Tag Archives: American Association

“Baseball is a lot Faster now”

18 Oct

Bill Gleason was the shortstop for three of the four straight American Association champion St. Louis Browns team—he was with the 1885-1887 teams—and, apparently, very superstitious.  After his baseball career ended in 1891, the St. Louis native returned home and became a fire fighter.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he didn’t spend his later years complaining about how the game wasn’t as good as when he played.

In 1926, the captain of the city’s Engine Company Number 38, sat in the Sportsman’s Park press box for game three of the World Series, and spoke to a reporter from The Post-Dispatch:

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Bill Gleason Fire Captain

“’It’s a fast team, a fast team,’ Gleason repeated again and again as the Cardinals infield worked.  ‘And baseball is a lot faster now than it was when we played it back in the old days.’”

And Gleason was aware of how most of his contemporaries felt:

“’I’m not one of these old codgers who’d tell you there are no times like the old times.  These boys out there are faster than we were, I think, and the game’s gone a long way ahead.  And I wouldn’t like to say we had any players quite up to the big fellow out there,’ waving a hand toward ‘Babe’ Ruth who was emerging from the Yankee dugout.”

Gleason noted that while his three Browns teams “were champions of the world,” he said they were not as great as the current Cardinals:

“’This man (Jesse) Haines who pitched today is a wonder.  He had everything, speed, curves, and absolute control (Haines shut the Yankees out on five hits in a game delayed by rain for 30 minutes during the fourth inning)…Sometimes it seems to me that we don’t have the pitching now that we used to, but Haines certainly furnished it for us today.  He puts me in mind of old Tim Keefe of the New York team.  He was a great pitcher in my day.”

But Gleason was even more impressed with the Cardinals infield:

“’Then there’s that double play combination.  (Tommy) Thevenow to (Rogers) Hornsby to (Jim) Bottomley.  Thevenow is lightening fast, Hornsby’s play is as smooth as silk, and Bottomley is just a beauty.”

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Gleason, 1886

Gleason said Hornsby’s play at second reminded him of his Browns teammate Yank Robinson:

“’(He) handled himself a lot like Hornsby.  You didn’t realize how fast he was moving. He worked so easily.’”

Gleason said the Cardinals had better hitting than his Browns and said of outfielder Billy Southworth:

“’He’s like Curt Welch, the center fielder of the Browns.  Goes back on a fly ball and gets set for it just like old Curt did.  And (catcher Bob) O’Farrell is a lot like Doc Bushong of the Browns—steady and dependable.’”

Gleason also talked about how the 1926 incarnation of Sportsman’s Park differed from the first version which hosted the 1886 world’s championship against the Chicago White Stockings:

“’In those days,’ he said, ‘the grounds were laid out so that we batted from Grand Avenue, and what is now home plate was then left field. “

Gleason said the following season, when the Browns again played the White Stockings in a post series, that the decision to make the series a “winner take all” for the gate money was Albert G. Spalding’s idea:

“’(Browns owner) Chris von der Ahe (wanted to) split the gate.  (Spalding) said he would play only on the basis of winner take all and we played on that agreement.  The Browns won the series four games to two.  We won the last three games here, and I think it’s likely the Cardinals will do the same thing.”

His prognostication was off—the Cardinals dropped the next two games to the Yankees, but did come back to win the final two to take the World Series in seven games.

Gleason remained with the St. Louis fire department until his death at age 73 in 1932—there was general confusion about Gleason’s age at the time of his death, The Post-Dispatch said “Records vary to his age but he was about 70,” The St. Louis Star and Times and The Associated Press said he was 66.

The Post-Dispatch said he was recovering from an infection he got from stepping on a nail at a fire, when “he insisted on going down to the corner drug store.  On the way home he collapsed from the heat and never left his bed again.”

“O’Brien…Felt Like Dropping Dead”

8 Oct

Darby O’Brien was a rookie and Charley Jones was near the end of his 12-year career  when the two were teammates with the New York Metropolitans in 1887; his friendship with Jones gone sideways made O’Brien a brief sensation on the police blotter.

