Tag Archives: American League

“Is Another Crazy Schmidt.”

16 Jun

Thirty-five years after it was first reported that Fred “Crazy” Schmit (often misspelled Schmidt) kept a “book” on hitters, the practice was still considered odd.

crazyschmit

Crazy Schmit

News of Schmit’s “book,” kept largely it was said because of his poor memory, first appeared in 1894 in The Sporting Life:

 “(A)n account of the weakness at bat of his opponents, setting them down in a small book, which he always carried with him on the diamond.”

An International News Service article in 1919 said Cleveland Indians pitcher Jim Bagby:

bagby

Jim Bagby

“Is another Crazy Schmidt.”

According to the article:

“Every pitcher in the big show has first-hand information regarding the hitting ability of every player, but few, if any, have as near perfect a record on the batters as Jim Bagby, one of Lee Fohl’s pitching aces.  Bagby has a system of baseball bookkeeping that is unique and he has found it valuable in his career as a pitcher.

“Some years ago when Jim was setting the Southern League on fire he fell upon the idea of keeping tab on individual batters and also the different teams as a whole.  He did this with aid of a memorandum.

“After each game Bagby would record the success or failure of this or that batter, adding such notes regarding the batter’s style as he deemed useful for future reference and guidance.  Jim was so successful that season (1914, Bagby was 20-9 with a 2.20 ERA for the New Orleans Pelicans) that he has continued the practice.”

When asked whether he still “kept book,” Bagby:

“(A)nswered in the affirmative. The same system that worked so well in the Southern League has been just as effective in the American.”

Bagby was 17-11 with a 2.80 ERA; the following season he was 31-12 with a 2.89 ERA—he finished his career with a 127-89 record and 3.11 ERA.

Crazy Schmitt was 7-36 with a 5.45 ERA in parts of five seasons in the major leagues.

One Minute Talk: Joe Jackson

12 Oct

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

Joe Jackson of the Chicago White Sox, on his way to hitting .341—third in the American League behind Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb—had some advice for pitchers about saving their arms:

joejack

Jackson

“If you want to put your arm on the blink just start fooling with the fadeaway ball.

“I’ve had one experience and it cured me. After pitching four or five fadeaways I developed a kink in my elbow and decided to quit experimenting.

“Some fellows have studied the thing and got it down to a fine art. They tell me it doesn’t affect their arms, but if they pitched it as steadily as some fellows throw the spitter they wouldn’t last long in any league.”

“A little thing like a Presidential Campaign…is Ridiculous to Contemplate”

3 Oct

Frederick R. Toombs wrote and edited books about hockey, wrestling, and the origins of “court games, and was also a novelist and spent the first decade of the 20th Century writing syndicated articles about sports and politics.

Less than a month before the 1908 presidential election, he wrote:

“When a wave of baseball frenzy sweeps over the United States, the most momentous affairs of life and state speedily are thrusted aside.  Nothing must stand in the way of the American citizen who hungers to hear the resounding crack of a home run hit.  A little thing like a presidential campaign in this greatest of all baseball years is ridiculous to contemplate.  Many a big league game in this record breaking year has been attended by upward of 35,000 people.  Who ever heard of a presidential candidate drawing such an audience?”

Toombs noted that on the day John W. Kern was selected as the Democratic nominee; the same day his running mate, William Jennings Bryan “delivered a much-heralded speech on trusts,” the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates,and New York Giants were locked in a three-team battle for the National League pennant:

“The big dailies spread the baseball story across the front page, and Mr. Kern and Mr. Bryan were pushed back among the advertisements.  Mr. (William Howard) Taft and Mr. (James S.) Sherman have suffered in much the same way.  Their lengthy communications in the public are frequently shoved back in juxtaposition to the ‘Help Wanted’ column, and in the choice spots of the papers appear stories relating (to every aspect of the baseball season.”

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

As for the election, he said:

“In fact, whoever is elected to the presidency the defeated man will be fully justified in laying his downfall to the nerve racking races in the National and American Leagues.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

“A season like that now drawing to a close has never occurred before.  The National League (three-team) race…and the American, with Detroit, Cleveland St. Louis and Chicago hacking at each other’s throat (Detroit won the pennant—Cleveland finished ½ game back, Chicago 1 ½, and St. Louis 6 ½) have carried the game to heights of popularity hitherto undreamed of.  The New York National team, for instance, will close the season with almost $500,000 in profits.”

