Tag Archives: American Association

Wee Willie Sudhoff

19 Jun

William “Wee Willie” Sudhoff was in the midst of his best season.  The 28-year-old pitcher, who was 28-52 during his first three major league seasons, was on his way to his first 20-win season for the St. Louis Browns in 1903.

Born in St. Louis, Sudhoff was a local favorite.  The St. Louis Republic said about him signing with the Browns (NL) in 1897:

 

sudhoffpix2

Willie Sudhoff with the Ben Winklers, a local St. Louis amateur club circa 1895

 

“Although he had many chances to play with the big Eastern teams, Willy Steadfastly refused their offers and remained loyal to the city of his birth.”

On August 28, the Browns left Cleveland aboard a train carrying the ballclub and the Cleveland Naps— the teams were scheduled to play a doubleheader the following day in St. Louis.  In Napoleon, Ohio, the engineer misread a signal and the train derailed.

The Associated Press said:

“The Cleveland sleeper (car, the first sleeper on the special train that consisted of a baggage car and two sleepers) turned completely over on one side and the boys on the upper said were thrown over on top of those who occupied berths on the opposite side.”

The rear car, carrying the Browns, ended up in a ditch but did not turn over.

In what The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called, “(A) miraculous escape from almost total annihilation,” no players on either club were seriously injured.

Sudhoff was the most seriously injured player; he had a strained wrist and “had his hand cut,” and missed his scheduled start against Cleveland.

Despite the relatively minor injury, teammates and friends said Sudhoff was never the same after the derailment.

After ending 1903 with a 21-15 record and 2.27 ERA for the 65-74 Browns, Sudhof threatened to leave the Browns two weeks before the 1904 season opener.  The Post-Dispatch said he “Bolted from Browns headquarters,” but returned the same day to sign his contract.  The paper said:

“A baseball catastrophe was averted.”

sudhoffpix

Willie Sudhoff, 1903

By June, Sudhoff, struggling on his way to an 8-15 3.76 ERA season, was accused of underperforming to draw his release.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“This is the gossip of the bleachers, where the deep undercurrents of baseball diplomacy are as an open book.

“Sudhoff bears no more resemblance in his pitching this year to the Sudhoff of last year than a Parish League shortstop to Hans Wagner.  To all appearances, the little twirler is in excellent condition but he fails of delivery as to the goods nearly every time he goes into the box.”

The paper said, “Sudhoff indignantly denies that there is any truth to the story.”

The following season The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said the Browns had cut Sudhoff’s salary for 1905.  Team owner Robert Hedges remained hopeful about his pitcher’s future:

“Willie pitched good baseball at times last year, but he had so many misfortunes during the season that it discouraged him a bit.”

Hedges said two members of Sudhoff’s family had died and that he had also taken care of sick relatives.

And Sudhoff appeared to make Hedges look smart when he shut out the Cleveland Naps in his first start of the season.

He attributed his success to his new “Raising Jump Ball.”  He told The Post-Dispatch:

“It is different from the “raise ball” of Charley Nichols and the “jump ball” of Christy Mathewson but combines features of both.  It passes over the plate at a man’s shoulder and jumping rises, changing its course slightly as it passes him.”

The paper said Sudhoff believed his pitch “will revolutionize the theory of curve pitching.”

The pitch did not turn Sudhoff’s luck around; after winning his first two decisions he went 8-20 the rest of the season.

Beginning in July, it was rumored that Sudhoff would be sold to the Indianapolis Indians in the American Association, but Sudhoff managed to stay in St. Louis for the whole season.  In December he was traded to the Washington Senators for pitcher Beany Jacobson.

The Post-Dispatch said after the trade:

“Sudhoff does not like the stories being circulated about the alleged inefficiency of his arm.”

He told the paper:

“Why should I get out of the game so long as the public and the managers will stand for me?  I am still a young fellow…Watch me next year.”

One of the “stories” about Sudhoff’s arm was reported by The Washington Post:

“A St. Louis critic claims that Willie Sudhoff injured his pitching arm by indulging in too much bowling, which developed muscles that he had no use for in his work on the diamond.”

Sudhoff only lasted until July in Washington, in nine appearances he was 0-2 with a 9.15 ERA.

