Tag Archives: Arthur Irwin

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up Other Things #25

15 Aug

“Used to Come Upon Field Staggeringly Drunk”

Arthur Irwin was a scout for the New York Highlanders in 1912 when he declared to William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star that, “Players who are hard drinkers in the big leagues are scarce now.”

irwin

Arthur Irwin

Irwin said a combination of “the improvement in morals” of players, and more so the fact that current players were “money mad” were the reason:

“Long ago the hail fellow and the good fellow, who believed that drinking was the jolliest part of life, were numerous in the big leagues, and there were surely some wonderful soaks in the profession.  Stars whose names will shine forever used to come upon the field staggering drunk, and other stars who had sense enough not to exhibit their follies in public would wait till the game was over and then tank up till dawn.”

Irwin told Phelon about King Kelly’s American Association team:

“The club that tried to play ball under King Kel in 1891 at Cincinnati was about the limit.  They made their headquarters at a saloon across the street from the ball park and some of them could be found asleep there at almost all hours when not actually in the game.  Some of the champion Chicago White Stockings and some of the old St. Louis Browns were likewise marvels on the jag, and it has become a baseball legend that the Browns defeated Anson’s men for the world’s championship (in 1886) because (John) Clarkson, Kelly and two or three others were beautifully corned.”

Clarkson won his first two starts of the series, but lost his next two.  Kelly hit just .208 in the series and St. Louis won four games to two.

Jennings’ Six Best

In 1916, Hughie Jennings “wrote” a short piece for the Wheeler syndicate that appeared in several papers across the country, about the six best pitchers he faced:

hughiejennings

Hughie Jennings

Jack Taylor and Nig Cuppy had fair speed and a fine curve ball, with the added advantage of a slow ball, and good control.  The latter, I contend is the most important asset a pitcher can possess.  My six greatest pitchers are:

Amos Rusie

Jack Taylor

Cy Seymour

Denton (Cy) Young

Charles “Kid” Nichols

Nig Cuppy

“Rusie, Nichols and Young had wonderful speed and fast breaking curves.  Cy Seymour also belonged to this case.”

“Batters Might as Well Hang up Their Sticks”

Add Ned Hanlon to the long list of prognosticators who were sure a rule change would be the death of the game—in this case, the decision in 1887 that abolished the rule allowing batters to call for high or low pitches.

hanlon

Ned Hanlon

 

According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

 “Hanlon of the Detroits says the abolition of the high and low ball was a fatal mistake, and the batters might as well hang up their sticks.  Ned argues that as the pitcher has the space between the knee and the shoulder in which to throw the ball, all he has got to do is vary the height of his delivery with every ball he pitches, and thus completely delude the batter.  He claims that pitchers capable of doing head work will have a picnic, and that Baldwin will be particularly successful.”

 

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things–Lost Quotes

30 Jun

The Detroit Free Press had no love for Cap Anson of the Chicago White Stockings, and observed in 1888:

“The majority of the Chicago players are courteous, gentlemanly fellows, and as Anson naturally finds no pleasure in their companionship he is generally rather lonesome.”

Cap Anson

Cap Anson

The Cincinnati Enquirer had a similarly low view of the entire White Stockings team in 1879:

“The Boston Herald says the greatest trouble with the new Chicago nine will be able to tell whether it will try to win.  We think its greatest problem will be whether or not it will keep sober.”

Charles Webb Murphy was often asked after giving up his interest in the Chicago Cubs if he regretted leaving baseball for much less glamorous businesses.  In 1914, Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner said Murphy answered the question by telling people:

 Charles Webb Murphy

Charles Webb Murphy

“Well, not one of my gravel pits has jumped to the Federal League.”

Arthur Irwin was one of the best-known scouts of his time, but by 1912, he declared that most of the good players were gone:

Arthur Irwin

Arthur Irwin

“Scouting isn’t like it used to be.  There was a time when a man could go through the bushes and pick up all kinds of men; but times have changed since then.  The scout who is lucky to pick up one really good ballplayer in a season can congratulate himself and feel satisfied he has earned his salary.”

Fred Clarke gave a toast on Honus Wagner’s 42nd birthday.  The Pittsburgh Press quoted him:

“During all the years we played together I never knew him to make a wrong play.”

Wagner

Honus Wagner

The previous year’s celebration of Wagner’s birthday included this quote in a letter from Johnny Evers:

“You hear about ‘second’ Cobbs, ’another’ Lajoie, but you never hear about ‘second’ Wagner’s. Why?  Simply because there never will be a second Wagner.”

“Frank Chance Stands Forth as the Biggest Individual Failure”

21 Dec

It was widely assumed that American League President “Ban” Johnson had a hand in the transactions that resulted in Frank Chance coming to New York to manage the Yankees in 1913—Chance was claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds in November of 1912, then waived again and claimed by the Yankees a month later.

