Tag Archives: Bill Donovan

“It was Hard for me to get Used to Some of the Boneheads”

4 Oct

Most baseball writers and dozens of baseball figures caught the twenty greatest “fever” during 1911 and 1912.

After Frank Baker hit .375 with two home runs and five RBIs, leading the Philadelphia Athletics to their 1911 World Series victory over the New York Giants, Grantland Rice opined in The New York Mail:

baker2

Frank Baker

“The twenty greatest ballplayers, picked exclusively for this column by John McGraw and the Giants—John Franklin Baker.”

The Washington Times said Germany Schaefer was asked to put his twenty greatest list together shortly after the end of his best season in 1911:

“Write ‘em out and send ‘em to me,’ the newspaperman suggested.

“Germany did.  The list read as follows: ‘Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, and Germany Schaefer.’”

Germany Schaefer

Schaefer

The Philadelphia Record asked Connie Mack for his twenty greatest list, Mack refused but told the paper “if his life depended on any game of ball,” he would start Chief Bender:

“Do you know, Bender has never yet failed me in a crisis?  Whenever there is a game that the fortunes of our club hinge on I’ve sent in the Chief and he has delivered every time.”

Billy Hamilton, who made a couple of the lists that circulated during 1911 and 1912, told The Boston Globe he was upset no one had named his former teammate Marty Bergen:

“Why, I can’t see how you can possibly leave him out…He and Buck Ewing were in a class by themselves among the men I have seen behind the bat.  I have never seen anything like that snap throw of Martin’s, with the ball always on the runner.”

Wild Bill Donovan then put Bergen on the list he chose for The Detroit News:

  • Ed Walsh
  • Jim Hughes
  • Christy Mathewson
  • Duke Farrell
  • Marty Bergen
  • Hal Chase
  • Fred Tenney
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Eddie Collins
  • Jimmy Collins
  • John McGraw
  • Hughie Jennings
  • Herman Long
  • Ty Cobb
  • Bill Lange
  • Ed Delahanty
  • Willie Keeler
  •  Fielder Jones
  • Fred Clarke
  • Bobby Wallace

Donovan told the paper of Ed Walsh:

“If Walsh were worked about once in four days, instead of being asked to go in three times a week as often is the case now, I believe that he would be unbeatable.”

edwalsh

Ed Walsh

In lauding Farrell, his teammate in Brooklyn, Donovan took a swipe at many of the catchers he worked with during his career:

“The big Duke was a wonderfully heady man, and the only catcher who ever lived on whom it was impossible to work the hit and run game.  Any time Duke called for a waste ball, you could bet your next paycheck that the runner was going to go down.  After pitching to man of his intelligence it was hard for me to get used to some of the boneheads that I encountered later.”

One more list—attributed to several papers and sportswriters at the time—appeared first in The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, and chronicled the “Twenty greatest blunders in baseball:”

20blunders

As the craze was dying down, The Chicago Tribune said Ted Sullivan, the man who I credited with discovering Charles Comiskey—and Comiskey’s favorite scout, would put together “a list of the twenty greatest baseball actuaries of all time were he not a bit doubtful about the other nineteen.”

“The Twenty Greatest Fever”

2 Oct

In November of 1911, an interviewer asked industrialist Andrew Carnegie to name the 20 greatest men of all time.  Within days, Carnegie’s list was parsed and picked apart, and led to what The Chicago Daily News called “The twenty greatest fever.”

Lists of the twenty greatest everything appeared in papers across the country for the next year.  Of course, the question was put to many baseball figures and led to a number of interesting lists and quotes.

One of the first to weigh in was Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, in The Daily News:

  • Buck Ewing
  • King Kelly
  • Cap Anson
  • Charlie Ferguson
  • Fred Pfeffer
  • Eddie Collins
  • Honus Wagner
  • Jack Glasscock
  • Harry Lord
  • Ty Cobb
  • Fred Clarke
  • Willie Keeler
  • Tom McCarthy
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Charles Radbourn
  • Bobby Caruthers
  • Christy Mathewson
  •  Clark Griffith
  • Ed Walsh
comiskeypix

Charles Comiskey

Comiskey said Eddie Collins, who would acquire for $50,000 three years later, was the best current player:

“He’s got it on all the others in the game today.  I don’t know that a good lawyer went to waste, but do know that a mighty good ballplayer was found when Eddie decided to give up the technicalities of Blackstone for the intricacies of baseball.   There isn’t much use saying anything about Connie Mack’s star, everybody knows he is a wonder as well as I do.”

