“The most Superstitious man I ever saw”

18 May

Bill Phyle pitched and played infield in parts of four seasons in the National League with St. Louis, Chicago and New York and in minor leagues across the country from 1895 through 1909. In 1907, he told The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune about “The most superstitious man I ever saw.”

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Phyle

The man was Tom Parrot, Phyle’s teammate in St. Paul, San Francisco, whom he also played against for several seasons in the Southern Association:

Phyle said “Tacks Parrott…is the limit,” and:

“He is a crank on batting and can tell you his batting average any time in the season, or for that matter, any time in the game. He carries a little piece of chalk in his shirt pocket and after each time at the bat he figures out his average on the bench.”

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A 1902 caricature of Parrott 

Phyle said when they played together the second time in 1902:

“I roomed with Parrott in Frisco part of one season. I had taken a slump in my batting, and Parrott’s batting eye had also gone on vacation. He came to me one morning and, with much mystery in his voice, imparted the information that I was a ‘Jonah.’ That night after supper when I went up to my room, I found my trunk and all my clothes out in the hall. The landlady had to give me a new room. Parrott positively refused to room with me anymore, because he said it affected his batting eye.”

 

Phyle said Parrot was obsessed with improving his chances at the plate:

“If a man on a team got a new bat and was hitting well with it the next day, ‘Tacks’ would show up with the same kind of bat. He had a special trunk made to carry his bats and he always had it full. I have seen him go so far as use the same brand of tooth powder that another player used who was hitting well.”

He even imitated food choices, Phyle said, when Parrott was playing in the American Association, Mike Kelley, who played for the St, Paul Saints for several seasons, hit for the cycle one day, “Tacks” approached Kelley after the game and asked what he had for dinner the night before, Kelly said ham and eggs.

“(Parrott) turned up about supper time with a big ham under his arm and two baskets of eggs.  He wouldn’t eat anything for a week but hams and eggs.”

One day in San Francisco, Phyle said:

“The first two times up he got two safe ones. About the time he went to bat the third time the official scorer came down and sat on the bench with the players. ‘Tacks’ struck out. When he saw the scorer there he chased him off the field., declaring him responsible for his striking out.”

“Piggy Ward, and Rightly Nicknamed is he”

15 May

After his off-season heroics, pulling an Altoona, Pennsylvania man from a fire, Piggy Ward, having been released by the Washington Senators, joined the Scranton Coal Heavers in the Eastern League for the 1895 season; The Scranton Times called him, “a very good man and will be heard from on the lines.”

He quickly became popular with his new club. The Scranton Tribune said:

“(He is) clearly a favorite with the unwashed bleacher—or, with the grandstand, for that matter…He is large bodied, somewhat round shouldered and looks awkward in repose. In action he is one of the quickest on the team and plays and steals bases with a vim and action that is refreshing.”

He hit .357—45 players with at least 200 at bats hit better than .300 that season in the Eastern League—The Sporting News said his manager found a way to get the most out of Ward:

“(Billy) Barnie gave him instructions to be in bed at least two nights a week. A little sleep and less booze and Ward is all right.”

 

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Ward caricature, 1902

His “coaching” did not seem to change, and on several occasions, according to the Scranton newspapers, he was ordered off the field “for offensive coaching.” And he was unpopular in the other league cities.

After Ward was thrown out of a game with the Rochester Browns in the third inning, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said:

“’Piggy’ Ward, and rightly nicknamed is he.”

He was even less liked in Buffalo; The Courier said: “Ward is one of the most offensive coachers extant, and he would gain friends by bottling some of his exuberant flow of nonsense.” While The Enquirer was even less charitable:

“(H)is calliope-like voice is about as musical as a dynamite blast in a stone quarry. He evidently imagines he is pretty all right as a ‘kidder,’ but what he doesn’t know about being funny would fill several large volumes. Altogether as a joker, ‘Piggy’ is a rank, dismal, decided failure.”

The Tribune noted that the second baseman was a bit eccentric in other ways as well:

“Ward has a nondescript practice uniform which is a cross between the scant apparel of a Feeje [sic] islander and the hay-making garb of a farmer. It consists of a white negligee coat cut like a robe de chambre and reaching to the knees, a pair of loose trousers of the same color which reach to the shoe tops, a white cap and a sleeveless undershirt that is open to the waist.”

In 1896, Ward was again in Scranton, and he had vowed in the off season to be in the best shape of his life. In a letter to The Tribune he said he spent the winter “handling a pair of spirited mules,” and expected to report to Scranton weighing 185 pounds, down from his 217 the previous season. The paper said he appeared to have lost 20 pounds from the previous season upon his arrival.

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Piggy Ward

Also, in 1896, his one-man “coacher” show became a two-man show when Arlie Latham, released by the St. Louis Browns in mid May, joined the Coal Heavers. The Springfield (MA) News was one of the rare league newspapers that thought it was good thing:

“With two such comedians…the Scranton team ought to prove a great drawing card on the circuit, The Springfield crowd are anxious for Scranton series here.”

Neither made it through the season, Latham was released July 17, Ward, one month later.  When Ward signed with the Toronto Canadians, The Wilkes Barre Record said:

“Ward is a great batter and base runner. There we quit.”

The Wilkes Barre News said:

“(Ward) is just where he belongs on that gang of Toronto hoodlums.”

