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Chadwick’s Changes

14 May

Before the 1895 season, Henry Chadwick proposed “eight changes” to baseball in The New York Clipper:

“First: The doing away with ‘hoodlumism,’ as shown in the form of dirty ball playing and blackguard bickering.

“Second: Abolishing the bullying coaching business.

“Third: Prohibiting the wearing of the large mittens by any player on the field except the catcher.

“Fourth: A rewording of the balk rule so as to prohibit the feint to throw to the bases. At present the rule, in this respect is a dead letter.”

His frustration with balks not being called, was a regular subject for Chadwick That same season, he wrote in a different column:

“It will be seen, too, that, whenever the pitcher ‘feigns’ to throw the ball to first base he must do it while standing with ‘both feet on the ground.’ If he raises one foot in making the feint he commits a balk. Has anyone seen a balk called by any umpire when the pitcher has openly violated the rule by raising his foot and taking a sidestep to throw to a base?…The balk rule is more plainly written that many other rules in the game, and yet umpires make it a dead-letter law.”

Chadwick

Chadwick continued

“Fifth: The overrunning of all the bases, as recommended by George Wright at the convention of 1869.”

The “Spalding Guide,” edited by Chadwick, said that Wright had only proposed the rule that was adopted—overrunning first base–but that, “When the amendment was presented at the convention of 1869, (another) delegate wanted the rule applied to all bases, but the majority preferred to test the experiment as proposed at first base.”

The Guide did, however, during Chadwick’s tenure as editor, advocate for the overrunning of all bases:

“The most irritating disputes caused by questions involved in sliding to bases and in running up against base players are also due to the same cause. Why not put a stop to these injuries and these disputes by giving the base runner the same privileges in overrunning second (and) third…that he now has in overrunning first base? In every way will the adoption of the rule suggested be an improvement, and not the least of its advantages will be its gain to base running, which is, next to fielding, the most attractive feature of our game.”

His final three:

“Sixth: I would neither increase nor decrease the distance between the pitcher’s box and the home plate.

“Seventh: In regard to the ‘trap ball’ rule, I would make it applicable in every case wherein a batting base runner reaches first base unless by a clean base hit; but even then, only when the ‘force’ hit ball touches the hand of an infielder, not an outfielder. I think if a runner reaches first base by a clean base hit, it is not just that he shall be punished by an out incurred through the weak hitting of his successor at the bat, as he is under the rule of purposely dropping an infield fly ball.”

“Eighth: I think these catches on flytip balls sharp off the bat and fouled to the catcher and caught on the fly should be outs. Every such ball is generally over the plate and within due range.”

The “father of Baseball” had at least one supporter for his plan for “flytip balls,” to be outs regardless of the number of strikes on the batter. O.P. Caylor said in The New York Herald:

“Henry Chadwick thinks—and there is nothing wonderful about that, for he thinks correctly—that foil tips caught by the catcher right off the bat should be out.”

“Amos Rusie’s Running Astray and Amuck”

12 May

In April of 1896, Oliver Perry “OP” Caylor of The New York Herald said of Amos Rusie, who was weeks into what would be a season-long holdout and legal battle:

“Rusie is just now a bigger man than old Harrison in Indianapolis.”

Amos Rusie

Benjamin Harrison, the former president, was rumored to be seeking the Republican nomination later that year, and Caylor said even if he became a candidate again, it would not elevate him to “that prominence in the public mind which the recalcitrant pitcher attained in his ‘hold off.’”

As for the current resident of the White House:

“Recently I had the pleasure of meeting the president of the United States at his desk in Washington. Probably to avoid the undesirable topic of politics, Mr. Cleveland brought up the subject of baseball.”

President Grover Cleveland told him:

“I was very fond of the game when I lived in Buffalo and had time to see it played. We had a good team up there then. There were (Pud) Galvin, who rated well as a pitcher, and (Jack) Rowe, and that big man who played first base—what was his name?’

“I said it was (Dan) Brouthers, and that he is still playing.”

The president was curious about finances:

“’These ball players get pretty good salaries, do they not?’ Inquired the president.

“When I told him that some received $3000 for six months’ service and yet were not satisfied, that catching smile, which is so infectious, lighted up his face as he aptly replied.

“’Well, Washington is pretty full of people who are glad to get employment at $1200 a year.”

President Grover Cleveland

Caylor, always an ally of ownership, concluded:

“And yet Amos Rusie refuses $400 a month on a technicality. No wonder baseball players as a class have the reputation of being the most unreasonable people on earth.”

Caylor, in another column, blamed the whole situation on former Giants outfielder Eddie Burke who he claimed, “was responsible for Amos Rusie’s running astray and amuck on the primrose path.”

The Indianapolis Journal told the story of what led to the dispute:

 “It started, to recount it briefly, in Jacksonville last year when the Giants were training there. Rusie drank too much. He never denied it. They said that he got drunk and insulted the mayor of the town. That was very naughty. In Baltimore again he and Eddie Burke…got ‘loaded,’ and were fined $100 each.”

