Tag Archives: Bill Armour

“I might now be a politician in Chicago”

1 Aug

As part of his series of syndicated articles asking major league players to describe “How I Win,” journalist Joseph B. Bowles spoke to Detroit Tigers infielder Charley O’Leary:

Charley O'Leary

Charley O’Leary

“I learned how to win from (Tigers Manager Hughie) Jennings.  Now before he came to Detroit the team was as flat as Aunt Jemima’s pancakes, but he threw about a quart of Fleishman’s yeast into us, and we rose.

O’Leary played three seasons with the Tigers under managers Ed Barrow, Bobby Lowe and Bill Armour before Jennings arrived in 1907—those teams finished in seventh, third and  sixth place.

“The recipe for winning is to mix ginger, yeast and horseradish with horse sense and keep stirring all the time.  Thinking and hustling, figuring on every point, watching all the time for an opening and taking all sorts of chances is what wins.  One man can’t win—unless he happens to be the fellow who can stir up a dozen others and keep them fighting all the time and never giving up.  Without a leader, the best team will slack up the pace once in a while and maybe get discouraged.”

As for individual achievements , O’Leary said:

“All the success I have had has come from studying batters while I was in the infield and studying base runners when they got on the bases.  A player almost can tell from the way the batter and the base runner act what they are trying to d, or going to try to do if he only keeps his eyes open.”

O’Leary said he never attempted to steal signs, but:

“(I) can tell by the actions and the situation what is coming off.  Then (when playing short) I want a second baseman alongside of me who understands me and whom I understand, so we can work together.  There are some men who prevent each other from doing their best work.

“I make a study of where batters hit, and every day I get the fullest accounts possible of all the games played and study out where the balls were hit to.  Batters change rapidly.  Sometimes a player hits to left field for weeks, and the next time we meet him in a series, he is hitting to right field.  I find it important to know all the time, for sometimes it is five or six weeks until we play against him again, and in that time he may have changed completely.  I keep talking to pitchers who have worked against certain men and reading about them to see how they are batting.  Then too, lots of times, a weak batter will have a batting streak and a pitcher and infielder ought to know this before starting a series against him.  The best part of my success, I think, has been in being where the ball was hit, and a whole lot of this has come from studying batters.”

O'Leary

O’Leary

O’Leary, who had a reputation as a hot head early in career, said something else contributed to his success:

“I used to think fighting umpires helped win, but I want to say that is a mistake.  Playing square with the umpires and treating them decently and playing fair with opponents is the only way to win.  Fair play ought to be the foundation of the game.  I play as hard and fight as hard for a game as anyone, but would rather lose than hurt another player, or try to make an umpire look bad to a crowd.”

1909 Tigers. O'Leary is far right, bottom row. Jennings is at center of bottom row holding dog.

1907 Tigers. O’Leary is far right, bottom row. Jennings is at center of bottom row holding dog.

O’Leary did not make his big league debut until the age of 28 in 1904, and the Chicago native later told a reporter for The Detroit News that he nearly gave the game up for years earlier during his first professional season—with the 1900 White Sox, in the not yet a major league American League:

“The first team I ever played on, outside of (amateur teams) around Chicago, was the White Sox, and they took me to Detroit with them to play a Sunday game.  I nearly quit right then and there.  If I had I might now be a politician in Chicago.

“It was one of those games played out at Burns Park (Burns, just west of Detroit’s city limits, opened in 1900 to host Sunday games and circumvent Detroit’s blue laws).  We won by one run and as we left the park the crowd came at us with beer bottles.  It was the bottom of the bus for everybody , and as I was the most scared I got there first, I guess.  Anyway, everybody else pulled on top of me, and we rode into town that way.

“I was nearly smothered.  They had a hard time inducing me to believe that that was not an everyday occurrence.”

“The Nomad of the Interstate League”

25 Jul

There have been several incarnations of the Interstate League, the first began in 1885 and the final one played its last game in 1952.  None was more precarious than the one that operated in the 1890s, which newspapers annually announced was on the verge of collapse.  One Interstate League franchise, in particular, was always a little closer to collapse than the rest.

