to first from any position. When an infielder makes an off-balance throw today the crowd gives him a big hand. The old timers did it every play because the old ball was slow dribbling out there. Today the lively ball comes out fast in one or two hops, and this gives the third baseman a chance to make his throw from a ‘straightened up’ stance.…Remember, in the old days the ball was dark, wet with slippery elm juice; often it was smudged with grass stains, hard to follow.”

In the outfield, Barrow said, “I don’t think anyone will give you an argument on Cobb-Speaker-Ruth.”

He called Ty Cobb “the greatest hitter of all time,” with “a lightning-quick brain and plenty of gut.”

Babe Ruth, he said was, in addition to the being the “great slugger of all-time,” changed the game because of “His salary, his magnetic personality, and his publicity.”

Tris Speaker “was superb. A good hitter, a great fielder, a brainy man. He was so confident of his ability ‘to go back’ he practically camped on second base.”

Of the pitching staff, he said Christy Mathewson “could do almost everything with a baseball—practically make it talk.”

Of Walter Johnson he said:

“He had awe-inspiring speed. You’d stand up there watching and suddenly—pfffft—pfffft—pfffft. Three phantom bullets whizzed past. Too fast for your eyes to focus ‘em.”

Rube Waddell was “the best lefthander” he had seen.

Joe McGinnity appeared to be a sentimental choice:

“(He) was a work horse, a competent soul who loved the game so much I believe he’d work for nothing.”

Bill Dickey, he said was not “given the credit” he deserved:

“He’s a hitter. A workmanlike receiver. Handles pitchers marvelously. Has a good arm. Is fast. Is always one jump ahead of the opposition. Dickey does everything well.”

“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.”

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.”

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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.”

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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.”

“The Realization of Their Carelessness”

1 Jun

After the 1910 season, Hugh Fullerton, writing in “The American Magazine” said baseball had no universal language.

“Each team has its different system of coaching, its different language of signs, motions, cipher words, or phrases, and no one man can hope to learn them all.”

Fullerton said the “worst of trying to study” the signs of various clubs was trying to track when they changed:

“If Arlie Latham jumps into the air and screams ‘Hold your base!’ it may mean ‘Steal second,’ today and tomorrow it may mean ‘Hit and run.’ One never can tell what a sign means. Hughie Jennings hoists his right knee as high as his shoulder, pulls six blades of grass and Jim Delahanty bunts. You are certain that Jennings signaled him to sacrifice, so the next day when Ty Cobb is bat and Jennings goes through the same motions, you creep forward and Cobb hits the ball past you so fast you can’t see it.

“If Connie Mack tilts his hat over his eyes and Eddie Collins steals second as the next ball is pitched, naturally you watch the hat, and lo, Jack Barry plays hit and run. You hear Clark Griffith yelp ‘Watch his foot!’ and see two of his players start a double steal. The next time he yells ‘Watch his foot!’ you break your neck to cover the base, and both players stand still.”

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Arlie Latham 

Fullerton said most fans gave up trying to figure out signs but they “mustn’t do that. Someday right in the middle of a game, you’ll strike the key to the language and read through clear to the ninth inning.”

He compared that moment to getting “away one good drive,” in golf, “forever afterward you are a victim,” and can’t stop.

“Did you ever watch Hugh Jennings on the coaching line near first base during a hard-fought game? He doubles his fists, lifts one leg and shakes his foot, screams ‘E-yah’ in piercing tomes and stooping suddenly plucks at the grass, pecking at it like a hen. It looks foolish. I have heard spectators express wonder that a man of ability and nearing middle age could act so childishly. Yet hidden somewhere in the fantastic contortions and gestures of the Tigers’ leader there is a meaning, a code word, or signal that tells his warriors what he expects them to do.”

Jennings said of his signs:

“I change almost every day. I change every time I suspect there is a danger of the meanings being read. I am a believer in as few signals as possible and of giving them when they count, and I find that a lot of antics are effective in covering up the signals.”

Fullerton said Mack was “one of the most successful men” at “interpreting” opponents’ signs:

“Before the Chicago Cubs went into their disastrous series against the Athletics they were warned that if such a thing were possible Mack would have their signals. At the end of the game they called a meeting to revise signals, changing entirely, being certain the Athletics knew almost every kind of ball that was going to be pitched.”

Fullerton allowed that the Cubs instead might be tipping their pitches, because he was sitting with Ty Cobb during the series, and:

“(He) repeatedly called the turn on the ball that would be pitched before it was thrown, judging from the pitcher’s motion, and the Athletics may have been doing the same thing.”

Fullerton also said of the Cubs, that although they were “the cleverest baseball team in America, composed of smart men and a great manager, for years paid less attention to active coaching on the baselines,” than other teams.

“Possibly the reason was the confidence in their own judgment and their continued success, Frank Chance’s men made few blunders and the neglect was not noticeable, except to constant observers until 1908. Any player who happened to be idle went to the coaching lines and most of the time inexperienced substitutes did line duty. In 1908 during their fierce fight for the pennant, the realization of their carelessness was brought home to them and since then Chance has employed quick-thinking, clever men on the base lines, principally relying on (Ginger) Beaumont and (John) Kane.”

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John Kane

Fullerton dated Chance’s new appreciation for competent coaching to July 17, 1908; that day the Cubs beat Christy Mathewson and the Giants 1 to 0 on an inside the park home run by Joe Tinker. Heinie Zimmerman was coaching third base for the Cubs.

The Chicago Inter Ocean described the play:

“Joe, the first man up in the fifth, hit one of Matty’s best as far as any ball could be hit in the grounds without going into the stands. Where the center field bleachers join the right field 25 cent seats is a V-shaped inclosure. Joe drove the ball away into this dent, and it took Cy Seymour some time to gather the elusive sphere. When Cy finally retrieved the ball, Tinker was rounding third.

“Zimmerman grasped this as the psychological moment to perpetrate one of the most blockheaded plays ever pulled off. He ran out onto the line and seized Joe, trying to hold him on third, when the ball was just starting to the diamond from deep center field. Joe struggled to get away, as his judgment told him he could get home, but Heinie held on with a grip of death. Finally, Tink wriggled away and started for the plate.”

 

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Zimmerman

The paper said Tinker would have been thrown out had Al Bridwell’s throw to the plate been on target:

“Had Tinker been caught at the plate the 10,000 frenzied fans would have torn Zim limb from limb. Chance immediately sent Evers out to coach at third base and retired Zim to the dark confines of the Cubs’ bench.”

Thus, said Fullerton:

“Chance began to develop scientific coaching, and discovering its full value, took the lead in the matter, employing skilled coachers.”

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