Burke’s fine was rescinded, the paper said, and Rusie’s was—for a time:

“The last game of the season was with Baltimore, and Freedman sent down word by manager Harvey Watkins if Rusie didn’t win that game he would fine him another $100. It was talked about and got to Rusie, and the game was lost.”

Rusie was pounded for eight runs and walked seven in an 8 to 3 loss to the Orioles.

“Two hundred was held out of his pay and he went back to Indianapolis at the seasons close.”

While the pitcher sat at home in Indiana, Caylor said, “The national character of baseball was aptly illustrated,” at the 1896 season opener between the Rusie-less Giants and the Senators in Washington.

Three members of President Cleveland’s cabinet were in attendance, “and a reporter counted 40 members of the two houses of Congress among the rooters.”

Caylor chided Rusie for the holdout throughout the season; In October he wrote:

“He has been been met more than half way by President Freedman, and I am glad to announce that the Big Boy will be with us in 1896. If Amos is a friend to himself he will begin right now and turn up in the spring fully fortified to carry out his promise.”

A full year later, in April of 1897, Rusie signed again with the Giants for $3000 (the league reported the salary as $2400) and settled his legal claims for $5000. The Journal said:

“(T)he big fellow gets every cent he started out for, as well as all his attorneys’ fees. It is really not a compromise, but a capitulation on the part of Freedman, insisted upon by the league, and a tacit admission by that organization that the reserve rule, while all powerful in baseball and quite necessary to the life of the game, is not fitted to stand the strain of a court trial.”

Rusie left Indiana to join the team on April 20, two days before their season opener. The Indianapolis News said the “Hoosier Thunderbolt,” was:

“In better shape than he has been in years.”

Rusie was 28-10 with a 2.54 ERA for the third place Giants.

“A magnificent ‘Double Event.’”

10 May

“Bailey’s Monthly Magazine of Sport’s and Pastimes” was published in London. In 1893, cricketer turned writer Frederick Gale told of his ‘Two Days’ Sport at Chicago,’ during the summer of 1893.

Gale

He had spent most of his time in Chicago at the World’s Columbia Exposition, except for one day at the American Derby at Washington Park—the 1893 American Derby’s $50,000 purse is said by several sources to be the second highest of any 19th Century race.

And on another day he attended a baseball game:

“The admission was half a dollar, which included a seat in the stand—and the stands were pretty full. For fear any readers do not understand baseball, I will describe it in the fewest words. If the reader does not understand rounders, he had better put this magazine down and go smoke a cigar.”

He compared the equipment:

“The only difference between baseball and rounders is that the bat is much heavier and stronger. The ball is much heavier than a rounder ball, though lighter than a cricket ball.”

And the “features” of the game:

“The ‘pitcher’(the ‘feeder’ as we called him in rounders) throws the ball as hard as he possibly can, and the man whom we called ‘behind’ at the rounders puts on a mask and wears a padded jerkin, as if he were made up for ‘Falstaff.” The bases are, I believe thirty yards apart, and four in number, and each base is guarded by a fieldsman, to whom the outfielders throw the ball. The fieldsmen do not throw at the batsmen, as we did at rounders, but are practically run out in various ways. I only tell you the principles of the game, without the details.”

Gale had attended a game in England during Spalding’s world tour four years earlier and said, “We admired the wonderful throwing and catching of the baseballers, which were excellent.”  But the admiration was where, “we left baseball, and there it is likely to remain.”

Watching a game in Chicago was more interesting:

“The excitement is tremendous. The betting, mostly in small sums, not exceeding dollars and half-dollars in friendly contests, such as I saw, is constant. I hear of large bets in very big matches, but I know nothing of my own knowledge.”

The second West Side Grounds which opened less than two months before Gale’s visit to Chicago

Gale described the most exciting moment of the game:

“The enthusiasm is catching. I shouted myself hoarse at a magnificent ‘double event.’ It occurred thusly: A fieldsman, very deep out, caught a tremendous ‘skier,’ turned round, and saw a man leave his base; threw, from what seemed to me an impossible distance, right into a fieldsman’s hands, at one of the bases; the fieldsman caught it and ran the man out.

“I daresay I have called things by wrong names; but I don’t care if I have made the game intelligible to cricketers who admire fielding.”

Gale concluded baseball suited the country:

“I think the Americans are quite right to enjoy and encourage baseball. It requires much pluck and skill. They say ’We are a busy people and cannot stand three-day cricket matches as you do in England. We want about three hours of sport and excitement and get them.’ I say, ‘Long live baseball in America!’”

“Fraught with the Most Hard Work and Trouble”

7 May

After the 1908 World Series, Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers wrote an article that appeared in The Chicago Evening Post. Evers took exception to people who thought he had an easy job:

“When you hear a person give voice to the expression, ‘Ball-players have an easy time of it,’ you are doubtless inclined to side in with him an agree that we get our money without an awful lot of trouble. But permit me to say, you are far from the truth in your belief.”

Evers countered:

“(I)t’s safe to declare that of all the occupations entailing a remuneration of say $3000 per annum, that of the diamond artist is fraught with the most hard work and trouble.”

