Tag Archives: Bill Eagan

“It was not only Disgraceful, but Cowardly”

8 Feb

“Tuesday saw the finish of Norman Elberfeld as a Western League baseball player for this season, at least, and there is no one to blame but himself.”

“Kid” Elberfeld had just punched himself out of the league, said The Detroit Free Press.

Kid Elberfeld

The shortstop for the Detroit Tigers in the Western league, “The Tabasco Kid” was popular with fans but frequently at odds with umpires. The final straw in Detroit was August 1, 1899.

In the first inning, Elberfeld argued with umpire Jack Haskell after Haskell called Ollie Pickering safe at first, He continued to argue after being ejected:

“Elberfeld made a quick move and planted both right and left on Haskell’s face…at a time when Haskell was not looking and entirely unprepared for such action. It was not only disgraceful, but cowardly in the extreme as well.”

Just over a month earlier, The Free Press had chided Elberfeld after he “nearly precipitated a riot,” after umpire Jack Sheridan did not allow him take first base on a hit by pitch in the ninth inning with two runners one. Elberfeld then grounded out to end the game.”

Sheridan was confronted by “a few wild-eyed fanatics made a run in the direction” of the umpire who was escorted from the field.

The Detroit Journal said that Tigers owner George Vanderbeck told manager George Stallings “the next time (Elberfeld) kicks himself out of a game it will cost him $25. The hazarding of games through dirty play and rowdyism will do longer me tolerated.”

Henry Chadwick opined in his syndicated “Chadwick Chat” column:

“The manager in question should have started the season with this rule, and then he would have had no difficulty.”

Then, a week later, The Free Press reported, Elberfeld boasted that he would make trouble for the official, knowing the rooters would take his part,” after another ejection.

The paper called him “a fine ball player, a valuable man’ and “one of the hardest workers that ever appeared on any field,” but said his act was getting old in Detroit. “Clean baseball is what the public was given in the days of major league baseball in this city, and clean baseball is what they want now.”

And, “while no one is blamed but Elberfeld for the cowardly act…(if he had) been compelled, by the management, to hold his tongue and keep away from umpires from the opening of the season, he would still be playing ball.”

Elberfeld returned home to Ohio.

Harry Weldon of The Cincinnati Enquirer said, “the Kid expressed regret,” and suggested that the Reds purchase his contract “providing the suspension can be raised.”

Three weeks after the incident, Elberfeld was sold to the Reds for $2500:

The Free Press complained that the Kid “has really profited by the punishment if he is allowed to jump into the game at once,”

Elberfeld’s purchase was too much for Henry Chadwick. The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune said “the aged baseball authority” wrote a letter to Reds President John T. Brush. Chadwick asked Brush to explain how he could acquire Elberfeld after the attack; he also questioned why Brush had acquired players like Jack Taylor and Bill Hill (Hill was traded for Taylor after the 1898 season) given “their reputations.” Chadwick was concerned about those players as well as Danny Friend and Bad Bill Eagan, both of whom had been arrested for violent crimes.

Henry Chadwick

Chadwick asked Brush if “the employment of players of this caliber benefitted the game?”

Brush responded:

“You state that ‘Pitcher Friend was suspended for cutting a man with a knife, that Bad Bill Egan [sic Eagan] is just out of prison for attempting to cut his wife to death, also that Elberfeld…You say Taylor, of the Cincinnati team, and Hill, of the Brooklyn team, offer more samples of the neglect of character in engaging players for league teams.”

Brush said he had “nothing whatever” to do with Friend and Eagan.

He said the purchase of Elberfeld had been completed “sometime before” the incident and ‘the fact that he was suspended, laid off without pay for several weeks, ad fined $100, would be evidence that in his case proper action had been taken.”

Brush claimed Elberfeld regretted his actions, was not “an evil-minded ballplayer,” and that there were “extenuating circumstances” but did not disclose what those might have been.