Ban Johnson

Ban Johnson

William A. Phelon, the sports editor at The Cincinnati Times-Star noted “(T)he strange fact that all the clubs in the older league permitted him to depart without putting in a claim,” as evidence of the fix being in.  And, in “Ban Johnson: Czar of Baseball,” author Eugene Murdock said “Johnson masterminded a series of intricate maneuvers,” to bring “The Peerless leader” to New York.

Chance’s arrival in New York was heralded as a turning point for the franchise, and he made no effort to downplay his confidence.  On January 9, 1913, The Associated Press reported that chance told Yankees owner Frank Farrell:

“I will win the pennant for you before I get through in New York. That may sound like a bold statement to make at this time, but I ask you to remember my promise.”

Frank Chance

Frank Chance

Despite the maneuvers on Chance’s behalf and Chance’s own confidence, he failed miserably in New York. The club finished seventh with a 57-94 record in 1913. The following season, the team was 60-74 when Chance resigned.   The resignation came after a tumultuous season which included charges by Chance that the team’s failures were largely the result of scout Arthur Irwin’s failure to sign decent players.  He also secured a guarantee of his 1915 salary from Farrell before he resigned.

Two months after Chance’s exit, the man who “masterminded” the moves that brought him to New York, unleashed his wrath on the former manager to Ed Bang of The Cleveland News:

“You can say for me that Frank Chance stands forth as the biggest individual failure in the history of the American League.  That’s the sum and substance of what B. B. Johnson, president of the American League said a short time since when “The Peerless Leader” came up for discussion, ‘and what’s more, you can write a story to that effect and quote me as strong as you’d like,’ Ban continued.

“President Johnson had great hopes of Chance molding a winner in New York, and when, after almost two years as the leader of the Yankees, he quit a dismal failure, the blow all but floored Ban for the count.  The American League has always played second fiddle to the Giants in New York, and Ban and other American Leaguers figured that Chance was the man to bring about a change in the condition of affairs.”

Bang said Johnson took Chance’s failure “to heart,” because he believed he “made a ten-strike” for the league when Chance came to New York.  Johnson told him:

“’Chance had the material in New York and I think any other man would have made a success og the venture,’ said Ban.  ‘Surely no one could have done any worse.  Of all the players that were on the New York roster in 1913 and 1914, and there were any number of likely looking recruits, Chance failed to develop even one man of class.  Why, it was an outrage.’

“’And then when he made up his mind that he was a failure, or at least when he was ready to step down and out he had the unmitigated nerve to ask for pay for services that he had not performed.  That surely was gall, to say the least.”

Johnson finished by comparing Chance unfavorably with the Yankees’ 23-year-old captain who replaced him and guided the team to a 10-10 finish:

“’Why, Roger Peckinpaugh, youth though he is, displayed far more class as manager of the Yankees in the short time he was at the helm than Frank Chance ever did.”

peckinpaugh2

Roger Peckinpaugh

Irwin left the Yankees in January of 1915 when Farrell and his partner William Devery sold the team to Jacob Rupert and Cap Huston.  Peckinpaugh remained captain but was replaced as manager by Bill Donovan, who guided the Yankees for three seasons–a fifth, a fourth and a sixth-place finish with an overall record of 220-239.

“It would increase the Batting, both in a Scientific and Slugging way”

5 Dec

After finishing in second place with a 73-38 record in 1884, the Boston Beaneaters slipped to 46-66 with a fifth place finish the following year; among the reasons for the decline was the team’s batting average which dropped from .254 to .232.

The Sporting Life’s Boston Correspondent said local fans had proposed numerous “wild ideas for proposed changes in the way the game is played,” to remedy the hitting woes.  Of those, one was “worthy of consideration.”

The paper said many “prominent base ball men and a number of players and all have expressed approval.”  Among those consulted were John Morrill, the Beaneaters’ manager, and Arthur Irwin, shortstop for the Providence Grays, both who said the plan would result in more “safe hitting.”

John Morrill

John Morrill

The Sporting Life said “The idea is to make what is now called a diamond but is actually a square a true diamond,” and included a crude diagram:

The Sporting Life's rendering

The Sporting Life’s rendering

 “(T)he catcher would be brought ten feet nearer second base, which would prevent free stealing, and would also enable the second baseman to return a thrown ball to the catcher in time to cut off a base runner.  The pitcher would be placed back five feet, thus reducing the distance between him and second base…the batsman is five feet further from the pitcher, and could therefore more easily hit the ball, thus reducing the number of strikeouts considerably and making livelier fielding by giving more chances.

