Tag Archives: Baltimore Orioles

“Cuppy’s Coolness”

13 Jun

Chief Zimmer said:

“It would be interesting to know how many games Nig Cuppy ever won for Cleveland by sheer coolness.”

He told The Cleveland Press in 1904:

zimmer

Chief Zimmer

“I have caught him in many an important game, but I never saw him give the slightest indication of nervousness, no matter how critical the situation.”

To illustrate Cuppy’s “coolness,” Zimmer told a likely apocryphal story from an 1895 game—the details don’t match any game from that season:

cuppy

George “Nig” Cuppy

“At Baltimore one day we had the Orioles beaten 2 to 1 in the first half of the 11th inning.  In their half the Baltimores got three men on bases with two out.  Then came up Hughey Jennings, who generally managed to get hit with a pitched ball about every other time at bat (Jennings led the National League in HBP from 1894-1898 and holds the all-time record, 287).

hughiejennings

Hughie Jennings

“Two strikes were called and then three balls, the crowd meanwhile going into a delirium of delight.  Then Cuppy beckoned to me and I started in to meet him.  Naturally, I thought he wanted to discuss the kind of a ball to serve Hughey net, but all he said was:

‘”Give me a chew of tobacco, and be —– quick about it.’

“’I handed him a big handful of fine cut then went back to my position.  Jennings was fairly bending over the plate, hoping to be hit with the ball and force in the tying run.  Cuppy, cool and collected, looked up for my signal, and I called for a waist-high ball straight across.

“The smack of the ball in my glove was simultaneous with Umpire Tim Hurst’s incisive ‘three strikes,’ and the game was over.

“’That’s fine tobacco, Chief, said Nig as he came in.  Where do you buy it?’”

Segregation and Spring Training, 1961

11 Apr

Will Grimsley was a New York based sportswriter for The Associated Press for nearly forty years; he covered 35 World Series and at least that many spring training’s.

Before teams opened their camps in 1961, he reported on segregated living arrangement.

Grimsley introduced readers to the woman who housed the Milwaukee Braves

“Mrs. K. W. Gibson’s boarding house at 211 Ninth Avenue is a modest, spotlessly clean two-story dwelling which stands out in the dilapidated Negro section of Bradenton.

“Mrs. Gibson prides herself on “setting the best table in town.”

“The tiny, gray-haired matron for years has been house mother for Negro members of the Milwaukee Braves baseball team.  ‘I’ve treated them like my own sons,’ she said.

“At Mrs. Gibson’s place, the Negro players have basic comfort and ‘eat high on the hog’ as the saying goes.  Yet, they sleep two to a room; queue up for use of the two bathrooms and sometime bicker over the choice of a television program on the single set in the living room.”

Hank Aaron said:

“Sometimes the place is so crowded they have two guys sleeping in the hall.  You wake up in the morning and rush for the bathroom and if you’re the last one all the hot water is gone.”

mrskwgibson

Mr. and Mrs. K.W. Gibson in their Bradenton home.

Grimsley said of their teammates’ accommodations:

“The white members of the team meanwhile have headquartered in a Bradenton motel. This year they move into a new motel in the center of town—glistening glass and stone, wall-to-wall carpeting, private baths, television sets and a modern central dining area”

“Aaron, Wes Covington and Andre Rodgers have been most outspoken in criticism of Jim Crow treatment.”

aaroncovington

Aaron and Covington

Duffy Lewis, traveling secretary of the Braves, expressed shock that Aaron and some of his teammates were not thrilled with the situation:

“Why, we thought they had an ideal setup and we’ve never heard a fuss.  That Mrs. Gibson sets the best table I’ve ever seen.  I’ve eaten there myself.”

bravesbradenton

Braves in Bradenton

Grimsley conducted “A reporter’s survey” of each team’s spring training quarters with details provided by the teams and/or their spring training hotels. He said hotel managers were, “generally jumpy and gun-shy on the issue but many (were) ready to acknowledge that the problem soon must be met head on—maybe next year.”

Some highlights:

Yankees:  “Have trained at St. Petersburg for years.  The Soreno, a resort hotel, has politely said ‘no’ to Yankee owner Dan Topping’s request that all players…be housed ‘under one roof.”

Tigers: “Local ordinance in Lakeland, FL forbids four Negro players to stay at club headquarters, New Florida Hotel.

Athletics:  General Manager Frank Lane told Grimsley “We are not spearheading any political movements,” when asked why Bob Boyd, the only African-American with the club would not be staying with the rest of the team at the George Washington Hotel in West Palm Beach, FL.

Reds:  “Eight Negros on roster to be housed and fed in private homes, not at team headquarters at Floridian Hotel, Tampa.  Both club and hotel said they never had difficulty and not rocking the boat.”

Pirates:  “Headquarters at Bradford Hotel, Fort Myers, FL.  ‘We don’t anticipate any trouble,’ said the hotel’s resident manager, Howard Green.  ‘The colored players will get excellent accommodations in private homes.”

Phillies:  “Again will stay at Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater.  General Manager John Quinn wants all players in same hotel, but no immediate prospect.”