Al Buckenberger’s Canadians were considered to be the dirtiest team in the league, The Springfield Union said with the addition of Ward:

“The opponent that gets around first base now without being tripped is lucky to get past Piggy Ward in safety and is sure to be blocked or tripped at third by Jud Smith.”

After the 1896 season, some of the papers in the Eastern League cities suggested rules changes to eliminate Ward’s type of “coaching.” The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said:

“The majority of ‘fans’ take as much delight in lively, witty coaching, such as has made Arlie Latham and Billy Clymer famous…There need not be anything offensive in aggressive work by men on the lines…but all players are not like Clymer (and Latham) and that big beast s like ‘Pig’ Ward make themselves obnoxious by their actions and language when in the coacher’s box.”

The Syracuse Herald suggested adopting a rule “ousting ‘Pig’ Ward and others of his ilk from the game entirely.”

Whether it was an attempt to improve his image or a function of playing on a smaller stage—with his hometown Lancaster Maroons in the Atlantic League and the Mansfield Haymakers in the Interstate League—Ward seemed to stay fairly quiet and avoid controversy among the press in the league cities from 1897 through 1899.

The 5’ 9” Ward seems to have played in his later years at between 220 and 230 pounds from various reports. Frank Rinn, who managed Ward for the three seasons in Lancaster talked to The Hartford Courant about him:

“Although he is heavy and sluggish Piggy has more ginger than a dozen ordinary players. Rinn was telling the other day how hard it was to get Ward to train…He was sent out to coach once and he pulled a cushion out from under his shirt and had a good seat on the ground.”

Ward bounced from no less than eight teams between 1900 and 1905, including playing for John McCloskey again—in 1902 in Pacific Northwest League with the Butte Miners—Ward stayed with the McCloskey for the entire season this time—winning a championship and receiving a gold watch and chain at season’s end for being voted by fans as the team’s most popular player in a promotion for a local jeweler. He also led the league with a .332 batting average; only seven players in the six-team Pacific Northwest circuit hit .300 or better that season.

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Ward and Butte Miners teammate Thomas Kelly in 1903.

The Cincinnati Times Star, still not recovered from his tenure with the Reds nearly a decade earlier said of Ward winning the watch:

“The booby prize was the best Ward could have captured in a similar contest during his stay in this city.”

In 1903, Ward reverted to some of his old ways.  With an already signed contract to return to Butte and a $100 advance in his pocket, he signed a contract and collected a $100 advance from the Portland Browns in the upstart Pacific Coast League. He ended up back in Butte, and when McCloskey left the club to manage the San Francisco Pirates, he told the Butte newspapers that Ward, who was already the team captain, was his choice to succeed him as manager; the club instead named shortstop Billy Kane manager.

When rumors swirled in 1905 that the cash-strapped Pacific National League might cut player salaries, The Spokane Chronicle said Ward tried to form a player’s union chartered by the American Labor Union which was formed in 1898 as the Western Labor Union to create a federation of mine workers. The rumored pay cuts never came, nor did the union.

Ward was reported to have died in January of 1906; the news made all the Philadelphia dallies and several other East Coast papers, and over the next month spread West.  The papers had confused Piggy—Frank G. Ward—with Frank P. Ward, a former amateur player who had died in Newark, N.J.

Ward was seriously injured that same winter when working as an electrician; he was shocked and fell from a pole.

The news of his death—despite being corrected in the papers—and the accident, were enough to make many believe Ward had died. When he traveled to Chicago in August of 1911 for former teammate Charles Comiskey’s birthday, The Chicago Daily News said Comiskey was shocked to see Ward, “whom he thought was dead.”

The not-dead Ward did not play professionally in 1906—the Frank Ward who appeared with the Glens Falls-Saratoga Springs team in the Hudson River League—listed among Ward’s career statistics on Baseball Reference—is a different Frank Wad.

He was hired in 1907 as an umpire in the Northwestern League. The Butte News celebrated the move:

“’Piggy’ promises to be as popular an umpire as he was a player…He is firm, has a good voice, and is known to all the of the Northwest, and President (William Henry) Lucas made a 10-strike when he appointed him  on the league staff.”

He lasted just two games. The Spokane Press said he:

“(B)roke down completely last night. This morning he was almost a nervous wreck. A collection was taken up among the ballplayers and he was sent back to his home in Scranton, Pennsylvania”

The paper said Ward’s wife had suggested he take the position because it might “build him up,” after the electrocution, but the stress was “too much for him.”

Four months after Ward’s reunion with Comiskey, The Pittsburgh Gazette Times said he was “near death,” a pitiable wreck,” suffering from “brain disease,” in an Altoona hospital.

Ten months later, on October 23, 1912, 45-year-old Piggy Ward died. The Altoona Tribune called him “one of the most famous diamond stars in the land,” and said:

“He possessed several expensive pins, a beautiful watch, and other jewelry presented to him by admirers when he was thrilling fandom with his feats.”