Cy Young was asked by The Cleveland News to name his 20 greatest:

“I guess we’d have to make a place for old Amos Rusie, ‘Kid’ Nichols should be placed on the list too, ‘Kid’ forgot more baseball than 90 percent of us ever knew.  And there was Bill Hutchinson, just about one of the greatest that ever lived.  You can’t overlook Walter Johnson, and, by all means Ed Walsh must be there.  The same applies to Mathewson.  Then comes my old side partner, Bill Dinneen.  Bill never was given half enough credit.”

amosrusie

Amos Rusie

Young rounded out the battery:

“I’d pick old Lou Criger first of all the catchers.  George Gibson of the Pittsburgh team, to my way of thinking, stands with the leaders.  Give the third place to Oscar Stanage of Detroit, and I feel safe in saying that I have chosen a really great catcher.”

Young said:

“Doping out the infields is comparatively easy.  Without hesitation I would name Hal Chase, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Hans Wagner, Bobby Wallace, Jimmy Collins, Herman Long, and Charlie Wagner.”

Young said of his infield choices:

“You can’t get away from Bobby Wallace for a general all round gentlemanly player, he has never had a superior at shortstop unless that man was Honus Wagner.  Maybe Johnny Evers is entitles to consideration, but I never say him play.”

As for his outfielders, Young said:

“Ty Cobb’s equal never lived, according to my way of thinking, and I doubt if we will ever have his superior.  Say what they will about Cobb, but one who is true to himself must acknowledge his right to rank above all other players.

“I chose Cobb, Fred Clarke of Pittsburgh, Tris Speaker of Boston and Bill Lange for the outfield, and regret that the limitations prevent me from choosing Jim McAleer.  McAleer was the best fielder I have ever seen.  I say that with all due respect to Cobb and other competitors.

“Tris Speaker is a marvel, and only because of his playing at the same time as Cobb is he deprived of the honor of being the greatest outfielder…Many fans of today probably don’t remember Bill Lange.  Take my word for it, he was a marvel.  He could field, bat, and run bases with wonderful skill.  No man ever had the fade-away slide better than Lange.”

The reporter from The News noticed that Young had, “chosen his twenty greatest players without mentioning his own great deeds,” and asked Young whether her felt he belonged on the list.  Young said:

“Oh, I’ve heard a whole lot of stuff about myself as a player, but I was but ordinary when compared to the men I name as the greatest in the game.”

cy

Cy Young

When Ty Cobb presented his list of the 20 greatest current American League players to The Detroit News, the paper noted his “Very becoming modesty” in leaving himself off of his list.  Cobb’s picks were:

  • Ed Walsh
  • Bill Donovan
  • Walter Johnson
  • Jack Coombs
  • Vean Gregg
  • George Mullin
  • Billy Sullivan
  • Oscar Stanage
  • Ira Thomas
  • Hal Chase
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Eddie Collins
  • Jack Berry
  • Owen Bush
  • Frank Baker
  • Harry Lord
  • Sam Crawford
  • Clyde Milan
  • Joe Jackson
  • Tris Speaker
cobb

Ty Cobb

Cobb included Bobby Wallace, Russ Ford, and Heinie Wagner as honorable mentions.

More of the lists and quotes from “The twenty greatest fever,” on Thursday

“They Have Baseball ‘Rooting’ Down to a Science in Chicago”

26 Apr

The 1907 Chicago White Sox stayed in the American League pennant race all season, they were within one game of first place as late as September 24.

Eddie “Hotspur” McBride, the sports editor of The Buffalo Enquirer, credited some fans for the club’s success:

hotspurmcbride

Eddie “Hotspur” McBride

“They have baseball ‘rooting’ down to a science in Chicago, according to baseball fans from other cities who have taken in games in the Windy City this year.  In fact, they have their own poet laureate and every now and then he spiels off a few verses, has them printed by a committee appointed by the fans and the slips are passed through the grandstand, where at a signal they are sung in unison by the big crowds and many is the opposing pitcher on the White Sox grounds who has gone down to defeat unable to stand the awful shrieks of those singing fans.”