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O’Brien was playing for the Brooklyn Bridegrooms the following season when, on July 21 he was arrested along with teammate Jack Burdock were arrested when leaving Brooklyn’s Washington Park after a game.

The troubled Burdock, who battled alcoholism, was arrested for assault for attempting to kiss a 17-year-old stationary store employee the previous year, while, as The New York Sun said he “was under the influence of liquor,”  Burdock was acquitted later that year when the victim failed to appear to testify against him.

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Jack Burdock

Burdock being in trouble was not news, but said The Sun:

“(O’Brien) is one of the steadiest men in the ball business and, consequently felt like dropping dead when (New York Detective)  McGrath told him he was wanted for larceny.”

O’Brien’s alleged crime?  The Brooklyn Eagle said:

“The charge against O’Brien is made by Mrs. Louisa Jones, wife of Charles W. Jones, formerly left fielder of the Kansas City nine, and is that he stole her dog.”

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Charley Jones

According to Mrs. Jones, O’Brien had given her the dog, “a small pug,” to take care of after the 1887 season and subsequently “presented the dog to her.”  Mrs. Jones said O’Brien later returned to the Staten Island hotel where the Jones’ lived and stole the dog.  The New York World said he “snatched the dog out of her lap,” at the hotel and ran to a train to escape.

After O’Brien was released on “the promise of (Brooklyn owner Charlie) Byrne” that O’Brien would appear in court on July 23, he spoke to a reporter from The Eagle:

“Mrs. Jones story is untrue.  I did not give her the dog nor did I snatch it from her lap, as was reported in a morning paper.  I was stopping at the Nautilus Hotel when she and Jones came there to live.  I got the dog from (catcher Bill) Holbert.  She was a beauty and is Beauty by name.  Mr. Holbert raised her from a pup and I was too fond of her to part with her.  Mrs. Jones admired her very much.  I declined to give her Beauty, but did promise her one the next litter.  That was only to keep her quiet.  She annoyed me very much.  She got square, however, for when I was preparing to go West (after the 1887 season) she and Jones bolted and took the dog with them.  I got Beauty back.”

O’Brien failed to say how he “got Beauty back.”  The Eagle said Holbert backed up his statement.

The World described the scene when O’Brien returned to face the charges:

“Justice Massey, of Brooklyn, was a half hour tardy in his arrival at the courtroom this morning and he found the chamber packed full of people  .

“There were baseball players, baseball enthusiasts and patrons of the national game.  There were a couple of hundred of the youth of the City of Churches, and there as many of the pretty girls for which Brooklyn is famous.”

Both O’Brien and Burdock were in court that morning, but the paper said:

“Darby received most attention, for he is one of the Brooklyn boys who doesn’t pose as a bridegroom.”

In addition to Byrne and Holbert, the New York papers said O’Brien’s Brooklyn teammates Al Mays and Bill McClellan were there for support.

The case was continued and the potential baseball/dog trial of the century was scheduled for September 5, 1888, but ended with a whimper.  The Evening World said:

“Not only is the Brooklyn baseball team in third place in the Association today, but it’s members are at last all out of court.

“Darby O’Brien’s dog case came before Justice Massey this morning and the popular left fielder was promptly on hand to show that he didn’t steal Mrs. Jones’ canine.  He was spared the pains, however, for a note came from the Staten Island complainant in which she declared that she would not press the complaint

“Darby was therefore discharged.”

Unfortunately, the dog did not make it to the trial, O’Brien told The Eagle that in July “(Beauty) had a fit on Sixth Avenue and died.”

O’Brien played with Brooklyn through 1892, became ill with tuberculosis and died in his hometown of Peoria, Illinois in 1893, he was 29.

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O’Brien

When word reached Byrne that O’Brien had died, he told The Eagle:

“Darby was a typical, humorous, quick witted young Irishman, handsome and clever.  He was like a good sailor.  He had a sweetheart in every city the team visited.  He was generous to a fault.  His purse was open to everyone and he never called for an accounting.  He was, without exception, in the full sense of the word, the most popular ballplayer in the country—not for his phenomenal ability or his brilliant work, but for his happy go lucky manner.”