Frank J. Torreyson became the owner of the Wheeling (WV) Nailers in 1897.  He had been part owner of the Dayton franchise but just as that partnership was disintegrating the Wheeling team went on strike because they hadn’t been paid.  The league solved two problems by awarding the Nailers to Torreyson.

Torreyson had been a semi-pro player in Pennsylvania and managed teams in the Tri-State League. His first effort at team ownership involved starting a Pittsburgh franchise in the Pennsylvania State League in 1892.  By July He moved the team to Wilkes-Barre citing poor attendance.

His brother, Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson, was a 2nd baseman who had some excellent seasons in the Pennsylvania State and Atlantic Leagues; but by 1897 Thayer had literally grown into his nickname, and his best playing days were behind him.

Thayer joined Frank in the ownership of the team and continued to play and serve as captain.

In 1898, the Torreyson brothers moved the Wheeling franchise to Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Frank had necessitated the move when, immediately upon acquiring the franchise, he sold off the best players and alienated the Wheeling fans–he also played the two towns against each other.  While he was already aware he had worn out his welcome in Wheeling, he told The Grand Rapids Herald:

“I would very much like to have charge of an Interstate team here though Wheeling is a pretty good ball town.  We can’t play Sunday there, though, unless we get the grounds outside of the town which we expect to have if we stay there.”

He managed to get the city of Grand Rapids’ “West Side businessmen to bear half the expense “of readying two ballparks for the season—the team played most of their games at Recreation Park, but Sunday games were played at nearby Alger Park

The first home Sunday game was a harbinger of what was ahead for Torreyson in Grand Rapids.

Despite each person who “Patronized the grandstand” receiving “‘The Art Gallery of Prominent Baseball Players of America,” fans stayed away in droves.  Bad weather limited the crowd to “a few hundred,” and “stern luck was ‘agin’ the Cabinetmakers,”  Grand Rapids lost the game 6 to 5, and their record for the young season slipped to 2-5.

Things never really improved.

Throughout the 1898 season, Torreyson complained about the lack of support from the Grand Rapids community and threatened to move the team.

For their part, the citizens of Grand Rapids, while not actually coming out to games in great numbers, seemed to appreciate Torreyson’s effort.  In August, with the team in fourth place, The Herald announced that a benefit—whereby blocks of tickets would be purchased by the city’s leaders—would be organized to try to get the owner out of the red:

“Torreyson has given the city the best team it has ever had and this being a bad season f0r the game, there has been no money in it for him.”

There was no report of how much the August 19 benefit raised, but Torreyson, at least for the moment, expressed his gratitude in a letter to the people of the city he was desperately attempting to flee:

“The results show that Grand Rapids people appreciate honest endeavors for clean baseball.  Hoping to continue to please all, I am, respectfully yours, Frank W. Torreyson.”

Frank Torreyson

Frank Torreyson

Over the next twelve months, he visited a number of cities in Ohio and Indiana soliciting the best offer to relocate the team.  Attendance in Grand Rapids decreased further in 1899—while Torreyson’s club had hovered near .500 throughout the 1898 season, they were wire-to-wire doormats, mired in last place for all of 1899– and the already struggling Interstate League was in danger of having a team fold during the season.

In order to keep the eight-team league intact, an unusual trade was made.  The Columbus Buckeyes in the Western League would move to Grand Rapids and Torreyson would take his team to Columbus, Ohio.  The move would benefit both leagues by reducing travel costs.

In mid-July of 1899, the move was made official.  Fans, thrilled to be rid of the cellar-dwelling Interstate League club, filled the ballpark for the first home game of the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers of the Western League.  Newspapers estimated the crowd between 1600 and 2000; at least double the best crowd Torreyson’s team had ever drawn.

Columbus fans were less enthusiastic; 167 attended the first home game of the Columbus Senators of the Interstate League, a 4 to 1 loss to the first place New Castle Quakers.  The Herald said of Grand Rapids’ former club’s first game in their new town:

“That same old story comes from Torreyson’s team.”