Twins:  “Five Negro players to be housed in new motel, while headquarters will be Cheery Plaza in Orlando, FL”

Senators:  “(T)o train at Pompano Beach, FL. The chamber of commerce is working on housing which will be segregated.”

White Sox: “Bill Veeck, president, is negotiating with Sarasota, FL., civic leaders to have six Negro players…stay with rest of team at Sarasota Terrace.  Negroes likely will wind up at motel.”

Orioles: “McAlister Hotel in Miami…says there has been no correspondence on the matter.”

According to Grimsley, the Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, Indians, Angels, and Red Sox all had integrated accommodations—the Dodgers—who housed all players “together at old air base in Vero Beach,” were the only team in Florida with such an arrangement.  The other five trained in Arizona and California.

Grimsley concluded:

“Next year or the year later perhaps, but not now—the baseball clubs must abide by the traditions of the people whose land they have invaded for a couple of months of each year.”

Bill Nunn Jr., sports editor of The Pittsburgh Courier, interviewed Aaron a week after the original story:

“’I’ve said it before and I’ll keep repeating that I don’t like the situation the way it now stands,’ Aaron disclosed here.  ‘I think it’s wrong for us to have to live apart from the rest of the team.’

“At the same time Aaron went out of his way to emphasize that he didn’t want the numerous Negro friends he has made in Bradenton to be offended by his stand on this matter.

“Aaron was speaking specifically of Mr. and Mrs. K. W. Gibson, the people in whose home he and members of the Braves stay while in Florida.

“’Mrs. Gibson was hurt over all the things she heard concerning our statements about Bradenton.  She thought we were being critical of her and her home.’

“’Actually that wasn’t the case at all.  We were trying to get over the point that we didn’t like being segregated against our will.  I explained all this to Mrs. Gibson.  I told her about the moral issues concerned.  I think she’s on our side now.'”

United Press International (UPI) reported the following spring that, “The Braves switched their Bradenton hotel headquarters to nearby Palmetto this spring to permit integration of their athletes.”

UPI said six clubs “still have the integration problem:” the Orioles, Tigers, Athletics, Twins, Senators, and Pirates.

A Cricketer on Baseball

6 Jun

Spencer Thomas Oldham was born in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, England—what the “The American Cricketer” called “that famous nursery of cricketers.”  By 1883 he had been playing professionally in the United States for a decade, and The Associated Press called him “One of the best-known cricket players in the country.”

cricket

Cricket Match, 1800s

That year, The Baltimore Sun, which said of Oldham, “(H)is accent is strong, his views are decided and he comes from a village where seventy-two professional bowlers may be found, ” asked him for his opinion of baseball.  He had just seen his first game in August when the St. Louis Browns played the Orioles.

“It was a sight, such throwing and catching and fielding, I never saw the like before.  The tall fellow on the first base of the St. Louis (Charles Comiskey) could catch anything.  We can’t work together that way in cricket.  The ball is too big, hard and heavy.”

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

And, he was asked, if he noticed the curveball thrown by Baltimore pitcher Bob Emslie:

“’Aye, did I?’ was the reply. ‘I was sitting just in line with the pitcher and catcher.  That fellow Emslie was a terror.  I saw the balls break in the air without touching the ground.  They just curved around and fooled the batters that funny.’”

Bob Emslie

Bob Emslie

So impressed was Oldham, he claimed he saw a pitch “start straight, shoot down and then up again.”   And he was unsure how anyone was able to hit “with the broomstick handles they use.”

But asked to compare the two games, Oldham refused.

“It’s different altogether.”

Oldham said most people didn’t understand the scientific nature of his sport:

“The feature of cricket is batting.  Fielding, of course, is necessary, but a good batter is of more use than a good fielder.  A bowler’s object is to get your wicket down.  You try to keep him from doing it.  The balls you see coming on your wicket you block by bringing your bat down to the ground. The balls that you know are off your wicket you must hit for all you are worth…The power of attack is smaller than the power of defense, and therefore runs are plentiful.  Now in baseball, it seems just the other way.  A man who makes two runs is doing good business.  Errors are therefore more costly and good hits more praiseworthy.”

He also implied that Americans were too impatient to appreciate cricket:

“It takes all day to play a game of cricket.  Two hours and a half suffice for a game of baseball.”

Oldham thought some professional baseball players might be able to play cricket, but it wouldn’t be easy to make the transition:

“Well, the fielding is the same, but when he goes to the bat he must unlearn all his baseball tactics and learn how to cut, drive, stop, hit to leg or off to side…I wish some of those (baseball) players would devote the time and study they give to baseball to cricket.”

While never conceding that baseball was superior, or even equal to his game, Oldham concluded:

“Baseball—well, baseball is a splendid game.  I’d like to see some more of it.  I would learn some points from it.”

“Never a Backstop ever Lived could touch Frank Flint.”

6 Apr

George Gore spent 14 seasons in the major leagues, hitting .301—most notably, he led the National League with a .360 average in 1880 as a member of the Chicago White Stockings.

