Tag Archives: 19th Century Baseball

“The Man who Lives in the Santa Claus House””

23 Dec

Walter Sydney Woods earned his nickname “Sunday School Pitcher” because he never played a game on Sunday throughout his 20-year professional career.

Woods also played lacrosse, football, basketball and tennis and was considered one of the best athletes in New Hampshire when he chose to enter professional baseball with Portland in the New England League in 1895.

In 1897, he won 17 games for the Springfield Ponies in the Eastern League and was drafted by the Chicago Orphans.

When Woods arrived in Chicago, it was assumed he’d give up his pledge not to play on Sunday, but he quickly made it clear that he would quit first.  The Sporting Life said:

“Walter Woods, Chicago’s model man, will not play Sunday ball either at home or on the road.  The conscientious youngster who neither smokes, drinks nor swears, also has scruples against participating in games on the Sabbath. He will thus be a standing reproach to all the other members of the Chicago Club”

Woods pitched and played infield and outfield for Chicago, going 9-13 and hitting only .175.  He was traded to the Louisville Colonels the following season and posted an identical pitching record, although The Sporting Life said in July:

“Walter Woods is an unlucky pitcher.  Though pitching finely he has won but two games out of his last eight.”

Woods went to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900 but was released in April.  He spent the next 14 season playing for a variety of teams in the Eastern and New York State Leagues, exclusively as a position player after 1902.

Walter Woods, 1899 Louisville Colonels

Walter Woods, 1899 Louisville Colonels

Woods also coached baseball at the University of New Hampshire from 1897-99 and at Dartmouth from 1912-1915 and played semi-pro football during the winter.  After baseball, he went to work for the US Postal Service.

But to a generation of kids in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, none of that mattered.  At Christmas every year, he was known as “Jolly Wally Woods-the man who lives in the Santa Claus house.”

For about 15 years until his death, kids would line up in front of Woods’ house one day about a week before Christmas and wait for him to appear in an attic window dressed as Santa Claus.  Woods would lower baskets of candy and toys down to the children with a rope, and then on Christmas morning, he was back in the suit with presents for all the neighborhood kids.

Wally Woods

Wally Woods

The “Sunday School Pitcher” died in Portsmouth in 1951.

“A Gilded Youth”

10 Jul

Byron D. J. McKeown was born to wealth in 1872 or ’73 (census records say he was born in july of 1872, his death records list his birth year as 1873).  His father, John, immigrated to Western Pennsylvania from Ireland and struck it rich in the oil business.  By the time he died in 1891 he owned oil wells throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and more than 40,000 acres of land in Mississippi; depending on the source he was worth from $2-$10 million.

Byron, one of five brothers, inherited a large portion of his father’s fortune, although there was a legal battle over the estate for more than 20 years—John’s Irish relatives said they were his proper heirs because they claimed John and his wife were never married.

In 1896, the wealthy 23-year-old, who had been playing amateur baseball and formerly played at Washington and Jefferson College, decided to become a professional baseball player and bought his own team.  The Warren (PA) Evening Democrat said:

“There are but few men of wealth among baseballists, and in all the world there is but one millionaire player.”

McKeown organized a team in the Interstate League in his hometown called the Washington (PA) Little Senators (Some sources incorrectly place the team in Washington D.C.).  His college teammate, David Curran, was the team captain.

The Sporting Life called McKeown “A gilded youth who follows the game for pastime.”  McKeown said:

“I am just playing for the sport of it; I have nothing else to do.  I have a leaning towards baseball and thought I would cultivate it”

There are no statistics for McKeown, but the few surviving assessments of his ability as a player are positive.  Toledo Mud Hens manager Frank Torreyson said:

“McKeown can hit the ball…sometimes he is liable to drive it out of sight.”

The Washington (PA) Observer said:

“McKeown is making quite a record as a first baseman.”

While he appears to have played well, things didn’t go smoothly for McKeown’s team.

While Washington, Pennsylvania, with a population of just more than 7000 was, by far, the smallest town in the Interstate League, initially, there was excitement for the club.  The Observer said that the Western Pennsylvania Agricultural Association was providing a home field for the team at the Washington County Fairgrounds.

The Sporting Life said McKeown was “Sure to receive strong financial support from Washington enthusiasts.”

He didn’t.

Professional baseball was not a hit in the small Pennsylvania town.  By the end of July The Sporting Life said the team had lost more than $4000 dollars and had recently played a home game that had only brought in $3.50 in total receipts.

By September McKeown had lost more than $8000 and decided to disband the team before the end of the season. The Observer said that at one August game there was not a single paid attendee.

