Tag Archives: Al Spink

Wagner is the Nearest Approach to a Perfect Baseball Machine”

30 May

Claude Johnson was the long-time sports editor for The Kansas City Star.  Al Spink, in his book “The National Game,” called the paper “one of the greatest newspapers in the Western world,” and said of Johnson:

”He is a real baseball enthusiast… (The) sports pages are widely read and perfectly edited by little Johnson… (he) ought to be dancing in the big league.”

When the Pittsburgh Pirates came to town to play exhibition games with the American Association Kansas City Blues, Johnson wrote a long profile of Honus Wagner:

“Hugh Fullerton, who writes on baseball topics, has said that Hans Wagner is the nearest approach to a perfect baseball machine ever constructed.  ‘Constructed ‘ is good.  Wagner is put up solidly, after the fashion of government architecture.  And you may take it straight from any bug who ever saw Hans Wagner that he is some baseball machine.“

wagner

 Honus Wagner

Johnson said in the Kansas City games Wagner had the “star role:”

“Do you know, it’s lots of fun to watch Hans Wagner play ball.  A good deal of this is due to the fact that Honus enjoys it himself.  He has as much fun playing ball as a kid on a corner lot.  He romps about and kids the opposition…and nags good naturedly the umpire. For Hans is field captain this year and feels that he must do some beefing.  But beefing is hard work for Hans.  He is too good natured.  Hans would much rather take a bun decision with a humorously protesting wave of his enormous hands and make up for it later by one of his terrific wallops.

“Hans has a lot of little mannerisms on the field.  He is a born comedian, though so bashful he will hide himself under the bat rack if he sees a reporter coming.”

Johnson said Kansas City fans were as impressed with his work in the field as at the plate:

“Most of what you read of Hans is about his tremendous hitting, and it is all true, too.  But Hans is a miraculous fielder, also.  He has a style that is all his own.  No bush leaguer would dare try to play short like Hans Wagner.  He plays wherever he pleases; retreating to the edge of the outfield grass, whence only his mighty arm would carry to first in time to head off a fast runner.  When he goes after a ground hit he goes after it like a runaway gondola loaded with coal—but he gets it, if it is getable.  And when once one of those ponderous hands clamps down on the pellet there it remains quietly until the great shortstop wings it on its way.

“Wagner’s pegging is something to ponder.  Several times in the Kansas City series he would field a sharply hit line drive lazily, merely lobbing the ball over to first and beating the runner only by a step.

“’Shucks,’ remarked some of the bugs who were watching Honus for the first time, ‘that guy’s as slow as molasses.  A fast man would have beat him.’

“Wait a bit though.  There goes a fast man—and his hit was a slow one .  But he’s out, by the same distance.  And if you want to see Honus really peg, watch him finishing up a double play.  The big frame moves like a streak.  He gets the ball away in a twinkle—and it nearly knocks the first baseman off the bag.”

wagnerpix

Wagner

Next Johnson described Wagner at the plate:

“At bat Honus is a study.  He is built like a piano mover above the waist and below he resembles a pair of parenthesis.  He is one of the few celebrities who can stand bowlegged and pigeon-toed at one and the same time, and he does it with ease and aplomb.  At least it looks very much like aplomb.

“Hans twiddles his ponderous bat as if it weighed about as much as a feather duster.  He balances it between his fingers, pulls down his cap and takes his stand–bowlegged and pigeon-toed—well back of the plate.  You see the reason for the latter.

“Wagner watches the ball from the time pitcher starts his delivery.  He steps into the pitch with a long, swinging stride, and meets the ball with a heave of his whole powerful frame.  It looks very easy, and there is a certain grace about it too.  But what you mainly notice is the streaky appearance of the ball, whatever way it may travel, tearing its way through the hands of an infielder or flying like an arrow over the outfield.”

wagnerwbat

Wagner

Johnson said, in the final game of the series, Wagner “walked into the first” pitch he saw in the eighth inning:

“He did not seem to hit the ball hard, yet, it soared away into the top of the center field bleachers—one of the longest hits ever made inside the park.”

The Pittsburgh Post called the home run, “a wallop into the center field bleachers…the longest hit of the series.”

As for Wagner himself, Johnson said:

“Hans is a likable chap—a retiring, modest sort of star.  He is fond of dogs and collects strays in nearly every city he visits.  He can’t bear to see a dog hungry.  If he can’t provide for them elsewhere he ships them home, where he has a dog farm collected in that way.  Hans’ main pet is a Dachshund, whose legs, he says, are dead ringers for his own.

