Tag Archives: Bill Klem

“He was the Great Roger Connor”

26 Aug

Dan Parker wrote for The New York Mirror from 1924 until the paper folded in 1963, and for The New York Journal American until his death in 1967.

Parker used his platform to champion causes; he was most famous for a series of stories on mob influence in boxing that led to multiple investigations and several convictions.  He also exposed fraud in wrestling, and among racetrack touts.  He was also an outspoken advocate for the integration of baseball, beginning in 1933.

parker

Parker

In 1950, the Connecticut native wrote about a more personal crusade:

“Thirty-five years ago, when, as a cub reporter I used to cover the school department in offices in Waterbury, my home town, one of the officials I had to call on for news was a tall, handsome, powerfully built man of about 60 whose majestic gray, handlebar mustache perfectly matched his regal bearing.

“Though he was only the school inspector, a minor official in charge of the janitors and artisans employed by the department, I was always in awe of him and no wonder! He was the great Roger Connor, famous when a Giant had to be a giant in every sense of the word.”

Connor, the Waterbury native who appeared in 1998 National League games from 1880 through 1897 was so revered in Waterbury that:

“Kids would stop in the streets and stand at respectful attention as he drove by in his horse and buggy, making his daily rounds of the public schools.”

connor

Connor

But that respect, he said, was not shown outside of his hometown:

“Apparently the name of Roger Connor doesn’t mean anything to baseball today because it isn’t among those admitted to the diamond’s Hall of Fame.”

Parker, said there didn’t “seem to be anything that can be done.” He felt that the committee, which had not met to vote on new inductees since 1946, and added just two players—Mordecai Brown and Kid Nichols—in a vote consisting of mail-in ballots in 1949, had “once and for all” chosen :forever” the only 19th Century players “worthy of” enshrinement:

“Forever is indeed a long, long time to bar a player of Roger Connor’s stature.”

Five years earlier, after the first group of 10 players was selected by the committee, Parker said:

“Bill Klem, the Old Arbitrator, didn’t call when wrong when he said the other day that Roger Connor…should have been among the old-timers selected.”

Parker said in the 1945 article that Connor was not simply his hometown hero, he was “the first ballplayer I ever heard of”

Parker then described Connor’s daily trek through Waterbury in even more noble terms than he would five years later. Noting that while “There was nothing glamorous” about Connor’s position:

“(S)uch was Roger’s regal dignity and majestic aloofness that his commonplace job didn’t diminish his effulgence by a single candle power. The horse and buggy he drove around on his tours of inspection might have been a Roman emperor’s chariot.”

Physically, he said:

“He was a fine figure of a man, a good six feet three inches tall, straight as an Oregon pine and just as robust. Like Candy LaChance, the other big league first baseman Waterbury produced, Roger had a fine flowing mustache. An admirer from the Old Sod would have said of Roger: ‘Sure the bye don’t know his own strinth!’”

In the 1945 article, Parker talked about Connor’s prowess in general terms. In the 1950 pitch for enshrinement, he cited Connor’s lifetime extra base hits, in a stat line provided to him by Ernest Lanigan—the curator of the Hall of Fame–whom Parker called “The Roger Connor of baseball statisticians, in that he has never been fittingly recognized.”

statline.jpg

Connor’s Extra Base Hits

Parker never gave the campaign, in 1951, he said “when a great old-time slugger like Roger Connor is left outside,” it was time for the Hall of Fame to change their election procedures.

The same year he harkened back to the 1946 class and asked:

“Without meaning to be disparaging. May I inquire how Tom McCarthy came to be admitted the baseball’s Hall of Fame when Roger Connor missed out?”

Parker kept up the call for Waterbury’s most famous son, but unlike his other crusades, he did not see this one through.

After Parker’s death in 1967, his friend, Jack McGrath, the retired sports editor of The Troy Times Record, the town where Connor’s major league career began in 1880, and Don Harrison, sports reporter for The Waterbury Republican—where Parker got his start in 1912—took up the cause.

When Connor finally gained admittance in 1976, The Record said:

“As is often the case with such sports stories there is an interesting story behind the story. In this case it is the story of a crusade rewarded…Dan Parker crusaded for Connor’s election to the Hall of Fame for the former third baseman-first baseman’s consistently good hitting record. The crusade never succeeded, Parker died a few years ago but among those who carried on was Jack ‘Peerless’ McGrath…Connor, who died 45 years ago, was finally named to the Hall of Fame Monday. For Jack McGrath and his late great pal, Dan Parker, it was a case of a crusade rewarded.”

