Tag Archives: Amos Rusie

“’Amos, old Boy, don’t Forget the left foot Racket.’

12 Dec

Long after “Dasher” Troy’s last professional game in 1888, he remained a good source of quotes for sportswriters; at the Polo Grounds, or after 1900, at his Manhattan tavern.

Dasher Troy

Dasher Troy

When he wrote a series of columns for “Baseball Magazine” in 1915 the magazine said about him:

“There was a day when John (Dasher) Troy was one of the bright lights of the diamond.  Advancing age has long since driven him from his favorite haunts. But, though, as he admits, he has “had his day and that day is a long time past,” still he has ‘seen more baseball games than any other player in the country,’ and remained throughout a close student and observer of the game.”

And, humility was not his strong suit.

Four years before he was given credit for fixing Hughie Jennings broken nose, Troy took credit for another player’s success.

After Amos Rusie’s great 1894 season—36-13, 2.78 ERA–Troy told The New York Sun:

“Very few people know just what made the big pitcher so effective last season, but can explain it… (Rusie) had a wrinkle last season that was of my own invention…I had noticed that every League batsman, barring one or two like (Ed) Delehanty(Dan) Brouthers, and a few more, stepped back from the plate whenever Amos pitched a fast ball.  So I went to the big fellow one day and said:

“’Amos, when you see a batter’s left foot—providing he is a right-handed hitter—move back a trifle, just drive that fast straight ball or your outshoot, over the outside corner of the plate, and you’ll find how easy it is to fool these ducks.  Just try it and see if I ain’t right.’

Amos Rusie

Amos Rusie

“Well, Amos did just as I told him the next game he pitched, and he was laughing in his sleeve.  The minute he saw a batter’s left foot move back, he grinned all over.  Then he let ‘er go.  The ball whistled like a small cyclone up to and over the outside corner of the plate, and the batter made such a wild stab at it that the crowd roared.  But nobody knew what the wrinkle was.

“By and by, when I saw that Amos had mastered the trick to perfection, I thought it was time to gamble a little on it.  So I just took a seat back of the home plate among a lot of know-alls and watched the batter’s feet closely.  Whenever I saw a left foot move back I just took out my coin and yelled:

“’Three to one this duck doesn’t make a hit!’

“There were lots of fellows around me who would take up the short end, and as a result I had a good thing on hand right along.  But the cinch came when the Bostons came over here on August 31 to play off a tie game with the New Yorks.  There were nearly 20,000 people on the Polo Grounds, and Amos was slated to pitch.  He was as fit as a fiddle, and just before the battle began I leaned over the grandstand and whispered to him:

“’Amos, old boy, don’t forget the left foot racket.’

“He said, ‘All right,’ and then he began his work.  Every one of the Bostons stepped back from the plate—even (Hugh) Duffy, (Tommy) McCarthy and (Tommy) Tucker.  Amos just grinned, and sent that ball over the corner until the champions were blinded.   Laid three to one against each Boston batter and during the entire game the champs made but five scattered singles.”

The Box Score

The Box Score

Twenty years later, in one of the columns he wrote for “Baseball Magazine,” Troy again took credit for Rusie’s performance in the Boston game, but embellished the details further:

“There were a lot of my friends there that day trying to show me, so they said how much I knew about the game. So I thought I would take a look at my old friend, Amos Rusie, who was pitching for the Giants.  He never had more speed, and his inshoot was working fine on the inside corner of the plate… I sent one of my workmen down to Amos on the players’ bench with a note.   In this note I told him not to pitch his inshoot, that nearly every one of the Boston Club was pulling his left foot back from the plate, and that the batter could not hit a ball out of the diamond if he would put them low and over the plate.

“Hugh Duffy was the first man up for the next inning, and he hit a slow grounder to the first baseman; the second batter hitting to the second baseman, and the third to the third baseman. When Amos was walking to the bench he looked up toward the bar on the grandstand, which was behind the catcher at the back of the stand, and he had a big broad smile on his face. Any player who pulled his left foot back, or left-hander who pulled his right foot back, never hit Amos very hard after that.”

There’s no record of Rusie having credited Troy as the reason for his greatest season.

Troy remained a popular figure in New York baseball circles, and a popular story teller, until his death in 1938.

 

Hughie Jennings’ “Doctor”

10 Dec

On October 6, 1898, Hughie Jennings, who, for the fifth straight season was the National League’s leading hits batsman, faced Jouett Meekin, the New York Giants’ notoriously wild pitcher —Meekin hit 89 batters in nine major league seasons and walked 1056 while striking out 901.

Hughie Jennings

Hughie Jennings

The New York Times said:

“Meekin began the game by hitting (John) McGraw on the head.  It was only a glancing blow, however.  Jennings followed McGraw, and the first ball pitched struck him on the nose, breaking it.  Jennings, after he was hit, staggered and then fell.  It was a swift in-curve, and the players on both teams rushed to the plate thinking he had been fatally injured”

The concern was warranted.  In June of 1897 Jennings was hit in the head with a pitch thrown by Meekin’s’ teammate Amos Rusie during the first inning of a game.  While the Rusie beaning was serious, it was likely not as serious as some sources claim–it has been said he was unconscious for three or four days, and near death.  These claims are belied by contemporary news reports, as early as the next day that said, while serious, the injury was neither life-threatening nor caused a days-long coma.

A newspaper rendering of Jennings' beaning by Rusie. The catcher is Jack Warner, Hank O'Day is the umpire.

A newspaper rendering of Jennings’ beaning by Rusie. The catcher is Jack Warner, Hank O’Day is the umpire.

The New York Sun:

“Last night the doctor said he was suffering from a slight concussion of the brain and a temporary paralysis of the right arm, but he declared his injuries would not prove serious and that Jennings would be able to play again in a few days.”

Jennings was back in the Orioles lineup in a week.

Still, there was reason for concern, Jennings had been hit by nearly 200 pitches since 1894, and according to The Sun, “his face was covered in blood.”  The previous season he had “pluckily continued in the game” after the Rusie beaning, until the second inning; this time he was immediately taken to the clubhouse.

