Search results for 'hal chase'

Lost Pictures: Hal Chase at Indy

27 Feb

chaseindy.jpg

A 1911 photo of Hal Chase, with pitcher Russell Ford in the passenger seat, behind the wheel of a race car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The Indianapolis Times said Chase “has entered the ranks of the ‘speed kings.'”

While the New York Highlanders were playing a series of games before the 1911 opener Chase visited the speedway:

“The youthful manager of the Highlanders enjoyed the time annihilating sport and took the wheel…He reeled off a fast lap on the track, making the two and one-half miles in two minutes flat, or at the rate of 75 miles per hour,

“Chase said if he was not so busy trying to annex the American League Pennant, he certainly would be one of the starters in the 500-mile race at the Speedway on Memorial Day.”

In his only full season as a manager, Chase’s Highlanders finished in sixth place with a 76-76 record.

 

Hal Chase, 1912

17 Feb

Hal Chase resigned as manager of the New York Highlanders after the 1911 season but remained with the club.  Before the 1912 season, he was the subject of the profile written by Homer Croy for the International Press Bureau.  Croy would later become a well-known novelist and screenwriter, best known for writing “They had to See Paris,” Will Rogers’ first sound film.

The feature also included a sketch of Chase by Oscar Cesare of The New York Evening Post.

chaseoscarcesare

Croy wrote:

“Hal Chase, the great billiard player, is also captain of the Yankees.  He would rather play billiards, after being out on a month’s camping trip with nothing to stay the inner man except canned calf’s tongue, pemmican and an uninterrupted view of the landscape, than have a plush-button, golden-backed chair in the dining room of the Waldorf with three waiters and a water boy to heed his beck.

“A three-cushion carom is as easy for him as a pick-up…He has such good shoulders and leaps so gracefully that he has to have a penknife operated by foot power to open his mashing notes.”

Of Chase’s brief stay at Santa Clara College, Croy said:

“He went one year to college, making a major of second base, a minor of handball and a bluff at calculus.  The faculty couldn’t see him with a microscope and full lights on, sighing with relief when he climbed in the chair car homeward bound.”

Croy said besides billiards, hunting and horseback riding were Chase’s favorite activities, “When he gets out of his baseball togs his favorite outdoor diversion is keeping his heels in, his elbows stiff and his thumbs pointing up.  He can give a riding master the lag.”

By the end of the decade, Chase’s name would be synonymous with gambling and game-fixing, but in the spring of 1912, to Croy, he was:

“The greatest first baseman between the Canadian Pacific and the Gulf Stream.”

“Schalk had Defined the Intention of the Baserunner”

25 Feb

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

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

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

schalk

Schalk

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

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

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Chase

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

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

Evans described Schalk’s other “remarkable” play:

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

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

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

Ray Schalk on “Baseball Brains”

1 Feb

After the Chicago White Sox defeated the New York Giants in the 1917 World Series, Sox catcher Ray “Cracker” Schalk took to the pages of “Baseball Magazine” with his opinion of statistics:

Ray Schalk

Ray Schalk

“Offhand I would say that fielding averages are pretty bad, pitchers’ averages rather punk, batting averages merely fair.  But the worst of all are catchers’ averages.

“How are you going to tell a good catcher?  By his batting average?  By his fielding average?  By the runs he scores?  Of course all these things are important.  But they haven’t any direct connection with good, bad or indifferent catching as such.  A catcher may or may not be a good batter or base runner.  And whatever his hitting or run getting ability he may be a great or mediocre catcher.”

Schalk said it was “easy…from the records” to determine an outfielder or shortstop’s ability:

“But a man might be the best catcher the world ever saw or the worst, and there would be no way under heaven to gain that information from the season’s statistics.

“First of all, a catcher must have baseball brains.  It isn’t enough to say brains; you must add the adjective ‘baseball’ to describe what you mean.”

Schalk noted that many of his contemporaries were educated:

“I admit this is the day of the college player in baseball.  I admit that the better education a man has, other things being equal, the better ball player he will be.  But he might know a lot of philosophy or Greek literature and be a frost on foul flies.  Ty Cobb has the ideal baseball brains.  But Ty isn’t a college man.  On the other hand I used to play in the minors with a graduate of a well-known university who was a brilliant scholar and a good natural athlete.  But he was positively the limit in playing baseball.  He would do the most incomprehensible things.  In fact, he was impossible.