McBride said he received a “Dissertation on scientific rooting,” from the leaders of the singing fans “an attorney by the name of Cantwell,” and the “poet laureate,” a man named Robert Farrell:

“’A lot of rooters go to the park and just yell,’ said Cantwell.  ‘They don’t know what they yell and they don’t know why they are yelling.  They just yell because it’s customary to yell when you attend a baseball game.’”

Cantwell said:

“’That used to be the theory of rooting.  But that isn’t effective rooting.’

“’Today’s rooting is a science.’

“’When you root you root because you want to gain some effect.  For instance, you know the pitcher can be sent into the air.  So you root to send him on his balloon ascension.  But you can’t hope to do it by just exercising your lungs.’”

Cantwell offered “the most effective manner” for rooting:

“’Just yell one sentence at him for a long time. Keep it up.  Don’t get discouraged if you don’t rattle him in the first inning.’

‘”If you’re a wise rooter you won’t expect to.’

“’Take (Ed) Siever of Detroit for instance.  He’s a grand pitcher, an icicle, but can be sent on a balloon ascension. How?  By yelling the same sentence at him time after time.

“’This is a good one to hand him: you can’t put it over. You can’t put it over.’

“’At first it doesn’t bother him.  Inning after inning passes and he sticks to earth. But pretty soon it begins to worry him.  You don’t yell another thing at him.  All the time it’s just ‘You can’t put it over.’

“’Thousands are now yelling that sentence.  It gets on his nerves.  He begins to lose to control.  The next thing you know he’s up in the air, you’ve got three or four runs and the game is won.’”

sievers

Ed Siever

Cantwell said the fans had gotten to Siever earlier in September:

“He was pitching in grand form.  We conceived the idea of predicting.’

“’When he went into the box we yelled:  ‘We’ll chase you in the fifth,’ He just smiled at us  All the first inning we yelled nothing else…well, we were so persistent in it that finally it began to tell:’

“’In the fifth inning the Sox scored six runs, drove Siever from the box.  Wild Bill Donovan finished the game which we lost, 9 to 6.”

Cantwell got a couple key details wrong—Siever lasted until the seventh in the September 3 game, although he did allow six runs in that inning, and he was relieved by George Mullin, not Donovan.

The Detroit Free Press said the group totals around 150 in total and was primarily comprised of employees of the Chicago Board of Trade.

McBride claimed that Charles Comiskey said the rooters were “worth ten games a season for the Sox.”

Cantwell told McBride:

“(T)he men in the stands can win every doubtful game.”

The rooters and the White Sox fell short, finishing in third place, five and a half games behind the champion Tigers.

“Frank Chance Stands Forth as the Biggest Individual Failure”

21 Dec

It was widely assumed that American League President “Ban” Johnson had a hand in the transactions that resulted in Frank Chance coming to New York to manage the Yankees in 1913—Chance was claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds in November of 1912, then waived again and claimed by the Yankees a month later.

Ban Johnson

Ban Johnson

William A. Phelon, the sports editor at The Cincinnati Times-Star noted “(T)he strange fact that all the clubs in the older league permitted him to depart without putting in a claim,” as evidence of the fix being in.  And, in “Ban Johnson: Czar of Baseball,” author Eugene Murdock said “Johnson masterminded a series of intricate maneuvers,” to bring “The Peerless leader” to New York.

Chance’s arrival in New York was heralded as a turning point for the franchise, and he made no effort to downplay his confidence.  On January 9, 1913, The Associated Press reported that chance told Yankees owner Frank Farrell:

“I will win the pennant for you before I get through in New York. That may sound like a bold statement to make at this time, but I ask you to remember my promise.”

