Tag Archives: Abraham Mills

“He Made Base Ball More Dignified”

18 Feb

Oliver Perry “O. P.” Caylor’s death from tuberculosis in October of 1897 at age 47 took one of the most important chroniclers of 19th Century baseball.

The New York Herald, his last paper, said:

“Mr. Caylor’s fight for life was pathetic in its boldness.”

Caylor

Caylor, who had left the paper a month before his death to go to Winona, Minnesota to seek treatment from a “throat and lung specialist” in a sanitarium, engaged in a “one-sided” struggle, “but on his part it was heroic.”

The paper recounted Caylor’s final visit to the Polo Grounds before he departed for Minnesota:

“(Arriving in) a carriage, accompanied by his wife, and though scarcely able to reach his old seat in the stand, his courage never faltered.”

Caylor had been ill for several years. William “Billy” Norr, the sports editor of The New York World had a morbid wager with Caylor, Sporting Life said:

“(Norr) had made a bet with Caylor every New Year’s Day for seven years that he (Caylor) would die in twelve months.”

The 33-year-old Norr died seven weeks before Caylor after contracting Typhoid Fever:

“Caylor chuckles between hemorrhages, tickled with the idea that he has outlived Norr and is $35 ahead of the game.”

The tragedy of Norr’s early death was compounded when, just a week after the New York Giants and Brooklyn Bridegrooms played a benefit game for his family, his widow, Olga Norr, took her own life, The World said:

“So generous and so greatly beloved had her husband been that it was intended she should never need. She took her life because her heart was broken.”

Caylor’s friends and family were briefly optimistic about Caylor’s chance for recovery:

“He reached (Minnesota) as he predicted he would, and lighthearted letters were returned. He advised that he had gained in both strength and flesh…buoyed with the hope as he was that his fight for life might after all be successful.”

In a letter to friend in St. Louis, Caylor said the specialist he was seeing , “speaks confidently of pulling me through.”

The illness had robbed Caylor of his voice in the last months of his time in New York, but “he wrote column after column in his old-time forcible style, clearly defined, and then smiled at his friend who were astonished with the determination shown and the strength he displayed.”

Of Caylor’s legacy, The Herald said:

“Mr. Caylor was never rugged, but his blows for the welfare of the national game were those of a giant. Delinquent players were never given any quarter. Pitiless sarcasm in the face of abuse and threats of bodily harm were showered upon them, and reformation alone caused his suspension. He deemed it criminal to disappoint the public, and when the lapse of a player was due to his own folly his pointed allusions to the offending cut as a two-edged sword.”

He was, a, “Master of humor, he made giants appear as pygmies, but was quite as ready with words of praise and encouragement as he found them deserved.”

Al Spink of The Sporting News agreed with the assessment, and said that Caylor was unpopular among many players because of his style, but:

“The base ball world will sincerely mourn him, and he will be missed by all newspaper men, for he was a newspaper man in the truest sense. He was sincere in his though, he was above caprice or prejudice in his judgment, he was beyond the reach of corruption in all things. He made base ball more dignified, honorable, and more commendable to honest men by his thirty ears of labor in the legitimate field of sport.”

Francis Richter, the founder and editor of Sporting Life said:

“Hurlburt [sic, Hulbert] and Mills have no successors. There will never be another Harry Wright in our day, nor a successor to Anson when he, too, shall retire. No player is in sight to take up the mantle of the inimitable Latham; no magnates to duplicate the brilliance of Spalding, Reach, Young, Soden, and Byrne, all grown gray in the service of the king of sports; no writer to equal the brilliance of our dead brother Caylor.”

Origin Stories

9 Apr

Timothy Paul “Ted” Sullivan was a player, manager, executive, and the lifelong friend and confidant of Charles Comiskey.

Al Spink, in his 1911 book “The National Game,” said Sullivan was “the best judge of a ball player in America, the man of widest vision in the baseball world, who predicted much for the National game years ago, and whose predictions have all come true.”

Comiskey said of his friend:

“Ted Sullivan’s standing in the profession of baseball cannot be measured by modern standards.   He is in a class all by himself.  He is ever and always ahead of his time, with a knowledge of the game and a versatility that no other baseball man of my acquaintance has ever possessed.”

Ted Sullivan

Ted Sullivan

Sullivan, given his reputation, was a favorite among reporters who sought his opinion about everything related to baseball.

