Tag Archives: Arthur Irwin

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,

“Leather-Fisted Phil”

12 Apr

“Leather –Fisted Phil” is what Phillip J. Powers was called in his 1914 Associated Press obituary which said:

“(Powers) was famous for his ability to stop the swiftest throws of the league’s star pitchers.”

He most likely earned the nickname in 1877 when, like many other catchers of the era, he began using a small, leather pad on his hand while with the London Tecumsehs of the International Association.

After the London team disbanded in August of 1878 Powers joined the Chicago White Stockings.  According to The Chicago Inter Ocean:

“He is a tall young fellow…He is described as a good catcher, but liable to get hurt, fair at the bat, and a genial man on the grounds.”

Powers would spend parts of seven seasons and 155 games in the National League and American Association with the Boston Red Stockings, Cleveland Blues, Cincinnati Red Stockings and Baltimore Orioles, hitting .180.  In between his engagements as a player Powers was an umpire.

It was as an umpire that he made a name for himself, but it probably wasn’t what he had in mind.  Few umpires, even in an era when members of the “profession” were poorly trained and underpaid, were the target of as much criticism as Powers.

In 1881 he began the season as a National League umpire.  By July he had become a target in several cities,

The Detroit News said:

“Phil Powers has acquired reputation enough in the last two weeks to last him a lifetime.  The erroneous umpiring he did here, people were inclined to regard as errors of judgment, but to say the least his ‘mistakes’ have become so numerous that his utter unfitness for the position he holds is unquestioned.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer took the criticism even further:

“Powers is said to have been offered $150 to play ball (for the Detroit Wolverines) for one month, but refused it.  As an umpire he cannot, if square, earn more than $15 or $20 a week and expenses; and must take the chance at that of being chosen an umpire.  He preferred to be an umpire.  Several of his decisions on Saturday were grossly unfair, and, what is worse, they bore heavily on Cleveland.  They were so one-sided that many of the spectators believed he deliberately purposed to give the game to Troy.”

Despite the ill feelings in Cleveland, Powers joined the Blues in August and caught five games for the team after Michael “Doc” Kennedy was injured and John Clapp was “called away by an illness in his family.”   He finished the season with the New York Metropolitans in the Eastern Championship Association.

Powers again became a full-time player from 1882-1885, and was part of the Red Stockings American Association championship team in 1882.  He was released by Cincinnati in July of 1885, signed with the Baltimore Orioles and was again released the following month.

1882reds

1882 Cincinnati Red Stockings, Phil Powers standing 2nd from left

Powers was signed by the St. Louis Browns in the spring of 1886, but released before the beginning of the season, and was added to the National League umpiring staff in August.  He again worked as an umpire through the 1887 season, left to return to London, Ontario to manage the Tecumsehs in the International Association, but again returned to the National League as an umpire in August of 1888.   He came back just in time to find himself in the middle of a controversy involving two Hall of Famers.

New York Giants catcher/captain William “Buck” Ewing was hit on the wrist by a ball during a game with the White Stockings in Chicago.  In 1888 the opposing team’s captain had to agree that an injury was serious to necessitate a substitution; Chicago’s “Cap” Anson said he did not agree to a substitution when backup catcher “Big Bill” Brown entered the game in the 6th inning.  Anson appealed to the umpire, and according to The Chicago Inter Ocean, “(Powers) said that Captain Ewing was not so badly hurt that he could not play.”

After a heated argument, during which The Inter Ocean said Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner,” Powers declared the game “forfeited to Chicago by a score of 9 to 0.”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Powers had been involved in a similar situation in 1886, refusing to allow Philadelphia Quakers catcher “Deacon” McGuire to leave a game after an injury.  The Chicago Tribune said Quakers captain Arthur Irwin “told McGuire to catch ‘away back’ (from the plate).” The Tribune said Irwin’s actions created a “scene” and “pandemonium reigned,” until Anson agreed to allow Philadelphia to replace McGuire.  White Stockings President A.G. Spalding “preferred charges against umpire Powers” for losing control of the game.

The substitution rule was changed in 1891, putting an end to controversies regarding the replacement of injured players.

But controversies involving Powers continued.  More on Monday.

A Really Bad Idea II

23 Oct

Last week I told you about Chicago Colts President Al Hart’s connection with the proposed rule to change the shape of the diamond.  He wasn’t the only baseball pioneer who considered adopting rule changes which would have completely changed the game.

William Henry “Harry” Wright, called by many “The Father of Baseball,” was among the most respected figures of baseball’s first two decades.  The Philadelphia Record described his importance:

 “Harry Wright has done more than any other man to bring baseball to its present high standing.”

Wright’s story has been told many times and in many places.  This lesser known story focuses on two rules changes he championed.

Harry Wright

After the 1893 season Wright’s contract was not renewed as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies he accepted the position of “Chief of Umpires” of the National League.  The Philadelphia Record reported on a number of rule changes he advocated, including this:

 “Harry Wright thinks that players should not be allowed to question an umpire’s decision during the progress of a game, or to speak to him while the ball is in play, and that he should have the power of taking out of the contest any player (or manager) who breaks the rule.”

While not necessarily a bad idea, if adopted Wright’s idea would have drastically changed the game for several generations of famous umpire baiters.

One other rule change Wright promoted, as reported by The Sporting Life, would certainly have been a bad idea:

 “(A)llowing a base runner to run on a fly ball instead of returning and registering at the base.”

While Wright’s idea never was seriously considered for incorporation into the rule book, it had advocates as late as 1899, four years after his death.

Washington Senators Manager Arthur Irwin endorsed the rule with this colorful description:

 “Uncertainty is the life of the game, and the more uncertain the uncertainty the higher does the interest key itself…for instance (John) McGraw, one of the most daring base runners in the league Is on first base with two men out, and a run needed to win the game (Wilbert) Robinson follows with a fly to center field, and at the stroke of the bat away scuds Mac. His get-away is the cue that brings the spectators to their feet.  ‘Will he score?  Can (Joe) Kelley field that ball home to cut him off at the plate?’ Around the runway fly the twinkling feet of the little Napoleon of the Orioles.   It’s a chase of life and death between Mac and the ball. Kelley swings the sphere on two bounds to Duke Farrell at the plate.  Mac slides into the rubber, and beats the throw by an abbreviated whisker.

“Can you imagine a more intense climax to a game of ball? Why, the game would be full of such play if the idea of running on a fly ball became a rule.  It would increase the base running, produce more plays in the field, and keep the outfielders almost as busy as the inner circle, when the bases were occupied.”

Of course Irwin failed to consider the scenario where the winning run is on third base and scores on a routine fly ball with two outs.

Arthur Irwin

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