In 1907 and 1908 Sudhoff signed with American Association teams—the Kansas City Blues and Louisville Colonels—but never played in a regular season game for either.

Sudhoff appeared in one more professional game—he gave up four runs in three innings pitching for the Topeka White Sox in the Western Association in July 1908.

He returned to St. Louis where he sold suits and pitched in the city’s semi-pro Trolley league in 1909 and 1910.

Late in 1911, The St. Louis Star reported that Sudhoff was planning a professional comeback:

“He is working hard this winter to get in shape.  He believes he can regain his cunning.”

The comeback never materialized and Sudhoff took a job as an oiler at the St. Louis waterworks Chain of Rocks Plant until July of 1913.  The Post-Dispatch reported that he had been admitted to St. Louis’ City Hospital, diagnosed as “Violently insane.”

The paper said it took two patrolmen to subdue Sudhoff, who was placed in “a dark padded cell to prevent him from injuring himself.”

According to the report:

“Sudhoff continually calls to everyone who comes within sight, saying he was a professional ballplayer and he will give $5 if the stranger gets him out.”

Mrs. Sudhoff told police her husband “acted queerly” for the previous three months, and “Monday evening he put on his old baseball suit and:

“(C)avorted about the yard, talking continuously about playing with the Browns.”

Sudhoff was transferred to the St. Louis City Sanitarium the following week.

There was speculation about whether it was a beaning in 1905 or the train wreck that contributed to Sudhoff’s insanity.

The paper said:

“Physicians believe (the) old injury to his head is responsible for his condition.”

And while the paper said no one present at the train wreck “(D)o not believe he received a blow serious to cause a permanent injury,”  some of Sudhoff’s former teammates, and Browns owner Robert Hedges “(R)ecalled an eccentricity that developed shortly after the wreck.  From that time on in a Pullman car, he went to bed fully dressed.”

A 1908 article in The Detroit Free Press about the train crash said:

“Sudhoff was so frightened that he could not utter a word for ten minutes, and from that time until he quit the league, ‘Wee Willie’ always sat up all night on a train.  He would do anything to get out of railroad traveling.”

Sudhoff never made it out of the city sanitarium; he died there on the morning of May 25, 1917.

He was survived by his wife and his son, Emmet Wallace, named after Sudhoff’s teammates Emmet Heidrick and Bobby Wallace.

More Superstitions, 1884

2 Jun

Superstitious ballplayers are as old as baseball.

When the Philadelphia Athletics visited Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for an exhibition game 1884, a reporter from The Harrisburg Telegraph talked to “an old base baller” who was attending the game.

The reporter asked:

“’Are base ball players superstitious?’

“’You betcher life,’ said the veteran; ‘why there is Harry Wright (who) always carries a black cat in the bat bag, just for luck.  Al Spalding  of the Chicago carries a buckeye in his pocket for luck, and Bob Ferguson begins to hedge in his bets if he meets a cross-eyed man while on his way to the grounds.’”

harrywright

Harry Wright

The “old base baller” also told the reporter:

Bobby Matthews will never pitch unless he has an old copper cent in his pocket, and Monte Ward, of the New Yorks, carries a mascot around his neck in the shape of a gold coin.  (Jim) Whitney, of Boston, loses heart if he forgets to put his bunch of keys in his pocket before pitching.  Just before the Athletics-St. Louis game last year to decide the championship, (Bill) Gleason, of the St. Louis, got as pale as a sheet when he saw a red-headed boy carry in the bat bag.  He said it was bad luck, and, sure enough, it was.”

gleason

Bill Gleason

Philadelphia won the September 23 game 9-2, giving them a 3 ½ game lead in the American Association race, and held on to win the pennant by 1 game.

And the old player told the paper:

“Big (Dan) Brouthers, of the Buffalos, carries a barlow knife for luck.  Oh, yes, base ball players are superstitious, an’ don’t ye forgit it.”

Bed Check, 1887

31 May

In 1887, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch set out to find out “How managers watch their players on the road.”