“The distance from third to first would be increased, thus giving scientific batters and good runners a better chance to beat the ball to base.  The change of foul lines would lessen the number of tedious foul balls; would give more chances to drive the ball between the infielders; would save many pretty hits now called foul; would spread the outfielders more, thus increasing the number of safe hits, and, besides, enable them to make, with the increased territory, more difficult running catches; would give chances for longer hits; it would lessen the damage from errors and make more earned runs, as base runners would have to hug their bases more closely, depending on hitting to score.

“It would but slightly reduce the effectiveness of pitchers without laming them, and give the catcher a better chance to play his position as it should be played.

“To sum up, it would increase the batting, both in a scientific and slugging way; lessen the work of the battery without seriously affecting effectiveness; compel runners to exercise good judgment with speed and increase the work of the fielders over fifty percent.”

The Sporting News suggested that Albert Spalding would “introduce the plan at the League meeting this week and doubtless it will be given thorough consideration,” but none of the coverage of the meeting included any mention of the plan being considered.

Like the “the proposed new diamond,” briefly championed by Chicago Colts President James Aristotle Hart, seven years later, the 1885 plan went the way of dozens of other 19th Century “innovations.”

“It will be a Local Patriotic Game for Blood”

4 Aug

In 1902, John Montgomery Ward was asked to predict the future.  He wrote about what baseball would look like in 1922 in an article that appeared in a number of East Coast and Midwest newspapers:

“What will the game of baseball be two decades hence?  Frankly I don’t know.  But believe me if it has withstood what it has during the last few years it will still be here.  I believe it is going through the fire now, but it will come out whole in the end…No other game has the same hold on the public from a spectator point of view, and that is why I am confident that it will last.”

John Montgomery Ward

John Montgomery Ward

Ward envisioned a system in which all the players on each team would be natives of the area the teams represented:

“Two decades from now it may be no longer a mere exhibition—for that is all it is now—an exhibition of the ability of a clever manager, with more money and more tact in managerial council to get together the best players in the market—it will be a locally patriotic game for blood.

“The time is coming when the players instead of being bought to play in any team that calls them, irrespective of where they live and whence the team is located, will belong to the locality from which the team hails.

“There is a tendency in that direction already.

“The Brooklyn management is an instance of one that appreciates the value of a player who has a local following.  They have retained (Wee Willie) Keeler, though the offers of other clubs have forced them to pay him a very large salary.  But they have their reward in his great popularity with the Brooklyn patrons of the game.  He was born there.  The people know him, know his history and they feel that he is always doing his best for his town and their town.

"Wee Willie" Keeler

“Wee Willie” Keeler

“Not only is this state of affairs characteristic of this team, but it is to be seen in one or two other teams in both leagues.  The managers appreciate the money value of a ‘local attraction,’ as they call it, and they want more men of the same kind.  They can’t find them but that is due to the mistaken system of buying and selling players for their worth as players, which has killed the local end of the game and stunted the development of the town boy on the town lot.  As soon as the new system of localizing the players comes into vogue there will be a revival of general interest in the game among the ‘town boys’ and players will be made to meet the demand.

“This revitalization of the game must come, and come it will in the next twenty years because baseball as an exhibition has reached it height.  It can be developed no further, and something must be done to advance or there will be a deterioration.

“Of course, if this is done, there will be some work for the Rules Committee to do.  It will be necessary to have some sort of legislation to apportion the territory fairly among the teams.  New York being the largest city in the United States will have the advantage of a smaller city, like Boston or Baltimore, and to even up matters it would be necessary for the committee to give the smaller town enough territory to make all available population the same.  The details must be decided by the events of the future.  But I believe that something like that is about to come and will be a feature of the game of baseball in 1922.”

Ward, who engaged in, and encouraged contract jumping in order to establish the Players League just more than decade earlier, now, because of the changes in the economics of baseball, saw the practice as the greatest threat to the game:

“There will be no ‘contract jumping’ which has given the national pastime such a setback in the last two years.  And much depends upon the decision of the courts.  This contract jumping is a two-edged sword.  It will someday cut back at the American League when their players start to jump.

“Every successful game nowadays and in the future must have money invested in it. Look at the progress the game of baseball has made in the last twenty years and that will give you an idea of what we might expect.

“Twenty years ago each team had about $1,000 invested in it to put it on a working basis.  Some did not have even that much.  To-day, in Philadelphia, there is a plant which is values at about $350,000.  They own a lot in the residence section of the town and the ground is daily growing more valuable for building purposes.  In twenty years it will have tripled in value.  There is also a substantial brick wall around it and a valuable iron grand stand.

“Twenty years from now we may expect to find the conditions in Philadelphia existing all over the country, and there will be a hundred million dollars invested in the sport.  All this if the contract-jumping business is made impossible for the future.

“Take it as a fair business proposition.  Would any sane man invest his money in an enterprise which could be ruined at any moment by the failure of any outside party to fulfill his end of the contract?

