Steinfeldt spins a Yarn

9 Jun

Harry Steinfeldt was born in St. Louis, but his family moved to Fort Worth, Texas when he was five years old.  In 1912, he told William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star what baseball was like in Lone Star state in the 1880s and 90s:

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Steinfeldt

“Texan audiences used to be pretty rough stuff when the Texas League began—especially in the more Western cities—and the merry cowboys—gone now forever—were quite a disturbing element.  They used to spring jokes about cowboys lassoing outfielders to keep them from chasing the ball.”

Steinfeldt told Phelon about an incident he claimed happened during a game in the 1890s:

“Fort Worth and Waco were grappling in a desperate struggle—a game that might have considerable bearing on the percentages and on the ultimate disposition of the flag.  The teams were batting heavily, for both pitchers were scared to death and neither seemed to have much of anything.  First one side would rush ahead and get what seemed like a good, safe lead, and then the other team would overcome the advantage and collect a wad of runs. In the seventh, Fort Worth was leading 8 to 7, and looking fairly sure, but Waco came through with three in the eighth.  They came into the ninth with the score 10 to 8 in Waco’s favor.

“Two men were easily disposed of; then came three successive, and the right fielder returned the ball clear over the catcher’s head, letting one man in, while the catcher, by desperate scrambling, just managed to drive another runner back to third.  Men on third and second, two gone, the best of the Fort Worth hitters up, and the crowd bellowing till you’d think pandemonium had been let loose.

“The batsman swung on a fastball, and it sailed out in a long, arching curve, settling near the left field bleachers, but with the left fielder backing up and settling himself for the catch.  Just as the ball was coming down, a revolver cracked, and the ball, struck by a big 45 caliber bullet, flew to pieces in midair.

“The two men on the bases ran in, and a wild riot started round the plate.  But the umpire was a man of nerve.  He held up his hand to still the tumult, and then roared ‘Dead ball! Batsman must hit over again.’

“And there wasn’t a kick as the batter came back and missed his third strike on the next pitch.  Even the cowboy who had shot the ball didn’t make any objection.  ‘I reckon,’ said he, as he climbed down from the bleachers, ‘that there decision was plumb right—for if ever a ball was a dead one it was the particular ball after I done plugged it.’

“Those were great days, and no mistake about it.”

Another Rube Story

7 Jun

There was no end to the stories told about Rube Waddell—some were even true.

This one, from 1905, was told by umpire Charles King, who worked in the American League in 1904.  King—identified as “Steve” King by The Pittsburgh Press, said:

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Rube

“One day Rube came to me and asked me to loan him my umpire’s togs and indicator.  I am about 5 feet 9 inches, and you can imagine about how my clothes would fit the big Waddell.”

King said Waddell claimed he wanted to play a trick on his teammates and would return the items before that afternoon’s game.

“That was the last seen of Waddell in Philadelphia for three days.  He had been slated to pitch the afternoon that he borrowed my clothes; Connie Mack was worried and mad.  As for me, I had to umpire in civilian garb.

“While sitting around the hotel on the third night following Waddell’s disappearance, who should come stalking into the hotel but the missing Rube.  He was all smiles.

“’Where’ve you been, Rube?’  Shouted several of the players in chorus.

“’Oh, up the country a little ways, where I had been invited to umpire a game,’ answered Rube.  ‘I umpired for a couple of innings, pitched two innings, covered first base for one round, and then went up in the grandstand, took away the scorekeeper’s book and acted as official scorer for the remainder of the game.’”

“Bill James’ Arm is Gone”

5 Jun

Christy Mathewson briefly “wrote” a column for the Wheeler newspaper syndicate in 1916 on the fate of two star pitchers:

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Mathewson

“If there is one thing I hate to see in baseball, it is a young pitcher, who has done grand work, have to quit in his prime because his arm has suddenly gone dead.  This has happened often in the past.  And it two stars would be missing this year looks like as if two stars will be missing this year, and, strangely enough, each one from a Boston baseball club.

“I hear that Bill James’ arm is practically gone, and James had as much to do with the Braves winning the world’s championship when no one expected (Braves Manager George) Stallings to do it in 1914 as any pitcher on his staff.”

Mathewson said he had heard from James’ teammate Johnny Evers:

“’Bill James’ arm is gone—for good I am afraid. Everybody on the club, from Stallings down knows it, including Bill James, himself.’

“The big Boston pitcher is only a kid in years and in service, too, for that matter when you compare him to old campaigners like Eddie Plank, Mordecai Brown and me who come from an aged vintage.  But James hurt his arm through foolishness, I believe, for the greatest folly of a pitcher is not to rest regularly his salary soup bone at least four or five months every year.”