John T. Brush

As for the other two players mentioned by Chadwick—both of whom spent time with the Reds—Brush said:

“Bill Hill was with the Reds one season. We let him go. That ended the responsibility of the Cincinnati Club. He was the only player on the Cincinnati team who violated the rule of 1898. He was fined twice, $25 each time, for disputing the decision of the umpire… Taylor had a bad reputation…He promised, so far as promises go, absolute reformation.

“Taylor’s contract allowed the Reds to hold back $600 of his salary, which was to be forfeited to the club in case he violated Section 6 of the league contract. He broke his pledge, he forfeited the temperance clause of his contract, was suspended for a month, and was restored as an act of justice or mercy to his wife, who was not in fault.”

In closing Brush told Chadwick:

“If you could point out to me a way which seems better or easier to travel, I would be very glad to have you do so, I get wrong on many things, no doubt, but it is not from preference.”

Elberfeld was injured for much of his time in Cincinnati, hit .261 and was returned to Detroit before the 1900 season. He made it back to the major leagues as a member of the Tigers in 1901. He remained in the big leagues for 12 seasons.

Elberfeld never lost his contentious nature as a player, or later as a long-time minor league manager.

Bozeman Bulger of The New York World said:

“To this day Elberfeld is just as rabid in his enmity to umpires as when he fought them in the big leagues. He got into several difficulties last year.”

Bulger said “he happened to be present” when Elberfeld and John McGraw were discussing umpires.

“’Kid,’ said the Giants manager, ‘it took me a long time, but I’ve learned that nobody can get anything by continually fighting those umpires. Why don’t you lay off them? It’s the only way.’

“’Maybe it is,’ said the Kid with finality. ‘But, Mac, I intend to fight ‘em as long as I live.”

“Stories of his Badness are told all over the League”

8 Oct

After “Bad Bill” Eagan finished the 1898 season with the Syracuse Stars –he hit just .227, his lowest recorded minor league season average—then returned to his native Camden, NJ–Eagan started his amateur baseball career in Camden as a pitcher, his catcher was another Camden native, William “Kid” Gleason.

Bad Bill Eagan

Bad Bill Eagan

The Harrisburg Telegraph—Eagan had spent two seasons playing in the Pennsylvania city—told the story:

“Bill Eagan the once great second baseman of the Harrisburg Club, in a fair example of what rum will do when it gets the upper hand of a man.  Eagan would have been one of the leading players of the profession if he had left strong drink alone.  He was a sure fielder, hard batter and quick baserunner and ought to be in his prime as a player by this time, but he has drained too many mugs and now winds up in a police court at his home in Camden, NJ, on a charge of attempted murder.

“Eagan was intoxicated yesterday and displaying a 48-caliber revolver, placed it to his temple and remarked: ‘I am going to kill my wife and blow my brains out.’ He paid Barber Riceman fifty cents which he owed him, and also paid a nearby saloon keeper $1 for drinks that he had bought.  Then he returned to the barber shop, said good-bye to his friends, and exclaiming; “Now I am free from debt and am ready to do the job,’ he started for his home and put the threat into execution.

When he arrived home Eagan fired two shots at—and missed–his wife, and then attempted to shoot one of the responding police officers, but because of “a quick blow from (another police officer’s) club the murderous weapon was knocked from the crazed man’s hand.”

The Chicago Tribune said:

“William Eagan, or, as he is known in the baseball profession, ‘Bad Bill’ Eagan, is a player of national reputation.  He is an ignorant man, and stories of his badness are told all over the league.  He was considered one of the best ball players in the profession.”

The Tribune said about Eagan’s brief stay with Pittsburgh earlier in 1898:

“He failed to behave himself, and drunkenness was the charge which let him out as a Pirate.”

Eagan was held in the Camden jail from October of 1898 until March of 1899; it is unclear what he was formally charged with, and he was never tried.

In spite of his reputation, baseball wasn’t done with “Bad Bill” yet.  Shortly after his release from jail, Syracuse sold Eagan’s contract to the Western League’s Detroit Tigers.  His statistics for the season don’t survive, but Eagan seems to have gone back to his old habits.  After he sat out both games of a double-header with the Kansas City Blues in July, The Kansas City Journal said:

“’Bad Bill’ Eagan acquired a jag yesterday and succeeded in making a holy show of himself.  Such creatures and ‘Bad Bill’ should be out of the game.”