“In baseball the ruin may come at any time, for if a man can ‘jump’ in March he can jump in May or June, just when his help is needed most, and there is no redress for the man who invests.  The courts, for the most part, claim that, if there is any damage done, the laws are open for redress and the manager can sue the player for damages.  But whom can he sue and from whom get redress?  Yhe contract-jumper has nothing and is generally irresponsible.  If a coal company contracts to deliver so many tons of coal to you in so many months, and you, in turn contract to deliver so many tons to other parties in so many months, and you are made to lose money because the coal company breaks the contract and fails to deliver the goods, you can get legal redress in an action for damages.  But not so with the baseball manager.

“If contract-jumping is allowed, the future of baseball is a future full of small things and a lack of progress.  But contract-jumping will not be heard of twenty years hence.  Already one state in the Union has declared against it legally—the state of Pennsylvania.  They have good lawyers down there, and they know what they are talking about.  And the crucial test and the future of baseball—a future full of big things as yet undreamed of, is now in the hands of the Circuit Court of the United States.

“If the Circuit Court of the United States falls in line with the Pennsylvania decision (Philadelphia Ball Club v. (Napoleon) Lajoie) there will be no more contract-jumping, and the manager, after signing his contracts with his players, can invest his whole fortune, safe in the belief that he will not risk it subject to loss at the whim of his players or through the wiles of a rival organization.

“Then the game will take on a luxury which has not heretofore been possible, and the game of twenty years from now will see as much improvement as it saw in the last twenty years.”

Ward predicted no major rule changes, saying they “seem to have reached perfection” but conceded “Still, there is a Rules Committee, created to make rules, and it naturally feels it must do something to earn its salary.”  Ward said he endorsed two major rule changes during the past decade; the rule to “move the catcher up under the bat,” (adopted in 1901 in the National League and ’02 in the American), and the 1893 change that increased the pitching distance to 60’ 6”.

“It gives the batter a better chance to fix his attention on hitting the ball, because he does not need to be afraid of an inshoot or know when he takes the bat in his hand that he is also taking his life in his hand.  I tell you it was a serious matter in those days to get hit by a ball from the strong arm of one of those fast pitchers, as my own experience can testify.”

As with every era of baseball, Ward said some of his contemporaries thought the game had already changed so much as to no longer resemble the game they played twenty years earlier:

“I was talking to one the other day in Philadelphia (Arthur Irwin).  He is of the old school you know (and said) ‘Oh, it’s not like the old days, when I played on the Philadelphia team for four years without men being changed.  All we had were (Jack) Clements and (Deacon) McGuire as catchers, (Charlie) Ferguson, (Charlie) Buffington and (Dan) Casey as pitchers, (Joe) Mulvey, (Charlie) Bastian, (Sid) Farrar and myself in the infield and (George) Wood and (Jim) Fogarty in the outfield.

Arthur Irwin

Arthur Irwin

“’We didn’t need to be nervous every time we made an error, and look to have one or more of a half dozen substitutes take our place.  And we played ball, we did, and no mistake, for we knew our jobs were safe.’”

Irwin’s recollection was fuzzy—the lineup as he described was only in place in 1887  (but even that season Barney McLaughlin played more games at second than Bastian) –but he insisted the lack of competition for a roster spot made players better:

“’We could give these boys who are playing now cards and spades on lots of things, inside work and out, and best them.  We had the hit and run, and we didn’t bunt as much as they do now.  I can’t see how runs can be made by so much bunting.  Oh, for the good old time back again when the swatting game was the thing.  I believe the public would rather see the boys slug the ball and run.  Shades of Roger Connor, ‘Buck’ Ewing and Jim O’Rourke!  What would they think of this bunting business?  It makes me sick to think of it.’”

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

Ward said Irwin was one of many “old-style players who feel the same way,” but he was more optimistic, but still managed to take a shot at current, and future,  players:

“I have great hopes for the future of the game, and I believe that all that has been done in the past to make it take the place it occupies to-day will not be a circumstance to what will be done in the next twenty years to make it take the place in the heart of the nation which has not been dreamed of heretofore.

“The players may not be as good as the players of the past, and this especially true of the local player idea becoming a fact, but the interest will be great, and after all, the interest in the game is the fountain source of its life.”

Frank Bancroft

14 Jul

When Frank Carter Bancroft died in 1921 at age 74, “Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide” said:

“His executive ability and Knowledge of Base Ball, combined with the fact that he was for sport first and the show element of Base Ball secondarily, rendered him one of the most competent of men to handle the affairs of a professional team.”