“And he’s a great old boy, is Honus.  And you can start something with nearly any bug by suggesting that there is a greater player doing business today.”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #18

7 Mar

Tener on Anson

In 1917, John Tener wrote an article in “Baseball Magazine” about Cap Anson, his former manager with the Chicago White Stockings.

John Tener

John Tener

The former pitcher and outfielder, who went on to serve in the United States Congress and as Governor of Pennsylvania, and who in 1917 was president of the National League said:

“Pop Anson was the Greatest Batter who ever lived.  You may look up his record, compare it with others and draw your own conclusions.  When I say this I am well aware of the claims of Ed Delehanty, Hans Wagner and many other great hitters.  I give them all due credit, but in my opinion, Anson was the greatest of them all.

"Cap" Anson

Anson

“He was, first of all, a free hitter. He loved batting…He had that true eye which enabled him to hit the ball squarely on the nose.  His hits were line drives.  They were solid smashes with the full force of his muscular shoulders behind them.”

[…]

“He was an excellent judge of the precise fraction of a second that he needed to swing that heavy bat of his against the best the pitcher could offer.  He didn’t exactly place his hits, but he contrived to drive the ball behind the base runner about where he wanted to drive it…He was big and strong and heavy.  Some hitters of the present day fatten their averages by their nimbleness in reaching first.  Anson drove the ball solidly into the outfield and took his time in going to first.”

Conte on Mendez

Jose Pepe Conte was a well-known sportswriter in Havana, Cuba. Frank Menke of Heart Newspaper’s International News Service (INS) said of him:

Jose Pepe Conte

Jose Pepe Conte

“Pepe is a fellow who knows heaps and heaps about ancient history, European customs, chemistry, baseball and prize fighting.”

The Pittsburgh Press called him:

“(A) Cuban newspaperman, political personage, and unearther of baseball talent.”

In 1912, the INS distributed an article Conte wrote about the pitcher he thought was the best ever:

“American baseball fans can talk all they want about their (Chief) Benders, (Christy) Mathewsons, (Ed) Walshes and (Mordecai) Browns, but down in our country we have a pitcher that none of the best batters in the country can touch. This is the famous Black Tornado, (Jose) Mendez.  Talk about speed.  Why, when he cuts loose at his hardest clip the ball bounces out of the catcher’s mitt Talk about speed, Mendez has to pitch most of the time without curves because we haven’t a catcher who can hold him.  To make things better, Mendez can bat like (Ty) Cobb.  He has won his own games on various occasions with smashes over the fences for home runs.  He weighs about 154 pounds and is a little fellow.”

Jose Mendez

Jose Mendez

[…]

“No one has been found who can hold him when he really extends himself.  He has shown his skill in the past when he has faced the best batters of the Cubs and Detroit teams when those teams were champions, and when the Athletics went there last year.  Mendez has more curves than any pitcher in America, and if some inventive genius could produce a whitening process whereby we could get the fellow into the big leagues he could win a pennant for either tail-end team in either league.”

Sullivan on Comiskey

In his book, “The National Game,” Al Spink said Ted 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.”

Ted Sullivan

Ted Sullivan

Sullivan was a player, manager, executive, and in 1921, he wrote a series of articles for The Washington Times called “The Best of my Sport Reminiscences.”  He said of Charles Comiskey, who he was crediting with “discovering” at St. Mary’s College in Kansas:

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

“As a player, Comiskey was easily the best first baseman of his time…His intuition in defining the thoughts of his opponents and making his play accordingly placed him head and shoulders over any man that played that position before or after.

“Comiskey was with John Ward and King Kelly one of the greatest of base runners.  I do not mean dress parade base running, either, merely to show the crowd he could run.  Comiskey’s base running was done at a place in the game when it meant victory for his side.  He was far from being the machine batter that Anson, Roger Connor and some others were; but as a run-getter, which means the combination of hitting, waiting, bunting and running, he outclassed all others.  Jack Doyle, when in his prime with Baltimore and New York, was the nearest approach to Comiskey in brainwork.  There are no others.”

Hugh Nicol

25 Aug

In 1884 Hugh “Little Nic” Nicol was one of the most popular members of the St. Louis Browns—so popular, a local boy’s team named themselves after the right fielder, and the Nicol was invited to address the team.