Over the next several months, McKeown attempted to buy another Interstate league franchise, the Saginaw Lumbermen.  He told a reporter from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he had “every one of last season’s players reserved,” and would “put a strong team on the field.”

The bid to buy the Lumbermen fell through and after a brief stint as first baseman for an Elks Club team, McKeown seems to have lost interest in playing professionally or owning a team.

Two years later McKeown joined the 10th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, “The Fighting 10th” and served in the Spanish-American War.  The Pittsburgh Daily Post said:

“Western Pennsylvania is sending one of her millionaires  to the front to fight for Cuban Independence…Mr. McKeown has been in sympathy with Cuba in their fight against their mother country.”

Curran, his college and minor league teammate, joined him.

McKeown also fought in the Philippine Insurrection and played first base with his regiment’s baseball team in Manila (Curran played second).

He returned to his business interests in Pennsylvania, and after his 25-year-old wife Nellie died of peritonitis in March of 1902, he began to drink heavily, and his death on November 24,  1904, was attributed to alcoholism.(Several Pennsylvania newspapers said he died on November 23; his death certificate says November 24).

The man responsible for Washington, Pennsylvania’s only professional baseball team, was buried in the Washington Cemetery.

This is an update of a post that originally appeared on December 26, 2012.

Jules Pujol

15 Apr

Jules Pujol was an infielder and outfielder for several professional teams in and around his hometown of New Orleans during the 1880s.  Statistics are unavailable for much of Pujol’s career, but his best season was with New Orleans in the Southern League in 1887 when he hit .314 in 82 games–he played sparingly, and hit no better than .242 after that.

Pujol was born in New Orleans on December 12, 1864.  When he was not playing baseball he was a member of New Orleans’ all-volunteer fire department–the Fireman’s Charitable Association.

Pujol’s statistical decline after his .314 season might be attributed to an incident on Bourbon Street in New Orleans in March of 1888.  Pujol was out celebrating after New Orleans’ annual “Fireman’s Day Parade,” when, according to The New Orleans Times-Picayune he was “Shot and dangerously injured by Police Officer Albert Torregano.”

Pujol was fighting with another man in the bar when the officer approached:

“The officer attempted to make pace and requested Pujol to stop, when the latter said: ‘You want some of it, too,’ and struck him in the face and knocked him down.

“As the officer got up he again asked Pujol to quit, when Pujol knocked him down again, and his brother Luis came up saying, ‘Let me get at him, ‘ and also struck (the officer), and while he was lying there they both kicked him and beat him about the legs and body.”

The officer finally drew his weapon and shot Pujol, “striking Jules under the left shoulder-blade.”  Despite being shot, Pujol “continued chasing the officer.”  Pujol finally “fell to the floor from the loss of blood,” and was taken to the hospital where the wound was “pronounced very dangerous.”  The bullet had “passed through his right lung and striking the third rib lodged in his stomach.”

So dangerous was the wound that several newspapers printed a wire report which said:

“Jules Pujol, late third baseman of the New Orleans club, who was shot in the Crescent a week ago, is dead.”

Reports of Pujol’s demise were premature.  Three weeks after the shooting he was released from the hospital.  The Times-Picayune declared him “cured.”

In April, the assault case against the Pujol  brothers was “continued indefinitely.”  Neither were ever tried,  Louis returned to the fire department, and Jules left for Texas. He played for the Galveston Giants and Houston Babies in the Texas Southern League in 1888 and finished his professional career the following season with mobile in the Southern League.

In 1891, he became a Lieutenant in the newly formed New Orleans Fire Department.

Pujol and four other firefighters, including his brother Louis, were awarded the department’s highest honor for saving nine lives in a fire at the Grunewald Opera Hall at Baronne and Canal Streets in 1892.  According to the book History of the Fire Department in New Orleans (1895), the five went to the roof of a neighboring building, and then swung “A rope to the burning building, hauling a ladder over to bridge from one to the other, and passing the endangered persons across it to a place of safety.”

Jules Pujol, second from left

Pujol rose through the ranks of the department and was an assistant chief–serving under his brother, Chief Louis Pujol–on February 23, 1924, when he responded to a fire at a warehouse on Canal Street.  Pujol died after being trapped in the building when the walls collapsed.  Five other firefighters were seriously injured.

He is interred at Greenwood Cemetery in New Orleans.

A shorter version of this post was published on September 13, 2012

“War Against the Ballplayer”

6 Mar

As baseball continued to gain popularity in Chicago during the 1870s, the amount of pickup games being played in the city’s streets and alleys increased.

