Tag Archives: Abe Kemp

“The Sacred Cloth”

26 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mollwitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oaks manager Ivan Howard asked Byron:

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

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

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

Lorenz told the paper:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost Pictures: Van Haltren

31 May

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Seventy-two-year-old George Van Haltren (center, with Bill Steen and Jack Kennedy) at the San Francisco Seals’ third annual old-timers game on August 5, 1934.

Van Haltren was the oldest player to participate in  the game; The Associated Press reported that Connie Bigelow, who played for various San Francisco based teams in the 1870s and Mike Fisher, who played for local teams in the 1880s, were the only two present who were older, although neither played.

Van Haltren provided the biggest highlight of the three inning game. Abe Kemp, who covered baseball for The San Francisco Examiner for more than 40 years, said:

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Van Haltren’s hit

“George Van Haltren singles to right.

“Forty years ago, New York baseball fans expected such a thing to happen because it happened frequently, but when a fellow is crawling along in the seventies, as Van is, it approximates quite a feat; yet that is what this grand old warrior did yesterday in his first and only trip to the plate.”

Van Haltren’s Haverly’s lost 6 to 4 to the Pioneers.

 

 

Coast League Stories

5 Dec

Abe Kemp began working at newspapers in San Francisco in 1907, when he was 14 years old, and spent the next 62 years primarily at The San Francisco Examiner where he covered his two passions, baseball and horse racing.

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Abe Kemp

Over the years he collected a number of stories of baseball on the West Coast.

Catcher Tubby Spencer hit just .127 in 21 games for the San Francisco Seals in 1913. Contemporaneous reports said Spencer wore out his welcome with manager Del Howard in Portland. Years later, Kemp said the decision to let Spencer go was made during a team stopover in Sonoma County, and not by Howard. Kemp said he saw:

“Spencer staggering down the highway at Boyes Hot Springs one morning and President/Owner Cal Ewing yelling at him, ‘Hey, ‘Tub,’ where are you going?’

“’I’m going for a little air,’ yelled back Tub.

“’Then keep going,’ shouted Ewing, ‘because you will need it. You’re through.’”

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Tubby Spencer

Harry “Slim” Nelson was a mediocre left-handed pitcher and weak hitter who played a half a dozen years on the West Coast. Kemp told of witnessing him “hit a home run through the screen at Recreation Park” in San Francisco when Nelson was playing for the Oakland Oaks.

“(He) became so excited when he reached second base that he swallowed his cud of chewing tobacco. Later on the bench, Slim was asked how the home run felt and he replied ‘it would have felt a whole lot better if I could have cut it up into singles to last me the season.”

Kemp said when George Van Haltren made the switch from Oaks player to Pacific Coast League umpire in 1909 he told Kemp and umpire Jack McCarthy “umpiring would be easy…because he had so many friends,” throughout the league. Kemp said McCarty responded:

“You mean you had so many friends. You haven’t any now.”

McCarthy appears to have been correct. Van Haltren was criticized throughout his short time as a Coast League umpire, and became a West Coast scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates the following two seasons. Van Haltren made one more attempt as an umpire, joining the Northwestern League staff in 1912; he was no more successful, lasting only one season after incurring the season-long wrath of Seattle Siwashes owner Dan Dugdale who demanded Van Haltren not be retained for the 1913 season.

George Van Haltren

Another player who had similar training habits to Tubby Spencer, according to Kemp, was Charles “Truck Eagan. Kemp said he was with Vernon Tigers manager Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray one day when Eagan played for the Tigers near the end of his career in 1909:

“Eagan, suffering from the effects of a bad night (told) manager Hap Hogan he was suffering from an attack of ptomaine poisoning.

‘”What did you eat’ the artful and suspicious Hogan asked.

“Eagan scratched his head a minute, then said guiltily, ‘It must have been the (bar) pretzels and herring, Hap.”