“The Charming and Fascinating Pig Ward”

14 May

It was as a “coacher” that Piggy Ward—who appeared in 221 games over parts of six seasons with five National League teams between 1883 and 1894—was best known

That reputation began in the minor leagues. In 1889, when Ward was with the Hamilton Hams in the International League, The Detroit Free Press described him:

“A squatty, thickset man, with a bull neck, loaferish appearance, and voice a combination of the bellowing of a bull and braying of a donkey, attempted to make himself conspicuous in yesterday’s game and succeeded, to the intense disgust of the 1200 people present. Whenever the Hamiltons went to bat this unmitigated nuisance placed himself near third base and bellowed, roared, and ranted till everybody in the park was seized with a burning desire to rush upon and club him into silence.”

The paper called him “The champion lunatic of the noisy coaching clan,” but softened somewhat in their assessment of Ward later when it appeared he would not be returning to the International League:

“There is burning curiosity in this vicinity to whether the Hamilton management intends to sign that meadowlark of the ball field, the charming and fascinating Pig Ward. The echoes of his weird voice still reverberate around Recreation Park.”

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The press, for the most part, did not approve of his technique. The Buffalo Express said:

“Ward’s coaching is too coarse altogether and should be stopped. The umpire’s voice is drowned in his babble.”

When he played for the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association in 1893, The Birmingham Times noted that he was the first player of the season to be fined for his “loaferish behavior,” while coaching, the paper also said Ward “has entirely too good an opinion of his own merits and too much contempt for the lesser deficiencies of his brother players.”

Ward’s coaching received greater attention when he joined the Washington Senators in 1894.

The Washington Star said during one game in July, “Ward’s lamentations were loud, continuous, and contentious—so much so that (umpire Bob) Emslie warned Capt. (Bill) Joyce that ‘Piggy’ would be sent to the bench if he didn’t keep quiet.”

O. P. Caylor of The New York Herald, in noting that “noisy coaching” had become more widespread that year, referred to the, “(Tommy) Tucker—(Dad) Clarke—‘Piggy’ Ward method of making noise by howling and shrieking from the coaching lines, in order to ‘rattle’ the opposing pitcher.”

Caylor did not approve, and said the practice because “in part, the science of the game is obscured, owing to the frantic attempts of the players to confuse one another.”

Cap Anson agreed, telling Caylor:

“It isn’t respectable ball playing and neither will I adopt that method or let any of my players use it.”

Ward’s “coaching” caused Anson’s Colts a loss on July 8. The Chicago Inter Ocean was not amused:

“The trick which ‘Pig’ Ward resorted to yesterday in the seventh inning no doubt won the game for Washington, but if (manager Gus) Schmelz were not impervious to all decency and self-respect he would release the man on the ground of dirty ball playing. (Ed) Cartwright had hit a high fly to infield, for which (Charlie) Irwin ran. It was a hard sprint, but the shortstop got well under it, when Ward, imitating the voice of Anson, called out ‘(Bill) Dahlen!’ Irwin, who had to keep his eyes up in the air, of course dropped the ball. Cartwright and (Win) Mercer subsequently scored. The game finished 9 to 8, so that these two runs did the work.”

The paper complained that “under the rules there was nothing Umpire (Jack) McQuaid to do except to the fine the fellow, but even this that functionary refused to do. He should have been fined the limit and ordered off the diamond.”

That same season, his coaching, and the extra effort he added to it, drew the ire of The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“When a rotten ball player wants to keep his job, he resorts to dirty tricks to conch his position with his manager. Piggy Ward belongs to this class, and his latest is to paw first with his big feet around first base so as to blind the first baseman and prevent him from seeing thrown or batted balls.”

As Ward’s coaching antics became more commented upon and the nickname “Piggy” became more frequently used for him, The Brooklyn Citizen speculated it was “probably to distinguish him from Brooklyn’s gentlemanly and able Captain,” John Montgomery Ward.

Ward also engaged with fans form the “coacher’s box.” When he returned to Cincinnati as a member of the Senators, The Enquirer related a verbal sparring match Ward engaged in with a fan during a game:

“Piggy Ward is a good coacher. He is on the line nearly all the time, and he has been the target of a good many taunts and unkind remarks from the stand in the two games the last two days. He doesn’t seem to mind it a bit but goes on giving his directions and trying to rattle the opposing team as though everything that came to ears was complimentary.

“Yesterday, a waiter in a downtown restaurant who was with a party of fellow waiters, yelled at Ward:

‘”Who told you that you could play ball? You ought to be behind a plow.’

“’Is that so?’ said Piggy. ‘What are you doing for a living now? The same thing, I suppose. Turning cakes in a fifteen-cent restaurant?’

“Whether it was a chance thrust or not it went home, and for a few moments the waiters and those n the vicinity made matters unpleasant for the fresh young man who endeavored to kid the ballplayer.

Despite having his best major league season at the plate in 1894—hitting .303 in 98 games with the Washington Senators—Ward, who also committed 52 errors at four positions, was often belittled in the press. Sporting Life said:

“Piggy Ward of the Washingtons appears to like the bench better than the field. He was ordered there during the season oftener than any other player in the League.”

Sporting Life also called him “A wretchedly bad second baseman.”

The Star related a conversation between him and his manager:

“’Are you a ballplayer?’ said Schmelz to Piggy Ward. ‘Well, the newspapers say I’m not,’ responded the ever-ready Piggy.”

Ward fractured his thumb on August 14, The Washington Post said the injury occurred while he was “trying to tag a man” at second base.  The injury kept him out of the lineup for several days.

He was released by Washington, ending his big-league career, but not his reputation as a “coacher,” or his story.