Frank Bancroft

Frank Bancroft

While working in the front office of the Reds in 1892, Bancroft talked with Harry Weldon, sports editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer about some of the players who got their start with his teams.  He also didn’t seem to mind taking a swipe at a couple former players:

“Probably no man now before the public except Harry Wright or Adrian C. Anson have had a longer or more varied experience with the intricacies of the great National Game than Frank C. Bancroft.  He never wore the spangles, like a great many other managers, but he has been connected with the game in a managerial capacity since the early seventies.  ‘Bannie’ is one of the wittiest men in the profession and he has a fund of anecdotes about players and plays that are well worth hearing.  Many of the great baseball stars now before the public made their debut under Mr. Bancroft’s management.  Many of them who are now drawing $4,000 or $5,000 a season worked under Bannie for about one-tenth that amount and were glad to get it.  Bancroft was one of the leading lights in the original New England League, which graduated a great many of the stars of today.

“At the present time Mr. Bancroft is business manager of the Cincinnati Reds.  He has nothing whatever to do with the players. All of that part of the club’s affairs being under the supervision of Captain (Charlie) Comiskey.  All Bannie has to do is look after the gate, railroad rates and dates.  The other evening the veteran manager was in The Enquirer office and grew reminiscent.  His recital of the details of the debut of some of the stars is worth reproducing.

Harry Stovey, one of the greatest ballplayers today, began his professional career under Manager Bancroft.  He began his career in the pitcher’s box and graduated out of the ranks of a Philadelphia amateur team called the Defiance in 1877 (the Philadelphia Defiance were a professional team, part of the league Alliance).  Manager Bancroft heard of him, and in 1878 engaged him as a change pitcher for the New Bedfords.  G. Washington ‘Grin’ Bradley was the regular pitcher of the team, and as he was an every-day pitcher Stovey was never allowed an opportunity of displaying his pitching abilities on the New Bedford team.  He had to be content with warming the bench until fate was kind and he had a chance.

Stovey

Harry Stovey

“‘Stovey played his first game with our team at Baltimore,’ said Mr. Bancroft.  ‘we were making an exhibition tour when John Piggot, the first baseman, was taken ill, and as we only carried ten men, Stovey was called on to make an attempt to play first base.  His maiden effort was a brilliant one—so brilliant that it lost Piggott his job and made Stovey a fixture on first.  He had at least twenty putouts, no errors and several cracking hits to his credit that day.  He played the season with us, and his fame spread so that he was signed by the Worcester (Ruby Legs) League team and afterward with the Athletics Stovey’s salary the first season in New Bedford for $50 a month.  Now he is paid nearly that much a game.’

George Gore, the crack center-fieder of the New Yorks is another player who came into prominence with the New Bedfords that year.  Gore’s home was in Maine, at a little town called Saccarappa…Gore was about as green a specimen as ever stepped into the business.  He played a few games with the Fall Rivers, and then the New Bedfords got him.  He was a big, awkward country boy then, but he could run like a deer and hit the ball like a trip hammer.  Gore signed with the New Bedfords under Manager Bancroft for $50 a month, but he did not stay with them long.  His terrific batting attracted the attention of the whole baseball world, and soon the more prominent clubs were after him.  While the Chicagos were in Boston the late lamented (William) Hulbert, President of the National League, who was with them, ran up to New Bedford to have a talk with Gore.  Luck was with big George.  He had his eye with him, and made three home runs in the game.  That feat settled his fate.  Before Hulbert left New Bedford he had Gore’s name to a contract to play in Chicago in 1879 at $150 a month.  His career since that time is well known.  Today he is yet a great hitter, and reached first base as frequently as any player in the business, by either hits, errors or bases on balls.  His ability to reach first causes him to be selected to head the battery list of the New Yorks.

Arthur Irwin is another player whom Manager Bancroft put in the business. ‘He made a grand impression in his opening game with me,” said Manager Bancroft.  ‘I was then manager of the Worcester League team, and we were on the hog train for a while, owing to Charlie Bennett’s glass arm and Buck (William “Farmer”) Weaver’s faint heart.  Matters were so bad that a crisis was at hand.  A meeting of the stockholders of the club was called, and it was voted to place the team in my hands for one month, and if no improvement was shown at the end of that time I was to be given the chase.  It was a dying chance for me, and you could gamble that I had my eyes and ears open for a savior of some kind.  Arthur Irwin was then playing with an amateur team called the Aetnas, of South Boston, and I engaged him to play short with the Worcester.  (J. Lee) Richmond, the once famous left-handed pitcher, who played here with the Reds in 1886, was then with the Brown University team and he was telegraphed to come for a trial.  We played the Chicagos that day, and we shut them out, only one man getting first base.  Irwin made a great hit at short, and Richmond was a wizard.  Irwin was a fifty-dollar-a-month man, and that was the start of his professional career.  Richmond is now a physician at Geneva, Ohio.’”