The low attendance—they drew just 288 fans for their first Sunday home game– and  not very  friendly reception from the city of Columbus made Frank restless again.  Less than two weeks later, he relocated once more, this time to Springfield, Ohio, where his team was appropriately dubbed The Wanderers.  The team finished the season 49-91, 38 games out of first place.

 

In less than two years, Torreyson had incurred the wrath of the league and each member city.  The Fort Wayne News called for the league to take the franchise away from him. The Toledo Bee said Torreyson was “Ruining the Interstate.”  The Mansfield (OH) News said the transfer of the teams would have been better for the league “If Torreyson had been lost in the trade.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“The managers of the various other teams in the league say that Torreyson has done more to injure baseball in the Interstate League since he got into it than all other drawbacks combined.  The say that if Torreyson is permitted to wander about the country with a club in Columbus this week, in Kalamazoo next week, Erie the following week, Saginaw of Bay City the week after, and God only knows where after that, the league might as well disband.”

Early in 1900, a deal was struck to buy him out of the franchise.  The Youngstown Vindicator said the league had contributed to the purchase price in order to rid them of Torreyson, who they called “The Nomad of the Interstate League.”  Torreyson, The Vindicator said, “(M)ilked at least three towns as dry as tinder. But then the fan is the legitimate prey of the magnet.  Torreyson is now running a billiard hall in Braddock (PA).”

That wasn’t the end of Torreyson’s story.

He did, along with “Heavy,” open a billiard hall in Braddock—then two more in Homestead and McKeesport.  But Frank also became a successful thoroughbred owner and managed dozens of boxers out of a gym in Braddock.

Thayer "Heavy" Torreyson

Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson

Both made headlines one more time.

In October of 1911, The Pittsburgh Dispatch said Thayer was on his way to New York and, “He took with him $21,000.  He will wager this amount that the Philadelphia Athletics will defeat the New York Giants for the world’s championship.”

In 1912, The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said Frank paid passage for two boxers from Whales to come fight for him in Pennsylvania.   Leslie Williams and David John Bowen never made it to the United States; they went down with the Titanic on April 14.

Frank Torreyson died on April 10, 1918.

Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson continued to operate the billiard halls—and as The Pittsburgh Press said he was known to sell “horse race pools and (make) book on races.”  He also remained active in Pittsburgh area amateur baseball until his death on May 7, 1939.

A shorter version of this post appeared in September of 2012.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #17

10 Feb

Honus Wagner on Integration, 1939

As part of a series of articles on the long overdue need to integrate major league baseball, Wendell Smith of The Pittsburgh Courier interviewed many of baseball’s biggest names.  One of the most vocal proponents was Honus Wagner.

Wagner

Wagner

The then 65-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates coach told Smith:

“Most of the great Negro players I played against have passed on, but I remember many of them well.

Rube Foster was one of the greatest pitchers of all time.  He was the smartest pitcher I have ever seen in all my years of baseball.

“Another great player was John Henry Lloyd.  They called him ‘The Black Wagner’ and I was always anxious to see him play.

“Well, one day I had an opportunity to go see him play.  After I saw him I felt honored that they should name such a great ballplayer after me, honored.”

Rube Foster

Rube Foster

Wagner said the “Homestead Grays had some of the best ballplayers I have ever seen.”

John Henry lloyd

John Henry lloyd

Although he misidentified one of them as “lefty,” Wagner also said of William Oscar Owens, a pitcher and outfielder for the Grays and several other clubs:

“He was a great pitcher and one of the best hitters I have ever seen.”

More recently, Wagner said Oscar CharlestonJasper “Jap” Washington, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson “could have made the grade easily had they been accepted.”

Wagner concluded:

“Yes, down through the years, I have seen any number of Negro players who should have been in big league baseball.”

 

Uniform Criticism, 1923

The Decatur (IL) Herald found the state of baseball uniforms worthy of an editorial in March of 1923:

“Pictures of baseball players in training reveal that the season of 1923 has brought no marked change in the style of uniform.  It is quite as baggy and unbecoming as ever.