Shortly after being let go by Washington, Ward became more of a local hero in his hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania. A fire broke out in the shop of a black barber named J. H. Crocker. The Altoona Tribune said, after several people, tried but failed to get through the dense smoke:

“Frank Ward then made another attempt to get in and succeeded in catching hold of the arm of the man and dragging him out.”

While the man later died, Ward’s heroics were reported in major newspapers in the East.

More Ward tomorrow.

“He is a Disorganizer”

13 May

Piggy Ward’s 1891 season provides both a glimpse of the life of the itinerant 19th Century ballplayer and his tendency to be his own worst enemy.

He started the year out West, playing for John McCloskey’s Sacramento Senators in the California League. Along with a teammate named Jack Huston—who had been on clubs with Ward in Galveston, Texas and Spokane, Washington in 1890—he skipped town on May 28. Both players had joined the Sacramento club in the first place despite being on the reserve list of Spokane.

According to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Ward was hitting a league-leading .361, had 24 stolen bases and had scored 41 runs in 36 California League games before he jumped.

The Sacramento Record-Union said of his departure:

“Ward was, in one sense, a valuable man in the team. He was only ordinary as a fielder, or center-bag-guarder, but he exercised the best judgment. He is a good bunter, and his success in base running lies on the fact that he always knows when to take advantage of a chance. But, on the other hand, he is a disorganizer, and caused many a rupture in the Sacramento team.”

Both players left California headed to meet their new club, the Spokane Bunchgrassers of the Pacific Northwest League, owing the Sacramento team’s management money—Ward $141, and Huston “$121, besides a $15 suit of clothes”—and both were arrested when they arrived.

The Record-Union said, John Barnes, the Spokane manager, squared the debt for the two jumpers, who were in the lineup for Spokane the next day—Ward had four hits (and committed two errors) and Huston pitched the final two innings in a 12 to 3 victory over Seattle.

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Ward, standing far right, Huston, standing second from left, and Barnes, seated center, with the 1890 Spokane club

Huston, apparently, felt some loyalty towards his new club, and remained with them for the remainder of the season, while Ward was heading east days later to join the Minneapolis Millers of the Western Association.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune said after Ward went 1 for 2 with a walk, stolen base, and two runs—and played error free ball in right field—in his debut:

“(T)he California phenomenon…is a good batter, coacher, and base runner. The general consensus of opinion was that he’ll do.”

Ward hit .357 in 54 games, which caused the injury-decimated, National League cellar dwelling Pittsburgh Pirates to purchase his contract.

The Pittsburgh Post noted his tendency to jump teams, but said the “rumpus” over his California to Spokane jump had been “amicably settled,” and of the jump to Minneapolis:

“This wrong-doing was also amicably settled.”

Ward was acquired on August 12 but chose to visit his home in Altoona before reporting to the Pirates and apparently did not bother to let the team know. On August 22, The Pittsburgh Press said team president J. Palmer O’Neil “is using the telegraph wires freely today trying to trace the player.” Ward finally arrived the following day; The Press said he reported with a sore back and because “all the men are now playing good ball, Manager (Bill) McGunnigle will not put him in until he is in perfect condition.”

As a result, he appeared in just six games, hit .333 in 18 at bats and made one error in six total chances in the outfield before being released on September 7.

After being let go by Pittsburgh, he headed back to Spokane, but on his way, The Saint Paul Globe said, “The fat all-around ball player seen in a Minneapolis uniform this season,” played briefly with the Oconto club in the Wisconsin State League. The Oshkosh Northwestern reported on September 10 that Ward had signed with Oconto, and he played the following day—Oconto lost 9 to 5 to Oshkosh.

Ward arrived back in Spokane in mid-September and rejoined Huston and the Bunchgrassers. When he returned, The Post-Intelligencer complained that “Ward will receive a salary that will run far above the limit in this league.”

He finished the season with the club—and hit .412 in 12 games –but wore out his welcome. Spokane was struggling to hold onto first place in the closing days of the season—they would lose the pennant the Portland Gladiators by one game—and Ward seemed to succumb to the pressure. The Spokane Review said, during a frustrating 12 to 8 loss that Ward punched Portland’s John Darrah in the stomach as Darrah rounded first in the fifth inning.

He was fined $25 and thrown out of the game. The Spokane Review said:

“If Ward used the vile language during the game attributed to him, he certainly should be disciplined by Manager (John) Barnes. In addition to punching Darrah he also hit (Milt) Whitehead in the stomach with his fist when the latter touched him out in the fifth.”

Ward ended his 1891 season where it began, playing for John McCloskey in Sacramento. The San Francisco Call said he “came jumping back again in a penitent mood.”  The Record-Union said, “cranks were greatly surprised to see Ward playing in the center garden,” when he took the field for his first game back on October 18. The San Francisco Call said he left the team a month later, a week before the close of the season, because of an unknown illness.

More of Ward’s story tomorrow.

“He is Thoroughly Incompetent and Could do no Better”

12 May

After the Cincinnati Reds traded for Piggy Ward in June of 1893, Alonzo Flanner of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of his first visit to play the Browns with his new club:

“Ward, one of Comiskey’s latest acquisitions, is a great baseball player. He got his base every time he came to bat yesterday. He steals bases with a gavotte step and coaches like a cow with a cough but can’t field a little bit.”