The game Bancroft referred to was an exhibition between Worcester (a member of the National Association) and the National League’s Chicago White Stockings played on June 2 in Worcester. Richmond walked the first batter, Abner Dalrymple, and then retired the next twenty-one before the game was called after seven innings.  The Chicago Tribune said Richmond struck out 8.  Worcester tagged Frank Hankinson for 12 hits and 11 runs (Chicago also committed 11 errors).  Bancroft was correct that Richmond became a physician, but by 1892, he was no longer practicing and was working as a teacher in Toledo, Ohio.

J. Lee Richmond

J. Lee Richmond

“Big Roger Connor of last season’s New Yorks, but now of Philadelphia, received his professional introduction under Manager Bancroft.  ‘It sounds queer to say that such a cracking hitter as Roger Connor was ever released for poor batting, but such was the case’ said Manager Bancroft

“’I had him with the New Bedfords in 1878, but he was hitting so poorly that I released him.  He afterward signed with the New Havens the same season, but the disbanded.  Roger left New Haven and went to Waterbury, his home, where he joined an amateur team in that city called the Monitors.  Up to that time he had batted right-handed, but he decided to turn around and try it left-handed.  The change saved his life.  He blossomed out as a great slugger, and his reputation has been growing ever since.

“Connor, like Stovey, began his professional career at $50 a month, and has since climbed to the top rung of high salaried players.  Many young players of today should look upon these as examples for honest and temperate habits have enabled them to remain at the head of the profession, while the path is strewn with a multitude of others who might have been where they are if they had not thought this world was a continuous round of gaiety and fun and discovered their mistake when it was too late.”

 

“Radbourn would only Accept the Money on Condition that the Money be bet on him”

28 Feb

Like most 19th-Century players, Arthur Irwin was convinced the game didn’t get any better after he played.  He talked to a reporter from The Buffalo Times in 1906 and said there still had never been a pitcher who was better than one of his former teammates.

Arthur Irwin

Arthur Irwin

Irwin said:

“In my opinion (Charles “Old Hoss”) Radbourn was the greatest pitcher the world ever saw and I doubt if his equal will appear.  He had a spit ball and worked it to perfection, only it was not known under that name.”

Irwin’s recollections of Radbourn highlight how open gambling was in 19th Century baseball:

“I remember on one occasion when we (the Providence Grays) were playing the Boston team one of our stockholders came to the hotel the night before the game and said he had wagered $6,000 on the Providence club.  Then he told Rad that he would give him $500 if he would pitch.  Radbourn would only accept the money on condition that the money be bet on him and the $500 was so placed.  The afternoon of the game found Radbourn in grand form and he made the Boston players look like a bunch of minor leaguers, not one of them scoring.”

If the story is not apocryphal, it could refer to Radbourn’s 4-0 shutout of the Beaneaters on August 12, 1884 in Boston—it was his only shutout there while he and Irwin were teammates.

"Old Hoss" Radbourn

“Old Hoss” Radbourn

Irwin also told the reporter about an exhibition game in 1884 against the Toledo Blue Stocking in the American Association:

“When we arrived the night before the game we found that they were betting $10 to $7 against us.  That same evening the mayor of a small town some few miles away drifted into the hotel and during the conversation remarked that he guessed we were not very anxious to win the game.  Naturally, we asked why he said that and he said the odds were against us, with no Providence money in sight, but he was willing to bet $2,500 on us if Radbourn pitched.  It was not Radbourn’s turn, but when the mayor supplemented his remarks by offering to give Rad $100 if he went into the box, the offer was snapped up.  Toledo had such stars as Curt Welch and (Tony) Mullane.  Welch, who was the first man up, got to first base.  After that there was nothing to it and not another man reached first during the entire game.”

Not only were no current pitchers as good as Radbourn, Irwin said no current catcher was nearly as tough as another of his teammates with the Worcester Ruby Legs in 1880:

“One of the most remarkable exhibitions of catching I ever saw was performed by Charles Bennett…As you know, we did not use gloves in those days and the pitcher was allowed to take a hop and step before throwing the ball from the box, which was only 45 feet from the batter.  On three successive days Bennett caught 14, 15 and 16-inning games without any protection.  The following day we were booked to play New York and Bennett went in to catch.  After half a dozen balls had been pitched , Charley suddenly dropped his hands and walked away from the plate.  I at once ran over to him and a glance at his hands told me all I wanted to know.  Both hands were black and blue from the base of the fingers almost to the wrist and the bruises went clear through the hands.  Of course it was impossible for him to continue, but imagine the torture he must have suffered before he was forced to quit.  I don’t believe you could find a catcher today who would go through that experience.”