“The Brutality of Baseball During the Constructive Period”

24 Sep

In 1910, after close to 40 years in baseball, Jim O’Rourke talked to Tip Wright, a former Cleveland baseball and boxing writer, then with The United Press, about his life in baseball:

“As I like back to the day before we wore gloves I can scarcely understand how we went through the ordeal of a game. Before gloves were used, the catcher suffered unbelievable torture. On a hot day, when the blood circulated freely, the catcher’s hands would swell about the third inning. When the swelling started, the pain caused by the impact with the ball decreased, because the swollen flesh made sort of a cushion.

“But on a cold day, when the blood did not course freely, and the hands would not swell, the pain was intense. I have seen catchers hold a piece of soft rubber in their mouths, and whenever the ball was pitched they would screw up their faces and bite on the rubber as hard as they could to offset the pain.”

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Jim O’Rourke

O’Rourke said that when the weather was warm it was sometimes said by catchers:

“Oh, I am getting along fine—my hands are swelling up in great shape.”

In addition to the scars carried by catchers, O’Rourke told Wright about the many players he saw “knocked senseless many times,” and that he still suffered from the effects of those early days:

“Talk about the roughness of football in these days, and the hopelessness of trying to stop it, but it is nothing compared to the brutality of baseball during the constructive period .

“My head has been so sore from being hit that I could not think and my hands so sore from catching that I could not hold an orange tossed from a distance of six feet.”

O’Rourke told Wright about joining the Boston Red Stockings as a 22 year-old in 1873, and his relationship with another Wright—Boston manager Harry:

“They called me ‘Harry Wright’s boy.’ He took me to live with his family, and, had I been spoilable, I would have been spoiled in a short time. But the things my mother taught me kept me straight. I never touched liquor or tobacco in my life. I never dodged temptations; in fact I exposed myself to them. When the boys went out they asked me to go along, knowing I would care for them when they got into difficulty.

“Had I headed wrong at this time my bright future would have been ruined…I advise young ballplayers that if they leave liquor alone they can dodge the other evil—late hours and loose living—that have ruined so many bright players.”

Of his brief stint as an umpire in 1894, O’Rourke said:

“I couldn’t stand it—I wouldn’t be an umpire for anything, so I went to Bridgeport, and because I could not keep out of the game, I played that year with the St. Joseph’s Temperance team.”

As for young players, O’Rourke said most didn’t compare with his son—James “Queenie” O’Rourke was in 1910, a 26-year-old infielder and outfielder for the Columbus Senators in the American Association:

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Queenie O’Rourke

“I think James is as steady as I was. Every year when he leaves home, I say to him, ‘Now, James, if you will just leave stimulants alone, no harm can come to you. You can’t help but being a good man.’ And up to this time he has not touched either liquor or tobacco, and I know he won’t.

He kisses his mother goodbye each year, just as I used to kiss mine. I often look at the young fellows and wonder why they do not behave.

“Maybe one reason is they have too easy a time, compared with we old veterans, as many of the hardships of baseball have been removed by appliances and safeguards.”

More from O’Rourke on Thursday.

Murnane’s Plan to Save Baseball

29 Aug

For as long as there has been a game, there have been plans intended to “save” it.

Tim Murnane considered himself a diet expert, and a baseball expert.

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Tim Murnane

The baseball player and pioneer turned sportswriter proposed his plan to save baseball in the fall of 1895 in the pages of The Boston Globe.

Murnane said:

“Many lovers of baseball claim that the sport is degenerating, owing to leading clubs engaging players from all parts of the country.

“How can a man, they ask, born and brought up in New York city, join the Boston club and be as anxious to defeat the Giants as would a man hailing from the East?”

Murnane used Cincinnati Reds catcher Morgan Murphy “the great Boston favorite” as an example:

“Year after year he is forced to go out to Cincinnati from his home in Rhode Island when the Boston public would be delighted to see him in a Boston uniform.”

In addition to Murphy, said Murnane, there was Boston infielder and Chicago native Herman Long:

“Now wouldn’t he look more in place in a Chicago uniform.”

In order to give the game “more local coloring” Murnane proposed:

“The National League to be composed of eight clubs, representing Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore in the east, Pittsburgh, Chicago Cleveland and Cincinnati in the west.”

