Tag Archives: Bill Gleason

“Baseball is a lot Faster now”

18 Oct

Bill Gleason was the shortstop for three of the four straight American Association champion St. Louis Browns team—he was with the 1885-1887 teams—and, apparently, very superstitious.  After his baseball career ended in 1891, the St. Louis native returned home and became a fire fighter.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he didn’t spend his later years complaining about how the game wasn’t as good as when he played.

In 1926, the captain of the city’s Engine Company Number 38, sat in the Sportsman’s Park press box for game three of the World Series, and spoke to a reporter from The Post-Dispatch:

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Bill Gleason Fire Captain

“’It’s a fast team, a fast team,’ Gleason repeated again and again as the Cardinals infield worked.  ‘And baseball is a lot faster now than it was when we played it back in the old days.’”

And Gleason was aware of how most of his contemporaries felt:

“’I’m not one of these old codgers who’d tell you there are no times like the old times.  These boys out there are faster than we were, I think, and the game’s gone a long way ahead.  And I wouldn’t like to say we had any players quite up to the big fellow out there,’ waving a hand toward ‘Babe’ Ruth who was emerging from the Yankee dugout.”

Gleason noted that while his three Browns teams “were champions of the world,” he said they were not as great as the current Cardinals:

“’This man (Jesse) Haines who pitched today is a wonder.  He had everything, speed, curves, and absolute control (Haines shut the Yankees out on five hits in a game delayed by rain for 30 minutes during the fourth inning)…Sometimes it seems to me that we don’t have the pitching now that we used to, but Haines certainly furnished it for us today.  He puts me in mind of old Tim Keefe of the New York team.  He was a great pitcher in my day.”

But Gleason was even more impressed with the Cardinals infield:

“’Then there’s that double play combination.  (Tommy) Thevenow to (Rogers) Hornsby to (Jim) Bottomley.  Thevenow is lightening fast, Hornsby’s play is as smooth as silk, and Bottomley is just a beauty.”

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Gleason, 1886

Gleason said Hornsby’s play at second reminded him of his Browns teammate Yank Robinson:

“’(He) handled himself a lot like Hornsby.  You didn’t realize how fast he was moving. He worked so easily.’”

Gleason said the Cardinals had better hitting than his Browns and said of outfielder Billy Southworth:

“’He’s like Curt Welch, the center fielder of the Browns.  Goes back on a fly ball and gets set for it just like old Curt did.  And (catcher Bob) O’Farrell is a lot like Doc Bushong of the Browns—steady and dependable.’”

Gleason also talked about how the 1926 incarnation of Sportsman’s Park differed from the first version which hosted the 1886 world’s championship against the Chicago White Stockings:

“’In those days,’ he said, ‘the grounds were laid out so that we batted from Grand Avenue, and what is now home plate was then left field. “

Gleason said the following season, when the Browns again played the White Stockings in a post series, that the decision to make the series a “winner take all” for the gate money was Albert G. Spalding’s idea:

“’(Browns owner) Chris von der Ahe (wanted to) split the gate.  (Spalding) said he would play only on the basis of winner take all and we played on that agreement.  The Browns won the series four games to two.  We won the last three games here, and I think it’s likely the Cardinals will do the same thing.”

His prognostication was off—the Cardinals dropped the next two games to the Yankees, but did come back to win the final two to take the World Series in seven games.

Gleason remained with the St. Louis fire department until his death at age 73 in 1932—there was general confusion about Gleason’s age at the time of his death, The Post-Dispatch said “Records vary to his age but he was about 70,” The St. Louis Star and Times and The Associated Press said he was 66.

The Post-Dispatch said he was recovering from an infection he got from stepping on a nail at a fire, when “he insisted on going down to the corner drug store.  On the way home he collapsed from the heat and never left his bed again.”

More Superstitions, 1884

2 Jun

Superstitious ballplayers are as old as baseball.

When the Philadelphia Athletics visited Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for an exhibition game 1884, a reporter from The Harrisburg Telegraph talked to “an old base baller” who was attending the game.

The reporter asked:

“’Are base ball players superstitious?’

“’You betcher life,’ said the veteran; ‘why there is Harry Wright (who) always carries a black cat in the bat bag, just for luck.  Al Spalding  of the Chicago carries a buckeye in his pocket for luck, and Bob Ferguson begins to hedge in his bets if he meets a cross-eyed man while on his way to the grounds.’”

harrywright

Harry Wright

The “old base baller” also told the reporter:

Bobby Matthews will never pitch unless he has an old copper cent in his pocket, and Monte Ward, of the New Yorks, carries a mascot around his neck in the shape of a gold coin.  (Jim) Whitney, of Boston, loses heart if he forgets to put his bunch of keys in his pocket before pitching.  Just before the Athletics-St. Louis game last year to decide the championship, (Bill) Gleason, of the St. Louis, got as pale as a sheet when he saw a red-headed boy carry in the bat bag.  He said it was bad luck, and, sure enough, it was.”