Johnny Evers

Evers allowed that baseball was “a good healthy game,” and brought “much enjoyment,” but:

“(W)hen you have to get out, day in and day out, for six or seven months, and play, think you not it is likely to grow rather monotonous and wearisome? No matter whether you feel lively or listless, so long as you can stand up, you have to keep at it and turn out mighty perfect work, or you’ll find yourself looking for new occupation. It’s no joke when you’re feeling in the dumps to trot out on the field, with the sun beating down on you, and the temperature at ninety or thereabouts and jump around and act as though the greatest pleasure in the world for you consisted of running your legs off, and getting in front of balls that are coming your way at the rate of a mile a minute.”

Evers said that “in most cases” a “brain worker…takes himself off to the country” to get away from his job, while the ballplayer, “has to stick right to his job, no matter how worked out he feels.”

He said success in baseball was dependent on “grey matter” not strength:

“It’s a case of think, think, all the time, and the fellow who trusts to luck and does not see to it that that he has his brains under full steam every minute will not last long.”

And thinking wasn’t limited to the field:

“You have to study both from personal observation and from books and newspapers, the peculiarities of every man who plays on any of the teams in the league with. You have to know just where this player is likely to hit an inshoot, and where he is likely to send a straight ball or an outshoot.

“You have to know how much a lead a certain player can be given off a base before you can catch him napping. You have to discover what player is likely to lay down a bunt, and what one will always hit it out. Then you will have to make a long exhaustive study of the pitchers, so that you will be able, once in a while, to out-guess them.”

And while some doubted the complexity of the Cubs’ signs; Evers said:

“(Y)ou have to get in your head a long and complicated series of signals, which cover almost every imaginable twist and turn of a baseball game. You have to have a pretty good set of brains to get a whole lot of signs down to such perfection that you can recognize them and act immediately, though you may almost be crazy with excitement, and have a mad mod of twenty or thirty thousand people shrieking at you.”

Then there was the pressure:

“The great uncertainty of baseball makes every player have the feeling that to him alone is likely to come the chance to make or mar the work of the entire season. A little error at a crucial moment, and everything will be lost.”

There was no greater strain than knowing, “upon you alone depends the winning of a game which may perhaps mean the capturing of the pennant and the addition of thousands of dollars to your employers’ profits, and the salaries of your fellow players and yourself.”

Evers said, “the great strain that the engineer on a fast train works under,” was no greater than that of a ballplayer:

“The engineer knows that if everything holds together, as he is almost practically certain it will, he is running no very great risk. The ball player on the other hand knows that there is no telling what is about to occur. For the engineer there are but two courses of thought, one—if nothing breaks, all is well; the other—if anything happens, jump.”

Evers said the ballplayer’s money “was well earned,” and:

“I might have touched on the fact that the ball player is the source of enormous profits to the one who employ him, and consequently should get his fitting share of the profits, but I do not wish to be put down as a knocker, because in reality, I’m an optimist.”

“The Big League Ballplayer has the Easiest job”

5 May

Malachi Kittridge was nearly a decade removed from major league baseball in 1915 but had plenty of opinions about how easy current players had it.  He told The Cleveland News:

“The big league ballplayer has the easiest job there is. He does not even have to pack his uniform. That is done for him in the clubhouse. His hand baggage is taken to the train for him. He rides in a lower berth. Arriving at another town, he is met by a taxicab while his baggage is taken to the hotel in a wagon. He does not even have to write his name on the hotel register. He finds his room and a good one with a bath reserved for him.”

And once in town, it was even easier:

“He has nothing to do except to report at the grounds at 2 pm, practice and then take part in the game. His evenings are his own as are his mornings, except at home, when some clubs have practice sessions. He has more idle time upon his hands than any man engaged in any other profession, yet he fails to take advantage of it by fitting himself for some other profession or business to take up when his baseball days are over.”

Kittridge

Kittridge said players idled away their time on the road taking walks and playing cards in the morning, or at a theater or pool hall in the evening, rather than devoting “some of his time to study” of a future career.  But, he warned, “he cannot study too much and run the risk of injuring his eyes.”

The News said Kittridge also resented, “the oft printed story that the old-time baseball player was rough neck,” compared to the modern, “college-bred” players:

“I guess they forgot about the famous old Chicago White Sox. Of that team, John K. Tener became governor of Pennsylvania and president of the National League; (Cap) Anson was county clerk of Cook County, which means Chicago; Mark Baldwin is a famous surgeon in Pittsburgh; Ad Gumbert was Sheriff of Pittsburgh [sic, Allegheny County]; (Bill) Hutchinson, the great pitcher, is a railroad official out West; Walter Wilmot is a banker in Minneapolis, and Clark Griffith is pretty well up in the baseball game.”

Kittridge challenged the reporter to “investigate,” and said, “you would find that the majority of the old-timers have done well since quitting the game, indicating that they were not the rowdies later day writers would have the public believe.”