In December of 1904, months before the Mills Commission was organized to determine baseball’s origin, Sullivan was asked by The Cincinnati Enquirer to weigh-in on the subject.  A month earlier Albert Spalding had given a speech at the YMCA training school in Springfield, Massachusetts claiming that baseball “is distinctively an American sport.”  The commission was formed in reaction to Henry Chadwick’s 1903 essay which said baseball was derived from British game rounders—after Spalding’s response, the two agreed to appoint the commission to settle the question.

Henry Chadwick

Henry Chadwick

The Enquirer said;

 “Of all the old-timers in harness Ted Sullivan is as good as the best, or a trifle better, when it comes to reviewing the history of diamond doings of the hoary past.  His memory goes back to year one of baseball and his story of the origin of the game makes a good bit of fan literature for the off season.

“’The origin of baseball may be the evolution of townball, barnball, two-old-cat or yet it may be the suggestion of the three named,’ says Ted.  ‘At any rate, the game is the product of American genius and temperament, and not an offshoot of English rounders, as our English cousins would have us believe.  Of the many times I have been in England and the subject of baseball came up, one Englishman would say to the other: ‘Why, that blooming American game of baseball is nothing but our old game of rounders, you know.’ I have nothing but the highest regard for an Englishman’s love of sport—for it is inherent in a Briton from the present King down, and should an Englishman have only his last sixpence, and should the alternative arise whether he should eat or see a field sport—he would undoubtedly decide in favor of the latter.  I must totally disagree, however, with my British cousins that their primitive and plebian game of rounders is the mother of our national game.  Oh, no dear cousins; chase that idea out of your heads.

“’To say rounders is baseball would be the same as claiming that a palace was a hut because it had a door, or a wheelbarrow a carriage because it had a wheel…From the time that the game was regularly played by the knickerbockers of New York until it became a profession, change after change has been made in the rules, to make the game as perfect as possible in its machinery.  The game is about fifty-five years of age, that is to say, before it became national, as it was played in New York and New England up to 1861, but did not reach the limits of our country until 1865 and 1866.  The most important changes in the rules after the structure of the game was put up was first eliminating a put out on the first bound by an outfielder.”

Like Spalding, Sullivan didn’t provide any specific evidence, and instead made a case that baseball must be an American invention because of “the originality of the American in the line of invention,” and by his logic, baseball was just one in a great line of American innovations:

“America to-day is the inventive torch of the world, and has been for the last fifty years.  The first seed of America’s inventive genius took root in Robert Fulton’s brain when he advocated steam as a motive power.  The next in line was Prof. Morse’s advocacy of the use of telegraph wire as a transmitter of sound.  This invention was followed by the sewing machine that relieved the weary housemaid of her burden.  On its heels came Cyrus McCormick with his farming implements that taught the world how to reap their harvest in one-tenth the time and with a fraction of the labor of former days.  The last of the greatest of America’s inventive thinkers is Tom Edison, the Wizard of Electricity, who has electrified ad illuminated the world by his inventions.”

Sullivan said this demonstrated “the originality of the American in the line of invention—whether it be a pastime or a beneficiary to the commercial world.”

There was no doubt Sullivan was influenced by Spalding’s speech.  Both claimed the game was “natural evolution” of earlier American games, and Sullivan refers to baseball as “the product of American genius and temperament; Spalding said baseball was “peculiarly adapted to the temperament and character of the American people.”

A.G. Spalding

Albert Spalding

Spalding’s speech was reprinted in many newspapers as well as the 1905 edition of “Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide.”

When the formation of the Mills Commission was announced in the spring of 1905 The Washington Post said:

“Inquiries are to be made throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and other English-speaking communities, with a view of ascertaining whether baseball is an evolution of the old English game of rounders, or of the classic American game of one-old-cat.”

The Post ridiculed the effort:

“Those ‘youngsters,’ Father Chadwick and A.G. Spalding, are playing extra innings to decide the origin of baseball.  The general public doesn’t seem to care when or how the game originated.”

The seven-member commission was composed of members sympathetic to the American origin version of Spalding and Sullivan.  Commission members Abraham Mills, Morgan Bulkeley, Arthur Gorman, Nick Young, Al Reach, George Wright and John Edward Sullivan accepted the story of a mining engineer from Denver named Abner Graves, and thus was born the Doubleday myth.  Spalding and Sullivan started with a conclusion and Spalding put together a commission that made it so.

