Tag Archives: Barney Dreyfus

“Baseball After Dark Made its Initial Gesture in Pittsburgh”

18 Jun

With light standards set up just behind the first and third base coaching boxes, the Homestead Grays and the Kansas City Monarchs took the field for the first night game at Forbes Field on July 18, 1930.

duncanab

Frank Duncan at the plate, “Buck Ewing catching July 18, 1930

The night before, the Grays played under lights for the time.  A similar lighting system was deployed at the Akron, Ohio Central League ballpark, and Smokey Joe Williams shut out the Akron Guard, a local amateur club, 10 to 0, and held the Guard to two hits.

Ralph Davis, the sports editor of The Pittsburgh Press said:

“Baseball after dark made its initial gesture in Pittsburgh last night…More than 6,000 fans turned out through curiosity or other motives to see the spectacle, and the vast majority of them gave the night baseball plan their unqualified approval.”

Davis declared the field “as bright as day,” and said:

“With 33 huge floodlights as illuminants, the play-field of the Pirates was turned from inky blackness into something approaching mid-afternoon brightness.

“The scene was a revelation to many doubting Thomases who went to scoff and left the field declaring that perhaps, after all, the national pastime, if it ever has to be saved, will find night performances its savior.

“Hardly a shadow was discernible as the rival teams fielded apparently as surely and as speedily as they would have done in broad daylight.  Balls hit high in the air were easy to follow in their flight, and long hits to the outfield could be traced without ‘losing’ the ball.”

Davis said the one exception in the field were ground balls “which skimmed along the ground.” Pitchers he said, appeared “to use just as much speed,” as during the day, and the lights seemed to not affect the catchers, and:

“Pitched balls, waist-high or higher, were easy picking for the eager batsmen, but it looked as if balls around the knees were harder to judge.”

The first pitch was not thrown until 9:15, because “the darker it was, the better the lighting system worked.”

As for the crowd, which Davis said “The color line was not drawn,” and the number of black and white fans were roughly equal:

“It was a typical baseball scene, with enthusiasm just as evident as any major league game.  Rooters went into a frenzy when the Grays tied the score after the Monarchs had gotten away in the lead, and almost tore down the stands when they finally won out.”

crowdforbes.jpg

“The color line was not drawn” in the crowd

The game went 12 innings, and ended, The Press said, “Precisely at midnight,” when George Scales scored the winning run on a hit by catcher William “Buck” Ewing.

Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss was “an interested spectator” who “Watched the play closely,” Davis asked him his opinion:

“It is interesting, and provides entertainment for many people who cannot get away from work for afternoon contests.  It is not as fast as daylight ball, and I imagine the infielders have some difficulty in judging hard-hit grounders but it is remarkable how well the men handle themselves.”

Dreyfuss summed up his feelings:

“I don’t think night baseball will ever replace the daylight brand in popularity.”

Smoky Joe Williams, who had pitched in the Grays’ first night game in Akron two days earlier, agreed with Dreyfuss when Davis asked his opinion of playing under the lights:

 “’Night baseball causes an eye strain,’ said he.  “’It is all right as long as you don’t look into one of those big lights.  If you do, you lose sight of the ball entirely.  I’ll take the daylight stuff for mine.”

The next night, Williams pitched in the second night game to played in Pittsburgh, he took a 4 to 3 lead into the ninth inning when Kansas City scored five runs and beat him 8 to 8.  Two weeks later, Williams struck out 27 Monarchs batters under the lights in Kansas City.

One Minute Talk: Art Wilson

19 Oct

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

Art Wilson

Art Wilson

Art Wilson of the Chicago Cubs talked about the least favorite ballpark of  fellow catcher and former New York Giants teammate, the 6′ 5″ 230 pound Larry McLean:

“The distance from the home plate to the backstop in Pittsburgh (Forbes Field) used to be a terrible strain on Larry in the hot weather.  Every time a wild pitch or a passed ball got by him Larry would cuss out the man who laid out the Pirate plant.

McLean

McLean

“One night (Pirates owner) Barney Dreyfuss was seated on the veranda of the hotel where the Giants were stopping.  Larry had chased eight balls that afternoon.  He approached Dreyfuss and tapped him on the shoulder.

“‘Barney,’ he said, ‘you’ve got a great ballpark but it’s lacking in one detail.  You should have taxicab service  at the home plate for catchers to help them chase wild pitches and passed balls.'”

Lost Advertisements–The $30,000 Battery

30 Dec

otoolead

An advertisement from the spring of 1914 for Lewis 66 Rye from The Strauss, Pritz Co., of Cincinnati:

“When Barney Dreyfus gave $22,500 to the St. Paul Club of the American Association for the release of pitcher Marty J. O’Toole, the Pittsburgh National Leaguers up a new high mark in baseball finance.  To this sum, 7,500 was added and O’Toole’s battery partner–William Kelly–was also secured, giving the Pirates the highest priced battery in the world.”

The price paid for Kelly remains a matter of dispute.  The New York Times said he was acquired “for less than $5,000.”  The Washington Post put the price at $10,000 while The Pittsburgh Gazette Times, The Pittsburgh Press and The Associated Press said it was $12,500.

