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King Kelly’s Contract

25 May

Mike “King” Kelly signed in 1891 to captain the new American Association club in Cincinnati and joined the Boston Reds in that league after Cincinnati released him in August.  But after just eight days with the reds he jumped to the Boston Beaneaters of the National League.

The New York World called Kelly’s action, a “Hard blow to the Association.”

Kelly jumped as representatives of the two leagues were engaged in a “Peace conference” at Washington’s Arlington Hotel.

The Baltimore Sun said:

“The action of Kelly had the effect of breaking up pending negotiations, for the time being at least, the Association representatives leaving the conference when the League men refused to give them any assurance that would be compelled to remain with the Reds.”

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Mike “King” Kelly

The Chicago Evening Post claimed to have the story behind Kelly’s move, and concluded which team he “morally” belonged to:

“It is held by persons who urge that they know that the King signed a Boston (NL) contract and accepted advance money two months before (he signed with Cincinnati).  The incident happened at the Fifth Avenue Hotel (in New York) last winter during the conferences that finally ended in the dissolution of the brotherhood.  One night Kelly came into the hotel ‘broke,’ having spent the afternoon and his roll at Guttenberg.”

Guttenberg was a racetrack located across the river from Manhattan, in what is now North Bergen, New Jersey—open from 1885-1893, it was at the time, the only track that held winter racing in a winter climate.

The Evening Post said Kelly found “His old friend, Director (William) Conant of the Boston (National League) triumvirate.”  Kelly said:

“’Bill, I’m dead broke.  Can I touch you for a few hundred?’

“’I don’t know Kel’ was the reply.  ‘I guess, though, you can have the money if you’ll sign a contract to play ball with me.’”

The paper said the two went upstairs to Conant’s room:

“A League contract was produced and a roll of greenbacks was spread before the King’s beaming countenance.  ‘Kel’ picked up the money, signed the contract and then put both the money and the document into his pocket, with the cool remark:

“’When I get ready to return this contract to you, Bill, I will.  See?’

“And with that he walked of.”

The Evening Post said Kelly initially signed with the Boston Reds after his release from Cincinnati because he tried to borrow more money from Conant:

“Conant refused to accommodate him unless that contract was handed over.  But ‘Kel’ was obstinate, and not getting the money from Conant, went over to (Charles A.) Prince, who gladly gave it to him.”

But, Kelly quickly decided to honor the “contract” he signed with Conant:

“These are facts, every one of them, from which it must be inferred that Kelly was really under contract morally to the Boston League people all the time that he played with Cincinnati and the Boston Reds.”

The Beaneaters were in second place, four games behind the Chicago Colts, on the day Kelly jumped, August 25.  Kelly only appeared in 16 games and hit just .231, but Boston went on a tear, winning 30 of their last 40 games after the King joined the club, and overtook Chicago for sole possession of first place on September 30, and won the pennant by three and a half games.

“Fans Come out Here to see a Ballplayer Hustle at all Times”

23 May

William G. Nunn was city editor, and later, managing editor of The Pittsburgh Courier.  He wrote a regular baseball column “Diamond Dope” for the paper throughout the 1920s, and later he would on occasion also write a sports column for paper called “WGN Broadcasts.”

.In 1934, he told a story about how “Gentleman” Dave Malarcher managed his Chicago American Giants:

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Malarcher

“Chicago was sporting a small lead going into late innings.  A Crawford player, with a man on first knocked a slow roller to (Jack) Marshall, keystone-sacker of the Windy City team.  Marshall failed to field the ball in a hurry and loafed the throw to first base, with the result that all hands were safe.

“From the bench came running Dave Malacher, present manager of the team and one of the most astute diamond students Negro baseball has ever produced.  We noticed a whispered conference.

After the game we asked Dave what it was all about.  ‘I fined him five dollars,’ said Dave.  ‘Fans come out here to see a ballplayer hustle at all times, ‘he continued, ‘and when he fails to do that, he’s hurting Negro baseball.

“Give us some more of that type of management.  We don’t have any too much use for these all-star teams anyway.  They look like a million dollars on paper, and like buns when they face real competition.”

