Tag Archives: Bill Lange

“The Hardest Loser the Game Ever Knew”

3 Apr

During the same week Billy Sunday appeared at one of his largest revivals—preaching in front of an estimated 10,000 people in Spokane, Washington—Cap Anson was telling a judge in Chicago that he was “Busted,” unable to pay a $111 debt.

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Billy Sunday

Sunday told a reporter for the Associated Press in Spokane that he would be happy to raise money for his former teammate and manager—an offer Anson refused.  He also talked about his admiration for Anson and his impact on the game:

“Anson gave Chicago four pennant winners. He developed some of the greatest baseball players the game ever knew right in Chicago—made stars of raw kids. Look at Bill Lange, in my judgment the greatest outfielder the game ever produced. Anson made him.”

Sunday said:

“No other man gave so much of his best efforts for so long a time for any city since the game of baseball became popular…He took his job seriously. He was the hardest loser the game ever knew. I tell you, it used to be blue smoke in that old dressing room after those games that we lost by carelessness or dumb playing. He was fighting every minute for every game, no matter how big a lead the other fellows had.”

Sunday, who had been invited to Spokane originally by temperance advocates, claimed his former manager inspired him in that belief:

“Anson was a credit to the game of baseball. He was a model for the other players to follow, at least while I was under him. He had been a hard drinker until one day in 1876—the boys told me about this-he got into a fight at Philadelphia in a crowd after a hard game. It took eight policemen to handle him.

“The papers made a big muss about it, called him a rowdy, drunken bum—or something in the slang of those days that meant the same thing.”

Sunday said the incident “straightened Anson up,” and:

“He saw where whiskey was leading him to and he cut it out—right then and there—for all time. He never drinks, so far as I know, and while he tolerated it among other Chicago players, it was only because in those days a captain almost had to, and he counseled the boys against it, continually and repeatedly.”

And he said his former manager knew how to handle his players:

“Cap used to give me a jacking up for some ‘bonehead’ play, but he always knew just how to make me feel ashamed of myself without making me mad. He never violated a fellow’s inner instincts of manliness, and after I was converted I enjoyed playing under Anson just as much as I did before.”

In the end, Sunday said Anson was alone among his peers:

“I have followed baseball for nearly 30 years, and I believe that Anson stands as an absolutely unique character in the history of the game. There never was anybody like him before; there never has been anybody like him since.”

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Anson

Three years later, when Anson was trying to dig out of another financial hole, traveling the small theater circuit in the Midwest, he “lost himself in reflection” talking about Sunday to The Decatur (IL) Herald:

“If Billy Sunday chases the devil as fast as he used to circle the bases, he’ll have the old boy nailed at the plate.”

Anson contradicted the story he and Sunday would later tell about his aunt being responsible for the discovery of Sunday in Anson’s native Marshalltown, Iowa.

He told the paper his father and brother played with Sunday and “tipped him off as a mighty fast man.”

He said:

“Sunday was playing on the home team, running with the hose cart and driving a hearse, I believe, for a furniture store. He wasn’t making more than $12 a week. I asked him if he waned to play professional ball. ‘Sure,’ he said.”

Anson also told the not quite fully accurate and slightly different version of the story—which first appeared in his 1900 autobiography– about Sunday’s initial days with the White Stockings:

“Funny thing about Billy’s first appearance in the game. He was at bat 12 straight times without ever touching the ball. The 13th time he fouled it. I suppose any other manager would have released him, but I liked the fighting qualities of the fellow and held on to him.”

Anson also said Sunday took “more desperate chances in a game” than any other player:

“Some of the chances he took scared me. He didn’t get away with all of them, but he won out the percentage, just the same as he is doing today.”

As for Sunday’s conversion:

“Sunday was always religiously inclined. From the very start he refused to play baseball on Sunday. I always looked on him as a Christian young man.”

Bill Lange’s Chicken

15 Mar

Bill Lange had his best season in 1895—he hit .389, stole 67 bases, drove in 98 runs and scored 120—but he was sure he had found the secret for an even better season for him and the fourth place Chicago Colts for 1896.  The San Francisco Call broke the story:

“Bill Lange the big centerfielder of the Chicagos, now spending his vacation with his people at 415 Spruce Street, has a four-legged chicken, which is alive and well, and which he intends to take East with him in March as a mascot for his club.”

