Tag Archives: Al Jolson

“Byron has our Players Feeling Like a lot of Spanked Kids”

23 Apr

Bill Byron resigned as a National League umpire after the 1919 season but “The singing umpire” couldn’t stay away.

He accepted a position with the Pacific Coast League (PCL) for 1920. The (Portland) Oregon Daily Journal said he was the only umpire in the PCL who did not have a reserve clause in his contract.

Byron was partnered with another former National League umpires, Mal Eason. The Los Angeles Evening Express said:

“This pair throws players out of the game on the least provocation.”

Byron

Byron cemented his reputation for throwing out players shortly after joining the PCL.

The Los Angeles Examiner said after he ejected five players during a May game between the Vernon Tigers and the Sacramento Senators:

“Byron, according to all accounts, is rapidly approaching that stage of popularity with everybody that caused him to be dropped from the National league.”

While his exit from the National League appears to have been voluntarily, The Sporting News later made the same claim The Examiner did, telling readers the umpire’s “chip in shoulder attitude caused his dismissal from the National staff.”

In September, Byron called Lu Blue of the Portland Beavers out at the plate on a play that would have tied the score in an eventual 1-0 loss to the Seals:

Blue

The San Francisco Examiner said Blue grabbed Byron, the umpire broke away and punched Blue in the nose, then:

“Lu hit Bill with a left hook and by that time every ball player, ‘copper,’ and umpire in the league were mixed up in one grand shoving contest.”

Blue got to Byron again and punched him in the eye. After that, Portland’s Dick Cox, “grabbed the ump around the neck and dragged him halfway around the park, while Bill’s nose proceeded to pick up stray hunks of pop bottles and rocks.”

Blue was fined $100 and suspended for a week, Cox managed to escape with neither.

Portland manager Judge McCredie was said to be “chafing under” Blue’s suspension, telling The Oregonian Blue acted in self-defense and that Byron should have been punished as well.

A month after the incident, Seals pitcher Sam Lewis yelled to the Byron:

“Hey, Bill, I know you are the king of umpires, for I saw Lu Blue of the Portland club crown you.

The Oregonian concluded:

“Even Byron had to laugh.”

When he was retained by the league for the 1921 season, The Evening Express said:

“Byron had an opportunity to return to the National League but preferred to remain on the Coast.

“Important if true.

“If true, it is too bad he didn’t accept (National League President) John Heydler’s offer.”

Byron was no less controversial his second year on the West Coast. In May, Oakland Oaks third baseman, and future National League umpire, Babe Pirelli knocked him down “with a blow over the eye,” after he ejected Pinelli for disputing a call.

Most of the players and fans–including one famous fan, actor Al Jolson–told The Oakland Tribune that Byron threw the first punch:

“Al wired President McCarthy of the Coast League at once, declaring that the umpire and not the player was to blame.”

Pinelli missed several games with an injured hand but was never officially suspended and was fined $50 by McCarthy who said, “he didn’t place all the blame,” on the player for the incident.

Shortly after the incident with Pinelli, Byron drew the ire of San Francisco fans for indecision on a ball hit by Morrie Schick of the Seals in a game against Oakland. Jack James of The Examiner described the play:

“He looked up. It wasn’t there.

He looked down. It wasn’t there.

He looked at both sides. It wasn’t there.

“He decided to call in an expert for advice.

‘”Where did it go?’ says to the Oakland third baseman a Mister White, temporarily taking the place of Mr. Pinelli, who recently assaulted Mister Byron, they do say, with cause.

“’Foul!’ Says Mr. White.

‘”Foul it is then,’ says Mr. Byron.”

Despite that call in their favor, the Oakland management—J. Cal Ewing and Del Howard—sent a letter to McCarty, asking the league president to not assign the umpire to Oakland games:

“Byron has our players feeling like a lot of spanked kids who are afraid to make a false move or stand up for their rights for fear that will get tossed out of the ball game and then be further punished by having a fine slapped on them.”

The request was ignored.

Soon after, Byron attempted to pull the trick he once pulled on John McGraw on San Francisco Seals manager Charlie Graham—pulling out his watch and giving his a minute to leave the field after an ejection.  Graham, said The Sacramento Bee:

“Graham grabbed the time piece from the indicator man…Byron tried to to wrench his watch from Graham’s hand but he could not do so. The crowd gathered around and finally Graham gave the ‘umps’ back his watch and left the field.”

Graham drew a five-game suspension and $50 fine.

Within days, Los Angeles Angels manager Wade Killefer was fined $50 and suspended for five games, and two of his players—George Lyons and Red Baldwin–were fined and suspended. Baldwin was ejected and given “thirty seconds” to leave the field, Killefer and the rest of the Angels came out on the field and “surrounded” the umpire, who promptly “declared the game forfeited” to the Seattle Rainers:

The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“Byron should demand a commission, for he fines more players than all of the other umpires combined.”

