Tag Archives: Bill Lange

One Minute Talk: High Pockets Kelly

20 Sep

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

George Lange “High Pockets” Kelly was a 20-year-old who hit .158 the previous season in 38 at-bats and was in the process of putting up the identical average in 76 at-bats.  The New York Giants outfielder talked about the pressure of having an uncle who was a famous former player:

High Pockets Kelly

High Pockets Kelly

“It’s sometimes hard to live down a name or a relationship.  I don’t mean to imply when I make this statement that I am sorry I am the nephew of Bill Lange, but you know when you are the nephew of one of the greatest stars the game ever produced you are more apt to be in the public eye while there is a lot more expected of you.

“No matter where I happen to be somebody invariably points me out with the illuminating remark: ‘That’s Bill Lange’s nephew.’  But I’m going to stick to baseball and hope someday to make a name for myself just as did Uncle Bill.”

Uncle Bill

Uncle Bill

Kelly finally became a regular with the Giants after hitting .356 for the Rochester Hustlers in the International league in 1919.  He hit .297 over 16 major league seasons and was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1973.  “Uncle Bill” hit .330 over seven seasons for the Chicago Colts/Orphans before retiring at age 28.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #16

21 Oct

Pirates Slump, 1921

The first place Pittsburgh Pirates were preparing for a doubleheader with the New York Giants on August 24, 1921, when the team took time out to pose for a photo.  The Pittsburgh Leader said:

“Someone happened to mention, as the photographer moved away, that for a whole team to watch the little birdie at once was a jinx.”

The team promptly went out and dropped the doubleheader, then lost three more to the Giants.  The paper said of the five straight losses:

“It doesn’t prove the jinx exists.  But it does prove that to imbue a man or a team of men, with the idea that they can’t win a ballgame generally means that they won’t win.  For their pep and enthusiasm has been stolen.”

The Pirates finished second, four games behind the Giants.

Anson’s All-Time Team, 1918

While visiting St. Paul, Minnesota in the summer of 1918, Cap Anson was asked by a reporter for The Associated Press to name his all-time all-star team.  The reporter said the team was most “notable for including in its makeup not one” current player:

"Cap" Anson

                        “Cap” Anson

“According to Captain Anson, at  least four outfielders of old times are better than (Ty) Cobb or (Tris) Speaker and (John) Clarkson, (Amos) Rusie, and (Jim) McCormick, he thinks were better pitchers than (Grover Cleveland)  Alexander  or (Walter) Johnson.  His line-up would be:

Catchers—William “Buck” Ewing and Mike “King” Kelly

Pitchers—Amos Rusie, John Clarkson, and Jim McCormick

First Base—Captain Anson, himself

Second Base—Fred Pfeffer

Third Base—Ned Williamson

Shortstop—Ross Barnes

Outfielders—Bill Lange, George Gore, Jimmy Ryan and Hugh Duffy

Cy Young’s Five Rules, 1907

Forty-year-old Cy Young won 21 games for the Boston Americans in 1907 and his longevity became a popular topic of newspaper copy until he pitched his final major league game four years later.

Cy Young

                                             Cy Young

During that 1907 season he gave a reporter for The Boston Post his advice for young players:

“(T)o the young player who seeks his advice about getting in condition and being able to stay in the game as long as the veteran himself, Cy lays down a few simple rules, which are as follows:

  1.  Live a temperate life
  2. Don’t abuse yourself if you want to attain success
  3. Don’t try to bait the umpires; abusing the arbitrators does a player no good and harms him in the eyes of the umpires, players and public in general
  4. Play the game for all you are worth at all times
  5. Render faithful service to your employers

Regarding his “rule” about umpires, Young said:

“What’s the use in kicking?  The umpire won’t change his decision, and kicking will give him another chance to get back at you for your silly abuse.”

Grantland Rice’s “All-Time All-Star Round up”

10 Aug

In December of 1917, thirty-eight-year-old sportswriter Grantland Rice of The New York Tribune enlisted in the army–he spent fourteen months in Europe.  Before he left he laid out the case, over two weeks, for an all-time all-star team in the pages of the paper:

“As we expect to be held to a restricted output very shortly, due to the exigencies and demands of the artillery game, this seemed to be a fairly fitting period to unfold the results.”

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

Rice said the selections were “not solely from our own limited observation, extending over a period of some eighteen or twenty years,” but included input from players, managers and sportswriters, including  “such veterans” as Frank Bancroft and Clark Griffith, and baseball writers Joe Vila of The New York Sun, Bill Hanna of The New York Herald and Sam Crane, the former major league infielder turned sportswriter of The New York Journal.

Rice said only one of the nine selections “(S)eems to rest in doubt.  The others were almost unanimously backed.”