Eight years later Nunn was a key figure in The Courier’s push—along with The Daily Worker— to integrate professional baseball.  Nunn and his sports editor, Hall of Famer Wendell Smith attempted to broker a deal for four Negro League players to try out with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Chicago Defender said in August of 1942:

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William G. Nunn Sr.

“The four Negro baseball players to receive a tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates the latter part of this month or first of September will be named next week.

“Three weeks ago William Benswanger, owner of the Pirates, stated that he was willing to give Negro players a tryout…Wendell Smith and William G. Nunn will confer with officials of the Negro American and National Leagues here (at the East-West Game)…and select the four players.”

Smith and Nunn, in collaboration with Negro League magnates, chose Josh Gibson, Leon Day, Sam Bankhead, and Willie Wells to receive tryouts.

Smith called Benswanger “The greatest liberal in baseball history,” at the end of August. The accolades were premature.  The tryouts were never scheduled.

“There is no hop on Your Fastball”

21 May

Schoolboy Johnny Taylor, like many Negro Leaguers, spent several seasons playing in Mexico. The Hartford, Connecticut native told his hometown paper, The Courant, about the game south of the border, in a 1941 interview with the paper’s sports editor W.J. “Bill” Lee:

“Taylor was telling us about baseball in Mexico, a subject on which he speaks with authority.”

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Schoolboy Johnny Taylor

Taylor, who pitched in Vera Cruz in 1940, was asked how baseball competed with Mexico’s “big sport:”

‘”Well,’ Johnny laughed, “bull fighting is still the major sport down there but baseball is rapidly catching up. We play our games in the mornings and the bull fights are held before noon also. When there is a bull fight on the day a ball game is scheduled we feel it at the gate.

“But don’t let anyone tell you the Mexicans aren’t red hot baseball fans. They are as rabid as they are anywhere in the United States.”

Taylor said there was little difference between fans there and the states:

“They get riled up, those Mexican fans, and when they do they start to throw things, same as they do anywhere in America. Down there though, they mostly throw fruit, probably because it’s cheap. The only difference is their way of razzing a ball player. Instead of hoots, catcalls or the Bronx cheer, they whistle at you.”

Taylor was asked how the climate in Mexico affected American players:

“’It’s not so bad,’ Johnny said, ‘except in Mexico City, where the altitude is very high. When you first play ball in that city it gets to you…if you have to circle the bases in a hurry you have to sit down for awhile to get your breath back.

“Funny thing about pitching in Mexico City. The atmospheric conditions are such that there is no hop on your fast ball. No matter how fast you buzz one through, it goes straight. I’ve found that the batters there murder the number 1 pitch more than any other ball. You can’t get a sharp hook on your curve ball either. Everywhere in the league except Mexico City the hop comes on your fast ball and the break on your curve is normal.”

Taylor and Lee talked about “the best player in the league,” Josh Gibson:

“He’s a catcher and if it weren’t for the barrier that organized baseball has set up against members of his race and Johnny Taylor’s, Gibson would be in the big league. Taylor didn’t make any complaints or do any boasting, but this corner knows that if Johnny belonged to the white race he would have a great chance to become a major league pitcher.”

Taylor said of Gibson:

“’The left field fence in Chihuahua,’ Johnny relates, ‘is 435 feet at the foul line. This fellow Josh Gibson plastered three balls over the left field fence in one game, and the distance is plenty more than 435 feet at the points where the balls Josh clouted cleared the fence. Up to the time Gibson hit those three homers no one in Chihuahua had ever seen anybody belt one over that left field fence.”

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Josh Gibson

Taylor, who attended Hartford’s Bulkeley High School, cut the interview short to go see “Gone with the Wind,” at a local theater. Lee said:

“If I didn’t have a lot of work to get done and too little time to do it, I might have tried to talk Taylor out of leaving to see the GWTW picture.

“A fine gentleman, Johnny Taylor. He talks better than most big leaguers, better, in fact, than many college men I’ve met. He has learned a great deal about pitching since his Bulkeley High days, but he has not let baseball fill his mind entirely. John has profited by his travels through most of the states of the Union and in Mexico and Cuba.”