Kittridge himself was a fairly successful minor league manager, but his one stint running a major league club was a disaster. Kittridge’s 1904 Washington Senators were 1-16 when the player-manager was replaced by Patsy Donovan.  The Boston Globe provided an example of how he counseled pitchers to face the league’s leading hitter, Napoleon Lajoie:

“Place the ball at a medium rate of speed over the middle of the rubber, or cut the plate with a slow, arched curve whenever Lajoie is facing you. The big Frenchman will write an obituary in the shape of a double, triple, or homer on any ball that has steam behind it and veers over the outside or inside corners. I have seen him soak a high one in the inside on a level with his Adam’s apple, and the next one he plucked off his socks knee high and on the inside.”

“Pioneers of Baseball Methods were so Often Overshadowed”

3 May

John B. Foster writing in The New York Sun 1927, said:

“When the theory of baseball playing differed greatly from the methods that are used now, the idea of an outfielder was that of a portly individual who carried with him a great expanse of shoulder blade, a pair of arms that looked as if they could knock the horns off a crescent, and the ability to shoulder a bat that weighed more than the captain of a winch”

He said Cap Anson, “had a lot to do with that theory” becoming a trend. “All of Anson’s outfielders were big men when he could get them,” because the White Stockings manager would say, “They can hit the ball out of the lot, and it’s the hitters that count.”

Foster said, “Anson’s long batters and big men,” became less critical as, “Fielders found their way into the game who could run back to the fences and get the ball…There was the beginning of a system which has not changed much since, although it has been improved.”

One of the first of the new “system,” said Foster, was:

“Honest John Corkhill…They called him ‘Pop’ as he grew older in harness.”

Corkhill

Corkhill, he said was the first outfield who tried “coming in” on balls and was “a great exponent of that kind of fielding and, combined with his ability to bat well, was one of the great players of the big game.”

Ren Mulford of The Cincinnati Enquirer agreed with Foster’s assessment. During the outfielder’s final season, he said:

“Corkhill always was a sensational catch. He was wont to make connection with flies that most outfielders could not reach.”

And said Mulford in recalling Corkhill fifteen years after his big-league career ended, said:

“What a fellow Corkhill was on those forward running catches! He could skate in on his breastbone and snatch flies off the grass.”

But Foster said, Corkhill was never “given due credit for his skill, his intelligence, and his daring. The pioneers of baseball methods were so often overshadowed by the big deeds of the really big men physically that they were overlooked.”

The one thing written about Corkhill as much as his fielding prowess was his baldness and sensitivity about it. Foster said:

“As he grew older, he acquired a bald spot. When he donned his frock coat, his shiny bald head, combined with a huge mustache made him appear like a professor.”

After the 1889 season, Corkhill’s former teammate Hugh Nicoll was “wintering in Kansas City” and told The Kansas City Star a story from the previous season when Corkhill played for the Bridegrooms:

“One day when the Cincinnatis were playing in Brooklyn and the old man lost his cap while sliding to second and it rolled about ten feet away from the base. (Bid) McPhee had the ball and John was in a sorry fix. He could not get the cap without being put out and to get up would reveal his baldness to the thousands of people looking at him, but he was a sly old fox, and he got the headgear and yet he did not show his baldness.

“’Get that cap,’ he whispered to McPhee as he laid on the ground; but McPhee refused just to worry him. Then John began to writhe as in great pain and the Brooklyn players ran out to him with a bucket of water. One of them tossed the cap to him and as he got up all the players laughed.”

George Davis: How I Win

30 Apr

“Think quick, act quickly, claim everything in sight and watch every point. Run out every hit, take any kind of chances on the bases, make the other side throw.”\

“That is the way to win in baseball.”

Said George Davis, as part of a series of syndicated articles by Chicago journalist Joseph B. Bowles which asked some of baseball’s biggest stars to talk about “How I Win.”

George Davis

Davis’ 20-year major league career had come to an end the previous season, and he was preparing to manage and play for the Des Moines Boosters in the Western League in 1910.

He said forcing the pace was key.

“(Making) the other club to give ground, assumes the aggressive end of the game and throws the other team on the defensive right at the start.”

He said during his time with the 1906 world champions, people “used to call the White Stockings ‘lucky’” because the team won close games:

“To one outside the game it really did look as if we were lucky, but the ‘luck’ was of our own making. We attacked so hard and steadily that the other teams threw away the game to us. That was one of the main reasons they called us the ‘Hitless Wonders.’ We did not rely so much on making base hits as we did upon forcing the other side to blunder.”

That, and pitching:

“One of the principal causes of victory to a pennant winning team is in the selection of pitchers to work against certain teams on certain days. The condition of the sky is studied, the lights and shadows on the grounds, the condition of the grounds and the force and direction of the wind before a final selection is made.”

David said he thought he understood “inside baseball and teamwork” before joining Chicago in 1904 and having the chance to “work with two such generals and (Charlie) Comisky and (Fielder) Jones.”

By 1906, he said:

“I do not think there ever was a team as perfect in defensive and aggressive teamwork as the White Stockings were under Jones. Our system of signals was perfect, and besides that we had men with wonderfully acute powers of observation, and everyone worked together. It would be betray secrets to tell how much our men knew of the opposing team. Everything we know was either from experience or from observation and the study of men.”