Murnane then set up a series of territories, for example, all Chicago players would have to come from Illinois, Iowa, or Minnesota—New York could only sign players From Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. Each team could only sign players from their territory.

Players from all western states except California would be eligible to play for any of the “western” teams, and California players would be able to sign with any club.

Next, Murnane proposed reestablishing the American Association as a feeder league with franchises in in Providence, Brooklyn, Washington D.C., Buffalo, Louisville, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Columbus. These teams could sign players from anywhere and the entire rosters would be eligible to be drafted by the National League clubs at the close of each season.

Part of Murnane’s plan also addressed one of his personal crusades:

”Abolish Sunday ball playing by league clubs and make it optional with the clubs of the association.”

The Globe published a list of every current major leaguer, and showed which team they would be with under the plan.

Murnane was convinced his proposal:

“Would give baseball a grand boom from Maine to California, as it would revive the interest among the amateur players and give each section of the country something special to work for.”

The Globe’s larger rival, The Boston Post, couldn’t wait to tell readers how horrible Murnane’s plan was.

Never mentioning the rival paper’s writer by name, The Post said:

“The recent scheme of how to enliven baseball in the East and give the game more local tinge has given the gossiper a chance to assert himself.”

The “scheme” said The Post had already been “exploded by many of the enthusiasts, ball players, and ex-ball players in this vicinity.”

One local businessman and “greatest enthusiasts of the game in this city,” noted that the champion Baltimore Orioles did not have a single player from their “territory,” and “There would be a great deal of kicking,” from Orioles fans.

Beaneaters president Arthur Soden told the paper he was against the plan despite the fact that:

“We might, of course, have a winning team, as we have such a lot of men to pick from, but it looks to me that the other teams in consequence would be handicapped for good men.”

An Eastern League umpire named John Bannon, noted that the geographical restrictions would be a boon for owners as players would “be forced to sign for any amount the magnates offered them, “ and pronounced the plan “ridiculous.”

James “Doc” Casey, a Massachusetts native then with the Toronto Canucks in the Eastern League, who would later play 10 major league seasons—none in Boston—was also against the plan:

“If directors were forced to make up their teams from a certain territory, then the extremes would be reached. One club would have all of the cracks and another would be forced to go through the season with a crowd of men who be incompetent.”

With that, Murnane’s plan to “save” baseball died a quiet death.

“That Night the Butte Gamblers bet Their Heads off”

20 Aug

Clark Griffith repeated the story about how in 1892 he ended up in Missoula, Montana many times.  After the American Association disbanded, Griffith went west to join the Tacoma franchise in the Northern Pacific League.  The team struggled financially, and after receiving an offer from a mining company, the entire team relocated to Missoula and joined the Montana State League.

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Clark Griffith

Griffith appears to have only once told a story about gambling, guns, and baseball in the mining towns of Montana that season.

Shortly after he bought 10 percent of the Washington Senators—he raised the money by mortgaging his Montana ranch—he told William Peet of The Washington Herald about his time in Missoula.  Peet said:

“When there is no real news to hand out, Griff sits back in his chair and between puffs of a cigar tells a lot of interesting baseball stories.”

Griffith told Peet:

“The day before we arrived in Missoula the management there released every man on its payroll, and the day we opened up the ballpark was packed.  Missoula had been the joke of the league.”

Griffith said the club started winning immediately and that the only two pitchers Missoula carried where him and George “Lem” Cross:

“’George Cross and myself did all the twirling, and we worked every other day…our first out-of-town series was in Butte, Montana.  When we hit that town they were waiting for us with open arms.’

“’Our manager Billy Works [sic Work] was told to get all the money he could scrape together, as the Butte gamblers would bet their last cent of the home club.  Works dug up $5000, and the night before the opening game waited for somebody to cover his coin.’

Griffith said the gamblers laid off the first game and did not cover Work’s bet; Cross was “batted all over the lot” and Missoula lost 15 to 4:

“’That night the Butte gamblers bet their heads off, covering our manager’s $5000 in jig time.  I was slated to pitch the next day and the game was a tight one from the start.’