McGrath died nine months after Connor was elected.

“This whole Trouble, Disgraceful to be sure, may be Blamed directly on Jack Sheridan”

14 Mar

On April 7, 1901, The San Francisco Call reported that John F. “Jack” Sheridan had accepted an offer from President Ban Johnson to continue working as an umpire in the American League—which operated as a minor league the previous season.  The paper said “The National League also made a bid for his services.  He will receive $400 a month and expenses.”  It was said to be “the largest salary ever paid to an umpire.”

Sheridan was a former player, a second baseman and outfielder, who played for several San Francisco teams in the California League, including stints with the Haverlys from 1883-85.  He went East in 1885 and appeared in six games for the Chattanooga Lookouts in the Southern league, and that same season began working as an umpire.

sheridanpix

Jack Sheridan

Years later, Mique Fisher, long-time California and Pacific Coast League manager and executive told The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review that Sheridan was signed by the Lookouts after he “sold himself to Chattanooga through a glowing personal description of his own ability,” but Fisher said:

 “Sheridan couldn’t field a ball with a fish net or hit one with a tennis racket.  When the Chattanooga manager saw Sheridan in action, he swore out a warrant charging him with obtaining money fraudulently.  Sheridan had to work out the expense advance in a cigarette factory.”

He worked as an umpire in the Southern League (1885, ‘93), the California League (1886-89, ’91), the Players League (1890), the National League (1892, ’96-97), and the Western/American League (1894-95, 1898-1900).

The best-paid umpire in the game, who was also a San Jose undertaker during the off-season, traveled from his California home to Chicago in early April of 1901, but a detour in Missouri nearly cost him his job.

The Chicago Tribune said Sheridan left the train “and was taken into custody on account of his strange actions.”  The Fort Wayne Sentinel said among the “strange actions” Sheridan “donned his uniform and started to umpire an imaginary game in the middle of the street.”

Johnson sent fellow American League Umpire “Pongo” Joe Cantillon to Missouri to get Sheridan released and accompany him to Chicago.  Sheridan was admitted to St. Elizabeth Hospital.  The Tribune said he was suffering from “nervous prostration,’ while The Cincinnati Enquirer said the league president said Sheridan was “on a protracted drunk.”

The day after he was admitted to the hospital two friends were given permission to take Sheridan out for a walk, The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“As they reached Milwaukee Avenue and Division Street, a (street) car whirled by, and Sheridan swung himself on the rear coach.  His friends yelled in vain to the conductor to stop the train, and lost sight of Sheridan.

“They at once notified the police department to look out for Sheridan…Detective Fitzgerald found Sheridan wandering aimlessly on Jackson Boulevard near Wabash…Sheridan did not know where he was, nor could he tell where he had been since escaping from his friends.”

As Sheridan waited to appear in court to determine whether he was insane, newspapers speculated that Johnson would replace the umpire with either former player Warren “Hick” Carpenter or former Western and National League umpire Al Manassau—Manassau was appointed to the American League staff two days before the season began.

Before he could be adjudicated insane Sheridan made a miraculous recovery just one week into the season.  The San Jose Evening News said:

“Mrs. Sheridan, the mother of Jack Sheridan, the noted baseball umpire, has received a telegram from her son, who is in Chicago, stating that he has fully recovered from his derangement and that he could now continue with his contract.”

Sheridan was back on the field before the month of April of over.  He was competent, served as the American League umpires “chief of staff,”  and umpired in four World Series (1905, 07, 08 and 10); he was also selected, along with National League umpire Bill Klem, to join the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants on their world tour after the 1913 season.

But he also demonstrated erratic behavior for the rest of his career.

Just a month after returning to the field The Sporting Life said “Sheridan became frantic and ran up and down the field like a crazy man,” after a disputed call at home plate in the bottom of the ninth of a May 31 game in Detroit between the Tigers and Baltimore Orioles, which led to Sheridan awarding the game to the Tigers by forfeit.

The Sporting Life’s Baltimore correspondent said Sheridan was “held by President Johnson as a competent man,” despite his “habits.”

He resigned on at least three occasions.  After the 1905 and 07 seasons he said he was retiring to return to San Jose and become a full-time undertaker, only to return the following spring and in June of 1910, he abruptly quit minutes before a game in Washington, but returned within several weeks.

