Tag Archives: Amos Rusie

“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.

“The Idol of the Haight Street Grounds”

11 Jun

Reuben “Rube” Levy was one of the first Jewish professional players, and one of the biggest stars in the early days of West Coast baseball.

Born in 1862 to Prussian-Polish immigrants, Levy worked as a shoe cutter and began his professional career as a teenager, playing left field for the San Francisco Californias in the New California League in 1881.

A good fielder, but not particularly fast, The San Francisco Morning Call once described him chasing a ball: “Reuben Levy, following the ball as it sped gleefully along, looked like a cow chasing a coyote across a pasture.”

Reuben "Rube" Levy, 1888

Reuben “Rube” Levy, 1888

Levy quickly became a fan favorite.

The Morning Call, and The San Francisco Chronicle called him “the hero of the kindergarten” during the years he played at Haight Street Grounds; the title referred to the section of the grandstand adjacent to left field occupied mostly by young fans.  The Sporting Life said “there never was a more popular player in San Francisco,” and called him “The idol of the Haight Street Grounds.”

Years later, The South of Market Journal recalled that the “kindergarten” fans “applauded the genial Rube for any kind of play.”  The paper said one reason why Levy was the most popular West Coast player with children was because in the days when baseballs were a valuable commodity he would:

“Get hold of a ball that he would bide and save till the game was over, when the kids would swarm down the field and gather around their idol. He would take a ball from his pocket; toss it high in the air with hundreds of healthy youngsters, among them future greats, in a big drive to capture it. Believe us, many a spunky kid emerged from this huddle with something other than a smile, yes, more like a blue forget- me-not under the eye in the struggle for the possession of the prize. Then away Rube, the idol of the Kindergarten would gallop lo the clubhouse joyful in the thought that his juvenile admirers were
made happy for the day.”

In 1890 The Sporting Life said Levy had won a contest for the most popular player in the California League, beating out popular Oakland Colonels infielder, and fellow San Francisco native, Jim McDonald:

 “(A)t the eleventh hour the friends of Rube Levy executed a grand coup by unloading three thousand votes into the ballot box, thereby flooring McDonald and other favorites ‘out of sight.’  Sixth Street and the Kindergarten by a straight stroke had outwitted Mac’s friends and landed their boy first under the wire, and distanced all others. Well, Levy deserves it, as he is a quiet, unobtrusive gentleman and first-class ball player, and Jim would rather have been beaten in the race by his old neighbor than by any other player.”

San Francisco's Haight Street Grounds

San Francisco’s Haight Street Grounds

Levy was said to have a good arm, and while with the San Francisco Metropolitans in 1892 manager Henry Harris decided to use the left-hander on the mound in an early season game.  The Chronicle said:

“The Los Angeles (Seraphs) team has a majority of left-handed batters in its make-up, and they generally hit the ball on the seam for bases. Harris is a firm believer in the theory that a southpaw is particularly effective against this class of hitters.”

The experiment failed.  The Chronicle said Levy “with the speed of a (Amos) Rusie, but without control…entered the box against (Bob) Glenalvin‘s men (and) gave them the game in the first few Innings.”

Harris used Levy three more times on the mound, but the results were no better.  He ended up 0-2, giving up 12 hits, three walks and 14 runs (although only 2 earned) in six innings.

Levy pitched at least one more game each during the 1893 and ’94 season.  The Chronicle said of his 1894 effort pitching for the San Francisco Hot Peanuts against the Californias of San Francisco:

“Rube Levy was elected to do the twirling yesterday and in consequence of the arrangement the San Francisco team was defeated.  Throughout the afternoon Reuben’s opponents at the bat straightened out his curves for long-distance jolts, and stole bases on him unawares.  Levy’s work in the box was so ineffective that the crowd was continually provoked to offering him words of cheer and comfort.”

Levy pitched a complete game, losing 18-10, the Californias had 17 hits, stole seven bases, and the Peanuts committed 11 errors behind him.

Levy was generally described as a clutch hitter, but almost no statistics survive.   Baseball Reference lists his 1892 and ‘93 averages at .237 and .283.

Levy, unlike other pioneering Jewish players seems to have been spared  of anti-Semitism and Insensitivity, perhaps owing to San Francisco’s large Jewish population (second only to New York during his career).