Taylor spent the 1941 season in Vera Cruz, and in September returned to Hartford with an all-star team that included Gibson, Ray Dandridge, Sam Bankhead, Willie Wells, and Dick Seay. They played a double-header against the Savitt Gems—an integrated semi-pro team sponsored by local jeweler Bill Savitt. Taylor, who had once played for the Gems, faced his former team and former major league pitcher Pete Naktenis, a Hartford native.

Taylor pitched a ten-inning complete game, striking out 15, and the all-stars won 7 to 5. Barney Morris pitched a two-hitter in the nightcap, defeating the Gems 3 to 0 in a five inning game called on account of darkness.

The Courant said a fire broke out under the grand stand during the first game:

“(F)iremen arriving on the scene to quench the blaze were almost totally ignored by the spectators.”

Rube and Money

18 May

After Rube Waddell’s death on April 1, 1914, he was eulogized by Christy Mathewson in his nationally syndicated column.  Mathewson compared Waddell to one of his own former teammates with the Giants:

“He was a man, who, like ‘Bugs’ Raymond, wasted a wonderful natural gift.  If both these players had taken care of themselves they might still be stars of the big leagues.”

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Rube

Mathewson said a teammate had recently told him a story about Rube’s time with the Louisville Colonels:

“Waddell was always notably careless with money, and he never kept track of how much he had or how much was coming to him…Mr. (Harry) Pulliam…hit on a scheme in 1899 to make ‘Rube’ save money.

‘”Rube,’ he said to Waddell at the beginning of the season, ‘I am going to give you $2 to spend every day, and then we will pay you the balance of what we owe you at the end of the season so that you won’t be broke all winter.  The club will take care of all your living expenses.”

After Waddell agreed to the deal:

“So after every game that year Mr. Pulliam gave Waddell his $2. He was never a high salaried player in his palmist days, and I believe the figures written into the best contract he ever had did not amount to more than $3,500, which would not be much for a star of his ability in these times.”

Mathewson said at the end of the season Pulliam had $150 left for Waddell:

“’Now, be careful of that money,’ advised Mr. Pulliam, ‘because it has got to last you for a long time.’

“’Sure,’ said Rube.

“By the first of November Mr. Pulliam heard from Rube, and the report said he was broke.  Waddell received a response of $25, which lasted him for a couple of weeks, and he had to repeat his request for money. This occurred several times and then Mr. Pulliam sent him $100 for Christmas.  Rube was back for more by the first of February.”

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Rube Waddell

When Waddell reported to the Colonels that spring, Mathewson said, Pulliam “figured it up,” and he had still held back $1100 from Waddell’s 1899 salary:

“He sent $1000 to Waddell’s father…Then he handed the $100 to Rube.

“’That was still coming to you from last season’s work,’ said Mr. Pulliam.  Waddell pocketed the money without complaint.  If he had drawn his salary twice a month during the season as the rest of the players did, the improvident Waddell would not have had a cent left by the close of the 1899 campaign.”

 

 

Frank Isbell and Big Betsy

16 May

Frank Isbell of the Chicago White Sox started hitting in 1905—having never hit better than .257, and after batting just .210 the previous season, Isbell posted a .296 average in 351 at bats in ’05.

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Frank Isbell

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune suggested it was due to his bat, “Big Betsy.”  Fullerton said:

“The early history of the bat is unknown, but it was believed Issy discovered Betsy in a lot of bats purchased by the club.  He fell in love with her and was always ready when hits were needed.”

In 1906, Isbell led the Hitless Wonders’ regulars with a .279 average, and hit .308 in the World Series versus the Chicago Cubs, including four doubles in his first four at bats in game 5.

Publishers Press News Service said:

“Big Isbell was a tower of strength with the stick.  Four crashing doubles the lanky Swede tore off and besides scoring three runs himself, he drove in three more.”

