Tag Archives: Bill Byron

“The Sacred Cloth”

26 Apr

In 1923, Bill Byron again didn’t make it out of April without being pelted by bottles. During a game between the Oaks and the Salt Lake City Bees in Oakland. The Salt Lake Telegram said:

“The smiling and sarcastic indicator…was the target for a volley of pop bottles and cushions in the eighth inning of the morning game, when he made what the fans thought a rotten decision. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t much good.”

The Oakland Tribune said Byron’s decision—he called a player out at second on a force when the fielder was, according to the home team and visiting team’s local papers, “fully eighteen inches off the bag,” which led to the incident–“the worst decision ever witnessed at a Coast League game.”

This led to the third attempt since 1920 by Oakland management and fans in, “petitioning prexy McCarthy against Byron, claiming he is unjust to Oakland.”  McCarthy made no response.

Byron’s long history of bearing the brunt of a physical attack from a player continued during a July game Between Sacrament and Seattle. The Sacramento Star said:

“Fred Mollwitz got himself into an awful jam…And the worse of it all was that Fred was right, DEAD RIGHT, in his argument. Not right in smacking Lord Byron one in the kisser but right in protesting that majestic gentleman’s decision at first base.”

The paper said Mollwitz had tagged Seattle’s Jimmy Welsh who was picked-off first base:

“Welsh’s hand was a good distance (from first base). Byron promptly waved him safe. Mollwitz held Welsh pinned to the ground and called for Byron to come over and look at it.”

Byron ignored him.  After allowing Welsh up, Mollwitz got in a “hot argument” with the umpire and was ejected and began to leave the field.

“It couldn’t be determined from the grandstand whether or not Byron said something or not, but, for some reason Molly turned around and poked him in the jaw.

“It took half the Seattle Aggregation and a whole assemblage of Solons talent to drag the battling first baseman off. After that it was a riot of nearly ten minutes.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reminded readers that Byron’s “favorite hobby (is) putting a chip on his shoulder,” and many suggested the umpire was to blame for the incident.

The Salt Lake Telegram labeled Byron “a player baiter,” and said, “Bill usually gets busted once or twice a year. Molly’s action isn’t at all unusual.”

Mollwitz

A group led by the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce petitioned the league president to punish Byron, their letter read in part:

“Byron’s attitude toward Mollwitz Friday was so provocative that any red-blooded American under similar circumstances would probably have done just as Mollwitz did.”

League president McCarthy once again ignored criticisms of Byron and said:

“Mollwitz’ act was cowardly and I am sorry I cannot fine him several hundred dollars and suspend him for a month.”

Instead, he fined Mollwitz $100 and suspended him for a week and chastised Mollwitz’ supporters:

“When the people of Sacramento cool down, they will find that Mollwitz was wrong and Byron was right. The suspension stands and I will continue to employ Byron.”

Whether it was his animus towards Oakland or something else, Byron showed rare compassion for a player late in the 1923 season, a pitcher for the Vernon Tigers named Merrill “Heine” File was on the mound against the Oaks.  The Oakland Tribune said:

“An Oak on second and Heinie File was pitching. He made a couple of balks and the Oaks howled loud. The squawking became so boisterous that Lord Bill Byron raised both hands in the air and in a loud voice said: ‘He’s only a young pitcher trying to break in!’ Then Byron went to the pitching box to show the young pitcher how to stand on the rubber. The kid balked again and then umpire Ward behind the plate stepped into the diamond and called a balk.”

Oaks manager Ivan Howard asked Byron:

 “How old a pitcher must be before a balk can be called on him, and Ivan refused to tell anyone what Byron told him, but we understand it was something about how old a fellow must be to know how to run a ball club.”