 

Kelly and O'Toole

Kelly and O’Toole

O’Toole posted a 24-27 record from 1911-1913.  He struggled in 1914, and with a 1-8 and record and 4.68 ERA in August, he was sold to the Giants, in 10 appearances with new York he was 1-1 with a 4.24 ERA.  Dreyfus’ “$22,500 Beauty,” was done as a major leaguer at 25 years old, seven months after the ad appeared.  He played four more seasons in the American Association and Western League; his professional career was over before his 30th birthday.

Kelly’s big league career was over before the ad came out.  In three seasons with Pittsburgh, he appeared in 104 games and batted .290, but was sold to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League at the end of 1913 season.  The Pittsburgh Press said the sale came as no surprise:

“Kelly came here from St. Paul with Marty O’Toole, but he has not developed as was expected of him, and has long been rated as considerable of a disappointment. It looks very much as if he were just a trifle shy of major league calibre.”

Kelly played four years in Toronto, hitting .227 in 280 games; his professional career was over at age 31.

 

 

Nick Maddox

9 Feb

Nicholas “Nick” Maddox burst on the National League scene in 1907. Born in Maryland on November 9, 1886, Maddox’ was born Nicholas Duffy, but adopted his stepfather’s name Maddox.

In 1906 the 19-year-old was given a trial in the spring with the providence Grays in the Eastern league.  He was released before the season began and signed with the Cumberland Rooters in the Pennsylvania-Ohio-Maryland League (POM).  Maddox had played in 1905 for the Piedmont team in the semi-pro Cumberland and Georges Creek League.

He was the best pitcher in the POM; The Sporting Life said Maddox was 22-3 for the Rooters who finished the season in fourth place with a 50-45 record, and was “the fastest pitcher in the league.”

Nick Maddox

Nick Maddox

Maddox spent most of 1907 with the Wheeling Stogies of the Central League.  He posted a 13-10 record and no-hit the Terre Haute Hottentots on August 22.  Maddox was purchased by the Pirates the following month and made his big league debut on against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cumberland Times noted that he faced a “double-jointed hoodoo of commencing his National League career on Friday, September the 13th.”

The Pittsburgh Press said:

“Nick was ‘on the job’ yesterday from start to finish, and acted more like a man with many years’ major league experience than like a minor leaguer who has been in the business but a few seasons.”

Maddox shut the Cardinals out on just five hits, struck out 11 and got his first hit, a single in his first at bat.

Eight days later Maddox threw the first no-hitter in Pirates’ history, beating the Brooklyn Superbas 2 to 1—Brooklyn scored on two fourth-inning errors.   Years later, Maddox said of his own throwing error that put Emil Batch on base:

 “They scored me with an error, but hell man, I threw it straight to the first baseman (Harry) Swacina.  Sure it went over his head but he should have jumped for it.”

Batch scored on an error by shortstop Honus Wagner.  Maddox said:

“I don’t hold that against Honus, he saved my no-hitter in the ninth.  A ball was hit right over my head and ‘pfft’ Wagner was over there to get it.  I don’t think he ever held the ball, he just swooped it over to first.”

The rookie started six games Pittsburgh, won his first four, and finished with a 5-1 record with a 0.83 ERA.

The Pittsburgh Leader said Pirates’ President Barney Dreyfuss claimed Maddox would be “the sensation” of 1908.  He wasn’t far off.

The 21-year-old was an impressive 23-8 with a 2.28 ERA with five shutouts.  Despite his success there was concern about control—he walked 90 batters while striking out just 70 in 260 innings, and hit 11 batters.

After three second and one third-place finish the four previous seasons, Pittsburgh, and Maddox, came into 1909 with high expectations.  The Pittsburgh Press said:

“Nick Maddox is facing a very successful summer, and with an even break and barring accidents he ought to push any other twirler in the National League for first honors.  He has everything a pitcher needs, and youth with it.”

The Press also said he would “start out with good control” based on his performance in March games in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

The Pirates lived up to expectations, taking over first place on May 5 and cruising to the pennant; Maddox did not.

The 22-year-old struggled for the first half of the season.  The Leader said he was having “a hard time getting into condition,” and was wild as a March Hare.”  Maddox got on track in July pitching a 2-hit shout against the Cincinnati Reds on the 6th, and four-hit shutouts against the Brooklyn Superbas and Boston Doves on the 14th and 23rd.

He ended the season 13-8 with a 2.21 ERA—overshadowed by teammates Howie Camnitz (25-6), Vic Willis (22-11), Albert “Lefty” Leifield (19-8) and rookie Charles “Babe” Adams (13-3 as a reliever and spot starter).

Babe Adams

Babe Adams

Despite going into the World Series against the Detroit Tigers with such a strong pitching staff, Manager Fred Clarke opted for the rookie Adams in game one and he responded with a 4 to 1 victory.

The Tigers beat Camnitz 7 to 2 in game 2.

Three years later, Fred Clarke spoke to James Jerpe of The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times about his decision on a pitcher for game three:

“I was in an awful predicament.  Adams had been used up.  It was had been raining, and it was very cold.  The chilly drizzle was something frightful.  The ball would get wet and water-logged and the problem was to get a pitcher who could handle the wet ball.  I looked the gang over.  Adams was out of the question.  He had been used up.