Isbell added three more hits in game 6, and according to The Chicago Record-Herald, Isbell told Sox owner Charles Comiskey he was going to retire Betsy:

“That grand old bat has seen its last hard work on the ball field.  It’s going to pass the rest of its days in peace.  That stick helped skin the Cubs…Oh, it’s a great bat, but you’ll never see it on a ball field again.  That’s the souvenir I prize above all the rest.”

Isbell changed his mind during the off season.

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Isbell

Charles Dryden of The Tribune told the story of Big Betsy’s debut in 1907:

“By far the most important arrival of (opening) day was Big Betsy, which traveled by registered letter from Wichita, Kansas.  She is too priceless to be risked any other way.  Big Betsy is the bat from which the talented Mr. Isbell fired four two-baggers in the fifth game of the World’s Series.  News that Betsy had reported sent some high grade chills chasing up and down the spine of the (St. Louis) Browns.”

Isbell, Dryden said, had brought the bat to Mexico City where the Sox trained in 1907, and when he later took a train from New Orleans home to Wichita, “Izzy took a top berth and let Betsy have the lower.”  Isbell then shipped the bat to St. Louis for the opener because, “He had two grips, one in either hand, and there was no secure place for Betsy.  He would not trust the porter.”

Dryden said the bat arrived the Southern Hotel in St. Louis at 11 o’clock on the morning of the game:

“Oozy Ed Walsh helped Izzy receive the stick and together they fondled it with loving hands.  It was Oozy Ed who trained Big Betsy, using her to hit fungoes with in practice.

“The same tarred tape is sticking to the handle, and across the butt end of the weapon Izzy had carved lifelike portraits of the love doubles he smote on that fearful West Side day.”

Four days later with Isbell slightly hobbled by a leg injury, tragedy struck Big Betsy in Detroit.  Dryden said in The Tribune:

“Izzy is in a bad way mentally and physically.  Big Betsy, the fat bat that brought fame and dollars, is no more.  Her shattered fragments wound about with crepe and forget me nots now are in the baggage coach ahead, bound for Wichita, Kansas.  The remains will be framed and hung up in Izzy’s boudoir for future generations to rubber.  It was G. (Sox Shortstop, George) Davis who put Big Betsy in the morgue.  He borrowed her yesterday when Izzy was not looking and busted Betsy wide open hitting into a double play.”

Without Big Betsy and hampered by a season-ending hand injury in August, Isbell hit just .243 in 1907, he hit .247 in 1908 after holding out until June, and .224 in 1909.  Isbell requested, and was granted, his release by Comiskey before the 1910 season in order to accept an offer to become player-manager of his hometown Wichita Jobbers in the Western League.

“I am Glad to be Away From Mack’s Team”

14 May

The winter of 1914-1915 was eventful for Eddie Collins.  There were stories which claimed he would never actually appear in a game for the Chicago White Sox, how close he came to not being sold to the Sox because of his wife, and a story about a letter that nearly destroyed his reputation in Philadelphia.

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Eddie Collins

Collins was sold by the Philadelphia Athletics to the White Sox on December 8, 1915, four days after The Chicago Tribune reported that Walter Johnson had jumped to the Federal League’s Chicago Whales, or the “Tinx” as I. E. Sanborn of The Tribune called the club managed by Joe Tinker.  The paper’s headline said:

“Johnson Signs with ‘Feds;’ to Play With Tinx”

The Chicago press greeted the Collins sale with as much excitement as the Johnson signing, and after the dust cleared a month later, Johnson was back with Washington having come to terms with Clark Griffith.

One of the January stories about Collins was borne out of the belief in some quarters in Chicago that Charles Comiskey only bought Collins because, as Ed Grillo of The Washington Star said: “If Johnson had not jumped to the Chifeds, Collins undoubtedly would have (been sold to the New York Yankees).”

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Charles Comiskey

The Chicago Daily News implied that Comiskey only made the deal to steal the press thunder from the Federal League club’s signing of Johnson and that Collins would be sold to the Yankees before the 1915 season.  Comiskey vehemently denied the story to James Crusinberry, The Tribune’s sports editor:

“The Walter Johnson affair never entered into our plan of getting Eddie Collins.  I wanted a second baseman and a great hitter, and the reason I wanted him was because I want to win a pennant…Eddie Collins will be playing for the white Sox for the next five years if he lives.”