“Baseball players refer to their costumes as ‘monkey suits,’ a term that is supposed to establish some sort of connection with the cut of the affairs worn by the little animals that pick up the organ grinder’s pennies.  However, that may be, no sensible man imagines that his uniform accentuates his good looks.  It is purely a utility costume and smartness has no place in it.”

ruthandgehrig

Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in their “baggy and unbecoming” 1923 uniforms

 

The paper was most concerned about the uniform’s tendency to make players look foolish and appear to be out of shape:

“A collarless blouse with an awkward length sleeve bags at the belt in a way to emphasize abdominal prominence instead of athletic trimness about the loins.  Loose knickerbockers gathered at the knee resemble the khaki uniforms of the Spanish-American War period in their voluminousness and wrinkles…A cap fitting close about the head and bringing ears into striking relief is the climatic feature of this make-up.

“Underneath this covering of dirty gray or brown there are doubtless lithe limbs and well developed muscles, but the spectator doesn’t see them.  The baseball costume doubtless serves its purpose, it fails lamentably to make the wearer look like an athlete.”

No Women Allowed, 1912

Coming out of the 1912 winter meetings in Chicago, The New York Globe said:

“Nothing doing for suffragettes in the American League!  Not even if they march to the meeting.  They may be making great progress in their cause, but there will not be any Mrs. Brittons in the Ban Johnson organization.”

“Mrs. Britton” was Helene Hathaway Britton, who became owner of the St. Louis Cardinals after the death of her uncle Stanley Robison.

Helene Hathaway Britton with children Marie and Frank

Helene Hathaway Britton with children Marie and Frank

 “A decision was reached that no woman can own a club or even attend an American League meeting.  According to the owners it was a good decision, as they did not want to get into the same mess of trouble which the National League has encountered since one of its clubs fell into the hands of a woman.  Which shows the American League is constantly being benefitted by the experience of the National.”

The “trouble” referred to tension between Britton and Manager Roger Bresnahan, who she had given a five-year contract before the 1912 season.  The two feuded after the team struggled and Britton rejected numerous overtures from Bresnahan to buy the team.  She eventually fired the manager and a very public battle ensued.  Sinister “Dick” Kinsella, who along with Bill Armour comprised the Cardinals’ scouting staff, resigned claiming Bresnahan was “Not treated right.” Armour remained with the club and a settlement was finally reached when Bresnahan was named manager of the Chicago Cubs.

bresnahanandtoy

Bresnahan moved on to the Cubs

One American League owner told The Globe:

“I think it will benefit our league to keep the women out of baseball.  It is almost impossible to do so, but we must keep them out of baseball.  A woman owning a ballclub is about the limit, and the American League made a great move when they decided to bar female magnates.  Votes for the women may be alright, and we do not blame them for battling for them, but it would be a terrible thing to have them in baseball as owners.  It would mean the ruining of the game.”

Grace Comiskey, who became owner of the Chicago White Sox after the death of her husband John Louis Comiskey in 1939–she was forced to go to court to get control of the club from The First National Bank of Chicago; as trustees of the estate, the bank wanted to sell the team because there was no specific instruction in the will that his widow should take control.

She became the American League’s first woman owner.

The game appears not to have been “ruined” during her tenure.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #15

17 Jun

Fullerton’s Prediction

Seven years before he watched the events of the 1919 World Series unfold from the press box, Hugh Fullerton warned readers of The Chicago Record-Herald:

“Baseball as a great national sport is in greater peril today than ever before.  Not until the present week did I realize this fact.  The gamblers, bookmakers and handbook men, who ruined horse racing…and who made fighting a noisome scandal, have attached themselves to baseball this year as never before”

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

“The King of them all for Superstitiousness”

In 1916, Napoleon Lajoie, then a member of the Philadelphia Athletics, told The Cleveland Press:

“I have known many a ballplayer who collected hairpins, held his breath if he saw a circus horse, but Bill Armour was the king of them all for superstitiousness.

Bill Armour

Bill Armour

“If you put a ladder in front of the door to his room Bill would have jumped out of the window sooner than have come under that ladder.  I think he would have stayed in there and starved to death rather than let the ‘jinx’ take him overboard because he went under a step-ladder.   Me?  No, I am not superstitious, it’s all nonsense.

