Tag Archives: Augusta Tourists

Polchow and Starnagle

13 Aug

At the close of the 1902 Three-I League season two unlikely candidates for the big leagues were signed by Cleveland Bronchos Manager Bill Armour.

Pitcher Louis William “Polly” Polchow and catcher George Henry Starnagle (born Steurnagel) did not put up impressive numbers.   Neither the Reach or Spalding Guides included Polchow’s won-loss record, but both said the 22-year-old’s winning percentage was just .414 in 32 games for the Evansville River Rats.  Starnagle hit just .180 with 13 passed balls and eight errors in 93 games for the Terre Haute Hottentots.

Louis Polchow

Louis Polchow

The two joined the fifth place Bronchos in St. Louis on September 13.  The following day both made their major league debuts in the second game of a doubleheader against the second place Browns.

The St. Louis Republic said:

“Captain (Napoleon) Lajoie decided to try his new Three-Eye League battery, which reported to him yesterday.  Starnagle, the former Terre Haute catcher, was as steady as a veteran, but Polchow wobbled at the drop of the hat, and before he steadied himself the damage was done.

“Five runs in the first two innings gave the Browns a good lead, and it was well they made hay while the sun shone, for Polchow handed them six ciphers for dessert.”

Starnagle made an error in the seventh when he overthrew Lajoie on an attempted steal of second by Bobby Wallace—Wallace advanced to third on the error, but Polchow retired the side without a run.

George Starnagle

George Starnagle

In Cleveland’s half of the seventh Starnagle and Polchow had the opportunity to get them back in the game.  With two runs in, and a runner on first and one out Starnagle came to the plate.  The Republic said:

 “Starnagle tried to put on a Three-Eye League slugging scene.  He dislocated two ribs going after (Bill) Reidy’s slow ones and finally fanned.  Polchow forced (Jack) McCarthy.”

Starnagle was lifted in the ninth for a pinch hitter.  Cleveland lost 5-3.  Polchow gave up nine hits and walked four, striking out two, and was 0 for 4 at the plate.  Starnagle was 0 for 3, with one error behind the plate.  Neither would ever appear in another big league game.

The Box Score

The Box Score

Starnagle was 28-years-old, and had only played two seasons of pro ball before his game with Cleveland—he was semi-pro player with teams in Danville and Sterling, Illinois for nearly a decade before he joined Terre Haute in 1901.  He was considered a solid defensive catcher, but during 10 minor league seasons he only hit better than .230 three times.  When he played with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Royals in 1909 The Montreal Gazette said:

“Starnagle has been drafted every year by big league clubs, all of whom have been pretty well supplied with seasoned catchers; hence his failure to be kept.”

Polchow was just 22 when he pitched his only big league game.  Plagued by wildness, he spent three mediocre seasons with teams in the Southern Association and South Atlantic League (he was 36-45 for the Montgomery Senators, Macon Highlanders and Augusta Tourists), then pitched five seasons in the New York State League.

In 1906 he helped lead the Scranton Miners to the New York State League championship (the team’s leading hitter was Archibald “Moonlight” Graham), although The Scranton Republican said his first start with the team was nearly his last.  Polchow lost 12 to 2 to the Utica Pent-Ups, walking 10 and giving up 10 hits.  After the game Polchow accused catcher “Wilkie Clark of throwing the game.  A fight followed and Clark and Polchow never worked together after that.   Andy Roth was Polchow’s battery partner during the remainder of the season.”

Starnagle retired after the 1910 season.  He returned to Danville, Illinois where he died in 1946; he was 72.

Polchow played through the 1911 season, and then became ill.  He died of Bright’s Disease at 32-years-old in August of 1912

In addition to Polchow and Starnagle, the Bronchos signed two other Three-I League players in September of 1902—both had somewhat more success.