Frank Chance

Frank Chance

Despite the maneuvers on Chance’s behalf and Chance’s own confidence, he failed miserably in New York. The club finished seventh with a 57-94 record in 1913. The following season, the team was 60-74 when Chance resigned.   The resignation came after a tumultuous season which included charges by Chance that the team’s failures were largely the result of scout Arthur Irwin’s failure to sign decent players.  He also secured a guarantee of his 1915 salary from Farrell before he resigned.

Two months after Chance’s exit, the man who “masterminded” the moves that brought him to New York, unleashed his wrath on the former manager to Ed Bang of The Cleveland News:

“You can say for me that Frank Chance stands forth as the biggest individual failure in the history of the American League.  That’s the sum and substance of what B. B. Johnson, president of the American League said a short time since when “The Peerless Leader” came up for discussion, ‘and what’s more, you can write a story to that effect and quote me as strong as you’d like,’ Ban continued.

“President Johnson had great hopes of Chance molding a winner in New York, and when, after almost two years as the leader of the Yankees, he quit a dismal failure, the blow all but floored Ban for the count.  The American League has always played second fiddle to the Giants in New York, and Ban and other American Leaguers figured that Chance was the man to bring about a change in the condition of affairs.”

Bang said Johnson took Chance’s failure “to heart,” because he believed he “made a ten-strike” for the league when Chance came to New York.  Johnson told him:

“’Chance had the material in New York and I think any other man would have made a success og the venture,’ said Ban.  ‘Surely no one could have done any worse.  Of all the players that were on the New York roster in 1913 and 1914, and there were any number of likely looking recruits, Chance failed to develop even one man of class.  Why, it was an outrage.’

“’And then when he made up his mind that he was a failure, or at least when he was ready to step down and out he had the unmitigated nerve to ask for pay for services that he had not performed.  That surely was gall, to say the least.”

Johnson finished by comparing Chance unfavorably with the Yankees’ 23-year-old captain who replaced him and guided the team to a 10-10 finish:

“’Why, Roger Peckinpaugh, youth though he is, displayed far more class as manager of the Yankees in the short time he was at the helm than Frank Chance ever did.”

peckinpaugh2

Roger Peckinpaugh

Irwin left the Yankees in January of 1915 when Farrell and his partner William Devery sold the team to Jacob Rupert and Cap Huston.  Peckinpaugh remained captain but was replaced as manager by Bill Donovan, who guided the Yankees for three seasons–a fifth, a fourth and a sixth-place finish with an overall record of 220-239.

“It’s Strange how these Stars of Balldom have such Beliefs”

27 Aug

Throughout his career as an American League umpire, Billy Evans, who had covered baseball for The Youngstown Vindicator continued to write syndicated newspaper articles.  He was fascinated by the superstitions that controlled the actions of so many players.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

He followed a 1907 article about the subject, with more stories the following year:

“Of all professions, that of baseball player is the most superstitious…Of course, there are many superstitions in common, yet most of the players have pet ideas of their own on which they place much reliance.  The data of origin of many of the superstitions is a deep, dark mystery.”

Evans said:

“There is certainly nothing out of the ordinary to be seen in a load of hay, yet most players welcome the sight of one during the playing season.  In the dictionary of baseball a load of hay signifies two hits that afternoon for the discoverer, and history tells us there is nothing dearer to a player’s heart than base hits…While its supposed strange magic often fails, still the players retain faith in it.  On the other hand, the sight of a load of empty barrels is always dreaded, for some it means a shutout, to others merely defeat.”

Of one popular superstition of the time, Evans said there was “no greater believer in shaking up the bats when a rally is on” than Cleveland Naps pitcher Charles “Heinie” Berger:

“Ordinarily a team keeps its bats lined up in front of the bench in a fairly tidy manner.  According to Heinie’s code that is all well and good when everything is moving along smoothly, but when a rally appears to be in the air, the proper way to encourage it, according to Berger, is to scatter the bats in every direction.”

Heinie Berger

Heinie Berger

Evans told the story of the Naps’ August 21, 1908, game, although some of the details regarding the scoring wrong, he got most of the facts correct:

“One day last summer during an important game at Philadelphia, the Athletics got away with a seven-run lead in the first two innings.  When they added another in the third, it certainly looked as if things were all off so far as Cleveland was concerned.  Until the seventh inning the Naps bench was not unlike a funeral.  Two runs in the seventh stirred up a little hope, and caused Heinie to heave a few big sticks in different directions.  His actions caused Umpire Jack Sheridan (Sheridan and Evans both worked the game, Sheridan was behind the plate) was to offer a mild rebuke and incidentally warn Heinie that he wanted nothing but silence during the rest of the afternoon.”