Hans Wagner and Nap Lajoie are not college men, have not enjoyed as liberal an education, perhaps, as most of the rest of us.  But if any medical laboratory wants a sample of a real baseball brain, let him open negotiations with the Dutchman or the Frenchman for the use of his skull when he is thru with it.

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

“I believe there are fellows with a natural born instinct to play baseball.  They invariably do the right thing at the right time.  That is what I mean by baseball brains.  Furthermore, such a brain must above all act quickly.  There are many thousands of people, even in the stands, who understand good baseball and could dope out the proper thing for a fielder or a batter to do under given conditions.  But that isn’t enough.  The man with a baseball brain must not only do the right thing but he must do it instantly.  It is quickness of thought quite as much as correctness which marks the star player.  Hal Chase and Ty Cobb are scintillating examples of quick thought on the diamond.”

And, said Schalk, “quick thought” was most important behind the plate:

“Now the catcher, above all men, must have a good baseball brain.  Most of his work, the most important part of his work, is hidden from the spectators’ eye.  The man in the stands can seldom follow what is going on in the catcher’s brain.  But the catcher, much more than the pitcher, holds the game in the hollow of his hand.  The catcher, much more than the pitcher, is the keystone of the baseball arch.”

The man who thought statistics didn’t have “any direct connection” to a catcher’s value made it into the Hall of Fame in 1955.  He has the lowest career average (.253) among enshrined catchers.

Prince Hal’s Brush with Death

5 Nov

After nearly a decade as one of the California’s most popular players, Bobby Eager became an occasional columnist for The San Jose News.  Eager provided told stories about some of the biggest stars on the West Coast during the first decade of the 20th Century:

 “How close the greatest first baseman the game has ever produced came to losing his life in the infancy of his career is a story that has never been published though I guess everything else Hal Chase ever said, though or did has found its way into print.”

Eager said it happened in 1904 when he and Chase were teammates with the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League.

“We were on our second trip to Seattle.  When the train reached Thrall, which was a water tank line and the last stop in California before we passed into Oregon, Chase and I saw some ripe apples hanging on a tree… Chase went up the tree like a squirrel and I stood on the ground.”

"Prince" Hal Chase

“Prince” Hal Chase

With Chase still in the tree, the train, which Eager re-boarded, prepared to pull out of the station.

“By the time Chase could get back the train got under headway, and the trainman had closed the doors of the Pullman.

“When we discovered the doors were shut we rushed out, and there was poor Hal hanging on the steps and his feet almost dragging in the ties.  He was hanging on for dear life.  First (Norman) Kitty Brashear and I tried to pull him up on the platform but that was impossible.  All the time the train was going faster and faster.  Then I yanked the bell rope but I yanked it so hard that broke and the engineer never got the signal.  In the meantime Tim Flood had rushed ahead to locate the conductor who refused to stop the train until the next station three miles ahead.  We wanted to kill the conductor, but that would have done no good.

“All the time Chase was getting weaker and weaker, but as it was a case of life or death with him he stuck to the train.  It was Brashear who hit on the scheme which saved Chase from having his legs cut off and the game losing its kingpin first sacker.  Brashear got down on the platform, yelled to him to let go when he pushed him with his foot.  Hal said he would do it.  Brashear, who was powerful as a bull, placed his big boot squarely in Chase’s breast and as he yelled ‘let go’ shoved Hal all the way over the embankment and when we saw him roll safely down the embankment we were happy.

“But Hal was not out of his peril.  As he told us afterwards he pulled himself together and hobbled back to Thrall half dead.  This was 3 o’clock in the afternoon.  The next train didn’t come along until 11 at night.  Soon after dark Hal said a flock of coyotes came down from the mountains.  They were hungry and looking for blood.  Hal said he found safety on top of the tank station house.  He said the Coyotes kept him treed until his train pulled in.”

Hal Chase (3), Bobby Eager (6), Tim Flood (12), and Kitty Brashear (13)

Hal Chase (3), Bobby Eager (6), Tim Flood (12), and Kitty Brashear (13)

Despite the injuries, Chase appeared in 190 of the Angels 235 games.  At the close of the 1904 season, he was drafted by the New York Highlanders.

George Chalmers

5 Aug

George “Dut” Chalmers is one of only seven big league players born in Scotland.  He came to New York City as a young child and, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer “his baseball education was begun” with the Bradhurst Field Club which played their games at 145th and Lenox Avenue.  He also played on amateur teams in Hoboken, New Jersey and Red Hook, Brooklyn.

