Tag Archives: Amos Alonzo Stagg

“If I ever get this Football Junk out of my Head”

23 May

George Henry Capron had a brief and relatively undistinguished professional baseball career.  He said football was what held him back.

Capron first made a name for himself at the University of Minnesota in 1906.  He excelled at football, track and field and baseball, The Minneapolis Tribune called him “a ten-second track man, a weight thrower, and a splendid ballplayer.”

The Golden Gophers football team was 2-2-1 that season; Capron, the starting halfback and drop kicker scored 44 of the team’s 55 points.  He accounted for all 12 of his team’s points (three four-point field goals) in a loss to Amos Alonzo Stagg’s University of Chicago team.  The Tribune said Capron “Figured in two-thirds of the offensive plays” for Minnesota.

Capron

George Capron

The Chicago Daily News said of Capron:

“(He) is an athlete of exceptional muscular development, although not above the normal size (the 5’ 10” 185 lbs).  he can punt from 50 to 60 yards with little effort with either foot.  The ball after leaving his toe acquires a most peculiar spiral motion, which makes it exceedingly hard to hold…In the work of scoring fielding goals, which appears to be Capron’s specialty, he is unquestionably a star.”

Capron kicking

Capron kicking

Early in 1908, there were rumors that Capron would leave Minnesota at the end of the baseball season and transfer to an Eastern school.  The New York Times said West Point football coach Bob Forbes was attempting to get Capron to accept an appointment, The New York Sun said he was headed to Dartmouth.

Capron chose instead to stay at Minnesota and was unanimously elected captain of the football team on September 14—although later the university would claim he wasn’t elected, but simply called local newspapers claiming an election had been held.  Two days after the “election,’ a scandal caused him to quit the team.

A story in The Chicago Tribune charged that Capron had played professional baseball for the Meridian Ribboners in the Cotton States League during the summer under the name “George Robb,” other reports said he played under the name “George Rapp.”  (The Sporting Life identified him as “Rapp” and “Robb” at various times in 1908).

The story also claimed that he met with “Captain Adrian C. Anson.  The later inquired of Capron’s ability as a ballplayer among local college men.”  Capron, the paper said, wanted to join the semi-pro Anson’s Colts.

Anson told paper:

“I didn’t sign Capron because he didn’t put on a suit and come out…I don’t remember that he said he played professional ball before.  I don’t care, anyhow.  There is no such thing any longer as a strictly amateur college team…They want their real names withheld.  I don’t care, I tell them.  (As long as) they can hit the ball on the snoot and can field decently.”

Sunday's "idol" "Cap" Anson

Sunday’s “idol” “Cap” Anson

Capron denied the charges.   He claimed he had never played professionally and “had never in his life” met Anson.  His denials were quickly dismissed, as his identity was something of an open secret in the South—his election as Minnesota’s captain was reported by several papers, including The Atlanta Constitution, The Atlanta Journal, and The (Nashville) Tennessean –each mentioned his election and that “he played (with Meridian) under the name of Robb,” and that his contract had been purchased by the Mobile Seagulls in the Southern Association.

Faced with overwhelming evidence, he admitted he had played professionally, but continued to deny that he had met with Anson.  It was also reported that Capron had been drafted by the New York Giants, The Minneapolis Tribune said:

(John) McGraw drafted Capron on the recommendations of one of the New York club scouts…but if McGraw was informed as to the real identity of the brilliant young diamond performer he has carefully kept the facts under his bonnet.”

He left school for good in September, and The Sporting Life reported he was “captaining a professional football team in Minneapolis” that fall.   He also admitted, in a letter to the National Commission that he had played professionally under the assumed names “Kipp” and “Katt” for the Mattoon Giants in the Eastern Illinois League in 1907 and in the Northern League with the Crookston Crooks 1905.

In the spring of 1909, The New York World said:

“Capron, the former diamond star of the University of Minnesota, has notified the management of the New York Nationals and of the Mobile Southern League team that he will not join either of them, but has decided to play outlaw ball.”

Capron signed with the Seattle Turks of the Northwest League and immediately went on a tear.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer said he was hitting a league-leading .324 in his first 19 games.

He also found time to elope with the former Ednah Race, a Minneapolis resident.

At the end of the season, with his average down to .275, Capron told a reporter for The Post Intelligencer:

“’If I ever get this football junk out of my head, I’ll make good in baseball yet.’”