The selections:

Pitcher:  Christy Mathewson

A. G. Spalding, John (Montgomery) Ward, Larry Corcoran, Charley Radbourn, John Clarkson, (Thomas) Toad Ramsey, Tim Keefe, Bill Hoffer, Amos Rusie, (Mordecai) Miner Brown, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh–the array is almost endless.

“In the matter of physical stamina, Cy Young has outclassed the field.  Cy won more games than almost any others ever pitched.

“(But) For all the pitching mixtures and ingredients, stamina, steadiness, brilliancy, brains, control, speed, curves, coolness, courage, is generally agreed that no man has ever yet surpassed Christy Mathewson…there has never been another who had more brains or as fine control.”

 

[…]

“It might be argued that Radbourn or (Walter) Johnson or (Grover Cleveland) Alexander was a greater pitcher than Mathewson.

But we’ll string with Matty against the field.”

Radbourn was the second choice.  Bancroft said:

“Radbourn was more like Mathewson than any pitcher I ever saw.  I mean by that, that like Matty, he depended largely upon brains and courage and control, like Matty he had fine speed and the rest of it.  Radbourn was a great pitcher, the best of the old school beyond any doubt.”

Catcher:  William “Buck” Ewing

“Here we come to a long array—Frank (Silver) Flint, Charley Bennett, (Charles “Chief”) Zimmer, (James “Deacon”) McGuire, (Wilbert) Robinson, (Marty) Bergen(Johnny) Kling, (Roger) Bresnahan and various others.

“But the bulk of the votes went to Buck Ewing.”

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

[…]

“Wherein did Ewing excel?

“He was a great mechanical catcher.  He had a wonderful arm and no man was surer of the bat…he had a keen brain, uncanny judgment, and those who worked with him say that he had no rival at diagnosing the  weakness of opposing batsman, or at handling his pitchers with rare skill.”

Kling was the second choice:

“Kling was fairly close…a fine thrower, hard hitter, and brilliant strategist…But as brilliant as Kling was over a span of years, we found no one who placed him over the immortal Buck.”

1B Fred Tenney

First Base was the one position with “the greatest difference of opinion,” among Rice and the others:

“From Charlie Comiskey to George Sisler is a long gap—and in that gap it seems that no one man has ever risen to undisputed heights… There are logical arguments to be offered that Hal Chase or Frank Chance should displace Fred Tenney at first.

But in the way of batting and fielding records Tenney wins….Of the present array, George Sisler is the one who has the best chance of replacing Tenney.”

2B Eddie Collins

 “There was no great argument about second base.

“The vote was almost unanimous.

“From the days of Ross Barnes, a great hitter and a good second baseman on through 1917, the game has known many stars.  But for all-around ability the game has known but one Eddie Collins.”

Rice said the competition was between Collins, Napoleon Lajoie and Johnny Evers:

“Of these Lajoie was the greatest hitter and most graceful workman.

“Of these Evers was the greatest fighter and the more eternally mentally alert.

“But for batting and base running, fielding skill, speed and the entire combination, Collins was voted on top.”

 SS Honus Wagner

“Here, with possibly one exception, is the easiest pick of the lot.  The game has been replete with star shortstops with George Wright in 1875 to (Walter “Rabbit”) Maranville, (George “Buck”) Weaver…There were (Jack) Glasscock and (John Montgomery) Ward, (Hardy) Richards0n, (Hugh) Jennings, (Herman)Long, (Joe) Tinker and (Jack) Barry.

“But there has been only one Hans Wagner.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Jennings and Long were rated second and third,  “But, with the entire list  considered there is no question but that Wagner stands at the top.”

3B Jimmy Collins

Rice said:

“From the days of (Ned) Williamson(Jerry) Denny, and (Ezra) Sutton, over thirty years ago, great third basemen have only appeared at widely separated intervals.

“There have been fewer great third basemen in baseball than at any other position, for there have been periods when five or six years would pass without an undoubted star.”

The final decision came down to “John McGraw vs. Jimmy Collins.”  McGraw was “a great hitter, a fine bunter and a star base runner,” while “Collins was a marvel and a marvel over a long stretch…he was good enough to carve out a .330 or a .340 clip (and) when it came to infield play at third he certainly had no superior…So taking his combined fielding and batting ability against that of McGraw and Collins wins the place.  McGraw was a trifle his superior on the attack. But as a fielder there was no great comparison, Collins leading by a number of strides.”

 

OF Ty Cobb

“The supply here is overwhelming…Yet the remarkable part is that when we offered our selection to a jury of old players, managers and veteran scribes there was hardly a dissenting vote.”

[…]

“Number one answers itself.  A man who can lead the league nine years in succession at bat.

“A man who can lead his league at bat in ten out of eleven seasons.

“A man who can run up the record for base hits and runs scored in a year—also runs driven in.

“Well, the name Ty Cobb answers the rest of it.”