Flanner had more to say later the same month:

“Ward, the young man with the waddle and voice like a catarrhal cow, who essayed to play right field for Cincinnati. He shows the happiest faculty for muffing, fumbling, and wild throwing of any young man masquerading in a League uniform and drawing salary.”

The observations appear to be accurate; in 42 games with the Reds, Ward hit .280, stole 27 bases, and made 13 errors in just 75 chances in the outfield. The Reds released him in August.

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Frank Gray “Piggy” Ward

The Cincinnati Enquirer said of Ward’s two-month tenure with the club:

“His opening was a dream. For weeks after he started in with the Reds, he was the talk of the town. He stood on the topmost pinnacle in the esteem of the local enthusiasts. Then came the awful exhibition of yellow fielding in the Fourth of July games.”

Ward played right field in the first game and left field in the second against Philadelphia on July 4. He was charged with two errors in the first game and one in second, and the paper said, “His miserable work in the field,” accounted for “no less than six” of Philadelphia’s 15 runs in their 15-14 victory in the first game, but allowed:

“Ward should not be blamed too harshly, because he is thoroughly incompetent and could do no better.”

After the Fourth of July debacle, The Enquirer said:

“No one could be found to fill his place as well, and again Ward had a chance to show himself. So well did he take advantage of this opportunity that it is safe to say of all the players that have been released by the Cincinnati Club none of them ever left behind such a feeling of universal regret as this same Ward.”

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The Cincinnati Enquirer after the July 4 double header

The Enquirer was so appalled by Ward’s performance that the paper referenced it at length a year later on Independence Day:

“The Exhibition of how not to play the game of ball given by Piggy that day will never be forgotten by those unfortunate enough to witness it. Such fielding was nauseating.”

The Cincinnati Commercial Gazette said, “There is nothing that that so disgusts a Cincinnati base ball crowd as poor fielding.”

Ward had arrived in Cincinnati with a reputation. He appeared in a major league game at age 16—playing third base for the Philadelphia Quakers on June 12, 1883; he was 0 for 5 and reached on an error. The Philadelphia Times description of Ward’s debut is ironic given later assessments of his skills:

“(Ward) fielded well but was weak at the bat and a very slow runner.”

After that single game, he bounced all over the US and Canada—and made two more brief stops in the big leagues between 1887 and 1891—after his first game in the outfield for the Quakers in his second trial with the club in 1889, The Philadelphia Enquirer said, “he proved conclusively he cannot play the outfield.”

He was also, by all accounts, a bit eccentric:

While playing with the Hamilton Hams in the International League, The Toronto Mail said he, “tried one of his supposed funny fakes.”

Ward handed a potato to pitcher Bill Pfann who was supposed to throw the potato over first baseman Ed Swartwood’s head.  Pfann was apparently slow on the uptake and threw the potato to Swartwood “and (Toronto Canucks Tom) McLaughlin was therefore not caught by the trick.”

Ward made at least one other documented attempt at the hidden ball trick—this time without a potato—during his brief stop with the Baltimore Orioles in June of 1893 in a game with Louisville. The Baltimore Sun described the play:

“Ward walked to the pitcher’s plate as if to advise (Kirtley) Baker on some point of the game. Then he walked back to first base. Baker resumed his position on the plate as if to pitch, but (Fred) Pfeffer had seen Ward take the ball and did not remove his foot from first base.”

Pfeffer pointed out the situation to umpire Michael McLaughlin and Baker was charged with a balk.

Pfeffer told the paper:

“I did intend at first , for the fun of the thing, to let Ward touch me with the ball by stepping off the base and then calling the umpire’s attention to the balk, but it occurred to me that the umpire might not have seen the play and would therefore decide against me. You have to be careful on such points.”

Ward’s was also considered by many to be a clubhouse cancer throughout his career. He started the 1893 season with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association. After Ward left the Pelicans, The New Orleans Times-Democrat said team president Charles Genslinger called Ward “a dissenter of the worst type and kept the local club in constant internal turmoil until his departure.”

Among Genslinger’s charges were that Ward had been the “sole cause” of an early season uprising that caused several of the team’s best players—including Count Campau, Pat Luby, and Mark Polhemus– to attempt to secure their releases, and that manager Abner “Powell ordered Ward to stop smoking in uniform, and as he persisted in the disobedience to orders he was compelled to impose a heavy fine.”

More of Ward’s story tomorrow.

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #42

11 May

Poker and Baseball

Tigers coach Jimmy Burke told The Detroit News in 1915:

“The good poker players on a ball club are generally the brainiest and best ball players.”

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Burke

Burke said he was opposed to gambling but nevertheless:

“The snap judgment, the taking of quick advantage of openings, and the continual head work required in the great indoor sport is the same type that makes a good ball player great on the diamond. There are a lot of good ball payers who do not play much poker, but the good poker players on a team usually are the smartest and most brilliant players.”

The News assured readers that poker games among the Detroit players all ended “at 11 PM and never exceed a five or 10 cent limit.”

Cobb on Dean

In 1937, Ty Cobb told Grantland Rice of The New York Herald Tribune that he was an “admirer” of Dizzy Dean:

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Dean

 

“I saw him work in an exhibition last fall. Dizzy was using a change of pace and a side-arm delivery. I asked him to show me a few overhands. The next inning, he used nothing but an overhand delivery, and he had plenty on it. He proved to me that he had about everything a good pitcher needs—including smartness and control.”