By the end of the 1923 season, the Tigers, not withstanding Byron’s attempt to help File, joined the chorus of people asking the league to part ways with the singing umpire:

The Los Angeles Record team owner Ed Maier and Secretary Howard Lorenz felt the umpire, “lost $1700 insurance for the Tigers and the Beavers, robbed Vernon of a ball game and deprived spectators of a right to secure rain checks,” during the team’s series in Portland. 

Lorenz told the paper:

“The game was tied when we finished the fourth. Rain was pouring down. Manager (Jim) Middleton of Portland urged Byron to call the game, but he refused. A Portland player made a home run in the fifth and Byron called the contest as soon as they finished their half.”

In December McCarthy was replaced as PCL president by Los Angeles Express sportswriter Harry Williams; The Sacramento Star said, “Byron announces he will quit the league.”

Byron sat out 1924 but missed the PCL and apparently, despite everything, the league missed him. He agreed to come back in 1925 but broke his leg and could not return. The Sacramento Bee said while team officials in that town had been among the umpire’s biggest detractors, they would have supported his return:

 “Just to show Bill that Sacramento did not have any hard feelings against him. Edwin Bedell, chairman off the baseball committee had planned to have a ‘Byron Day’ when Bill first appeared here.”

Byron never worked as an umpire again.  He spent the rest of his life in Detroit and died in 1955.

Abe Kemp, who spent decades at The San Francisco Examiner and was the only sportswriter still working on the West Coast who covered Byron’s stormy four years in the PCL, wrote:

“Bill Byron was my friend. He was not a man who made friends easily. He was a dedicated man; a man dedicated to the profession of umpiring baseball…He went out of his way to inflame (fans). As on occasions he went out of his way to inflame ballplayers.”

Kemp told a story about Byron that explained Byron better than any other ever written during his life:

 “’This blue uniform,’ he turned on towering ‘Truck’ Hannah one afternoon at Recreation Park, ‘has got to be respected.’

“From his lofty height of six feet four, Hannah carefully inspected Bryon’s sacred blue uniform.

“’You know Bill,’ he said slowly, ‘I would have more respect for your blue uniform if it didn’t have a patch in the seat of the pants.’

“Theatrically, Byron waved Hannah out of the ball game.”

The other umpire, Bill Guthrie scolded Byron for throwing Hannah out of the game:

“Byron leveled his ejection finger at his partner. “’Hannah cast aspersions on the sacred cloth.”

“Byron has our Players Feeling Like a lot of Spanked Kids”

23 Apr

Bill Byron resigned as a National League umpire after the 1919 season but “The singing umpire” couldn’t stay away.

He accepted a position with the Pacific Coast League (PCL) for 1920. The (Portland) Oregon Daily Journal said he was the only umpire in the PCL who did not have a reserve clause in his contract.

Byron was partnered with another former National League umpires, Mal Eason. The Los Angeles Evening Express said:

“This pair throws players out of the game on the least provocation.”

Byron

Byron cemented his reputation for throwing out players shortly after joining the PCL.

The Los Angeles Examiner said after he ejected five players during a May game between the Vernon Tigers and the Sacramento Senators:

“Byron, according to all accounts, is rapidly approaching that stage of popularity with everybody that caused him to be dropped from the National league.”

While his exit from the National League appears to have been voluntarily, The Sporting News later made the same claim The Examiner did, telling readers the umpire’s “chip in shoulder attitude caused his dismissal from the National staff.”

In September, Byron called Lu Blue of the Portland Beavers out at the plate on a play that would have tied the score in an eventual 1-0 loss to the Seals:

Blue

The San Francisco Examiner said Blue grabbed Byron, the umpire broke away and punched Blue in the nose, then:

“Lu hit Bill with a left hook and by that time every ball player, ‘copper,’ and umpire in the league were mixed up in one grand shoving contest.”

Blue got to Byron again and punched him in the eye. After that, Portland’s Dick Cox, “grabbed the ump around the neck and dragged him halfway around the park, while Bill’s nose proceeded to pick up stray hunks of pop bottles and rocks.”