George Gore

George Gore

After his retirement, Gore was a regular attendee of baseball’s winter meetings.  In 1910, he spoke to a reporter from The Washington Evening Star at the 1910 gathering at New York’s Hotel Breslin.  The paper called him “one of the finest fielders, heaviest hitters, and finest ballplayers,” of his era.

Gore, however, didn’t want to talk about his abilities, but instead was making the case for one of his former teammates, Silver Flint:

Silver Flint

Silver Flint

“Frank Flint of our team was the greatest catcher who ever lived.  He knew more than any other man with the mask.  He had the greatest head of any man in the business.  Nobody before or since could touch Flint.

“Every pitcher he ever handled he made a star.  Look at Fred Goldsmith and Larry Corcoran.”

Fred Goldsmith

Fred Goldsmith

Gore noted that neither pitcher “ever showed much” before or after playing with Flint; although he did leave out that both were still teammates of Flint when they began their steep declines in 1884 and 1885.

“Once Frank took them in hand, they all developed into stars.  He could make cracks out of every pitcher who ever towed the slab.  Show me the backstop today who can take any pitcher and make a marvel out of him.”

Larry Corcoran

Larry Corcoran

Of Flint’s role in both pitchers’ success, Gore said:

“Goldsmith was able to pitch for us for several years after his arm was like a plate of ice cream because he had Flint behind the bat.  Corcoran, you know, was a slightly built man (5’ 3” 125-130 pounds) and as cranky as the dickens.

“The White Stockings were out in California at the time that (William) Hulbert was president of the club.  Corcoran had been heard about by our team, but his sour disposition had queered him with a number of them.  Hulbert was a trifle loath to take him.  However, he talked with ‘Silver’.”  ‘Get him,’ said Frank, ‘and I’ll do the rest.’  So Hulbert took Larry.’”

Gore, who likely exaggerated concerns about the highly prized 20-year-old Corcoran, said of Hulbert’s first meeting with the pitcher:

“The boss called Corcoran to him ‘Look here’ said the president, pointing to Flint:  ‘That fellow is your boss.  You do everything that he asks you, and don’t you disobey, or I’ll fire you right off the reel.’

“Corcoran started.  He obeyed implicitly, and everything went along finely.  Larry was soon one of the best twirlers in the league.  One day, though, he got one of his cranky fits on.  He wouldn’t obey the signals and crossed ‘Silver’ several times.”

Gore said Flint went out to speak to his ‘cranky’ pitcher:

“’Larry,’ he said quietly, but his eyes were snapping, ‘you either do what I say or you  go straight into the clubhouse—I don’t care a d— which you do. Now get busy.’”

Gore said Corcoran complied:

“After the game, Hulbert was sitting in the grandstand.  Corcoran came out of the clubhouse dressed, and the boss was waiting for him.  He called the pitcher to him.  ‘Look here Lawrence,’ sa id the old man, ‘didn’t I tell you that Frank was your boss?  Now if you let another yip out of you like you did today you’ll be fired so quick that your head will swim.’”

Gore said Corcoran again complied, and from that point on Flint had him “trained to the minute.”  Corcoran was 175-85 with a 2.26 ERA from 1880 until the White Stockings released him in 1885—his arm dead.  Despite the numbers, Gore called Corcoran “only a fair twirler” but for Flint.

Goldsmith, a claimant to the invention of the curveball, had a similar fate. He was 98 and 52 with a 2.57 ERA from 1880 through 1883 with Chicago; in 1884, he began to struggle and was 9-11 with a 4.26 ERA when the White Stockings sold him to the Baltimore Orioles in August.  His career was over at the end of that season.

Corcoran’s big league career was over at age 27, Goldsmith was 28.

Whether Flint deserved as much credit as Gore gave him for their brief, incredible success, is open to debate, but in 1910, the former outfielder was certain in his praise for his former teammate, who had died in 1892:

“Yes, there was never a backstop ever lived  could touch Frank Flint.”

“Maryland is the Home Run State”

25 Mar

Jack Bentley, pitcher and first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles in the International League hit 20 home runs in 1920.  The feat earned Bentley, who was born in Sandy Spring, Maryland, the nickname “Home run” among local fans.   Dean Snyder of The Denver Express declared:

“Maryland is the home run state.

“Three swat kings hail from the oyster state.  Each has earned the “Home Run” prefix”

Snyder spoke to all three:  Bentley, Frank Baker, born in Trappe, Maryland, and Babe Ruth, born in Baltimore.

Bentley said:

“Homerunning depends on how you place your feet.  ’That gives a batter poise.  Keep your feet together.  You’re set to step up or back then.

“(During the 1920 season) I tried for a while to keep my feet apart.  I hit a batting slump.  (Orioles) Manager Jack Dunn told me to get my feet together.  I did.  Then I started bouncing ‘em over the walls.”

Jack Bentley

Jack Bentley

Baker said:

“It’s the way I grasp the bat.

“Grab it right down at the knob.  No long distance hitter holds the bat far up.  Use all the wood in the bat.