“I was figuring on the others, and I asked ‘Who can go out there today and handle a wet ball and win?’  Poor Maddox, sitting in a corner of the bench all bundled up with sweaters and other stuff, shed his extra clothes and jumped up.  Grabbing a ball, he said: ‘Gimme a catcher till I warm up.  I’ll handle this wet ball and beat them or break a leg.’  His confidence gave me a hunch, and I acted on it.”

Ring Lardner said of the game:

“Detroit’s record crowd, 18,277, saw the Tigers beaten by the Pirates 8 to 6, today in one of the most exciting and most poorly played world’s series games in baseball history.”

The Pirates scored five runs in the first inning off Detroit’s Ed Summers, and Maddox shut the Tigers down for the first six innings.  Detroit scored four runs in the seventh, aided by two Pirate errors.  Clarke said:

“Maddox wouldn’t have been in so much trouble if we had played ball behind him.”

The Pirates took a 8 to 4 lead into the ninth–Detroit scored two more runs, helped by another error—but Maddox held on and picked up the win.

He did not appear in another game during the series.  The Pirates won in seven; with Adams picking up complete game wins in games five and seven.

09pirates

1909 World Series Champion Pirates, Maddox is ninth from left.

 

The defending champions got off to a quick start again, but Maddox again started slow.  By July, The Leader said:

“Nick Maddox should have rounded into form..He is big and strong this year, but does not seem able to pitch good ball for nine rounds.”

He never “rounded into form.”  Maddox struggled all season.  He started just seven games, pitched in relief in 13 others, and was 2-3 with 3.40 ERA.

By August, with the Pirates in second place, six games behind the Chicago Cubs, The Pittsburgh Gazette asked “what was the matter?” with Maddox and why the Pirates had not cut him loose.

He made his last appearance on September 12, giving up a run, a hit and walking two batters in two innings of relief during a 4-0 loss to the Reds.  He was sold to the Kansas City Blues in the American Association 10 days later.

Maddox won 22 games for the Blues the following season, but continued to be plagued by wildness and arm trouble.  His major league career was over, and he was finished professionally in July of 1914 at 27-years-old when he was released as manager and pitcher for the Wichita club in the Western League after posting a 3-13 record.

Fred Clarke was convinced Maddox’ career really came to an end on that rainy day in Detroit.  James Jerpe of The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said that in 1910 Dreyfuss asked Clarke to release Maddox long before he sold the pitcher to Kansas City:

“’Why don’t you let Maddox go? You aren’t pitching him.’

“’No,’ replied the Pirate Chief sadly.  “I’m not pitching him.  He ruined his arm helping Adams win the world’s series.’

“And Fred narrated (to Dreyfuss) more of Nick’s gameness on that bleak and drizzly October day in Detroit when he gave his arm for a championship.  Nick was carried for a whole year and the club has been interested in his welfare ever since.”

Fred Clarke

Fred Clarke

Maddox, who lived in Pittsburgh, and worked for the Fort Pitt Brewing Company, after his retirement, lived long enough to listen on the radio to the last two innings of the next no-hitter thrown by a Pirate pitcher—Cliff Chambers defeated the Boston Braves 3-0 on May 6, 1951.

Nick Maddox died in 1954 at age 68.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #11

22 Sep

Floto on Baseball’s Most Powerful Men

Otto Clement Floto was one of the more colorful sportswriters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s.  The Denver Post’s Woody Paige said of the man who was once worked for that paper:

“In the early 1900s Floto was The Denver Post’s sports editor and a drunk, barely literate, loud-mouthed columnist–sounds like a description of that guy in my mirror–who didn’t believe in punctuation marks, wrote about fights he secretly promoted on the side, got into shouting matches with legendary Wild West gunman–turned Denver sportswriter–Bat Masterson.”

Otto Floto

Otto Floto

Floto, in 1910, provided readers of The Post with his unvarnished opinion of baseball’s most powerful figures:

John T. Brush—The smartest man in baseball, but vindictive.

Garry Herrmann—Smart, but no backbone; the last man to him has him.

Ban Johnson—Bluffs a great deal and makes it stick.  Likes to talk.

Charles Comiskey—Shrewd as can be.

Connie Mack—Shrewd and clever; knows the game better than anyone.

Charles Murphy—A hard fighter, but backs up at times.

George Tebeau—More nerve than any other man in baseball, very shrewd.

Barney Dreyfus—Smart, but always following, never leading.

As for John McGraw, Floto allowed that the Giants’ manager was “Pretty wise,” but attributed his success to the fact that he “has lots of money to work worth.”

Too Much Money for Players, 1884

The Cleveland Herald was not happy when pitcher Jim McCormick jumped his contract with the Cleveland Blues in the National League to the Union Association’s Cincinnati franchise.  Although teammates Jack Glasscock and Charles “Fatty” Briody also jumped to Cincinnati, the paper saved most their anger for the first big leaguer to have been born in Scotland.