Mathewson said James “a big, strong fellow,” ruined his arm by pitching on the West Coast every off-season:

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Bill James

“He did a lot of pitching the winter after the Braves had closed in on and taken the world’s championship.  This undoubtedly hurt him for he has never been good since.”

Mathewson said of the other Boston pitcher:

“Joe Wood, once called ‘smoky Joe’ of the Red Sox, is another grand pitcher likely to be somewhere else, perhaps in the scrap heap, when the roll is called this spring.  And I may be myself too, I admit that.  I have heard that Wood’s wing is in bad shape, and he probably will never work again.”

Mathewson said a New York doctor was treating Wood, but:

smokyjoewood

Smoky Joe Wood

“I have never found any pitcher with a bad wing who got much benefit from the advice of a ‘doc.’”

Unlike James, Mathewson said he felt wood might come back:

“(F)or some club if his arm comes around because he is naturally one of the greatest players ever in the Big League.”

Mathewson, who was 8-14 the previous season, after 12 straight 20-plus win seasons, said of his own future:

“(Giants Manager John McGraw) is a little worried over his pitching outlook.  He doesn’t know whether I am going to be able to deliver anything or whether I will spend the summer playing golf…I will know pretty soon whether I will put my pitching wing in the mothballs for good or whether it will be fit to run another season.  And believe me, I am anxious to find out.”

Mathewson did not put his “pitching wing in the moth balls.”  In 12 appearances with the Giants was 3 and 4 before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds in July.

Bill James didn’t pitch at all in 1916.  He only appeared in one more major league game—with the Braves in 1919.

Joe Wood appeared in just seven more games as a pitcher between 1917 and 1920 with the Cleveland Indians but played five seasons in the outfield for the Indians from 1918-1922.

More Superstitions, 1884

2 Jun

Superstitious ballplayers are as old as baseball.

When the Philadelphia Athletics visited Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for an exhibition game 1884, a reporter from The Harrisburg Telegraph talked to “an old base baller” who was attending the game.

The reporter asked:

“’Are base ball players superstitious?’

“’You betcher life,’ said the veteran; ‘why there is Harry Wright (who) always carries a black cat in the bat bag, just for luck.  Al Spalding  of the Chicago carries a buckeye in his pocket for luck, and Bob Ferguson begins to hedge in his bets if he meets a cross-eyed man while on his way to the grounds.’”

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Harry Wright

The “old base baller” also told the reporter:

Bobby Matthews will never pitch unless he has an old copper cent in his pocket, and Monte Ward, of the New Yorks, carries a mascot around his neck in the shape of a gold coin.  (Jim) Whitney, of Boston, loses heart if he forgets to put his bunch of keys in his pocket before pitching.  Just before the Athletics-St. Louis game last year to decide the championship, (Bill) Gleason, of the St. Louis, got as pale as a sheet when he saw a red-headed boy carry in the bat bag.  He said it was bad luck, and, sure enough, it was.”

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Bill Gleason

Philadelphia won the September 23 game 9-2, giving them a 3 ½ game lead in the American Association race, and held on to win the pennant by 1 game.

And the old player told the paper:

“Big (Dan) Brouthers, of the Buffalos, carries a barlow knife for luck.  Oh, yes, base ball players are superstitious, an’ don’t ye forgit it.”

Bed Check, 1887

31 May

In 1887, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch set out to find out “How managers watch their players on the road.”

 

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Gus Schmelz

 

The paper spoke to Gus Schmelz, manager of the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association; the previous season, Schmelz managed the National League St. Louis Maroons:

“He thinks, of course, that all good ball-players should retire early, and regards plenty of sleep as conducive to good condition.  Most managers agree with him on this head and some of them have difficult tasks in seeing that their men are under the cover at the proper hour. This is particularly true when the club is on the road and when the aggregation is anxious to have a good time with their friends in the city.”

The paper said Jim Mutrie of the New York Giants had what he thought was a great plan to ensure his players were in bed early:

“(H)e keeps a book which he leaves with the hotel clerk who checks off the players’ names with the hour of their application for the key and late comers may expect free lectures the morning following.  This plan is an excellent one, but it may be news to Mutrie to know that some of his pets return as early as 10 o’clock for their keys, are checked off in regular order and after ascending in the elevator to their rooms, as it were, return by the stairway when all is quiet, and come back in the small hours.”