Blue was fined $100 and suspended for a week, Cox managed to escape with neither.

Portland manager Judge McCredie was said to be “chafing under” Blue’s suspension, telling The Oregonian Blue acted in self-defense and that Byron should have been punished as well.

A month after the incident, Seals pitcher Sam Lewis yelled to the Byron:

“Hey, Bill, I know you are the king of umpires, for I saw Lu Blue of the Portland club crown you.

The Oregonian concluded:

“Even Byron had to laugh.”

When he was retained by the league for the 1921 season, The Evening Express said:

“Byron had an opportunity to return to the National League but preferred to remain on the Coast.

“Important if true.

“If true, it is too bad he didn’t accept (National League President) John Heydler’s offer.”

Byron was no less controversial his second year on the West Coast. In May, Oakland Oaks third baseman, and future National League umpire, Babe Pirelli knocked him down “with a blow over the eye,” after he ejected Pinelli for disputing a call.

Most of the players and fans–including one famous fan, actor Al Jolson–told The Oakland Tribune that Byron threw the first punch:

“Al wired President McCarthy of the Coast League at once, declaring that the umpire and not the player was to blame.”

Pinelli missed several games with an injured hand but was never officially suspended and was fined $50 by McCarthy who said, “he didn’t place all the blame,” on the player for the incident.

Shortly after the incident with Pinelli, Byron drew the ire of San Francisco fans for indecision on a ball hit by Morrie Schick of the Seals in a game against Oakland. Jack James of The Examiner described the play:

“He looked up. It wasn’t there.

He looked down. It wasn’t there.

He looked at both sides. It wasn’t there.

“He decided to call in an expert for advice.

‘”Where did it go?’ says to the Oakland third baseman a Mister White, temporarily taking the place of Mr. Pinelli, who recently assaulted Mister Byron, they do say, with cause.

“’Foul!’ Says Mr. White.

‘”Foul it is then,’ says Mr. Byron.”

Despite that call in their favor, the Oakland management—J. Cal Ewing and Del Howard—sent a letter to McCarty, asking the league president to not assign the umpire to Oakland games:

“Byron has our players feeling like a lot of spanked kids who are afraid to make a false move or stand up for their rights for fear that will get tossed out of the ball game and then be further punished by having a fine slapped on them.”

The request was ignored.

Soon after, Byron attempted to pull the trick he once pulled on John McGraw on San Francisco Seals manager Charlie Graham—pulling out his watch and giving his a minute to leave the field after an ejection.  Graham, said The Sacramento Bee:

“Graham grabbed the time piece from the indicator man…Byron tried to to wrench his watch from Graham’s hand but he could not do so. The crowd gathered around and finally Graham gave the ‘umps’ back his watch and left the field.”

Graham drew a five-game suspension and $50 fine.

Within days, Los Angeles Angels manager Wade Killefer was fined $50 and suspended for five games, and two of his players—George Lyons and Red Baldwin–were fined and suspended. Baldwin was ejected and given “thirty seconds” to leave the field, Killefer and the rest of the Angels came out on the field and “surrounded” the umpire, who promptly “declared the game forfeited” to the Seattle Rainers:

The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“Byron should demand a commission, for he fines more players than all of the other umpires combined.”

After Byron’s active first half of the season, The Express noted on August 1:

“Bill Byron didn’t suspend anyone yesterday.”

Byron’s reputation was such, that The San Francisco Examiner headlined a story about a riot involving players, umpires, and fans at an International League in Buffalo that resulted player arrests:

“Here’s one that Bill Byron Missed”

The Chronicle referred to him and partner Jake Croter as “the demon umpires.”

The Los Angeles Record said, “the much-abused umpire” had also taking up singing on the field again:

“When a player protests a called strike too vehemently, Bill will drone in a sing-sing voice:

‘”Can’t hit the ball with the bat on your shoulder; can’t hit the ball with the bat on your shoulder!’