The Chicago Post expounded on Lange’s discovery:

“(A) mascot the like of which was never before seen on a ball field.  It is a four-legged chicken which Lange secured out of a crop of 13 eggs set to hatch in the dark of the moon…This wonderful chicken is an ordinary fowl in all respects, except that to it’s under parts are attached four instead of two legs.”

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Lange

The paper said:

“(Lange) is certain that his chick will turn out to be a rooster, and if it does, he proposes to train it to crow whenever the club wins.

“Should it prove a hen he will have it lay an egg and cackle when victory perches Chicago’s banner.  Lange’s chicken is sure to win the championship.”

The Chicago Tribune said Lange stayed in San Francisco with his chicken—he also coached baseball at Stanford University–past the March 5 “expiration of the time limit” to sign his 1896 contract.

Lange held out for seven more days, finally signing on March 12.  The Tribune said:

“The question as to whether he would attach his name to a Chicago contract was in doubt for some time…He of course made a strong bluff (to not sign) by demanding a salary far in excess of that of anybody on the team, not excepting (Cap) Anson.  He could not be censured for that, as he was looking out for his own interests.”

Lange joined the Colts in Galveston, Texas.  The Tribune said, “He is in gilt-edge condition.” But The Post reported tersely:

“Big Bill Lange’s mascot, the four-legged chicken he picked up in San Francisco, is dead.”

There was no further mention of Lange’s chicken or how he reacted to the death of the mascot.

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Bill Lang, seated fourth from left, with 1896 Chicago Colts

Lange his .326 with 84 stolen bases, drove in 92 runs and scored 114, and the chicken-less Colts finished fifth.

“Who’s the Greatest Ballplayer that Ever Lived?”

13 Mar

In the 19th Century, conversations about baseball in hotel lobbies

The Chicago Daily News shared one such discussion in 1896:

“’Who’s the greatest ballplayer that ever lived?’ Demanded the old ball crank of the gathering at the hotel.  And there were, straightaway, almost as many opinions as there were gentlemen in the party.”

A man in town on business said:

“To my mind, Anson outranks them all.  When you consider the wonderful grip which Anse has retained on the sport for all these twenty-five tears, when you take into consideration his qualifications as a player and as a man, his work as a leader and a general, the great batting he has always done every little point that can be recalled about both uncle and the game, I can’t see where any other player, living or dead, ranks with Anson.”

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 Anson

The paper said there were murmurs, then the night clerk weighed in:

“Mike Kelly was his ideal.

“‘Poor old Mike,’ said he, ‘had baseball genius and brilliancy to an extent never paralleled.  He had the mind to originate, the ability to execute.  He was, in the hearts of the masses, what John L. Sullivan was to pugilism.  Remember the tricks he worked, the batting and the base running he did, and the way in which he filled every position—remember only his methods of play, if you will, and then see if any one can compare with poor dead King Kel!’

kingkelly

 Kelly

The “theatrical man” in the group said:

“’Bill Lange is the best that ever came down the road.  Who is there who does not like to see Lange play ball? What other player in the league, taking batting, base running and fielding into account, is as of as much value as Lange? What club would not eagerly give him the best position and the best salary it could command?  Bill Lange is destined to leave a mark in baseball history as deep as that Mike Kelly made, and future generations will speak of him as they do of Kelly now.’”

Then the “Old baseball crank” spoke up:

“’To my mind gentlemen, the greatest player of them all was Charlie Ferguson of Philadelphia.  There was a man who never realized how good he was.  When it came to effective playing, in any position, Ferguson was the man who could step into the gap so well that the regular man would never be even missed.  He could kill the ball, he was fast on the bases, and we all know he could pitch.  And the head that Charlie Ferguson wore was as good a head as ever decorated any player’s shoulders.  I saw hundreds of great players before Ferguson came, I have seen hundreds since he died, but I never to my mind at least, have seen his equal.’”

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Ferguson

The assembled men said the paper, “remembered the time of Ferguson,” with “nods and mutterings of assent,” thinking of Ferguson’s four seasons in Philadelphia—he died just 12 days after his 25th birthday in 1888.