Yet, it could all be attributed to chance:

“And, after that is all done, and the manager has thought and worried gray hairs into his head, an umpire may miscall one strike and turn the entire game, which shows how much anyone really knows about how to win.”

Davis might have been presaging his tenure in Des Moines. The 39-year-old hit just .192 and led the club to a 72-96, seventh place finish.  He never played or managed again.

The Quiet Town of Hingham is in Turmoil”

28 Apr

The Boston Post said:

The quiet town of Hingham is in turmoil over a proposed addition to its population.

The Boston Globe said:

“Enveloped in a maze of spreading branches of beautiful elm and Rock Maple trees is a quiet corner of the quiet town of Hingham, stands the elegant residence to be presented to M. J. Kelly, the famous ballplayer.”

The New York World said:

“The great ballplayer and enthusiastic Brotherhood man was presented with a house and lot valued at $10,000 and containing furnishings and adjuncts worth at least $3500 more.”

King Kelly had been feted on August 12, 1890, “After being cheered to the echo,” that day at the Congress Street Grounds; Kelly’s Boston Reds lost to Ward’s Wonders but maintained a one and a half game lead in the Payers League pennant race.

Mike “King” Kelly

After the game:

“King took a train for Hingham. He was followed by about 50 of his personal friends in a special train.”

A dinner was held the Cushing House; a then more than 200-year-old home that is one of the town’s earliest and was added to the National Historic Register in 1973.

 After the dinner, speeches were made by Kelly, “General” Arthur Dixwell—the Boston super fan, Hugh Fullerton called ‘the greatest” “crank” of all-time. John Montgomery Ward, Arthur Irwin, Julian B. Hart, the director of the Boston club, and John Graham—of the Boston Athletic Club, who, seven years later, helped originate what became the Boston Marathon—also spoke.

“King, in the course of his speech, remarked that he was overpowered, thanked his friends in San Francisco, New York, New Orleans, Chicago, and Boston who had contributed to the gift, and promised a ‘small bottle on the ice’ to any and all who might call during the winter months. After the speech making, the entire party were conveyed to the new home.”

The House

The Philadelphia Times‘ Boston correspondent said, “this present has been arranged by his friends as a tribute to him not only as a brainy ballplayer, but an all-around good fellow, ever ready with his last dollar to aid a friend.”

Kelly’s generous nature, even towards rivals, was the subject of a story that same month in The Cleveland News. Patsy Tebeau was badly injured by a batted ball during a July game with Kelly’s Reds:

“In the game in which Pat met with the accident in Boston, which laid him up for a couple weeks, Kelly was playing, and, as Kelly often does, he was chafing Tebeau all through the game.

“When Tebeau dropped senseless, after being struck by the ball, Kelly, thinking it one of Tebeau’s tricks, called out ‘Never touched him.’ When the third baseman failed to rise, however, he hurried to where he was lying on the ground and helped carry him to the carriage.”

Tebeau was confined to bed for five days.

“Naturally enough, he was blue and almost heartbroken at not being able to play. No one had been near him all morning, and in his own language he was ‘all broken up.’ He had hardly time to think over the situation when there was a knock on the door and in walked King Kelly. He carried in his hands a big basket of fruit of all sorts, and after leaving it within Tebeau’s reach he left with a few words of cheer.

“’I’ll tell you,’ says Pat, ‘the way that man treated me brought tears to my eyes.’”

Not to be outdone, friends of heavyweight champion John J. Sullivan decided to buy him a home in Hingham. 

That was a bridge too far for the residents. The Boston Post said:

“The inhabitants of the puritanical old town, who swear by their lineage and recognize only blue blood, being as conservative as any people on the New England coast, are much disturbed over the prospect of having a pugilist in their midst, and they freely give vent to their indignation. They swallowed Kelly with a grimace, but Sullivan is too much for them, they say, and steps are being taken to purchase the property and any other that Sullivan’s friends have in view.”

John L. Sullivan

Sullivan never got his home in Hingham, Kelly, who he called, “the greatest ball player in world,” didn’t spend a lot of time in his.

In April of 1893, The Boston Globe said the home, which also included a stable and a two acre lot, was sold for back taxes of $123.

Kelly died of pneumonia the following year; he died like lived, broke; primarily because, as The Fall River (MA) Daily Herald said:

“His many kindly acts to his fellows in want or illness endeared him to the baseball world, and hosts of friends will mourn his loss.”

“The Sacred Cloth”

26 Apr

In 1923, Bill Byron again didn’t make it out of April without being pelted by bottles. During a game between the Oaks and the Salt Lake City Bees in Oakland. The Salt Lake Telegram said:

“The smiling and sarcastic indicator…was the target for a volley of pop bottles and cushions in the eighth inning of the morning game, when he made what the fans thought a rotten decision. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t much good.”

The Oakland Tribune said Byron’s decision—he called a player out at second on a force when the fielder was, according to the home team and visiting team’s local papers, “fully eighteen inches off the bag,” which led to the incident–“the worst decision ever witnessed at a Coast League game.”