“And when a player tells Bill things that Bill doesn’t think he is paid to hear, Bill grabs the whiskbroom and starts dusting the plate to the accompaniment of:

“’Some one’s going to the clubhouse; some one IS going to the club house!’”

Not everyone thought Byron was bad for the league. Carl “Boots” Weber” spent more than 30 years in the front office with the Los Angeles Angels and later served as treasurer for the Chicago Cubs. Shortly after Byron’s dust up with manager Wade Killefer and the two Angles players, The Los Angeles Examiner recounted a conversation between Weber and Byron:

“You’re an absolute attraction,’ Weber told Byron, ‘and I’m for you. You help to draw the people through the gate.’

“’Yes, and I help draw them on me,’ replied Byron.

“that’s just the point,’ enthused Weber. ‘Keep them on you. The more they get on you the more they will come out to see you, and that, after all, is the first and main consideration.”’

Byron, not particularly wisely, might have taken Weber’s comment to heart. In mid-August, The Bee said the umpire endured a “pop bottle shower” after making a call at the plate that cost the Beavers the tying run in a game with the Sacramento Senators:

“Senatorial ball players say that Bill Byron showed a lot of courage…it is said he never retreated an inch, nor did he look toward the stand from where the barrage was coming. Bill walked up and down the line never flinching…There was a little too much courage in the umpire’s manner according to the players, who say if one of the bottles had hit Bill on the head, he might have been through for the season, and perhaps forever.”

The Bee also reported that after the bottle throwing incident, a rookie pitcher named Carroll Canfield was told by his teammates to “tell Bill” that an opposing player missed first base.  The paper said the players meant Canfield to tell manage Bill Rodgers; the 18-year-old instead approached Byron:

“(Canfield) in a meek way, went out and told the umpire about the runner missing the sack.

“’You get back to that bench kid,’ roared Bill, ‘and watch those other fellows play for a coupe of years more before you ever come out and talk to me.”

Despite two seasons of controversy, PCL President William H. McCarthy enthusiastically retained him for the 1922 season, telling The Associated Press:

“Byron is as good an umpire as there is in baseball and the Coast League is fortunate to have him numbered among its list of officials.”

The Singing Umpire didn’t make it through the first week of the 1922 season before being pelted with pop bottles. During the April 15 game between the Oaks and the Seals, The Oakland Tribune said Byron called Dee Walsh of the Seals out on a close play at third base in the 10th inning; then reversed himself and ruled Walsh safe, “after a flock of Seals charged him from the dugout.”

The paper called what happened next, the biggest baseball riot witnessed here since the days at old Freeman’s park,” which the Oaks vacated nearly a decade earlier. After changing the call, Byron was showered with bottles and “surrounded” by Oaks players.  Calm was restored and Walsh scored on a sacrifice fly.

When the Oaks came to bat in the bottom of the tenth, Byron ejected Oakland’s Ray Brubaker and Ray Kremer who were heckling him from the dugout; the ejections resulted in another round of bottles throw at the umpire. When the final Oaks batter was retired:

“(F)ans dashed from the stands as a flock of gray-coated policemen sought to give Byron protection. Pop bottles and cushions were heaved through the mob and the dressing room was wrecked by the angered fans.”

He continued ejecting players at a clip that caused The San Francisco Examiner to say after a June game between the Seals and Oaks:

“Umpire Bill Byron gave the crowd a little taste of the unusual when he failed to prescribe an early afternoon shower for a single player. This was without doubt, the most notable feature of the game.”

Late in the 1922 season, he stopped what could have been an ugly incident and received unusual praise in The Los Angels Times. During the September 30 game between the Vernon Tigers and Seattle Indians, Vernon pitcher Jakie May hit Seattle third baseman Tex Wisterzil with a pitch, for the second time in the game, this one struck the batter behind the right ear:

“Tex was plainly out of patience, and started for the box in a brisk walk, bat in hand. Jakie awaited the impending onslaught with folded arms, fearless, dignified, and Napoleonic. Just when everybody expected the spark to be struck with the bat which would inflame the whole world, Bill Byron, the great pacifier, made a flying tackle from the rear and nailed Wisterzil’s elbows to his floating ribs. Thus, crisis was averted.”