Rock Island Islanders catcher George “Peaches” Graham made his debut the same day as Polchow and Starnagle, during the first game of the doubleheader; he struck out as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning of a 3 to 1 loss. He spent parts of seven seasons in the major leagues, and hit .265.  Decatur Commodores pitcher Augustus “Gus” Dorner made his debut three days later beating the Chicago White Sox 7 to 6.  He pitched for parts of six big league seasons, compiling a 35-69 record.

 

Jack Grim

2 Jun

John J. “Jack” Grim never amounted to much as a player.  Statistics are nearly nonexistent for his playing career, and those that do survive are unimpressive; primarily a catcher, he played for all, or parts of nine seasons from 1894 until 1902.  The Cincinnati native made his mark, now all but forgotten, as a manager and executive.

John J. "Jack" Grim

John J. “Jack” Grim

Often confused with former major league catcher John Helm “Jack” Grim—for example, most sources list John H. Grim as the manager of the 1904 Columbia Skyscrapers in the South Atlantic League, it was John J. Grim who managed that team, and during that season might have made his greatest contribution to the game.

Grim’s first managerial appointment was with the Anaconda Serpents in the Montana State League in 1900.  He guided the team to a second-place finish in the first half, and the club was in first place in the second half race on August 11, when Grim abruptly resigned.  The Anaconda Standard said Grim sent a letter to the team directors in which he charged “there is a feeling in certain quarters, against me.” He said:

“I cannot do myself justice while laboring under these conditions.”

Arthur “Dad” Clarkson, brother of Hall of Famer John Clarkson, replaced Grim; the team finished the second half of the season in second place under Clarkson.  Grim became an umpire in the league for the remainder of the season.

In 1901 Grim went to the West Coast with William H. Lucas, a former minor league pitcher who had been president of the Montana State League, to join Dan Dugdale to reestablish  the Pacific Northwest League; Lucas served as league president and Grim managed the Portland Webfoots to the championship, winning the pennant by 16 games.

The league expanded from four to six teams for 1902, and Grim was hired to manage the Spokane franchise, which had finished in last place (41-67) under three different managers in 1901.  The Sporting News said:

“(Spokane’s) stockholders have given (Grim) full power to act in signing players.”

The Sporting Life said Spokane fans were “feeling confident that (Grim) will this year sustain his reputation for always piloting winners.”  Despite the free reign, and high hopes, Spokane struggled, finishing in last place with a 46-75 record.

The following season, as a result of the West Coast baseball war—the California League expanded to the Pacific Northwest, becoming the Pacific Coast League—the Pacific Northwest League expanded into California and became the Pacific National League.  Grim managed the Portland Green Gages.

On July 1 the Portland franchised was, according to, The Oregon Journal “transferred bag and baggage to Salt Lake City.” In Salt Lake City Grim quickly wore out his welcome.

After it was reported in late July that Grim might be let go, six players, including the team’s star shortstop Charles “She” Donahue, went on strike.  They missed two games, but returned after the team’s president said: “he has no intention of letting Grim out.”  The harmony didn’t last and just weeks later Grim was released and fined $100 for what The Salt Lake Herald called “starting a mutiny within the ranks of the club.”

The trouble in Salt Lake wasn’t over.  Near the end of the season, Donahue’s contract was sold to the St. Louis Cardinals.  The sale was reportedly engineered by Grim after he was let go as manager.

The Herald said:

“What kind of a con game is Jack Grim trying to work on the Salt Lake ball club?  What right had Jack Grim, who was fired…got to sell Donahue to the St. Louis club?  How many more of the Salt Lake’s players is Grim trying to dispose of in the same way?  What did Grim do with the money he received from (Cardinals President Benjamin) Muckenfuss of the St. Louis team?”

Grim told The Cincinnati Enquirer he entered into negotiations with the Cardinals over Donahue on September 14. But The Herald noted:

“At that time Grim’s sole business in Salt Lake was to hang around with the ballplayers and try his best to create discord among them.  He had been fired long before.”