 

schmelz

Gus Schmelz

 

The paper spoke to Gus Schmelz, manager of the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association; the previous season, Schmelz managed the National League St. Louis Maroons:

“He thinks, of course, that all good ball-players should retire early, and regards plenty of sleep as conducive to good condition.  Most managers agree with him on this head and some of them have difficult tasks in seeing that their men are under the cover at the proper hour. This is particularly true when the club is on the road and when the aggregation is anxious to have a good time with their friends in the city.”

The paper said Jim Mutrie of the New York Giants had what he thought was a great plan to ensure his players were in bed early:

“(H)e keeps a book which he leaves with the hotel clerk who checks off the players’ names with the hour of their application for the key and late comers may expect free lectures the morning following.  This plan is an excellent one, but it may be news to Mutrie to know that some of his pets return as early as 10 o’clock for their keys, are checked off in regular order and after ascending in the elevator to their rooms, as it were, return by the stairway when all is quiet, and come back in the small hours.”

As for John “Kick” Kelly, the new manager of the Louisville Colonels:

“Kelly says his plan is to wait up for the boys, and hammer at their doors until the whole club is housed, but even this plan is easily circumvented by the ingenious players who rack their brains for schemes to outwit their keepers.”

 

kickkelly

Kick Kelly

 

The only manager who had a plan that was working well, according to the paper, was:

“One of the most prominent and best-known managers in the country, whose name it is unnecessary to mention, has recently adopted a new plan for keeping track of his men, and from which there seems no loop-hole of escape. His orders to his men are that everyone should be asleep by 11 o’clock, thus giving them ample time for repose.  When traveling, this rigorous manager waits at the hotel desk until the hands of the clock point to 10:30, and then every key in the rack which opens his rooms is turned over to him.  These he carries with him to his own, and the tardy player must rouse him up and obtain his key or else stay away during the whole night.  In either case, the unfortunate man has a sure guarantee of a sound tongue-threshing, if not a comfortable fine.  The plan has operated with immense success thus far, but whether it will continue to do so remains to be seen.”

Stealing Bats, 1889

26 May

In 1889, The Cincinnati Enquirer said of the quest the average ballplayer made to secure a bat to his liking:

“The average ball-player has trouble in securing a bat of the size and weight to suit his fancy.  He will run over the stock of bats in sporting goods stores, buy pieces of wood and have them turned, and go miles to secure the article, but the season may be half over before he will find one that suits him exactly.  When he does find one to his fancy he will have trouble in keeping it, as opposing players will try to steal it.”

The paper said theft was so common:

“A bat is looked at as common property, and there is no crime in base-ball to swipe a bat providing you do it without getting caught.”

The Enquirer said John Reilly of the Red Stockings was a “Bat crank,” and “(H)as a mania for hunting good sticks.’”   Reilly was asked if he ever had a bat stolen:

“’I should say I did,’ was John’s reply.  ‘There are ball-players who make a business of stealing good bats.  I never knew Pete Browning to ‘swipe’ a bat, but you can get a trade out of the Gladiator at any stage of the game.  He has always got a stick or two to trade, and about the first thing he does when he strikes a lot is to size up the opposing club’s pile of bats and tries to drive a bargain.”

 

reilly

John Reilly

 

Reilly said there was a problem with Browning’s trades:

“Some of the Louisville players complain that Pete never trades his own bats, but grabs the first one he runs across in the Louisville pile.”

As for Browning’s use of heavy bats, Reilly said:

“Pete uses the heaviest bat of any man in the business…he had one here once that must have weighed twelve pounds.  It felt like it had an iron sash weight in the end of it.  Once, when I was in Louisville, I saw a bat floating around in a bath tub in the clubhouse.  ‘Whose bat is that? I inquired.  ‘it belongs to me,’ replied Pete:  ‘I put it in there so it will get heavy.”

petebrowning

Pete Browning

Reilly also told the story of “a splendid stick,” that had been stolen from his team in 1888.  Hick Carpenter had acquired the bat in a trade with John Sneed of the New Orleans Pelicans:

