Tag Archives: American League

“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.

Nap Lajoie “How I Win”

13 May

Napoleon Lajoie spoke to Joseph B. Bowles in 1910 for one of the syndicated journalist’s series of articles called “How I Win.”

Lajoie said:

“It is hard to tell how any man wins a ballgame, because winning depends so much upon other members of the team.  I think that the biggest factor in winning, in my case at least, is in having what I think is the baseball instinct.  Whether that instinct is natural or acquired, or merely the result of quickness of eye, or what I do not pretend to know.  But I believe that a great part of a ballplayer’s success both in batting and in fielding is the result rather of instinct than of anything else.  Many times players  do things almost without thinking that are exactly right, and many times when they think out a thing carefully they do exactly the wrong thing.”

Napoleon Lajoie

Napoleon Lajoie

But after saying he wasn’t sure how he won, Lajoie decided he did know:

 “As far as I am concerned, I win games by hitting.  It seems to me I always could hit, and in spite of the fact that some pitchers think otherwise, I hit almost any kind of ball equally hard.  I have often wondered why this was.  Perhaps it was natural.  I never want to know what a pitcher is going to pitch and would much rather figure out for myself what ball is coming than have a coacher or anyone else tell me.”

Lajoie said he had determined that his ability to hit was “a natural gift” which required practice to refine:

“Position at the bat is a big thing in hitting.  A batter should be firmly on his feet, with the balls of his feet holding the ground tightly, and he should not shift position while striking. ..I do not try to hit the ball as hard as possible, but rather to meet it squarely, and in this I think a quick and steady eye helps.”

laj

Lajoie’s eyes

Lajoie said he was “striving always” for an advantage at the plate:

“It is a guessing match between the pitcher and the batter at the best, and experience ought to show a batter just what a pitcher is likely to pitch to him on any given ball.  When runners are on bases batting becomes more of an art…I think my position at the bat and long, steady, sweeping stroke helps me very much in the hit-and-run game, for I am able to hit balls that other batters would miss entirely.  Even if I am certain of missing the ball I swing at it hard so as to cause the catcher to lose a step or a foot or two of ground in making his throw.”

Lajoie

Lajoie

In the end, the man in the midst of a season in which, at age 35, he led the American League in games, at-bats, hits, doubles, total bases, and batting average, said:

“Keen eyesight, close observation and attention to every detail is necessary to win ballgames.  Anyone who grows careless or indifferent ceases to be a winner.”

“Many say he was so Modest he Hated to have his Picture Taken”

30 Mar

In the winter of 1918 Malcolm MacLean of The Chicago Evening Post wrote about the peculiar reactions of a few players to photographers:

“It may happen that a pitcher does a phenomenal streak of work and his photo should run.  It may be the only one of him in stock that has been used time and again—so often, in fact, that it is all but worn out.

“Hence it is necessary for a photographer to snap said fellow’s photo on the ball field.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred this is a pipe. Yet there are exceptions.”

MacLean said he recalled a handful if examples of players refusing:

“In practically every case it was that uncanny thing known as ‘baseball superstition’ that made it difficult, almost impossible, to get them to pose.

(Urban) Red Faber, of the White Sox, on two occasions (during the 1917 season) lost ball games after he had been snapped.  So he announced his intention of refusing to pose again until the White Sox won the American League championship.  Another member of the Sox, Charles (Swede) Risberg, joined him in the declaration. And they stuck to it.

Red Faber

Red Faber

“The day after the title was clinched both Faber and Risberg were among the easiest fellows on the squad to photograph.  In their case it was ‘superstition’ and we don’t know they could be blamed.  If a player keeps winning, only to have the streak smashed the day his photo is taken, well we have an idea we’d do the same thing.”

MacLean said during Rube Marquard’s 19-game winning streak the Giants’ pitcher refused to allow a Chicago photographer to take his picture.  MacLean said he and a cameraman approached the pitcher on July 8, 1912:

 “’Nothing doing,’ he said.  ‘Come around any time you want after I’ve lost a game and you’re welcome to all you want.’  It so happened that Rube lost that day, Jimmy Lavender hanging the bee on him, and the following afternoon Rube posed and posed and posed.”

MacLean said Jim Thorpe was a particularly difficult subject to photograph when he began his major league career, but not due to superstition:

“When Thorpe first came to Chicago with the Giants, he was the most widely advertised athlete in the world.  He was fresh from his triumphs in Sweden on the track field and from the gridiron at Carlisle.