“’Butte tied the score in the ninth, when a ball got away from my catcher.  The ball rolled to the stand, and as he was chasing after it one bug poked his arm over the grandstand rail, extending in his hand a six-shooter: ‘Let that ball alone,’ he cried.  The catcher stopped in his tracks, and the runner scored from third.’”

Missoula won the game in the tenth, and according to Griffith, Work immediately bet his winnings on the next day’s game:

“’Cross confided to me that he wasn’t going to take any chances with such a bunch of roughnecks.  ‘I don’t like the looks of those guns,’ he said.  I believe that if I had not stuck close to him all night he would have jumped town.’

“’We had nobody else to put in, and Cross simply had to pitch the game.  We had an awful time getting him into a uniform, but with a lot of jollying we finally induced him to come along.  He was scared stiff when he entered the box.’

Griffith said Cross “got his nerve back” and beat the Butte team 6 to 1; the easy win seemed to nullify the effects of the armed Butte fans.  Griffith said:

“’It was a grand clean-up all right, and our manager gave me $200 for winning my game.”

Note: This was not Griffith’s only experience with mining, and with guns at the ballpark—he threatened to skip out on his contract before the 1900 to become a gold miner, and during that same spring he was on the mound when “a Southern gentleman opened up with a .44.

 

“An Impenetrable Mystery Surrounds the Whereabouts of Arlie Latham”

13 Aug

Arlie Latham was missing.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch said:

 “An impenetrable mystery surrounds the whereabouts of Arlie Latham, the great third baseman of the Brownstocking Club.”

In two days, the defending American Association champion Browns were scheduled to play a preseason “World’s Championship” series with the National League champion Chicago White Stockings, and Latham was missing.

The paper said there were “wild-eyed” rumors that Latham had arrived in town and was at the home of his mother in law, “Mrs. Garvin, No. 2315 Chestnut Street.”

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Arlie Latham

The Garvin’s next door neighbor even “came downtown…and stated positively that he had seen Latham on (April 3) walking around the yard and removing clothes lines from the back fence or engaged in some equally domestic occupation.”

The paper said there were several stories circulating about Latham:

“(T)hat (Browns) President (Chris) von der Ahe had seen him and knows that he is here…(they) understand each other and have prepared a big surprise for the audience at the opening game…and that all the differences between them as to salary has been amicably settled.”

Or:

“Latham is laid up at his wife’s mother’s house on Chestnut Street and is suffering with malarial fever.”

Or:

“The present abode of Latham (is) a mystery.”

The final story was based on the fact that “numerous letters” were waiting for Latham unclaimed at the Laclede Hotel “where he generally stops when in the city.”

The paper sent a reporter to the Garvin house to interrogate Latham’s mother in law:

“The bell was answered by the lady herself, who when Latham was asked for, replied:

“’Mr. Latham is not here.’

“’When did he leave?’

“’Last fall some time.’”

Mrs. Garvin said she had received a letter the da before from her daughter who she said was in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Mrs. Garvin asked the reporter:

“’What interest do you take in Mr. Latham?’

“Don’t you know the Browns are going to play the Chicagos Thursday?’

“’No, I didn’t know anything about that.’”

The reporter told Mrs. Garvin there were reports Latham had been seen at her home:

“’Well, I can’t see how anybody could say such a thing.’”

The Post-Dispatch then sought an answer from the Browns owner:

“Extensive questioning could bring no definite answer from President von der Ahe regarding the mystery.”

The Browns owner did tell the paper:

“No, you can put that down positively he has not signed with the club, and what’s more I’m not going to come to his terms.’

“’What does he want?’

“’Well, he says he won’t play with us this year unless I pay him $2800, and I’ll never do that.”

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von der Ahe

According to von der Ahe, he offered Latham $2500 for the season:

“’I’ve made him an offer that is sufficiently good for his services, and if he doesn’t want to sign for that, he needn’t.’”

When the Browns opened the series, Latham was still missing.  Eight thousand people turned out for the first game against Chicago and Lou Sylvester played third.  The Browns lost six to three.

But, apparently, the reports that Latham was in town were incorrect.

The Post-Dispatch said von der Ahe received a telegram from Latham during the game saying he would be in St. Louis that evening.