After attending Manhattan College, Chalmers began his professional career in 1909 with the Scranton Miners in the New York State League, managed by Gus ZeimerThe Sporting Life said:

“In George Chalmers, the giant young Manhattan College grad, Zeimer has landed what looks to be the prize-package pitcher of the league.   His work has been sensational.”

There are no complete statistics for 1909, but the following season the 22-year-old Chalmers was 25-6 for Scranton; finishing second in victories to 23-year-old Syracuse Stars pitcher Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander who was 29-11.

The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader said Chalmers:

“Looks like one of the very best in the minor leagues, having a major league head and everything in the pitching line, including fine control and a spitball.”

At the end of the 1910 season the Philadelphia Phillies acquired both of the New York League’s star pitchers; Chalmers was purchased, for either $3000 or $4000, depending on the source, and Alexander was obtained through the Rule 5 Draft.

Both rookies made the club after spring training in Birmingham, Alabama.  Six years later The Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger said of Chalmers’ first days with the 1911 Phillies:

“Chalmers came with an elaborate trousseau, together with lots of pinch neckwear and considerable toggery that aroused the brunette population of Birmingham to deep, empurpled envy. “

chalmersasadude

George Chalmers, left, with teammate Alonzo Earl “Crossfire” Moore Displaying the style “that aroused the brunette population of Birmingham to deep, empurpled envy. “
Caption reads “Chalmers as a Dude.”  Photo from Chalmers’ personal scrapbook.

In addition to his fashion sense, Chalmers also impressed the Phillies with his pitching ability.

While Alexander got off to a great start, Chalmers started slow, but after back-to-back victories in July, Phillies manager and catcher Charles “Red” Dooin told The Philadelphia Times:

“That youngster is a great twirler.  You know they told me up in the New York League that Chalmers was a better pitcher than Alexander.

“Of course this is impossible because I think that ‘Alex’ is the greatest pitcher that ever drew breath, but I am going to say there’s not a club in either league which could beat the ball Chalmers has pitched for the last two weeks.

“I think I have another Alexander in Chalmers and if he don’t make good prediction I will say that he lacks the nerve and nothing else.  Chalmers has more stuff than Matty (Christy Mathewson) had.  He needs the experience and knowledge of batsmen, but aside from that he is the best young twirler I have ever seen excepting Alex.”

A syndicated story from The American Press Association said Chalmers had given up other sports for baseball:

“George Chalmers, one of the pitching sensations of the Philadelphia National League team, is a motorcycle rider as well as a box artist.  Before he joined the Phillies Chalmers occasionally picked up a little spare change acting as a pacemaker for Elmer Collins, the bicycle rider.  Chalmers has paced Collins several times in the latter’s races against Bobby Walthour.  Chalmers, however, doesn’t intend riding any more.  He fears a spill that might injure his arm and affect his pitching.

“Chalmers at one time had an ambition to become an automobile race driver.  He gave up this notion when he got his chance to join Philadelphia.  The big right-hand pitcher is not sorry that he sidetracked that ambition, for his pitching now is yielding him a healthy income.”

While he was overshadowed by Alexander, who was 28-13 with a 2.57 ERA, Chalmers had a respectable rookie season posting a 13-10 record with a 3.11 ERA.

In September it was announced that the Phillies would travel to Cuba for a 12-game series with the Almendares and Havana teams in November.  As the October 31 departure date drew near it became clear that, for a variety of reasons, many of the Phillies would not be making the trip.  Most notably Alexander, locked in a contract dispute, and Dooin would remain at home.

Besides Chalmers, the players who made the trip were:

Wallace “Toots” Shultz P

Eddie Stack P

Bill Killefer C

Fred Luderus 1B

Otto Knabe 2B

Hans Lobert 3B/MGR

Jimmy Walsh SS

Sherry Magee OF

Mike Mitchell OF (Borrowed from Cincinnati Reds)

Dick Cotter OF

Chalmers and his Phillies teammates on the beach in Havana, Cuba

Chalmers and his Phillies teammates.  Caption reads “In the surf Havana Cuba”
Photo from Chalmers’ personal scrapbook.

