Tag Archives: Atlanta Atlantas

Brought the League “Discredit throughout the South”

18 Jun

In the final weeks of the 1886 Southern Association season, second place Savannah travelled to Atlanta for a four game series against the league leaders.

Hours before the August 18 game, umpire John McQuade left Atlanta by train.  The Macon Telegraph called the circumstances of his departure “Mysterious.”  The Atlanta team said the umpire left town because he was bribed to throw the game by Isaac G. Haas, owner of Savannah.

The Telegraph said McQuade’s departure was the result of his being followed by a detective hired by Stephen Andrew Ryan, a wealthy Atlanta businessman who was one of the directors of the Atlanta team.

The paper quoted a Detective Jones:

“I was hired by Mr. Steve Ryan to shadow McQuade, and I did so.”

Jones went on to say that he saw the umpire speak with various people, including Haas, Savannah catcher John “Tug” Arundel and Ryan’s brother John, who claimed he tried to convince McQuade to stay and work the game.

Savannah pitcher Hank O’Day said the umpire told him “he had been offered money by Mr. Ryan, of the Atlantas, to stay and umpire the games in Atlantas favor and said that he would not and could not do so.”  Arundel said McQuade had told him he had been offered money by “one of the Atlanta officers.”

After McQuade left, Atlanta installed backup catcher Joe Gunson as umpire.  Atlanta shut out Savannah 2-0, The Constitution said “Gunson gave every close decision against Atlanta…his evident desire to be fair, carried him, frequently, too far.”

Joe Gunson, umpire for a day

Joe Gunson, umpire for a day

Savannah disagreed.   Haas demanded that, as had been done earlier in the year, when an umpire did not arrive in Savannah for a series—the teams selected umpires on alternating days.  Atlanta refused; claiming league rules gave them the right to name the umpire, and chose a former local player named George Whitlock to work the second game.

When Atlanta took the field at 3:30 PM the following day in front of a large crowd, the Savannah team was not present, The Telegraph said:

(Frank) Wells fired nine balls over the plate, which were caught by Gunson, and the umpire gave the game to the Atlanta by a score of 9-0.”

The Constitution said Savannah’s Hass “without cause declined to permit his men to play.”  The Atlanta police also got involved, arriving at the depot before the Savannah team was able to board a train and arresting five members of team, including O’Day and Arundel.

Arrested in Atlanta--Hall of Famer Hank O'Day

Arrested in Atlanta–Hall of Famer Hank O’Day

The Savannah Times said the police attempted to arrest the entire team, “but some of them dodged the officers and got away,” the five players were charged with “disorderly conduct and using profane language,” they were fined between $5 and $10 each and released.

The Times also claimed that Haas, and other Savannah team officers and fans were being “roughly handled,” and “pretty severely abused,” on the streets and in the hotels of Atlanta.

Within days McQuade made a statement under oath “that no Savannah director had endeavored to induce him to leave the city or bribe him in any way.”  McQuade also sent a letter to The Sporting Life and Southern newspapers claiming that Atlanta’s Ryan had tried to bribe him:

“Mr. Ryan, of the Atlanta club, came to me and said: ‘Here Mac, we must have the games; we have got to have them, and will give you one hundred dollars for each game.”

Regardless of the charges, and aided by the forfeited and canceled games, Atlanta won the Southern Association championship.  The season was over, but the allegations were not.

McQuade’s story was given additional credence after the end of the season.  Benjamin F. Young, a former Southern Association umpire, sent a letter to same publications McQuade had, and told a similar story.  Young’s letter implicated another prominent Atlanta citizen:  Henry Woodfin Grady, editor of The Atlanta Constitution, and a long-time supporter of baseball in Georgia.

Young said early in the 1886 season, while in Atlanta, Grady approached him and mentioned the hardship of umpire being responsible for their own travel expenses.  According to Young, Grady claimed he could “fix him up’ and said:

“’I can get passes for you on about every road you’ll have occasion to use.’  Knowing my reputation for honesty and fearing he had said too much, he failed to say ‘why’ he wanted me to take the passes, but it is evident he wanted me to favor Atlanta…Now a good many may say that Grady did not mean tany harm in offering me the passes.  If he had offered me money then of course, it would be a serious matter.  But Grady knew better than to offer me money, so he thought he could come to me in a roundabout way with the passes.”

By the turn of the century, charges such as these would have resulted in an investigation, but in Southern baseball in 1886, it was little more than a ripple.

At the end of season league meeting, the championship was “officially” awarded to Atlanta.

A resolution was introduced by the owners of the Charleston Seagulls which said Atlanta’s “treatment of visiting clubs, and behavior of their players,” had brought the league “discredit throughout the South,” and called for the team to be “censured and reprimanded.”  The resolution was adopted only after Charleston “was induced” to change “Atlanta” to “some club” in the text.