Cobb had one criticism of Dean:

“I still think Dizzy would be better off if he worked more in the general interest of the team, and his manager, Frank Frisch. You might call this color and like it—but baseball is supposed to be a team game, and the manager is supposed to be the boss. I know. I felt that way about Hughie Jennings when he ran the Tigers.”

Rickey’s Priorities

Nine games into the University of Michigan’s 1913 season, George Sisler was hitting .528 in 36 at bats and was the team’s top pitcher—in a late April game against Kentucky State University Sisler worked five innings, and according to The Associated Press (AP), “He struck out 14 batters, and caught a pop fly sent up by the fifteenth man.”

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Sisler

On the same trip through the South, the wire service said Sisler was called in to pitch the final inning of a game when the club needed to catch a train and needed a quick finish:

“This he did by pitching nine balls, striking out the last three batters, who only heard the ball whizz past.”

Despite his success, The AP said that his coach Branch Rickey, “is worried about Sisler,” because his star player had other priorities.

“Rickey claims he has to all but kidnap Sisler to get him away from his books to practice…Sisler’s ambition is to shine in his class work and Rickey is afraid his studious disposition will ruin his ‘batting eye.’”

Rowland’s Superstition

8 May

When Clarence “Pants” Rowland became an investor in the Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association in 1919, and took over from Jack Egan as manager, The Chicago Daily News said he was making some changes:

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“He is superstitious but claims to have facts to bear out the superstition.”

Rowland moved the team’s office and changed the phone number:

“The room was No. 1300 in a downtown building and the telephone in the office was Grand 13. So Rowland decided to change.”

“Since the “13” office has been occupied by the Brewers the following star of misfortune has traced the club:

“Dan McGann, a first sacker, committed suicide, while a member of ( former manager) John McColskey’s team.

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Dan McGann

“Dan Shay was held on a murder charge while managing the club, although he was exonerated by a jury in Indianapolis.

Ned Egan, signed to manage in 1918 ( no relation to Jack Egan,  to the man who replaced him) became ill suddenly and was removed from St. Paul to a local sanatorium, after which he went to Chicago and was found dead in a hotel. A coroner decided Egan committed suicide.

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Ned Egan

Charles M. Havenor [sic, Charles S.], owner of the club, died some years ago (1912—although the team won league championships in the two seasons following his death).”

With the exception of McGann, the article left out most of the “Milwaukee First Base Jinx,” which included the 1911 murder of Arthur Brown, Quait Bateman’s stabbing at the hands of Charlie Dexter, and early death of one-time Milwaukee first baseman Jiggs Donohue.

Despite changing offices and phone numbers, Rowland’s Brewers finished in seventh place—Rowland sold his stake in the club and was replaced as manager by the man he replaced: Jack Egan.  Milwaukee would not win another American Association championship until 1936.

“Joe Cantillon Offered to Trade Ball Teams”

7 May

Bill Veeck is credited with being the first to say, “Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.”

Pongo Joe Cantillon might have thought this after the 1913 American Association season.

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Cantillon

John H. Ritchie, sports editor of The Minneapolis Journal told the story:

“Few baseball bugs have ever heard of the time when Joe Cantillon offered to trade ball teams with George Tebeau—and George backed down.”

Early in the 1913 season, the two were speaking before Cantillon’s Minneapolis Millers played Tebeau’s Kansas City Blues.

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Tebeau

“George felicitated Joe on having gathered a good team. Tebeau called them the best of the league and said something about Joe not having any excuse if he lost the pennant with such a team.

“’Pong’ looked at Tebeau is quizzical style and remarked ‘I don’t think so awfully well of my prospects. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll trade my whole ball club for right now as it stands, for yours. I’ll trade you absolutely even this minute and we’ll play the game today as the teams stand. When you leave tonight, you take my old team with you and I’ll keep your old team here. Whatchesay?’”

Ritchie said Tebeau turned to Cantillon’s brother and business partner, Mike, and asked if he was willing to make the trade his brother offered.

“Mike replied that whatever Joe said went for the whole Cantillon family. Tebeau studied a while longer and decided it wasn’t a good day to trade. And Joseph has sworn ever since that he would have traded Tebeau in the twinkling of an eye if the magnate had accepted.”

Cantillon’s Millers were 97-70 and finished in second place, three games back of the champion Milwaukee Brewer. Tebeau’s Blues finished tied for sixth with a 69-98 record

“Danny had been Drinking Steadily”

6 May

In July of 1893, the Brooklyn Grooms announced that veteran second baseman Danny Richardson had been suspended.

Manager Dave Foutz told The Brooklyn Citizen:

“I have laid Richardson off without pay until he can get into condition. While we were in Baltimore Richardson shut himself in his room at the hotel and said he was sick. He never sent any communication to me, however, and as I knew a thing or two, I decided to lay him off.”

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Richardson

Team president Charles Byrne was more direct, telling the paper “Danny had been drinking steadily, and had not tried to play ball.”

Byrne said:

“He went astray once before but he promised to reform and said he had been treated well and had no fault to find with the club.”

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Byrne

Byrne said on the road trip the team had just finished, “Richardson constantly violated the club’s rules, and greatly weakened the team through his inability to play ball properly.”