The first game of the series, reduced from 12 to nine games because of the Phillies’ limited roster, took place on November 5.  Chalmers faced Almendares and Cuban legend Jose Mendez; the Phillies lost 3-1.  It is likely Chalmers hurt his arm during the series; he did not start another game, and Schultz picked up the slack, pitching six games, he was credited with the victory in the five games the Phillies won.

Upon returning to Key West the last week of November, Chalmers was briefly detained by authorities. The Philadelphia Times said the ship’s manifest listed Chalmers as American, but:

“On arrival in the states when he had to sign a long paper of identification, he told the officials that he was Scotch and never naturalized…Chalmers was reprimanded and the ship company was fined for carelessness”

Heading into the 1912 season The Philadelphia Times, and the second year pitcher, had high hopes:

“Chalmers is young and has every confidence in himself.  He is big and strong and is a perfect running mate for Alexander the Great.”

But the George Chalmers who returned from Cuba would never be the same pitcher.

More tomorrow.

Special thanks to Karen Weiss, George Chalmers’ great niece, for generously providing copies of photos from Mr. Chalmers’ scrapbook.

Thanks to Mark Fimoff co-chair SABR Pictorial History Committee for identifying Earl Moore in the first picture and correcting my incorrect, original caption placing Chalmers on the right–the information has been corrected in the caption.  October 18, 2013

“It was Hard for me to get Used to Some of the Boneheads”

4 Oct

Most baseball writers and dozens of baseball figures caught the twenty greatest “fever” during 1911 and 1912.

After Frank Baker hit .375 with two home runs and five RBIs, leading the Philadelphia Athletics to their 1911 World Series victory over the New York Giants, Grantland Rice opined in The New York Mail:

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Frank Baker

“The twenty greatest ballplayers, picked exclusively for this column by John McGraw and the Giants—John Franklin Baker.”

The Washington Times said Germany Schaefer was asked to put his twenty greatest list together shortly after the end of his best season in 1911:

“Write ‘em out and send ‘em to me,’ the newspaperman suggested.

“Germany did.  The list read as follows: ‘Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, and Germany Schaefer.’”

Germany Schaefer

Schaefer

The Philadelphia Record asked Connie Mack for his twenty greatest list, Mack refused but told the paper “if his life depended on any game of ball,” he would start Chief Bender:

“Do you know, Bender has never yet failed me in a crisis?  Whenever there is a game that the fortunes of our club hinge on I’ve sent in the Chief and he has delivered every time.”

Billy Hamilton, who made a couple of the lists that circulated during 1911 and 1912, told The Boston Globe he was upset no one had named his former teammate Marty Bergen:

“Why, I can’t see how you can possibly leave him out…He and Buck Ewing were in a class by themselves among the men I have seen behind the bat.  I have never seen anything like that snap throw of Martin’s, with the ball always on the runner.”

Wild Bill Donovan then put Bergen on the list he chose for The Detroit News:

  • Ed Walsh
  • Jim Hughes
  • Christy Mathewson
  • Duke Farrell
  • Marty Bergen
  • Hal Chase
  • Fred Tenney
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Eddie Collins
  • Jimmy Collins
  • John McGraw
  • Hughie Jennings
  • Herman Long
  • Ty Cobb
  • Bill Lange
  • Ed Delahanty
  • Willie Keeler
  •  Fielder Jones
  • Fred Clarke
  • Bobby Wallace

Donovan told the paper of Ed Walsh:

“If Walsh were worked about once in four days, instead of being asked to go in three times a week as often is the case now, I believe that he would be unbeatable.”

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Ed Walsh

In lauding Farrell, his teammate in Brooklyn, Donovan took a swipe at many of the catchers he worked with during his career:

“The big Duke was a wonderfully heady man, and the only catcher who ever lived on whom it was impossible to work the hit and run game.  Any time Duke called for a waste ball, you could bet your next paycheck that the runner was going to go down.  After pitching to man of his intelligence it was hard for me to get used to some of the boneheads that I encountered later.”

One more list—attributed to several papers and sportswriters at the time—appeared first in The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, and chronicled the “Twenty greatest blunders in baseball:”

20blunders

As the craze was dying down, The Chicago Tribune said Ted Sullivan, the man who I credited with discovering Charles Comiskey—and Comiskey’s favorite scout, would put together “a list of the twenty greatest baseball actuaries of all time were he not a bit doubtful about the other nineteen.”