There were consequences; however, interest in baseball waned in Atlanta, and the city would not have another professional team until 1889.

Atlanta manager “Blondie” Purcell earned a return to the big leagues, finishing the 1886 season with the Baltimore Orioles in the American Association.  He played four more years, finishing with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1890.

Blondie Purcell

Blondie Purcell

Umpires McQuade and Young both finished 1886 in the American Association, and appear to have never again been approached with bribes.

Henry Grady, newspaper editor, segregationist, and “Spokesman for the New South,’ died three years later.

Henry Woodfin Grady statue in Atlanta

Henry Woodfin Grady statue in Atlanta

Stephen Ryan’s dry goods business collapsed in 1891, with debts anywhere from $500,000 to $2 million depending on the source, including losing $16,000 on the Bob Fitzsimmons /Jack “Nonpareil” Dempsey fight.  Accused of hiding assets he was jailed for 13 months.  Upon his release he rebuilt his business only to suffer a similar collapse with a year.  He died in Atlanta in 1908.

“Atlanta’s Baseball Bullies”

17 Jun

During the 1885 season, Lewis Henke of the Southern League’s Atlanta Atlantas was killed during a game; the death was attributed to on-field rowdyism by the Southern press who hoped the death of the popular player would help end brawling behavior in the league.

In January of 1886, the Atlantas hired a new manager, William Aloysius “Blondie” “Billy” Purcell.   Purcell had split the 1885 season between the Philadelphia Athletics in the American Association and the Boston Beaneaters in the National League, hitting .279 in 87 games.  The Sporting Life said:

 “Billy will make a good manager, and is capable of securing a team—even at this late date—to win the championship. “

William "Blondie" Purcell

William “Blondie” Purcell

Purcell came to Atlanta with an excellent reputation, The Philadelphia Inquirer described him as being “Of a genial, happy disposition,” who was very popular when playing for the Athletics, and in 1883 and ’84 as a member of the Quakers.

That changed quickly, just two weeks into the season The Macon Telegraph said under the headline “An Alleged Conspiracy against Purcell,” that the new manager had incurred the wrath of his players by “ruling the team with an iron hand.”

After the rough start, the team appears to have turned their wrath towards their opponents and became the most hated team in the league.

Over the course of the next four months, Southern papers chronicled the bad behavior of the Atlanta squad.

It started with a game against the Charleston Seagulls when Purcell was accused of cheating, The Charleston News and Courier said:

“Manager Purcell was playing in the left field and the Charleston team was at the bat.  During the inning one of the Charleston team batted a ball to left field.  It went over the fielder’s head and, after striking the fence, rebounded and then went into the ditch.  The fielder started for it, but after running only a short distance took a ball from his shirt pocket and through it to the diamond.  The remarkable rapidity with which the ball was fielded was loudly applauded at the time…The fielder subsequently went to the ditch, picked up the ball and tossed it in the diamond…The incident was witnessed by several people, and the statement can be substantiated if the proof is demanded.”

Cheating turned to “bullying” as the season progressed.

The Savannah Times dubbed the team “Purcell’s Plug-Uglies,” and said of them after a July game:

“From the start of the game yesterday the Atlantas began their rowdyism, (Tom) Lynch was running to first in the first inning, the ball got there just ahead of him, Lynch deliberately struck (Jim) Field with his fist…from then on the whole team began to kick and try to hack the umpire.  In this Purcell was ably assisted by (John “Monk”) Cline and (John “Cub”) Stricker, two of the rowdiest  ball players that have been seen on our field…The conduct of the Atlanta club was most reprehensible, and has placed them in an exceedingly unenviable light.”

Tom Lynch, one of Atlanta's bullies

Tom Lynch, one of Atlanta’s bullies

Earlier that month after a couple of close wins over the Seagulls, The News and Courier again criticized the Atlantas saying the team “ought to be kicked out of the league,” and said:

“(T)here was an immense crowd present to witness the game, but their afternoon’s pleasure was completely spoiled by the disgusting behavior of the visitors, whose kicking and sharp practices are sufficient to drive any respectable audience from a ball field.”

After another game in Charleston, The News and Courier said Purcell’s team used “blasphemous and obscene language,” and:

“Those who attended the game this afternoon are outspoken in their condemnation of the disgraceful behavior of the Atlanta team, and declare that either they should not be allowed to continue in the league, or that they should be made to behave themselves at least decently in the presence of the communities where they have to play.”

The Macon Telegraph called the team “Atlanta’s Baseball Bullies,” and said after a game in which Purcell was fined $10 “for his ungentlemanly remarks,” that Atlanta played “good ball,” but that it was “marred” by their conduct.  The paper also said:

“The Atlanta team is evidently akin to the bulldozing idea.  The bullies and braggarts who compose the team have evidently been taught that an umpire is a very insignificant personage and to be influenced by blackguardism.”