“That’s my secret.”

Frank Baker

Frank Baker

Ruth said:

“The eye and the swing is the thing.

“Coordinating the two…that makes the ball travel.  Swing a fraction of a second too early or too late and you don’t hit a homer.

“The old eye counts most.  Without a keen eye you flivver.

“I hit 54 last year because I timed my swing.  When I was making (the movie “Headin’ Home” during the 1920 season) my eyes went bad.  I didn’t bust one for three weeks.  No pictures for me this summer.

“I’m shootin’ at 75.”

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

Bentley hit 24 and 22 home runs the next two seasons with Baltimore (he was also 12-1 with 2.34 ERA in ’21 and 13-2 1.73 on the mound) and was purchased by the New York Giants for $72,000.

“Home run” Bentley appeared in 65 games in the field and hit just seven home runs in 539 National League at-bats from 1923-1927—as a pitcher, he was 40-22 with a 4.35 ERA.

Baker sat out the 1920 season after his wife died of Scarlet Fever in February.  Snyder predicted that when he returned to the Yankees he would “fight Bambino Babe a home run duel.”  He hit 16 home runs in 564 at-bats in 1921 and ’22 before retiring.

Ruth didn’t get “75 in 1921—he settled for 59.  “Headin’ Home,” presented by boxing promoter Tex Rickard, opened at Madison Square Garden on September 19, 1920, to what The Brooklyn Eagle called “a fair sized crowd.”  As for the quality of the film Ruth said caused his eyes to go bad for “three weeks,” the paper said:

“It is an astonishing thing that when people, prominent in other walks in life, enter the moving picture field, they generally appear in most absurd pieces.”

headinhome

The Decline of Baseball, 1899

8 Jan

Late in the 1899 season, The Chicago Tribune editorialized on the state of the game.  The paper was convinced that baseball’s best days were behind it:

“Once upon a time this city put on mourning when its ball club lost a game and when the club returned from a victorious tour it had a Dewey welcome.  Men left stores and offices to go to the ball field.  They knew the players on the home team and exulted in their powers.  There is no more of that.  There is no longer any civic pride in the local team.  Business men no longer attend the games.  In this city and in other cities baseball has ceased to be a high-class sport.  It has become a low-grade pastime.  It is patronized by the class of people who are interested in bicycle races, long-distance pedestrian contests, gamblers, horse races and poolrooms.  Baseball, once the sport of men and women of taste, is now the diversion of hoodlums.”

As for why the game was no longer of interest to “men and women of taste,” The Tribune said:

“There is no room for doubt as to what has pulled it down from its former high state.  Commercialism in part has done it.  The players have become chattels.  Teams are bought and sold and are transferred from city to city as if they were livestock.  The men who are playing in Chicago this year may be playing in Cleveland or New York the next.  That cuts up all sense of local pride in a club…There have been teams which really belonged to Chicago.  Of late years, there have simply been organizations of hirelings whose owners instructed them to hail from here.

“Professional baseball is in the hands of a few men whose sole object is to make all they can out of a sport they have ruined.  There is no competition among them.  That championship, in the winning of which cities took so much pride once, has become a farce.”

The actions of Frank DeHass and Martin Stanford “Stanley” Robison was a particular source of the paper’s ire. The Robison brothers, owners of the Cleveland Spiders, purchased the bankrupt St. Louis Browns and transferred Cleveland’s best players, including Cy Young, Nig Cuppy, and Jesse Burkett to the St. Louis club, now called the Perfectos.  What was left of the Spiders finished with a 20-134 record.

 “Sometimes one man owns two clubs and makes draft on one to help out the other. If it becomes evident that Cleveland must be at the tail of the procession, its best men are shifted over to the St. Louis organization, both being under one ownership.  Requisitions are made on Baltimore for the benefit of Brooklyn and on New York for that of Boston.  No city can have any feeling of city proprietorship in a club under such circumstances.”

The 1899 St. Louis Perfectos

The 1899 St. Louis Perfectos

The behavior of fans was of equal concern:

“Rowdyism has come in along with commercialism and has finished what interest was left in the game. Quiet, decent people can no longer go to baseball games because of the vulgarity and ruffianism displayed there.”

The Tribune felt current players were of lower moral character than those of the previous generation:

The morals of the players have deteriorated.  They used to try to behave like sportsmen.  They act now like foul-tongued bullies.  When a question comes up for the umpire to settle, the players surround him and blackguard and threaten him.  He is fortunate if he escapes without bruises.  Fair decisions cannot be expected from a man in danger of being mobbed.  Occasionally the contending players come to blows and the spectators, who went to see a game of ball, have to witness a game of slugging, garnished with profanity.”

How low had the game gone?

“Baseball has fallen so low that gamblers do not think it is worth paying any attention to.  They have not dropped it because they fancy it is not ‘on the square,’ but because it has become an uninteresting, second-class sport.  It does not interest them now any more than a race between professional bicyclists does.  Baseball has become a recreation of the people whom commercialism, vulgarity, and Rowdyism do not displease.”