Jim McCormick

Jim McCormick

The paper noted that McCormick, who was paid $2500 by the Blues, had received a $1,000 bonus to jump:

“(A) total of $3,500 for joining the Cincinnati Unions to play the remainder of the season.  This is equal to $1750 a month, which again divided makes $437.50 a week.  Now McCormick will not play oftener than three times a week which makes his wages $145.83 per day for working days.  The game will average about two hours each, so that he receives for his actual work no less than $72.91 an hour, or over $1.21 a minute for work done.  If he was not playing ball he would probably be tending bar in some saloon at $12 a week.”

McCormick was 21-3 with a 1.54 ERA in 24 games and helped pitch the “Outlaw Reds” to a second place finish in the struggling Union Association.  After the Association collapsed was assigned to the Providence Grays, then was sold to the Chicago White Stockings.  From July of 1885 through the 1886 season McCormick was teamed with his boyhood friend Mike “King” Kelly—the two grew up together in Paterson, New Jersey and were dubbed “the Jersey Battery” by the Chicago press—and posted a 51-15 record during the season and a half in Chicago, including a run of 16 straight wins in ‘86.

He ended his career with a 265-214 record and returned home to run his bar.  In 1912 John McGraw was quoted in The Sporting Life calling McCormick “the greatest pitcher of his day.”

The pitcher who The Herald said would otherwise be a $12 a week bartender also used some of the money he made jumping from Cleveland in 1884 the following year to purchase a tavern in Paterson.

Not Enough Money for Owners, 1885

In 1885 J. Edward “Ned” Allen was president of the defending National League Champions –and winners of baseball’s first World Series—the Providence Grays.  He told The New York Sun that baseball was no longer a profitable proposition:

“The time was when a man who put his money into a club was quite sure of coming out more or less ahead, but that is past.  When the National League had control of all the best players in the country a few years ago, and had no opposition, salaries were low, and a player who received $1,500 for his season’s work did well.  In 1881, when the American Association was organized in opposition to the league, the players’ salaries at once began to go up, as each side tried to outbid the other.  When the two organizations formed what is known as the National Agreement the clubs retained their players at the same salaries.

“Several other associations were then organized in different parts of the country and were admitted under the protection of the National Agreement.   This served to make good ball-players, especially pitchers, scarce, and forced salaries up still higher, until at the present time a first-class pitcher will not look at a manager for less than $3,500 for a season.  (“Old Hoss”) Radbourn of last year’s Providence Club received the largest amount of money that has ever been paid to a ball-player.  His wonderful pitching, which won the championship for the club, cost about $5,000 (Baseball Reference says Radbourn earned between $2,800 and $3,000 in 1884), as did the work of two pitchers and received the pay of two.

The Providence Grays--Champions and unprofitable

The Providence Grays–Champions and unprofitable

“Some of the salaries which base-ball players will get next season are; (Jim) O’Rourke, (Joe) Gerhardt, (Buck) Ewing and (John Montgomery) Ward of the New York Club, $3,000 each.  (Tony) Mullane was to have played for the Cincinnati Club for $4,000 (Mullane was suspended for signing with Cincinnati after first agreeing to a contract with the St. Louis Browns).  (Fred) Dunlap has a contract with the new League club in St. Louis for $3,400.  These are only a few of the higher prices paid, while the number of men who get from $2,000 to $3,000 is large.  At these prices a club with a team costing only from $15,000 to $20,000 is lucky, but it has not much chance of winning a championship.  To this expense must be added the ground rent, the salaries of gate-keepers, and the traveling expenses, which will be as much more.

“As a high-priced club the New York Gothams leads, while the (New York) Metropolitans are nearly as expensive.  The income of these two clubs last year was nearly $130,000, yet the Metropolitans lost money and the New York Club (Gothams) was only a little ahead.  The first year the Metropolitans were in the field(1883) their salary list was light, as were their traveling expenses, and at the end of the season they were $50,000 ahead.”

The Grays disbanded after the 1885 season.

Bowerman by TKO

5 Nov

“The Popular Magazine,” a literary magazine that billed itself as a “magazine for men and women who like to read about men,” was published by Street & Smith from 1903 until 1931.

In 1904, the magazine told the story of a fight the previous season involving New York Giants catcher Frank Bowerman.

Frank Bowerman

Frank Bowerman

Bowerman was not kept by Fred Clarke when the Pirates and Louisville Colonels merged after the 1899 season; his contract was assigned to the  Giants.  Apparently some bad blood remained into 1903, and according to the magazine, Giants manager John McGraw used Bowerman’s grudge and some comments made by Clarke to try to light a fire under his team:

“When the Giants were in Pittsburgh (on June 1) last season McGraw noticed that there was bad feeling in the team.  The men stood in little knots in the hotel corridor glowering at other players; they rode to the field in a bus without exchanging a word; the preliminary practice, usually so brilliant, was dull and lifeless.  This worried McGraw.”

John McGraw

John McGraw

The article said McGraw had figured out the cause a few days later in Chicago; Bowerman had sat in the grandstand for that June 1 game, being unable to play due to an injured thumb.  Jack Warner caught Christy Mathewson that day.  What McGraw discovered was that Clarke said Bowerman was overheard criticizing Warner’s work behind the plate, blaming his teammate for one of the two runs scored off of Mathewson:

“This, of course, was tantamount to Bowerman’s asserting his superiority over Warner, a boast that ballplayers are rarely guilty of.”