The dinal Byron chapter, Monday

“A Good Plumber’s Helper but an Inferior Umpire”

21 Apr

Edward F. Ballinger of The Pittsburgh Post described Bill Byron thusly:

“(He) is looked upon among the players as the man who rendered more peculiar decisions than any other official in diamond history.”

Honus Wagner singled out Byron for rendering “the worst decision I ever saw.”

Wagner included the incident in his 1924 series of articles about his career for The North American Newspaper Alliance. He said he was stealing third in a game against the Giants:

“The catcher threw the ball into my feet making it impossible for Devlin—I think it was Devlin— [Note: It was Milt Stock] to pick it up. We both got in a tangle as I slid through a cloud of dust. The ball was bound under my arm where nobody could find it.”

Byron

While the Giants looked for the ball, Wagner headed towards the plate:

“About ten feet from home the ball dropped on the baseline. Now here’s where McGraw got in his fine work. He rushed up to umpire Byron, who had run down to third base to make the decision and told him I carried the ball to the bench in my hand.

“’If you don’t believe it, go to the bench and make them give it to you,’ he urged Byron.

“About this time McGraw’s attention was called to the ball lying on the base path.”

McGraw then told Byron, “That proves it. See! Wagner just rolled it out.”

Wagner said a confused Byron called him out for, “Carrying the ball to the bench with your hand.”

Wagner’s recollection was a bit faulty, in addition to forgetting who was playing third base. The incident happened on July 17, 1914, during the sixth inning of what would turn out to be a 21-inning 3 to 1 victory for the Giants. The game was, to that point, baseball’s longest game and both pitchers, Babe Adams and Rube Marquard pitched complete games.

As for the play, Wagner was not attempting to steal; he was advancing to third from first on a hit by Jim Viox and the throw came from center fielder Bob Bescher.

Contemporaneous accounts in The Pittsburgh Press, The Dispatch, and The Post all said that when the ball fell from Wagner’s uniform, it was immediately picked up by Marquard who threw to third trying to retire Viox who was called safe, rather than Wagner’s version where McGraw called Byron’s attention to the ball.

McGraw, said The Press, came out on the field at that point, “and told Byron Wagner was out.” The umpire agreed and also sent Viox back to second The Post said:

“The Pirates gathered around the umpire and raised a hubbub. (Fred) Clarke read the riot act and was motioned off the lot by umpire Byron.”

Pittsburgh protested the game, but Byron’s ruling was upheld.

Fred Mitchell, manager of the Cubs, was also not a Byron fan, and told Billy Evans in 1920:

“He hasn’t improved much since the summer (1917) he gave a decision that cost me $100 and the game. We were playing in St. Louis and big Mule (Milt) Watson was on the rubber. Art Wilson was at the plate. Watson, as he started to pitch, stubbed his toe and in trying to hold back on the ball threw it wildly and hit Wilson in the back of the neck. Byron would not let him take his base, saying it was a slow ball. I protested and consequently was chased and later fined $100.”

Mitchell’s details of the September 3 game were all correct, except for the outcome of the game. The Cubs beat the Cardinals and Watson 6 to 5. Mitchell had also, “had a mix-up” with Byron the previous day, according to The Chicago Tribune, when the umpire had initially called Tom Long of St. Louis out on a play at the plate, “then called him safe, although (catcher Rowdy) Elliott held the ball.”

Cardinals owner John C. Jones held the same opinion Mitchell did off Byron.  Earlier that same season, Byron made another questionable call on another play involving Tom Long. The Cardinals outfielder hit a ball off Eppa Rixey that appeared to be fair for a double. Byron, despite “the fact that a gap in the whitewash marked the spot,” where the ball hit called it foul.