The Chicago Tribune said Latham accepted $2500 for the 1887 season.

Latham arrived in St. Louis on the evening of April 7, and started for the Browns the next day, The Post-Dispatch said:

“Latham shows up in excellent for and guards their third bag.”

He went 0 for 2 with two walks in a seven to four Browns victory.

The White Stockings won the series four games to two.  Latham hit .440 with 11 hits in 25 at bats.  The regular season started the day after the series.

The Browns won another American Association championship in 1887, finishing 14 games ahead of the Cincinnati Red Stockings.

Latham, arguably, had his best season.  He hit .316, and with the loose scoring for stolen bases in 1887 he had 129.

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.“

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 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.”

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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.”

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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.”

King Kelly’s Contract

25 May

Mike “King” Kelly signed in 1891 to captain the new American Association club in Cincinnati and joined the Boston Reds in that league after Cincinnati released him in August.  But after just eight days with the reds he jumped to the Boston Beaneaters of the National League.

The New York World called Kelly’s action, a “Hard blow to the Association.”

Kelly jumped as representatives of the two leagues were engaged in a “Peace conference” at Washington’s Arlington Hotel.

The Baltimore Sun said:

“The action of Kelly had the effect of breaking up pending negotiations, for the time being at least, the Association representatives leaving the conference when the League men refused to give them any assurance that would be compelled to remain with the Reds.”

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Mike “King” Kelly

The Chicago Evening Post claimed to have the story behind Kelly’s move, and concluded which team he “morally” belonged to:

“It is held by persons who urge that they know that the King signed a Boston (NL) contract and accepted advance money two months before (he signed with Cincinnati).  The incident happened at the Fifth Avenue Hotel (in New York) last winter during the conferences that finally ended in the dissolution of the brotherhood.  One night Kelly came into the hotel ‘broke,’ having spent the afternoon and his roll at Guttenberg.”

Guttenberg was a racetrack located across the river from Manhattan, in what is now North Bergen, New Jersey—open from 1885-1893, it was at the time, the only track that held winter racing in a winter climate.

The Evening Post said Kelly found “His old friend, Director (William) Conant of the Boston (National League) triumvirate.”  Kelly said:

“’Bill, I’m dead broke.  Can I touch you for a few hundred?’

“’I don’t know Kel’ was the reply.  ‘I guess, though, you can have the money if you’ll sign a contract to play ball with me.’”

The paper said the two went upstairs to Conant’s room:

“A League contract was produced and a roll of greenbacks was spread before the King’s beaming countenance.  ‘Kel’ picked up the money, signed the contract and then put both the money and the document into his pocket, with the cool remark:

“’When I get ready to return this contract to you, Bill, I will.  See?’

“And with that he walked of.”

The Evening Post said Kelly initially signed with the Boston Reds after his release from Cincinnati because he tried to borrow more money from Conant:

“Conant refused to accommodate him unless that contract was handed over.  But ‘Kel’ was obstinate, and not getting the money from Conant, went over to (Charles A.) Prince, who gladly gave it to him.”

But, Kelly quickly decided to honor the “contract” he signed with Conant:

“These are facts, every one of them, from which it must be inferred that Kelly was really under contract morally to the Boston League people all the time that he played with Cincinnati and the Boston Reds.”

The Beaneaters were in second place, four games behind the Chicago Colts, on the day Kelly jumped, August 25.  Kelly only appeared in 16 games and hit just .231, but Boston went on a tear, winning 30 of their last 40 games after the King joined the club, and overtook Chicago for sole possession of first place on September 30, and won the pennant by three and a half games.

Roy Counts

30 Apr

The Arizona State League was formed in 1928—the four-team league had teams in Bisbee, Miami, Tucson, and Phoenix.

There seemed to be little information about Phoenix Senators second baseman Roy Counts in local papers.  Counts had spent the previous two years in the outlaw Copper League with the Fort Bayard (NM) Veterans where he was a teammate of banned White Sox pitcher Claude “Lefty” Williams, but otherwise little was written about Counts.