1908 Detroit Tigers

1908 Detroit Tigers

Baseball, said Toombs, had become more than the nation’s most popular sport:

“When the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) said, ‘The Battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton,’ he conveyed an authoritative opinion of the tremendous influence which may be exerted on a nation, a hemisphere, or a world by a form of sport, a mere pastime.  Inferentially one may well say, that according to ‘The Iron Duke’,’ had it not been for the strength giving qualities of cricket, Napoleon would have won at Waterloo and become, without question the arbitrary dictator of all Europe. Baseball in America holds the position that cricket has in England, and the influence of the game on the American people is of even greater importance and significance than ever known of cricket in England…Not only is baseball the national game; it is the national craze.  It is the only and original, pure and undefiled, blown in the bottle brand of Dementia Americana.”

Toombs concluded:

“Campaign managers may fume and fret, but baseball is a necessity; politics is a luxury.”

The Cubs beat the Tigers four games to one in the World Series; Taft beat Bryan by more than a million votes on November 3.

1908 Chicago Cubs

1908 Chicago Cubs

Note:   The phrase “Dementia Americana” had entered the lexicon one year earlier during the trial of Harry Kendall Thaw, who in 1906 killed a man who was having an affair with his wife.  His defense attorney, Delphin Michael Delmas, said Thaw suffered from “Dementia Americana—the sort that makes Americans defend the sacredness of their homes and their wives and children. “ The 1907 trial–the first “trial of the Century”of the 20th Century–resulted in a hung jury. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1908.

 

“I am Sure I would have been a Better Pitcher”

26 Sep

In 1922, Hearst Newspapers’ International News Service asked Walter Johnson to share his pitching philosophy:

“If a pitcher has a good fast ball that is always his one best bet.

“I don’t mean just an ordinary fast ball, but one with a lot of ‘swift’ on it, as Nick Altrock would say.”

Johnson claimed he came to the major leagues with just one pitch:

“When I came to the American League I scarcely knew there was anything other than a fast ball in a pitcher’s repertoire.

Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

“For three years I used a fast ball entirely, to fool the great hitters of the American League.  I really believe I enjoyed my greatest success during those three years.”

From 1907 to 1909, the period of his “greatest success, “Johnson was 32-48 with a 1.94 ERA; he was 385-231 with a 2.20 ERA over the next 18 seasons.

“In those first three years, I could just about throw my fast one by the batsman, as we put it in baseball.  No pitcher could retain forever the terrific speed that I had when I came to the American League.  At the close of my third year (when he was 21).  I began to realize that I was slowing up a bit.

“I had been working on a curve ball in the meantime, and when it became evident to me that I was losing a bit of my speed, I began to resort to the curves to cross the batters up.

“I met with almost as much success with my curve as my fast one.  However, I will always believe that I made a mistake in using too many curve balls, after once acquiring a good ‘hook.’”

Johnson's grip

Johnson’s grip

Johnson, on his way to 417 career victories, concluded that had he been a more “wise” pitcher, he would have been a better

“I am convinced that the wise pitcher who has dazzling speed, holds his curve in reserve.  That is what I should have done.

“When I switched from to a curve ball pitcher from a fast ball pitcher exclusively, I still had perhaps more speed than any other pitcher in the American League.  I should have continued the use of the fast ball, with the curve as a constant threat.

“I am sure I would have been a better pitcher had I done so.”

One Minute Talk: Tris Speaker

23 Sep

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

Tris Speaker:

“There has been a disposition on the part of some people to criticize the ballplayer for getting all the salary he could shake down from his employer.  In a few cases a ballplayer may have done this, if so, his conduct was but a duplicate of what is commonly done in other lines of business.

“A clerk in a dry goods store doesn’t see anything improper in asking for a raise if he believes he has earned it, and if his employers for some reason are unable to pay him he believes he is justified going elsewhere.

“As a matter of fact, the ballplayer seldom drives a hard bargain even when he has the opportunity.”

Speaker

Speaker

Speaker appears to have not taken his own advice about driving “a hard bargain.  According to the 1918 “Reach Baseball Guide,” Speaker took a pay cut—from $17,500 to $15,000—after he was traded by the Boston Red Sox to the Cleveland Indians for two players and $55,000 before the 1916 season.  And, according to the same source, despite hitting a league-leading .386 in 1916, Speaker continued to earn $15,000 a year through 1918.