It was there that his broken nose was attended to in an unusual way.

Enter John Joseph “Dasher” Troy, a major league infielder in 1880s, a member of the 1884 American Association champion New York Metropolitans.

Dasher Troy

Dasher Troy

In 1891, Troy had been granted a liquor concession, “running the bar under the grandstand” at the Polo Grounds.  Three years later The Sun said Giants owner Edward Talcott “quietly ousted Troy,” after the former player’s “attack on a grandstand gatekeeper and his threatened attack on Mr. Talcott.”

Despite being ousted from the business, Troy remained a fixture at Giants games—and would eventually reclaim the business after Talcott sold his interest in the Giants to Andrew Friedman, running it until 1900.

The New York Telegraph picks up the story:

“(Troy) was at the Polo Grounds when Jennings, of the Baltimores, had his nose broken by a pitched ball. Jennings was assisted to the clubhouse and a physician summoned.  The ‘Dasher’ followed in after the doctor, and pushing the latter aside, said to Jennings:

“‘Hughie, will you let me fix that for you?’

“Hughie looked embarrassed and said:

‘Yes, Dash, but here’s the doctor.’

“’Oh, to hell with him,’ answered Johnny, with his usual impetuosity.  “I can fix that nose in two minutes.  I have fixed noses before, and broken ‘em too,’ said Troy as he threw out his chest and glanced severely at the doctor.

“’Here boy, go out and get me a couple of pebbles.’

“The (doctor) brought back two small stones, and Troy put one on each side of Jennings’ injured nasal organ, and began to press.  The damaged nose was one sided, the cartilage being badly out of place.  Jennings said he could feel the grating as Troy gradually pressed on the stones and, sure enough, when the pebbles were removed the nose was as straight as it ever was.

“’There,’ said Troy, looking again fiercely at the doctor, ‘could you do better that that?  You doctors make me tired.’

“The doctor, however, when he had collected himself, said Jennings had better go to a hospital for further treatment, apparently not being fully satisfied with Troy’s treatment, or possibly his winning ways.

“Jennings did not follow the doctor’s advice that night, but (the following day) he went to Mt. Sinai Hospital.  A physician then examined the injured nose, felt of it carefully and said:

“’There is nothing out of place there.  Who set it for you?’

“’Oh, some doctor up at the Polo grounds,’ answered Jennings.

“’Well, said the hospital physician, ‘I never saw a cleaner or better piece of work in my life.”

Regardless of having his nose successfully fixed by Troy, Jennings’ all-time record for being by pitches 287 times took a toll.  He had turned 30 years-old just a month before the 1888 broken nose, but only played more than 100 games  once more—in 1900—and was, essentially finished as a player by 1902.

Another story about Jennings’ “doctor” Dasher Troy on Friday

“The Fans there Like me. I Think so Anyway.”

31 Oct

In 1909 the Cleveland Naps traded pitchers Charlie Chech, Jack Ryan and $12,500 to the Boston Red Sox for Cy Young;  Young would turn 42-years-old before the beginning of the season.

Young was happy with the trade and told The Cleveland News:

“I’m glad to get back to the city where I started my career in 1890.  The fans there like me.  I think so anyway.  I believed they pulled for me there when I pitched against their own team.  I will give (Napoleon) Lajoie all I have and I think I’m good for several years.”

Cy Young

Cy Young

Addie Joss, the Naps ace, was also happy about the trade:

“Not only has Cleveland secured one of the best pitchers in the game today, but at the same time has added to the club a man who has done much for the good of baseball, and who is honored and respected everywhere he has ever played.  I have always contended, and always will, that Cy is the greatest pitcher the game has ever produced.”

Elmer Ellsworth Bates, the sports editor of The Cleveland Press, told some stories about the Indians new pitcher.

Ellsworth said a visitor to Young’s farm in Paoli, Pennsylvania asked the pitcher which of his then 478 victories did he “recall with the most satisfaction.”

“’The first game I ever pitched for Cleveland, back in 1890 (an 8 to 1 victory August 6),’ replied Old Cy, unhesitatingly.  ‘I doubt if a base ball crowd ever looked on a more typical rube than I appeared to be that day in a makeshift uniform six or seven sizes too small.  I didn’t have much money then, but I would not have lost that game to Chicago for the prettiest $1,000 bill ever printed.”

Bates said Young was “probably the most modest ‘big man’” in the game:

“At the Colonial (Hotel in Cleveland) one day last summer a young man took a chair next to the great pitcher and began paying him fulsome praise.

“’You are the swiftest pitcher I ever saw,’ he said.

“’Then,’ said Old Cy.  ‘I guess you never saw Amos Rusie.  My fastball looks like a slow freight trying to keep up with the Twentieth Century Limited Express compared to Rusie’s.’

“’But your slow ball is a peach.’

“’Young man,’ remarked Old Cy, gravely.  ‘If I could pitch the slow ball Eddie Beatin, the old Cleveland twirler, used to hand up to the batters I’d let them knock $1,000 a year off my salary.”

Bates also said it was “a matter of record” that Young was unaware he had pitched a perfect game against Connie Mack’s  Philadelphia Athletics on May 5, 1904:

“’I knew Connie’s boys hadn’t made a hit,’ said Old Cy the next day, but I couldn’t understand why the crowd was making such a demonstration.’

“’Well you’ve done it,’ said (manager and third baseman) Jimmy Collins, as we started for the dressing room after the crowd had let me go.’

“’Done what, Jimmy?’ I asked.  ‘Pitched a no-hit game?’

“’Better than that; not a man reached first.’

“’Then I knew what the racket was about.’”

Big Six versus The Hoosier Thunderbolt

6 Aug

Christy Mathewson had only pitched five full seasons when Sam Crane of The New York Journal said in January of 1906 “there is a great diversity of opinion” regarding whether Mathewson or Amos Rusie was the better pitcher.