“(N)early all the players were using it.  We had it until sometime in May when it disappeared.  That was the last we saw of it until the Clevelands came around late in the summer.  One of our players saw the bat in the Cleveland club’s pile, and at once claimed It.  The Clevelands stopped the game and would not play until the bat was returned.  (Charles “Pop”) Snyder said it might belong to us, but he didn’t know anything about it.  He claimed that Tip O’Neill, of the St. Louis Browns brought it to Cleveland and forgot it, and that (Ed) McKean took it.  We had to give it up”

Reilly said another bat had been stolen from him in 1888:

“I cut the letter ‘R’ in the knob of the handle…I did not run across it again until late in the season in Brooklyn.  The bat had been painted and the knob sawed half in two to get rid of the little ‘R.’ I claimed the bat but did not get it”

Reilly said the New York Metropolitans, the American Association franchise that folded in 1887, were:

“(T)he best bat swipers in the business. They would leave New York on a trip with an empty bat bag and after they had played on a few lots they would have bats to sell.”

“The Fourth of July in Baseball has Always been a Day of Reckoning”

4 Jul

During the 19th Century, when completing any given season in the black, or finishing the season at all, was not a foregone conclusion for a large percentage of professional teams; in 1892 O.P.  Caylor of The New York Herald said of Independence Day:

“The Fourth of July in baseball has always been a day of reckoning, as it were.  All clubs, associations or leagues endeavor to retain their breath of life until after America’s natal day so that they may partake in the feast of the turnstiles upon that baseball festival.  The great anniversary of liberty has served many times to lift a weakened club out of financial distress and give it a chance to continue in business probably till the season’s end—at least for a month or two longer.”

O.P. Caylor

O.P. Caylor

Caylor said everyone in baseball held their breath two years earlier during the run up to the holiday:

“In the early fight between the League and the Brotherhood in 1890, old League generals declared that if the Fourth of July that year should be a rainy day, generally on the circuit many of the Brotherhood clubs would be compelled to suspend before the season ended, but if the day should be fair they might pull through to the season’s end. The day was fair, and the attendance everywhere was large.  That meteorological condition was a blessing not only to the Brotherhood but to the old League clubs as well.”

According to The New York World, on the day after the holiday in 1890, Caylor’s recollections were mostly correct; while the weather was “mostly fair” in several cities, the paper said there was “Bad weather in Boston, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.”  Overall, the Players League won the day, drawing more than 48,000 fans, followed by more than 38,000 for the American Association.  The “old League clubs” were not quite as “blessed“ as Caylor indicated; with home games in two of the three “Bad weather” cities, the National League drew just more than 31,000 fans.

Caylor said while the 1892 season—which included the National league’s only scheduled split-season schedule, with a 12-team league which included four clubs picked up from the defunct American Association —was a struggle for the National League, the only remaining major league would not face the fate of some minor leagues.  The Eastern League’s New Haven franchise folded in June, and in order to not play out a schedule with a nine-team league, “The Athletics of Philadelphia were a little more than willing to ‘cash in,’ and so the circuit was hewed down to an octagon.”

Caylor called the situation in the National League “not so promising,” but said:

“(A) club franchise in that body is so valuable as a piece of property the year around that no fears are entertained of even the most unfortunate of the twelve putting up its shutters and turning its grounds into a sheep’s pasture before the season ends.”

Despite the fact that no team would be “putting up its shutters” before the end of the season, Caylor said that as of Independence Day, only the Pittsburgh Pirates, who “Not one reader in a hundred would have picked,” were operating in the black for the first half of the season, and only because Pittsburgh “has a cheap team.”

Caylor said:

“Of the other eleven clubs a few were about even on receipts and expenditures and some were far behind with losses.  Especially was this the case with the New York and Chicago Clubs.”

Hindsight being Hindsight, just six weeks later, Caylor would suggest that the decision made by league magnates to pare down rosters and institute across-the-board pay cuts at mid-season (July 15), was, at least in Cincinnati, “(A) way to squeeze the old hen into more active and valuable work (laying golden eggs), and on the squeezing they killed her.”