This led to the third attempt since 1920 by Oakland management and fans in, “petitioning prexy McCarthy against Byron, claiming he is unjust to Oakland.”  McCarthy made no response.

Byron’s long history of bearing the brunt of a physical attack from a player continued during a July game Between Sacrament and Seattle. The Sacramento Star said:

“Fred Mollwitz got himself into an awful jam…And the worse of it all was that Fred was right, DEAD RIGHT, in his argument. Not right in smacking Lord Byron one in the kisser but right in protesting that majestic gentleman’s decision at first base.”

The paper said Mollwitz had tagged Seattle’s Jimmy Welsh who was picked-off first base:

“Welsh’s hand was a good distance (from first base). Byron promptly waved him safe. Mollwitz held Welsh pinned to the ground and called for Byron to come over and look at it.”

Byron ignored him.  After allowing Welsh up, Mollwitz got in a “hot argument” with the umpire and was ejected and began to leave the field.

“It couldn’t be determined from the grandstand whether or not Byron said something or not, but, for some reason Molly turned around and poked him in the jaw.

“It took half the Seattle Aggregation and a whole assemblage of Solons talent to drag the battling first baseman off. After that it was a riot of nearly ten minutes.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reminded readers that Byron’s “favorite hobby (is) putting a chip on his shoulder,” and many suggested the umpire was to blame for the incident.

The Salt Lake Telegram labeled Byron “a player baiter,” and said, “Bill usually gets busted once or twice a year. Molly’s action isn’t at all unusual.”

Mollwitz

A group led by the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce petitioned the league president to punish Byron, their letter read in part:

“Byron’s attitude toward Mollwitz Friday was so provocative that any red-blooded American under similar circumstances would probably have done just as Mollwitz did.”

League president McCarthy once again ignored criticisms of Byron and said:

“Mollwitz’ act was cowardly and I am sorry I cannot fine him several hundred dollars and suspend him for a month.”

Instead, he fined Mollwitz $100 and suspended him for a week and chastised Mollwitz’ supporters:

“When the people of Sacramento cool down, they will find that Mollwitz was wrong and Byron was right. The suspension stands and I will continue to employ Byron.”

Whether it was his animus towards Oakland or something else, Byron showed rare compassion for a player late in the 1923 season, a pitcher for the Vernon Tigers named Merrill “Heine” File was on the mound against the Oaks.  The Oakland Tribune said:

“An Oak on second and Heinie File was pitching. He made a couple of balks and the Oaks howled loud. The squawking became so boisterous that Lord Bill Byron raised both hands in the air and in a loud voice said: ‘He’s only a young pitcher trying to break in!’ Then Byron went to the pitching box to show the young pitcher how to stand on the rubber. The kid balked again and then umpire Ward behind the plate stepped into the diamond and called a balk.”

Oaks manager Ivan Howard asked Byron:

 “How old a pitcher must be before a balk can be called on him, and Ivan refused to tell anyone what Byron told him, but we understand it was something about how old a fellow must be to know how to run a ball club.”

By the end of the 1923 season, the Tigers, not withstanding Byron’s attempt to help File, joined the chorus of people asking the league to part ways with the singing umpire:

The Los Angeles Record team owner Ed Maier and Secretary Howard Lorenz felt the umpire, “lost $1700 insurance for the Tigers and the Beavers, robbed Vernon of a ball game and deprived spectators of a right to secure rain checks,” during the team’s series in Portland. 

Lorenz told the paper:

“The game was tied when we finished the fourth. Rain was pouring down. Manager (Jim) Middleton of Portland urged Byron to call the game, but he refused. A Portland player made a home run in the fifth and Byron called the contest as soon as they finished their half.”

In December McCarthy was replaced as PCL president by Los Angeles Express sportswriter Harry Williams; The Sacramento Star said, “Byron announces he will quit the league.”

Byron sat out 1924 but missed the PCL and apparently, despite everything, the league missed him. He agreed to come back in 1925 but broke his leg and could not return. The Sacramento Bee said while team officials in that town had been among the umpire’s biggest detractors, they would have supported his return:

 “Just to show Bill that Sacramento did not have any hard feelings against him. Edwin Bedell, chairman off the baseball committee had planned to have a ‘Byron Day’ when Bill first appeared here.”

Byron never worked as an umpire again.  He spent the rest of his life in Detroit and died in 1955.

Abe Kemp, who spent decades at The San Francisco Examiner and was the only sportswriter still working on the West Coast who covered Byron’s stormy four years in the PCL, wrote:

“Bill Byron was my friend. He was not a man who made friends easily. He was a dedicated man; a man dedicated to the profession of umpiring baseball…He went out of his way to inflame (fans). As on occasions he went out of his way to inflame ballplayers.”

Kemp told a story about Byron that explained Byron better than any other ever written during his life:

 “’This blue uniform,’ he turned on towering ‘Truck’ Hannah one afternoon at Recreation Park, ‘has got to be respected.’

“From his lofty height of six feet four, Hannah carefully inspected Bryon’s sacred blue uniform.