“Going to fetch me a black cat?  Don’t bring it up here; we have enough bad luck as it is without any black cat hanging around the clubhouse.”

Napoleon Lajoie

Napoleon Lajoie

Black cat or not, Lajoie was correct about the Athletics “bad luck.”  The team finished in eighth place with a 36-117 record.  The forty-one-year-old Lajoie hit just .246; 92 points below his career average.  He retired at the end of the season.

“Any old Manager can run a Team of real Baseball Players”

Bill Dinneen pitched in the major leagues for 12 seasons, and a month after his playing career ended he began his 28-year tenure as an American League umpire

Bill Dinneen

Bill Dinneen

In 1910, he told Joseph Samuel “Joe” Jackson, sports editor of The Washington Post, how major league clubs should allocate money:

“’If I were a club owner, I would invest $15,000 in a scout and $5,00 in a manger  And old manager can run a team of real baseball players  But the best leader in the world can’t make bad material good  Every major league team needs a thoroughbred judge of raw material more than a teacher of baseball tricks’’’

Jackson said Dinneen’s observation confirmed what he thought while watching the Philadelphia Athletics beat the Chicago Cubs four games to one in that year’s World Series

“His remarks come merely to emphasize what the world’s series showed—that a club that is hitting the ball over the lot, and giving its pitchers support, will set at naught all schemes to beat it by carefully thought out plans that might be applicable if the other fellows would stop making so many base hits”

“He Looked like an Animated Bean Pole”

21 Nov

Hall of Fame Pitcher Addie Joss was discovered, according to his first professional manager, by a man who made a living playing pool with his nose.

Addie Joss

Addie Joss

 

Bob Gilks was Joss’ first manager with the Toledo Mud Hens in the Interstate League.  In 1910 he told the story of the pitcher’s discovery to a reporter for The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader:

“’About ten years ago,’ says Gilks.  ‘I was running the Toledo team in the Interstate League for Charlie Strobel.“

Gilks said he was approached by “Professor Lewis.”  Professor Henry Lewis was the stage name of a man named Herman Cohn, who preformed billiards exhibitions using his fingers, nose and other body parts; Cohn/Lewis also considered himself a good judge of baseball talent:

“(Lewis said) ‘Gilks, I’ve found a pitcher who is a wonder.  He’s playing…in the wilds of Wisconsin, and if you get him and he makes good all I want is $25.  His name is Joss.

“I went after Joss and signed him.  When he showed up at Toledo he looked like an animated bean pole.  He seemed about six and half feet tall and weighed more than 75 pounds, but not much more.

“Joss was a weakling then.  He would go into a game and pitch all kinds of curves and benders for three innings.  Then he’d get tired and I‘d have to take him out.  He complained of pains and I took him to a doctor who decided that Addie had growing pains.

Joss went along this way all year, and next season he showed up sick again.    The doctor gave him some pills and cured him, and Addie grew strong.  He filled out and began to pitch like a whirl wind.”

Wilks’ contention that he was often required to “take him out” is belied by the statistics—Joss had 33 complete games in 34 starts in 1900.

“Joss did so well the next year (25-18) I knew some big league club would grab him, so I told Strobel, and he decided to go to Addie’s home, invite him to spend a few weeks in Toledo and keep him under cover so no one would find him.

“This was just before Easter and Addie didn’t want to leave home until after that day.  He persuaded Strobel to return to Toledo, promising to follow later.  And a couple of days afterward Bill Armour slipped into Juneau (Wisconsin) with Charlie Somers’ bankroll and signed Joss.”

Joss was 17-13 for Cleveland in 1902.

According to The Times-Leader, Gilks and Strobel failed to pay the pool player his $25 despite the tip which led to Joss’ signing.

A Ripley's Believe it or Not Drawing about one of "Professor Lewis'" billiard feats.

A Ripley’s Believe it or Not Drawing about one of “Professor Lewis'” billiard feats.

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.