Tag Archives: Bill Lange

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.

“The Cleverest bit of Quick Thinking I ever Witnessed”

26 Nov

Hugh Fullerton was one of baseball’s most influential writers; his career began in 1889 and he was active into the 1930s.  Widely credited as the first writer to directly quote players and managers, he is the source of hundreds of stories. Some, like the story the story of Bill Lange’s fence-crashing catch, are likely untrue.  Others may be apocryphal, or exaggerated.

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

This one is about Hall of Famer John Alexander “Bid” McPhee:

“The cleverest bit of quick thinking I ever witnessed was years ago in Cincinnati, and Bid McPhee, the ‘King,’ pulled it off.  How fast he thought only can be guessed.  It must have been instantaneous.  Bid was on first base with nobody out, when somebody drove a ball straight at ‘Wild’ Bill Everitt who was playing first for Chicago.  Bill dug up the ball, touched first, and made one of his copyrighted throws to second to catch Bid, having plenty of time for the double play.

Bid McPhee

Bid McPhee

“The ball disappeared.  (Bill) Dahlen, who was on second, never saw it.  He thought the ball had hit Bid.  The umpire, crouching to see the play at the base, lost the ball.  Bid hesitated at second, glanced around, saw the entire Chicago infield running around wildly and tore for third.  At third, after turning the base, he hesitated again, looked back, and then tore for home.  From his actions both at second and third any spectator would have sworn Bid was as ignorant of the whereabouts of the ball as were the Chicago players.

“The Chicago team was wild with excitement and the crowd was mystified.  No one knew where the ball was.  The only clue was a yell of amusement from the Cincinnati bench.

“The ball had disappeared utterly and the umpire threw out a new one.  After the game we learned what had become of the ball.  Everitt hit Bid with it.  The ball had struck him under the arm, and holding it tight against his body Bid carried it entirely around the bases and to the bench while acting as if he didn’t know where it was.”

“Clark Griffith nearly Ended the Life of William Phyle”

19 Nov

Bill Phyle was expelled from baseball after failing to back up his allegations that the 1903 Southern Association pennant race was fixed—four years earlier he had an even more eventful season.

Phyle started his career as a pitcher; he was 18-9 in 1897, and 21-21 in 1898 for the St. Paul Saints when he was traded to the Chicago Orphans for Frank Isbell.

Bill Phyle

Bill Phyle

He appeared in three September games, winning two with a 0.78 ERA, and was expected to contribute the following season.

In March of 1899 Phyle failed to report to Hudson Hot Springs, New Mexico to join manager Tom Burns and Orphans for spring training.

The Chicago Tribune said the pitcher had refused to sign his contract:

“It is asserted on good authority that pitcher Phyle has refused so far to sign a Chicago contract owing to the insertion of a temperance clause in the document…Phyle objects strenuously to the temperance contract which has been offered to him.  He has asserted positively within the last three weeks that he would never sign such an agreement.”

The Tribune said the contract clause wasn’t the only issue that might keep Phyle from playing in Chicago in 1899; the pitcher had, inadvertently, alienated Burns and team president James Hart the previous September:

“Phyle was unfortunate in his entry into the major league in incurring the displeasure of the Chicago president and manager.  There is a peculiar story connected with the affair.  Last year some members of the Chicago team believed that someone was carrying reports to Hart and Burns regarding the conversations of the players concerning their opinions of the heads of the club.  One night in Washington some of the men put up a job on the man they suspected in order to find out if their suspicions were correct.    In the presence of the man in question they made unflattering remarks regarding the president and manager of the club, and Phyle, being an innocent party to the plot, listened, approved some of the statements quoted as facts, and also took up the discussion.  It is asserted the conversation was carried to President Hart and Manager Burns.  At any rate, Phyle has been in disfavor since that time.”

The Tribune said Phyle was the only player who was given a contract that included a temperance clause.

With the situation at an impasse, Charlie Comiskey, Phyle’s manager in St. Paul, intervened.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said Comiskey, who called Phyle “one of the most promising youngsters” in baseball, sent a “tersely worded” telegram to the pitcher who “decided to sign the Chicago contract temperance clause and all.”