The Tribune continued their crusade against the “uninteresting” sport a month later, with an “account of the more disgraceful of the many rows witnessed by spectators of baseball games.”

The Pursuit of Elmer Foster

9 Sep

Elmer Ellsworth Foster was the talk of the Northwestern League in 1887.

His career as a pitcher had lasted just one season; in 1884, while pitching for the St. Paul Apostles, he snapped a bone in his arm while throwing a pitch.

Elmer Foster, 1887

            Elmer Foster, 1887

After he recovered, he returned the following year as an outfielder and second baseman with Haverhill in the Eastern New England League and hit .309.

The following spring, The Sporting Life’s Haverhill correspondent said the New York Metropolitans “have taken Elmer Foster from us.”

Hitting just .184 and, as The Sporting Life put it “reckless at the bat,” Foster went back to Haverhill in August.

In 1887, he returned to Minnesota, this time as centerfielder for the Minneapolis Millers.  The club was owned by his brother Robert Owen Foster, a successful dealer of musical instruments, who with his partner J. E. Whitcomb, had taken over operations of the Millers in January.

The Northwestern League of 1887 was a hitter’s paradise owing mostly to the single-season experiments with the four-strike rule and walks counted as hits—nineteen players with at least 350 at-bats hit better than .350—and Foster led with a .415 average and 17 home runs.   While his performance with the bat was noted, he received an equal amount of publicity for his great fielding.

Throughout the season, Minnesota newspapers reported that Foster’s contract would be sold to a major league team—the Indianapolis Hoosiers were the most frequently mentioned—but the deal never materialized.

When the season ended, The Philadelphia Times said Foster was in high demand:

“During the past week agents from nearly every League and Association (club) have been to Minneapolis to secure (Foster) for next season.  (Horace) Phillips of Pittsburgh; (Gus) Schmelz of Cincinnati; Ted Sullivan, agent for Washington; (Emery “Moxie”) Hengel agent for Detroit; (Charlie Hazen) Morton, agent for (A.G.) Spalding, and agents for the Brooklyn, Metropolitan, and Baltimore Clubs have tried to get him.

(John) Day, of New York, sent him this message:  ‘Multrie on the way to Minneapolis.  Make no promise until you see him.’  Boston also wired him for his terms.  (Horace) Fogel of Indianapolis arrived one night and had Foster in tow all the next day.  The bidding of all these clubs has been going on briskly, until now he is offered exorbitant figures by all the clubs.”

Foster called the fight for services a “circus;” it also turned into a controversy, with two teams claiming to have signed him.  The Saint Paul Globe said:

“The circus he speaks of is a curious one, but he is sublimely unmindful of the part he took in it.  The rules of the baseball covenant prohibit the signing of players until Oct. 20…Manager Fogel of Indianapolis approached Foster before that time and made a verbal contract with him, but Manager (Jim) Mutrie, of New York, took him out to Delano (Minnesota), and after midnight  (on the 20th) got his signature.”

Jim Mutrie

                       Jim Mutrie

Years later, Ted Sullivan, who was perusing Foster on behalf of his Washington Nationals, described Mutrie’s method to sign Foster as a kidnapping:

“Jim Mutrie of New York (Giants) grabbed the great fielder Foster on the streets of Minneapolis…bound and gagged him, threw him into a cab and brought him ten minutes out of the city, held him there and dined and wined him until midnight…then compelled him to take $1000 advance money and a contract of $4500 (various other sources put Foster’s salary at $2400, and $4000).”

Foster, it turned out, didn’t simply have a “verbal contract” with Fogel and Indianapolis when he disappeared with Mutrie, but had, as The Sporting News said, accepted “a draft for $100,” from Fogel at the time the two agreed to terms.  Fogel and Indianapolis owner John T. Brush told The Indianapolis News and The Indianapolis Times that there was “a written agreement” between Foster and the club.

Foster’s wife gave birth to a daughter during the height of the controversy.  He told The Globe:

“If she had been a boy I would have named him Mutrie Fogel, in memory of the baseball managers I have been having a circus with.”

In the end, Indianapolis acknowledged that the agreement with Foster, whether written or verbal, was entered into three days before the legal signing date of October 20 and National League President Nick Young awarded Foster to the Giants.

Foster never had success at the plate during his brief major league career; he hit just .187 in 386 at-bats over parts of five seasons.  But Mutrie called him “(O)ne of the best fielders in the country,” and Sullivan said of Foster’s time in the National League, “(H)e was a wonderful fielder in that league.”

Elmer Foster

      Elmer Foster

After he was released by the Giants, he played 31 games with the Chicago Colts in 1890 and ’91, but his brief stay with the club allowed his name to live on with fans long after his career ended.  One of the favorite subjects of Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, who called him “The rowdy of the rowdies,” Foster’s name was a staple of Fullerton’s stories for three decades after his career ended.

Jennings “Hurled an Unmentionable Epithet at him”

2 Feb

In April of 1896, the reigning National League Champion Baltimore Orioles traveled to Petersburg, Virginia for a pair of exhibition games with the Petersburg Farmers of the Virginia League.