Long was called out on strikes on the next pitch The Cardinals lost 3 to 2 to the Phillies.

So incensed was Jones at the umpire, whom The St. Louis Star called, “a good plumber’s helper but an inferior umpire,” that he wrote an open letter to fans that appeared in St. Louis papers. He told fans who were present, “The good of the game demands,” that they wire league president John Tener about “Byron’s judgment.”

Jones’ message resulted in bottles and other items being thrown at Byron the following day. Two fans were injured. Cardinal President Branch Rickey disavowed Jones’ comments:

“I strongly advised against it. In fact, both (manager) Miller Huggins and myself wired President Tener that the message did not officially express the club’s sentiments.”

Despite his comment that he did not support the club owners’ position, Rickey was more critical of the umpire in his telegram to Tener than Jones had been in his message to the fans:

“(His) attitude and manners generally were extremely antagonistic to the crowd…If Byron will keep his face to the filed and not parade about in front of the stands, he will have no trouble.”

The previous season, Byron “wrote” an article for The Pittsburgh Press. He said he became an umpire in 1896 only because he couldn’t find enough work in his “first love, steamfitting.” Over two decades he worked his way from the Michigan State League to the National League.

Before steamfitting and umpiring, Byron had briefly played minor league ball:

“As for myself, I am frank to admit that I was the worst ball player that ever broke into the Texas League. I managed to hold my job with the Dallas club for a while, but the race was too fast. It nearly ruined a good steamfitter. Afterward I played semi-professional ball occasionally in Michigan but gave up the game—and what was baseball’s loss was the plumbing trade’s game.”

After four seasons in the Michigan State League, he worked his way up to South Atlantic League, then the Virgina League, followed by International League and finally the Eastern League before his big-league career began.

He became well known—and versions of the story were told for the next two decades—for a call he made on August 31, 1909. In an Eastern League pitchers duel between the second place Newark Indians, with manager Joe McGinnity on the mound and Big Jeff Pfeffer pitching for the fourth place Toronto Maple Leafs.

The game was scoreless in the sixth inning with Newark batting:

The Detroit News said:

“Two were out and the batter (Joe Crisp) raised a high foul within the easy reach of both the Toronto catcher and third baseman.”

Toronto Third baseman Jimmy Frick and catcher Fred Mitchell both stopped when Newark “coacher” Benny Meyer yelled “I’ll take it.”

“The catcher backed away and the ball fell on the Dominion of Canada. Great glee broke out among the Newark contingent, who seemed apparently to conclude that the strategy of the coacher had won the batsman another chance to connect. But they reckoned without Mr. Byron.

“’Batter out!’ yelled the ump.”

McGinnity and “his entire team” came out on the field.:

Byron told the Newark manager:

“’He’s out on interference.’

“This set McGinnity fairly crazy and he frothed at the mouth, ‘But there wasn’t a man within 10 feet of Mitchell when he backed away,’ he screamed.

‘”He’s out on vocal interference; get into the field and finish the game.’ And Byron pulled his watch.”

Pfeffer and McGinnity both went the distance in a 13-inning game won by Toronto 1 to 0. McGinnity filed a protest with the league, but Byron’s decision was upheld.

Byron said the “secret of umpiring” was that “The umpire must keep his head and let the other man lose his.”

The umpire retired before the 1920 season saying he could make more money at his first love.  Evans said of his seven seasons in the National League:

“Like the rest of the umpires, he had his faults. No umpire is infallible, so Bill made mistakes like the rest of us, but they were always honest mistakes.”

He said Byron “always looked trouble in the eye,” and “no gamer fellow” ever wore a mask.