On that trip, which began on June 26, the Grooms won the first five games—putting them in first place—then they dropped 14 of 15 (with a tie); putting them in 5th place, eight and  half games back before returning to Brooklyn.

Richardson defended himself in The Citizen:

“I am a sick man. I have a certificate from a physician which ought to convince Manager Foutz that I am unable to play ball. My stomach has been troubling me and my lungs are weak. I have had a bad cold which has affected my lungs since the season opened. I want to deny that I have been drinking. This layoff is merely to get rid of paying me my money. I have never been charged with drinking before, and I have always borne the reputation of being a reliable player. When a man’s sick he can’t play ball, and that’s all there is to it.”

The Brooklyn Standard Union said Richardson “says he is falsely accused of ‘tippling;’ that the false news has reached his home and his business partner, thereby injuring his reputation,” and that he would not play for Brooklyn again unless Foutz and Byrne “retract what is alleged.”

Richardson, who had lived his entire life in Elmira, New York, and was a partner in a local dry goods firm, Sheehan, Dean & Company which operated stores in New York and Pennsylvania—he remained with the company for the rest of his life—was extremely popular, and the town’s paper’s took up his cause. The Gazette and Free Press made it clear where the locals stood:

“The reports…will not affect his excellent reputation as a good ball player, and an enterprising businessman, in the least. Everybody here knows Dan too well to take any stock in Manager Foutz’ charges.”

New York sportswriters quickly took sides as well. O.P. Caylor, in The New York Herald said up until the suspension, “very few baseball patrons knew” that Richardson drank to excess, “But to those more intimately acquainted with him it was no news that Danny went off on a quiet ‘bat;’ occasionally.”

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 Caylor

He also made it clear he thought the infielder was overrated to begin with:

“Richardson has been known as the ‘King of second baseman.’ He probably should have divided that honor with (Bid) McPhee, and (Fred) Dunlap, (Ross) Barnes and (Fred) Pfeffer in their day were, in an all-around sense, Richardson’s superiors.”

Caylor said the “proof” that Richardson “deserved what he got,” was that “The Brooklyn club has a deserving record for leniency and square dealing with its ballplayers. No club in the country acts more fairly toward with its ballplayers.” Therefore he concluded, suspending him meant there was “no shadow of doubt,” about Richardson’s guilt.

Richardson’s fate highlighted “the greatest of all evils” in baseball, said Caylor:

“Why it is that more than 50 percent of professional baseball players are excessive users of intoxicating liquors is a problem that has not yet been worked out.”

Sam Crane, infielder turned baseball writer, said in The New York Press that Richardson was being treated unfairly. He criticized Foutz and Byrne for spreading rumors about the second baseman before news of the suspension broke. Crane said while he covered Richardson during his years with the Giants:

“(He) was a model player in every way and was often held up as an example for other players to follow. He was a credit to the profession, and not a breath of suspicion ever touched him.”

Crane was concerned by the team’s “spiteful tone,” and felt that Richardson might never play again:

“This may be base ball law, but it is doubtful if it would be held as lawful in any court in this broad land, and it is not likely that any but a baseball magnate would so consider it.”

Byrne doubled down after Richardson’s demand for a retraction. He gave The Brooklyn Eagle a detailed account of the games Richardson missed and why:

“”Mr. Richardson says he’s been sick. Very likely, but there is usually cause for sickness. His sick spells began early in the season. On May 9, in New York Mr. Richardson about the second inning had to leave the game. He said his head was dizzy and he could not see. He failed to report the next day. He played from May 11 to May 27 inclusive. He was unfit to play ball May 29 and failed to report for either of the games of Memorial Day.”

Additionally, Byrne said, Richardson “made his appearance in Brooklyn” late on June 5 and “His appearance was painfully noticeable.” And, Richardson’s “sick spells” always seemed to happen on Mondays and continued throughout June.

Byrne told the paper that he spoke to his player before the road trip:

“Richardson admitted most frankly to me that he had not done right, that he was heartily ashamed of himself, but that he had made up his mind to stop his nonsense and by good work redeem himself.”

Byrne said Richardson behaved badly on road trip, including an incident in the billiard room at the Gibson House Hotel in Cincinnati, where Foutz “as a matter of kindness, went to him and begged him not to make a show of himself in a public place.”

When Richardson failed to arrive at the ballpark in Baltimore on July 18 and 19, Byrne said the team could not “be imposed upon any longer.”

Byrne told The Standard Union:

“There will be no withdrawal or apology of any statements made–we have never made charges—because everything so far published is true. Mr. Richardson—if we desire his services—will play with Brooklyn or not at all. He will not be released; he will not be exchanged for the best ballplayer in the country, not can his services be secured for any money consideration whatever.”

With the situation at an impasse, The Eagle saw one upside:

“The recent trouble in the Brooklyn team which resulted in the suspension of Danny Richardson, was the cause of Brooklyn securing, beyond all odds, the latest youngster in the league. William H. Keeler.”

The Grooms purchased Keeler from the Giants for $800 five days after Richardson’s suspension. Two weeks later, The Eagle said:

“When he joined the team he was a good man, but of course, he lacked the knowledge of the intricate points possessed by the old timers, In a short while, however he mastered all the points, and today is the equal of any of the star players.”