Cleveland scored two runs the following inning, and had the tying run on base:

“Heinie proceeded to scatter the two dozen or more bats in all directions.  That was too much for the veteran Sheridan, and after he had made Berger replace all the bats back in a straight line, he tied a can on the Teuton and chased him from the lot.

“Berger viewed the remainder of the game from the bleachers, failing to carry out completely the edict of the umpire.  When the Naps scored the two men on the sacks and tied up the game he was happy.  Heinie was confident that the bat superstition had aided in the victory that he was sure would result, now that the score was tied.  When the Athletics scored a run in the eighth that proved to be the winner his confidence in the theory was not shaken in the least. He blamed the defeat on Sheridan, claiming that as soon as the umpire ejected him from the game the spell was broken.”

Evans also wrote about his favorite superstitious player, “Wild Bill” Donovan, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers.  Evans had previously mentioned Donovan’s fear of throwing a shutout during his first start of each season, and his actions in one game in particular, but now gave a more detailed account:

“It all seems rather foolish, yet I have worked back of Donovan on two such occasions and have every reason to believe that Bill makes it possible for his opponents to score.  In one of the games Detroit had the affair clinched 8 to 0 in the eighth.  With one down and a man on second Charley Hickman stepped to the plate.  A straight fast one is the most delicious kind of dessert for Charley, although he likes almost any old thing in the shape of curves and slants.

“There is no more strategic pitcher in the league than Donovan, yet he started off the reel to hand them up to Hick’s liking.  After fouling off three, Hick met a fast one on the nose and was blowing hard at third by the time the ball was relayed back to the infield.  He scored a moment later, but Detroit too the game easily, 8 to 2.  Bill had escaped the much despised shutout.  By the way that year was the most successful of Donovan’s career, and, of course, merely served to strengthen his belief.”

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan

Again, Evans got nearly all the details correct—except the final score was 9 to 2.  The May 24, 1907, game was Donovan’s first start of his best season in baseball (25-4, 2.19 ERA for the American League Pennant winners), and he did lose a shutout to Washington in the eighth inning on a Hickman triple.

Evans said a superstition often attributed to Cy Young, was not a superstition at all:

“The veteran Cy Young, the grand old man of them all, is one of the few players who doesn’t take much stock in omens of good or bad luck.  Cy, however, has one big hobby.  He always prefers to pitch on dark days…The dark day idea is no superstition with Cy.  No one except the batters perhaps realizes how hard it is to hit his fast ball when the light is dim.  It is really a pleasure for him to work out of turn on such days, for he knows what a big handicap he has over his opponents.”

Evans said another Hall of Fame pitcher had a bizarre habit, that while perhaps not a superstition, bears mentioning:

Jack Chesbro, the famous spitter, is always of the opinion that someone is slipping a doctored ball over on him, and quite often asks for a new one when the cover doesn’t taste just right.”

The umpire concluded:

“It’s strange how these stars of balldom have such beliefs and stick to them, but they do.  The ball player lives in a world of his own, more than any other profession with the possible exception of the actors.”

“I Object to Being Made a Freak.”

17 Jul

In 1913 American League President Ban Johnson set out to put an end to the practice the Baseball Writers Association called “A growing Evil,” ghost-written articles appearing under the by-lines of famous ballplayers.

William Peet of The Washington Herald revealed the identities of the ghost writers in March of 1913; Gerhard “Roger” Tidden of The New York World had been the man responsible for articles bearing the name of Ty Cobb, but Tidden died just three months after the revelation.   While the practice waned after 1913, Cobb remained defiant, and continued “authoring” a syndicated column for the next several years.

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb

Cobb’s articles, for the most part, steered clear of trouble with the league president, but the assertions he made about the Chicago White Sox and manager Clarence “Pants” Rowland in June of 1915 caused a major stir.