Phyle reported to Hudson Hot Springs ten pounds overweight on March 21.

Three days later he went duck hunting with teammates Clark Griffith, Bill Lange, Jack Taylor and Jimmy Callahan at A.G. Spalding’s New Mexico ranch.  The Inter Ocean said of the trip:

“A bullet from a Winchester rifle in the hands of Clark Griffith nearly ended the life of William Phyle, the promising young pitcher of the Chicago ball team.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

Phyle, unbeknownst to Griffith, remained in the group’s boat while Griffith fired on a flock of ducks flying near the boat:

“Griffith pulled the trigger and a ball tore its way through the stem of the boat…The ball carried in a direct line over the young pitcher’s head, and could not have missed him by more than six inches.”

Phyle was shaken, but unhurt, while “Griffith’s nerves received such a shock that he was weak and almost prostrated for some time after.”

Things didn’t get much better for Phyle after his near-death experience—tomorrow.

Clark Griffith “Convinced me of the Knuckle Ball’s Effectiveness”

7 Nov

As with most 19th Century players, Bill Lange had had several criticisms of players who came later, particularly the “batsmen of the present time,” when he spoke to a reporter from The Chicago Inter Ocean in 1909;  but unlike many of his contemporaries he thought some aspects of the game were better.  He said players were better behaved and were in better condition; he also believed pitching had improved:

“We old timers were a long time in believing there was anything in the so-called spit ball.  But results have forced us to admit its existence and its power to deceive.  Now they are talking about the knuckle or finger nail ball.  For a long time I supposed that was a joke.  But just this morning I had a letter from Clark Griffith, telling about a discussion he had with (Cap) Anson during the schedule meeting at Chicago over the knuckle ball.  Griff ought to know what he is talking about, and he convinced me of the knuckle ball’s effectiveness but his argument with Anse must have been funny.

“You know Anse has to be shown on every proposition.  Griffith told him that (Ed) Summers of the Detroit team had the best command of the knuckle ball and that it came up to the plate in such a peculiar manner that it fooled not only the batsmen, but the catchers too.

“’That’s all rot,’ Anson said to Griffith, but Griff came back with the willingness to bet Anson $100 that Anse couldn’t catch three out of five knuckle balls as thrown by Summers.  Anson jumped at the chance and took the wager, and it will be decided sometime this year, if Summers, Anson and Griffith happen to be in the same city at the same time.

“I guess Griff will win the money, for he told me in his letter that he couldn’t catch half the balls Summers had thrown to him in practice.  I can hardly believe any pitcher has such a funny delivery as that.  Of course, if the knuckle ball worked all the time, there wouldn’t be any hitting at all.”

Al Summers has his arm worked on by Tiger trainer Harry Tuthill, first baseman Del Gainer looks on.

Al Summers has his arm worked on by Tiger trainer Harry Tuthill, first baseman Del Gainer looks on.

There’s no record that the wager was ever decided.

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

“In the ‘90s Nobody ever Thought Anything of telling the Manager to go Chase Himself”

6 Nov

Bill Lange played only seven seasons in the National League—all with Chicago–but his reputation lived on long after he walked away from the game in 1899 at 28 years-old.  Two of his biggest supporters, Connie Mack and Clark Griffith, remained influential until their deaths in the mid 1950s, and both helped to keep Lange’s legend alive until his death in 1950.

Long after his retirement to enter the insurance and real estate business in his native San Francisco, Lange remained extremely popular in Chicago;  he was frequently quoted by Chicago sportswriters (most often his friend Hugh Fullerton), and was even retained The Chicago Examiner’s  “World Series expert” in the early and mid teens.