“The Twenty Greatest Fever”

2 Oct

In November of 1911, an interviewer asked industrialist Andrew Carnegie to name the 20 greatest men of all time.  Within days, Carnegie’s list was parsed and picked apart, and led to what The Chicago Daily News called “The twenty greatest fever.”

Lists of the twenty greatest everything appeared in papers across the country for the next year.  Of course, the question was put to many baseball figures and led to a number of interesting lists and quotes.

One of the first to weigh in was Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, in The Daily News:

  • Buck Ewing
  • King Kelly
  • Cap Anson
  • Charlie Ferguson
  • Fred Pfeffer
  • Eddie Collins
  • Honus Wagner
  • Jack Glasscock
  • Harry Lord
  • Ty Cobb
  • Fred Clarke
  • Willie Keeler
  • Tom McCarthy
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Charles Radbourn
  • Bobby Caruthers
  • Christy Mathewson
  •  Clark Griffith
  • Ed Walsh
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Charles Comiskey

Comiskey said Eddie Collins, who would acquire for $50,000 three years later, was the best current player:

“He’s got it on all the others in the game today.  I don’t know that a good lawyer went to waste, but do know that a mighty good ballplayer was found when Eddie decided to give up the technicalities of Blackstone for the intricacies of baseball.   There isn’t much use saying anything about Connie Mack’s star, everybody knows he is a wonder as well as I do.”

Cy Young was asked by The Cleveland News to name his 20 greatest:

“I guess we’d have to make a place for old Amos Rusie, ‘Kid’ Nichols should be placed on the list too, ‘Kid’ forgot more baseball than 90 percent of us ever knew.  And there was Bill Hutchinson, just about one of the greatest that ever lived.  You can’t overlook Walter Johnson, and, by all means Ed Walsh must be there.  The same applies to Mathewson.  Then comes my old side partner, Bill Dinneen.  Bill never was given half enough credit.”

amosrusie

Amos Rusie

Young rounded out the battery:

“I’d pick old Lou Criger first of all the catchers.  George Gibson of the Pittsburgh team, to my way of thinking, stands with the leaders.  Give the third place to Oscar Stanage of Detroit, and I feel safe in saying that I have chosen a really great catcher.”

Young said:

“Doping out the infields is comparatively easy.  Without hesitation I would name Hal Chase, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Hans Wagner, Bobby Wallace, Jimmy Collins, Herman Long, and Charlie Wagner.”

Young said of his infield choices:

“You can’t get away from Bobby Wallace for a general all round gentlemanly player, he has never had a superior at shortstop unless that man was Honus Wagner.  Maybe Johnny Evers is entitles to consideration, but I never say him play.”

As for his outfielders, Young said:

“Ty Cobb’s equal never lived, according to my way of thinking, and I doubt if we will ever have his superior.  Say what they will about Cobb, but one who is true to himself must acknowledge his right to rank above all other players.

“I chose Cobb, Fred Clarke of Pittsburgh, Tris Speaker of Boston and Bill Lange for the outfield, and regret that the limitations prevent me from choosing Jim McAleer.  McAleer was the best fielder I have ever seen.  I say that with all due respect to Cobb and other competitors.

“Tris Speaker is a marvel, and only because of his playing at the same time as Cobb is he deprived of the honor of being the greatest outfielder…Many fans of today probably don’t remember Bill Lange.  Take my word for it, he was a marvel.  He could field, bat, and run bases with wonderful skill.  No man ever had the fade-away slide better than Lange.”

The reporter from The News noticed that Young had, “chosen his twenty greatest players without mentioning his own great deeds,” and asked Young whether her felt he belonged on the list.  Young said:

“Oh, I’ve heard a whole lot of stuff about myself as a player, but I was but ordinary when compared to the men I name as the greatest in the game.”

cy

Cy Young

When Ty Cobb presented his list of the 20 greatest current American League players to The Detroit News, the paper noted his “Very becoming modesty” in leaving himself off of his list.  Cobb’s picks were:

  • Ed Walsh
  • Bill Donovan
  • Walter Johnson
  • Jack Coombs
  • Vean Gregg
  • George Mullin
  • Billy Sullivan
  • Oscar Stanage
  • Ira Thomas
  • Hal Chase
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Eddie Collins
  • Jack Berry
  • Owen Bush
  • Frank Baker
  • Harry Lord
  • Sam Crawford
  • Clyde Milan
  • Joe Jackson
  • Tris Speaker
cobb

Ty Cobb

Cobb included Bobby Wallace, Russ Ford, and Heinie Wagner as honorable mentions.