Hugh Nicol

Hugh Nicol

A reporter for The St. Louis Critic was on hand when Nicol imparted his baseball wisdom to the kids:

“I’m no speech maker, but if you like I’ll give you a pointer or two, and you can take ‘em or leave ‘em, just as you like.  First, when you go to the bat don’t sneak up there, but pick up your club determined like, and look at the pitcher as you’d look at a mosquito which you had the dead wood on.  Then when he curls the ball away, up around your left year duck your head, look mad and whisper, ‘Oh, you sucker you know better than to give me a good ball.’  That’s what you call workin’ the pitcher—makin’ him mad as a bull—so mad that he’ll put the ball just where you say he can’t put it, but where you know he’s going to put it, and when he puts it there smash her right in the eye.

“Then when you’ve smashed her, don’t stop and admire the smash, but make for first as though the devil was trying catch hold of your coat tails.  When you reach first don’t stop unless you hear the captain yell: ‘Hole yer first; hole it!’  If he yells ‘hole it,’ obey orders.  Don’t think you know more than him, because if you get to thinkin’ that way your head will begin to swell, and all the ice in St. Louis won’t take down the swellin’ If you only reach first, place your arms akimbo and look at the pitcher as though you had got there by a fluke and was going to hold to her if it was the last act.  If you are a runner, and not one of those tired cusses that crawl when they think they’re flyin’.

“Make for second the moment he pitches the ball; and when you get near the bag, grab hold of it and come up smilin’ at the umpire , as though you meant to say “Oh, I beat the ball about a foot, and he never touched me anyhow.’  If you work it right the umpire will sing out, ‘Hole yer second!’

“But, fellers if you can’t run when you reach first stay there and thank God you got that far.  Don’t try to make second for if you do the catcher will make a bloomin’ gillie out of you.  But make out that you are a dandy on the run, and bob up and down like a bear dancing on a red hot stove.  That kind of business works up the pitcher and he’ll try to catch you nappin’, but instead he’ll fire the ball away over the first baseman’s head.  Then if you can run a little bit you can get all the way ‘round.  But take care that he don’t catch you nappin’.  If he does that the captain will call you a bum base runner and you’ll feel like clubbin’ the life out of yourself.”

Thirty-five years later, Nicol attended an old-timers banquet at the Great Northern Hotel in Chicago and spoke with Al Spink, then occasionally writing for The Chicago Evening Post.  Spink called Nicol “the smallest and most wonderful right fielder in America.”

Nicol, like most of his 19th Century brethren, thought his old teammates were better than current players:

“I can’t see where the game has improved a bit since we played it…and I can’t see where the players of today are any better than our old gang…I don’t see any players cavorting around on the diamond today that are any better than the Browns’ old infield when it was composed of (Charles) Comiskey, (William “Yank”) Robinson, (Arlie) Latham and (Bill) Gleason…Where are there any better players than our old Chicago infield—(Cap) Anson, (Fred) Pfeffer, (Ned) Williamson and (Tom)Burns?”

1885 St. Louis Browns--Nicol is on the far right of the bottom row.

1885 St. Louis Browns–Nicol is on the far right of the bottom row.

Nicol also objected to the way the game was played:

“(W)here is there the  enthusiasm and the effort to win that was in evidence in the days when we played?

“Nowadays a player often goes to the bat acting like a man who has lost an immediate member of his family.

“We used to go up smiling and acting as though we were certain of clouting out a homer, although we often fell down on the proposition.

“And then, too, many of your players of today make little attempt to advance themselves in the various departments of play.

“They do not half try to learn all the fine points of the game as we did in the days of old, but simply try to get by.  They are content if they get a couple of hits every afternoon and play an errorless game.  The first thing they do each morning is to get the newspaper and look at the hit and error columns.  If they don’t see themselves credited with a hit perhaps they did make, some sports writer gets a terrible panning.”

Nicol managed in the Three-I League and later  coached baseball and served as athletic director at Purdue University from 1906 until 1914—he resigned both positions in November of 1914 after a dispute with his football coach Andy Smith and Smith’s assistant Pete Vaughn (who was also Purdue’s basketball coach).

Nicol 1904

Nicol 1904

Nicol was often credited by contemporary sports writers with inventing the head-first slide.

He died in Lafayette, Indiana in 1921.

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.

 

“You are mostly Fakes, and yet I love you all!”