The National Commission ruled the sale/signing legal.  Garry Herrmann, chairman of the commission, said that in the contract he signed with Portland for 1903 “Donahue had a specified agreement that he was not (placed on the reserve list)” despite the fact that the Salt Lake team claimed he had already signed a contract for the following season.  As a result, there was nothing stopping Grim from delivering Donahue to the Cardinals, and the money he received—the amount was never reported—was his.

Grim was again involved in a new league in 1904, when he and fellow Cincinnati native Ed Ashenbach, helped form the first incarnation of the South Atlantic League—Grim managed the Columbia Sky Scrapers and Ashenbach managed the Charleston Sea Gulls in the six-team circuit.  Grim only lasted until mid-July as manager and finished the year as an umpire in the league.

It was that season that that he claimed he made his great contribution to the game.  According to Grim, he was the first person to alert the Detroit Tigers about a 17-year-old outfielder for the Augusta Tourists named Tyrus Raymond Cobb.

While Cobb was not sold to the Tigers until August of 1905, some credence for the claim was provided by Cobb himself in 1910, when an article appearing under his name—likely ghostwritten by Roger Tidden of The New York World—said Grim had tried to purchase his contract when he was struggling at Augusta, shortly after “I left home to show up the league.”

In 1905 Grim was one of the principal organizers of the Virginia-North Carolina League and managed the Greensboro Farmers—Grim lasted less than half a season and by August The Sporting Life said he was scouting for the Cincinnati Reds.

Grim finally found some stability in 1906.  He again helped found a league and owned and managed a club.  Grim’s Lynchburg Shoemakers won the Virginia League pennant in 1906—the team was led by pitcher Walter Moser (24-8), who would make the jump from the C-league Shoemakers to the Philadelphia Phillies in August.   But after a fifth-place finish and 1907, and a slow start the next season, Grim sold the team in July of 1908.

1906 Lynchburg Shoemakers, Virginia League champions. Grim is third from left on the bottom row.

1906 Lynchburg Shoemakers, Virginia League champions. Grim is third from left on the bottom row.

Just after selling the team, Grim’s wife reported him missing.  She told police in Louisville, Kentucky that she hadn’t heard from him for three weeks and thought he might be in Louisville after visiting family in Cincinnati.  Al Orth, the New York Highlanders pitcher, said he saw Grim in New York and told The Associated Press “He did not look like a man who was missing from anywhere.”

Al Orth

Al Orth

 

Grim eventually returned to Virginia and his disappearance was never explained.  Orth, who was from Lynchburg, returned there later that summer purchased an interest in the team and managed the club until early 1909 when he returned to the Highlanders.

For the next four years Grim bounced back and forth from team ownership (he managed, and owned part of two more Virginia League franchises (Portsmouth in 1910 and Newport News in 1912) and real estate speculating on the West Coast and in Virginia.

At the beginning of the 1912 season a small item in The Richmond Times-Dispatch hinted that there was trouble ahead:

“Jack Grim has a combination of troubles.  One is of the financial variety—well the other is nobody’s business.”

The financial troubles came to a head in August.  The Times-Dispatch said:

 “Because Manager J.J. Grim would not pay their salaries, all of the players of the Newport News baseball club except (Frank) ‘Deacon’ Morrissey, struck just before the scheduled double header between Newport News and Petersburg.”

After the game was awarded to Petersburg by forfeit, Grim’s co-owners removed him—outfielder William “Buck” Hooker was named manager for the remainder of the season.

At the end of the 1912 season, Grim found himself in an odd predicament.  The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“Though minus a franchise, Jack Grim, formerly of Cincinnati, has a ball team under reservation, for he owns title to the players of the Newport News club…It develops that in the adjustment of the club’s affairs in August, Grim who was manager and part owner, got out without losing title to the players, though he lost the franchise.”

As a result, when the Cleveland Naps drafted third baseman Ray Bates from Newport News after the 1912 season, the draft price went to Grim.

It was the last good thing to happen to him; from there, Grim’s life spun out of control.

In October, he attended the World Series in New York (his wife later said he attempted to kill her during that trip).