Charlie Bennett

Charlie Bennett

Irwin also didn’t have much use for the belief that the game had progressed in terms of strategy since his playing days:

“It is amusing to hear (John) McGraw and other talk about the wonderful progress made in playing scientific baseball.  I am sure we put up just as clever a game in the 80s as they do today, but we did not have fancy names for our plays.  We worked the squeeze, hit and run and other tricks.  When I first came to the Philadelphia club (1886) I worked the trap play and got away with it.  There were men on first and second and the ball was hit into short left field.  I yelled for (George) Wood to let me have it, although it was his ball.  Then I let it drop through my hands and the bleachers let out an unearthly holler.  I picked up the ball; shot it to second in time to tag the man there and then the other man was easy.  We had taken our places on the bench before the crowd got wise to the play and then the cheers more than made up for their hisses.”

Hope Springs Eternal

30 Dec

In April of 1889, the Washington Nationals were preparing to open the season at home against the Philadelphia Quakers.

The Washington Critic editorialized about the fortunes of the local team:

“As is proper, the National Capital has a club competing for the pennant, which indicates championship in the national game, but unfortunately, this club has never yet succeeded in winning the coveted emblem.  The ‘Senators,’ as a facetious country has dubbed out baseball players, are engaged usually in a desperate struggle to keep from taking place near the tail end of the league at the tail end of the season, and if the Goddess of Liberty on the dome of the Capitol has any local pride she must weep at what she has seen happen in the park a few blocks north of her.  She has observed the home club walloped all over the grounds and has been humiliated beyond endurance.”

The Nationals had been members of the National League for three underachieving season; 28-92 in 1886 (eighth place), 46-76 in 1887 (seventh place), and 48-86 in 1888 (eighth place).  John Morrill would open the 1889 season as the team’s fifth manager:

John Morrill

John Morrill

“There is a prospect of better baseball fortunes for Washington in the season opening today.  There are, up to date at least, no dissensions in the club, and a stalwart and resolute group are prepared to do battle for the pennant.  They may not win the trophy, but it is tolerably certain that they will give a good account of themselves, and that when ‘Senators’ are referred to in terms of opprobrium , reference will be had to those belonging to that club ‘where wealth accumulates and men decay,’ rather than to our baseball team.”

There would be no “prospect of better baseball fortunes’ for Washington.  The Nationals lost the opener to Philadelphia, then lost seven more.  In July, John Morrill, who had led the team to a 13-38 record and was hitting .185, was replaced as manager and released.  Arthur Irwin did better (but only slightly better) at the helm.  The team went 28-45 the rest of the way, finishing in eighth place with a 41-83 record.  The team disbanded at the end of the season.

Arthur Irwin

Arthur Irwin

Albert Spalding on Superstitions

18 Dec

During a game in September of 1882 against the Worcester Ruby Legs, Albert Spalding, Chicago White Stockings President, sat “in the reporters’ stand” at Lakefront Park with a sportswriter from The Chicago Herald:

“The Worcesters had gained a run in the fourth inning, but the home team had been successfully retired for five straight innings.  The Chicagos were playing their best, but ‘luck was dead against them.’”

At that point Chicago outfielder Abner Dalrymple came to where the White Stockings’ president was seated and said:

“’Mr. Spalding, will you move other in some other chair?  That was the seat Harry Wright occupied during the games we had with his club.’  Spalding laughed, but hurried out of his place to a chair further down the line.  The home team made three runs in that inning and won—five to one.”

Abner Dalrymple

Abner Dalrymple

The reporter later asked Spalding about whether all players were superstitious:

“(A)nd he proceeded to explain some of the incidents and conditions supposed to influence the play.

“The players as surely believe that ducks or geese on the home ground presage defeat for that team as they do that an umpire can materially add to the discomfort of a nine,  Dalrymple had great belief that Spalding in Harry Wright’s seat would throw all the bad luck imaginable on the Chicago side.”

The Herald said when the second place Providence Grays came to Chicago that same month, the White Stockings “thought that by donning their old tri-colored caps…they would defeat them, and sure enough, they won three straight games.”

Spalding said it wasn’t limited to his own team:

“(Worcester) Captain (Arthur) Irwin always spits on the coin he tosses up for a choice of position in a game.  Jack Rowe (of the Buffalo Bisons) pulls the little finger of his right hand for luck, and all sorts of chance omens are seized upon by a club for indications of the great triumph they would like to win…(Terry) Larkin, now of the ‘Mets’ (the New York Metropolitans of the League Alliance), had an idea that he would get hurt some time for playing on Friday, and sure enough, in a game one year ago with a college team, he was struck with a ball in the stomach nd was so badly injured that his life was despaired of for a time.”

A.G. Spalding

A.G. Spalding

The 1882 White Stockings, due more to talent than superstition, won their third straight National League pennant beating Providence by three games.

“Johnson can Hit the Ball as far as Anybody”

14 Oct

After Hal Chase replaced George Stallings as manager of the New York Highlanders, Otis “Ote” Johnson was given another opportunity to play for the team.

Highlanders’ second baseman Frank LaPorte and third baseman Jimmy Austin were traded to the St. Louis Browns for third baseman Roy Hartzell.  Chase said he’d move shortstop John Knight to second and playing Johnson at shortstop.