According to Collins, his wife–Mabel Harriet Doane Collins–almost kept the deal from happening in the first place.  According to Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Herald-Examiner:

“Eddie Collins came near never being a member of the Chicago White Sox because his wife refused to believe the biggest men in baseball wanted to see him.”

According to Fullerton, Collins was out when the phone rang:

“’Hello,’ said a voice.  ‘This is President (Ban) Johnson of the American League.  I want to speak to Mr. Collins.’

“’We’ve had practical jokers call us up before,’ replied Mrs. Collins sweetly, as she hung up the receiver.

“Five minutes later the telephone rang again, and a voice said,’ This is President Comiskey of the Chicago White Sox, I would like to speak to Mr. Collins.’

‘”Our friend Mr. Johnson must have lost his voice and asked you to call,’ responded Mrs. Collins, and hung up again.

“Another five minutes passed.  Then Connie Mack called up.  Mrs. Collins recognized his voice…’Did Mr. Johnson and Mr. Comiskey really telephone?’ she asked surprised.

“’Yes,’ answered Mack.

“’Eddie is at a friend’s house, but I’ll get him right away.’

“If Mrs. Collins had had the telephone cut off, Collins might still be a member of the Athletics.”

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Mabel Collins, with sons Eddie Jr. and Paul (1925)

But the last story about Collins that winter nearly caused a rift with his former manager and threatened to tarnish the Collins’ image as the era’s most gentlemanly ballplayer.

In January, The Detroit News said White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte told a reporter that Collins had written him a letter regarding his enthusiasm to play in Chicago.  According to Cicotte, Collins said:

“(H)e is glad to get away from Philadelphia because the fans there are not as loyal to the players as they ought to be.”

The News—in an article with no byline–quoted the letter:

“Here is one thing I have been waiting to say, I am glad to be away from Mack’s team.  I say that sincerely, and of all the cities of the American League I prefer Chicago.  The fans are loyal there.  A player’s mistakes of the day (and we all have them) are overlooked because it is known a man is doing his best.  I have always wanted to play in Chicago; now that I’m with the team I am going to give it my best efforts.”

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Ed Cicotte

Collins denied he said the things The News quoted and told The Philadelphia Press:

“I not only did not write anything of the kind to Cicotte, but never did say any such thing.  I do not believe either that Cicotte ever said that I wrote him the letter which was published.”

Collins told The Press he had received a telegram from Cicotte, but said his response to the Sox pitcher simply said:

“Dear Eddie—I have just received your wire of congratulations and say that I greatly appreciate it.  I am glad that the members of the club feel as they do about the deal.  We ought to have a good club next season and I am sure we will be up in the running for the pennant.”

While The Sporting News quoted the same version of the letter as The Detroit News, The Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger chose to accept Collins’ version of events:

“The efforts of some sporting writers to construct ‘stories’ from material gathered from the surrounding atmosphere indicate two things:  First that the writer not only has a glaring disregard for the truth but that he is even willing to injure the standing of a person in a community for the sake of putting over a fake ‘story.’ The dispatch which came from Detroit purporting to give a portion of Eddie Collins’ letter to Eddie Cicotte was false from start to finish…that writer took it upon himself to write a quotation which contained not one iota of truth.  It made the fans of Philadelphia who have always been loyal to Collins angry and no matter what is stated later there will always be some people here who believe that Collins wrote that letter who will still be his enemies.  And all because someone writing a story in Detroit has regard for neither truth nor for the feelings of an individual.  Such a person, if his identity were known, should be barred in the future from writing anything whatever.  Any man who attempts to to enter the field of sport writing should at least stand on his merits and not try to advance his personal cause by unfair, underhand, despicable means.”

Collins played the next 12 seasons with the White Sox, returning to Mack and the less “loyal” Philadelphia fans in 1927.