Despite his contentious relationship with McGraw, Evans told a story about a game in New York.  The previous day while making a ruling on a play involving fan interference, “the umpires were criticized” by reporters for their long deliberation. The following day:

“At an amusement park near the Polo Grounds, it was customary for an aviator to do a series of stunts. Usually the aviator paid the Polo Grounds a visit before landing. On this occasion, he flew unusually low over the grounds, so that it was easily possible to see him greet the big crowd with a wave of the hand. Evidently Bill Byron had given some thought of the criticism of the day previous unjustly heaped on the arbitrators for what was called a needless delay.

“Calling time and turning toward the New York bench, he addressed manager McGraw of the Giants thusly.

“If the ball hits the airplane, John, while it is flying over fair territory, it is good for two bases. If it lands in some part of the machine and stays there while flying over fait territory, the runners shall stop at the base last touched when such thing occurs. If the ball lands in some part of the machine while the machine is outside playing territory, it will be good for a home run. Play.”

Evans said McGraw “was shaking with laughter.

The press box was as well:

“Byron’s retort courteous to their slam had not gone over their heads.”

L. C. Davis of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of Byron’s retirement:

“It will always be a moot question whether Lord Byron was greater as a singer or an umpire. But whether singing or umpiring the fans agree that he displayed all the earmarks of a good plumber.”

More Byron, Friday.

“Byron was more to blame than I was”

19 Apr

After National league umpire Tim Hurst died in 1915, his American League counterpart Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“In the passing of Tim Hurst, baseball lost the quaintest character of the diamond. It was believed there would never be another one to approach him., but in Bill Byron baseball has a pocket edition of Timothy Carroll Hurst.

“No more fearless umpire ever held an indicator than Tim Hurst. Bill Byron runs him a close second.”

Evans said before coming to the National League in 1913, Byron was the subject “of many stories of wild minor league riots, in which Bill played the leading role without so much as mussing his hair.”

Fearless was one adjective used about Byron, but there were many others. After the 1911 season, Ed Barrow, president of the Eastern League removed Byron from the league’s staff. The Baltimore Sun said many celebrated the move:

“Byron’s chief fault is his stubbornness, and he, as well, is a bit dictatorial and oversteps his authority on the diamond…For the good of the game–in the face of many prejudices–Barrow has acted wisely in giving him the ‘can.'”

Bill Byron

Known as the “singing Umpire,” Byron’s “little ditties” were so well known that writers like L.C. Davis of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Willian Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star both wrote columns suggesting new songs for the umpire.

Davis suggested that when the Cubs Heine Zimmerman argued a call:

Heinie, Heinie, I’ve been thinking,

I don’t want none of your slack;

To the clubhouse you’ll go slinking,

If you make another crack.

Johnny Evers complained to Phelon:

“How can a guy tend to his batting when the umpire’s warbling in his ears?”

John McGraw was Byron’s biggest foil and foe, and Byron had a song for the manager of the New York Giants:

“John McGraw is awful sore

Just listen to Napoleon roar

The crowd is also very mad

They think my work is very bad.”

In 1917, in an often told story, after a game in Cincinnati, the Giants manager landed two punches before he was separated from Byron after an ejection.

McGraw

After the incident, McGraw provided a signed statement admitting to punching Byron, but blaming the incident on the umpire:

“Byron said to me: ‘McGraw, you were run out of Baltimore.”

When the umpire repeated the charge, McGraw said he “hit him. I maintain I was given reason.”

When Byron arrived in St. Louis the day after the incident to work a series between the Cardinals and Phillies, he refused to answer when asked by a reporter from The Philadelphia Inquirer if McGraw had punched him, instead:

“Bill pointed the right hand to the jaw. There was dark clot—which indicated that something landed as early as 20 hours ago.” 

McGraw’s justification for the attack notwithstanding, he was fined $500 and suspended for 16 days.

McGraw responded, claiming to be “discriminated against personally,” by league President John Tener,” and that “Byron was more to blame than I was.”