More of the lists and quotes from “The twenty greatest fever,” on Thursday

“The Most Graceful Player of All-Time”

25 Jun

Writing in The New York Herald Tribune in 1952, Grantland Rice, in his 51st year covering baseball, set out to choose his all-time “Most graceful” team.

The idea was borne out of a conversation with Charles Ambrose Hughes, who covered baseball for several Chicago and Detroit papers during a career that started one year after Rice’s–Hughes left the newspaper business to serve as secretary of the Detroit Athletic Club, he published the club’s magazine and led the group of investors who founded the National Hockey League Detroit Cougers in 1926–the team became the Red Wings in 1932 .

hughes

Hughes

In an earlier column that year, Rice quoted Hughes on Napoleon Lajoie:

“Big Nap, or Larry, was the most graceful player of all time.  Every move he made was a poem in action.  He was even more graceful in the infield than Joe DiMaggio was in the outfield—and that means something.”

Rice agreed:

“I was another Lajoie admirer.  I never say Larry make a hard play.  Every play looked easy—just as it so often looked to DiMaggio, (Tris) Speaker, and Terry Moore.”

The comments apparently caused a spike in the volume of mail Rice received, and he said in a later column:

“Old timers in baseball still have the keener memories.  This thought developed in the number of letters received by admirers of Napoleon Lajoie, the Woonsocket cab driver…they were writing of baseball’s most graceful player. But almost as many modern fans stuck with Joe DiMaggio.”

rice.jpg

Rice

Rice said the issue caused him to think about “grace or rhythm” among players:

“(It) does not mean everything.  Honus Wagner looked like a huge land crab scooping up everything in sight.  He had a peculiar grace of his own, but it was hardly grace as we know it. Yet he was the game’s greatest shortstop”

Rice based his team on “the beauty of movement,” on the field:

Rice’s team:

Pitchers—Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Bugs Raymond

Catcher—Johnny Kling

First Base—Hal Chase

Second Base—Lajoie

Third Base—Jimmy Collins

Shortstop—Phil Rizzuto, Marty Marion

Outfield—Speaker, DiMaggio, Moore

Rice said:

“(T)his is the team we’d rather see play.  This doesn’t mean the greatest team in baseball…it leaves out many a star.

“But for beauty of action this team would be a standout…Looking back I can see now some of the plays Lajoie, Chase, DiMaggio, Speaker, Collins, Moore, Rizzuto, and Marion made without effort.”

Rice said Kling was not as good as Mickey Cochrane and Bill Dickey, “But he was a fine, smooth workman—smart and keen.”

He said he chose Raymond as one of the pitchers because of John McGraw:

“In an argument far away and long ago, I named Walter Johnson.  McGraw picked Raymond.

“’Raymond has the finest pitching motion I ever say,’ he said.  ‘It is perfect motion from start to finish—no wasted effort anywhere.”

bugspix

Bugs

Rice reiterated that the  “Woonsocket cab driver” was the most graceful of the graceful:

“The all-time top was Lajoie.  Here was the final word in grace, in the field or with a bat.  After Lajoie the next two selections belong to Hal Chase and Joe DiMaggio.  Speaker isn’t too far away.”

Rice concluded:

“Gracefulness does not mean greatness.  It means Jim Corbett in boxing, Hobey Baker in hockey, Bobby Jones in golf, Red Grange in football, Lajoie in baseball, (Paavo) Nurmi in running, It means (Eddie) Arcaro in the saddle. It means smoothness, ease, lack of effort where sensational plays are reduced to normal efforts.”

“There is a Heap about Baseball that I do not Know”

4 May

After Ted Sullivan blamed Joe Nealon’s father for his failure to secure the first baseman for the Reds, James C. Nealon was not going to let his accusations stand, and sent a letter in response to Sullivan’s letter to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“The public has always permitted, and will always permit a man who has lost the object he was seeking to compensate himself for the loss is excusing his failure by some worthy and absurd explanation, or by throwing the responsibility of the failure on someone else.”

Nealon said he was forced to respond because Sullivan “falsely placed myself and my son in an unenviable light.”

Nealon said he only cared about his son going to the club with “the best and most congenial associations,” and initially, many people he trusted told him Cincinnati was the best option.