In November of 1912 the Virginia League turned down his attempt to secure a franchise for 1913; next his effort to start a new league with teams in Virginia and the Carolinas fell through.

In addition to being unable to secure a franchise and running out of money—an effort to secure the New York-New Jersey League franchise in Kingston, New York also fell through–Grim’s wife had him arrested  during the first week of March 1913, and told a Lynchburg judge he had repeatedly “threatened Mrs. Grim with bodily harm.”  Grim was held in jail, but according to The Times-Dispatch “is doing everything possible to effect a reconciliation with his wife.”

Grim was released on bond after a week, but quickly rearrested, and by March 23 The Times Dispatch said:

“That a commission of lunacy will be summoned early this week to investigate the Sanity of john J. Grim, the well-known minor league baseball magnate , seems now to be a foregone conclusion…Since his incarceration Grim’s condition has grown so bad that there is no doubt in the minds of the jail attaches that he is insane…Grim has not had his clothes off in a week, and he spends his time in his cell singing, shouting, talking and pacing up and down, begging to be liberated.”

The “commission of lunacy” found Grim insane based on the testimony of Grim’s wife and a doctor named Albert Priddy, and ordered him sent to Virginia’s Southwestern State Hospital in Marion.  It was in front of the commission that Mrs. Grim related the story of the “attempt to murder her with a razor in New York City.”

Southwest State Hospital, Marion, Virginia

Southwest State Hospital, Marion, Virginia

Contradictory reports about Grim’s condition came out during the next year.  The Associated Press said in August Grim was “A raving maniac…not far from death.”  A December story in The Cincinnati Enquirer said “he is improving rapidly and probably will be discharged at an early date…Grim expects to return to Cincinnati.”

Almost a year later, he was still in the hospital, and The Enquirer reported that “Grim is improving in health and expects to visit his Cincinnati friends soon.”

That item was the last newspaper reference to Grim; he was never released and died in the state hospital.

The doctor who testified that Grim was insane, Albert Sidney Priddy, was superintendent of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded in Madison Heights, Virginia.  The doctor, and that institution became infamous in the case of Buck v. Bell (the case was Buck v. Priddy until Priddy’s death in 1925; Bell was his successor at the State Colony).  The Supreme Court’s decision in the case–upholding the Virginia’s compulsory sterilization law– resulted in the forced sterilization of more than United States citizens in Virginia and states that enacted similar laws.

“He was Not Crazy as Reported”

18 Jul

Ervin Thomas “Erve” “Dutch” Beck hit the first home run in the American League; on April 25, 1901, the second day of the season, as a member of the Cleveland Blues; Beck homered off White Sox pitcher John Skopec at Chicago’s South Side Park.

It was a highlight in a short, promising career, like many at the turn of the 20th Century, destroyed by alcoholism.

Beck was considered the best young player in Toledo, Ohio when he joined the Adrian Reformers in the Michigan State League as a 16-year-old in 1895, then for the next five seasons, he was the star of his hometown Toledo Mud Hens in the Interstate League.  For the two seasons in Toledo for which complete records survive, Beck hit .298 in 1898 with 11 home runs and, a league-leading .360 with 15 home runs in 1900.

Erve Beck

Erve Beck

Earning the Nickname “Home run Dutch” in the Toledo papers, Beck was credited with 67  during his five seasons with the Mud Hens;  he would remain the team’s all-time career home run leader until 2007 when Mike Hessman (currently with the Louisville Bats in the International League) hit his 68th as a Mud Hen.

Beck also had a brief trial with the Brooklyn Superbas in the National League in 1899, hitting .167 in eight September games.

It’s unclear exactly when Beck’s problems with alcohol began, but according to fellow Ohioan Ed Ashenbach (alternately spelled Ashenback by several contemporary sources), a minor league contemporary who wrote a book in 1911 called “Humor among the Minors”,  it was well-known during Beck’s career that he was “addicted to strong drink,” and as a result suffered from “hallucinations.”