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The Fort Bayard Veterans in Juarez, Mexico after a 1926 game, Claude “Lefty” Williams is sixth from left, Roy Counts is 14th (with arms crossed)

The Arizona Republic said after an April exhibition game with the barnstorming House of David club, that Counts and third baseman Henry Doll:

“(H)ave been working out in good style and appear in perfect condition.  Both are fast fielders and have wicked pegs to the initial sack.”

On May 20, the Senators beat the Tucson Waddies 11-0.  Counts was 1 for 4 with no errors in five chances at second—it was his final professional game.

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Roy Counts, 1928

Roy Counts it turned out was not really Roy Counts.

Roy Counts was actually Laster Fisher—an Arkansas born fugitive who had previously played professional baseball under his given name.

Fisher—his unusual first name a result of his mother’s maiden name, Lasater—was born in Mulberry, Arkansas on October 8, 1901, and broke into professional ball with the Salina (KS) Millers in the Southwestern League in 1922.  Fisher played third base and shortstop, he hit .269.  In October, the Minneapolis Millers purchased his contract.

That same month, Fisher was arrested in Salina for passing a bad check for $10.50 at a local restaurant.  Whether he was only charged with the writing the one bad check was unclear, but The Salina Evening Journal said his father, “Settled all claims against his son.”

Despite the brush with the law, Fisher spent the spring of 1923 with Minneapolis but was farmed out to the Clarksdale Cubs in the Cotton States League before the season began.  In mid July, he joined Minneapolis, he appeared in 69 games—67 at shortstop—he hit 273 and committed 34 errors in 365 total chances.

The Minneapolis Star said of Fisher’s performance he was, “not of the double A caliber yet.”

He was let go by Minneapolis and signed by the Tulsa Oilers in the Western League—according to The Houston Post he was the first player to arrive at Tulsa’s spring training camp in Marlin, Texas—Fisher appears to have been let go before the season started.

In May, The St. Joseph (MO) News-Press said:

“Lester [sic] Fisher, former Tulsa Western League shortstop, who was reported missing a while back with a drive-it-yourself car…(was) returned to Tulsa and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary.  Fisher is only twenty-two years old and gave promise of being one of the best shortstops in the Western League.  He told the judge who sentenced him that at the time he stole the car he was drunk, and when he got sober he was afraid to return it.”

Fisher had driven the rented Maxwell automobile to Greenwood, Mississippi, and according to The Greenwood Commonwealth left the car in that town; he was later arrested in Leland, Mississippi and returned to Oklahoma.

After entering the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester, Fisher joined the prison baseball team.  On May 13, 1925, according to The Associated Press, Fisher “Kept running after a game in Holdenville.”

His three year run over, Fisher was returned to prison in Oklahoma.  He never returned to pro ball.

He moved to Texas after his release and was working as a maintenance man at the Victory Baptist Church when he died of congestive heart failure on July 5, 1959.

“Rube was a Jester, Baseball’s First and Only”

16 Apr

In 1914, Roy J. Dunlap was a reporter for The St. Paul Pioneer Press.  He had come to the paper the previous year from The Duluth News-Tribune where he covered baseball and served as official scorer for the Duluth White Sox in the Northern League.

Shortly after Rude Waddell’s death on April 1, 1914, Dunlap told readers about the final game Waddell appeared in as a pro July 3, 1913 (In his original version, Dunlap said the game was played on June 28, but The Virginia Enterprise and other papers confirm the game was played on the 28th).  Waddell was pitching the Virginia (MN) Ore Diggers against the White Sox.

“Waddell made millions of dollars—for the club owners.  His big, jolly nature never permitted him to turn his jesting to his own pecuniary benefit.  For Rube was a jester, baseball’s first and only.  Beside him Germany Schaefer and Nick Altrock are only superclowns.”

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Rube

Dunlap said of Waddell’s final game:

“Those 2,000 or more fans who sat on the bleachers or in the grand stand and doubled up with laughter at the jester’s antics probably never will forget that eventful day.  Perhaps Rube knew it would be his last fling.  The more one thinks of his work in the twelve grueling innings the more he is impressed that Rube felt the intuition of an invisible fate.  Rube ever has been fate’s plaything. Fate molded him into a jester, and has criss-crossed his eventful life since.