Bill Lange

Bill Lange

In 1909, when the White Sox were training in San Francisco, Lange told a reporter for The Chicago Inter Ocean that “the batsmen of the present time had not advanced in any way” over the hitters of his day—and Lange felt they took too many pitches:

“I have noticed that the habit nowadays is to be altogether too scientific.  And that science is ruining the batters.  There used to be such things as .400 hitters in the big leagues and now the managers are spending fortunes in the hopes of finding a .250 hitter.  The reason they are so hard to find is because the batsmen don’t follow their natural inclinations to wallop the ball, but stall around at the plate in the artificial hope of drawing a pass instead of breaking a board in the back fence.

“No batter, who has any eye at all, ought ever to wait when he has three balls and one strike on him, unless the pitcher is uncommonly wild.  Think of the advantage of hitting when three balls have been called.  You are dead sure that the next one will be over the plate if the pitcher can get it there.  If he doesn’t, let it go and take your base.  But if you let a good one go then you are up against another proposition.

“Then the batsman is in a worse hole than the pitcher and his chances of making a safe hit are at least 4 to 1 against him, for a nervy pitcher will take a chance on a curve or a high one in the hope of making the batsman bite.  He wouldn’t dare do that very often when the count was only three and one.  The batsman who waits too long is just giving himself the worst of the deal.”

Unlike many players of his generation, Lange did note that some aspects of the game had improved since he played:

“We didn’t hustle like the players of the today do.  We would shirk morning practice all the time, so we could sleep late.  And take it from me, a lot of us needed the sleep, for most all of the boys belonged to the Ancient Order of Owls.

“The teams of today report at the grounds at 9:30 in the morning and work to beat the band for two hours. In the old days, after we had stalled the manager off as long as possible, we would finally show up for morning practice.  I don’t know all the systems the players on other teams had for dodging morning work, but with the old Chicago bunch we left it up to (Bill) Dahlen to break up the practice after about ten minutes of hustling.

“Dahlen could turn the trick might easily.  All he had to do was whiz four or five low throws at Anson’s shins.  ‘Pop’ used to bawl Dahlen out for a few minutes, but Bill would keep up the bum throwing until Anse would say ‘Enough.’  Nothing like that goes in the big or small leagues now.  It is a question of work and buckle down to business.  In the ‘90s nobody ever thought anything of telling the manager to go chase himself.  I haven’t heard of anybody doing anything like that in late years, and getting away with it.”

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen

Lange on pitching, tomorrow.

“He Used to Knock Down Infielders”

4 Nov

William Alexander “Bill” Lange is best known for a play that likely never happened.  The legend was that he had made a spectacular catch that culminated with the Chicago Colts’ outfielder crashing through the left-field fence in Washington in an 1897 game with the Senators.  It is most likely another in a long line of exaggerations and apocryphal stories from Lange’s friend, Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton—a story that first appeared in that paper with no byline in 1903, but was repeated by Fullerton many times in later years.   A nice analysis of that story appears here.

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

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

Lange played just seven seasons, retiring after the 1899 season at age 28 to join his father-in-law in the insurance and real estate business in San Francisco.

During the spring of 1900, The Chicago Daily News said “The wise ones in the baseball business” were certain he’d be back, including Chicago’s manager Tom Loftus and President James Hart, and Charlie Comiskey, “’When the season opens and the sun warms up he can’t stay away,’ remarks Comiskey, with a knowing wink.”

Despite the certainty that he would, Lange never returned.

Lange, who stole 400 career bases, was called “Little Eva” because of his gracefulness.  In 1909 Billy Sunday called him “the greatest outfielder in baseball history.”  Connie Mack called him the best base-runner he ever saw.  In fact,  Mack and Clark Griffith considered Lange so good that they petitioned the Hall of Fame in 1940 to change the “rules (which) restrict membership to players of the twentieth century” in order to allow for Lange’s induction.

Griffith said Lange was “the best outfielder that ever played behind me:”

“Lange here was rougher base-stealer than (Billy) Hamilton.  He used to knock down infielders.  Once I saw him hit a grounder to third base.  He should have been out, but he knocked down the first baseman.

“Then he knocked down the second and third baseman and scored.  Connie Mack was the catcher.  No he didn’t knock Connie down because he didn’t have to.”

Mack told the same story over the years.

Lange never made the Hall of Fame.  He died in 1950.