But on “America’s natal day,” he seemed to support the decision of baseball’s executives:

“(They decided the) remedy much be retrenchment. Clubs must employ only the minimum number of players…and salaries must come down…The fact that at least four of the twelve clubs pay over $50,000 each in team salaries proves the ruinous and unbusinesslike height to which baseball salaries were forced by the two years of conflict between the fighting factions.  (John Montgomery) Ward and (Charles) Comiskey each receive $7,000 salary for seven months’ service—a sum proportionately larger than that paid to United States Senators and more while the service lasts than is received by the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

John Montgomery Ward

John Montgomery Ward

The most egregious example, according to Caylor was:

“The present New York team is a whole sermon against expensive teams.  It draws $50,000 from the club treasury and is one of the bitterest disappointments ever placed upon the field.  There is not even the excuse of ‘hard luck’ or accident to lift the team out of its disgrace.”

The Caylor of August—who called the season “a Dog’s Day Depression,” still held out hope in July:

“There is every reason to believe that this (the second half) will be a much more exciting fight than the first.  The clubs will all start into it with much more certainty of equality, and those that have been weak will make a mighty effort to strengthen the vulnerable places of their teams.”

“In Chicago, the Baseball Slump is what the Crank would call Disgusting”

8 Jun

Oliver Perry (OP) Caylor of The New York Herald came to a conclusion in August of 1892 that many have shared before and since:  baseball‘s best days were behind it.

O.P. Caylor

O.P. Caylor

Earlier,  National League President Nick Young had declared 1892—featuring an expanded twelve team circuit after the collapse of the American Association and just weeks into the only scheduled split-season in major league history—an unqualified success.

But now, into what Caylor called “A Dog Days Depression,” reality had set in.

“Much has been said since the League’s second championship season opened (the second half began July 15) about the renewed interest which was alleged to have sprung up and was keeping pace with the new season.  It has taken no more than a month to prove that this so-called revival was an illusion.”

Caylor noted that there was brief uptick in attendance in games played in Eastern cities during the first three weeks of the second half:

“(B)ut before the teams started west the same old rut of passing indifference seemed to be struck.  And nowhere in the west thus far has there been a sign of a promising revival.”

Caylor pointed to two cities as evidence of baseball’s bleak state;

“In Chicago, the baseball slump is what the crank would call disgusting.  People of that progressive center have use for nothing but the best, and Uncle (Cap) Anson this year has not succeeded in giving them such an article in baseball.  The great general has done the best possible, handicapped as he was in the beginning of the season by the poor allotment of players from the Indianapolis (Hoosiers, the defunct American Association franchise) consolidation pool.”

Cap Anson, 50 errors in 1876

Cap Anson

Caylor blamed most of Anson’s problems on a weak middle infield:

“(Jimmy) Cooney, his shortstop, turned out a sudden complete failure and he has never been able to successfully fill (Fred) Pfeffer’s vacant shoes on the nine.  Any team which is weak at short field and second base is bound to be weak all over, and that is the condition of the Chicagos.

“The old man has been experimenting on new material with more or less success and less success than more.  But by the time he gets his men into what he is pleased to consider championship form, the season will be so far spent that he will have no chance to arouse the chilled pride of the army of Chicago baseball ‘rooters.’”

Caylor said Anson had some optimism for “next season.”

“Maybe the Chicago club can well afford to waste this year whipping together a winning team for 1893.  For next year, the World’s Fair (The World Columbian Exhibition) should be bring a small fortune to the treasury of the Chicago club if they can get a winning team together by that time.  Yet there are those who will argue that the World’s Fair is bound to be a financial injury than a benefit to the Chicago club under any circumstance, and the argument is based upon baseball experience in Philadelphia during the year of the Centennial (1876).”

World's Colombian Exhibition

World’s Colombian Exhibition

 

Caylor said even, A. G. Spalding, former White Stockings president, felt the fair “will be a financial burden” on the team.

Spalding believed:

“(T)hat for every visiting stranger who will be attracted to the ball grounds three resident patrons will be kept away by the unusual demand upon their time by excessive business.”

But Caylor said, his former home was in even more distress than Chicago:

 “Cincinnati, the best-paying city of the circuit during the first half of the year, has become financially alarming.”

Cincinnati had suffered as a result of the National League’s cost cutting measure agreed upon in late June, which resulted in rosters being reduced from 15 to 13 players and across-the-board pay cuts of 30-40 percent for all players.  The Reds best pitcher, Tony Mullane, quit as a result of the cuts.