“How ‘Sun’ Daly Became a Coacher”

7 May

In 1898, Dan Shannon explained how James J. “Sun” Daly started coaching, and also took a shot at a former rival.  Shannon was then managing the Wilkes-Barre Coal Barons, a team he managed in 1894 and 1895 and again from 1897-1899.

He told the story to The Wilkes-Barre Record:

“’Did I ever tell you how ‘Sun’ Daly became a coacher?’

“’Why, you know Jim Daly was never known to open his mouth from the minute he got into his uniform until he was ready to tell the waiter at the supper table that he would have some macaroni,’ said Shannon.  ‘One day in 1894—when I was managing Wilkes-Barre—Buffalo came along for her second series of games.  Daly was playing right field—at least he was out there for that purpose. (Tom) Vinegar Vickery was in the box and there was a manager on the bench for Buffalo, who, I believe, afterwards took my place and made a mess of it in this city.  He was asked to resign by the management, and being obstinate, was released for incompetence.”

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Dan Shannon

The Buffalo manager Shannon was referring to was Jack “Death to Flying Things” Chapman, and he was close, but not quite right with his description.  Chapman succeeded Shannon as manager of Wilkes-Barre.  His tenure was short and rocky.  The Coal Barons struggled out of the gate and by June, The Wilkes-Barre News-Dealer called Chapman “a failure as a baseball manager,” and said:

“(I)t is quite safe to say if Chapman was not manager the team would stand well to the front. “

On July 3, with the Coal Barons tied for last place with a 19-35 record, Chapman resigned.  The News-Dealer said “The public demand…has been granted at last.”

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Jack Chapman

Shannon and Chapman also both managed the Louisville Colonels in the American Association for parts of 1889–Shannon was 10-46, and Chapman 1-6, as two of the four managers of the club that finished with a 27-111 record.

Shannon continued his story:

“’Well, Daly was in right field, and up to the fourth inning had let four ground balls go by him, and muffed one fly ball.  When the Bisons finally got us out, Daly came in from right field to the coacher’s box at first base, dropped his mitt on the grass, and, getting in position, commenced to coach.  We were all of us thunderstruck, for every player knew that Daly would never think of coaching unless from some extraordinary impulse.’”

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Sun Daly

Shannon said the usually silent Daly:

“(K)ept up a running fire of coaching, never glancing towards the bench.  Three of the Buffalo crowd went out in their order and Daly quietly picked up his mitt and returned to the action in right.  When they had retired the boys again Jim again stopped at first base and commenced his sing-song-catch-a-ky-me-oh.  Finally, I was inclined to ask the cause of his sudden change and so I called over to him from second base:’

“’What on earth are you doing over there, Jim, hollering like that?’

“’What do you s’pose I’m doing?’ asked Jim. ‘D’you think I’m going into that bench after that exhibition out’n the field and get a tongue lashing from the likes o’ him! Nit! It’s a dumb sight more pleasant taking a hack at coaching!’

“And that’s the way Sun Daly became a coacher right here in Wilkes-Barre,’ said Uncle Daniel.”

“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.”

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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.

 

Joe Nealon

2 May

There was a race to sign Joe Nealon in 1905.  The San Francisco Chronicle said he was “thought to be the equal of Hal Chase,” the fellow first baseman and Californian who made his major league debut that season.

By November, West Coast newspapers had reported that at least four teams were after Nealon—the New York Highlanders, Boston Americans, St. Louis Browns, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates were after Nealon.

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Joe Nealon

There likely would have been even more interest in Nealon if not for his background; as The Chronicle said after Nealon signed with the San Francisco Seals before the 1905 season:

“Parental objection had to be overcome, and this was accomplished through an understanding that the boy would remain in professional baseball not more than two or three seasons.”

Nealon was the son of the James C. Nealon, a wealthy real estate executive, elected official, owner of thoroughbreds, and one of the best known handball players on the West Coast who often played with boxer Jim Corbett.

Nealon attended St. Ignatius College (now the University of San Francisco) and had played in the California State League in 1903 and 1904.