By June of 1877 the Chicago Police Department viewed baseball as a nuisance and issued an order to arrest anyone “Throwing balls…in, from, or to any street, sidewalk or alley.”

The Chicago Inter Ocean editorialized about the plan under the headline “War against the Ballplayer:”

 “Every now and again the Police Department of this city is seized with a sort of virtuous spasm, a desire to execute some coup d’état, some brilliant strategic movement which will cover the force with glory, and plant it still deeper in the confidence and affection of the noble taxpayer…Long and patiently have we waited, much have we suffered, loudly complained in vain.  But it has come at last.  War has been declared against the gamins, and the advance guard of the enemy has crossed the alley.”

After similar ridicule from all corners of the city, the order was rescinded by the end of the month and the streets of Chicago were again safe for baseball.

A Thousand Words—Atlanta Osceolas

1 Jan

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George E. Johnson and Edward T. Payne were members of the Atlanta Osceolas in 1872.  The previously undefeated champions of Georgia met their Waterloo at Rome, Georgia.

The Atlanta Constitution said years later that the Osceolas:

“(W)on great fame glory and renown, but alas there came a day of disaster.  There was no rule about getting outside players.  So the club at Rome, GA which had been organized by the late Henry W. Grady (famous Georgia journalist) secured a professional pitcher from New York City.  The Osceolas never made but one measly hit…The erstwhile champions were ingloriously and ignominiously defeated and they returned home to disband and to play no more.”

Many of the players went on to be some of Atlanta’s most prominent citizens.  George Johnson became Atlanta’s recorder and Edward Payne the city’s tax collector.

Actually, it Probably Wasn’t the Superstition

5 Dec

As with George Treadway, a story can get repeated throughout the decades while a large, key portion is lost in the process; such is the case with Billy Earle.

His career ended because of the superstitions of other players who thought he was “creepy,” as David Nemec described him in his excellent book “The Beer and Whiskey League.”  In “The New Bill James Historical Abstract,” James credulously quotes the assertion from sportscaster Bill Stern‘s 1949 book “Favorite Baseball Stories” that Earle was:

“(F)orced out of baseball, because of nothing more than superstition, the belief that he was a hypnotist with the power of ‘the evil eye.’”

For awhile even Earle tried to use it as an excuse.

But actually, it was probably the morphine.

William Moffat Earle was at times a great player, but more often impetuous and prone to jumping contracts.

He earned his nickname “The Little Globetrotter” after being part of the 1888 world tour organized by Albert Spalding.  Earle said of the trip:

“We played everywhere from the catacombs of Rome to Cheops of Egypt, under the shadow of the pyramids and out through India and the Islands of Ceylon.”

Billy Earle and the other members of the world tour

Billy Earle and the other members of the world tour at the Great Sphinx of Giza

After returning from the tour Earle joined the Cincinnati Red Stockings in the American Association.  He bounced back and forth from Major League to minor league teams for the next six years.  During that time, there were a number of humorous references to Earle’s interest in hypnotism, but none claimed it was an impediment to his career; however, in 1897, upon being released after one game with the Columbus Senators of the Western League the legend began.

In September of 1897 a fairly long article appeared in The Baltimore Sun under the headline “A Haunted Ballplayer,” and then ran in papers around the country. The story said:

“(Earle) cannot get a position on any ball team in the country, not even the small minor league teams.”

Earle told a sad story of teammates avoiding him and fearing the “hoodoo.”  He even blamed his being released by Pittsburgh  after the 1893 season on it, ignoring the fact that he was only signed because of injuries to the three other Pirate catchers, Connie Mack, Joe Sugden and Doggie Miller—and emergency catcher Jake Stenzel.

That 1897 story became the story of Billy Earle.

It also said:

 “He is, moreover, a pleasant, intelligent, strictly temperate man.”

The first two might very well have been true.  The last was not.

The rest of the story about Billy Earle has been lost, forgotten, or just ignored.

In August of 1898, The Cincinnati Enquirer told the real story of why Billy Earle had been out of baseball.  The “strictly temperate” Earle was addicted to morphine.

His friend John McGraw helped get him treatment in a Baltimore hospital; his former Cincinnati teammates took up a collection to buy Earle a ticket to Philadelphia to stay with his parents after treatment.

He kicked the habit, and then for three seasons managed and played for an independent team in Richmond, Indiana; he also coached teams in Havana, Cuba during the winters of 1900 and 1902-1904. And he returned to professional baseball; hardly the profile of a blacklisted man.

Earle signed as a player/manager with the 1903 Vicksburg Hill Billies in the Cotton States League.  He continued his playing career through 1906, and either managed or worked as an umpire in Midwest-based leagues through 1911.