Bill Lange 1931

Bill Lange 1931

In his final years the story about the “catch” had become so ingrained in the legend of Bill Lange that other players told essentially the same story Fullerton did (the most widely disseminated versions appeared in “The American Magazine” in 1909 and in Johnny Evers‘ book “Touching Second,” coauthored by Fullerton), but inserted themselves into the story.  In 1946 Griffith told reporters:

“It happened right here in Washington, I was pitching for Chicago.  Bill missed the train from New York, and arrived in the fourth inning.  We were then with the Chicago Colts and Cap Anson fined Lange $100 before he put him in the game.

“I had a one-run lead when Al (“Kip”) Selbach of Washington hit a terrific drive.  Lange ran back hard, and when he crashed into the wooden fence his 210 pounds took him right through the planks.

“He caught the ball at the same time and held it.  All we could see were his feet sticking through the fence and Bill’s arm holding the ball.  When he came back to the bench, he handed the ball to Anson and said:

‘This ought to cancel that $100 fine.’ It did too.”

When Lange died Griffith said:

“I have seen all the other great outfielders—Speaker, Cobb, DiMaggio –in action and I consider Bill Lange the equal of, if not better than, all outfielders of all time.  There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.”

“A Great deal of foolish Sympathy was wasted on Rusie”

5 Sep

Hank O’Day, pitcher and Hall of Fame umpire, said Amos Rusie was the greatest pitcher ever:

“Amos is the greatest pitcher the country ever saw. Why, Rusie had more speed in his curve ball than any pitcher I ever saw before, or have ever since seen, has in his straight fast ones.  Rusie was a wonder—that’s all there is to it.  I was behind the plate one day when one of Rusie’s  fast incurves hit Hughey Jennings…the ball hit Jennings squarely in the temple, and he fell as though shot by a ball from a Winchester rifle.  I caught him in my arms as he toppled backwards—and he was out of his head for three days.” (Contemporary reports of the incident said Jennings actually finished the game, but later lost consciousness for four days)

O’Day was also on the field when Rusie blew out his arm in 1898; Rusie threw to first to pick-off Chicago Orphans outfielder Bill Lange and “his arm cracked like a pistol’s shot.”  In 1940 Lange told his version of the story to The Portland Oregonian:

“Amos Rusie, I don’t know of any better one and I never played against any other one as good.  He had great control, as well as everything else a pitcher should have.  But my base stealing got him.  He worried over it.  I guess he lost sleep over it.  Anyway, one day he showed up on the field and said he had developed a new way to catch me off of first without turning his body.  I was anxious to see what he had, and he caught me off of first.  But—and it was a mighty large but—in doing so Rusie threw his arm out.  And never could pitch in his old form again.”

Amos Rusie

Amos Rusie

Rusie, with a dead arm, became a benchmark, an oddity, and a cautionary tale.

He posted a 246-173 record before the injury; after sitting out all of 1899 and 1900 he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Christy Mathewson, appeared in three games, was 0-1 with an 8.59 ERA, and his career was over.

In the decade between 1898 and 1908 The Sporting Life christened “the next Rusie,” or “another Rusie” no less than 20 times; scores more were given the same title by newspapers across the country.  Most like Cecil Ferguson (career 29-46), Davey Dunkle (17-30), Cowboy Jones (25-34), and Whitey Guese (1-4) were busts.  The three best were Orval Overall (108-71), who was called the “next Rusie” more than anyone else; Ed Reulbach (182-106), and Hall of Famer Ed Walsh (195-126).

During that same decade there were regular, small items in newspapers about Rusie’s post National League life.  Shortly after his release from the Reds in June of 1901 papers reported that Rusie, “who commanded a salary of many thousands of dollars, is now working as day laborer at $1.50 a day.”   The pitcher told a reporter “This shows I am not afraid to work, but it’s an awful comedown in salary.”

The Dallas Morning News pulled no punches in their assessment of his plight:

“The dismal afterclap to the brilliant career of a once-famous ballplayer whose name was a household word in balldom…reckless wastefulness in financial matters and a total disregard for physical care brought Rusie to his present deplorable condition when he should have been in his prime, for the big fellow is barely 30 now.”