 “Jim Hart, who ought to be a good judge of players, thinks Ferguson the greatest that the world has ever known. A canvass of ball cranks would probably show sentiments about equally divided between Ferguson and Mike Kelly.”

The paper concluded that there were, and would be, “few such popular idols” as Kelly and Ferguson:

“The increased batting has, queer as it may seem, done away with hero worship.  In the old days hits were few and the man who could step up and kill the ball was a popular king.  Nowadays the fact that nearly everybody is apt to hit takes away the individuality and accompanying romance of the great isolated sluggers.”

The paper said Lange was one of the few contemporary players who “comes as near being the subject of hero worship,” as players in previous years and that there were only players who had that impact in their own cities:

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Lange

“(Jesse) Burkett might be worshipped in Cleveland for his grand batting, but is handicapped by morose, unsociable ways.

‘(Jimmy) McAleer’s fielding would make him an idol, but his batting is pitifully light.  Baltimore’s great hero is Hughey Jennings, and the cranks treat him as though he owned the town. Brooklyn has no heroes.  There is nobody on the Boston nine whom the crowd raves over, even Hugh Duffy having lost his grip.”

“Eddie Burke and Charlie (Dusty) Miller have great followings in Cincinnati.  Louisville dotes on (Charlie) Dexter and Fred Clarke.  New York is idolless.  Philadelphia gives ovations to the whole team as a matter of principle but singles out no player.  Pittsburgh is the same way.  There is nobody at St. Louis or Washington whom the crowds adore.”

“There is a Heap about Baseball that I do not Know”

4 May

After Ted Sullivan blamed Joe Nealon’s father for his failure to secure the first baseman for the Reds, James C. Nealon was not going to let his accusations stand, and sent a letter in response to Sullivan’s letter to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“The public has always permitted, and will always permit a man who has lost the object he was seeking to compensate himself for the loss is excusing his failure by some worthy and absurd explanation, or by throwing the responsibility of the failure on someone else.”

Nealon said he was forced to respond because Sullivan “falsely placed myself and my son in an unenviable light.”

Nealon said he only cared about his son going to the club with “the best and most congenial associations,” and initially, many people he trusted told him Cincinnati was the best option.

He said Sullivan was the reason he and his son changed their minds.  Nealon said he checked train schedules and determined that Sullivan—who left Cincinnati on October 28—could have arrived in California no later than November 3, yet he did not hear from the Reds representative until after the contract was signed with Pittsburgh on November 6.

Nealon also said while he received a telegram from August Herrmann, Cincinnati Reds owner, with the offer of “a certain sum more than any other club,” he never shared that information with the Pirates Fred Clarke, and that the combination of being insulted by the Reds making their offer just about money and Sullivan not arriving in time made up his mind, and as a result:

 “I advised my son to sign a contract with any club he desired.”

After Sullivan arrived in San Francisco, Nealon said:

“He admitted to me that it was all his fault, yet he seeks in your paper to advise the public that it was the fault of my son and myself…I would rather (Joe) fail then to commit a dishonorable act, and I do not want the people of Cincinnati to believe his entry into the major league was associated in any manner with unfairness or unfair dealing.  Mr. Sullivan knows it was not.”

Joe Nealon wrote a letter to The Pittsburgh Post, and said he understood that when he joined the team in Hot Springs. Arkansas:

“There is a heap about baseball that I do not know.  I am eager to learn, however, and will gladly go under instructions.”

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Joe Nealon

Even after the beginning of the 1906 season, the stories about what influenced Nealon to sign with the Pirates would not go away.  In May is was reported that it was Jake Beckley, former first baseman for the Reds and Pirates who influenced Nealon to accept Clarke’s offer.  Nealon told The Pittsburgh Press that Beckley had nothing to do with his decision, and continued to blame Sullivan who he said did not “keep faith” with him and his father.

Nealon appeared in every game, hit the Pirates first home run of the 1906 season on May 5, tied Harry Steinfeldt for the league lead in RBI, and led all NL first basemen in total chances and putouts.