Lost Pictures–An Off Day

10 Aug

ruthfosterIn August of 1917, the Boston Red Sox were in the midst of a pennant race;  they battled the Chicago White Sox all season long and the race remained tight through August.  But there was always time for fishing, wrote Paul Purman, of The Newspaper Enterprise Association;

“An off day sounds just as good to a big league ballplayer as to anyone else, especially if the off day isn’t rainy, for on rainy days they generally have to hang around the hotel lobbies, which isn’t very good sport anytime.

“A number of the Red Sox are ardent fishermen and on off days you may usually find them at some lake pursuing the elusive bass.

“old clothes, and in some cases, almost no clothes are in order on those Izaak Walton excursionists, but the day is a big rest and the players are usually ready for a strenuous time on the ball field the next day.

“Babe Ruth is one of the club’s most enthusiastic sportsmen.  In the summer he fishes at every opportunity, although he doesn’t forget to report on the days he is to pitch as that other southpaw, Rube Waddell used to do.  Rube Foster and Harry Hooper are other members of the team who prefer fishing to other recreations.”

bosstaff

Foster, left, with Red Sox pitchers Carl Mays, Ernie Shore, Ruth, and Dutch Leonard.

The Red Sox finished in second place, nine games behind the White Sox.

 

“I’ve no Uniform that will fit a Giraffe like you”

3 Aug

Most biographies of Harry “Slim” Sallee, if they mention his brief time with the New York Highlanders in 1906, simply say he never appeared in a game because of “(A)n abundance of pitcher’s” on Clark Griffith’s club which battled the Chicago White Sox for the pennant.

The colorful 6’ 3” 180 pond Sallee, with the Cardinals in West Baden, Indiana before the 1912 season, told a reporter for The St. Louis Republic that there was more to his departure from New York, and while the story might have been a creation of Sallee’s imagination, it seems more appropriate for a pitcher as famous for hard-drinking, suspensions, and fines as he was for his 174 career wins.

Slim Sallee

Slim Sallee

Sallee reminded the reporter he was:

“An American League discard…Yes, sirree, I was turned down cold by Clark Griffith when the ‘Old Fox’ was managing the New York Americans …I joined the Yanks in the fall in St. Louis, Griff looked me over and said: ‘I’ve no uniform that will fit a giraffe like you.  Maybe I’ll be able to get one in Chicago.  Here’s a ticket—handing me a pocket register to keep tabs on people passing through the turnstile—go out and check up the bleacher gate this afternoon.

“Four thousand geeks passed through the bleacher turnstile at Sportsman’s Park that afternoon and I kept punching that register until I became almost black in the face.”

Sallee said he was given the same assignment in Chicago on September 21 -23 when New York took three out of four games from the White Sox and moved into first place.  New York went to Detroit and lost three straight, then dropped a game in Cleveland on the 27th,dropping three games back of the White Sox.  In Cleveland:

“‘Griff dug up an old uniform and told me to warm up.  The thermometer hung around the freezing point.

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

“Wonder if that crazy man thinks I’m goin’ to cut loose and take chances of ruinin’ my salary wing in this kind of weather said I to myself.

“Griff went to the plate himself. I ‘lobbed’ a  couple over and the ‘Old Fox’ roared like a mad bull. ‘You’ve got a lot of nerve trying to slip that stuff over on me,’ growled Griff.  ‘Put something on that ball.  I can’t detect anything that looks like a wiggle on your curve and you haven’t shown enough speed to break a pane of glass.’”

Sallee said he told Griffith:

“I’m there, Clarkie, old chap, with the real goods, but I couldn’t think of cuttin’ loose with my speed in this kind of weather.  I’m a hothouse plant from down in Old Alabama—I played with Birmingham that year.  Give me a chance when the sun is shinin’ and the thermometer is around 90 in the shade, and I’ll show you some pitchin’ that will curl your grey locks.”

Sallee said Griffith threatened to put him “back on the gate.”

“’No, you don’t,’ said I. ‘Pay me off and also come across with a ticket for Higginsport (Ohio, Sallee’s hometown) I’m through with the New York club and Clark Griffith.  And don’t send for me next spring.”

Whether because of too much depth on the mound or because of the story Sallee told, Griffith sold him to the Williamsport Millionaires in the Tri-State League.  Sallee went 22-5 in Williamsport in 1907 and the Cardinals purchased his contract in August

Lost Advertisements–Spalding’s 1908

20 Jun

asspaldingguide1908

“Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide,” 1908 advertisement.

“Edited by Henry Chadwick, the ‘Father of Baseball.’