McGraw cornered Bowerman who insisted Clarke had told “the meanest lie that ever was told, and I told Jack Warner so, but he don’t believe it.”  McGraw told him to keep quiet about it until the Pirates visited New York on June 26.

“(McGraw) proceeded to reinject that esprit de corps by a measure so drastic that it horrified ball patrons all over the country, who, however, thought it merely an incident of the brutality of ballplayers.  Instead of that, it was a well-planned scheme of a crafty general.”

When the Pirates arrived at the Polo Grounds on the morning of the 26th, McGraw took Bowerman aside:

“’Frank, have you got a good right swing?’  The Michigan Lumberman smiled grimly and clenched a fist knotted and as hard as Hercules’ war club.  ‘Well, it’s up to you, then,’ advised McGraw, “to put life in the team. Don’t lose any time.’ Bowerman understood.

“”’I’d like to speak to you a minute,’ he said to Clarke, as the Pittsburgh captain was passing through the gate on his way to the clubhouse.  They went into the stuffy box office; where there was hardly room to swing a cat.  Three times Bowerman demanded an explanation, offering to bring McGraw and Warner in as witnesses…Clarke went down three times and finally admitted he had enough…The Giants played that day, to use the expression of a rooter, as though they were ‘fighting their weight in wildcats.’  Bowerman and Warner coached each other with pet names, and walked lovingly from the victorious field arm in arm, while Fred Clarke was buying a pound of raw beef.”

Fred Clarke

Fred Clarke

“The Popular Magazine” story added an element that differed from the coverage in New York and Pittsburgh newspapers—while each town pointed fingers at the other (in Pittsburgh Bowerman was an out of control thug, while in New York, Clarke got what he deserved for stirring up trouble) no one else suggested that McGraw engineered the fight to motivate his club against the first place Pirates.

The Giants weren’t able to catch Pittsburgh, finishing in second place six and a half games behind the Pirates.

National League President Harry Pulliam initially announced that there would be no punishment for either player because the fight did not take place on the field, three weeks later, under pressure from Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss, Pulliam fined Bowerman $100.

Jimmy Rogers

16 Sep

In January of 1897 owner Barney Dreyfuss and the directors of the Louisville, Colonels met to determine the future of the club.  The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“The most important meeting in the history of the Louisville Base-ball club was held last night at the Louisville Hotel.  It was marked by more liberality than had been shown by the club during all the years since it became a member of the big league.”

No one was surprised that Dreyfuss’ protégé, team secretary Harry Clay Pulliam was named team president, nor was it surprising that Charles Dehler was retained as vice president.

But no one had predicted the Colonel’s choice to replace Bill McGunnigle as manager.

McGunnigle had succeeded John McCloskey, and the two combined for a 38-93 record and a twelfth place finish.

James F. “Jimmy” Rogers would be a first-time manager; three months short of his 25th birthday and only 110 games into his major league career.  The Courier-Journal knew so little about the new manager that the paper got his age and place of birth wrong, and also reported incorrectly that he had minor league managerial experience.

While he had only played 72 games with Louisville in 1896 and only 60 at first base, The Courier-Journal called Rogers “the best first baseman the Colonels ever had.”  Even so, the paper acknowledged that “as a manager he is yet to be tried.”

Just why was he the right man to manage the team?

“One of the chief reasons Rogers was selected was that he is sober.”

Jimmy Rogers

Jimmy Rogers

Despite being “the best first baseman the Colonels ever had,” Rogers opened the season as the team’s starting second baseman; thirty-five-year-old minor league home run king Perry Werden, acquired from the Minneapolis Millers of the Western League played first base for Louisville.

The team won five of their first seven games, and then went 12-22 through June 16 when Rogers was fired as manager and released; he was hitting .144 and made 16 errors in forty games at second base.

Rogers was replaced as manager by Fred Clarke; the future Hall of Famer was two weeks shy of his 24th birthday.

The Cincinnati Post said the outgoing manager was not only to blame for the team’s poor performance but also for center fielder Ollie Pickering’s slump; Pickering hit .303 after joining Louisville in August of 1896 but was hitting .243 on the day Rogers was let go:

“The claim is made that Jimmy Rogers is responsible for the decline of Pickering.  The Virginian created a sensation last fall, but “Manager Jimmy” tacked the title “Rube” to Pick, and it broke his heart.”

Ollie "Rube" Pickering

Ollie “Rube” Pickering

Pickering was released in July, signed with the Cleveland Spiders, and apparently recovered from his broken heart, hitting .352 in 46 games for Cleveland.

Rogers would never play another major league game.  He was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates the day after Louisville released him, but became ill with the flu and never played for them.  A month later he joined the Springfield Ponies in the Eastern League and finished the season with them.  Rogers played for East Coast minor league teams until in August of 1899 when he became ill while playing with the Norwich Witches in the Connecticut League.