OF Tris Speaker

 “The man who gives Cobb the hardest battle is Tris Speaker.  Veteran observers like Clark Griffith all say that Speaker is the greatest defensive outfielder baseball has ever exploited…Speaker can cover more ground before a ball is pitched than any man.  And if he guesses incorrectly, which he seldom does, he can go a mile to retrieve his error in judgment…And to this impressive defensive strength must be added the fact he is a powerful hitter, not only a normal .350 man, but one who can tear the hide off the ball for extra bases.”

Tris Speaker "hardest hit"

Tris Speaker 

OF “Wee Willie” Keeler

Mike Kelly and Joe KelleyJimmy Sheckard and Fred Clarke—the slugging (Ed) Delehanty—the rare Bill LangeBilly Hamilton.

“The remaining list is a great one, but how can Wee Willie Keeler be put aside?

“Ask Joe Kelley, or John McGraw, or others who played with Keeler and who remember his work.

“Keeler was one of the most scientific batsmen that ever chopped a timely single over third or first…And Keeler was also a great defensive outfielder, a fine ground coverer—a great thrower—a star in every department of play.

“Mike Kelly was a marvel, more of an all-around sensation, but those who watched the work of both figure Keeler on top.”

Rice said of the nine selections:

“The above is the verdict arrived at after discussions with managers, players and writers who have seen a big section of the long parade, and who are therefore able to compare the stars of today with the best men of forgotten years.

“Out of the thousands of fine players who have made up the roll call of the game since 1870 it would seem impossible to pick nine men and award them the olive wreath.  In several instances the margin among three or four is slight.

“But as far a s deductions, observations, records and opinions go, the cast named isn’t very far away from an all-time all-star round up, picked for ability, stamina, brains, aggressiveness and team value.

“If it doesn’t stick, just what name from above could you drop?”

“Baseball is full of Authenticated instances of Woman’s Influence over it”

27 Jul

In 1905, The Washington Evening Star said:

“The unwritten history of baseball is full of authenticated instances of woman’s influence over it…Not infrequently a sweetheart’s or a wife’s objections to the game cause a star to forsake the diamond for work for which he is not fitted in the least degree, and at which he makes only a living at best.

Bill Lange is a case in point.  Up to (1899) he was one of the best ground coverers in the profession, and as a batsman had a high average.  From the day of his wedding, his wife kept at him to leave the game, urging him to take the step on the grounds of personal safety.  Bill reasoned with her and told her time and again that he knew of no other job for which he could make $4,500 in six months.  But Mrs. Lange was obdurate, and so, when his last season closed Bill ruefully announced to his manager that the diamond would never know him again.  And it has not, though he has annually been tempted by numerous flattering offers. ‘I have given my word to my wife,’ he says simply, ‘and so long as she feels as she does about the game I shall not take up the bat.’”

 

Bill Lange

Bill Lange

Lange never played another professional game

The Evening Star said that occasionally a wife would change her mind, and allow her husband to play professional ball; George “Del” Howard was one such player.

Howard—under his middle name Elmer—was a member of the Mattoon, Illinois team in the Indiana-Illinois League in 1899.

“Howard took as his wife the daughter of a prominent citizen of a central western town.  They had scarcely settled down after their honeymoon when Mrs. Howard began pleading with her husband to give up the game, naming as a reason that she had a strong dislike for it.  She was so insistent that finally Howard reluctantly severed connections with the game, and secured employment selling agricultural implements.

“But he did not give up all hope of returning to the diamond.  During the months that he was engaged in telling farmers of the merits of his particular make of wheat drills and mowers he spent his spare time endeavoring to get his wife interested in baseball. At first it was hard and slow work, and had to be accomplished diplomatically, but little by little he progressed to the point where Mrs. Howard would accompany him to games.  Then Howard explained every play made, told her about the players, introduced them to her, and made her acquainted with the woman folk of the players who were in the grandstand.

“At the end of four tedious years his work of education bore fruit.  Mrs. Howard came to him one day, confessed that she had changed her mind about baseball, declared that she would rather have him on the diamond than an agent for farm implements, and further caused him great joy by appending that he couldn’t get their quickly enough to suit her.“

After a five-year absence from baseball, Howard signed with the Omaha Rangers in the Western League in 1904.  He hit .316 in 144 games (finishing second to William “Bunk” Congalton of the Colorado Springs Millionaires for the batting title) and was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies.

Del Howard

Del Howard

Traded to Pittsburgh for three players, the 27-year-old Howard made his major league debut for the Pirates on April 15, 1905, in Cincinnati with his wife Jessie in the stands.

Howard’s rookie season was his best; he hit .292 in 123 games with the Pirates.  He played in the major leagues for five seasons and was a member of the 1907 and ’08 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.

Howard played and managed in the minor leagues through 1922. His wife Jesse died in California in 1933.  He died on his 79th birthday on December 24, 1956.

“People who saw the Sport are still Laughing”

17 Dec

High expectations came with George W. “Big Mike” Mahoney to his hometown Boston Beaneaters in 1897.