19 Mar

Elmer Foster became better known after his career had ended than he ever had been as a player because of sportswriter Hugh Fullerton who included stories he said were about Foster in his columns for more than twenty years.

Elmer Foster

Elmer Foster

The first story appeared in 1897, shortly after Fullerton arrived at The Chicago Tribune:

“The long-lost is found.  A few days ago a traveling man who is a baseball fan climbed on the train with the Colts and engaged Jimmy Ryan in Conversation.

“’Who do you think I saw the other day?’ he queried…I was up in Minnehaha, the village at the falls of St. Paul.  About 10 o’clock at night I was preparing to go to bed, when suddenly there came a series of war whoops up the street.  A man came tearing down on horseback, whipping the animal to dead run and whooping like a Comanche Just as he got to where we were standing he pulled two revolvers and, still whooping, emptied them into the air.  I was scared to death, but no one else paid any attention.  When the danger was over I crawled out from under a cellar door and said ‘Who is that?  ‘Oh, that’s nothing,’ said one of the gang.  ‘It’s only Elmer Foster going home.’”

The 1897 article also told a more accurate version of the incident in Pittsburgh that led to Foster’s release than Fullerton told in later years–it mentioned that he was with Pat Luby (incorrectly identified as “Harry” Luby), and Fullerton, in this version, did not claim to be present.

With that the legend was born.

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

By the turn of the century the legend grew.  Fullerton said:

“Foster was a great baserunner…He ran regardless of consequences, and perhaps no man that ever played in fast company ever took an extra base on a hit oftener than did Elmer.  He simply refused to stop at his legitimate destination, and kept right on.  When he got caught he always said: ‘Why, I wasn’t a bit tired.  Why should I have stopped running?’”

By 1903 Fullerton said of Foster:

“No man who was interested in baseball during the early ‘90s can certainly have forgotten the name of the man who was perhaps the best center fielder who ever wore a Chicago uniform.”

Like Bill Lange, another player he helped make famous long after his career was over, Fullerton’s most often repeated story about Foster was a dubious one involving a catch—a story that was repeated over the years as having happened three years after Foster’s big league career was over:

“Back in ’94 one of the Eastern teams was playing Chicago on the West Side, with Foster in center field.  The man at bat made a terrific swipe at the ball and hit it.  The shadow was deep over the infield and Foster could not see the ball.  He started to run out into far center, so as to be prepared.

“As a matter of fact the ball was only a bunt.  The shortstop caught it and threw the batter out at first.  But Foster kept on running—running like mad….Foster ran at the top of his speed almost to the center field fence.  Then he jumped high up into the air, threw up his left hand, and came down to the ground with—an English sparrow tightly clenched in his fist.”

In addition to Fullerton repeating the story over the years,  “Gentleman” Jim Corbett retold it in his syndicated sports column in 1919 and Al Spink, writing for The Chicago Evening Post in 1920 quoted former Chicago White Sox Manager Jimmy “Nixey” Callahan telling the story in 1920—like the original, both Corbett’s version and Spink’s via Callahan say the “catch’ happened three years after Foster left Chicago.  The story survived until at least 1925 when it appeared in several paper as park of a King Features syndicated column of short baseball stories.

Fullerton’s Foster stories—including several regarding drunken pranks Foster was alleged to have played on Cap Anson—became so ubiquitous that William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star  said in 1912:

“It is now an accepted tradition that Elmer Foster, the famous fielder, led the Chicago team on a glorious, care-free, drunk through a whole wild merry season in 1891.  That is believed by everybody—yet the records show that Foster played just a few games with Chicago in 1890, and was released in April [sic] of 1891, before the season was even one week old!  Oh, you legends!  Oh, you deceiving old stories!  You are mostly fakes, and yet I love you all!”

“Eighteen Thousand Dollars Squandered by Chicago”

22 Aug

Almost 50 years after he helped to organize the Chicago White Stockings Jimmy Wood told the story of the team’s founding to Hearst Newspapers sports writer Frank G. Menke in a series of articles.

Wood said he read an ad in a New York newspaper in late 1869, seeking to “form a team to represent Chicago and to defeat the Cincinnati Red Stockings.”  Wood said:

“Chicago wasn’t such a wonderfully large city then and it was doing everything possible to boom the town.  And it was jealous of Cincinnati because of the great publicity Cincinnati had gained through the medium of its 1869 ball team which had won 56 out of its 57 games.”