While the San Francisco based Breeder and Sportsman referee to his “little Hebraic curve,” in an article about one of his pitching appearances, nothing seems to have risen to the level of what Zeke Ferrias faced when pitching in the Three-I and other Midwest leagues during the first decade of the 20th Century.   It was not unusual for newspapers, like The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald to attribute a victory to Ferrias’  “Jew luck,” and conversely, when he began to fade as a pitcher to mention that “his Jew luck had quit him.”

The first part of Rube Levy’s career came to a close when he retired after the 1896 season; the second part tomorrow.

“The Speed of Rusie”

30 May

Hall of Famer Amos Rusie “The Hoosier Thunderbolt,” was famous for his fastball; it’s been estimated that he threw in the high 90s.  In only nine full seasons he led National League pitchers in strikeouts five times.

Amos Rusie

Amos Rusie

Sports writer William A. Phelon contended that Rusie was the fastest pitcher he had seen, and in 1913 he told a story by James Tilford Jones who played for the Louisville Colonels in 1897, and was still a fairly well-known minor league player.

The likely apocryphal story (Jones only had one at bat as a pinch hitter that season, and did not strike out)  appeared in The Cincinnati Times Star, and according to Phelon, Jones said:

“ Don’t tell me that Walter Johnson, or any other pitcher of the present time, is faster than Rusie, or even that any man has the speed that Rusie used to throw…That man was unique and individual –there was never one like him before his time, and none since.  I don’t think there ever will be.

“My first experience with Rusie happened a long, long time ago, when he was in full swing and I was playing with Louisville, then a member of the big circuit.  I was warming the bench that particular afternoon, and wasn’t specially noticing the work of the other side, when our manager (Fred Clarke) beckoned me.  ‘Joensey’ said he, ‘you go up and bat for the pitcher.  Two on, two down—we just gotta have this game.  Go up there and lay the bat against the leather.’

“’All right sir’ I assented.  I’ll pickle one outside the lot if he puts it over.’  And up I strode, with a fat bat in my hands.  I saw a very large, red-faced man standing out there on the pitching line and I saw him raise his right arm.  I was wondering why on earth he didn’t throw it, when heard something go POW, just like that, behind me.  I looked around.  It was the thud of the ball ramming into the big mitt, and the umpire said, ‘One strike.’

“I watched the big man keenly, and again he raised his arm while I set myself to annihilate the ball.  An instant later I saw a ball going by me, and swung at it.  It was the ball being returned by the catcher, and I thought it was coming up instead of going away.

“By this time I was furious, also desperately determined.  So I set myself almost upon the plate, with the bat jutting out, and watched the big man very closely.  Then something crashed into my bat, ripped it from my hands, and drove it round against the back of my neck—and I knew no more.

“Two or three days later, the situation was exactly the same—Rusie pitching, our pitcher up, and dire need of a pinch hitter.  Again the manager beckoned me. ‘Go up and hit him, Jonesey’ growled he.

“I marched up to the plate, but went up empty-handed— didn’t even pick up my bat—and calmly stood there in the batter’s box, with nothing but my bare hands.  ‘Hey you,’ yelled the manager, ‘where’s your bat.’

“’Don’t need it,’ I shouted back.  ‘I can’t see them anyway, and it is a whole lot safer with nothing in my hands than be up here with a chunk of timber that he might drive clear through my head!’

“Oh, yes, yes.  Rusie had some speed when he wanted to use it, and I never remember seeing him any time when he wasn’t inclined to use it, either.”

Jones only appeared in two games during the 1897 season; in his first game he pitched 6 2/3 innings in relief in a 36-7 loss to the Chicago Colts, giving up 22 runs, 14 earned—the Colts’ 36 runs are still the Major League record.

Jimmy Jones

Jimmy Jones

Jones became a full-time outfielder in 1900 and returned to the National league with the New York Giants in 1901; he appeared in 88 games for the 1901-02 Giants, hitting .209 and .237.

He returned to the minor leagues and continued playing until 1914, and finished his career managing the Maysville (KY) Burley Cubs in the Ohio State League in 1916.  He served as Laurel County Clerk for twenty years, and died in London, Kentucky in 1953.