Cobb said:

“Battery signal stealing, which has been the cause of several scandals in big league baseball threatens to make more trouble this season if anyone is able to prove what is generally suspected about one of the American League clubs.

“I will not mention the name of the organization which has been accused by the opposing players…because I couldn’t present any proof.”

Cobb then went on for seven paragraphs trying to present proof, and provided enough hints to make it clear he was talking about the White Sox.

Cobb’s said

 “The team I have in mind has won almost all its home games…It looks mighty funny, though, the way this club could hit at home and the feeble manner in which it has been swatting on the road and almost all of the Tigers will take an oath that something out-of-the-way is coming off.”

Chicago, through 49 games, was in first place; 22-8 at home and 9-10 on the road.  Detroit was in second place a game back.  If he left any doubt Cobb said later in the column when discussing the American League pennant race in general:

“The White Sox, who burned up things at home, have not been doing so well on the road.”

Everyone, including American League President Ban Johnson, assumed Cobb was talking about the Sox.  Johnson said:

 “(Cobb) must prove the charges, or I will keep him from playing baseball.  If any man in the American League makes a charge of dishonesty and refuses to back up his charge with the absolute evidence, that man will have to get out of the game.”

The White Sox were less concerned; The Chicago Tribune said the charges made Sox players “grin,” and Rowland told reporters:

“I suppose we had out tipping instruments planted in the Polo Grounds when we made nineteen hits in New York the other day.”

Clarence "Pants" Rowland

Clarence “Pants” Rowland

In his next column Cobb issued a non-denial denial and at the same time openly, and loudly, defied Johnson:

“I made no specific charge against the White Sox…What I did say was that a strong rumor of sharp practice was abroad, and I reiterate that statement right here.”

___

“Mr. Johnson even went to the extreme of saying that he would drive me out of baseball.  He hasn’t done this yet and I expect to stay around for a few more days.  If the league president is willing to pay the salary that my three-year contract calls for, I will be perfectly willing to take a vacation at that, for I have long wanted to do a number of things that baseball interferes with.”

Cobb reiterated the charges and offered no evidence, but said he was justified in making the claims because his manager might have believed them:

“(Tigers) Manager (Hughie) Jennings thought the report sufficiently serious to detail one of our players for plain clothes duty in the bleachers, and he also wrote Manager (Bill) Donovan of New York, telling him of a warning we had received and cautioning him to be on the lookout.  So you see the signal tipping report was not a creature of my own imagination, but a matter of sufficient seriousness to warrant an investigation by our manager in his official capacity.”

Cobb’s only bit of backtracking was to say that if “it should be proved the White Sox tried signal stealing it would be without the knowledge of Mr. (Charles) Comiskey.”  Cobb said Comiskey “wouldn’t countenance anything of this sort for a moment.”

Cobb took one last swing at Ban Johnson, charging the league president with giving “sensational interviews” about him to get “the people excited artificially. If this is Mr. Johnson’s idea, I wish he would abandon it.  I object to being made a freak.”

If there was any doubt whether the American League’s star player or the league president wielded more power, it became obvious within a week.

Johnson, who The Associated Press said “long has been opposed to players permitting their name to be used over baseball stories,” decided not only had Cobb not written the columns, but claimed “a Detroit newspaperman” made up the allegations “out of whole cloth,” and incredibly said that Cobb had “no knowledge,” of the columns despite Cobb being quoted by numerous sources discussing the charges.

Ban Johnson

Ban Johnson

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner summed it up best:

“We are rather surprised each morning upon picking up our newspaper to discover that Ty Cobb is still making two-base hits, two steals and catching a few flies instead of being driven out of baseball by (Ban) Johnson.  By the way how did Johnson get into baseball?”

As quickly as Johnson backed down, the charges went away.  Despite the strong start the White Sox faded, and continued to fade even after the acquisition of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson on August 21, finishing third, nine and a half games behind the pennant-winning Boston Red Sox and seven games behind the Tigers.

Cobb led the league for the ninth straight season, hitting .369.