At the end of the season it was widely reported that Nealon would not return to the Pirates for the 1907 season.  After the team lost five straight games in September and slipped to third place, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss went on a tear to a wire service reporter—The Philadelphia Inquirer, under the headline “Barney Dreyfuss Lets Himself say Things” said:

“(Dreyfuss said) if his team doesn’t win second place for him he will keep their noses to the grindstone barnstorming for him until their contracts have run out (on October 16)”

Dreyfuss told the reporter:

“One of the things that ails our team is that there are too many capitalists on it.  The boys know that they do not have to play ball for a living, and sometimes that may affect their playing.  There is only one of the old players on the Pittsburgh team who is playing as a means of livelihood—that’s (Tommy) Leach.  The other could give up the game anytime.”

Nealon left the team immediately after the final game in Cincinnati and did not participate in the tour.  The San Francisco Call said he was done:

“Nealon, who became a great favorite in Pittsburgh and all over the league circuit, has had several grievances against Pittsburgh, and it was announced some time ago that the big San Francisco lad had declared himself in no unmeasured terms that he did not have to take the worst of it from anyone connected with the club, nor would he more than one season.”

The Call said Nealon became disenchanted in Pittsburgh when Dreyfuss attempted to trade him and “other Pittsburgh players” to the Brooklyn Superbas for Harry Lumley and Tim Jordan “although Captain Clarke had guaranteed him a full and free tryout for a year.”

Nealon returned to San Francisco to play winter ball, but he failed to make a trip to Stockton for the first game.  The San Jose Evening News said:

“Many San Joseans who took the trip to Stockton…were disappointed in not seeing Joe Nealon…the big first baseman, met with an accident Saturday evening.”

While racing to catch the train to Stockton, Nealon tripped and fell into a stone wall.  He broke two bones in his left hand.”

In December, the Pittsburgh papers reported that Nealon had declared himself “Completely healed,” in a letter to Barney Dreyfuss.

By February The Pittsburgh Press was assuring readers:

“Reports from the West have Joe Nealon in the best condition of his career.  Just keep your eyes on this big fellow this season; he is going to be a winner in every sense of the word.”

Despite the high expectations, Nealon was a disappointment to the pirates when he reported to  West Baden, Indiana in March.  The Press said:

“If the fans at home could see big Joe Nealon now they would not know him.  With his sweater on he looks like a three hundred pounder.”

Nealon actually weighed 216 pounds, roughly 20 pounds heavier than he was in 1906.

Additionally, The Pittsburgh Post said Nealon was experiencing stiffness in his left hand.

The Press announced that Nealon had gotten down to his playing weight and that his had had healed just in time for the opening of the season, but a knee injury sliding into second during the Pirates third game sidelined him for nearly two weeks, and according to The Post included a visit to John “Bonesetter” Reese, the Youngstown, Ohio doctor who treated many major leaguers.

Nealon was hitting just .217 in June when The Washington Post noted that two California Thoroughbreds—Nealon and Joe Nealon—both bred by friends of Nealon’s father, and both stakes race winners in 1907, were having decidedly better years than the first baseman.

Nealon steadily improved his batting average but had already fallen out of favor with fans and in the papers.  Rumors persisted that the Pirates were trying to trade for Fred Tenney of the Boston Doves.  By September, The Press said:

 “There is suspicion among the Pittsburgh players that Tenney may be secured as first baseman…to succeed Joe Nealon whose work this season is said to have been below standard.”

When Harry Swacina was purchased by the Pirates from the Peoria Distillers in the Three-I League that same month, the Pittsburgh correspondent for The Sporting News said:

 “He is an improvement over Joe Nealon in every department of the game.”

The New York Sun summed up the consensus view:

“Joe Nealon came out of California with the reputation of being a better first baseman than Hal Chase was, but in making a big league reputation Chase simply lost his fellow Californian.”

Swacina hit just .200, but got most of the playing time at first base in September, Nealon finished with a .257 average.

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Nealon

The Press speculated in November about who would play first base for the Pirates in 1908:

“Most of the fans have eliminated Joe Nealon from the competition all together, for it is an open secret that both President (Barney) Dreyfuss and Manager (Fred) Clarke were displeased with the way the young Californian acted this year, and it is presumed that no further time will be wasted with him, but that he will either be traded or released outright.”