Eagan was also seriously injured the same month when, according to The Associated Press, during a game with the Columbus Buckeyes, while trying to stretch a double into a triple:

“Eagan threw himself, feet foremost toward the bag.  His spike caught in the base sack and his right leg was given a terrible wrench.  ‘Bad Bill’ screamed with pain and in an instant was surrounded by members of both teams… (He) had thrown out his kneecap.  (A doctor) pushed the cap back and then the injured player was carried to the bench.”

Whether the injury contributed or not is unknown, but by August The Sporting Life reported that he had again worn out his welcome:

“Bad Bill” Eagan has worn a Detroit uniform for the last time. Eagan has not behaved at all and (George) Stallings has got through for good and all with him.”

George Stallings

George Stallings

One more team was willing to take a chance on Eagan; he was signed for 1900 by the Youngstown Little Giants in the Interstate League.  After appearing in just 26 games The Sporting Life reported that:

“Eagan has been playing ball in Youngstown, OH, but he said he needed a rest.  He came to Detroit for that purpose Saturday morning, and he paid $5 in the police court this morning for the first installment. “Bad Bill” said he was so glad to get back and he met so many friends that he rather lost track of the proceedings. He had fallen Into a Rip Van Winkle sleep when the policeman picked him up. “Bad Bill” paid his fine and went out for the “rest.” Bill doesn’t think much of Youngstown, he says. “

The Youngstown Vindicator said Eagan was released by the Little Giants before he left for Detroit

In either case, he had finally run out of chances, and never played another professional game.

The Indianapolis News said, in late August of 1900, that Eagan was:

 “(P)icked up on the streets of Detroit) insane.  He was removed to the emergency hospital, where he became violent and it took a number of men to overpower him and take him to the station and confine him in a padded cell.  Drink caused Eagan’s downfall. Sober he was a hard working ambitious ball player; if a drink or two were given to him he became a dangerous maniac.”

He was released after several days, and the the many premature rumors of his death began at that point, while Eagan continued to tend bar in Detroit. In April of 1904 w he became ill and was sent to a tuberculosis sanitarium in Denver.  Ten months later “Bad Bill” was dead at age 35.

Despite having played just six games with Chicago in 1893 Eagan made such an William A. Phelon that more than 20 years later he wrote in “Baseball Magazine:”

 “Although the poor fellow had few chances given him in the big league, I always thought there never yet was a second baseman who mixed and mingled in the furtherance of infield plays like Bad Bill Eagan. Possibly I can best symbolize Eagan’s style of second-basing, for the present generation, by stating that he played second just about as (Fred) Tenney played first. (Eddie) Collins doesn’t go so far from second as Eagan did, nor does he carry out nearly so many plays—but it’s quite likely he could if he had to—if he didn’t have, through the past few years, the marvelous (Jack) Barry cutting in and taking his half of the proceedings.

Eagan, though, was almost uncanny at times. I saw him working with (Cap) Anson on first and (Bill) Dahlen at short. It might be taken for granted that Eagan would have to move round considerably on the side toward first, with the ponderous and fast-aging Anson on station one, but Dahlen was then in the flush of his youth and a moving streak at short—when he wanted to be. Yet I saw Eagan bewildering Dahlen as well as Anson by the phantom-like rapidity of his movements, and the way in which he suddenly appeared at the spot where the play should be kept going, arriving on the ground before Dahlen could even draw back his arm to throw.”

Bad Bill Eagan

6 Oct

William “Bad Bill” Eagan was just 35-years-old when he died from tuberculosis in 1905, but many people probably didn’t believe it when the news was first reported.  The hard-living Eagan’s demise had been predicted and reported several times.  In 1901, the year after his professional career ended, The Fort Wayne Sentinel said:

“’Bad Bill’ Eagan who died two or three times last year, is running a poker room in Detroit.  Eagan dies on the average of three times a year and is about due for the first of this year’s series.  Eagan captained and played first base for Youngstown before his second demise last season.”