The one legacy from the brief 1915 controversy seems to be Cobb’s dislike of Rowland, who later became a scout for the Tigers.  In his 1984 book “Ty Cobb,” Charles C. Alexander said Cobb only agreed to manage the Tigers before the 1921 season because he was told:

 “Pants Rowland, whom Cobb considered an incompetent fraud, might very well get it and Cobb would have to play for him.”

Rowland, who remained in baseball until 1959 as a manager, scout and executive with the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League and Chicago Cubs in the National League, appears to have also held a grudge.   Up until his death at age 90 in 1969, Rowland often said two of his former players, Jackson and Eddie Collins were better than Cobb.

 In 1953 at the Old Timers Baseball Association of Chicago Banquet Rowland said “I wouldn’t have traded (Collins) for Cobb.  What made him greater than Cobb was that he inspired the entire ball club.  Ty was an individualist.  He was interested only in Cobb.”

Rowland called Jackson the “greatest natural hitter,’ he ever saw, and said Ted Williams, not Cobb, was the only player “of the same make-up.”

More Superstitions

25 Apr

Billy Evans, “The Boy Umpire,” joined the American League staff at the age of 22.  Before becoming an umpire, Evans was a reporter for The Youngstown Vindicator and continued to write occasional, syndicated newspaper articles throughout his career.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

In a 1907 article he wrote about superstitions:

“Baseball players are the most superstitious class of people in the world.  There are many superstitions in general in which all members of the profession have implicit confidence and nearly every player has some pet belief that is all his own.”

Evans mentioned one of the most superstitious players of all-time, Detroit Tigers pitcher “Wild Bill” Donovan, who as mentioned in an earlier post, believed that striking out the first batter he faced was bad luck.  According to Evans he also had a strange belief about the first game of the season:

“Donovan has a dread of working in shutout games on his first appearance.  He believes it a season hoodoo and would do almost anything to prevent it.”

Evans worked as an umpire in Donovan’s first start of the 1907 season, and the pitcher took a shutout into the ninth inning:

“I happened to be working back of Donovan that day and noticed that he seemed to let up in the ninth , also that he used nothing but a straight fast ball.  A pass, an error and a cracking hit by Charley Hickman sent a couple of tallies over the pan.”

Evans said he asked Donovan after the game if he “(lost his stuff,” in the ninth, Donovan said no:

“I have no desire to win a shutout game right off the reel…shutouts on your debut are not lucky.”

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan

Evans said Fred “Lucky” Glade, a St. Louis Browns pitcher who had just been traded to the New York Highlanders, had a phobia of pitching if the sun wasn’t out:

 “According to Glade, he has never during his career won a game on a dark day.”

The pitcher also “started each inning…by tossing a ball to (Browns first baseman) Tom Jones.  Next year he will have to use (Highlanders first baseman) Hal Chase

Chase must not have been an adequate substitute; Glade struggled with arm and stomach problems, posted an 0-4 record in five starts for the Highlanders, before returning home to Nebraska in June.  He signed a contract for 1909, but never reported and never pitched again.

Fred Glade

Fred Glade

Ty Cobb had numerous superstitions; one had to do with the “position of the broom with which the umpires use to dust off the plate.”  Evans said:

“The umpires find it handy to keep the broom to the left of the plate, while Cobb, when at the bat, always desires it to the right.  Whenever he steps to the plate Cobb always picks up the broom and tosses it to the right side of the batter’s box.”

Additionally:

“When in a batting slump Cobb always makes three crosses as he takes his position at the plate.  When Cobb reaches first base on his journey from right field to the bench he always gives the bag a terrific kick in the direction of the plate…Cobb insists that the short distance he moves the bag toward the plate with his kick often is the means of winning a close decision at first for his team.’

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb

Evans said of superstitions in baseball:

“No doubt a close investigation would reveal that every player from the smallest bush league up has his pet theory.”

Superstitions and Eccentricities

19 Mar

A 1912 wire service article that appeared in The Lexington Herald revealed some of the “superstitions” and “eccentricities” of several ballplayers:

Nap Lajoie always draws a line in the dirt in the batter’s box before taking his position.  He will not face the batter without this preliminary.”

Napoleon Lajoie

Napoleon Lajoie

Bill Donovan dislikes to strike out the first batter.  He believes it the forerunner to bad luck.”