A baseball, track and football star at Georgetown University—he played football until the University disbanded the team after his backfield mate George “Shorty” Bahen—a foot shorter than Mahoney– died from injuries sustained during the team’s Thanksgiving Day game against Columbia in 1894.

George "Big Mike" Mahoney

George “Big Mike” Mahoney

In 1895, he gained notice for his pitching after striking out 13 batters in a game with Yale.

The following year, The Philadelphia Times said:

“He has won enviable renown as a pitcher, where his remarkable strength, speed and ability to curve have made him a very formidable player.  He has also played football, where his remarkable physique, weight and strength have stood him in good stead.  One would imagine that his weight—236 pounds—would prevent his running with any remarkable speed, but it is so distributed—he being probably the largest athlete in the college world, measuring six feet five—that it is little of an encumbrance to him.”

In the spring of 1897, it was rumored that Mahoney would not return to Georgetown and instead sign with Boston.  The Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“(I)t is understood that he will play professionally with the Boston league team.  Mahoney is considered a wonderful pitcher, as well as being a fine catcher and first baseman.”

Shortly after signing with the Beaneaters, The Washington Evening Times said Mahoney had been offered the opportunity to take up yet another sport:

“(Mahoney) has a chance to shine pugilistically.  En route to Pittsburgh Sunday the Bostons had Bob Fitzsimmons for a traveling companion.  Fitz was smitten with Mahoney’s size, and offered to take him in charge and coach him into a high-class heavyweight.”

Bob Fitzsimmons-wanted to train Mahoney for the ring.

Bob Fitzsimmons-wanted to train Mahoney for the ring.

Mahoney turned down the offer.

On May 18 Boston was in Chicago; trailing the Colts 9 to 5 in the eighth inning, Mahoney made his big league debut on the mound for the Beaneaters.

The Colts and The Chicago Daily News were not kind to the rookie:

“Mr. Mahoney, the largest man seen in the League for many moons, made his debut in professional ball at the west Side Grounds yesterday.  He now wishes he had tarried at his Georgetown school.  The reception given Mr. Mahoney was one of the warmest ever seen around these districts since the year 1, and the people who saw the sport are still laughing.

“Mr. Mahoney is 6 feet 5 or more, and one of the finest looking men imaginable.  Small girls, who admire big men, could be heard squeaking, ‘Isn’t he cute?’ all of the stand.  He has been loafing around the park during the present series, doing nothing but taking life easy, and the multitude were really getting inquisitive as to who he was and what right he had to live.

“He went into the fray at a rather inauspicious time.  The Colts had just demolished (Ted) Lewis and had biffed fat (Jack) Stivetts in the solar plexus.  When Mr. Mahoney’s giant frame loomed up there was a shout of laughter, then a pause of dread lest the monster should prove strong and speedy in proportion to his fearful size.

“He threw a ball:  (Bill) Dahlen hit it.  He threw another: (Bill) Lange hit it.  He threw one more: (Walter) Thornton hit it.  And the picnic might have gone on had not the long man climbed eleven feet higher and pulled down a bounding ball (Mahoney had jumped high to rob Colts catcher Tim Donahue of a hit up the middle)”

Mahoney faced seven batters, allowed two runs, three hits, walked one and struck out one.

Mahoney

Mahoney

The Daily News ended the ridicule by allowing that Mahoney might, someday, be a good pitcher:

“The fate of Mr. Mahoney is no new experience for a young pitcher.  Many a man who has afterward been a star has been a horrible fizzle on his first appearance, while many a man who has panned out no good on earth has made a glorious debut.  Thornton was a conspicuous success on his initial day, and has been nothing in the way of box work since.  (Clark) Griffith did not do very well the first tie he pitched for (Cap) Anson, and he is the best of all nowadays.  Mr. Mahoney, if given a fair show, may yet become a (Amos) Rusie.”

Mahoney never received “a fair show.”  He never pitched in another major league game.  He caught one game for Boston, and went 1 for 2 with an RBI, but was released in July of 1897.  Mahoney appeared in two games for the St. Louis Browns the following season—he was 1 for 7 and committed one error.  For his four-game big league career he hit .111 and posted an 18.00 ERA.

After one more season playing for several East Coast minor league teams, Mahoney returned to Boston where he became a police officer; he died there in 1940.

“He’s a Loafer and a Drinker”

3 Dec

Bill Lange and Elmer Foster were likely the two favorite subjects of sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, who continued to write about both long after their careers were over. Another favorite subject was Bill Dahlen, who spent eight of his 21 big league seasons in Chicago, and received numerous mentions in Fullerton’s columns.

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen

Fullerton claimed during the 1890s he worked for an editor who was “a wild baseball crank.” The editor had an assignment for Fullerton after watching Bill Dahlen play a particularly bad game for the Chicago Colts one day:

“(He) summoned me and said, sharply: ‘Go after that fellow, Dahlen, and drive him out of town. He’s a loafer and a drinker.’”