Ed Ashenbach

Ed Ashenbach (Ashenback)

Before the 1901 season, Beck, whose rights were held by the Cincinnati Reds, jumped to the Cleveland Blues in the newly formed American League; the twenty-two-year-old hit .289 and accounted for six of Cleveland’s twelve home runs.

Beck jumped back to the Reds before the 1902 season and received rave reviews early in the season.  The Cincinnati Tribune seemed to like him more at second base than veteran Heine Peitz:

“Erve Beck looks more like a second baseman than anyone who has filled the position since (Bid) McPhee went into retirement (in 1899).  He covers the ground, seems to know where to play and is capable of swinging the bat with some effect.”

His teammate, pitcher Frank “Noodles” Hahn claimed Beck hit the ball “harder than (Napoleon) Lajoie.”

Beck hit better than .300 playing second base in May but went to the bench when Peitz, who was filling in behind the plate for an injured Bill Bergen returned to second.

In June first baseman Jake Beckley missed a week with an injury and Beck filled in there; The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Ren Mulford said:

“(Beck) played the bag in splendid style…In handling ground balls Beck is as good as Beckley, and he is a better thrower… Beck gave another display of his versatility by plugging up a hole in right field.  He made one catch that was a lollapalooza…Most players would have lost heart when benched as Beck was, but he remained as chipper as a skunk during his term of inactivity, and gladly accepted the opportunity to get back into the swim. Beck is a phlegmatic soul, who takes life, as he finds it without a growl.”

In spite of a .305 batting average in 48 games and the great press he received, Beck was released by the Reds in July.  Whether the release was simply because he was the odd man out with Peitz, Beckley and right fielder Sam Crawford healthy or as a result of drinking is unknown.

Beck was signed almost immediately by the Detroit Tigers where he took over at first base after Frank “Pop” Dillon was sent to the Baltimore Orioles.  He hit .296 in 41 games but was again released at the end of the season.

Beck would never return to the big leagues.

In 1903 he .331 for the Shreveport Giants in the Southern Association, he jumped Shreveport the following season and played for the Portland Browns in the Pacific Coast League.   He returned to the Southern Association with the New Orleans Pelicans in 1905.  After starting the 1906 season in New Orleans, he was released in July and signed by the Nashville Volunteers; his combined average with both Southern Association teams was .211.

Beck’s drinking was, according to Ashenback and contemporary newspaper accounts, common knowledge by the time he wore out his welcome in Nashville in August and was sold to the Augusta Tourists in the South Atlantic League.

That stop would last for only one game.

The 27-year-old, four years removed from the American League, played first base for the Tourists on August 6.  Augusta second baseman Ed McKernan said, “It was evident when he reported there was something amiss with him,” and claimed Beck chased “an imaginary flock of geese away from first base” during the game.

The following day, according to The Augusta Chronicle, Beck “created a sensation in the clubhouse…causing all but two of the players to leave the house.”  As a result, Augusta released him.

The following day The Chronicle said:

“(Beck) ran amuck this morning and created great excitement on the street.

“While in a room on the third floor of the Chelsea hotel the big infielder suddenly began to see things and sprang from the third story window to the ground below.  Only two intervening telephone wires and a rose bush saved his life.

“He then darted down an alley and hid himself in a store.  He was finally captured and came quietly back to his room with a policeman and (Tourists outfielder Frank) Norcum.”

The Sporting Life assured their readers that Beck “was not crazy, as reported, but only suffering from the effects of a (drunken) spree.”

McKernan said “During his convalescence…Beck would smilingly avow his determination to abstain from strong drink.”

There were varying reports regarding the extent of his injuries, and it’s unknown whether he was physically able to play after the fall, but Beck would never play professionally again.

He returned to Toledo where he operated a tavern and appears to have been unable “to abstain from strong drink;” he died in 1916 of Articular Rheumatism complicated by Hepatic Cirrhosis.