“Many say he was so modest he hated to have his picture taken.  At any rate, many a film and plate was wasted on him because he would turn his face away, throw up his arm in front of him, or do something also to ruin the exposure.”

Jim Thorpe--Airedale fan

Jim Thorpe

Another difficult member of the Giants was catcher John “Chief” Meyers, who MacLean said would brush past photographers, saying:

“’Aw, you’ve got all of me you want,’ It was decidedly exasperating, especially when publicity is what helps keep major leaguers in the majors.”

Two other oft-photographed pitchers had their own particular quirks.

MacLean said:

“It will surprise many to learn that Ed Walsh, of the White Sox…refused to pose on the day he was expected to pitch…Few men were snapped so frequently as Ed when he was in his prime, yet we venture to say no man ever got a photo of him—when Ed knew it—on the day he was to work.

Eddie Plank, of the Athletics…was one of the easiest of all men to photograph, but it was exceedingly difficult to get a good one of him.  The reason was he kept tossing stones at the camera or twisting up his face in some farcical fashion.  And when other players were being taken Ed would throw peddles at them, trying to have them distort their faces.”

Eddie Plank

Eddie Plank

Clark Griffith, “How I Win”

14 Mar

In 1910, Cincinnati Reds Manager Clark Griffith spoke to journalist Joseph B. Bowles for one of  a series of syndicated articles in which baseball’s biggest stars described “How I Win.”

“If a fellow is going to cut any ice he needs ice picks and the first way for a manager to win is to get men who can deliver, and men intelligent enough to take care of themselves.

“My theories in regard to what constitutes a winner are the only ones, and I use them in instructing my players what to do.  I used them in pitching, and they worked out, and I believe any player will succeed if he follows them.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

Griffith said baseball was “Ninety-nine and fifteen sixteenths” courage and nerve:

“It is more than that—it is what ballplayers call ‘guts’—which is courage with aggressive confidence behind it…The first thing to do to win baseball games is to go after anyone who does not wear a uniform that looks like yours, and go after him hard.  Hand every opposing player anything that will make him weaken or show the yellow.  Anytime I can convince my men that they are going to win and the other fellows that they are going to lose, I’ll win a pennant.”

He believed his confidence could successfully intimidate opponents:

“The best system of winning games is to tell the other fellow that you are going to beat him.  Tell it to him before the game starts and tell him in a way that will convince him.  You cannot convince him unless you believe it yourself.  I keep telling them all the time, and I believe it myself until the game is over and sometimes even then.”

Griffith said what he wanted most was for his players to:

“Take chances; any chance to gain an inch of ground or a base…Go after the game with intelligence and force every point as hard as possible…The player who takes chances of hurting himself seldom hurts either himself or his opponent and he will make a weak opponent run away.  More players get hurt stopping up on their feet and giving up before they are touched than are damaged in sliding to bases.”

He said that aggressiveness should also be directed at umpires:

“Then claim every point and claim it quick.  Holler.  ‘No, no’ real quick and beat the umpire to it on every close play a la (Johnny) Evers.  The umpire may be perfectly honest and square but on a close play the fellow who yells quickest is much more likely to get the decision.  I do not believe in fighting umpires or nagging at them.  I believe in yelling quickly.  Yelling quickly beats yelling loud all to pieces.  It is not cheating a bit, but simply protecting yourself on close plays not so much to get the decision yourself as to keep the other fellow from getting it.”

Griffith led the Chicago White Sox to the inaugural American League pennant during his first season as a manager in 1901.  And despite not winning one since, was very confident about his “theories” for success:

“These things, taken together with a little good pitching and perhaps one star pitcher, will win any pennant if carried out correctly and persistently, regardless almost of the mechanical ability of the players on the team.”

In the end, Griffith was unable “to win any pennant.”

His Reds teams in 1910 and 1911 were both sub .500 clubs and finished in fifth and sixth place.  He joined the Washington Senators in 1912, and finally with “one star pitcher’ he managed the team to two-second place finishes (1912-13), but did not win a pennant there either.  He stepped down as manager after the 1920 season to devote himself full time to his ownership duties.

One Star Pitcher

One Star Pitcher

He ended his managerial career with a 1491-1367 record over 20 seasons.