In December, Nealon ended any remaining speculation by announcing his retirement—two weeks before his 23rd birthday. The Post said:

“The big Californian has quit the professional diamond for all time and will become a partner in business with his millionaire father…But for the intercession of Fred Clarke, it is said he would have been asked to retire about mid season, alleged infractions of the club’s rules and his general attitude of indifference being criticized by the local management.”

Nealon went to Hawaii in December with a team of West Coast stars—including Bill Lange and Orval Overall— formed by Mique Fisher and told reporters he would play weekends in San Francisco in 1908.

After returning from Hawaii, Nealon made his retirement official in a letter to Dreyfuss.  The Press said:

Joe writes that he is helping his father  who has a contract to erect a large public building in California…he asks, however, that his name be kept on Pittsburgh’s reserve list and wishes his teammates the best of luck.”

Nealon went to work with his father and appeared in 62 games for the Sacramento Senators in the California State League in 1908—hitting .372; as late as July he was hitting .436.  Nearly every Pacific Coast League time tried to sign him that summer, but The Oakland Tribune said:

“(Nealon) declared positively to the writer yesterday that he would not play ball, except as he is doing now, and Joe said there was not enough money in any of the Coast League treasuries to make him change his mind.”

Despite his protestations, nearly every team on the West Coast sought to sign Nealon.  Charlie Graham, Owner of the Sacramento Sacts made an offer that The San Francisco Call said led Nealon to tell a friend he wasn’t sure he could refuse.  He eventually did refuse, and instead signed to play for the Oakland Commuters in the California State League. The Call said he was the highest paid player on the West Coast.

Nealon captained the Oakland club, and hit .274 in 138 games.  How Nealon differed from his teammates and most players was probably best illustrated during a bench clearing brawl between Oakland and the Stockton Millers in June.  The Oakland Tribune said:

“(E)very man on both teams, with the exception of Joe Nealon, was mixed up…Nealon simply walked about the field and sat on the bench while the trouble was going on, and if anyone should ask right quick what player showed the only good judgment on the field the answer would be Joe Nealon.”

Nealon announced his retirement again, a week after his 25th birthday.

Nealon’s father had just helped elect San Francisco’s new mayor, Patrick Henry McCarthy, The Tribune said Nealon was “slated for a fat political job.”

Nealon was appointed deputy in the San Francisco County Clerk’s office in January.

On March 28, The Tribune said:

“(Nealon) is lying on death’s door in his home in San Francisco, suffering from typhoid fever.  Several physicians have been at the bedside of the ill athlete almost constantly for the past few days, and although they hold out but slight hope for his recovery, they state that his splendid physique may enable him to pull through.”

Nealon died five days later.

 

Joe Nealon

2 May

There was a race to sign Joe Nealon in 1905.  The San Francisco Chronicle said he was “thought to be the equal of Hal Chase,” the fellow first baseman and Californian who made his major league debut that season.

By November, West Coast newspapers had reported that at least four teams were after Nealon—the New York Highlanders, Boston Americans, St. Louis Browns, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates were after Nealon.

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Joe Nealon

There likely would have been even more interest in Nealon if not for his background; as The Chronicle said after Nealon signed with the San Francisco Seals before the 1905 season:

“Parental objection had to be overcome, and this was accomplished through an understanding that the boy would remain in professional baseball not more than two or three seasons.”

Nealon was the son of the James C. Nealon, a wealthy real estate executive, elected official, owner of thoroughbreds, and one of the best known handball players on the West Coast who often played with boxer Jim Corbett.

Nealon attended St. Ignatius College (now the University of San Francisco) and had played in the California State League in 1903 and 1904.

Cincinnati and Boston appeared to be the most aggressive pursuer of Nealon; according to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“Everybody who has seen him work says that Nealon will fill the bill.  He is described as a second Bill Lange at the bat, and a new edition of Charley Comiskey on the bag.  Allowing for exaggeration he seems to be the real goods.”

The Reds dispatched Ted Sullivan to San Francisco. The Americans sent Dan Long.  They did not know that Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Fred Clarke was on his way West as well; Clarke arrived first. The Pirates manager won out.  The Pittsburgh Post said:

“It was against these two men that Clarke had to use his ingenuity in securing Nealon.  The player is a freelance and was at liberty to join a team of his own selection.  Being independently wealthy and playing baseball only for the sport he finds in it.  Nealon was not influenced by any financial proposition.”