Billy Earle, player/manager Columbia Gamecocks 1905.

Billy Earle, player/manager Columbia Gamecocks 1905.

Billy Earle died in Omaha, Nebraska in 1946.

Were there some players in the superstitious world of 19th Century baseball who were uncomfortable playing with or against Earle? Probably.  If he had hit .320 and not had a drug problem would he have had a 10-year or more major league career regardless of superstitions? Probably.

Salaries–1897

15 Nov

After Amos Rusie ended his year-long holdout, the issue of salaries was, as it has been throughout the history of the game, hotly debated—some thought ballplayers were grossly overpaid during a period when the average annual salary in the United States was just under $675.

Amos Rusie

The Fort Wayne Gazette published the following in an effort to address “much questioning as to the salaries paid young players at the present time.”

According to The Gazette National League players averaged $175 to $250 a month “all the way up to $5000 for veterans.”

Other league salaries:

Eastern League: $100-$150 for young players $200-$250 for stars

Western League: $75-$150, up to $300 for stars

Atlantic League: $75-$250

Western Association: $65-$115

Southern League: $75-$100

New England League: $75-$125

Interstate League: $65-$150

The Gazette came down on the side of the players:

“It is customary to speak of the high salaries and easy lives of National League players but the kickers seldom realize that the man who now supports his little family in comfort on $300 a month—probably had to slave two years for perhaps $75 a month, $450 a year…and a probable loss of salary whenever the little league he played with disbanded in arrears.”

“A Star of the First Magnitude”

8 Nov

Huyler Westervelt was going to be the next big thing.

By January of 1894 the New York Giants had been trying to sign the 24-year-old Westervelt for more than two years.   Considered the best amateur pitcher on the East Coast, he pitched for a number of top teams including the Englewood Field Club, New Jersey Athletic Club, and Orange Athletic Club. Westervelt came from a prominent family in Tenafly, New Jersey and said repeatedly that he’d never play professionally.

Huyler Westervelt, standing second from right, with the Englewood Field Club team circa 1893

When Giants owner E.B. Talcott finally convinced Westervelt to play professionally he simply signed a piece of paper which said:

“I hereby agree to play with the New York Base Ball Club for the season of 1894 at a salary of $1800.”

Westervelt made his debut for the Giants on April 21, losing 4-3 to the Baltimore Orioles; but beat the Boston Beaneaters 5-2 on May 5, holding the defending champions to three hits and earning the fawning praise of New York Sporting Times columnist O.P. Caylor who said Westervelt was:

 “(A) newly discovered jewel who has flashed out in the baseball firmament as a star of the first magnitude.

“(On May 5) young Westervelt became famous, and his name flashed over thousands of miles of wires that night, while next day the whole country was reading about his triumph.”

Westervelt struggled for the remainder of the season; prone to wildness he finished with a 7-10 record and 5.04 ERA, but still figured into the Giants future plans.  He refused to sign a contract for 1895 which reduced his salary to $1500—Westervelt was added to Giants’ reserve list, where he would remain for several years.

Westervelt continued playing for amateur teams in New York and New Jersey, while working for the Overman Bicycle Company, and attempted to get the Giants to trade or release him.  He filed an appeal contending that he never signed a National League contract, only the piece of paper he signed with Talcott, and therefore the Giants had no right to put him on the reserve list.  He lost the appeal.

Huyler Westervelt

There were reports in early 1896 that Baltimore Orioles manager Ned Hanlon was trying to acquire the pitcher, they never panned out.  In April The Sporting Life said Westervelt was done with professional baseball, but later in the year he joined the Derby-Shelton Angels in the Naugatuck Valley League; no statistics survive other than a brief mention of a seemingly less than successful August game against the Torrington Tornadoes, “(Westervelt) received the warm reception of 16 hits.”

Westervelt returned to the amateur leagues, playing well into the first decade of the 20th Century, and went to work as a broker on Wall Street.  He remained on the reserve list of the New York Giants through the 1901 season, prompting The Sporting Life to say:

 “By the way, did you notice that New York still reserves Huyler Westervelt?  That is one of the standing jokes of each season.”

Westervelt made one more appearance in professional baseball; according to Baseball Reference he played 17 games for the Bradford Drillers in the Interstate League in 1905; while he is not listed on the roster of the Utica Pent-Ups in the New York-Penn League in 1905, he appeared in at least one game for that team, losing a 5-4 decision to the Troy Trojans on June 23.

While Westervelt never achieved the stardom Caylor predicted for him, he remained an important figure in amateur baseball circles until his death in 1949 at the age of 80.