He said the action taken against him would result in:

“Umpires with Byron’s lack of common intelligence and good sense, will now be so overbearing with players there will be no living with them.”

But the feud had been brewing since the umpire entered the league.

In August of 1914, in a game where the Reds scored five runs in the eighth to beat the Giants 5 to 4, The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“The character of McGraw was shown by his getting into an insulting ruction with Umpire Byron…He was so angered at losing out that he pelted the official with vicious expletives and delayed the game for several minutes.”

In 1915, Sam Crane, the former player turned baseball writer for The New York Journal, and a close friend of McGraw, chronicled a clash between the two during a September 25 game between the seventh place Giants and sixth place Cardinals in St. Louis:

Byron was being taunted from the New York bench and decided utility infielder Fred Brainard was the culprit and ejected him:

“Brainard (in a startled voice: ‘Who me/ Why, I didn’t open my mouth, did I boys?’

“Chorus of players: ‘No, he didn’t.’

“A mysterious voice from a far corner of the dugout: ‘’Byron, you can’t hear any better than you can see. You’re rotten.’”

At this point, Byron walked to the Giants bench and gave Brainard one minute to leave.

McGraw responded, “You have pulled another boot Byron,” and accused the umpire of once ordering a player off the bench who was coaching at first base, and asked how he knew it was Brainard:

“Umpire Byron (turning pale): ‘I caught Brainard with his mouth open.’”

The Giants bench laughed at the umpire and McGraw accused him of always “guessing” at his decisions.

At this point Crane said Byron, “five minutes after he had given Brainard one minute,” removed his watch from his pocket and again gave Brainard a minute to leave and told McGraw he would be ejected as well. The manager responded:

“Why should I be put out of the game? I haven’t done anything. Neither has Brainard. You’re all tangled up. Do you know the rules? What time is it by that tin timepiece you have got there?”

Byron repeated the order and threatened to forfeit the game to St. Louis. McGraw said:

“Go ahead and forfeit. You will be in very bad if you do. Every one of my players here say Brainard did not say a word. You will be in a nice fix with Tener, won’t you. You will have a fat chance to umpire the world’s series. Go ahead and forfeit the game.”

Byron then summoned three police officers to remove Brainard, but according to Crane, the police sergeant said,” I will have to take the umpire along, too.”

This elicited more laughter from the Giants bench.

Crane’s story ends with McGraw chastising the umpire while finally telling Brainard to go, and Byron returning to homeplate while singing:

“Oh, I don’t know. The multitude and the players are enraged at me; but I gained my point. Oh, I don’t know; I ain’t so bad.”

And the game “then proceeded, and smoothly throughout.”

Crane claimed the whole ordeal took at least 15 minutes.

The Post-Dispatch didn’t mention police, implied that Byron clearly won the encounter, and said, “five minutes were consumed in this senseless argument.”

The paper scolded the umpire for the “bush league trick” of pulling out his watch, but said:

“In time, however, McGraw relented under the threat of a forfeiture, which means a fine of $1000, and Brainard went his way.”

McGraw might have gotten the better of Byron in their 1917 fight in Cincinnati, but in 1915 the umpire “landed twice” on Boston Braves third baseman Red Smith after the game when Smith renewed an earlier argument over balls and strikes September 16 in Chicago. Smith attempted to get at Byron after being hit but was stopped by the other umpire, Al Orth.

Byron and McGraw continued to butt heads and the umpire’s combative style and singing continued to draw attention.

George Moriarty, the Detroit Tigers infielder, turned American League umpire—who also wrote songs—and often included poems about players in the nationally syndicated column he began writing in 1917, said—in part–of Byron:

“It’s wonderful the way you face the throng of maddened players all season long;

While other umps get busted on the bean you pacify the athletes with a song.

You know that music charms the savage beast, and as they rush to stab you in the vest,

And tell you how they’ll tear you limb from limb, you sing like John McCormack at his best.”

More on Byron Wednesday.