Wood, along with Tom Foley, who had placed the ad, (not to be confused with Thomas James “Tom” Foley, who played outfield for the White Stockings in 1871) set out together to build a team.

Wood called it the most difficult task of his life, attempting to sign players for “a team that had as its ultimate purpose the beating of the Reds in a three-game series.”

The press was ready to call the entire operation a failure in January—a point never referred to in Wood and Menke’s “historical” account.  The Chicago Tribune declared:

“We are not to have a first-class base ball club.  That is the long and short of it.  The thing has fizzled.”

The Tribune cited Wood and Foley’s “bungling inefficiency” as the reason Chicago should not expect much from the undertaking.

The 1870 article was at odds with wood’s nearly 50-year-old recollection that the problem of securing players was because of fear of taking on the Red Stockings:

“Scores of desirable players throughout the country applied for engagement, but delay after delay ensued…in short, everything was done precisely as it should not have been done, and the result is a total failure.  A base-ball club may, and probably will, be selected and announced within the next few weeks; but it will not be a nine capable of worsting all other clubs.”

Even Wood acknowledged that he might not have handled the process of securing players particularly well; he gave more than $1200 out of his pocket to players only to find out “some of those players had squandered their first advance money in drinking or gambling, they came for more, threatening to jump their contracts if we didn’t ‘come through.’”

Despite the slow the start, and doubts about whether or not it would be possible to put together a competitive team, Wood and Foley completed the roster that spring when they signed Bill Craver and William “Cherokee” Fisher away from the Troy Haymakers—although Fisher never played for the team.

Even The Tribune was on board; lauding Chicago’s newly formed “$18,000 team.”   The $18,000 White Stockings roster in addition to Wood and Craver, consisted of Ned Cuthbert, Charlie Hodes, Michael (Bub) McAtee, Levi Meyerle, Ed PinkhamFred Treacey, Marshall King, and William “Clipper” Flynn—a number of Chicago amateurs also filled in with the team throughout the 1870 season.

The 1870 White Stockings: Ned Cuthbert, Fred Treacey, Charlie Hodes, Bill Craver, Charlie Hodes, Levi Meyerle,Bob McAtee, , Marshall King, and William “Clipper” Flynn

The 1870 White Stockings: Ned Cuthbert, Fred Treacey, Charlie Hodes, Levi Meyerle, Ed Pinkham, Jimmy Wood, Bub McAtee, Bill Craver, Marshall King, and William “Clipper” Flynn

In May, the White Stockings arrived in New Orleans for a training trip.  Many books and articles credit Wood with being “the father” of spring training as a result of this trip; most cite Al Spink of The Sporting News as the source.  Most fail to mention that the Red Stockings trained in New Orleans at the same time that season, and even Wood didn’t take credit for being first.  Wood said in 1916 that his was “the second Southern trip ever undertaken by a ball club.”  The Atlantics of Brooklyn had made a similar trip in 1868, which included stops in New Orleans, Mobile, and Savannah.

Wood said the team won all of their games against New Orleans opponents—the Lone Stars, Pelicans, Robert E. Lee’s, and Southerns—“by overwhelming scores.”  He also claimed they defeated “the Memphis team, champions of Tennessee 157-1—and Foley was very angry because we had permitted the southerners to score their lone tally!”

The team played what Wood called their “first real game,” against Al Spalding and the Forest Citys in Rockford, Illinois and despite the Rockford fans backing “their team heavily in the betting…we swamped them.”

According to Wood, he and Foley shut the team down due to injuries “along about June 4th when I found that my ailing quartet was not convalescing very rapidly, I canceled all our remaining June and July games and stayed in Chicago.”

His 1916 recollection seems to be faulty here as well, as records indicate that the White Stockings played several games in June and July against amateur and professional clubs, including the season’s biggest disappointment for the team.

On July 6 the overconfident White Stockings lost 13-4 to the New York Mutuals, who had recently lost several games.  The New York Herald headline taunted:

Eighteen Thousand Dollars Squandered by Chicago

“With ‘hearts as light as the wind blows’ and feeling as happy as ‘big sunflowers’ the White Stockings crossed over to Williamsburg yesterday, there to teach the Mutuals of New York what a six months residence in Chicago could do in the art of base ball playing.  Never did a more confident party enter a ball field than the ‘nine’ created by Chicago…On the other hand, the Mutuals crossed over alarmed somewhat at the confidence of their opponents, and reflecting over their many defeats of late, denied not a syllable uttered.  They were quiet, reticent, in fact, and dressed for the fray as one might roll himself in a shroud preparatory to decapitation.  Underneath all of this, however, there was a determined will.”