The Baltimore Sun noted that it had been a tough spring for the Orioles.  Third baseman John McGraw “the brainiest and pluckiest little infielder that ever trod a diamond,” was in an Atlanta hospital suffering from typhoid fever; he would miss most of the season.

Additionally, catcher William “Boileryard” Clarke was sent back to Baltimore with a sprained ankle, pitchers John “Sadie” McMahon and Arlie Pond had injured hands and both would be out for at least a week,  and shortstop Hughie Jennings was also slowed by a hand injury.

Hughie Jennings

Hughie Jennings

A light rain fell as the hobbled team arrived in Petersburg on the morning of April 6, the day of the first game—which ended in a 7 to 7 tie.  The Baltimore American said:

“Why the team did not trounce the Petersburgs is an open question, but whether it was because of the game on Saturday (in Richmond) or the rain, or the umpire, the Champions walked out of the gates with the humiliation of having made eight errors and feeling the added sting of having just escaped being beaten by a minor league team.”

Third-string catcher Frank Bowerman made two of Baltimore’s errors and had a passed ball.  He would be relegated to umpiring duties in the second game, scheduled for April 8.  On the seventh the Orioles defeated another Virginia League team, the Richmond Bluebirds, 4 to 3.

The American said the morning of April 8 “had been a pleasant one,” with local officials taking the Orioles for a tour of the Petersburg Civil War battlefield.  And, with the rain gone, “The warm sun put life into each club, and a pretty, snappy game was being put up by each side.”  Bowerman and Petersburg player Michael “Doc” Powers alternated as umpires for the game.

Doc Powers

Doc Powers

Petersburg was leading 1 to 0 in the seventh inning when Powers called Orioles third baseman Jim Donnelly out on strikes.  What happened next, and who was responsible, depended on whether you read the accounts in the Baltimore papers or those in Petersburg and the surrounding Virginia towns.

The Sun said:

“Several promising runs had been cut off by similar umpiring and the birds were getting very ‘sore’ at such outrages.  Donnelly objected and (Hugh) Jennings went up to Powers, who was standing behind the pitcher, and said something to him.  Just then (Charles) Sholta, who had also run up, struck Jennings a stinging blow on the side of the head without warning.  The blow drew blood.”

The American said:

“While Hughey was expostulating rather forcibly with Powers, Sholta struck him on the cheek.”

Charles Sholta--drawing from Richmond newspaper

Charles Sholta–drawing from Richmond newspaper

The Baltimore papers agreed that the punch Sholta threw was unprovoked.  Every Virginia newspaper disagreed.

The Petersburg Index-Appeal said, “Jennings resented Sholta’s interference by very foul and abusive language and was promptly struck in the face.”

Papers in Richmond, Roanoke and Norfolk agreed that Jennings provoked Sholta—The Virginia League correspondent for The Sporting Life said Jennings “hurled an unmentionable epithet at him—an epithet which does not go here.”

Everyone generally agreed with what happened next.  Orioles’ first baseman Jack Doyle punched Sholta, knocking him to the ground and Petersburg fans poured on the field and began attacking Doyle and other members of the Baltimore club.

At this point, there was more disagreement.  The Baltimore papers said Doyle was struck in the head from behind, knocked down and kicked by multiple fans.  While “Wee Willie” Keeler was allegedly “choked and beaten,” five other Orioles, Joe Kelley, Wilbert Robinson, Steve Brodie, Bowerman, and Jennings “were more or less beaten.”

The Orioles, according to The American were forced to flee the ballpark.

The Richmond Dispatch called the Baltimore accounts of the incident:

 “(S)o greatly exaggerated and so grotesquely inaccurate as to cause amazement, not to say indignation, here.  Not a man of the Baltimore team was hurt, and the grossly obscene language uttered by one of the Orioles on the park during the game, caused all of the trouble.”

After the Orioles returned to Petersburg’s Appomattox Hotel, another fight broke out between several members of the Orioles—including Brodie and Kelley—and local fans, one of whom was thrown through a glass door.   After the second fight, the Orioles were accompanied by police to the train depot and departed for Norfolk.

Arrest warrants were issued for Doyle, Kelley, and Brodie, but the three “left their team in Norfolk and (went) beyond the jurisdiction of the state courts.”  Only ten Orioles were available for the final exhibition game in Virginia, a 7 to 5 victory over the Norfolk Braves.

Jack Doyle

Jack Doyle

Sholta appeared in Petersburg’s “Mayor’s Court” along with two fans who said to have assaulted members of the Orioles.  All were released with no charges filed as a result of Doyle, Brodie and Kelley failing to appear—they were sought both as suspects and witnesses against the local defendants.

At the hearing, Petersburg’s Mayor Charles Fenton Collier said Sholta “had only acted as any other gentleman would have,” by hitting Jennings, and the mayor said he would have done the same “under similar circumstances.”