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Bill Gleason

Philadelphia won the September 23 game 9-2, giving them a 3 ½ game lead in the American Association race, and held on to win the pennant by 1 game.

And the old player told the paper:

“Big (Dan) Brouthers, of the Buffalos, carries a barlow knife for luck.  Oh, yes, base ball players are superstitious, an’ don’t ye forgit it.”

Hugh Nicol

25 Aug

In 1884 Hugh “Little Nic” Nicol was one of the most popular members of the St. Louis Browns—so popular, a local boy’s team named themselves after the right fielder, and the Nicol was invited to address the team.

Hugh Nicol

Hugh Nicol

A reporter for The St. Louis Critic was on hand when Nicol imparted his baseball wisdom to the kids:

“I’m no speech maker, but if you like I’ll give you a pointer or two, and you can take ‘em or leave ‘em, just as you like.  First, when you go to the bat don’t sneak up there, but pick up your club determined like, and look at the pitcher as you’d look at a mosquito which you had the dead wood on.  Then when he curls the ball away, up around your left year duck your head, look mad and whisper, ‘Oh, you sucker you know better than to give me a good ball.’  That’s what you call workin’ the pitcher—makin’ him mad as a bull—so mad that he’ll put the ball just where you say he can’t put it, but where you know he’s going to put it, and when he puts it there smash her right in the eye.

“Then when you’ve smashed her, don’t stop and admire the smash, but make for first as though the devil was trying catch hold of your coat tails.  When you reach first don’t stop unless you hear the captain yell: ‘Hole yer first; hole it!’  If he yells ‘hole it,’ obey orders.  Don’t think you know more than him, because if you get to thinkin’ that way your head will begin to swell, and all the ice in St. Louis won’t take down the swellin’ If you only reach first, place your arms akimbo and look at the pitcher as though you had got there by a fluke and was going to hold to her if it was the last act.  If you are a runner, and not one of those tired cusses that crawl when they think they’re flyin’.

“Make for second the moment he pitches the ball; and when you get near the bag, grab hold of it and come up smilin’ at the umpire , as though you meant to say “Oh, I beat the ball about a foot, and he never touched me anyhow.’  If you work it right the umpire will sing out, ‘Hole yer second!’

“But, fellers if you can’t run when you reach first stay there and thank God you got that far.  Don’t try to make second for if you do the catcher will make a bloomin’ gillie out of you.  But make out that you are a dandy on the run, and bob up and down like a bear dancing on a red hot stove.  That kind of business works up the pitcher and he’ll try to catch you nappin’, but instead he’ll fire the ball away over the first baseman’s head.  Then if you can run a little bit you can get all the way ‘round.  But take care that he don’t catch you nappin’.  If he does that the captain will call you a bum base runner and you’ll feel like clubbin’ the life out of yourself.”

Thirty-five years later, Nicol attended an old-timers banquet at the Great Northern Hotel in Chicago and spoke with Al Spink, then occasionally writing for The Chicago Evening Post.  Spink called Nicol “the smallest and most wonderful right fielder in America.”

Nicol, like most of his 19th Century brethren, thought his old teammates were better than current players:

“I can’t see where the game has improved a bit since we played it…and I can’t see where the players of today are any better than our old gang…I don’t see any players cavorting around on the diamond today that are any better than the Browns’ old infield when it was composed of (Charles) Comiskey, (William “Yank”) Robinson, (Arlie) Latham and (Bill) Gleason…Where are there any better players than our old Chicago infield—(Cap) Anson, (Fred) Pfeffer, (Ned) Williamson and (Tom)Burns?”

1885 St. Louis Browns--Nicol is on the far right of the bottom row.

1885 St. Louis Browns–Nicol is on the far right of the bottom row.

Nicol also objected to the way the game was played:

“(W)here is there the  enthusiasm and the effort to win that was in evidence in the days when we played?

“Nowadays a player often goes to the bat acting like a man who has lost an immediate member of his family.

“We used to go up smiling and acting as though we were certain of clouting out a homer, although we often fell down on the proposition.

“And then, too, many of your players of today make little attempt to advance themselves in the various departments of play.