Bad Bill

Bad Bill

In 1899 Connie Mack told The Philadelphia North American:

“Eagan would be one of the best second basemen in the business if he would keep in condition.”

Eagan quickly wore out his welcome during all three of his brief stints in the big leagues.  The first, with the St. Louis Browns in the American Association in 1891, ended, according to The Syracuse Standard after an incident with team owner Chris von der Ahe:

“(Eagan) was a jolly fellow and not afraid of discipline.  The Browns got on a train at St. Louis to come East…von der Ahe’s nasal organ was rather large and red for its age and ‘Bad Bill’ determined to have some sport.

“Walking up to his employer, he caught the nose between his fingers, and said: ‘Say, Chris, how much did it cost to color that?’

“The owner of the cerise nose was furious with rage.  He released Eagan at once.  The train was ninety miles east of St. Louis, and at von der Ahe’s order the conductor put the nose twirler off the train.”

Two years later Eagan joined ‘Cap’ Anson’s Chicago Colts.  Hugh Fullerton  told the story of how he wore out his welcome there after just six games:

“Anson was a quick thinker on the ball field, but once he released the best second baseman that ever wore a suit for thinking a little quicker than anybody else on the nine.

“The second baseman in question was “Bad Bill’ Eagan. Everybody who remembers ‘Bad Bill’ will admit his supremacy on the second bag.  When the play we celebrate came up there was a base runner on second.  Chicago was one run to the good, and it was in the last half of the ninth inning.

(Bill) Dahlen was playing third base for Chicago.  The man hit a sharp liner down to second.  ‘Bad Bill’ started for it and at the same instant the man started for third base.

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen

“The liner was a clipper and the ball struck ‘Bad Bill’s’ hands and bounded out.  It struck the ground ten feet away, with ‘Bill’ right after it.  Once he got his hands on it and without stopping to look where he was throwing.  ‘Bill’ let the ball fly to third base.

“Most ball players after fumbling the ball would have tossed it to the pitcher or thrown it home if, after looking around, they saw that the base runner had started to try to score.

“In this case the base runner, after touching third, went on for twenty feet and then stopped for an instant to see what had become of the ball.  He saw it coming straight as a die for third base, and went back there like a flash.  But the ball beat him by ten feet.  Unfortunately for the game, and also for “Bad Bill’ Dahlen had taken it for granted that Eagan would throw the ball to the home plate, and was not looking for it to be thrown to him.  Consequently the ball went by him, going within four inches of his nose, and striking the grand stand far behind.

“The result was that both base runners got safely home before Dahlen recovered himself and the ball, and the game was lost to Chicago.

“Anson was furious and immediately after the game gave ‘Bad Bill’ his release for making that throw.  As a matter of fact, it was the best possible play under the circumstances, and Dahlen, rather than “Bad Bill’ was to blame for it not coming out as planned.  If ‘Dal’ had thought as quickly as ‘Bill’ the game might have been settled right then and there.”

Eagan received one more trial with a major league team in 1898.  He started the season on the bench for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but was given the opportunity to start when regular second baseman Dick Padden left the team over a dispute with Manager Bill Watkins in May.

Eagan hit .328, but committed 10 errors, in 19 games at Pittsburgh.  He was sold to Louisville Colonels on June 5. The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“He is a clever fielder, a fair batsman, extremely aggressive and absolutely fearless (and will) certainly strengthen the team in one of its weakest spots.”

But Eagan never appeared in a game for Colonels.  The following day The Courier-Journal said the deal was off, and Manager Fred Clarke would only say, via telegram:

“Called deal for Eagan off for good reasons.”

The Colonels passed on Eagan despite being a team badly in need of a regular second baseman—Clarke tried nine different men at there during the season, and his primary second baseman, Heine Smith hit .190 and committed 16 errors in 26 games.

Eagan finished the 1898 season with the Eastern League’s Syracuse Stars, where he had played from 1894 to 1897.  He finished the year of 1898 in jail in his native Camden New Jersey.

That story  Wednesday