“Rube admitted it.  He never could explain why he went fishing the day he was scheduled to pitch while fans called for him and irate managers scoured his old haunts, gnashing their teeth; he never could explain why he went to a fire in the midst of an exciting game or why he rescued drowning men from the bottom of a lake.

“Rube’s last year in baseball was filled with misfortune.  He was stricken with a fever in the training camp at Minneapolis American Association team at Hickman (Kentucky, where Waddle came down with pneumonia after helping to the save the city from a devastating flood) and was not in shape to pitch at the opening of the season.”

Waddell began the 1913 season with the “Little Millers,” the Minneapolis club in the Northern League, and as Dunlap put it:

“The old listless, wandering spirit nature seemed to grip him and he became careless.”

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Rube Waddell

Waddell was released by Minneapolis, then:

Spike Shannon…manager for the Virginia team, which was in last place, put in a bid for Rube.  Probably Shannon figured him from a gate standpoint.  His team was a poor attraction because of its cellar position almost from the start.  If that were his motive he made a shrewd move.  Rube Waddell was a drawing card and this power he held until the last.

“Waddell joined the Virginians at Duluth one rainy day early in June.  He was still suffering from a ‘game’ leg, although it was on the mend, and he was able to be in a game once in awhile.”

Then, said Dunlap, Waddell disappeared:

“Shannon knew where he was, but beyond an evasive answer he would shed no light on Rube’s whereabouts.

“The team traveled about the circuit and the fans called for Rube, but Rube was not there.  Then one day, press dispatches carried a thrilling story, and the secret was no more.”

Dunlap here claimed while Waddell was away from the team “camping” he saved two men from drowning—the story likely a conflation of the oft told story of Rube saving a woman from drowning, and his role in recovering the body of a drown man in Tower, Minnesota on July 9, 1913, The Associated Press said Waddell recovered the body, “after several good swimmers had failed.”

At some point in late June, Waddell rejoined the team, pitched and played outfield, and was scheduled to pitch June 28:

“Waddell was advertised to pitch the first game.  The curious fans filled the grand stands and bleachers.  When the big fellow stepped out to warm up he was cheered to an echo.  But underneath it all there was a note of sadness.  None could help recalling his career.  They saw, in their imagination, Rube Waddell standing in the pitcher’s box at Shibe Park, Philadelphia.  They saw him in the height of glory striking out man after man, and heard again the plaudits of the fans.  Then in reality they saw him in a minor league, one of the newest and greenest in organized baseball and Waddell was pitching for the tail enders.

“Waddell had the art of jesting down to a fine point.  He never displayed it to a better advantage than that day.  He knew when to pull the funny stuff and when to tighten.  He did his best to win that game because he knew the crowd expected it.  But he was pitching against a youngster (Harry “Pecky” Rhoades) who was hitting his best stride, and it was youth against ill health and stiffened joints.  Duluth won the game 2 to 1.  Rube fanned 12, but his team did not give him the slugging support.  His opponent struck out 17 Virginians.”

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Pecky Rhoades

Dunlap continued his story, telling the story of how Rube began the game:

“Rube walked to the plate, keeping step to the hand clapping of the crowd.  He surveyed carefully the pitcher’s box, gave his outfield a careful glance, turned, bowed to the crowd, motioned to the batter to get closer to the plate and put over the first pitched ball-a strike.  The catcher returned the ball, but Rube’s back was turned.  He was looking at something out in centerfield.  The fans shouted but he never looked around.  Suddenly he made a quick step, his face still turned away, put his hand behind his back and caught the ball.

“He retired the batter in short order on strikes.  Rube smiled.”

Both The Duluth News-Tribune and The Virginia Enterprise reported the same score and strike out totals the day after the game, The News-Tribune called the game “One of the great pitching duels seen here.”

Said Dunlap of Waddell’s death:

“Before the end he sent out a little message.  He said in it a few words, but it was a sermon.  Had this commandment been followed by the author the name of Rube Waddell might have been with that of Mathewson today, and fans would be speculating on when he would be too old to pitch.

“This is the sermon-message:

“Tell the boys to cut out the booze and cigarettes.”