“’You know Bill,’ he said slowly, ‘I would have more respect for your blue uniform if it didn’t have a patch in the seat of the pants.’

“Theatrically, Byron waved Hannah out of the ball game.”

The other umpire, Bill Guthrie scolded Byron for throwing Hannah out of the game:

“Byron leveled his ejection finger at his partner. “’Hannah cast aspersions on the sacred cloth.”

“Byron has our Players Feeling Like a lot of Spanked Kids”

23 Apr

Bill Byron resigned as a National League umpire after the 1919 season but “The singing umpire” couldn’t stay away.

He accepted a position with the Pacific Coast League (PCL) for 1920. The (Portland) Oregon Daily Journal said he was the only umpire in the PCL who did not have a reserve clause in his contract.

Byron was partnered with another former National League umpires, Mal Eason. The Los Angeles Evening Express said:

“This pair throws players out of the game on the least provocation.”

Byron

Byron cemented his reputation for throwing out players shortly after joining the PCL.

The Los Angeles Examiner said after he ejected five players during a May game between the Vernon Tigers and the Sacramento Senators:

“Byron, according to all accounts, is rapidly approaching that stage of popularity with everybody that caused him to be dropped from the National league.”

While his exit from the National League appears to have been voluntarily, The Sporting News later made the same claim The Examiner did, telling readers the umpire’s “chip in shoulder attitude caused his dismissal from the National staff.”

In September, Byron called Lu Blue of the Portland Beavers out at the plate on a play that would have tied the score in an eventual 1-0 loss to the Seals:

Blue

The San Francisco Examiner said Blue grabbed Byron, the umpire broke away and punched Blue in the nose, then:

“Lu hit Bill with a left hook and by that time every ball player, ‘copper,’ and umpire in the league were mixed up in one grand shoving contest.”

Blue got to Byron again and punched him in the eye. After that, Portland’s Dick Cox, “grabbed the ump around the neck and dragged him halfway around the park, while Bill’s nose proceeded to pick up stray hunks of pop bottles and rocks.”

Blue was fined $100 and suspended for a week, Cox managed to escape with neither.

Portland manager Judge McCredie was said to be “chafing under” Blue’s suspension, telling The Oregonian Blue acted in self-defense and that Byron should have been punished as well.

A month after the incident, Seals pitcher Sam Lewis yelled to the Byron:

“Hey, Bill, I know you are the king of umpires, for I saw Lu Blue of the Portland club crown you.

The Oregonian concluded:

“Even Byron had to laugh.”

When he was retained by the league for the 1921 season, The Evening Express said:

“Byron had an opportunity to return to the National League but preferred to remain on the Coast.

“Important if true.

“If true, it is too bad he didn’t accept (National League President) John Heydler’s offer.”

Byron was no less controversial his second year on the West Coast. In May, Oakland Oaks third baseman, and future National League umpire, Babe Pirelli knocked him down “with a blow over the eye,” after he ejected Pinelli for disputing a call.

Most of the players and fans–including one famous fan, actor Al Jolson–told The Oakland Tribune that Byron threw the first punch:

“Al wired President McCarthy of the Coast League at once, declaring that the umpire and not the player was to blame.”

Pinelli missed several games with an injured hand but was never officially suspended and was fined $50 by McCarthy who said, “he didn’t place all the blame,” on the player for the incident.

Shortly after the incident with Pinelli, Byron drew the ire of San Francisco fans for indecision on a ball hit by Morrie Schick of the Seals in a game against Oakland. Jack James of The Examiner described the play:

“He looked up. It wasn’t there.

He looked down. It wasn’t there.

He looked at both sides. It wasn’t there.

“He decided to call in an expert for advice.

‘”Where did it go?’ says to the Oakland third baseman a Mister White, temporarily taking the place of Mr. Pinelli, who recently assaulted Mister Byron, they do say, with cause.

“’Foul!’ Says Mr. White.

‘”Foul it is then,’ says Mr. Byron.”

Despite that call in their favor, the Oakland management—J. Cal Ewing and Del Howard—sent a letter to McCarty, asking the league president to not assign the umpire to Oakland games:

“Byron has our players feeling like a lot of spanked kids who are afraid to make a false move or stand up for their rights for fear that will get tossed out of the ball game and then be further punished by having a fine slapped on them.”

The request was ignored.

Soon after, Byron attempted to pull the trick he once pulled on John McGraw on San Francisco Seals manager Charlie Graham—pulling out his watch and giving his a minute to leave the field after an ejection.  Graham, said The Sacramento Bee:

“Graham grabbed the time piece from the indicator man…Byron tried to to wrench his watch from Graham’s hand but he could not do so. The crowd gathered around and finally Graham gave the ‘umps’ back his watch and left the field.”

Graham drew a five-game suspension and $50 fine.

Within days, Los Angeles Angels manager Wade Killefer was fined $50 and suspended for five games, and two of his players—George Lyons and Red Baldwin–were fined and suspended. Baldwin was ejected and given “thirty seconds” to leave the field, Killefer and the rest of the Angels came out on the field and “surrounded” the umpire, who promptly “declared the game forfeited” to the Seattle Rainers:

The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“Byron should demand a commission, for he fines more players than all of the other umpires combined.”