“The best Guide Ever Published

“Containing the New Rules; pictures of all the leading teams in the major and minor leagues, as well as individual action pictures of prominent players.  The World’s Championship, 1907; complete review of the year in the National, American and all minor leagues.  All-American selections;  schedules; averages and interesting baseball data, found only in Spalding’s Guide.”

The 1908 Spalding Guide

The 1908 Spalding Guide

The 1908 edition also promised:

“The origin of base ball settled” with the guide’s “exclusive” publication of the Mills Commission report.

The guide also included interviews with the members of the 1907 Chicago Cubs, on “How we Won the World’s Championship.”

The ad featured part of the interview with right fielder Frank Schulte, who used his World Series money to buy a racehorse:

“I was far from pleased with my own work, but there were spots that seemed bright, and so I have no misgivings about spending my share of the winnings for a great piece of horse-flesh…”

Frank Schulte

Frank Schulte

Other comments from members of the Cubs that appeared in the guide included:

Joe Tinker—“We failed to see that brilliancy that the American League boasted of, and when the good old West side machine got under way, it seldom failed.”

Orval Overall—“I expected a harder time with the Tigers.”

Orville Overall

Orville Overall

Mordecai  Brown—“Never more confident of victory in my life.  I almost made a hit in my three times at bat.

Jack Pfiester (who won game two 3 to 1 while giving up 10 hits)—“After the two base hits in the first inning, I knew by some overpowering sense that I could not explain that I would be successful.”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #20

25 May

A Twist on the Hidden Ball Trick, 1909

Jack Fournier had a favorite story that The Chicago Daily News said he told so often that “fellow members of the White Sox give the warning ‘Capron story’” every time he retold it.

Fournier

Fournier

Fournier was playing first base for the Portland Cubs in Northwestern League in 1909 while former college football star George Capron was playing for the Seattle Turks.

“A Seattle runner was on first when Capron came to bat.  He rapped a hot grounder down to (Phil) Cooney, who was at short for Portland.  The latter whipped the ball to second, forcing the runner and then the ball was relayed to Fournier.

“Capron had crossed the bag and was making his turn back by the time the throw reached Fournier.

“Jack tossed the ball up and down in his glove as Capron came up.  ‘Can you beat that Capron?’ said Fournier ‘the ump called you out.’

Capron, known for his temper on the field, became enraged and ran towards the umpire who standing near second base.

“Fournier was right on his heels and didn’t catch him until they covered half the distance.  He tagged the amazed Capron with the ball.”

Asked if Capron was angry, Fournier would deadpan, “Well, rather.”

An Umpire’s revenge

In 1907, long-time American League umpire Jack Sheridan told a story that appeared in several newspapers, including The Chicago Evening Post, about how he quieted a “Chronic Kicker,” Fielder Jones of the Chicago White Sox:

Jack Sheridan

Jack Sheridan

During the previous season, Chicago was playing the Detroit Tigers when Jones got on base:

Charley O’Leary, the Tigers shortstop brushed Jones’ leg with the ball as he was sliding into second on a steal.  Sheridan called him out and Jones kicked; said he didn’t feel the ball touch him.  Sheridan told O’Leary to make him feel it the next time.  A few innings later Jones got on and again attempted to steal.  This time, O’Leary jammed the ball onto Jones’ head.”

Fielder Jones

Fielder Jones

Sheridan said after the shaken-up Jones was called out and recovered from the blow:

“(He) walked to the bench without a single protest.”

A Pitcher’s Plea, 1898

After not playing professional ball in 1896 and 1897, Matt Kilroy returned to the major leagues with the Chicago orphans in 1898.

A decade later, Revere Rodgers of The Washington Evening Star said Kilroy, who won 46 games in 1887, “was in the game long after his arm went back on him.”

Matt Kilroy

Matt Kilroy

He also had another talent:

“As a baseball player Matt was real classy, but as a poker player he was king, and the Chicago bunch in those days was the most rabid pasteboard handlers then traveling over the circuit.

“Kilroy was lucky with the cards, his skill was marvelous, and he must have done well judging from a conversation at the time he was handed the customer ten days’ notice (of his release in August 1898) by Manager (Tom) Burns.

‘”Oh, say, Burns,’ cried Matt, when he received the notice, ‘allow me to stay with the club.  You won’t have to give me a cent of salary, and what is more, I will pay all my traveling expenses, and help the club out at the bat or in the pitcher’s box.’”

Burns told Kilroy he could earn “three hundred a month in the Eastern League.”

“I know,’ said Kilroy, ‘But you see I like the poker game the boys play here.”

“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.