As for John “Kick” Kelly, the new manager of the Louisville Colonels:

“Kelly says his plan is to wait up for the boys, and hammer at their doors until the whole club is housed, but even this plan is easily circumvented by the ingenious players who rack their brains for schemes to outwit their keepers.”

 

kickkelly

Kick Kelly

 

The only manager who had a plan that was working well, according to the paper, was:

“One of the most prominent and best-known managers in the country, whose name it is unnecessary to mention, has recently adopted a new plan for keeping track of his men, and from which there seems no loop-hole of escape. His orders to his men are that everyone should be asleep by 11 o’clock, thus giving them ample time for repose.  When traveling, this rigorous manager waits at the hotel desk until the hands of the clock point to 10:30, and then every key in the rack which opens his rooms is turned over to him.  These he carries with him to his own, and the tardy player must rouse him up and obtain his key or else stay away during the whole night.  In either case, the unfortunate man has a sure guarantee of a sound tongue-threshing, if not a comfortable fine.  The plan has operated with immense success thus far, but whether it will continue to do so remains to be seen.”

To Hank Gowdy

29 May

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George Moriarty became an American League umpire after his playing career ended—he also wrote a nationally syndicated column which often included elegies for deceased players and poems.

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George Moriarty

In 1919, he wrote a tribute to the first major league player to enlist in WWI—Hank Gowdy:

“They’re waiting, Hank, to pay respects because you went away to help make Prussians into wrecks for this U.S.A.  They’re waiting, Hank, to clap their hands, to yell and everything; the countless mobs of baseball fans acknowledge you are king.  When Uncle Sammy gave the call for valor, pep and vim, you dropped your glove, your bat and ball, and said, ‘I’ll sign with him!’  When handing out the credit, Hank, no mite to you we toss; we can’t name one more willing Yank who bore the U.S. cross.  They missed you, Hank, for many months; the way you caught—your whip. And when they talked of hero stunts, your name fell from each lip. They’re eager, Hank, to see your face, reflecting courage strong.  They want to see you swing the mace back here where you belong.  And if you throw not on a line, the fans won’t say a word, for Hank, old kid, you crossed the Rhine, and that makes you some bird.  They’re eager, Hank, to see you score again the winning run; for in your form they’ll see the swarm of Yanks that whipped the Hun.  What greater record in the guide, as future years advance?  A record strong as time and tide—Hank Gowdy, First to France.”

 

Stealing Bats, 1889

26 May

In 1889, The Cincinnati Enquirer said of the quest the average ballplayer made to secure a bat to his liking:

“The average ball-player has trouble in securing a bat of the size and weight to suit his fancy.  He will run over the stock of bats in sporting goods stores, buy pieces of wood and have them turned, and go miles to secure the article, but the season may be half over before he will find one that suits him exactly.  When he does find one to his fancy he will have trouble in keeping it, as opposing players will try to steal it.”

The paper said theft was so common:

“A bat is looked at as common property, and there is no crime in base-ball to swipe a bat providing you do it without getting caught.”

The Enquirer said John Reilly of the Red Stockings was a “Bat crank,” and “(H)as a mania for hunting good sticks.’”   Reilly was asked if he ever had a bat stolen:

“’I should say I did,’ was John’s reply.  ‘There are ball-players who make a business of stealing good bats.  I never knew Pete Browning to ‘swipe’ a bat, but you can get a trade out of the Gladiator at any stage of the game.  He has always got a stick or two to trade, and about the first thing he does when he strikes a lot is to size up the opposing club’s pile of bats and tries to drive a bargain.”

 

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John Reilly

 

Reilly said there was a problem with Browning’s trades:

“Some of the Louisville players complain that Pete never trades his own bats, but grabs the first one he runs across in the Louisville pile.”

As for Browning’s use of heavy bats, Reilly said:

“Pete uses the heaviest bat of any man in the business…he had one here once that must have weighed twelve pounds.  It felt like it had an iron sash weight in the end of it.  Once, when I was in Louisville, I saw a bat floating around in a bath tub in the clubhouse.  ‘Whose bat is that? I inquired.  ‘it belongs to me,’ replied Pete:  ‘I put it in there so it will get heavy.”