After Byron’s active first half of the season, The Express noted on August 1:

“Bill Byron didn’t suspend anyone yesterday.”

Byron’s reputation was such, that The San Francisco Examiner headlined a story about a riot involving players, umpires, and fans at an International League in Buffalo that resulted player arrests:

“Here’s one that Bill Byron Missed”

The Chronicle referred to him and partner Jake Croter as “the demon umpires.”

The Los Angeles Record said, “the much-abused umpire” had also taking up singing on the field again:

“When a player protests a called strike too vehemently, Bill will drone in a sing-sing voice:

‘”Can’t hit the ball with the bat on your shoulder; can’t hit the ball with the bat on your shoulder!’

“And when a player tells Bill things that Bill doesn’t think he is paid to hear, Bill grabs the whiskbroom and starts dusting the plate to the accompaniment of:

“’Some one’s going to the clubhouse; some one IS going to the club house!’”

Not everyone thought Byron was bad for the league. Carl “Boots” Weber” spent more than 30 years in the front office with the Los Angeles Angels and later served as treasurer for the Chicago Cubs. Shortly after Byron’s dust up with manager Wade Killefer and the two Angles players, The Los Angeles Examiner recounted a conversation between Weber and Byron:

“You’re an absolute attraction,’ Weber told Byron, ‘and I’m for you. You help to draw the people through the gate.’

“’Yes, and I help draw them on me,’ replied Byron.

“that’s just the point,’ enthused Weber. ‘Keep them on you. The more they get on you the more they will come out to see you, and that, after all, is the first and main consideration.”’

Byron, not particularly wisely, might have taken Weber’s comment to heart. In mid-August, The Bee said the umpire endured a “pop bottle shower” after making a call at the plate that cost the Beavers the tying run in a game with the Sacramento Senators:

“Senatorial ball players say that Bill Byron showed a lot of courage…it is said he never retreated an inch, nor did he look toward the stand from where the barrage was coming. Bill walked up and down the line never flinching…There was a little too much courage in the umpire’s manner according to the players, who say if one of the bottles had hit Bill on the head, he might have been through for the season, and perhaps forever.”

The Bee also reported that after the bottle throwing incident, a rookie pitcher named Carroll Canfield was told by his teammates to “tell Bill” that an opposing player missed first base.  The paper said the players meant Canfield to tell manage Bill Rodgers; the 18-year-old instead approached Byron:

“(Canfield) in a meek way, went out and told the umpire about the runner missing the sack.

“’You get back to that bench kid,’ roared Bill, ‘and watch those other fellows play for a coupe of years more before you ever come out and talk to me.”

Despite two seasons of controversy, PCL President William H. McCarthy enthusiastically retained him for the 1922 season, telling The Associated Press:

“Byron is as good an umpire as there is in baseball and the Coast League is fortunate to have him numbered among its list of officials.”

The Singing Umpire didn’t make it through the first week of the 1922 season before being pelted with pop bottles. During the April 15 game between the Oaks and the Seals, The Oakland Tribune said Byron called Dee Walsh of the Seals out on a close play at third base in the 10th inning; then reversed himself and ruled Walsh safe, “after a flock of Seals charged him from the dugout.”

The paper called what happened next, the biggest baseball riot witnessed here since the days at old Freeman’s park,” which the Oaks vacated nearly a decade earlier. After changing the call, Byron was showered with bottles and “surrounded” by Oaks players.  Calm was restored and Walsh scored on a sacrifice fly.

When the Oaks came to bat in the bottom of the tenth, Byron ejected Oakland’s Ray Brubaker and Ray Kremer who were heckling him from the dugout; the ejections resulted in another round of bottles throw at the umpire. When the final Oaks batter was retired:

“(F)ans dashed from the stands as a flock of gray-coated policemen sought to give Byron protection. Pop bottles and cushions were heaved through the mob and the dressing room was wrecked by the angered fans.”

He continued ejecting players at a clip that caused The San Francisco Examiner to say after a June game between the Seals and Oaks:

“Umpire Bill Byron gave the crowd a little taste of the unusual when he failed to prescribe an early afternoon shower for a single player. This was without doubt, the most notable feature of the game.”

Late in the 1922 season, he stopped what could have been an ugly incident and received unusual praise in The Los Angels Times. During the September 30 game between the Vernon Tigers and Seattle Indians, Vernon pitcher Jakie May hit Seattle third baseman Tex Wisterzil with a pitch, for the second time in the game, this one struck the batter behind the right ear:

“Tex was plainly out of patience, and started for the box in a brisk walk, bat in hand. Jakie awaited the impending onslaught with folded arms, fearless, dignified, and Napoleonic. Just when everybody expected the spark to be struck with the bat which would inflame the whole world, Bill Byron, the great pacifier, made a flying tackle from the rear and nailed Wisterzil’s elbows to his floating ribs. Thus, crisis was averted.”

The dinal Byron chapter, Monday