After Byron’s active first half of the season, The Express noted on August 1:

“Bill Byron didn’t suspend anyone yesterday.”

Byron’s reputation was such, that The San Francisco Examiner headlined a story about a riot involving players, umpires, and fans at an International League in Buffalo that resulted player arrests:

“Here’s one that Bill Byron Missed”

The Chronicle referred to him and partner Jake Croter as “the demon umpires.”

The Los Angeles Record said, “the much-abused umpire” had also taking up singing on the field again:

“When a player protests a called strike too vehemently, Bill will drone in a sing-sing voice:

‘”Can’t hit the ball with the bat on your shoulder; can’t hit the ball with the bat on your shoulder!’

“And when a player tells Bill things that Bill doesn’t think he is paid to hear, Bill grabs the whiskbroom and starts dusting the plate to the accompaniment of:

“’Some one’s going to the clubhouse; some one IS going to the club house!’”

Not everyone thought Byron was bad for the league. Carl “Boots” Weber” spent more than 30 years in the front office with the Los Angeles Angels and later served as treasurer for the Chicago Cubs. Shortly after Byron’s dust up with manager Wade Killefer and the two Angles players, The Los Angeles Examiner recounted a conversation between Weber and Byron:

“You’re an absolute attraction,’ Weber told Byron, ‘and I’m for you. You help to draw the people through the gate.’

“’Yes, and I help draw them on me,’ replied Byron.

“that’s just the point,’ enthused Weber. ‘Keep them on you. The more they get on you the more they will come out to see you, and that, after all, is the first and main consideration.”’

Byron, not particularly wisely, might have taken Weber’s comment to heart. In mid-August, The Bee said the umpire endured a “pop bottle shower” after making a call at the plate that cost the Beavers the tying run in a game with the Sacramento Senators:

“Senatorial ball players say that Bill Byron showed a lot of courage…it is said he never retreated an inch, nor did he look toward the stand from where the barrage was coming. Bill walked up and down the line never flinching…There was a little too much courage in the umpire’s manner according to the players, who say if one of the bottles had hit Bill on the head, he might have been through for the season, and perhaps forever.”

The Bee also reported that after the bottle throwing incident, a rookie pitcher named Carroll Canfield was told by his teammates to “tell Bill” that an opposing player missed first base.  The paper said the players meant Canfield to tell manage Bill Rodgers; the 18-year-old instead approached Byron:

“(Canfield) in a meek way, went out and told the umpire about the runner missing the sack.

“’You get back to that bench kid,’ roared Bill, ‘and watch those other fellows play for a coupe of years more before you ever come out and talk to me.”

Despite two seasons of controversy, PCL President William H. McCarthy enthusiastically retained him for the 1922 season, telling The Associated Press:

“Byron is as good an umpire as there is in baseball and the Coast League is fortunate to have him numbered among its list of officials.”

The Singing Umpire didn’t make it through the first week of the 1922 season before being pelted with pop bottles. During the April 15 game between the Oaks and the Seals, The Oakland Tribune said Byron called Dee Walsh of the Seals out on a close play at third base in the 10th inning; then reversed himself and ruled Walsh safe, “after a flock of Seals charged him from the dugout.”

The paper called what happened next, the biggest baseball riot witnessed here since the days at old Freeman’s park,” which the Oaks vacated nearly a decade earlier. After changing the call, Byron was showered with bottles and “surrounded” by Oaks players.  Calm was restored and Walsh scored on a sacrifice fly.

When the Oaks came to bat in the bottom of the tenth, Byron ejected Oakland’s Ray Brubaker and Ray Kremer who were heckling him from the dugout; the ejections resulted in another round of bottles throw at the umpire. When the final Oaks batter was retired:

“(F)ans dashed from the stands as a flock of gray-coated policemen sought to give Byron protection. Pop bottles and cushions were heaved through the mob and the dressing room was wrecked by the angered fans.”

He continued ejecting players at a clip that caused The San Francisco Examiner to say after a June game between the Seals and Oaks:

“Umpire Bill Byron gave the crowd a little taste of the unusual when he failed to prescribe an early afternoon shower for a single player. This was without doubt, the most notable feature of the game.”

Late in the 1922 season, he stopped what could have been an ugly incident and received unusual praise in The Los Angels Times. During the September 30 game between the Vernon Tigers and Seattle Indians, Vernon pitcher Jakie May hit Seattle third baseman Tex Wisterzil with a pitch, for the second time in the game, this one struck the batter behind the right ear:

“Tex was plainly out of patience, and started for the box in a brisk walk, bat in hand. Jakie awaited the impending onslaught with folded arms, fearless, dignified, and Napoleonic. Just when everybody expected the spark to be struck with the bat which would inflame the whole world, Bill Byron, the great pacifier, made a flying tackle from the rear and nailed Wisterzil’s elbows to his floating ribs. Thus, crisis was averted.”

The dinal Byron chapter, Monday