In January of 1900, Rogers died at age 27.  Two different explanations for his death appear in various newspapers; both may be wrong.  The Courier-Journal and several other newspapers said his death was the result of the lingering effects of “being struck on the head by a pitched ball several years ago while playing in the National League.”

The New Haven (CT) Register repeated the story about Rogers being hit by a pitch, and said that while that injury contributed to his death, he had died of Bright’s disease—a kidney ailment now referred to as nephritis.

Rogers’ Connecticut death certificate listed the cause of death as a bacterial inflammation of the brain.

Ernie Diehl

18 Mar

Ernest Guy “Ernie” Diehl’s entire professional career consisted of less than 60 games.

Every year from 1900 to 1911 he was offered contracts by professional teams and despite his time with two National League teams and two minor league teams he never earned a penny as a ballplayer.

By the time the 25-year-old Diehl made his first professional appearance with the Pittsburgh Pirates in May of 1903, he was already a well-known player. Diehl was the star of the perennial powerhouse Avondale team in Cincinnati’s semi-pro Saturday League, which The Sporting Life called “a fast, clean league.”

diehl

Ernie Diehl

Diehl was born in Cincinnati in 1877, the scion of a Cincinnati distillery empire; His father Adam G. Diehl had made a fortune in the whiskey business with his brother-in-law; together they founded The Edgewood Distilling Company.

He attended the University of Cincinnati and established a reputation as one of the area’s best athletes.  Perhaps even better at tennis than baseball, Diehl was a prominent amateur tennis player during the first decade of the 20th Century.

In May of 1903 when the Pirates arrived in Cincinnati for a series, the team was decimated with injuries and Diehl joined the team for one game, playing left field on May 31, he went 1 for three in a 3-2 pirate victory.

Despite being offered a contract with Pittsburgh, Diehl chose to return to the distilling business and the Saturday Baseball League.

In 1904, with several Pirate players hurt, Diehl was again asked to join the team; this time for 12 games.  The Pittsburgh Gazette said Diehl also spent time with the Pirates in Hot Springs, Arkansas that spring.

The Baltimore American ran a story before the Pirates arrived in New York in August:

“New Yorkers who attend the games between the Brooklyn and Pittsburgh teams will be treated to an opportunity of seeing the work in the field of a millionaire ballplayer.”

While he hit just .162 for the Pirates in 1904, that did not diminish Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss’ desire to sign Diehl.

Before the 1905 season Dreyfuss told The Pittsburgh Press:

“The one player I would like to get on the team is beyond my reach… His name is Ernest Diehl…He is one of the best baseball players I ever saw.”

Dreyfuss also called Diehl “One of the best all-around athletes,” he had seen.  The Press said that although Diehl was required to sign a contract for his time with the Pirates in 1903 and ’04:

“Diehl never received a penny of salary from President Dreyfuss.”

Barney Dreyfuss

Barney Dreyfuss

Dreyfuss, and every other owner who offered Diehl a contract was unsuccessful in securing him for the 1905 season; Diehl spent the season playing in the Saturday League and in several tennis tournaments across the country.

He again played tennis and semi-pro ball in 1906, until August when the Boston Beaneaters came to Cincinnati. Shortstop Al Bridwell was injured, and Diehl was signed (again for no salary) to play for Boston in the three-game series.

The Associated Press reported:

“’Ernie’ Diehl, a wealthy young distiller of this city, an enthusiastic athlete, long known as a brilliant baseball player on local amateur teams, distinguished himself in the series just played…He played three games in the Boston ranks…He made five hits in eleven times at bat…Diehl could not afford to enter professional ball if he desired, at the highest salary paid in the organization, on account of his business, but is delighted and satisfied with his experience…Besides his heavy batting, his fielding was strictly up to the professional standard.”

Just as he had in Pittsburgh, Diehl turned down an offer to stay with Boston for the remainder of the 1906 season.

In 1907, Diehl appeared in 21 games for the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association, hitting .405.  The Toledo News-Bee said Diehl was spending “His vacation…helping out the Toledo club.”  The Associated Press said that as in the past, “Diehl is wealthy and refused to accept pay for his services.”

In addition to his business interests, amateur tennis and baseball career, and professional baseball “vacations,” Diehl also served on Cincinnati’s city council from, roughly, 1906-1910.

In 1909 Diehl played in one game of a doubleheader for the Boston Doves on August 12 against the Reds, he was 2 for 4 with a double—it would be his last in the National League

Diehl then joined the eventual American Association champion Louisville Colonels, at the request of his friend and fellow Cincinnatian, manager Heinie Peitz.  (Baseball Reference lists a player as “Diehl,” with no first name on the 1909 Louisville roster, with a .226 average in 20 games).

The Sporting Life said Diehl “figured very prominently in Louisville’s winning the championship of the A.A. will again be in Colonel garb,” in 1910; Diehl did not play for Louisville, or any other professional team again.

In 1911 The Associated Press and Cincinnati newspapers said the 33-year-old Diehl had a deal in place with Reds manager Clark Griffith to join the team at some point during the season; as with Louisville, that deal never materialized either.

Diehl was briefly mentioned as a candidate to replace Griffith as Reds manager in 1912, the job eventually went to Hank O’Day.