The Washington Times said the only thing unusual about the Orioles’ battle in Virginia was that it happened so early in the season:

“The Orioles are starting their rowdy tactics early.  Perhaps the champs think it just as necessary to train for ruffianly conduct as other points.  And to think that ‘college-bred’ Hughey Jennings started the riot.”

McGraw remained out of the lineup for most of the season—he did not return until August 25.  The fighting Orioles hit .328 as team—Jennings hit .401, Keeler .386 and Kelley .364—and went 90-39 cruising to their third straight National League Pennant.

Hughie Jennings’ “Doctor”

10 Dec

On October 6, 1898, Hughie Jennings, who, for the fifth straight season was the National League’s leading hits batsman, faced Jouett Meekin, the New York Giants’ notoriously wild pitcher —Meekin hit 89 batters in nine major league seasons and walked 1056 while striking out 901.

Hughie Jennings

Hughie Jennings

The New York Times said:

“Meekin began the game by hitting (John) McGraw on the head.  It was only a glancing blow, however.  Jennings followed McGraw, and the first ball pitched struck him on the nose, breaking it.  Jennings, after he was hit, staggered and then fell.  It was a swift in-curve, and the players on both teams rushed to the plate thinking he had been fatally injured”

The concern was warranted.  In June of 1897 Jennings was hit in the head with a pitch thrown by Meekin’s’ teammate Amos Rusie during the first inning of a game.  While the Rusie beaning was serious, it was likely not as serious as some sources claim–it has been said he was unconscious for three or four days, and near death.  These claims are belied by contemporary news reports, as early as the next day that said, while serious, the injury was neither life-threatening nor caused a days-long coma.

A newspaper rendering of Jennings' beaning by Rusie. The catcher is Jack Warner, Hank O'Day is the umpire.

A newspaper rendering of Jennings’ beaning by Rusie. The catcher is Jack Warner, Hank O’Day is the umpire.

The New York Sun:

“Last night the doctor said he was suffering from a slight concussion of the brain and a temporary paralysis of the right arm, but he declared his injuries would not prove serious and that Jennings would be able to play again in a few days.”

Jennings was back in the Orioles lineup in a week.

Still, there was reason for concern, Jennings had been hit by nearly 200 pitches since 1894, and according to The Sun, “his face was covered in blood.”  The previous season he had “pluckily continued in the game” after the Rusie beaning, until the second inning; this time he was immediately taken to the clubhouse.

It was there that his broken nose was attended to in an unusual way.

Enter John Joseph “Dasher” Troy, a major league infielder in 1880s, a member of the 1884 American Association champion New York Metropolitans.

Dasher Troy

Dasher Troy

In 1891, Troy had been granted a liquor concession, “running the bar under the grandstand” at the Polo Grounds.  Three years later The Sun said Giants owner Edward Talcott “quietly ousted Troy,” after the former player’s “attack on a grandstand gatekeeper and his threatened attack on Mr. Talcott.”

Despite being ousted from the business, Troy remained a fixture at Giants games—and would eventually reclaim the business after Talcott sold his interest in the Giants to Andrew Friedman, running it until 1900.

The New York Telegraph picks up the story:

“(Troy) was at the Polo Grounds when Jennings, of the Baltimores, had his nose broken by a pitched ball. Jennings was assisted to the clubhouse and a physician summoned.  The ‘Dasher’ followed in after the doctor, and pushing the latter aside, said to Jennings:

“‘Hughie, will you let me fix that for you?’

“Hughie looked embarrassed and said:

‘Yes, Dash, but here’s the doctor.’

“’Oh, to hell with him,’ answered Johnny, with his usual impetuosity.  “I can fix that nose in two minutes.  I have fixed noses before, and broken ‘em too,’ said Troy as he threw out his chest and glanced severely at the doctor.

“’Here boy, go out and get me a couple of pebbles.’

“The (doctor) brought back two small stones, and Troy put one on each side of Jennings’ injured nasal organ, and began to press.  The damaged nose was one sided, the cartilage being badly out of place.  Jennings said he could feel the grating as Troy gradually pressed on the stones and, sure enough, when the pebbles were removed the nose was as straight as it ever was.

“’There,’ said Troy, looking again fiercely at the doctor, ‘could you do better that that?  You doctors make me tired.’

“The doctor, however, when he had collected himself, said Jennings had better go to a hospital for further treatment, apparently not being fully satisfied with Troy’s treatment, or possibly his winning ways.

“Jennings did not follow the doctor’s advice that night, but (the following day) he went to Mt. Sinai Hospital.  A physician then examined the injured nose, felt of it carefully and said:

“’There is nothing out of place there.  Who set it for you?’

“’Oh, some doctor up at the Polo grounds,’ answered Jennings.

“’Well, said the hospital physician, ‘I never saw a cleaner or better piece of work in my life.”

Regardless of having his nose successfully fixed by Troy, Jennings’ all-time record for being by pitches 287 times took a toll.  He had turned 30 years-old just a month before the 1888 broken nose, but only played more than 100 games  once more—in 1900—and was, essentially finished as a player by 1902.