On July 26, the Mutuals would beat Chicago again, this time on their home field, at the Dexter Park Racetrack at 47th and Halsted.  The Herald again taunted Chicago, calling the 9 to 0 victory “The Worst Whipping on Record.”

Despite the records indicating a fairly complete schedule during June and July, Wood, speaking in 1916 said “About August 4 we resumed our schedule and played out the season, winning all of our games from the resumption in August until the end.  And then came the grand climax of the year—the task for which we had been preparing ourselves; the battle with the Cincinnati Red Stockings.”

Wood’s memory was again at odds with the facts.  The White Stockings lost, at least, one August game at home, a 14 to 7 defeat at the hands of Spalding’s Forest Citys.

The story of Wood’s “grand climax of the year;” the Red Stockings series, coming up on Monday.

No Such Thing as “Off the Record”–Even in 1875

19 Aug

James Leon “Jimmy” Wood was a baseball pioneer.  The second baseman began his playing career as a 17-year-old in Brooklyn with the Eckfords in 1860.  After spending a decade as one of the best-known players on the East Coast Wood went to Chicago where he became the first manager of the newly formed White Stockings.

Wood is sometimes credited with being the man who invented spring training (a claim first advanced by Al Spink of The Sporting News) because in 1870 he took the Chicago team to New Orleans for a series of games with local teams, the Robert E. Lee’s, the Lone Stars, the Pelicans and the Southerns—most of those sources fail to mention that Harry Wright’s Red Stockings were in New Orleans at the same time.  (Wood’s reminiscences about the early days of the White Stockings coming up later this week).

Jimmy Wood, 1871

Jimmy Wood, 1871

Wood also managed the team the following season, when the White Stockings became one of the charter members of the National Association.  They finished second in 1871  but disbanded as a result of the great Chicago Fire in October.

Wood next played for and managed two teams that wouldn’t survive the year; the Troy Haymakers went bankrupt in July and the Brooklyn Eckfords who folded at the conclusion of a 3-26 1872 season.

After leading the Philadelphia Whites to a second place finish in 1873, Wood returned to Chicago and the newly re-formed White Stockings.

Wood was slated to play second and serve as captain, but would never play a game for the White Stockings or any other team.  After falling at his home during the spring of 1873, he developed an abscess on his leg, which kept him out of the lineup as the infection got worse.

In July The Chicago Tribune said:

“The well-known base ball player and former captain of the Chicago nine Jas. Wood, has had his leg amputated.  He has been unable to play this summer, owing to a disease of the bones, and has been under medical care for some months.  He was a most conscientious player, and has the esteem of all with whom he was connected.”

On August 20 The Chicago Inter-Ocean said Wood was named “manager of the club for the remainder of the present season and for the season of 1875.”  While he “officially” served as manager for the last 23 games of the season, both The Inter-Ocean and The Tribune said Wood was “unable to assume active duties,” and would be led on the field by team president William Hulbert (called “Hurlburt” by The Inter-Ocean).

By the spring of 1875, Wood had returned full-time to the management of the White Stockings, with plans to take the team for “two weeks of practice,” in April.

The Chicago manager had an off the record conversation with a reporter for The St. Louis Democrat in which he unfavorably compared the newly formed St. Louis Brown Stockings to his own team.  The paper printed the manager’s comments verbatim; even including his assertion that the comments were “private:”