Fullerton said, “there wasn’t a chance to argue,” and he let his friend Dahlen know he would “pan the life out of him and drive him off the team, explaining the circumstances.” Dahlen, he said, “wished me success.”

Fullerton said after writing critically about Dahlen for two weeks, the two were together on a train as the Colts headed to the East Coast:

“Dahlen and I slipped away from (Cap) Anson’s ever watchful eye and sought the buffet car and liquid refreshment. While we were thus engaged the editor entered the car, addressed me, inquired whether the team was on the train and was introduced to Dahlen. I left them at 11 o’clock, the editor ordering more beer and talking baseball with Dahlen. The following morning the editor stopped at my berth.

“’I was much mistaken in that young man, Dahlen,’ he remarked. ‘He is a smart, intelligent and interesting young man. I believe these stories about his drinking have been exaggerated. I fear we have been misled by the talk of cranks. I wish you would write a story suggesting him as the logical successor of Captain Anson as manager of the team.’”

On several occasions Fullerton told another story about Dahlen, this one involving a run-in with umpire Hank O’Day; there were always slight variations in the dialogue:

“Billy Bull Head Dahlen perhaps has been driven to the the bench oftener than any player in the country. Dahlen is a nagger. He keeps right after an umpire from the time he gets displeased with a decision until the game ends, and then starts over again the next day.”

Hank O'Day

Hank O’Day

Fullerton said Dahlen approached O’Day before a game in New York:

“Say, Hank, if I run at you in the first inning and call you a blank, blank, blank and step on your toes with my spikes and push my glove into your face, what’ll you do?’

“‘Do?’ said Henry, getting roiled up. ‘Do? I’ll chase you off the lot faster than you can run.’

“‘All right,’ said Dahlen, calmly, ‘no hard feelings. I just want to get put out quick, so i can get to Harlem in time to get a bet down on the fourth race.’

“‘You can’t get put out of this game in a thousand years, not if you spike me in the face.’

“Nor could he, although he did everything he could think of O’Day made him play out the string, and the horse he wanted to bet on won the race at heavy odds.”

Tom Lynch’s Broom

24 Sep

In 1905 Chicago White Sox outfielder Jimmy “Nixey” Callahan talked about his first season in Chicago in 1897 in an article distributed by “Newspaper Enterprise Association” to several newspapers across the country:

“’Bill’ Lange, who is now a prosperous real estate dealer in Frisco, and former Umpire Tom Lynch, who is a theatrical magnate in New Britain, Conn., were sworn enemies of the diamond.  On the ball field Lynch insisted on being addressed as ‘Mr. Lynch’ and was probably the strictest disciplinarian that ever wore a mask.

“We were playing in Boston with the old Chicago club, under (Cap) Anson, and noticed that the broom used to brush the plate was always kept or thrown over to our side, due to some superstition of other on the part of the Boston players to have it on the visitors’ side.  Lange was leading off about the fifth inning and as he walked to the plate he picked the broom up and threw it over on the Boston side.  (Hugh) Duffy, who was then captain of the Boston nine, threw it back.  One of our players ran from the bench and hurled the broom over to the Boston side.  The large crowd began to see the humor of the situation and began cheering the players as the broom passed back and forth.  Lynch stopped the game and as a truce umpired the rest of the game with the broom in his possession.  The next day the broom was missing and Mr. Lynch carried a small whisk broom in his pocket.”

National League President Thomas Lynch

National League President Thomas Lynch

During the same series, Callahan said:

“Lange’s method of annoying Lynch was artistic.  When at bat or passing Lynch he would say” ‘Don’t you think Boston will win today Mr. Lynch? Or ‘Don’t you think Boston will win the pennant Mr. Lynch? Would you as a disinterested party like to see Boston win, Mr. Lynch?’  Never giving Lynch a chance to fine him by being vulgar or noisy, Lange would not stop walking when addressing him, ever.

“He would have Lynch furious, but as he kept within the bounds Lynch was forced to take his medicine.”

Five years later, after Lynch had been named president of the National League; Lange retold the broom story to a reporter and said:

“After the damage had been done I suggested that we compromise by allowing one half the handle to lie on one side of the plate and the other half on the other.”

Years later, another National League umpire, George Barr, told a reporter for The Associated Press that the umpire’s whisk broom was “The most important thing, he possessed on the field:

“That little whisk-broom which most of the fans and players, too, believe is carried around to keep the plate free from dust is actually the symbol of authority the umpire has over the game.

“So when you are working behind the plate, stride up to the old pan and give her a vigorous dusting, even if the thing’s as clean as a whistle.  That’s to let the fans and players know you’re in charge of the game—that you’re the official representative of the league which, in fact, you are.”