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan

Barney Pelty must throw a curve ball just before starting to pitch.  His last to the catcher when warming up between innings is always a curve.”

Barney Pelty

Barney Pelty

Rube Oldring insists on the little mascot of the Athletics standing in a certain place when he is at bat.”

Rube Oldring

Rube Oldring

Heinie Peitz, when manager of the (Louisville) Colonels, was averse to having any pictures taken of his team.  He believed it hoodooed the game.”

Heinie Peitz

Heinie Peitz

Rabbit Robinson never touches the plate with his bat, but he says he is not superstitious.”

William Clyde "Rabbit" Robinson

William Clyde “Rabbit” Robinson

Stallings Stealing Signs

17 Oct

George Stallings had turned the New York Highlanders around.

Hired by owner Frank Farrell after New York’s disastrous 51-103 season in 1908, Stallings guided the Highlanders to 74-77 record in 1909.

George Stallings

American League President Ban Johnson said he knew why Stallings’ team had improved.

During a series with the Highlanders in the summer of 1909 Washington Senators Manager Joe Cantillon thought he noticed something unusual past the center field wall in Hilltop Park.  He passed his suspicions on to Detroit Tigers Manager Hughie Jennings.

Tiger Manager Hughie Jennings

The Highlanders hit Detroit pitcher Ed Summers hard during the first game of Detroit’s next series in New York.  Jennings sent pitcher Bill Donovan out to center field to investigate, but according to The Sporting Life:

“Bill returned without having shown any ability as a Sherlock Holmes.”

Jennings then assigned trainer Harry Tuthill to the job.  Tuthill noticed that the letter “H” in a hat advertisement on the center field fence was moving, scaled the fence and made a discovery.

Initially the Tigers did nothing, Jennings had more on his mind; Detroit was headed to the World’s Series and despite New York’s improvement they were a fifth place team.

But rumors spread and the story was picked up by The Sporting Life, getting the attention of  the American League president.

Johnson sent a telegram to Tuthill threatening to bar him from the league if he did not provide the his office with a full report of what he knew.  Tuthill said that after he noticed the letter in the sign moving he went to the center field wall and upon climbing to the other side discovered a small area behind the sign where a man sat with a pair of field glasses.  According to Tuthill “The man ran out as I came in, I think I know who it is but can’t be positive.”

In other reports Tuthill said he was sure who the man was but would not reveal his identity—it was later alleged to be former Major League pitcher Gene McCann.

Trainer (and detective)  Harry Tuthill with Tigers first baseman Del Gainer

Jennings was convinced the Highlanders were stealing signs all year as did The Sporting Life:

“It has been a noticeable fact all season that the Highlanders always hit like fury at home and were punk batters on the road.”

The Highlanders scored 338 runs in 76 homes games; 251 in 75 road games.

The Sporting Life also speculated that Stallings, who had a poor relationship with the American League president, might be expelled from the league as a result of the allegations:

“President Johnson has conclusive evidence…and it is all but natural to suppose that the man in charge of the team which benefited by the system employed knew of its existence, and it is on this theory that Stallings’ resignation will be asked.”

Despite the speculation there was no rule at the time which prohibited stealing signs in the manner the Highlanders were accused

At the winter meetings that December the American League Board of Directors exonerated Stallings, but in their ruling vowed that any team official found stealing signs in the future would be “Barred from baseball for all time.”

Stallings was at the helm of the Highlanders for most of the 1910 season, and became embroiled in another sign stealing controversy in late July when “Big Ed” Walsh and several members of the Chicago White Sox accused the Highlanders of stealing signals in the same manner.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“There is not a player on the Sox club who isn’t confident the catcher’s signs are being tipped off.”

Stallings again denied the charges and said the White Sox pitching staff was tipping their pitches:

“What are you going to do when practically every Chicago pitcher insists on giving his own signals from the box and the signals get familiar, they are repeated so often?”

Stallings was again cleared of wrongdoing, but in spite of a guiding the Highlanders to a 78-59 record through September 19, he was replaced as manager after losing a struggle for control of the team with first baseman Hal Chase, who was named as his replacement.

Stallings went on to manage the World’s Series winning Boston Braves in 1914.