Tony Mullane

Tony Mullane

“The sorry slump in baseball interest at Cincinnati is another exemplification of that old moral taught by the fable of the ‘Hen Which Laid the Golden Egg.’ I know it is modern usage to speak of the golden egg producer as a goose, but my Latin book called it a hen.  As applied to the Cincinnati case it makes little difference whether we call it a hen or a goose…The Cincinnati club’s hen was laying golden eggs regularly through the first season.  The newspapers put the club down as a sure winner financially.  Then came the greed mentioned in the fable.  The officials thought they saw a way to squeeze  the old hen into more active and valuable work, and on the squeezing they killed her.”

As a result of the pay cuts:

“Cincinnati patrons became disgusted.  For the sake of saving a few thousand dollars in salaries while working at a profit, this club had thrown away its chances to win the second championship.  Nobody who understands human nature need wonder the result.”

Cleveland, home of the second half champion Spiders, was the only town where Caylor said the “national game is appreciated.”   But even that, he said was temporary and favorable financial conditions were “a question of considerable doubt.”

The 1892 season was a disaster for Chicago—on and off the field—they finished 70-76, in seventh place, and attendance dropped by more than 72,000 from the previous season.

While Cincinnati led the National League in attendance, the club lost money.

But, contrary to Caylor’s gloomy outlook, the league—after dropping the spilt-season format—bounced back well in 1893.

In Chicago, where Anson put an even worse product on the field—the Colts were 56-71—predictions that the Columbian Exhibition would destroy attendance were wrong.  Aided by the opening of a new ballpark in May, the club drew the fourth-largest attendance in the league—223,500—more than doubling their 1892 numbers.

Cincinnati’s attendance dropped by just 2200 fans despite a disappointing season where the team hovered near .500 all year and finished sixth.

National league attendance increased by nearly half a million from 1892 to 1893.

While baseball was not on a long-term decline, Tony Mullane was.

He returned to the Reds in 1893, but the 34-year-old was never the same–259-187 with a career ERA below 3.00 before his departure, he was 25-33 with a 5.74 ERA after.

“I Believe Beyond Doubt he would be the Greatest Manager of All Time”

20 May

By 1911,  “Honest John” McCloskey was in his 22nd season as a manager; five in the major leagues.  Those five seasons were less than successful.

John

John

He led the Louisville Colonels to a 35-96 record in 1895, and was dismissed the following season after a 2-17 start; In three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1906-1908, he was 52-98, 52-101, and 49-105—he also apparently had a bizarre aversion to blond hair.

In those 22 seasons, he won just two championships–in class “B” Pacific National League, but despite a rather inauspicious record, Hugh Fullerton believed McCloskey one was one of the greatest minds in the game.

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

Writing in “The American Magazine” that summer, Fullerton said:

“John McCloskey, one of the greatest tacticians in baseball, has worked out the theory of coaching, both from the bench and from the lines to an exact science.  Yet McCloskey has not been successful because the players lack the quickness and the brains to follow his orders.  If he could find men who could think and act quickly enough to obey his signals.  I believe beyond doubt he would be the greatest manager of all time.”

McCloskey’s genius, according to Fullerton, was enough to overcome one thing:

“One great trouble in the McCloskey system is that players are not yet educated to the point where they cease independent thinking and obey orders…After every blunder of a ballplayer, the reason assigned is ‘I thought.’ Besides that, the fewer brains a player has and the less he knows of the science of the game, the more liable he is to scoff at the theorist and ridicule or ignore the wigwag system.”

As an example of McCloskey’s players not living up to their manager’s intelligence and ridiculing his “system”, Fullerton related a story from the previous season when McCloskey led the Milwaukee Brewers to a 76-91 sixth place finish in the American Association.

“(A) Milwaukee batter drove a ball down into the left field corner of the grounds.  The ball was in the shortstop’s hands when the runner reached third base.”

According to Fullerton “the excited coacher” missed McCloskey’s signal to hold the runner:

“(H)e urged (the runner) onward, and he was thrown out 30 feet from the plate.  McCloskey…slid down until the back of his head was resting on the bench and his feet were six feet away on the ground, his body rigid.  A cruel substitute, gazing at his manager, asked: ‘What’s that, Mac, a signal to slide feet first?’”