When Sheridan again took the field The Washington Post said he would “establish a precedent, as he will be the only major league umpire wearing glasses.”

Sheridan was also arrested in October of 1907 after a barroom brawl that began over a dispute over $120.  The Associated Press said when police searched Sheridan he was carrying $2700.  He was released from jail the following day after being fined $10.

On July 30, 1914, Sheridan called Ray Morgan of the Washington Senators out on a close play at first base in Detroit.  The Washington Post said Morgan, who had slid, “came up with a handful of dirt and threw it on the ground at Sheridan’s feet…Sheridan evidently thought that Morgan intended to hit him, and did not even give the National’s second sacker time to put up his guard, but whaled away at his smaller opponent.”

Ray Morgan

Ray Morgan

Morgan punched Sheridan, and after both dugouts emptied, Sheridan was also punched by Washington’s Eddie Ainsmith.  The disturbance spilled over to the stands with a few Washington players, including Morgan and Ainsmith, taking on Detroit fans before police restored order.

The Post said:

“This whole trouble, disgraceful to be sure, may be blamed directly on Jack Sheridan, the umpire, who has been at fault so many times this year.  In the first place Sheridan has threatened to beat up several of the Washington players.  Sheridan told (David “Mutt”) Williams and (Joe) Engel that he would punch them in the nose, the same as he had Morgan, if they did not do as he told them.”

Ban Johnson never took action against Sheridan for the incident in Detroit, but Morgan and Ainsmith drew suspensions from the league.

On August 1, 1914, The Associated Press reported that “The baseball players fraternity intends to take steps to have Umpire Jack Sheridan retired from service on grounds of incompetence.”

The incident, and dust up on August 12 with Jack Fournier of the White Sox inspired a poem from The Chicago Tribune’s Ring Lardner:

Making Night Hideous

Oft in the stilly night,

Ere slumber’s chain has bound me

Fond memory brings the sight

Of athletes crowding round me;

The scowls, the sneers

Of Jack Fourniers

And Morgans strike my vision;

I hear the barks

And rude remarks

That greet each close decision.

Thus in the stilly night,

Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,

I sometimes get tight up and fight

The chairs and tables round me.

At the end of the 1914 season, Sheridan returned to California.  On October 31 The Associated Press reported that Sheridan would not be returning as an umpire:

“Sheridan will probably be retained as a sort of supervisor of umpires, spending his time roaming around the circuit.”

Just three days later Sheridan died of heart failure in San Jose at age 62—he was said to have suffered sunstroke during an August game and never fully recovered.  Ban Johnson supported him to the end; just weeks before the umpire died the American League president told a reporter:

“I sincerely doubt if the baseball game will ever know another Jack Sheridan.  He had all of the virtues of other arbiters, and none of their mistakes.”

“Evans, who, at the Least, is Incompetent”

2 Dec

William George “Billy” Evans was nicknamed “The Boy Umpire” when he was hired by the American League at the age of 22.  After 21 seasons  he became a front office executive, working for the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers; he was also president of the Southern Association, authored two baseball books and in 1973, 17 years after his death, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

But during his first season as an umpire, 1906, he was not held in high esteem in Chicago.

On September 10 the White Sox were in second place, a game behind the New York Highlanders.  The Sox trailed the Tigers 2 to 1 in the 9th inning.  Chicago shortstop George Davis laid down a bunt and was called out at first by Evans.  Every Chicago paper said Evans beat the throw by “at least a step.”

The call precipitated a near riot.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“Instantly a shower of bottles from the first base bleachers drove the umpire, coacher, and players away from the vicinity of the base.”

After the next two batters were retired:

“Evans walked off the field amid another volley of bottle from the third base stand.”

The Tribune and The Chicago Inter Ocean said Evans and fellow umpire Tommy Connolly were mobbed by fans as they attempted to leave the ballpark with a police escort.  Both papers said “one or two blows” from fans connected with the umpire during his retreat.

The Inter Ocean said, “Evans has been the most heartily reviled arbiter that ever worked in any league.”

The Tribune said two weeks earlier Evans cost the Sox a game in Philadelphia.  After Chicago scored two runs in the top of the sixth inning to take a 5 to 4 lead, Evans “let the Athletics take advantage of his inexperience,” and stopped the game on account of rain with two men out in the bottom of the inning.  The Inter Ocean said, “(Sox Manager Fielder) Jones and (second baseman Frank) Isbell nearly came to blows with the umpire and members of the Athletic team.”