The Sporting Life quoted Chase saying he planned to play Johnson at short “for his batting,” but noted that Johnson “only batted .223 in the fast Eastern League last season.”

Otis "Ote" Johnson

Otis “Ote” Johnson

New York scout Arthur Irwin agreed with Chase that the team needed Johnson’s bat in the lineup, and told The New York Globe:

“Johnson can hit the ball as far as anybody, and what is more he can hit often.”

The New York Herald said:

“Johnson is a beautiful fielder as well as a good hitter, and it is Chase’s intention to have him take the shortstop job.”

That’s where Johnson was on Opening Day, a 2 to 1 victory over the defending World Champion Philadelphia Athletics; Johnson batted seventh, went 0 for two with a walk and a sacrifice, and scored a run.

After sweeping Philadelphia in three games, New York split a four game series with the Washington Senators.

The Washington Herald said New York’s new shortstop “sure looked good, he fielded his position in fine shape,” and “keeps the infield alive with his funny remarks.”

A month after the season began The Indianapolis News said Johnson was “called home (to Muncie, Indiana) by the serious illness of his mother.”  Three days later the paper said he returned to New York “his mother’s condition having considerably improved.”  Within a week of his return the New York papers reported that Johnson had filed for divorce from his wife.

Less than two weeks later Johnson lost his starting job; Knight moved to short and Earle Gardner played second base.

Ote Johnson

Ote Johnson 1911

The San Francisco Chronicle said of the former Pacific Coast League star:

“Ote Johnson has been benched for his weak hitting.  He put up a star game in the field…but Ote did not respond with the hitting which featured his work when he was with Portland.”

Three days after he was benched Johnson left the team again to finalize his divorce.  After returning Johnson became New York’s primary utility infielder until he fell out of favor with Hal Chase.  The manager had been criticised as the team slumped for, as The Globe said “utterly lacking in the qualities for successful management.”

By August the team was fourteen games out of first place and The Herald said:

“Hal Chase, who has been very lenient with his players, is drawing the string tighter.”

The paper said Johnson “has been suspended without pay for violating the club’s rule of discipline.”  It was never revealed what rule was violated, but Johnson was suspended for about a week.  Johnson also hurt his throwing arm in August, further limiting his playing time.

Many in the New York press questioned Chase’s ability as a manager; Wilton Simpson Farnsworth of The New York Evening Journal was the exception.  Farnsworth said of Chase, when the team was 13 games back in August:

“Hal Chase, the game’s greatest first baseman, has made good as manager of the new York Yankees…Knockers claim that poor management is keeping the Yanks down, but forget it! A bad break in luck plus innumerable injuries is the cause.”

Hal Chase

Hal Chase

Regardless of the reasons, 1910’s second place team was limping to a sixth place finish. Chase resigned as manager in November.  Johnson hit just .234 and committed 31 errors in just 65 games.  He was released to the Rochester Hustlers in the International league in December.

Johnson spent just one season in Rochester; he hit .268 and got married; after the season his contract was sold to the Binghamton Bingoes in the New York State League (NYSL).  Johnson protested the pay cut his Binghamton contract called for, and initially threatened to jump to the PCL, he eventually signed a contract and became popular with fans.  He hit the Bingoes first home run of the 1913 season and was awarded with a free daily shave from a local barber and fan named Billy McCann.

He played most of the next three seasons in the NYSL—with the exception of 45-games with the St. Paul Apostles in the American Association at the beginning of the 1914 season.

After playing for the Elmira Colonels in 1915 Johnson recommended two players to his friend Walter “Judge” McCredie on the Portland Beavers—his teammate, pitcher Frank Caporal, and Syracuse Stars first baseman Owen Quinn—and it appeared the 31-year-old Johnson might be heading back to Portland where he remained very popular.

On November 9 Johnson went hunting with friend in Binghamton.  The (Portland) Oregonian said:

“Ote Johnson, famous ‘Home Run’ Ote of the Portland Pacific Coast team of 1907, 1908 and 1909, is dead…It seems Johnson, in company with a party of friends, went forth in search of game and while chasing a wounded fox stumbled and fell, both barrels of the shotgun he was carrying discharged into his abdomen.

“To the older generation of Portland fans Johnson will be remembered for his prowess in poling out long bingles.  He was one of the longest hitters that ever wore the livery of a Coast League club.  Some are prone to argue that he eclipsed the performances of (Frank) Ping Bodie and Harry Heilman, who are now the long-swat stars of the circuit.  Johnson also had a peculiar throw from third that will be remembered–He had a perfect underhand throw and was a wonder at handling bunts.”

He was buried in Johnson City, New York–his pallbearers included several players: Mike Roach, Charles Hartman, Mike Konnick, and William Fischer,