He said Sullivan was the reason he and his son changed their minds.  Nealon said he checked train schedules and determined that Sullivan—who left Cincinnati on October 28—could have arrived in California no later than November 3, yet he did not hear from the Reds representative until after the contract was signed with Pittsburgh on November 6.

Nealon also said while he received a telegram from August Herrmann, Cincinnati Reds owner, with the offer of “a certain sum more than any other club,” he never shared that information with the Pirates Fred Clarke, and that the combination of being insulted by the Reds making their offer just about money and Sullivan not arriving in time made up his mind, and as a result:

 “I advised my son to sign a contract with any club he desired.”

After Sullivan arrived in San Francisco, Nealon said:

“He admitted to me that it was all his fault, yet he seeks in your paper to advise the public that it was the fault of my son and myself…I would rather (Joe) fail then to commit a dishonorable act, and I do not want the people of Cincinnati to believe his entry into the major league was associated in any manner with unfairness or unfair dealing.  Mr. Sullivan knows it was not.”

Joe Nealon wrote a letter to The Pittsburgh Post, and said he understood that when he joined the team in Hot Springs. Arkansas:

“There is a heap about baseball that I do not know.  I am eager to learn, however, and will gladly go under instructions.”

joenealon2

Joe Nealon

Even after the beginning of the 1906 season, the stories about what influenced Nealon to sign with the Pirates would not go away.  In May is was reported that it was Jake Beckley, former first baseman for the Reds and Pirates who influenced Nealon to accept Clarke’s offer.  Nealon told The Pittsburgh Press that Beckley had nothing to do with his decision, and continued to blame Sullivan who he said did not “keep faith” with him and his father.

Nealon appeared in every game, hit the Pirates first home run of the 1906 season on May 5, tied Harry Steinfeldt for the league lead in RBI, and led all NL first basemen in total chances and putouts.

At the end of the season it was widely reported that Nealon would not return to the Pirates for the 1907 season.  After the team lost five straight games in September and slipped to third place, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss went on a tear to a wire service reporter—The Philadelphia Inquirer, under the headline “Barney Dreyfuss Lets Himself say Things” said:

“(Dreyfuss said) if his team doesn’t win second place for him he will keep their noses to the grindstone barnstorming for him until their contracts have run out (on October 16)”

Dreyfuss told the reporter:

“One of the things that ails our team is that there are too many capitalists on it.  The boys know that they do not have to play ball for a living, and sometimes that may affect their playing.  There is only one of the old players on the Pittsburgh team who is playing as a means of livelihood—that’s (Tommy) Leach.  The other could give up the game anytime.”

Nealon left the team immediately after the final game in Cincinnati and did not participate in the tour.  The San Francisco Call said he was done:

“Nealon, who became a great favorite in Pittsburgh and all over the league circuit, has had several grievances against Pittsburgh, and it was announced some time ago that the big San Francisco lad had declared himself in no unmeasured terms that he did not have to take the worst of it from anyone connected with the club, nor would he more than one season.”

The Call said Nealon became disenchanted in Pittsburgh when Dreyfuss attempted to trade him and “other Pittsburgh players” to the Brooklyn Superbas for Harry Lumley and Tim Jordan “although Captain Clarke had guaranteed him a full and free tryout for a year.”

Nealon returned to San Francisco to play winter ball, but he failed to make a trip to Stockton for the first game.  The San Jose Evening News said:

“Many San Joseans who took the trip to Stockton…were disappointed in not seeing Joe Nealon…the big first baseman, met with an accident Saturday evening.”

While racing to catch the train to Stockton, Nealon tripped and fell into a stone wall.  He broke two bones in his left hand.”

In December, the Pittsburgh papers reported that Nealon had declared himself “Completely healed,” in a letter to Barney Dreyfuss.

By February The Pittsburgh Press was assuring readers:

“Reports from the West have Joe Nealon in the best condition of his career.  Just keep your eyes on this big fellow this season; he is going to be a winner in every sense of the word.”

Despite the high expectations, Nealon was a disappointment to the pirates when he reported to  West Baden, Indiana in March.  The Press said:

“If the fans at home could see big Joe Nealon now they would not know him.  With his sweater on he looks like a three hundred pounder.”

Nealon actually weighed 216 pounds, roughly 20 pounds heavier than he was in 1906.

Additionally, The Pittsburgh Post said Nealon was experiencing stiffness in his left hand.