In 1903 it was reported that Rusie had joined the Vincennes (IN) Alices in the Kitty League.  While no statistics survive, he appears to have stayed with the team for most of the summer.  The Detroit Free Press said he was “playing for a salary of $75 per month.”

After the 1903 season he went to work in a lumber yard, and the regular reports on his activities as a “low-wage laborer” appeared regularly in newspapers.  The items became such a regular feature that The Associated Press, in a short story about the Philadelphia Athletics’ eccentric and troubled Rube Waddell in 1904 said:

“Rube has run the gamut of foolishness.  He is in his prime but a few more years of such lack of sense as he displayed last season will send him to the wood pile or coal heap and he will, like Amos Rusie, be occupying two inches in the has-been columns every spring.”

There were multiple reports that Rusie was coming back as a pitcher for the 1906 season.  The rumors started in September of 1905 when Rusie attended an exhibition game in Vincennes between the Alices and the Chicago Cubs.  The Philadelphia Inquirer said of the news:

“If you don’t know the tremendous importance of this announcement you are no baseball fan.”

Not everyone agreed that Rusie returning to baseball would be a good thing.  A report from The News Special Service, which appeared in many Midwest papers said:

“His habits were none of the best, and he rapidly deteriorated in efficiency as an athlete.  He refused to pitch one whole season because he had been fined by the New York (Giants) management for being intoxicated and abusing his wife.  A great deal of foolish sympathy was wasted about that time on Rusie, but he was entitled to nothing except what he received, and some who knew the circumstances thought stricter disciplinary methods would not have been amiss.”

Rusie didn’t sign a contract that spring; and two other rumors that John McGraw had sent him a letter inviting him to spring training with the Giants and that he would return to the Kitty League didn’t materialize either.

But Rusie did make the news again in June.  A man named Gabe Watson was collecting mussels in the Wabash River when his boat when his boat overturned.  The Evansville Courier said Rusie pulled the drowning man from the river.

The nearly annual reports of “Rusie’s return” ended after 1906, but Rusie’s many career, and life changes continued as newspaper copy for the next twenty years.

When pearls were discovered in the Wabash River’s mussels, Rusie became a pearl diver.  Two years later he was in Weiser, Idaho, serving a 10-day sentence for public drunkenness.  In 1910 he was in Olney, Illinois working in a glass factory.  The following year he moved to Seattle, Washington.  For the next decade served as an umpire for a couple of Northwestern League games, worked as a ticket taker and groundskeeper at Yesler Way Park and Dugdale Field, home of the Seattle Giants, and also worked as a steam fitter.  Rusie went to jail at least once while in Seattle, and remained a big enough name that when he was injured by a falling pipe in 1913, it made newspapers throughout the country.

In 1921 Rusie became another in the long line of former players hired by the New York Giants at the behest of John McGraw.  According to newspaper reports McGraw offered the former pitcher a “job for life” as a “deputy superintendent” at the Polo Grounds.  Interest in Rusie’s career was renewed, and the pitcher was regularly interviewed for the next couple of years, reminiscing about his career and about how he’d like to have had the opportunity to pitch to Babe Ruth.

Unlike most of the former players who McGraw found work for at the Polo Grounds, Rusie did not stay for the rest of his life; he returned to Auburn, Washington in 1929 and bought a farm, where he remained for the rest of his life.  He was badly injured in a car accident in July of 1934—The Seattle Daily Times said Rusie’s vehicle overturned and he sustained a concussion and broken ribs.

While he received less attention after being incapacitated after the car accident, Rusie was still mentioned frequently in the press until his death in 1942; contrary to oft-repeated fiction that he died in obscurity.  And his obituary appeared in hundreds of papers across the country in December of 1942.  It wasn’t until the post WWII area that Rusie stopped being a household name, which led to his final comeback in the 1970s; Rusie was inducted into the Hall of Fame 34 years after his death.