Reds owner August Herrmann told The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“I had become very much interested in young Nealon and regret that we did not succeed in getting him, but there is no use mourning over his loss.”

While Herrmann might not have been mourning, others in Cincinnati were and blamed Sullivan.

Jack Ryder of The Enquirer said:

“Why was not Ted Sullivan on the ground earlier?  Ted left Cincinnati a week ago last Saturday (October 29) with instructions to make a bee line for Frisco.  Mr. Herrmann knew that there was keen competition for  the services of Nealon…If Sullivan had reached San Francisco on Tuesday or Wednesday, as he was expected to do he would have got in ahead of Fred Clarke, and the chances would have favored his securing the player.”

Ryder said he had a letter from James C. Nealon written to Herrmann promising “that his son would sign with Cincinnati, ‘other things being equal,’” Ryder noted that the Reds “offered the boy more salary than any other club including Pittsburgh.”

Ryder concluded:

“Fred Clarke, who was on the spot, while Ted Sullivan was not, was able to persuade (Nealon) that the Pirates are a far better aggregation than the Reds.”

Ted Sullivan was not about to blamed, and fired off a letter to The Enquirer:

“There is not a man in the city of Cincinnati that would feel as much hurt as myself to lose a good man for the Cincinnati club.  The two years that I have acted as agent for Mr. Herrmann he has treated me like a king, and has showed a disposition to back my judgment on the skill of a player.”

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Ted Sullivan

Sullivan said in the letter, he had discovered Nealon’s “hidden skill” in August:

“The skill I noticed in Nealon (I wrote Mr. Herrmann at the time) was skill hidden beneath a dross of inexperience and youth.”

While he conceded that some time in the major leagues would “make him a star,” he assured The Enquirer he was not of the caliber of Sullivan’s favorite first baseman:

“The greatest first baseman in the history of the game, Charles Comiskey, was my own selection and making (which I say without egotism), but the California fledgling, without disparaging him, is a pallbearer compared to the magnetism of the matchless Comiskey.”

Sullivan blamed his inability to sign Nealon on Nealon’s father.  He claimed to have offered $3,800 to the first baseman in August, and was told that money was not the critical consideration, but complained that Nealon Sr. had immediately “proclaimed throughout Frisco, with the aid of a flashlight, and had also the newspaper men transmit (the offer) to all of the papers in the East.”

As for arriving is San Francisco after Clarke, Sullivan blamed that on the railroads:

“(I) was blocked between Salt Lake and Sacramento, caused by the immense amount of trains”

But, said Sullivan, none of that mattered.  Nealon’s father had not dealt with the Reds in good faith:

“Mr. Nealon Sr., who claimed he was not out for the money, called Fred out on the porch of the house and showed him, in confidence, the offer from Cincinnati.”

The latest Cincinnati offer was $6500—with a clause that promised $1000 more than any other offer Nealon would receive–Sullivan said.  Clarke matched the $6500, he said, and signed Nealon.

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Fred Clarke

There was more said Sullivan:

“Now comes the most brazen effrontery of offended dignity that has more hypocritic brass in it than the Colossus of Rhodes.  With this standing offer of Mr. Herrmann’s in his hands for days before I arrived,  I asked Mr. Nealon Sr., why he did not close with Mr. Herrmann on such a grand offer.  ‘Why,’ says he, ‘I consider it an insult for any man to make me such an offer as that, as it would appear that I was playing one club against the other.”  Think of that insult—one man offers another man $1000 more than the highest bidder and he is insulted.”

Sullivan closed his letter by again questioning Nealon’s prospects of making an immediate impact, and said:

“I would rather go down to Millcreek bottoms and pick up some young fellow that wanted to make baseball a profession, than any young man in the United States who thinks that he is condescending to play ball for $7000.”

Sullivan was not the only representative of a club who had expressed interest in Nealon who now questioned the prospects ability.  In response to Frank Chance of the Chicago Cubs who said Nealon was “not of National League Caliber,” The Pittsburgh Press responded:

“Sour Grapes?”

The rest of the story on Friday.

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.