The Press announced that Nealon had gotten down to his playing weight and that his had had healed just in time for the opening of the season, but a knee injury sliding into second during the Pirates third game sidelined him for nearly two weeks, and according to The Post included a visit to John “Bonesetter” Reese, the Youngstown, Ohio doctor who treated many major leaguers.

Nealon was hitting just .217 in June when The Washington Post noted that two California Thoroughbreds—Nealon and Joe Nealon—both bred by friends of Nealon’s father, and both stakes race winners in 1907, were having decidedly better years than the first baseman.

Nealon steadily improved his batting average but had already fallen out of favor with fans and in the papers.  Rumors persisted that the Pirates were trying to trade for Fred Tenney of the Boston Doves.  By September, The Press said:

 “There is suspicion among the Pittsburgh players that Tenney may be secured as first baseman…to succeed Joe Nealon whose work this season is said to have been below standard.”

When Harry Swacina was purchased by the Pirates from the Peoria Distillers in the Three-I League that same month, the Pittsburgh correspondent for The Sporting News said:

 “He is an improvement over Joe Nealon in every department of the game.”

The New York Sun summed up the consensus view:

“Joe Nealon came out of California with the reputation of being a better first baseman than Hal Chase was, but in making a big league reputation Chase simply lost his fellow Californian.”

Swacina hit just .200, but got most of the playing time at first base in September, Nealon finished with a .257 average.

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Nealon

The Press speculated in November about who would play first base for the Pirates in 1908:

“Most of the fans have eliminated Joe Nealon from the competition all together, for it is an open secret that both President (Barney) Dreyfuss and Manager (Fred) Clarke were displeased with the way the young Californian acted this year, and it is presumed that no further time will be wasted with him, but that he will either be traded or released outright.”

In December, Nealon ended any remaining speculation by announcing his retirement—two weeks before his 23rd birthday. The Post said:

“The big Californian has quit the professional diamond for all time and will become a partner in business with his millionaire father…But for the intercession of Fred Clarke, it is said he would have been asked to retire about mid season, alleged infractions of the club’s rules and his general attitude of indifference being criticized by the local management.”

Nealon went to Hawaii in December with a team of West Coast stars—including Bill Lange and Orval Overall— formed by Mique Fisher and told reporters he would play weekends in San Francisco in 1908.

After returning from Hawaii, Nealon made his retirement official in a letter to Dreyfuss.  The Press said:

Joe writes that he is helping his father  who has a contract to erect a large public building in California…he asks, however, that his name be kept on Pittsburgh’s reserve list and wishes his teammates the best of luck.”

Nealon went to work with his father and appeared in 62 games for the Sacramento Senators in the California State League in 1908—hitting .372; as late as July he was hitting .436.  Nearly every Pacific Coast League time tried to sign him that summer, but The Oakland Tribune said:

“(Nealon) declared positively to the writer yesterday that he would not play ball, except as he is doing now, and Joe said there was not enough money in any of the Coast League treasuries to make him change his mind.”

Despite his protestations, nearly every team on the West Coast sought to sign Nealon.  Charlie Graham, Owner of the Sacramento Sacts made an offer that The San Francisco Call said led Nealon to tell a friend he wasn’t sure he could refuse.  He eventually did refuse, and instead signed to play for the Oakland Commuters in the California State League. The Call said he was the highest paid player on the West Coast.

Nealon captained the Oakland club, and hit .274 in 138 games.  How Nealon differed from his teammates and most players was probably best illustrated during a bench clearing brawl between Oakland and the Stockton Millers in June.  The Oakland Tribune said:

“(E)very man on both teams, with the exception of Joe Nealon, was mixed up…Nealon simply walked about the field and sat on the bench while the trouble was going on, and if anyone should ask right quick what player showed the only good judgment on the field the answer would be Joe Nealon.”

Nealon announced his retirement again, a week after his 25th birthday.

Nealon’s father had just helped elect San Francisco’s new mayor, Patrick Henry McCarthy, The Tribune said Nealon was “slated for a fat political job.”

Nealon was appointed deputy in the San Francisco County Clerk’s office in January.

On March 28, The Tribune said:

“(Nealon) is lying on death’s door in his home in San Francisco, suffering from typhoid fever.  Several physicians have been at the bedside of the ill athlete almost constantly for the past few days, and although they hold out but slight hope for his recovery, they state that his splendid physique may enable him to pull through.”

Nealon died five days later.