Crane said “Old-time lovers of the game” said Rusie, “The Hoosier Thunderbolt”, whose career ended in 1901 after being traded to Cincinnati for “Big Six” Mathewson,  was the best ever, “and refuse to acknowledge that the young college man who won the world’s championship so easily last fall…is his superior.”   While, “the younger generation of enthusiasts say there was never but one Mathewson and point to his wonderful record to prove their point.”

Amos Rusie

Amos Rusie

Crane said two famous New York baseball figures—and future Hall of Famers– disagreed on the point:

George Davis, the crack shortstop of the Chicago White Sox, and one of the best players who ever wore ‘New York’ across his shirt front, met Clark Griffith, manager of the Yankees (Crane was one of the earliest to call the then “Highlanders” the “Yankees”), yesterday at the headquarters of the New York American club, and argued over the much mooted questions of pitching superiority between the two crack box artists.  Both Davis and Griffith agreed that Mathewson and Rusie were two of the best, but differed as to which was entitles to the premier position.”

Davis thought Mathewson was better.

“Both have excelled all other Boxmen.  I have never batted against Matty in a game, but I have met his curves in practice and I want to say that he has just as good control of the ball as Rusie.  Matty’s most effective ball is a straight drop, but his speed is a great factor as well as a wonderfully controlled slow ball.  He uses his forearm and elbow and winds up in such a manner that a batsman is sure to be puzzled.  Rusie, on the other hand, depended on an out drop, which he controlled with remarkable skill, in addition to his fast ball; but he had very little preliminary motion and used his shoulder almost exclusively.  Rusie probably had the better physique, but in head work and vitality Mathewson outclasses the big Hoosier.”

Christy Mathewson with John McGraw

Christy Mathewson with John McGraw

Griffith disagreed:

“Rusie in his prime was the best twirler that ever stepped into the box.  His curves, speed and control were the best assortment I ever looked at, and no pitcher has ever approached him in class since he made his departure from baseball.”

Crane cast the deciding vote, declaring:

“Rusie never had a peep in with Mathewson as a box artist.  Rusie relied mostly on brute strength until his arm began to show symptoms of crystallizing, then he accumulated a good slow ball; but for head work, pure good judgment, with a delivery or series of deliveries to back up his well-balanced brain, Mathewson is superior to any pitcher who ever wore shoe plates.”

Crane’s analysis was prescient.

Rusie’s greatness is undisputed—his speed was primary reason for moving the pitching distance from 50‘ to 60’ 6”—but his best days were behind him before he turned 24-years-old.  His season-long holdout in 1896 and the arm injury that effectively ended his career at 27 after the 1898 season (except for three games he pitched for the Cincinnati Reds in 1901) make him one of baseball’s great “what ifs?”  He still finished his career 246-174, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977.

Mathewson won twenty games for nine straight seasons after Crane declared him “superior to any pitcher.   He finished 373-188 and was part of the Hall of Fame’s first induction class.

Giants Versus Phillies in Verse

30 May

When the New York Giants met the Philadelphia Phillies on May 1, 1895 The New York Evening Sun provided a novel recap—the entire game was presented in verse:

 

The weather did its level best

To fire with joy the rooter’s breast,

And old Sol sent his brightest rays

To make up for past wet days

He shone with full and festive strength

Upon the Polo Grounds at length.

The balmy breezes of May Time

Resembled some fair eastern clime.

With ground so dry, yet without dust,

What player could but do or bust?

Both teams had somewhat rusty grown

By inactivity o’erthrown.

The Slowtown people were the first

To warm up with a practice burst.

The pitchers limbered up their arms,

And batters tried to work their charms

Upon the curves they volleyed in

By practice with their batting pin.

The twirlers seemed a trifle wild,

But pitcher Weyhing only smiled

And nodded like a coony fox

When told to take the pitcher’s box.

Gus Weyhing started for Philadelphia.

Gus Weyhing started for Philadelphia.

And when the players pranced about

Their frozen legs thawed quickly out.

The Phillies practicing today

Were much like Boston in their play.

The old men on the team were not

In practice quite up to the spot.

All balls that sizzled down their way

They let proceed and did not stay.

Young Turner, who was hurt last week,

Again was forced the bench to seek.

His strength gave way while in left field,

And homeward to the plate he reeled.

His captain gave him some more grace,

And Delehanty took his place.

The Giants showed up very well.

Their work was shop and clear’s the bell.

When time was called this first of May,

Four thousand people saw them play.

No umpire came to judge the game,

It had to go on just the same:

So German had to take the job,

With Reilly for his pal, be gob.

The Game:

First Inning.

Now with a last tug at his hat

Big Delehanty came to bat.

He got first on four bad balls

And down to second safely crawls,

When Hallman hit a daisy one

That Stafford stopped, but on the run.

Hamilton’s small infield fly

Was caught by Staff—Good eye! Good eye!

Clements hit to center field

And Delehanty homeward spieled.

Meanwhile Hallmann took a brace

And stood triumphant on third base.

Cross hit to Fuller, who threw to Staff,

Who dropped it, to the rooters’ wrath.

Hallman scored, and Clements out

By force at third produced a shout.

Then Sullivan to Stafford hit

He threw to Doyle and Sully quit.

Two runs.

Hot buns!

Now Fuller drew four measly shoots

And went to first by easy scoots.

Val Haltren got four balls also

And straightway down to first did go,

Advancing Fuller by this feat

To second where he took a seat.

Davis down to Hallman hit,

And Van was forced because of it.

Doyle knew a trick worth two of that—

His single hit the fence, that’s flat.

Fuller scored and David stirred\His stumps and landed safe on third.

Tiernan’s hit scored Davis too.

Staff went to first on balls, hurroo!

Burke struck thrice at the spinning sphere,

And Burkeville sadly moaned, ‘Oh, dear!’

A pretty single Farrell sent,

And skipping down to first he went.

‘Twas pretty work, and what is more,

Enabled Doyle and Mike to score.

Then Farrell climbed the second stair.

‘Twas no use.  Rusie fanned the air.

Amos Rusie started for New York

Amos Rusie started for New York

Four runs.

Great guns!

Second Inning.