Rusie retired with a 245-174 record, striking out 1,934 and walking 1.704.  He died in 1942 and was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1977.

“A Historical Account of a Great Game of Ball”

5 Mar

The headline above appeared in 1907 above an article written by Frederick North Shorey in The Freeman regarding a series between Andrew “Rube” Foster’s Leland Giants and Mike Donlin’s All-Stars “an aggregation composed of such noted players as Mike Donlin, Jake Stahl, Jimmie Ryan and Jimmy Callahan, probably the best semi-professional team in the country.”

Shorey said the series at South Side Park “exceeded in interest to the people it attracted anything that took place between the White Sox and Cubs last fall (1906 World Series).”

Rube Foster beat the Donlin All-Stars 3-1 in the first game, allowing only three hits:

“Rube Foster is the pitcher of the Leland Giants, and he has all the speed of (Amos) Rusie, the tricks of a Radbourne, and the heady coolness and deliberation of a Cy Young.  What does that make him? Why, the greatest baseball pitcher in the country; that is what the best ballplayers of the white persuasion that have gone up against him say.”

Rube Foster

Rube Foster

Foster was so important to his fans, Shorey said:

“If it were in the power of the colored people to honor him politically or to raise him to the station to which they believe he is entitled, Booker T. Washington would have to be content with second place.”

The Chicago Tribune said of Foster’s domination of the All-Stars:

lelandsvsdonlins

Back to the series, and back to Shorey:

“While the all-stars were confident in their ability to win, several of the old players, including Mr. Donlin himself, who have known of the prowess of Mr. Foster…knew that it was by no means a certainty…but they had hopes that the colored team behind him might do something to undo the efforts of the twirler.

Mike Donlin

Mike Donlin

Shorey said the all-stars were over matched:

“The colored men set a new pace for base running, while foster’s cool, deliberate pitching was too much for the old-time players on Donlin’s team.  Both teams put up brilliant fielding games.”

Foster pitched in four games in the series; he won all four.

David Wyatt–who had been a teammate of Foster’s with the Chicago Union Giants in 1902, and who in 1920 was asked by Foster to help draft the constitution of the Negro National League—also wrote about the series in The Freeman:

“All the baseball critics in the city were out to look the Lelands over, many under the impression that they were overrated.  The most interested of the number was Mr. Comiskey, owner of the white Sox…After witnessing the first game the white sox boss said if it were possible he would have annexed the signature of at least three of the boys to contracts, and he was so enthused over the fast, snappy work of the Lelands that he had his world’s champions to lay over one day in Chicago to watch the boys play.”

Wyatt had higher hopes for “Baseball as the common leveler” in general and the series specifically:

“There was no color line drawn anywhere; our white brethren outnumbered us by a few hundred, and all bumped elbows in the grand stand, the box seats and bleachers; women and men alike, all whetted freely with one another on the possible outcome of the series, the effect it would have upon the future of the negro in baseball, the merits of the different players etc…”

Foster’s heroics, Wyatt’s hopefulness, Comiskey’s words and Chicago’s enthusiasm were, of course, not enough to change the status quo; regardless of the “Great game of ball,” played at South Side Park in that 1907 series, the color line would remain intact for four more decades.

David Wyatt

David Wyatt

Salaries–1897

15 Nov

After Amos Rusie ended his year-long holdout, the issue of salaries was, as it has been throughout the history of the game, hotly debated—some thought ballplayers were grossly overpaid during a period when the average annual salary in the United States was just under $675.

Amos Rusie

The Fort Wayne Gazette published the following in an effort to address “much questioning as to the salaries paid young players at the present time.”

According to The Gazette National League players averaged $175 to $250 a month “all the way up to $5000 for veterans.”

Other league salaries:

Eastern League: $100-$150 for young players $200-$250 for stars

Western League: $75-$150, up to $300 for stars

Atlantic League: $75-$250

Western Association: $65-$115

Southern League: $75-$100

New England League: $75-$125

Interstate League: $65-$150

The Gazette came down on the side of the players:

“It is customary to speak of the high salaries and easy lives of National League players but the kickers seldom realize that the man who now supports his little family in comfort on $300 a month—probably had to slave two years for perhaps $75 a month, $450 a year…and a probable loss of salary whenever the little league he played with disbanded in arrears.”