“Now, said he, let us compare the players individually.  ‘For catcher there is (Tom) Miller and Higham; the former is inexperienced, poor runner, fair batter, and the only catcher you have, while Dick Higham is one of the surest and heaviest batters in the country, has experience and is a first-class base-runner.  (George) Bradley and (George) Zettlein—Zett is a poor batter and runner, to be sure, but on a pitch you ought to know as much as I can tell you.  I do not know anything about Bradley, but, if (Jim) Devlin pitches, I think we have the best of it, as he was second on our batting list last season.  First base, (Herman) Dehlman and (John) Glenn,  the former may play the base the best, but in batting, base running and general playing, Glenn can discount him.  Second base, (John) Peters and (Joe) Battin.  Well, I won’t compare notes with them, as anyone ought to know that Peters is head and shoulders above Battin in every respect.  (Davy) Force and (Dickey) Pearce, shortstop.  There is no better player in the country than Force, he being one of the very best batters.  Pearce has been one of the best, but, I think his race is run.  This is private, remember(Frank) Fleet and Warren White, third base.  Why just think of it; there is as much difference in them as in Battin and Peters.  White is first-class at the bat, and led the score on the Baltimore team last season, and is a fine base-runner in the bargain, while Fleet is not as good, by a jug full.  (Ned) Cuthbert and (Paul) Hines, left field.  The latter took balls away out in Cuthey’s field last season (Hines had played left field, with Cuthbert in center for the White Stockings the previous season).  Hines stands better at the bat—Cuthey is a fast baserunner.  (Lip) Pike and (Oscar) Bielaski center field.  Pike is the hardest batter, but no surer than Bielaski, while both are about the same in the field, they being the fastest runners in the country.  (Jack “Death to Flying Things”) Chapman and (Winfield Scott) Hastings right field.  The former won’t begin to show up with Hastings, as he is one if the finest batters and catchers in the business.

“’Take us all in all we are much stronger at the bat.  While St. Louis has but Pike and Cuthbert for base runners, we have but one poor base-runner in Zett; all the others are first class.  We have change pitchers and catchers—St. Louis has not.  If we don’t beat St. Louis eight out of ten games, we deserve to be thrown into the lake.’”

Dickey Pearce, "his race is run," according to Wood

Dickey Pearce, “his race is run,” according to Wood

A few of the players Wood referred to in early March ended up playing different positions, or like Davy Force, of whom Wood said “There is no better player in the country,” didn’t play for the White Stockings at all.

Regardless, he underestimated the ability of most of the St. Louis’ roster, while wildly inflating his club’s prospects; Wood’s team would underperform all season, finishing 30-37 in sixth place, behind the fourth place (39-29) Brown Stockings.

Wood wildly overestimated the quality of his team and presided over a season of dysfunction and scandal.  More on the 1875 White Stockings tomorrow.

The Curve and The Spitter

26 Jun

Hugh A. “Hughey” Reid only appeared in one professional game; he went 0-4 and played right field in a game for the American Association’s Baltimore Canaries against the White Stockings in Chicago in August of 1874,  as was the practice at the time, Baltimore recruited Reid, a local semi-pro player to fill in for the injured Oscar Bielaski.

Reid wasn’t known in the amateur and semi-pro leagues in Chicago as an outfielder.  He was considered one of the best pitchers in town, and played for the Chicago Aetnas, one of the premier teams in the city, and according to The Chicago Tribune “The champion amateur team of 1869.”

Hugh Reid

Hugh Reid

Among Reid’s teammates with the Aetnas were future big leaguers Jimmy Hallinan and Reid’s brother-in-law and catcher Paddy Quinn.

Reid worked as a stereotyper (made metal printing plates), for The Chicago Evening Post after his career ended.

In 1920, Reid was interviewed by Alfred Henry “Al” Spink, founder of The Sporting News.  By 1920, Spink, who had played amateur baseball in Chicago against Reid with a team called the Mutuals (named for the more famous aggregation in New York), had relocated to Chicago and was writing for The Evening Post.

Al Spink

Al Spink

The occasion was “field day exercises of the old timers” at Pyott Park at the corner of Lake Street and Kilpatrick Avenue in Chicago; the days events were followed by a banquet.  “Cap” Anson, Charles Comiskey, Hugh Nicol, and Fred Pfeffer were among the dozens of former pro, semi-pro, and amateur players who attended.

Spink described the 70-year-old Reid; “same old smile, same old swagger, same old don’t care a tinker’s, same old Hughey.”

Nine years earlier Spink had credited William Arthur “Candy” Cummings with originating the curveball in his book “The National Game,” but by 1920 others were making the case for different candidates.  Spink asked Reid his opinion:

“Without a doubt Cummings was the first pitcher to put the curve on the ball.

“As Cummings was using the outcurve as early as 1867, and Bobby Matthews only broke into the game at Baltimore in 1869, there is very little doubt as to who discovered the art of curving.

“In fact, it was not until years later, when the rules allowed the pitchers to raise their arm above the waist, that Matthews became master of the curve.”