Boyle sent an easy one to Staff,

He didn’t fail to do his half.

But promptly threw him out to Doyle,

Who didn’t let the good thing spoil.

Then Weyhing also fanned the air.

Thus Rusie evened things for fair.

The Delehanty followed suit

And made the third man out to boot.

No run,

Not one.

Here Clements found he was too fat,

And Buckley went behind the bat.

Fuller’s smash in center fails;

Van Haltren gets his base on balls.

In this respect Cap Davis vied.

The bases were all occupied.

Doyle force the Cap at second base,

Where Hallman calmly holds his face,

But in the turmoil that ensued

Short Fuller struck an attitude,

Then down the last course took a skate

And like a rabbit crossed the plate.

Mike singled to the right field loam,

Van Haltren also scampered home.

Then Stafford missed the fatal strike.

At second Hallman caught our Mike.

Score two—

That’s true!

Third Inning.

Then Hallman sent a liner hot,

Which Rusie let go like a shot.

The batter ambled to first base,

And Amos hid his blushing face.

Then Hamilton to Davis hit,

And Hallman took bag 2 on it.

On Buckley’s sacrifice to Doyle,

Hallman went to avis’ soil.

Then Cross lined one to Fuller’s ground,

He neatly grabbed it on the bound

And slung the pellet down to Doyle,

Who gently plucked it from the soil,

Touched first bad with his Trilby boot.

‘My,’ yelled the crowd, but you’re a beaut!’

No score.

For us Burke hit to center field,

A single the resultant yield.

Then all Burkeville with one acclaim

Rose up and cheered their hero’s name.

eddieburke

Eddie Burke–“Then all Burkeville with one acclaim–Rose up and cheered their hero’s name”

Next Farrell, seeing Fuller’s hit,

Got up and duplicated it.

The Burke took second, Eddie third,

When Delehanty sadly erred.

Then Cross, who’s never known to scowl,

Froze tight to Rusie’s little foul,

But Filler once more four balls drew

And quickly down to first base flew.

Four bad ones, too, Van Haltren got,

Which forced Ed Burke home on the spot.

Duke tried to score on Davis’ crack,

But Buckley tapped him on the back.

Doyle smashed a single out to right.

Two runs came in –‘twas out o’ sight!

Cap Davis, graceful as a bird,

Flew round the course and perched on third,

But Tienan hit to Sully’s place

And perished tamely at first base.

Score Three.

That’s we!

Fourth Inning.

Thompson four balls got, and Sully’s bunt

Let him to first—the little runt!

Boyle’s liner went to Stafford’s spot,

Who held it, though he said ‘twas hot,

And laced it onto Fuller’s paws,

Who touched bag 2 midst much applause.

Big Thompson, who should have been there,

Was caught far off his base for fair.

Now Stafford added glory won

By nabbing Weyhing’s hit.  No run.

Now Weyhing thought he had enough,

And Smith tried pitching—that’s the stuff.

When Stafford stepped up to the plate,

The crowd arose and cheered him great,

Whereas poor Staff was struck with awe

And fanned out, much against the law.

Then Hallman gathered in the sphere,

And though the thing was very near

He plugged it down to first with vim.

Burke found the ball ahead of him.

Farrell fanned the ozone thrice

And took a back seat calm and nice.

No score once more.

Fifth Inning.

When Delehanty went to bat,

He didn’t know where he was at.

He sent one down to Davis’ ground,

Who plucked it neatly on the bound

And passed it on to Jack Doyle’s place,

Who took it in with airy grace.

Hallman out, short to first,

And Hamilton was likewise curst.

No score.

Now roar!

Rusie’s out caused quite a howl,

And Buckley gobbled Fuller’s foul.

Hallman fumbled big Van’s hit;

The latter safe on first did sit.

He didn’t tarry but a minute,

But stole bag two—

Gosh, Van was in ir!

But Davis stopped all hope of fun

By going out at first.  No run.

Sixth Inning.

Buckley went out, Davis to Doyle,

Van Haltren kept Cross’ fly off soil.

Davis took Thompson foul on the run,

And the Phillies retired without a run.

Doyle sent one down to second base

And on the bench resumed his place.

Tiernan bunted mid a shout

And beat the ball two feet about.

Hamilton took in Stafford’s fly,

And Burke went out as slick as pie.

No runs.

Good fun.

Seventh Inning.

Sully’s slow bunt along the ground

Ahead of him at first he found.

Boyle died at first in style as slick.

‘Twas Fuller this time who did the trick.

Rusie attended to Smith’s weak hit.

The Quakers were certainly not in it.

No Score.

Hurrah!

Farrell out at Hallman’s door,

And Rusie fanned the air once more.

Fuller got four nasty ones,

Then down to second quickly runs.

Smith struck out lengthy Van,

Who batted like a pygmy man.

No more.

Oh, pshaw!

Eighth Inning.

For Slowtown Delly made a hit,

And Hallman duplicated it.

Fuller muffed the ball in thrown,

And Delehanty ran clear home.

Hallman safe to second crawls,

And Hamilton to first on balls.

Buckley out at first by tag.

And Hamilton off second bag.

Hallman to third on this play

And scored on Cross’ hit—hooray!

Thompson singled to center field,

And Cross to third base quickly spieled.

Sully smashed along the ground.

The ball at first ahead he found.

Score two.

That’s you.

Davis, Hallman to Boyle,

And Hamilton took care of Doyle.

Tiernan first on balls, and Staff

Forced him at second—made him laugh.

No run

By gun!

Ninth Inning.

Fuller caught Boyle’s fly like glue,

And Smith’s strike out made No. 2

Delehanty out at first.

The crowd yelled a triumphant burst.

To sum it up, the game was great.

The rooters left the grounds elate.

Then round the town they took a turn,

For every one had cash to burn.

The Box Score

The Box Score

“The result is interesting. Incidentally, also, repulsive.”

14 Apr

While writing for The New York Herald in 1895 Oliver Perry “OP” Caylor had the hands of several members of the New York Giants photographed.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said, “The result is interesting.  Incidentally, also, repulsive.”