The full text of the Graves’ first  letter to the commission as reprinted in The Sporting Life in august of 1905:

“The American game of base ball was invented by Abner Doubleday, of Cooperstown, N. Y., either the spring prior or following the ‘Log Cabin and Hard Cider’ campaign of General William H. Harrison for the presidency.  Doubleday was then a boy pupil of Green’s Select School in Cooperstown, and the same, who as General Doubleday, won honor at the battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War: The pupils of Otsego Academy and of Green’s Select School were then playing the old game of Town Ball in the following manner:

“A tosser stood close to the home goal and tossed the ball straight upward about six feet for the batsman to strike at on its fall, the latter using a four-inch flat-board bat. All others wanting to play were scattered about the Held, far and near, to catch the ball when hit. The lucky catcher took his innings at the bat. When a batsman struck the ball he ran for a goal fifty feet distant and returned.   If the ball was not caught or if he was not plunked by a thrown ball, while running, he retained his innings, as in Old Cat.

“Doubleday then improved Town Ball, to limit the number of players, as many were hurt in collisions. From twenty to fifty boys took part in the game I have described. He also designed the game to be played by definite teams or sides. Doubleday called the game Base Ball, for there were four bases in it.  Three were places where the runner could rest free from being put out, provided he kept his feet on the 1 flat stone base. The pitcher stood in a six-foot ring. There were eleven players on a side. The ball had a rubber center overwound with yarn to a size somewhat larger than the present day sphere and was covered with leather or buckskin. Anyone getting the ball was entitled to throw it at a runner between the bases and put him out by hitting him with it.

“I well remember some of the best players of sixty years ago. They were Abner Doubleday, Elilin Phinney, Nels C. Brewer. John. C. Graves. Joseph Chaffee. John Starkweather, John Doubleday, Tom Bingham and others who played on the Otsego Academy campus; although a favorite place was o the Phinney farm, on the west shore of Otsego Lake.”

Graves’ recollection would place the first game in 1839 when he was five, and “boy pupil” Doubleday was 20.

 

Davy Force

28 Oct

David W. “Davy” Force was a popular figure in 19th Century baseball.  Francis Richter, founder and editor of The Sporting Life said the five-foot four-inch Force was, along with George Wright ”the two greatest shortstops of the early days of baseball.”  Nick Young, National League president, told Ren Mulford Jr. of The Cincinnati Enquirer that Force was second only to Wright as the greatest.

Davy Force

Davy Force

Force played in the National Association and National League from 1871 to 1886, and finished his professional career in the Western Association with the Sioux City Corn Huskers.

He remained popular, and well-known enough that multiple newspapers reported in 1890 that the former player “sided with the Brotherhood,” and supported the Players League; he even made news that year for growing a beard:  “Force has raised a crop of whiskers as long as himself. “

So when it was reported on Christmas Eve of 1896 that Force had shot and killed a man—a former ballplayer no less–in a San Francisco bar and then fled, the news was reported in papers across the country.

The Louisville Courier Journal:

Ball Player Kills Another

The Cincinnati Enquirer:

Old Cincinnati Ball Player Kills a Man in Frisco

The Salt Lake City Tribune:

Baseball Player Shoots Another Without Warning

The Chicago Tribune:

Police now on Lookout for Force

The Baltimore Sun:

‘Davy’ Force Wanted for Killing a Man

Towns where Force had been a popular player were quick to distance themselves.  The Sioux City Journal said that while fans “took a sort of paternal and patronizing interest” in Force when he played in Sioux City “the Golden Gate murder is quite another story…If he has been leading a wild, reckless life, possibly discouragements and vicissitudes have made a different man of him.”

The victim, Joseph Manning, was described as “an ex-ballplayer,” and in various articles was conflated with former big leaguers Jim Manning and Tim Manning.

Once it was determined Manning was not Jim or Tim, no one seemed to know anything about him.

Seven days after the murder, Abraham Mills, former National League president, issued a statement:

“I have known Davy Force almost continuously since I engaged him in 1867 to play in the Olympic Base Ball Club of Washington.  For the last seven years he has been in the employ of the company for which I am an officer, (The Otis Elevator Company) and is a steady, hard-working man, and I fully believe his statement that he never knew a Joseph Manning, and that he has never had any serious difficulty with or made any assault of any kind upon any ballplayer, either during or since his professional career.”

Mills’ statement was printed in only a fraction of the newspapers that reported the shooting.

The accusations faded, and by the time Force died in 1918 there was no mention of the case of mistaken identity in the ballplayer’s obituary.

Who exactly Joseph Manning was, and whether he was actually a professional baseball player, remains a mystery; as does the identity of the “Davy Force” who killed him in San Francisco.