The problem he said, was taking out his frustration:

“’When I got mad when playing football I could charge the line or make a fierce tackle and let off steam,’ continued the greatest kicker Minnesota ever had, ‘but when I get mad playing baseball it is back to the bench for me with a fine plastered on me like as not.’

“’It doesn’t do a man a bit of good to get mad while playing baseball…that rough stuff does not go.”

The paper agreed:

“So many times during the season just closed, Capron was no good to himself or the team because he could not see anything but red and he wanted to fight someone or something.

“Capron had a world of natural ability.  He is far above the ordinary as a fielder and he is a dangerous man at the bat.”

Capron

Capron

Capron was sold to the Vancouver Beavers the following season, but was limited to 35 games as the result of a knee injury.  He hit just .207.

The following spring, the 25-year-old said he was finished.  He told The (Portland) Oregonian:

“No more baseball for me.  I am going to retire.”

The paper said “His teammates sniffed” and were sure he would return, but noted that “he is being sought by several clubs of the Northwest league this year and was tendered contracts by Seattle, Vancouver, and Tacoma, but has returned them unsigned.”  He said his new wife had encouraged the decision.

Capron left baseball and football for real estate.  He sat out the 1911 season.

In January of 1912, The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said Barney Dreyfuss, president of the Pittsburgh Pirates sent a personal letter and contract to Capron:

“The contract is a ‘blank’ paper with the salary figure to be filled in by the recipient.

“Apparently, Dreyfuss was prompted in this move by some strong boosting out on the Pacific Coast, for in his letter he told George that information had reached him that a first-class ballplayer was going to waste.”

But despite the blank contract, Capron told The Oregonian:

“I guess (Dreyfuss) knows I can murder (right-handed pitching).  My wife says no, however, so it’s me for the bleachers.”

Capron also told the paper he expected his brother Ralph—a former Minnesota Quarterback– to make the major leagues soon—Ralph played one game that season with the Pirates and two the following year with the Philadelphia Phillies.  Following in his brother’s footsteps, Ralph abruptly quit baseball at age 25, before the 1915 season.  George told The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review, his brother “expects soon to marry the daughter of a wealthy Minneapolis merchant, who is strongly opposed to a professional athlete for a son-in-law.”  Opposition from his father-in-law doesn’t appear to have stopped Ralph from dabbling in professional football.

Capron moved from the Pacific Northwest to Long Beach, and later Fresno, California, and found real estate to be more lucrative than either baseball or football.  In 1964, he was worth more than $30 million dollars, when, after 55 years of marriage, Ednah was awarded a $16 million dollar divorce settlement which The Associated Press said was “the largest ever.”

He died on October 26, 1972.

“Yale’s Crack Baseball Pitcher”

23 May

Herbert Ovid Bowers followed a legend at Yale.

From 1886 through 1890 pitcher Amos Alonzo Stagg had led the Yale baseball team to the championship of the Ivy League (post graduate students didn’t lose eligibility in the 1800s).  He was a highly sought after pitching prospect, but Stagg, a devout Presbyterian, turned down multiple offers to play professionally; in his 1927 biography, “Touchdown!” he said:

“There was a bar in every ball park, and the whole tone of the game was smelly.”

Amos Alonzo Stagg, right, with Yale catcher Jesse Dann

Amos Alonzo Stagg, right, with Yale catcher Jesse Dann

Bowers was born June 2, 1867, in Manchester, Connecticut and entered Yale in 1889 as a sophomore after teaching school for two years in Hartford—he also played for a semi-pro team in Plainville, Massachusetts.

He joined the baseball team in 1890—Stagg’s final season–as an outfielder and pitched on a limited basis during the early part of 1891 when pitcher William Dalzell was tapped as Stagg’s replacement.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“Dalzell promised much, but failed.”

The Pittsburgh Dispatch said Dalzell became ill during the 1891 season and “Bowers was literally forced into the box,” where he “demonstrated that he was the best pitcher in college.”

The New York Herald said:

“Yale would not be a factor in baseball this year, they said.  But when Bowers popped up in the box and began pitching ball (Yale fans) changed their wail to a hurrah…He puts up a great game and is as cool in the box as the famous Stagg himself.”

The 5’ 9” righthander led Yale to a 24-9 season.  The Tribune said:

“Bowers is strategic and cool but not very fast, and weighs but 150 pounds.  He is a good general ball-player, can run bases fast, and has extra good command of the ball.  With twenty-five pounds more weight and the extra strength that goes with it Bowers would be a phenomenal pitcher.  As it is he is a good and valuable one.”