After a half hour, the game was called and the score reverted back to the end of the 5th inning, giving Philadelphia a 4 to 3 victory.

The next day, September 11, the Sox played the St. Louis Browns at South Side Park.  Evans worked the game along with Jack Sheridan.  The newspapers said Sox owner Charles Comiskey had discontinued the sale of “bottled goods” at the park that day.

The Browns won 7 to 3, and the Chicago press put much of the blame for the loss on the rookie umpire.

The Tribune said:

President (Ban) Johnson’s persistence in sending Evans, who, at the least, is incompetent, is giving baseball a black eye in Chicago.  Half the crowd believes the charges that Evans is working under instructions from Johnson to beat Chicago.  These charges undoubtedly are founded on mere prejudice, yet, had Evans been under instructions and trying to beat Chicago, he could not have done better than he did yesterday.”

The Inter Ocean said the Browns “were aided and abetted by Umpire Evans, the boy wonder…Why Ban Johnson insists upon sending the joke to officiate at important games is more than any sane man can see.”

But the Evans’ most ardent critic was William A. Phelon, sports editor of The Chicago Journal:

“Umpire Evans is the worst that ever yet came down this or any other pike in the history of the modern universe…And Ban says he is the best in the game.  We are not selfish and we are willing to let some other city endure him.  We can get over the shock of his removal.  If he doesn’t move he may have a statue down on the lake front, a statue 200 feet high made of bottles.  Give us liberty, give us death, give us any old thing, but, by the snakes of old Ireland, give us an umpire!”

Phelon also said Evans “seems to be a gentlemanly individual, whose place in life is evidently a long ways from the profession of umpiring.”

1906 White Sox

Despite the blame heaped on the young umpire in the press, the White Sox went 17-7 the rest of the season and won the pennant by three games.  They went on to beat the Chicago Cubs 4 games to 2 in the World Series.

Things got better for Evans as well.  He worked his first World Series in 1909—the youngest umpire to do so– and participated in five more from 1912 to 1923.  He was the third umpire to be elected to the Hall of Fame; Connolly and Bill Klem were the first two.

Murphy Calls Out an Umpire

12 Oct

Three years before Chicago Cubs President Charles Murphy ousted legendary manager Frank Chance, he picked a fight with the most powerful and respected umpire in baseball.

In September of 1909 the second place Cubs had just taken three of five games from the league-leading Pirates in Pittsburgh.

On September 9 Murphy filed a formal protest with the league over the fourth game of the series (won by the Pirates 6-2) charging that umpire Bill Klem “(D)eliberately acted as a conspirator, robbing the Cubs of any reasonable chance for victory.”

The Cubs had argued several calls by Klem during the game and Manager Frank Chance and Cubs’ infielders Joe Tinker and Harry Steinfeldt were fined for comments made to the umpire.

Murphy questioned Klem’s honesty and demanded that he not be allowed to serve as umpire in any games played by his team and that the game be replayed.

Klem was an unlikely person to have his integrity questioned.  Generally credited with professionalizing umpiring, he had come forward with fellow umpire Jim Johnstone the previous season to report they had been offered a bribe to help determine the outcome of the October 8 Cubs game with the New York Giants to decide the pennant (the make-up game for the September 23 “Merkle’s Boner” game).

While the league never released specific details of the bribe attempt, the allegations made by the umpires were found to be true and barred the “unnamed conspirators” from any Major League ballpark. Both umpires were commended by the league for demonstrating to the “American public the honesty and integrity of our national game.”

League President John Heydler (appointed after the suicide of Harry Pulliam) immediately announced his support for Klem in the dispute.  Murphy responded by announcing he would ensure Heydler would not be reappointed president of the league that winter—Murphy would be successful spearheading the effort to replace Heydler.

Murphy was never able to cite any specific reasons for his charges and was pressured to drop the protest, which he eventually did, but Klem remained indignant and asked to have his name cleared.  According to newspaper reports:

“The umpire does not propose to let the matter rest.  He considers that his reputation has been attacked, and he therefore will ask the league to investigate him.”

There’s no record that the investigation was ever conducted.

Klem attended that year’s winter meetings in order to be on hand when Murphy was pressured to make a formal, public apology.

Chicago Cubs President Charles Murphy

More on Murphy and his feuds in the coming weeks.