Similar charges of “rowdyism” and “bullying” were made throughout the season.

The Atlanta Constitution saw nothing wrong with the team and blamed the criticisms from the papers in other Southern Association on “jealousy” over the team’s success.

With Atlanta holding on to a small lead for the league championship, the most serious charges would wait until the final weeks of the season, and include two of Atlanta’s most prominent citizens …tomorrow.

Lewis Henke

3 May

Lewis Henke played first base for the Atlanta Atlantas in the Southern League in 1885. The Atlanta Constitution said:

“He was the swiftest and most baring baserunner on the Atlanta nine.”


“(A) favorite not only in Atlanta, but wherever he was known…perhaps the most popular player in the Southern League.”

On August 14 Atlanta was hosting the Nashville Americans, when according to The Macon Telegraph:

“In the fourth inning Henke, in making the first base, ran violently against the knee of (Charles “Lefty”) Marr, of the Nashvilles, the knee joint striking him apparently full in the stomach. Henke showed immediately that he was badly hurt, and in a moment was lying stretched out almost on the base. He was carried from the field to the dressing room…Although he had clearly made his base after heavy hit, no one of the players, no one of the great crowd looking on, knew that the infallible umpire above had decided differently, and called him out.”

Henke’s liver was ruptured in the collision and the Cincinnati native died of the injury the following day.

The New York Times blamed the death on “Bad feelings” between the two teams, which resulted in “much ugly work on the field, such as tripping each other, etc..”

Henry “Red” Bittman was Henke’s teammate, fellow Cincinnatian and best friend; they had come to Atlanta together in 1884 to play for the city’s entry in the Georgia State League. He was at his friend’s bedside.

According to The Times:

“Henke observing his friend by his side this evening whispered to him: ‘Bitt, do not play today; I feel that I am dying.’ ‘What shall I tell your wife for you?’ Bittman inquired. ‘Just tell her I got hurt in yesterday’s game and died from it,’ he replied as he again closed his eyes, and in three minutes he was dead.”

The Telegraph said that later that evening:

“At half past ten the manager (Gus Schmelz) escorted the remains to the depot, and walked beside the undertaker’s team through the streets with barred (sic) heads. The dead man’s comrades, rough and hard, were deeply afflicted, and some of the cried like children over the coffin…Henke, the dead baseballist, was carried west on the 10:40 train tonight on the Western and Atlantic to Cincinnati.”


Lewis Henke, standing–Henry “Red” Bittman, seated

While some attributed Henke’s death to the “bad blood” and “ugly work on the field,” no one publicly singled out the popular “Lefty” Marr for blame. Years later, Edward Cuba Bruffey, a long-time reporter and editor for The Atlanta Constitution said:

“The death of Henke completely prostrated Marr, and it was several days before he was able or willing to return to the game. I am not certain now, but I think Marr was one of the men who accompanied the body to Cincinnati for the funeral.”

The Southern League owners pledged to play benefit games to raise money for Henke’s wife and child.

Tickets for the Atlanta benefit went on sale the final week of August. The Constitution said:

“Henke’s wife and child are destitute. There is not one of the thousands who have seen him play and applauded him his pluck and skill who could not afford to buy tickets to the benefit…every dollar taken in will go to his family.”

The benefit became a bit of a scandal in Atlanta; and it’s unclear whether games were played throughout the league as promised.

The Atlanta game raised $159.85 for the widow, but it took more than six months for the money to get to her. Ownership of the Atlanta franchise changed hands after the 1885 season and the former management of the club never gave the money raised from the game to Henke’s family.

In February of 1886 The Macon Telegraph said the new chairman of the Atlanta Baseball Association, Steve Ryan had advanced the money to the widow and “received a guarantee that he will be reimbursed” by the former owners. According to The Telegraph:

“(Ryan) saved the old directorship from a very ugly legal squabble. With the remittance Mr. Ryan forwarded to Mrs. Henke a spicy and sympathetic letter…It would be rich and rewarding reading as it touches up the old directorship interestingly. “

Henke’s best friend Henry Bittman played five more seasons in the minor leagues; including 87 games as “Lefty” Marr’s teammate with the Nashville Americans in 1886. In 1889 he appeared in four games with the Kansas City Cowboys in the American Association. He died in Cincinnati in 1929 at the age of 67.


Charles “Lefty” Marr

Marr played professional ball until 1898, including parts of four seasons in the American association and National League. His best seasons were with the Columbus Solons in 1889 and the Cincinnati Reds in 1890. The left-hander played 129 games at third base and 29 at shortstop in the big leagues. He died in Connecticut in 1912.

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