Caylor said:

“It is hard to say who has had the most marvelously disfigured hand among the catchers since the game became professional, but the award lies between the late (Frank) “Silver” Flint and Tony Suck.”

Flint had died three years earlier, and Suck (born Zuck) had died earlier that year.

Of the Giants, Caylor said backup catcher William “Pop” Schriver “takes first prize in a display of distorted joints   His right hand, as it is seen in the photographic view, has lost much of its resemblance to the natural member.”

Schriver

Schriver

Caylor said starting catcher Charles “Duke” Farrell and the team’s other catcher, Parke Wilson, had hands that were in good shape in comparison to Schriver:

“Farrell, for a man who has done so much catching and has faced so many swift and wild pitchers, possesses remarkably well preserved and shapely fingers.”

Farrell

Farrell

Wilson

Wilson

Caylor said third baseman George Davis “has what’s known as a ‘daisy.’ The first joint of the little finger on his right hand is crooked like the elbow of a stove pipe.”  Captain and first baseman Jack Doyle “has several angles and curves on his hands.”

Davis

Davis

Doyle

Doyle

Rightfielder Mike Tiernan ‘has escaped very luckily,” and among pitchers Amos Rusie, William “Dad” Clarke and Jouett Meekin “disfigured fingers are scarce.”

Tiernan

Tiernan

Rusie

Rusie

Clarke

Clarke

Meekin

Meekin

Caylor said:

“Baseball players as a rule, are not proud of their unshapely hands.  Yet a close examination of the hands of the men of New York City under 40 years of age will disclose the fact that more than half of them have one or two ‘baseball joints’ apiece to remind them of the time when a foul tip went wrong or a high fly took a sudden shoot out of its natural course…The non-professional invariably is proud of this reminder of the day or days when he played.

“There is a Constant fear that Someday the Men will Decline to go on the field.”

31 Mar

The St. Louis Maroons were a big league franchise for just three seasons.  After winning the inaugural (and only) Union Association championship in 1884, the team was absorbed into the National League and was a dismal 36-72 in 1885, and 43-79 in 1886.

The club disbanded after the ’86 season and throughout the winter there was speculation about whether the franchise would end up in Kansas City (where local businessmen were looking to replace the Cowboys, who also went broke after the ’86 season) and Indianapolis.

The deal was finalized on March 8 when the franchise and nine players were sold to Indianapolis.  The Indianapolis News announced on the front page:

The Base Ball Deal

It Is Finally Completed

The story said:

“There is general rejoicing about the city over the certainty of having a league baseball club here.”

The team would be called the Hoosiers, and play at the Seventh Street Grounds, a ballpark owned by local businessman John Tomlinson Brush.

John T. Brush

John T. Brush

Brush was the driving financial force behind the deal and had been involved in local baseball in Indianapolis for several years, first having financed and organized a local amateur league in the city in order to promote his business—the When Store, and later the When Clothing Company—he was also an investor in the short-lived 1884 incarnation of the Hoosiers who struggled through one twelfth-place (29-78) season in the American Association.

The Hoosiers first year was unsuccessful and chaotic.

The first manager was George Walter “Watch” Burnham, who had been a National League umpire for 41 games in 1883 and one in 1886.  His role in the effort to acquire the franchise, his selection as manager, and the manner in which he acquired his nickname, gave some pause about the seriousness of the Indianapolis operation.

"Watch" Burnham

“Watch” Burnham

The Chicago Tribune said:

“The promoter of the Indianapolis movement is George W. Burnham, known as “Watch” Burnham.  At Cleveland, in 1883, while acting as a league umpire, he endeavored to establish himself in the public esteem by buying a watch, having ‘Presented to George W. Burnham by his friend and admirers’ inscribed on it, then having it sent out to him on the field during the progress of the game.  It is not surprising that some of the league people are suspicious of the Hoosier effort.”

Brush was not the team’s original president, that duty fell to a local attorney named Louis Newberger who spent his entire two-month tenure in the position complaining that he had no time to run the team; Brush took over as president in late May.

The Hoosiers limped to a 6-22 start—no doubt aided by 22 straight road games from May 5 through May 30.  Burnham resigned once, just five games into the season, but returned a few days later.  By mid May, as the team struggled through their endless road trip, The Chicago Tribune said a mutiny was expected:

“The dissatisfaction on the part of the players with Burnham, the manager, amounts almost to insubordination and there is a constant fear that someday the men will decline to go on the field.”

The Tribune said Burnham had fined “the entire team,” and Captain Jack Glasscock “said he would be black-listed before he would play again under the management of Burnham, but was finally prevailed upon to do so.”

Jack Glasscock

Jack Glasscock

Upon the team’s return to Indianapolis Burnham was replaced with team secretary Fred Thomas.  Thomas, like Burnham, had no professional experience as a player or manager, and his tenure was not much more successful.  The club lost 18 of 29 games with him at the helm.

The team’s third manager also had no previous professional experience.  Horace Fogel was a sportswriter for The Philadelphia Press when he was tapped to be the third manager.  The Indianapolis News said hopefully:

“Mr. Horace Fogel, the new manager, is a good-looking young man, and makes a favorable impression on a stranger.  He is evidently very anxious to make the club a winner.”

The same July day The News opined on Fogel the paper also noted that maintenance of the ballpark had also angered some fans:

“Very unwisely the management had the chairs in the gallery varnished recently and yesterday several ladies had their dresses ruined.”

Things were no better under Fogel.  The Hoosiers went 20-49 under their third manager, and finished their inaugural season in eighth place with a 37-89 record.

The News said:

“Staring out under unfavorable circumstances…with inefficient management throughout the season, and many more defeats than victories, the club nevertheless, was accorded a generous support.”

The 1888 season became a matter of civic pride for the team’s ownership, local businesses and the newspaper.

In January it was announced that the Hoosiers would have a manager with at least some experience.  Harrison “Harry” Spence had played and managed in, among others, the Eastern, Northwestern and New England Leagues.  The News said of the new manager:

“A number of ball players of various clubs, who know Harry Spence…speak very highly of him.  Sam Thompson says he is a thorough gentleman, well liked by the players, and a fine manager.”