Keeler hit .313 in 20 games, but apparently did not impress Foutz and Byrne as much he impressed The Eagle; he was traded to Baltimore with Dan Brouthers for George Treadway and Billy Shindle before the 1894 season.

Richardson hid out from the controversy in Elizabethtown, New York, and according to The Elizabethtown Post, played at least one game with the town’s club:

“(Richardson) played with the home team and very materially aided in the happy result (a 16 to 14 victory). His brilliant playing was closely watched by a large crowd of spectators and for the space of two hours he was little less than an idol. When he made an excusable muff, owing to collision with a base runner it was the surprise of the season to think him human enough to err.”

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Richardson’s game in Elizabethtown

Richardson returned to Elmira in October and played games with the local amateur team, the Cornings.

Rumors began circulating in December that Richardson and team would come to some compromise; The New York World made the paper’s position in the dispute clear:

“The Brooklyn Baseball Club, it is said, will extend clemency to Danny Richardson next year and condescendingly allow him to breathe and play ball next year if he so desires.”

On December 14, the team announced that Richardson was free to play in 1884. The team’s treasurer, Ferdinand A. “Gus” Abell told The Standard Union:

“If Foutz wants Richardson to play second base, the latter is at liberty to come to Brooklyn next spring and sign a contract. If Richardson is not wanted, I’d be perfectly willing to trade him off; but I wouldn’t sell his release. New York can have him for (Amos) Rusie or one of their star players, as I think he would attend to business under (John Montgomery) Ward and play good ball.”

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Foutz

Brooklyn appeared to keep the door open for the second baseman to return. Foutz told The Brooklyn Times in January that he wrote Richardson “asking him what his intentions were,” but that he had received no reply.” The New York Herald said that Richardson wrote in letter that he was “afraid that if he should decide to play under Foutz again the cranks would give him a roasting whenever he made an error.”

Several trades were rumored over the next several months. The Herald said four clubs—Louisville, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and New York– wanted him, The Chicago Tribune said Richardson would be traded to St. Louis for Kid Gleason, The Philadelphia Inquirer said the Giants had offered outfielder Mike Tiernan in trade, while The Louisville Times said Richardson would be traded there for Tom Brown.

In February, The Louisville Courier-Journal said Richardson would be sold to the Colonels:

“The exact amount is a secret, but it is not far from $2500.”

But the deal became stalled for a month, with news that either Richardson, despite meeting with manager Billy Barnie and captain Fred Pfeffer in New York , was still hesitant about joining them in Kentucky, or that the Colonels were trying to pay less than originally agreed upon.

When the Brooklyn correspondent for Sporting Life claimed, “Louisville sighs for Richardson, and bothers Brooklyn for him, but when asked a fair price…offer one half the amount.,” The Courier-Journal responded:

“It does seem a little steep to pay $2500 for a player who was suspended for dissipation.”

The deal was finally made on March 15, Louisville paid $2250. The New York Press said that Byrne “thought that was a good amount,” because it was the same Brooklyn paid Washington when they traded Bill Joyce and cash to acquire him.

Barnie told The Courier his team’s prospects for 1894 rested on having acquired Richardson:

“There had been so much talk and Danny is a man of such great value, that I felt we must get him or quit. We couldn’t afford to quit, so we just got him.”

Louisville went 36-94 and finished in 12th place; Richardson moved to shortstop, played in 116 games and hit .256; the keystone combination of Pfeffer and Richardson accounted for 132 errors.

In the season’s final week, after the September 24th game—an 8 to 7 loss to the Giants–his team more than 50 games out of first place, Richardson asked for and received his release. The New York World said:

“Danny Richardson has not been on the Louisville payroll since the first part of this week. He forfeited half a month’s pay to be permitted to leave for his home in Elmira. He is tired of baseball, disheartened with the playing of his club and sick of criticisms that fell upon him when he took chances to make difficult plays and missed the plays. It is likely that he will give up baseball.”

The 31-year-old never played another major league game.

“I’ll cut your Blankety-Blank eye out”

5 May

Jimmy Burke told The Kansas City Star, baseball was “a regular lady’s game nowadays,” in 1914.

The Star said of Burke, then a coach for the Detroit Tigers, who played for and managed the Kansas City Blues in the American Association in 1906 and 1907:

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Jimmy Burke

“This veteran of the old times, when the majority of diamond performers were so tough that you could crack hickory nuts on their heads, has not easily become reconciled to the genteel behavior ad drawing-room manners of modern athletes.”

He said, “Handshaking players” were almost unknown “in his day,” but:

“The boys all act like gentlemen on and off the field now. If a man happens to make a one-handed catch of a liner he tells the victim he is sorry he robbed him of a hit, and if a pitcher ‘beans’ a guy he is so broken up that he isn’t able to continue. You bet things weren’t like this when I broke in.

“The best you got then was a curse, and the way those base runners would fling their spikes around in sliding was a caution. ‘Get out of my way or I’ll cut your blankety-blank eye out.’ Was what they used to yell at the baseman. Sand they were the boys who would do it too; don’t make any mistake about that.”

Burke said in his day, “it wasn’t considered a legal game of ball by some clubs unless there was a fist fight somewhere along the way. Battles on the diamond, in the clubhouse and in the hotels were so common that nobody paid much attention to them.”