Another story about Jennings’ “doctor” Dasher Troy on Friday

“The Best First Sacker in the Game”

27 Nov

Raymond V. Wilson was one of the biggest stars of early black baseball. The Freeman said the captain and manager of the Philadelphia Giants was, at the plate, “styled the colored Hans Wagner,” and “in his heyday the best first sacker in the game.”  The paper also said he was one of the game’s best base runners:

“Ray Wilson gives no indication of speed or race, but he possesses these two qualities in a surprising degree, and his stealing is magnificent.  His strong point, however, is avoiding the man with the ball.  He has a slide which carries him outside the base and around, his spikes clinging to the base.”

Ray Wilson

Ray Wilson

It is unclear where Wilson was born, but he lived for a time in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania before he became a member of the Cuban X-Giants in 1898.  The Harrisburg Telegraph said, the following season, in announcing that local catcher Clarence “Wax” Williams had joined the X-Giants “Ray Wilson, of this city, is playing first base on this crack team.”

The Telegraph said that Wilson played for several teams in Harrisburg, initially as a second baseman, “but his ability was soon learned and he was sent for.”

Wilson remained with the X-Giants through 1906, and then joined the Philadelphia Giants where he played for the remainder of his career.

It came to an end in the mid summer of 1910.

In a game at Bronx Oval, Wilson and the Giants were playing the Brooklyn Royal Giants.  The New York Age said Wilson was at bat, facing Brooklyn’s Harry Buckner and “was hit on the head near the temple and received a fracture which necessitated his retirement from baseball.”

By late July he began exhibiting strange behavior.

Other sources, including The Associated Press, said he received the injury earlier in his career, as a result of being “hit on the head by a swift line drive.”

The Freeman attributed some of the reason for Wilson’s becoming “somewhat demented” on his reaction to the death of his friend, Giants pitcher Sy “Bugs” Hayman, who was hit by a car on his way to a game, and died on July 4, 1910.

Bugs Hayman

Bugs Hayman

The injury, regardless of how it happened, as well as any other contributing factors, left Wilson nearly incapacitated, and he was sent to his mother’s home in Pittsburgh.

Just a week after arriving in Pittsburgh, The Associated Press reported that he had disappeared:

“(H)is relatives have asked the police to find him. Warning is given by the relatives that Wilson is insane and that he may not be captured without trouble.”

According to those relatives he was suffering from hallucinations:

“One of Wilson’s hallucinations was that someone batted a ball at him and that it broke through his hand and hit his head.  On such occasions he would lie down for hours, helpless from pain from the imaginary blow.”

On the day he disappeared, Wilson “picked up a newspaper to look at the ball scores.  He saw something which stirred him, and dashed from the house shouting that his head was hurting.”

Several days later he turned up in Tyrone, Pennsylvania, more than 100 miles from Pittsburgh.  The Tyrone Daily Herald said he had been arrested by railroad police “after insisting on going on to Harrisburg without paying his fare.”  Wilson was held in the Tyrone city jail until his identity was determined.  The paper said it was unlikely he would be prosecuted because he was “temporarily deranged, this accounting for his strange actions on the train.”

He was committed to the Pennsylvania State Hospital in Harrisburg where he died in September of 1912.  Most sources give Wilson’s year of birth as 1870, which would have made him 42 years-old at the time of his death, The Harrisburg Telegraph, in their brief death notice, listed his age as 35.

There was an intriguing claim made by Wilson’s hometown newspaper during his 1910 disappearance—although it was probably a conflation of the story of Charlie Grant.   The Telegraph said:

“While (John) McGraw was manager of the Baltimore team he endeavored to get Wilson into the major league by claiming the Negro was an Indian.  The subterfuge was discovered and Wilson was forced to remain in the Negro nines.”

With statistics being incredibly scarce, it is impossible to judge just how good Wilson was.  But, 15 years after his death, George “Chappie” Johnson—who had been in the game for more than 30 years was interviewed by W. Rollo Wilson of The Pittsburgh Courier:

“You want an all-time team you say?  I’ll pick you one and will challenge anyone to name a better outfit.  On this team of my choosing will be nothing but smart men. Every one will be able to hit, to bunt, to think…Here is your team, and note that old-timers are few and far between:

Chappie Johnson

Chappie Johnson

“Catchers (James “Biz”) Mackey, (Bruce) Petway, (George “Tubby”) Dixon; pitchers George Wilson of the Page Fence Giants, Nip Winters, Joe Williams, (Charles) Bullet Rogan;  first base, Ray Wilson of the Cuban X-Giants, second base John Henry Lloyd;  shortstop Dick Lundy;  third base Oliver Marcelle, utility, John Beckwith;  outfield Pete Hill, Oscar Charleston, Jess Barbour, (Cristobal) Torriente.”

Note:  While it seems unusual that John Henry Lloyd, almost unanimously considered the greatest shortstop in Negro League history, was placed at second, Johnson told The Courier:

“Among the men John Henry Lloyd stands out as the greatest second baseman of all time, and he is supreme at that bag yet.  Of course he made his greatest reputation as a shortstop, but I always thought second base was where he belonged.”