George Barr

George Barr

“Baseball is now Played by certain Mathematical rules and Regulations”

16 Jul

The Chicago Tribune’s Hugh Fullerton concluded in 1906 that base running had “in a sense, become a lost art.”

“Baseball is now played by certain mathematical rules and regulations, and there is no more of the brilliant individual feats of the old days.  Everyone who plays now knows just what stage the game is in, what to do in that stage, and if he does not the signals from the batter to show him his duty.  In the old days most of them ran unaided by bunt, ‘squeeze,’ hit and run, or blocking or feinting to bunt to draw the fielders out of position.

“Teams still run, hoping to demoralize the opposition, but not to the extent that they did in the early years of the game.”

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

According to Fullerton no team ran wilder than the Chicago White Stockings of the 1880s

 “Mike Kelly was perhaps the most daring of all base runners.  He never was extremely fast, and in his later years grew extremely slow—but he stole almost as many bases when slow as ever he did.  Indeed, the best base runners the game has known were men of medium speed in running, and few of the really fast sprinters ever were good base runners.  Kelly ran bases with his head instead of his feet.

“One of the best trick that old team ever pulled off was against Boston in Chicago.  Kelly engineered the deal, although he was on first base, with a runner—(Tom) Burns, I think—on third.  One was out and the worst hitter on the team was up, with one run needed.  Kelly was standing on first, and as the pitcher prepared to deliver the ball Kel went dashing towards second, yelling at the top of his lungs.

“The pitcher took a glance to see if the runner had left third and saw him standing still, and to his astonishment saw Kelly still tearing towards second.  He hesitated, expecting Kel would stop or slow up—then threw, and threw high, while Kel, instead of sliding and reaching second in safety, merely touched the base and tore towards third at top speed, leaving the second baseman holding the ball in astonishment.  The runner at third had moved off ten feet as Kel came tearing towards him yelling commands, and catching the drift of the play, he sprinted for home.  The throw went to the plate ahead of him as he rushed homeward and seeing himself hopelessly out he slowed up a bit, and Kelly, coming on from third, slid around him, escaped the astonished catcher, who was tagging the other runner, and scored, evening up the game.”

Mike "King" Kelly

Mike “King” Kelly

Fullerton also wrote about the “Kelly Slide,” or “Kelly Spread,” the hook slide Kelly made famous, which also went by another name:

“Kelly invented the ‘Chicago Slide,’ which was one of the greatest tricks ever pulled off.  It was a combination slide, twist and dodge.  The runner went straight down the line at top speed and when nearing the base threw himself either inside or outside of the line, doubled the left leg under him—if sliding inside, or the right, if sliding outside—slid on the doubled up leg and the hip, hooked the foot on the other leg around the base, and pivoted on it, stopping on the opposite side of the base.

“Every player of the old Chicago team practiced and perfected that slide and got away with hundreds of stolen bases when really they should have been touched out easily  There are some modern players who make the slide something as it was done then, but Bill Dahlen of New York really is the only one in either big league who executes it regularly and perfectly.”

And, as with most Fullerton reminiscences there were stories about his personal favorite players; which may, or may not have actually happened on a baseball field somewhere, to someone.

Elmer Foster was a great base runner, after his style.  He ran regardless of consequences and perhaps no man that ever played in fast company ever took an extra base on a hit oftener as did Elmer.  He simply refused to stop at his legitimate destination, and kept right on.  When he got caught he always said:  ‘Why, I wasn’t a bit tired.  Why should I have stopped running?’

“On day Foster was turning third, trying to score from second on a short hit, when Billy Kuehne bumped him with his hip, threw him out into the grass, and forced him to stop.  Elmer was wild.  He kept yelling, ‘I’ll be around here again.’  The next time up he made a two base hit and he never stopped at second, but dashed on for third at top speed.  The second baseman, surprised, made a high throw to third and Kuehne stretched to get the ball just as Foster, leaping through the air, landed on his chest with both feet and kicked him half way to the grandstand.  Foster came home running backwards and yelping with delight at Kuehne—and then got sore because he was called out.”

Elmer Foster

Elmer Foster

“One of the funniest incidents in base stealing I ever saw happened in Chicago one of the yeas that Bill Lange led the league in base running.  It was a close race between Lange and (Billy) Hamilton for the honors and the season was drawing to a close.  The game was close, and Lange led off the eighth inning with a two bagger.  Anson went to bat and laid down a perfect bunt, intending to sacrifice.  He went out in a close finish at first, and looking up, discovered Lange still perched on second.  He was furious, but the condition was mild compared to what he experienced an instant later when Lange stole third—and took the lead fo the base running honors.”

 

“You are mostly Fakes, and yet I love you all!”

19 Mar

Elmer Foster became better known after his career had ended than he ever had been as a player because of sportswriter Hugh Fullerton who included stories he said were about Foster in his columns for more than twenty years.