The News said the success of the Hoosiers was necessary for the future Indianapolis:

“Business and professional men are all interested in it, for, aside from the pleasure they derive from witnessing the games, they recognize the fact that the club is of great benefit in advertising the enterprise and prosperity of the city.”

The paper organized a campaign called “Boom for Baseball.”  Sixty-eight local businessmen “representing the leading establishments in the city,” donated their advertising space back to the newspaper “for the purpose of setting forth the advantages that will accrue to the city, from the maintenance of a National League Baseball Club here.”

Brush told the paper:

“We want at least five hundred subscribers for season tickets, and with this as a guarantee, we can get the money we want.  If any such player as (Fred) Pfeffer or (Larry) Twitchell can be bought we can and will buy him, and we can get the club in first-class shape for opening the season.”

Season tickets were sold for $25 each, and Brush said “We will have a grandstand that will be a beauty, with all the latest improvements, so that there will not be one uncomfortable seat in it.  Then we will have a space set aside for carriages and a special department for ladies and their escorts.”

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Some of the advertisements from Indianapolis' "Baseball Boom"  campaign

Some of the advertisements from The Indianapolis’ News’ “Baseball Boom” campaign

Most importantly, Brush assured the people of Indianapolis that they “would have a ballclub here that nobody would be ashamed of.”

He was wrong.

While not as bad as 1887, the Hoosiers got off to a 2-11 start, and struggled to a 50-85 seventh place finish, 36 games behind the champion New York Giants.

By 1889 Indianapolis had all but given up.  The team nearly went under before the season started.  In January a headline in The News said:

The Ball Club Gone

With debts of more than $5,000, the paper said Brush would “surrender the franchise” to the league.  Brush was able to raise enough capital to keep the club operating for one more sub .500 season (59-75), and another seventh place finish.  The only highlights for Indianapolis in 1889 was the arrival of 18-year-old Indiana native Amos Rusie, who posted a 12-10 record, and Jack Glasscock who hit .352, for the Hoosiers.

The team was dropped after the 1889 season, but not because of money.  The National League bought out Brush’s Hoosiers and the Washington Nationals.  Brush received a reported $67,000 for the team, he also received stock in the New York Giants as payment for former Hoosier players.  One year earlier when The News reported that Brush was on the verge of losing the team, the paper claimed “the franchise is now worth $15,500 cash.”  While that figure might have been low there was no doubt that Brush did well on the deal.  A year later he was president and majority stock holder of the Cincinnati Reds.

Indianapolis would only be a major league city one more time; in 1914 the Hoosiers were champions of the Federal League, but were relocated the following season, becoming the Newark Peppers.

“Fear of the Black List has Stopped Many a Crooked Player from Jumping”

9 Sep

For a brief period in the mid1890s, George Jouett Meekin was considered among the top pitchers in the game; he might never have had the opportunity, but for what The Sporting Life called “The disastrous effects of Chairman Young’s somersault.”

Jouett Meekin

Jouett Meekin

 John Montgomery Ward, Meekin’s manager with the New York Giants, said he was, along with Amos Rusie, Tim Keefe, John Clarkson and Kid Nichols, the “most marvelous pitchers as ever lived.”

Charles “Duke” Farrell, who caught Meekin and Rusie with the Giants, said:

“Sometime, it seemed to me that (Meekin) was actually faster…Rusie’s speed struck the glove with a bruising deadening, heavy shock, and Meekin’s fastest gave a sharp, sudden sting.”

But in 1891 Meekin was a 24-year-old pitcher in his third season with the St. Paul Apostles in the Western Association. The New Albany, Indiana native became a well-known amateur player across the Ohio River in Louisville before signing his first professional contract with the Apostles in 1889.  His sub .500 winning percentage was not enough to keep the American Association’s eighth place Louisville Colonels, from inducing Meekin to jump his contract with St. Paul.

In June Meekin jumped; at the same time third baseman Harry Raymond jumped to Colonels from the Western League’s Lincoln Rustlers.

The National Board of Control, created after the 1890 season as part of the “peace agreement” between the National League and The American Association after the collapse of the Players League, to arbitrate contract disputes, acted quickly.  Board Chairman (and National League President) Nick Young announced that Meekin and Raymond would be “forever ineligible to play with or against a National Agreement club.”  The statement, signed by Young, also said:

“This order or any other that may hereafter be made for the same cause, will never be modified or revoked during the existence of the present board, whose term of office will not expire for five years.”

The move was applauded by the press and no less a figure than “the father of baseball,” Henry Chadwick, who called Raymond and Meekin part of a “venal cabal” of jumping players.

Despite the promise that the order would “never be modified or revoked,” Young did just that.  Within weeks of issuing the order, both players were reinstated.

The backlash was swift.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer called the reversal “nauseating.”  The Cincinnati Times-Star said it was “one of the greatest mistakes ever made.”  The Milwaukee Evening Wisconsin said Young and the board chose to “toss the National Agreement into the fire.”

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Nick Young

James Edward Sullivan, founder of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) said the reinstatement of the “arch-culprits” Meekin and Raymond “was the worst in the history.”  He predicted dire consequences as a result:

“Heretofore the fear of the black list has stopped many a crooked player from jumping or doing dishonest work.  But from now on it will be different.  A precedent has been formed.”

Raymond jumped back to Lincoln, taking Colonels’ pitcher Phillip “Red” Ehret with him to the Rustlers.  Meekin remained with Louisville and moved to the National League with the Colonels the following season.

Meekin had a 10-year big league career as a result of Young’s reversal.

From 1891-93, Meekin was 29-51 with Louisville and the Washington Senators and was traded to the Giants (along with Duke Farrell) before the 1894 season.  He was 33-9, and fellow Indiana native Amos Rusie was 36-13, for the 2nd place Giants.  Meekin had two complete game victories in the Giants four game sweep of the first-place Baltimore Orioles in the Temple Cup series (Rusie won the other two games).