McCloskey’s Butte Miners finished third in the Union Association in 1911.  He managed 13 more seasons in the minor leagues through 1932.  He won just one more pennant, leading a team to the class “D” Southwestern  League championship in 1924—not only was the team “educated” enough to “cease independent thinking” and win for McCloskey, but they did so playing home games in three different towns;  they played in Newton, Kansas until July, relocated to Blackwell, Oklahoma for a month, then finished the season in Ottawa, Kansas.

 

“One of the Most Mysterious Cases in Baseball”

16 May

Before the 1925 season, Billy Evans, the American League umpire and syndicated columnist, said St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Allan Sothoron was:

“One of the most mysterious cases in baseball.”

sothoron

Evans said the 32-year-old who had spent parts of nine seasons in the major leagues:

“Here was a pitcher who was recognized as one of the richest prizes ever found.  He had a fast ball, a spitter, a curve, a change of pace; control—well, just everything that a great pitcher requires.

“And Sothoron lived as a pitching star, but not for long.  A weakness was discovered.  Show the opposing side a weak spot and it plays through it.

“Sothoron, with an iron arm are rare intelligence, could not control his throw once he fielded the ball.”

During five seasons in the American League from 1917-1921, Sothoron made 50 errors in just 356 total chances.

“On bunts or easy taps hit straight to him he lost his bearings.  With one swish of his arm, he threw—threw in any direction which usually was yards away from his fielder.

“To first, second, third base or the plate, Sothoron aimed and fired.

“And eventually, he threw himself out of the American League.”

Evans said Indians manager Tris Speaker “thought he could correct the fault’ when he acquired Sothoron in June of 1921, and for a time he thought he had–Speaker told The Cleveland News when he acquired the pitcher that the problem was Sothoron “throwing flat-footed.”

Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker

He won 12 and lost four, with a 3.24 ERA for Cleveland—although he did commit four errors in just 36 total chances.  But in 1922, Speaker “gave up the job” after Sothoron appeared in just six games—he was 1-3 with a 6.39 ERA and made one error on six chances.

Evans said after he was released by Boston:

“Sothoron, disgusted with himself, retired from baseball.”

He returned to baseball in 1923, with the Louisville Colonels in the American Association.  Despite a 6-9 5.92 season with the Colonels, Evans said:

“The scene changes.  Branch Rickey, as manager of the St. Louis Browns in 1914, discovered Sothoron.  And he refused to believe that such an evil could not be corrected.  He took a chance and purchased Sothoron for his St. Louis Cardinals in 1924.”

Branch Rickey

Branch Rickey

And the pitcher responded:

“The story is not closed.  Sothoron was one of the few pitchers with a perfect fielding average in the National league last season.”

He was 10-16 with a 3.57 ERA, but handled 37 total chances without an error, which included “making 35 perfect throws in aiding in the retirement of batters or runners.”

Evans attributed Sothoron’s fielding to:

“Branch Rickey’s system of training… (Rickey) saw that Sothoron…simply scooped in the ball and made his throw.  He did not steady himself.

“For days and weeks, Sothoron was put through such a course—fielding a ball, pausing, steadying himself, then following through with the throw.”

Evans suggested that “after 10 years of drifting” Sothoron had “finally found himself.”

It did not last.

He pitched for the Cardinals for two more seasons, he was 13-13 with a 4.09 ERA, and he committed five errors in just 31 chances.   He finished his career with an .871 fielding percentage.

Baseball and Evolution, 1887

11 May

In 1887, 28-years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,The San Francisco Chronicle declared:

“The modern game of baseball is one of the most convincing proofs of the doctrine of evolution.  All the leading features of that theory—natural selection, differentiation of species and the survival of the fittest—are admirably illustrated in the game of baseball as played at present.  It is admitted that baseball originated with the game of town ball, or rounders, and some future Darwin of the diamond field may publish ponderous folios to exhibit the various steps by which the childish game of rounders developed into the scientific sport now so popular.”