Diehl’s career was summed up well in a 1914 Baseball Magazine article by William A.  Phelon:

“For ten years it has been a tacitly accepted fact, around the big leagues and whenever players or managers assembled, that Ernie Diehl was not only of major league quality, but what might be called super-quality—the Wagner-Lajoie-Cobb variety.  He could hit, run, and break up a defense with anybody, and was a versatile artist in five or six positions.  Business held him; there never was a chance for him to spend a full season in the game; year after year, in short vacation frolics, he showed the professionals what he could do—and now, getting on in years, with business still gripping him, he sadly gives it up, and lays aside the bat and glove he never had a fair chance to use.”

Diehl’s Edgewood Distilling Company seems to have been dissolved sometime around 1918, and he eventually settled in Miami where he died in 1958.

“Bill Abstein Denies he is a Bonehead”

20 Feb

Pittsburgh Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss and manager Fred Clarke felt all they needed to win a World Series was a first baseman.  Since winning the National League Pennant with Kitty Bransfield in 1903, only one Pirate first baseman hit better than .260 (Del Howard .292 in 1905).

In 1908 the Pirates finished second with four different first basemen, Harry Swacina, Alan Storke, Jim Kane and Warren Gill; none played more than 50 games, none hit better than .258 and they combined for 29 errors.

The man who took over in 1909, and was with the Pirates for their World Series victory, might have preferred to have never been given the job.

Bill Abstein had played eight games at second base and in the outfield for the Pirates in 1906, before returning to minors.

-Abstein had put up respectable, but by no means spectacular, numbers with the Shreveport Pirates in the Southern Association and Providence Grays in the Eastern League from 1906 to 1908—but as early as August of 1908 The Pittsburgh Press said he was the answer to the Pirates problem at first base:

“Fred Clarke is very eager to secure Bill Abstein from Providence.  Bill is rated the best first baseman in the Eastern League, and he would no doubt strengthen the Pirates where they are weak.”

When Abstein joined the Pirates before the 1909 season The Press said:

“The acquisition of bill Abstein has rounded our infield nicely.  He’s the best first baseman we have had in years and he certainly fits in nicely.”

???????????????????????????????

Abstein, Providence 1908

In a letter sent to Dreyfuss with his contract, Abstein told the Pirate owner:

“Fred Clarke will not have to worry about a first baseman after he sees this big German hustling around the bag.”

In keeping with his career performance, Abstein had a respectable season for the pirates.  He hit .260 and drove in 70 runs.  His 27 errors were only a slight improvement over 1908’s first baseman by committee.

The Pirates won 110 games and won the National League Pennant by six and half games over the Chicago Cubs and met the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.  The series would be the beginning of the end of Abstein’s Major League career.

09pirates

1909 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, Abstein 11th from left.

Abstein struggled at the plate (6 for 29 with nine strikeouts) and in the field (5 errors total, 2 each in games 3 and 4).  The Pirates won the series in seven games, but despite the victory, Abstein quickly became the subject of ridicule in Pittsburgh.

An Associated Press article after the series said:

“During the games with Detroit Abstein appeared to forget all that he knew about base ball.  He ran the bases foolishly, made a number of costly errors, failed to hit and disobeyed orders.  In fact, his playing was worse than that of any other man on either team.  The other Pirates, seeing that Abstein was the ‘goat’ for the combination, kept up the cry against him…Before the series was ended many of the Pirates shunned Abstein and it was reported he would be traded.”

The Pittsburgh Press was less generous:

“Bill Abstein denies he is a bonehead and says baseball is largely a case of ‘if-you-can-get-away-with-it,’ well it’s a cinch that Bill couldn’t in the National League.”

The Pirates were unable to trade Abstein and finally put him on waivers.  He was claimed by his hometown St. Louis Browns.

Even though the Pirates had actually won the Worlds Series and even though Abstein was gone, that didn’t mean the Pirates, and The Pittsburgh Press, wouldn’t continue to pile on.

Barney Dreyfuss told The Associated Press shortly after Abstein was claimed by St. Louis:

“We have discarded the weakest offensive player we had—Abstein—and hope to improve the team by doing so.”

Dreyfuss also claimed:

“Fred (Clarke) told me as early as last June that we should get someone else for Abstein’s place in 1910, as Bill mixed up the team’s plays too frequently.”

The Pittsburgh Leader said:

“(Abstein) had deplorable batting weaknesses which the opposing pitchers were certain to fathom in time.”

The Pittsburgh Press was even less generous:

“Bill Abstein is reported to be making a hit with the Browns by his work in the spring practice.  Just wait about three months friends, before declaring Bonehead Bill a wonder.”

When the Pirates sold pitcher Vic Willis the St. Louis Cardinals in February of 1910, newspapers reported that Willis and Abstein had “engaged in a bitter fight,” during the series.

Abstein quickly wore out his welcome in his own hometown of St. Louis.  Abstein made 11 errors in 23 games at first base and hit .149; he was released on June 2, 1910.  It appears Abstein was no more popular with Browns Manager Jack O’Connor than he was in Pittsburgh.  O’Connor was quoted in The St. Louis Times in May:

“How did Abstein get away with it last year?  How could he make plays like he has been making for me and get away with it all year for Pittsburgh?  I never dreamed that some of the plays made by him were even possible.”