Elmer Foster

Elmer Foster

The first story appeared in 1897, shortly after Fullerton arrived at The Chicago Tribune:

“The long-lost is found.  A few days ago a traveling man who is a baseball fan climbed on the train with the Colts and engaged Jimmy Ryan in Conversation.

“’Who do you think I saw the other day?’ he queried…I was up in Minnehaha, the village at the falls of St. Paul.  About 10 o’clock at night I was preparing to go to bed, when suddenly there came a series of war whoops up the street.  A man came tearing down on horseback, whipping the animal to dead run and whooping like a Comanche Just as he got to where we were standing he pulled two revolvers and, still whooping, emptied them into the air.  I was scared to death, but no one else paid any attention.  When the danger was over I crawled out from under a cellar door and said ‘Who is that?  ‘Oh, that’s nothing,’ said one of the gang.  ‘It’s only Elmer Foster going home.’”

The 1897 article also told a more accurate version of the incident in Pittsburgh that led to Foster’s release than Fullerton told in later years–it mentioned that he was with Pat Luby (incorrectly identified as “Harry” Luby), and Fullerton, in this version, did not claim to be present.

With that the legend was born.

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

By the turn of the century the legend grew.  Fullerton said:

“Foster was a great baserunner…He ran regardless of consequences, and perhaps no man that ever played in fast company ever took an extra base on a hit oftener than did Elmer.  He simply refused to stop at his legitimate destination, and kept right on.  When he got caught he always said: ‘Why, I wasn’t a bit tired.  Why should I have stopped running?’”

By 1903 Fullerton said of Foster:

“No man who was interested in baseball during the early ‘90s can certainly have forgotten the name of the man who was perhaps the best center fielder who ever wore a Chicago uniform.”

Like Bill Lange, another player he helped make famous long after his career was over, Fullerton’s most often repeated story about Foster was a dubious one involving a catch—a story that was repeated over the years as having happened three years after Foster’s big league career was over:

“Back in ’94 one of the Eastern teams was playing Chicago on the West Side, with Foster in center field.  The man at bat made a terrific swipe at the ball and hit it.  The shadow was deep over the infield and Foster could not see the ball.  He started to run out into far center, so as to be prepared.

“As a matter of fact the ball was only a bunt.  The shortstop caught it and threw the batter out at first.  But Foster kept on running—running like mad….Foster ran at the top of his speed almost to the center field fence.  Then he jumped high up into the air, threw up his left hand, and came down to the ground with—an English sparrow tightly clenched in his fist.”

In addition to Fullerton repeating the story over the years,  “Gentleman” Jim Corbett retold it in his syndicated sports column in 1919 and Al Spink, writing for The Chicago Evening Post in 1920 quoted former Chicago White Sox Manager Jimmy “Nixey” Callahan telling the story in 1920—like the original, both Corbett’s version and Spink’s via Callahan say the “catch’ happened three years after Foster left Chicago.  The story survived until at least 1925 when it appeared in several paper as park of a King Features syndicated column of short baseball stories.

Fullerton’s Foster stories—including several regarding drunken pranks Foster was alleged to have played on Cap Anson—became so ubiquitous that William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star  said in 1912:

“It is now an accepted tradition that Elmer Foster, the famous fielder, led the Chicago team on a glorious, care-free, drunk through a whole wild merry season in 1891.  That is believed by everybody—yet the records show that Foster played just a few games with Chicago in 1890, and was released in April [sic] of 1891, before the season was even one week old!  Oh, you legends!  Oh, you deceiving old stories!  You are mostly fakes, and yet I love you all!”

“Foster you are Released”

17 Mar

Elmer Ellsworth Foster’s career as a pitcher ended on August 26, 1884.  He had been out for three weeks with “an injury to the tendon in his right arm,” when he took the mound for the St. Paul Apostles in a Northwestern League game against the Milwaukee Brewers.  The 22-year-old was 17-19 with 1.18 ERA when he took the mound at St. Paul’s West Seventh Street Grounds.

The St. Paul Daily Globe said:

“When the popular favorite took his position in the box in the last half of the first inning the audience received him with an ovation of cheers, to which he responded by raising his cap.  A moment later he pitched the first ball, a sharp crack was heard distinctly all over the ground and the sphere went spinning ten feet to the right of the batter.  Foster turned pale, but stood in his position until the players in the vicinity reached him.”

He had “snapped the bone of the right arm just above the elbow,” and after Foster left the field a collection was taken up among the fans “A few minutes later it was announced that $172 had been collected.”

He made it to the major leagues two years later as an outfielder with the New York Metropolitans in the American Association, and played parts of five seasons in the American Association and National League.  A consistent .300 hitter in the minors, Foster hit just .187 in 386 big league at bats.

According to The Sporting Life, his manager with the New York Giants in 1888 and ‘89, Jim Mutrie considered him “one of the best fielders in the country, and the only reason New York ever let him go was because he didn’t show up well with the stick in fast company.”