A Really Complete Chronology, and Quite a Reason to End up on the Disabled List

10 Oct

The Reach Guide, founded by Major Leaguer turned sporting goods magnet Alfred Reach in 1883, along with the Spalding Guide, founded by Major Leaguer turned sporting good magnet Albert Spalding in 1878, were the annual bibles of baseball.

Both publications prided themselves on providing the most complete chronology of the previous season.

An example of just how complete the Reach Guide could be is found in the 1906 edition.

The entry is about a young pitcher named Gus Bonno.

Bonno was born November 27, 1882 (Baseball reference incorrectly lists his birth year as 1881) in Ohio.  Records for his career are spotty.  After playing for a semi-pro team in Urbana Ohio in 1901 and part of ’02, late that season Bonno appeared in two games with the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association.  Bonno returned to semi-pro the following season and played for the Paducah Indians in the Kitty League in 1904.

Bonno pitched for the Newark Sailors in the Eastern League and Norwich Reds in the Connecticut State League in 1905.

The Kentucky New Era referred to the Bonno as: “The handsome black haired, black-eyed debonair Italian twirler.”  In fact, nearly every contemporaneous newspaper article about Bonno referred to his ethnicity, which underscores the domination of players of Irish and German heritage in 19th and early 20th Century baseball.

Back to the Reach Guide.

On page 160, for the date September 23, 1905:

“Pitcher Gus Bonno at Cincinnati broke his ankle jumping from a second story window of a young woman’s home to avoid being shot by a jealous rival suitor.”

1906 Reach Guide

Bonno recovered enough to join the Augusta Tourists in the South Atlantic in the spring of 1906, but was sold to the Norfolk Tars of the Virginia League at the beginning of season.  He continued to pitch until 1911 with stops in the Western League and Bluegrass League.

He passed away in Cincinnati in 1964.

Assumed Names II

9 Oct

Players using assumed names were common enough during professional baseball’s first four decades that some players still exist in the record books as separate individuals.

John Berkel is one such case.  He has four separate listing on Baseball Reference.

The “official” record for John H. Berkel begins in 1910 with the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association and ends in 1914 with the Fort Forth Panthers of the Texas League.

That was the second half of his career.

Under the name John Bierkotte he started playing pro ball with the Mattoon-Charleston Canaries in the Kitty League when he was 20 years old.

A slick fielding, weak hitting shortstop and third baseman, Berkel, as John Bierkotte, played with the Jacksonville Jays and Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic League from 1907-1910 (further complicating the trail of Berkel-Bierkotte is that Baseball reference lists him as “Bierkortte” on the Jays’ 1909 roster with a unique player listing).

John Bierkotte with the Augusta Tourists, 1909

On June 30, 1910 John Bierkotte was acquired by Atlanta from Augusta.

John Bierkotte made his debut with the Crackers on August 1.  On August 2 the Atlanta Constitution said:

“John Berkel.  You fans will have to learn to call our new shortstop by that name, for that is really his name…When he first broke into baseball he was trifle afraid he might not make good and rather than cause the laugh to be thrown on him, he decided to change his name.  This he did, and he chose Bierkotte, a weird name, as the one.”

John Berkel 1910

Berkel received high marks for his fielding but struggled at the plate and hit only .207 for Atlanta.  At the end of the 1910 season he was sold to Albany in the South Atlantic League.  From there he went to the Scranton Miners in the New York Penn League in 1912.  The “official” listing for Berkel only adds 10 games with Fort Worth in 1914.

The rest of his career is under the listing “Berkel.”

Berkel spent 1914 on the West Coast, playing for the Fresno Packers of the California State League.  After those 10 games in Fort Worth he played for the Decatur Commodores in the Three-I League, and then was sold to the Peoria Distillers in the same league.  Berkel was offered a contract by Peoria for 1915, but chose to retire and move to the west coast.

The Berkel trail runs cold until 1926 when he turns up as a 40-year-old infielder for the Spokane Eagles in the semi-pro Idaho-Washington League.

Berkel continued to live in Spokane until his death in 1975.  There is no record of why he chose the name Bierkotte.