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Pete Browning

Reilly also told the story of “a splendid stick,” that had been stolen from his team in 1888.  Hick Carpenter had acquired the bat in a trade with John Sneed of the New Orleans Pelicans:

“(N)early all the players were using it.  We had it until sometime in May when it disappeared.  That was the last we saw of it until the Clevelands came around late in the summer.  One of our players saw the bat in the Cleveland club’s pile, and at once claimed It.  The Clevelands stopped the game and would not play until the bat was returned.  (Charles “Pop”) Snyder said it might belong to us, but he didn’t know anything about it.  He claimed that Tip O’Neill, of the St. Louis Browns brought it to Cleveland and forgot it, and that (Ed) McKean took it.  We had to give it up”

Reilly said another bat had been stolen from him in 1888:

“I cut the letter ‘R’ in the knob of the handle…I did not run across it again until late in the season in Brooklyn.  The bat had been painted and the knob sawed half in two to get rid of the little ‘R.’ I claimed the bat but did not get it”

Reilly said the New York Metropolitans, the American Association franchise that folded in 1887, were:

“(T)he best bat swipers in the business. They would leave New York on a trip with an empty bat bag and after they had played on a few lots they would have bats to sell.”

Another Rube Waddell Story

19 May

John Ganzel played seven seasons in the major leagues for five teams, and he claimed he only had one beer his entire life.

 

 

While managing the Rochester Red Wings in 1912, Ganzel told a reporter about the circumstances.  The story appeared in numerous newspapers—including The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Ganzel, a teetotaler, went into a bar with a friend in Marlin, Texas in 1907.  Ganzel and the Cincinnati Reds were training there, as were the Philadelphia Athletics—and pitcher Rube Waddell:

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Rube Waddell

Ganzel ordered a ginger ale.

“A moment later in walked Waddell and ordered a glass of beer.  The drinks were untouched when Connie Mack, also a teetotaler, stepped into the barroom to use the telephone.

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Connie Mack

“Connie spied the Rube.  But the Rube had seen him first in the mirror behind the bar.  Quick as a flash he switched the drinks then held the ginger ale aloft in a conspicuous way and hailed Mack.

“’Hello, Connie, come over and have a ginger ale with me,’ he said.  Mack joined him and they drank ginger ale together.

“In order to spare the Rube embarrassment and a possible fine, I had to drink the Rube’s beer, the first and only alcoholic indulgences of my life.”

Bugs Finds the “Plate”

17 May

John McGraw called the erratic, talented, and tragic Arthur “Bugs” Raymond, one of the best pitchers he ever managed.  Raymond might be the best pitcher to finish his career with a record 12 games under .500 (45-56); he drank himself out of organized ball by age 29, and he was dead the following year.

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Bugs

When Raymond was traded to the New York Giants after the 1908 season, Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Herald told a story about how St. Louis Cardinals infielder Billy Gilbert helped cure Raymond of a bout with wildness the previous year.

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“Bugs sometimes lacks control, and during one period early last season in St. Louis, he got so wild that (Manager John) McCloskey was in despair.  ‘Bugs’ couldn’t get one over the plate, let alone cutting the corners, and McCloskey began to believe he never would.  One afternoon just before a game, Mack, who is a born worrier, was sitting on the bench and turning to Gilbert, said: ‘Gil, what’s the matter with the Bug? Isn’t there any way he can get control?’

‘Let me catch him for awhile and I’ll fix him,’ said Gilbert.

‘All right.  Take him back of the stand and work with him.’”

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Billy Gilbert

Fullerton said before taking Raymond “back of the stand,’ Gilbert went in search of something.

“(S)ecuring a big beer mug (he) placed it on the ground and standing behind it, ordered Raymond to proceed.

“’Here’s where you get control, Bugs,’ said Gil.  ‘You can hit this every time.’”

Said Fullerton:

“And whether faith, confidence, or luck did it, he got perfect control pitching over the stein, and it was a week before Gilbert dared tell McCloskey how he did it.”

Making Baseballs, 1890

15 May

In 1890, The New York Commercial Advertiser told their readers about a modern marvel—the mass production of baseballs:

 

1890sball

Ball from the 1890s

 

“Automatic machines for making baseballs have been so successfully contrived that their introduction is likely to constitute a practical industry.  Each machine winds two balls at one time, in the following way:

“A little para-rubber ball, weighing three-quarters of an ounce, around which one turn has been made with the end of a skein of an old-fashioned gray stocking yarn, is slipped into the machine, then another, after which the boy in charge touches a lever, the machine starts and the winding begins.  The rubber ball is thus hidden in a few seconds, and in its place appears a little gray yarn ball that rapidly grows larger and larger.

“When it appears to be about half the size  of the regulation base-ball there is a click, the machine stops, the yarn is cut, the boy picks out the ball and tosses it into the basket.  When this basket is full it is passed along to another boy, who runs a similar machine, where a half-ounce layer of worsted yarn is put on.

“The next machine adds a strong white cotton thread; a coating of rubber cement is next applied and a half ounce layer of the very best fine worsted completes the ball with the exception of the cover.”