Herbert Ovid Bowers

Herbert Ovid Bowers

On June 13 Bowers and Yale lost 5 to 2 to Princeton at the Manhattan Athletic Club in New York, losing the league championship.

Yale was just 18-16 in 1892.  Bowers took a no-hitter into the ninth inning during a victory over Princeton, but he gave up a walk and a two-out hit, losing the no-hitter and shutout, but winning the game 3 to 1.  Yale met Harvard for a three-game series in June which was to decide the 1892 championship.

Harvard took the first game in Cambridge, Massachusetts on June 23, beating Bowers 5 to 0.  Five days later in New Haven, Connecticut Bowers beat Harvard 4 to 3, setting up a final game to decide the championship.

The Associated Press said:

“The result of to-day’s game leaves the championship undecided.  Yale tried to arrange for a game on neutral grounds July 4, but Harvard refused, and as both colleges have closed, the championship will remain unsettled.  The Yale alumni are celebrating on a grand scale.”

Some members of the press anointed Bowers the next great pitching star.  The New York Herald called him:

“Yale’s crack baseball pitcher, who by many is counted the superior of even the famous Stagg.”

Sam C. Austin, the sporting editor of “The Police Gazette” said Bowers lacked the size to throw hard, but:

“He relies mainly upon his ability to deliver puzzling curves that disconcert the batsman…He has great command over a ball, and can use drops, in and out shoots, and curves that would puzzle a professional to hit.”

The New York Evening World said, “It is said that the New Yorks are after Bowers, the famous Yale pitcher.”

Bowers at Yale

Bowers at Yale

After his  graduation, and despite the accolades, Bowers, who played in a semi-pro league in Vermont after the 1891 and ’92 seasons, chose to enroll in law school at Yale.  He played for the law school team in 1893, and in June pitched the greatest game of his life.  The New York Sun said:

“Pitcher Bowers of the Yale Law School team further added to the excellent record he has made by pitching great ball against the Cuban Giants last Monday at Brattleboro, VT.  He did not allow the colored players a single safe hit, and only twice did they knock the ball outside the diamond.  Both times the balls were flies.  This is the first time that the Cuban Giants have been so retired.  Bowers was obliged to pitch part of the time with a wet ball as it rained during a portion of the game.”

Bowers also had two doubles, scored two runs and drove in two more.  Yale won 4-2–the Cubans scored two runs in the seventh after a walk to Cubans’ second baseman Frank Grant, followed by a three-base error on a throw from Yale’s third baseman on a ground ball hit by Abe Harrison, the Cubans shortstop.  Harrison scored a ground out.

Frank Grant, Cuban Giants

Frank Grant, Cuban Giants

 

Bowers also pitched, played outfield, and captained the 1893 Yale club that won the eight-team “World’s Fair Intercollegiate Baseball Tournament,” which was organized, in part, by Bowers’ former teammate Stagg the University of Chicago’s football and baseball coach.   Yale was 4-1, including a 9 to 0 victory over Amherst in the championship game.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“After the game the Yale team was called into the grand stand and there presented with the magnificent cup given by the university Club to the winning team.  The presentation was made by Mayor (Carter) Harrison and at the close of his remarks the Yale University yell was given.”

After graduating from law school, Bowers appeared to be following in Stagg’s footsteps again, when he was hired to coach the baseball team at Oberlin College in Ohio.  After victories over the University of Illinois (13 to 1) and Michigan (17 to 3), The Associated Press said:

“Coach Bowers has done wonders for Oberlin’s batting and team work and the boys are making a fine record.”

Despite his success at Oberlin, Bowers did not return the following season, and just short of his 28th birthday signed his first professional contract—his career lasted just two games.

He started two games for the Hartford Bluebirds in the Connecticut State League, losing both and posting a 5.14 ERA; he gave up 32 hits in just 14 innings.  He appeared to have lost the “curves that would puzzle a professional to hit.”

After his release, Bowers was not out of work for long.

In August The Manchester Herald said Bowers “once the crack twirler of the Yale team,” had been appointed judge of the newly formed Manchester Connecticut Town Court.  With that, Bowers went on a different course than Stagg.  He was a judge and politician—he served two terms in the Connecticut General Assembly—until his death in Manchester on November 30, 1927.