His Major League career over, Abstein returned to the minor leagues for seven seasons.  He had one above average year with the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League in 1914; in 202 games he hit .308, with 234 hits and 40 doubles.

Abstein moved on, Pittsburgh apparently did not.  For years, Pittsburgh newspapers took every opportunity to take a shot at the first baseman.  In 1915 The Pittsburgh Press, in an article about the revolving door the Pirates still had at first base–in the five post-Abstein seasons, the Pirates had four different starting first baseman–(emphasis theirs):

“No one will ever forget the way Bill did NOT play the bag in the Worlds Series.  In fact, Bill did NOT play the bag all the time he was stationed there.”

Pittsburgh finally seemed to move on by the time they won their next world Championship in 1925.  Abstein died in St. Louis in 1940.

Larry McLean

8 Jan

At 6’ 5” John Bannerman “Larry” McLean is still the tallest catcher to have played in the Major Leagues nearly a century after his final game.  Born in New Brunswick, Canada, McLean’s ability was mostly overshadowed by his frequent off-field troubles during his career.

McLean bounced between the minor leagues, semi-pro teams, and trials with the Boston Americans, Chicago Cubs and Saint Louis Cardinals from 1901-1904.  McLean joined the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League in 1905 and it was here that he developed into a good ballplayer and a first-rate baseball character.

Larry McLean

Larry McLean

McLean hit .285 in 182 games with Portland in 1905, but also started to show signs of the troubles that would plague him for the remainder of his career; Portland added a “temperance clause” to his contract and McLean, who had originally planned on a boxing career, loved to fight.

In 1906, while hitting .355 for Portland, and catching the eye of the Cincinnati Reds who would purchase his contract in August; McLean announced that he was going to become a professional fighter.

The wire report which ran in The Bakersfield Daily Californian said:

“McLean the giant catcher of the Portland team…He is so big that umpires walk out behind the pitcher so they judge balls and strikes…announces that he will fight any man in the world, Big Jeff (Jim Jeffries) not barred.”

The story said McLean was training with Tom Corbett (older brother of “Gentleman Jim” Corbett) and Corbett said he “has a ‘sure ‘nuff’ champion in the big catcher.”

Talk of a ring career temporarily ended when McLean joined the Reds, but McLean’s legend grew.  In November of 1906, he caught a murderer while in a subway station with his wife.  The Boston Post said the suspect:

“Was seen to pull a gun and pump five bullets (into the victim)…Larry started after him and collard him just outside the entrance.  (McLean had the suspect) pinioned so he could not move.  The police soon arrived and took charge of McLean’s prisoner.”

McLean was a huge hit with Havana fans the following winter when the Reds touring Cuba; The Sporting Life said:

“Larry McLean was the favorite and every time he caught a ball the crowd applauded. McLean has been dubbed by the baseball fans ‘Chiquito.’”

McLean and Chicago White Sox pitcher Frank Smith were mentioned at various times as possible opponents for heavyweight champion Jack Johnson; boxing writer Tommy Clark said in 1910 that McLean “Thinks he has a good chance of lowering Johnson’s colors.”

But while McLean was a fan favorite he regularly ran afoul of Cincinnati management and none of the managers he played for was able to keep him out of trouble.

While with the Reds McLean was arrested at least four times–for disorderly conduct, passing a bad check and two assaults.  In one case, at the Savoy Hotel in Cincinnati, McLean knocked a newspaper man from Toledo unconscious after the man “Reproved McLean for using a vile name.”

While serving a suspension for breaking team rules in 1910 McLean Said:

“When I get back to Cincinnati there will be 25,000 fans at the depot waiting to shake hands with me.”

Frank Bancroft, Reds secretary and former manager said in response:

“Twenty-five thousand, why, they’ve not that many barkeepers in Cincinnati”

McLean had worn out his welcome by 1910, but Cincinnati was not able to find any takers for the catcher.  Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss said, “I wouldn’t give 30 cents for Larry McLean.”

McLean stayed with the Reds for two more seasons, but when Joe Tinker took over the team one of his first moves was to sell McLean to the Saint Louis Cardinals in January of 1913.  McLean said he had finally learned his lesson and promised to behave with the Cardinals:

“They didn’t want me around because they said I was a bum. Now I’m going to fool Tinker.”

McLean did behave himself in Saint Louis and seemed to appreciate the opportunity he was given by his former Reds teammate, manager Miller Huggins, even earning a “good behavior” incentive in his contract, and was hitting .270 for the Cardinals, but the cash-strapped team went with the younger, cheaper Ivey Wingo behind the plate and traded McLean to the New York Giants for Pitcher Doc Crandall.

Larry McLean, standing end right, Miller Huggins, standing end left, and Frank Bancroft, standing middle (in suit) on the 1908 Cuban tour.

Larry McLean, standing 5th from left, Miller Huggins, standing end left, and Frank Bancroft, standing middle (in suit) on the 1908 Cuban tour.

The rest of the McLean story tomorrow.