Cincinnati and Boston appeared to be the most aggressive pursuer of Nealon; according to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“Everybody who has seen him work says that Nealon will fill the bill.  He is described as a second Bill Lange at the bat, and a new edition of Charley Comiskey on the bag.  Allowing for exaggeration he seems to be the real goods.”

The Reds dispatched Ted Sullivan to San Francisco. The Americans sent Dan Long.  They did not know that Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Fred Clarke was on his way West as well; Clarke arrived first. The Pirates manager won out.  The Pittsburgh Post said:

“It was against these two men that Clarke had to use his ingenuity in securing Nealon.  The player is a freelance and was at liberty to join a team of his own selection.  Being independently wealthy and playing baseball only for the sport he finds in it.  Nealon was not influenced by any financial proposition.”

Reds owner August Herrmann told The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“I had become very much interested in young Nealon and regret that we did not succeed in getting him, but there is no use mourning over his loss.”

While Herrmann might not have been mourning, others in Cincinnati were and blamed Sullivan.

Jack Ryder of The Enquirer said:

“Why was not Ted Sullivan on the ground earlier?  Ted left Cincinnati a week ago last Saturday (October 29) with instructions to make a bee line for Frisco.  Mr. Herrmann knew that there was keen competition for  the services of Nealon…If Sullivan had reached San Francisco on Tuesday or Wednesday, as he was expected to do he would have got in ahead of Fred Clarke, and the chances would have favored his securing the player.”

Ryder said he had a letter from James C. Nealon written to Herrmann promising “that his son would sign with Cincinnati, ‘other things being equal,’” Ryder noted that the Reds “offered the boy more salary than any other club including Pittsburgh.”

Ryder concluded:

“Fred Clarke, who was on the spot, while Ted Sullivan was not, was able to persuade (Nealon) that the Pirates are a far better aggregation than the Reds.”

Ted Sullivan was not about to blamed, and fired off a letter to The Enquirer:

“There is not a man in the city of Cincinnati that would feel as much hurt as myself to lose a good man for the Cincinnati club.  The two years that I have acted as agent for Mr. Herrmann he has treated me like a king, and has showed a disposition to back my judgment on the skill of a player.”

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Ted Sullivan

Sullivan said in the letter, he had discovered Nealon’s “hidden skill” in August:

“The skill I noticed in Nealon (I wrote Mr. Herrmann at the time) was skill hidden beneath a dross of inexperience and youth.”

While he conceded that some time in the major leagues would “make him a star,” he assured The Enquirer he was not of the caliber of Sullivan’s favorite first baseman:

“The greatest first baseman in the history of the game, Charles Comiskey, was my own selection and making (which I say without egotism), but the California fledgling, without disparaging him, is a pallbearer compared to the magnetism of the matchless Comiskey.”

Sullivan blamed his inability to sign Nealon on Nealon’s father.  He claimed to have offered $3,800 to the first baseman in August, and was told that money was not the critical consideration, but complained that Nealon Sr. had immediately “proclaimed throughout Frisco, with the aid of a flashlight, and had also the newspaper men transmit (the offer) to all of the papers in the East.”

As for arriving is San Francisco after Clarke, Sullivan blamed that on the railroads:

“(I) was blocked between Salt Lake and Sacramento, caused by the immense amount of trains”

But, said Sullivan, none of that mattered.  Nealon’s father had not dealt with the Reds in good faith:

“Mr. Nealon Sr., who claimed he was not out for the money, called Fred out on the porch of the house and showed him, in confidence, the offer from Cincinnati.”

The latest Cincinnati offer was $6500—with a clause that promised $1000 more than any other offer Nealon would receive–Sullivan said.  Clarke matched the $6500, he said, and signed Nealon.

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Fred Clarke

There was more said Sullivan:

“Now comes the most brazen effrontery of offended dignity that has more hypocritic brass in it than the Colossus of Rhodes.  With this standing offer of Mr. Herrmann’s in his hands for days before I arrived,  I asked Mr. Nealon Sr., why he did not close with Mr. Herrmann on such a grand offer.  ‘Why,’ says he, ‘I consider it an insult for any man to make me such an offer as that, as it would appear that I was playing one club against the other.”  Think of that insult—one man offers another man $1000 more than the highest bidder and he is insulted.”