The New York Evening Journal called Meekin “Old Reliable,” and said, “He can push ‘em up to the plate in any old style, and is factor with the stick.”  The pitcher hit .276 with 29 RBI in 183 at bats in 1894 (including hitting 3 triples in a game on July 4) and was a career .243 hitter.

Meekin won 102 more games (including 26, and 20 win seasons in 1896 and ’97), but as O. P. Caylor said in The New York Herald he suffered from “a lack of control.”  Meekin walked 1056 batters and struck out only 901 in more than 2600 innings, he also hit 89 batters; in 1898, he broke Hughie Jennings nose with a pitch.

After posting a 16-18 record for the seventh place Giants in 1898, Meekin, along with Rusie, and second baseman William “Kid” Gleason, were blamed by New York owner Andrew Freeman for the team’s disappointing finish.  Freeman told reporters:

“Meekin, Rusie and Gleason will be either sold or traded.  We do not want them.  I’m going to break up cliques in the team even if I have to get rid of every man.  There must be harmony.  Without it we can’t win games.  We have too many men who are simply playing for their salaries and do not seem to care whether they win or not.”

Rusie had injured his arm late in the season and sat out the next two years.  Meekin and Gleason, despite Freedman’s promise, returned to the Giants for the 1899 season.  The team finished in tenth place, and Meekin struggled with a 5-11 record.

He was sold to the Boston Beaneaters in August for a reported $5000, although it was commonly assumed that the Giants received much less, or simply “loaned” Meekin to Boston for the stretch run; a charge made by Brooklyn Superbas manager Ned Hanlon.  Although Hanlon’s charges have become “fact” in countless books and articles over the years, several newspapers, including The Pittsburgh Press refuted Hanlon’s story:

“All that talk and fuss about Freedman giving Jouett Meekin to Boston in order to help that team win the pennant and thus get even with Brooklyn is nonsense.  The truth of the matter is that Freedman thought Meekin’s days as a pitcher were over, and he offered him to the Pittsburgh club, but President (William) Kerr thought the same way and did not take him.  At the time Boston’s pitching corps was in bad shape and manager (Frank) Selee took a chance on the big fellow.  There was no underhand dealing in the matter at all.”

Meekin was 7-6 with a 2.83 ERA for Boston, but the team finished second to Brooklyn.  He was released by Boston before the 1900 season and pitched just two games with the Pittsburgh Pirates before being released again in July.  He finished the season with the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers in the Western Association and spent 1902 in the Southern Association with the Memphis Egyptians.

Meekin returned home to New Albany, Indiana, where, in 1910, according to The Trenton True American “his earnings from baseball are well invested in real estate.”

Meekin slipped into relative obscurity by the time he died in 1944.

The original picture that appeared with this post–now below–was misidentified as Jouett Meekin in this blog and by The Louisville courier-Journal in 1897.  According to Mark Fimoff co-chair SABR Pictorial History Committee, the picture was actually Lave Cross.  

Lave Cross--picture earlier misidentified as Jouett Meekin.

Lave Cross–picture earlier misidentified as Jouett Meekin.

“A Great deal of foolish Sympathy was wasted on Rusie”

5 Sep

Hank O’Day, pitcher and Hall of Fame umpire, said Amos Rusie was the greatest pitcher ever:

“Amos is the greatest pitcher the country ever saw. Why, Rusie had more speed in his curve ball than any pitcher I ever saw before, or have ever since seen, has in his straight fast ones.  Rusie was a wonder—that’s all there is to it.  I was behind the plate one day when one of Rusie’s  fast incurves hit Hughey Jennings…the ball hit Jennings squarely in the temple, and he fell as though shot by a ball from a Winchester rifle.  I caught him in my arms as he toppled backwards—and he was out of his head for three days.” (Contemporary reports of the incident said Jennings actually finished the game, but later lost consciousness for four days)

O’Day was also on the field when Rusie blew out his arm in 1898; Rusie threw to first to pick-off Chicago Orphans outfielder Bill Lange and “his arm cracked like a pistol’s shot.”  In 1940 Lange told his version of the story to The Portland Oregonian:

“Amos Rusie, I don’t know of any better one and I never played against any other one as good.  He had great control, as well as everything else a pitcher should have.  But my base stealing got him.  He worried over it.  I guess he lost sleep over it.  Anyway, one day he showed up on the field and said he had developed a new way to catch me off of first without turning his body.  I was anxious to see what he had, and he caught me off of first.  But—and it was a mighty large but—in doing so Rusie threw his arm out.  And never could pitch in his old form again.”

Amos Rusie

Amos Rusie

Rusie, with a dead arm, became a benchmark, an oddity, and a cautionary tale.

He posted a 246-173 record before the injury; after sitting out all of 1899 and 1900 he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Christy Mathewson, appeared in three games, was 0-1 with an 8.59 ERA, and his career was over.

In the decade between 1898 and 1908 The Sporting Life christened “the next Rusie,” or “another Rusie” no less than 20 times; scores more were given the same title by newspapers across the country.  Most like Cecil Ferguson (career 29-46), Davey Dunkle (17-30), Cowboy Jones (25-34), and Whitey Guese (1-4) were busts.  The three best were Orval Overall (108-71), who was called the “next Rusie” more than anyone else; Ed Reulbach (182-106), and Hall of Famer Ed Walsh (195-126).

During that same decade there were regular, small items in newspapers about Rusie’s post National League life.  Shortly after his release from the Reds in June of 1901 papers reported that Rusie, “who commanded a salary of many thousands of dollars, is now working as day laborer at $1.50 a day.”   The pitcher told a reporter “This shows I am not afraid to work, but it’s an awful comedown in salary.”

The Dallas Morning News pulled no punches in their assessment of his plight:

“The dismal afterclap to the brilliant career of a once-famous ballplayer whose name was a household word in balldom…reckless wastefulness in financial matters and a total disregard for physical care brought Rusie to his present deplorable condition when he should have been in his prime, for the big fellow is barely 30 now.”