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

 

That evolution, said the paper, was also seen in the popularity of the game:

“The permanence of baseball as a game is now firmly established.  It has grown into the affections of sport-loving Americans as thoroughly and absolutely as cricket is the object of English admiration.  As evidence of this it is stated that on Decoration Day 96,000 people attended three games of baseball in and near New York City.”

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Despite the popularity of the game, the paper noted there was some pushback against “scientific baseball:”

“The most unfavorable criticism which has passed upon the present game is that it has become a ‘battery game;’ that is, all the playing is done by the pitcher and catcher.  The object of late years has been to keep the score of runs down, and to that end the rules have been framed in the interest of the pitcher and catcher…and scores of one to one and one to nothing have not been uncommon.  Now this is very scientific, but the people who pay their money to see baseball played have become tired of it and want to see the field have something to do.  They want to see more batting and base running and larger scores.”

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The Chronicle said, in order to increase offense, “The National League and American Association, appreciating this state of things has recently adopted some new rules.”  Among the rules instituted for the 1887 season were the reduction of the pitcher’s box from 5 ½ feet to 4, five balls rather than six for a base on balls, and four “called strikes” for a strikeout:

“The opinions of expert players as to the effect of the new rules differ, although most agree that the game will be of more interest to the spectators and will draw better and the gate money be increased, a question of interest to all the clubs except the purely amateur ones. “

Whatever the result of rule changes, this further evolution and the game’s “manly qualities” were reasons baseball had earned its place in American culture:

“It would be hard to find a sport which brings into play the manly qualities of wind and muscle to greater advantage than baseball.  No one but a skilled athlete can play the game successfully, and training men for a baseball campaign has become almost as much a science as training them for a boat race or a foot race.  Eye and nerve, lungs and heart, legs and stomach must all be capable of doing their duty and doing it well to make a good baseball player.  There is generalship too, in the game, and many matches are won by superior skill, even though handicapped by inferior strength.  The game well deserves its title of the national game, and bids fair to excite more interest and attention year by year.”

Note:  As mentioned below in the comments, I incorrectly said the pitcher’s box was reduced in size from 5 1/2 feet to 4 feet. It should have said, it was reduced to 5 1/2 by 4 feet.

“It’s the Noodle that Throws the Ball, not the Wing”

13 Apr

Charles Benjamin “Babe” Adams appeared washed up at age 34.  After posting a 2-9 record and 5.72 ERA in 1916, the Pittsburgh Pirates released him.  But, Adams wasn’t done.

He won 20 games in the Western League in 1917 and was 14-3 with a 1.67 ERA for Kansas City Blues in the American Association when the Pirates reacquired Adams in July of 1918.

Babe Adams

Babe Adams

Adams was 49-29 with a 2.17 ERA from his return through the 1921 season, and now turning 40, talked about his success with Roy Grove, a cartoonist, and writer for The Cleveland Press:

“A ballplayer has lots of time in which he can do himself harm.

“A fellow can’t disregard nature and get away with it.  He can kid himself along for a while but finally, he’ll snap…A fellow my years has to dig some to get by the young chaps.”

But, said Adams, baseball had changed a lot since his debut in 1906,and most younger pitchers could never approach his longevity:

“The pitching game isn’t what it used to be.  In my day, I used to have to sit down and figure out the different things that go to make pitching and then go out and practice them hard.  The young pitcher today can pick the game up in a few weeks.  He has two or three coaches, with modern methods of tricks and systems and so forth that have been accumulated through years of experience.  That‘s the reason I think they crack so fast.  They don’t get the right seasoning during youth to stand the grinds of the years.”

But in the end, Adams said he was just smarter than most:

“It’s not so much the old pitching arm these Twentieth Century days as it is the pitching head.  After all, it’s the noodle that throws the ball, not the wing.  There are some fellows I can throw a high inside ball to and they won’t touch it, and then let some other pitcher come up and do the same thing and that same player will knock it outa the lot.

“If a fellow were to stop thinking out there in the box and resort to strength, he’d darn soon find out he was losing all his friends.”

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A Roy Grove cartoon that accompanied the article.

Adams’ “Noodle” and excellent control (18th all-time lowest walks per nine innings) kept him in the National League for five more seasons, until he was 44.