“They do not half try to learn all the fine points of the game as we did in the days of old, but simply try to get by.  They are content if they get a couple of hits every afternoon and play an errorless game.  The first thing they do each morning is to get the newspaper and look at the hit and error columns.  If they don’t see themselves credited with a hit perhaps they did make, some sports writer gets a terrible panning.”

Nicol managed in the Three-I League and later  coached baseball and served as athletic director at Purdue University from 1906 until 1914—he resigned both positions in November of 1914 after a dispute with his football coach Andy Smith and Smith’s assistant Pete Vaughn (who was also Purdue’s basketball coach).

Nicol 1904

Nicol 1904

Nicol was often credited by contemporary sports writers with inventing the head-first slide.

He died in Lafayette, Indiana in 1921.

“Perhaps the most Superstitious Class of People”

31 Jan

In 1886 The San Francisco Chronicle said of contemporary baseball players:

“With all the enlightenment of civilization superstition still holds potent sway.  Perhaps the most superstitious class of people to be met today in the United States, aside from gamblers and actors, are baseball players and worshipers of the game, whose faith in “mascots” and jonahs” as influences for good or bad luck is almost if not fully as strong as their belief in religion itself.”

Jim Hart, in San Francisco with his Louisville Colonels, told the paper about some of the specific superstitions which influenced the 19th Century ballplayer:

“The St. Louis Browns have their club house at home just off from right field, and whenever the bell rings for the practice preceding each game the whole nine form into line in front of their house and then walk abreast to first base, where they disperse and take their positions.  This is invariably done under the belief that it insures good luck.  Bill Gleason too, the famous shortstop, always walks astride of the foul chalk line to third base before going to his place on the diamond.  He has never once failed to do it in the whole five years he has been playing baseball.”

Bill Gleason

Bill Gleason

“Why there’s (Albert “Doc”) Bushong, the catcher of the St. Louis Browns.  He’s got a pair of gloves that are so dilapidated that even the patches are patched.  He wouldn’t part with those gloves, though, for a ten-acre lot.  He thinks as mascots they are infallible.  (Walter Henry) Porter, the pitcher of the Brooklyns , also has a red sleeveless jacket  or shirt which he has worn regularly for more than two years.  It doesn’t match the uniform of the club, but he wears it anyhow, for he sincerely believes that if he laid the shirt aside the game would be lost.

“(Pete) Browning, our center fielder and the crack batter in the league, is the greatest fanatic on mascots, I reckon, of anybody in the business.  He did not come out with us this time.  He got out of whack during the summer and I sent him to the springs to recuperate.  He returned home before we came out here, but I thought it best to leave him behind.  Well, Browning has a practice of always walking over and touching one foot on third bag when going from field to bat, or vice versa.  A stack of twenties as high as that house wouldn’t be inducement enough for Browning to refrain from carrying out this program every time he plays, he’s got so much faith in it, you know.  To show you how earnest he is in this respect, I’ll relate a short anecdote about him which occurred last summer.  It may amuse you.  Browning has a pretty good idea of himself as a ballplayer, and it rather hurt him to be sent off from us, even if it was to the springs” (Browning was in such poor physical condition in July of 1886—The Cincinnati Enquirer said “it is doubtful if he appears on the diamond again.”– that he was sent to the springs in French Lick, Indiana for a month).

Hart said the rest of the Louisville team let Browning know they did just fine without him in the lineup, including their best road trip of the season, when they won 8 of 12 games:

“The rest of the boys naturally joshed him a good deal about it, and gleefully referred to their splendid record while he was away. ’Yes,’ replied Browning, driven to desperation, ‘but I was touching third bag every day, or you couldn’t have done it.’  It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?  It’s true, nevertheless, for I found out afterwards that he had marked out a diamond just back of the hotel at the springs, and on the days that we were booked to play he would go out to his field and soberly go through his regular ceremony of touching third bag.”

Pete Browning

Pete Browning

Hart claimed he was an exception, “I’m not very superstitious,” he said, but he conceded “I hear and see so much of these things that hang me if I don’t almost believe in them myself sometimes.”   As an example, he told the story of arriving at the ballpark during a losing streak:

“I went into the club-room with a new white plug hat on my head.  Everybody jumped up at once and shouted, ‘A mascot! A mascot! Our luck will change now, sure.’ We did meet with rather better success after that, and the hat naturally got the credit for it.  Four or five weeks later I exchanged my white hat for a black mackinaw, and, my Lord! You should have heard those fellows kick.  They said I was a jonah and we’d lose the next game, and by thunder, we did, too.”