In 1903 it was reported that Rusie had joined the Vincennes (IN) Alices in the Kitty League.  While no statistics survive, he appears to have stayed with the team for most of the summer.  The Detroit Free Press said he was “playing for a salary of $75 per month.”

After the 1903 season he went to work in a lumber yard, and the regular reports on his activities as a “low-wage laborer” appeared regularly in newspapers.  The items became such a regular feature that The Associated Press, in a short story about the Philadelphia Athletics’ eccentric and troubled Rube Waddell in 1904 said:

“Rube has run the gamut of foolishness.  He is in his prime but a few more years of such lack of sense as he displayed last season will send him to the wood pile or coal heap and he will, like Amos Rusie, be occupying two inches in the has-been columns every spring.”

There were multiple reports that Rusie was coming back as a pitcher for the 1906 season.  The rumors started in September of 1905 when Rusie attended an exhibition game in Vincennes between the Alices and the Chicago Cubs.  The Philadelphia Inquirer said of the news:

“If you don’t know the tremendous importance of this announcement you are no baseball fan.”

Not everyone agreed that Rusie returning to baseball would be a good thing.  A report from The News Special Service, which appeared in many Midwest papers said:

“His habits were none of the best, and he rapidly deteriorated in efficiency as an athlete.  He refused to pitch one whole season because he had been fined by the New York (Giants) management for being intoxicated and abusing his wife.  A great deal of foolish sympathy was wasted about that time on Rusie, but he was entitled to nothing except what he received, and some who knew the circumstances thought stricter disciplinary methods would not have been amiss.”

Rusie didn’t sign a contract that spring; and two other rumors that John McGraw had sent him a letter inviting him to spring training with the Giants and that he would return to the Kitty League didn’t materialize either.

But Rusie did make the news again in June.  A man named Gabe Watson was collecting mussels in the Wabash River when his boat when his boat overturned.  The Evansville Courier said Rusie pulled the drowning man from the river.

The nearly annual reports of “Rusie’s return” ended after 1906, but Rusie’s many career, and life changes continued as newspaper copy for the next twenty years.

When pearls were discovered in the Wabash River’s mussels, Rusie became a pearl diver.  Two years later he was in Weiser, Idaho, serving a 10-day sentence for public drunkenness.  In 1910 he was in Olney, Illinois working in a glass factory.  The following year he moved to Seattle, Washington.  For the next decade served as an umpire for a couple of Northwestern League games, worked as a ticket taker and groundskeeper at Yesler Way Park and Dugdale Field, home of the Seattle Giants, and also worked as a steam fitter.  Rusie went to jail at least once while in Seattle, and remained a big enough name that when he was injured by a falling pipe in 1913, it made newspapers throughout the country.

In 1921 Rusie became another in the long line of former players hired by the New York Giants at the behest of John McGraw.  According to newspaper reports McGraw offered the former pitcher a “job for life” as a “deputy superintendent” at the Polo Grounds.  Interest in Rusie’s career was renewed, and the pitcher was regularly interviewed for the next couple of years, reminiscing about his career and about how he’d like to have had the opportunity to pitch to Babe Ruth.

Unlike most of the former players who McGraw found work for at the Polo Grounds, Rusie did not stay for the rest of his life; he returned to Auburn, Washington in 1929 and bought a farm, where he remained for the rest of his life.  He was badly injured in a car accident in July of 1934—The Seattle Daily Times said Rusie’s vehicle overturned and he sustained a concussion and broken ribs.

While he received less attention after being incapacitated after the car accident, Rusie was still mentioned frequently in the press until his death in 1942; contrary to oft-repeated fiction that he died in obscurity.  And his obituary appeared in hundreds of papers across the country in December of 1942.  It wasn’t until the post WWII area that Rusie stopped being a household name, which led to his final comeback in the 1970s; Rusie was inducted into the Hall of Fame 34 years after his death.

“The Ty Cobb of Trapshooters”

15 Jul

Lester Stanley “Les” German broke into professional baseball with a bang in 1890.  The 21-year-old played for Billy Barnie’s Baltimore Orioles, a team that had dropped out of the American Association and after the 1889 season and joined the Atlantic Association, a minor league.

German was 35-9 in August when the American Association’s Brooklyn Gladiators folded in August, the Orioles returned to the association, and German returned to Earth; posting a 5-11 record for the big league Orioles.

German was a minor league workhorse for the next two and a half seasons.  He was 35-11 for the Eastern Association champion Buffalo Bisons in 1891; he appeared in 77 games and pitched 655 innings for the Oakland Colonels in the California League in 1892, and was 22-11 for the Augusta Electricians in the Southern Association in July of 1893 when his contract was purchased by the New York Giants.

Les German, 1894

Les German, 1894

German would never win in double figures again; In five seasons in the National League he was 29-52, including a 2-20 mark with the 1896 Washington Senators.

It was German’s next career that earned him the most notoriety.  A crack shot, German became one of the most famous trapshooters in the country for the next thirty years.  He won numerous championships and was often featured in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show with Annie Oakley.

A National Sports Syndicate article in 1918 said “Lester German is the Ty Cobb of trapshooters.”  The article said that beginning in 1908, when official records were first kept, German had maintained a “remarkable average,” shooting a t a better percentage than any other professional marksman.

Les German, 1918

Les German, 1918

As German’s reputation as a shooter grew, his legacy as a pitcher became inflated.

A mention of his baseball career in a 1916 issue of “The Sportsmen’s Review”, credited German, and his 9-8 record,  with “leading the Giants,” to their 1894 Temple Cup series victory over the Baltimore Orioles, there was no mention of Amos Rusie’s two shutouts .  A 1915 article in The Idaho Statesman inexplicably said German “headed the National League in both pitching and fielding” in 1895—German was 7-11 with a 5.54 ERA and committed 2 errors in 45 chances on the mound; he also made eight errors in 11 games he filled in for the injured George Davis at third base.

German operated a gun shop and continued to organize and participate in shooting tournaments until his death in Maryland in 1934.