Candy Cummings

Candy Cummings

Reid also talked about the pitch Mathews did introduce:

“I am quite sure that Mathews was the first to work the delivery mow bearing the insanitary name

“Before delivering the ball he would rub it hard on his trousers, always on the same spot, where the seams are the farthest apart…he would draw his two fingers across his lips, take the ball with two fingers and a thumb and send it in with only fair speed.  He had perfect control and usually sent the ball about waist-high for a player calling for a low ball.  The break came just in front of the plate and the ball usually went into the ground or very high in the air.  Few line drives were made off of Mathews.”

Bobby Mathews

Bobby Mathews

Reid also talked about Alphonse Case “Phonney” Martin.  At the same time that Spink was making the case for Cummings in “The National Game,” Martin told William Aulick of The New York Globe that he developed the pitch. Aulick concluded:

“Some people say this was the first cousin of the curve ball, but they don’t say this when old Alphonse Martin is around.  He insists it wasn’t anyone’s cousin–it was Mister Curve himself.”

Reid disagreed, he described Martin’s pitch as a “freak ball,” and said:

“I first saw Martin pitch down on the old lake front grounds in Chicago against the original White Stocking team.  He simply threw a slow lob ball that came so slow you had to nearly break your back to hit it.  But, at that, his delivery was a success, and most of the balls hit from it went high in the air and came down in some fielder’s hands…He threw a slow teaser that reached the plate about shoulder-high and dropped while still spinning.”

Alphonse "Phonney" Martin

Alphonse “Phonney” Martin

Reid insisted Martin’s pitch was not a curve:

“Cummings and Cummins alone was the originator of the curve.”

“One of the Two Greatest Sluggers”

28 Jan

On July 19, 1920, Babe Ruth hit his 30th home run of the season off Dickie Kerr of the Chicago White Sox, breaking the Major League record he had set the previous season.  Perry Werden, working as an umpire in the South Dakota League was largely forgotten.

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

The Minneapolis Tribune, as a point of local pride, reminded readers that Ruth had not eclipsed the record set in their town:

“Beyond all doubt the mark made yesterday is a major league record of all time but the Babe has yet to equal the mark of 45 made by Perry Werden of the Minneapolis Western League club in 1895.”

Some reporters, like Al Spink of The Sporting News, dismissed Werden because “the park at Minneapolis, which was an unusually small inclosure (sic), with the right and left field fences close in.”  Regardless, Werden was back in the public eye; his forgotten record was revived as fans followed Ruth’s record season.  The Associated Press said:

“(Werden) admits that Babe Ruth has a harder swing than he had when he made his mark. ‘There is no doubt that Babe has it on all of them—modern and ancient’ says Werden”

When Ruth hit numbers 45 and 46, one in each game of a double-header at Fenway Park, The Associated Press said:

“(Ruth) broke all known world’s records for circuit drives in a single season.”

Werden, in his role as “the former holder of the home run record for organized baseball” was often asked about Ruth over the next decade.  Werden called Ruth “One of the two greatest sluggers that I have seen in fifty years.”

Perry Werden, 1930

Perry Werden, 1930

The only player Werden considered Ruth’s equal?   Ed Delahanty.

Werden told The North American Newspaper Alliance, in a nationally syndicated story:

“Ed Delahanty would have equaled or bettered the home run record of Babe Ruth if the lively ball had been in use…If Delahanty had any weakness no pitcher ever found out what it was.  He hit left-handers as easy and effectively as he did right-handers, and it made no difference to him where they threw the ball—high, low, inside, outside, curve fast ball or slow ball—they all looked alike to Big Ed.”

Werden said while playing first base for the Saint Louis Browns he saw just how hard Delahanty could hit:

“The Phillies had a runner on first base, and when Delahanty came up to bat we played in close for him, thinking he would bunt.  That was a mistake we never made again when Delahanty batted.  Instead of bunting he hit a ground ball so hard that it tore a shoe off George Pinkney, our third baseman, in addition to fracturing his right ankle.”

As further proof Werden said “Even with the lively ball…it was thirty-six years before Delahanty’s record of hitting four home runs in a single game was equaled by Lou Gehrig.”  Werden didn’t mention that Bobby Lowe had accomplished the same feat two years before Delahanty.

Ed Delahanty

Ed Delahanty

While Werden will never join Delahanty and Ruth in the Hall of Fame, he is remembered as one of the greatest minor league players of the 19th Century.  He died in Minneapolis in 1934.