Elmer Foster

Elmer Foster

Sportswriter Hugh Fullerton said he excelled at other things as well:

“The rowdy of the rowdies was Elmer Foster.  Handsome, well bred, clean cut and with it all, well educated and something of an actor.  Foster was in baseball for the fun of it.”

From the time Fullerton joined The Chicago Tribune in 1897 until he left Chicago for New York in 1919 Bill Lange was probably the only 19th Century player he wrote about more often Foster.

Foster’s  best season was 1890 (.248 in 105 at bats and 5 home runs) with Cap Anson’s second place Chicago Colts after being acquired in late August.

Foster started the season with his hometown Minneapolis Millers in the Western Association (he hit .388 in his first twelve games), but fell out of favor with Manager Sam Morton after he and a teammate named Henry O’Day were arrested and fined in Milwaukee for public intoxication in May.

Foster was benched, but the team refused to release him, and by mid-July he was ready to take the Millers to court.  The St. Paul Daily Globe said:

“(Foster) threatens to bring suit against the management to compel its members to give him his release.  His claim will be that they are unjustly preventing him from earning a livelihood.  There is a possibility that the threat may be only a bluff, but should such a trial be put on, it will be of much interest in Western baseball circles, as it will be the first of its kind in this section.”

The Millers finally chose to release Foster rather than fight a lawsuit.  Foster was rumored to be headed to several different teams, but finally signed with the Colts on August 27.

After his strong September in 1890 Foster began the ’91 season as the Colts center fielder, but it didn’t last.

Fullerton said Foster sealed his fate with Anson during the opening series:

“We were going to Pittsburgh, and just before we arrived in town on the unearthly jump from Chicago to Pittsburgh, via Cleveland, Anson came along and sat facing us.

“’Foster,’ He said ‘The next time you take a drink, or anyone on the club takes a drink with you, I’ll release you.’

“’All right, Cap,’ said Foster, cheerfully.

“We arrived in Pittsburgh, and while Anson was registering the club at the desk Foster said: ‘Let’s go have a cocktail.’

“’Better be careful, Elmer, the old man is sore,’ I remarked.

“But we went.  The mixologist had just strained the cocktails into the glasses when Foster, looking into the mirror, spied Anson in the doorway.  He turned and, bowing low, said sweetly “Captain anson, will you join us for a drink?’

“’No,’ thundered Anson.  “Foster you are released.

“And now that I am released, Captain Anson,’ said Foster, ‘will you join us in a drink?”

Unlike many of Fullerton’s story, the basic facts (if not the part where he included himself in the story) are confirmed by contemporaneous accounts.  The Chicago Tribune said on April 26 after the Colts four-game series with the Pirates:

“Elmer Foster is not with the club and he has probably played his last game with it.  He and (Pat) Luby last night at Pittsburgh were drinking and Anson fined each $25 and ordered them to go to bed.  They paid no attention to the order and the fine was increased to $50.  This morning when the team was ready to go to Cincinnati Anson gave foster a ticket to Chicago and sent him home.”

Luby was not sent home and lost to the Reds 1 to 0 the following day.  He was fined several times for drinking during the 1891 season, and after a promising 20-9 rookie season in 1890 he slipped to 8-11, and followed it up with an 11-16 season in 1892 before Chicago let him go.

Foster was suspended without pay and finally released on May 11.  He was immediately signed by the Kansas City Blues.

Foster played well in Kansas City, hitting .300 in 70 games for the second place Blues, but was released in August.  The Kansas City Star said:

“One of the sensations of today is the unconditional release of Elmer Foster whose behavior on the present trip has been disgraceful”

The paper said Manager Jim Manning was forced to make the move, not just because of Foster’s drinking, but because he “has been largely instrumental in leading other members of the team astray.”

His replacement, Joseph Katz, acquired from the Grand Rapids Shamrocks in the Northwestern league hit just .225 in the final 25 games.

In December of 1891 The Minneapolis Times said:

“Elmer Foster, the ballplayer, yesterday secured $25,000 through the will of his dead mother, and today announced his permanent retirement from the diamond. “

With the exception of one game in 1895 (he went 1 for 2) with the Millers, Foster was true to his word and quit baseball at the age of 29.

Foster retired to Minneapolis where he operated a piano and organ store with his brother, did some acting and occasionally said he was considering running for the Minneapolis City Council or the Minnesota State Legislature, although there is no record of his ever officially filing to run for office.  He also worked as a scout for the Pittsburgh, and signed Ralph Capron out of the University of Minnesota for the Pirates.

After Fullerton moved to New York and stopped writing about Foster the “The rowdy of the rowdies” faded into comfortable obscurity in Minnesota.  He died in 1946 at age 84.

Some of Fullerton’s less reliable stories about Foster on Wednesday.