Sullivan closed his letter by again questioning Nealon’s prospects of making an immediate impact, and said:

“I would rather go down to Millcreek bottoms and pick up some young fellow that wanted to make baseball a profession, than any young man in the United States who thinks that he is condescending to play ball for $7000.”

Sullivan was not the only representative of a club who had expressed interest in Nealon who now questioned the prospects ability.  In response to Frank Chance of the Chicago Cubs who said Nealon was “not of National League Caliber,” The Pittsburgh Press responded:

“Sour Grapes?”

The rest of the story on Friday.

Roy Counts

30 Apr

The Arizona State League was formed in 1928—the four-team league had teams in Bisbee, Miami, Tucson, and Phoenix.

There seemed to be little information about Phoenix Senators second baseman Roy Counts in local papers.  Counts had spent the previous two years in the outlaw Copper League with the Fort Bayard (NM) Veterans where he was a teammate of banned White Sox pitcher Claude “Lefty” Williams, but otherwise little was written about Counts.

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The Fort Bayard Veterans in Juarez, Mexico after a 1926 game, Claude “Lefty” Williams is sixth from left, Roy Counts is 14th (with arms crossed)

The Arizona Republic said after an April exhibition game with the barnstorming House of David club, that Counts and third baseman Henry Doll:

“(H)ave been working out in good style and appear in perfect condition.  Both are fast fielders and have wicked pegs to the initial sack.”

On May 20, the Senators beat the Tucson Waddies 11-0.  Counts was 1 for 4 with no errors in five chances at second—it was his final professional game.

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Roy Counts, 1928

Roy Counts it turned out was not really Roy Counts.

Roy Counts was actually Laster Fisher—an Arkansas born fugitive who had previously played professional baseball under his given name.

Fisher—his unusual first name a result of his mother’s maiden name, Lasater—was born in Mulberry, Arkansas on October 8, 1901, and broke into professional ball with the Salina (KS) Millers in the Southwestern League in 1922.  Fisher played third base and shortstop, he hit .269.  In October, the Minneapolis Millers purchased his contract.

That same month, Fisher was arrested in Salina for passing a bad check for $10.50 at a local restaurant.  Whether he was only charged with the writing the one bad check was unclear, but The Salina Evening Journal said his father, “Settled all claims against his son.”

Despite the brush with the law, Fisher spent the spring of 1923 with Minneapolis but was farmed out to the Clarksdale Cubs in the Cotton States League before the season began.  In mid July, he joined Minneapolis, he appeared in 69 games—67 at shortstop—he hit 273 and committed 34 errors in 365 total chances.

The Minneapolis Star said of Fisher’s performance he was, “not of the double A caliber yet.”

He was let go by Minneapolis and signed by the Tulsa Oilers in the Western League—according to The Houston Post he was the first player to arrive at Tulsa’s spring training camp in Marlin, Texas—Fisher appears to have been let go before the season started.

In May, The St. Joseph (MO) News-Press said:

“Lester [sic] Fisher, former Tulsa Western League shortstop, who was reported missing a while back with a drive-it-yourself car…(was) returned to Tulsa and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary.  Fisher is only twenty-two years old and gave promise of being one of the best shortstops in the Western League.  He told the judge who sentenced him that at the time he stole the car he was drunk, and when he got sober he was afraid to return it.”

Fisher had driven the rented Maxwell automobile to Greenwood, Mississippi, and according to The Greenwood Commonwealth left the car in that town; he was later arrested in Leland, Mississippi and returned to Oklahoma.

After entering the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester, Fisher joined the prison baseball team.  On May 13, 1925, according to The Associated Press, Fisher “Kept running after a game in Holdenville.”

His three year run over, Fisher was returned to prison in Oklahoma.  He never returned to pro ball.

He moved to Texas after his release and was working as a maintenance man at the Victory Baptist Church when he died of congestive heart failure on July 5, 1959.