Tag Archives: Bill McGunnigle

“He is a Disorganizer”

13 May

Piggy Ward’s 1891 season provides both a glimpse of the life of the itinerant 19th Century ballplayer and his tendency to be his own worst enemy.

He started the year out West, playing for John McCloskey’s Sacramento Senators in the California League. Along with a teammate named Jack Huston—who had been on clubs with Ward in Galveston, Texas and Spokane, Washington in 1890—he skipped town on May 28. Both players had joined the Sacramento club in the first place despite being on the reserve list of Spokane.

According to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Ward was hitting a league-leading .361, had 24 stolen bases and had scored 41 runs in 36 California League games before he jumped.

The Sacramento Record-Union said of his departure:

“Ward was, in one sense, a valuable man in the team. He was only ordinary as a fielder, or center-bag-guarder, but he exercised the best judgment. He is a good bunter, and his success in base running lies on the fact that he always knows when to take advantage of a chance. But, on the other hand, he is a disorganizer, and caused many a rupture in the Sacramento team.”

Both players left California headed to meet their new club, the Spokane Bunchgrassers of the Pacific Northwest League, owing the Sacramento team’s management money—Ward $141, and Huston “$121, besides a $15 suit of clothes”—and both were arrested when they arrived.

The Record-Union said, John Barnes, the Spokane manager, squared the debt for the two jumpers, who were in the lineup for Spokane the next day—Ward had four hits (and committed two errors) and Huston pitched the final two innings in a 12 to 3 victory over Seattle.

wardhustonbarnes

Ward, standing far right, Huston, standing second from left, and Barnes, seated center, with the 1890 Spokane club

Huston, apparently, felt some loyalty towards his new club, and remained with them for the remainder of the season, while Ward was heading east days later to join the Minneapolis Millers of the Western Association.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune said after Ward went 1 for 2 with a walk, stolen base, and two runs—and played error free ball in right field—in his debut:

“(T)he California phenomenon…is a good batter, coacher, and base runner. The general consensus of opinion was that he’ll do.”

Ward hit .357 in 54 games, which caused the injury-decimated, National League cellar dwelling Pittsburgh Pirates to purchase his contract.

The Pittsburgh Post noted his tendency to jump teams, but said the “rumpus” over his California to Spokane jump had been “amicably settled,” and of the jump to Minneapolis:

“This wrong-doing was also amicably settled.”

Ward was acquired on August 12 but chose to visit his home in Altoona before reporting to the Pirates and apparently did not bother to let the team know. On August 22, The Pittsburgh Press said team president J. Palmer O’Neil “is using the telegraph wires freely today trying to trace the player.” Ward finally arrived the following day; The Press said he reported with a sore back and because “all the men are now playing good ball, Manager (Bill) McGunnigle will not put him in until he is in perfect condition.”

As a result, he appeared in just six games, hit .333 in 18 at bats and made one error in six total chances in the outfield before being released on September 7.

After being let go by Pittsburgh, he headed back to Spokane, but on his way, The Saint Paul Globe said, “The fat all-around ball player seen in a Minneapolis uniform this season,” played briefly with the Oconto club in the Wisconsin State League. The Oshkosh Northwestern reported on September 10 that Ward had signed with Oconto, and he played the following day—Oconto lost 9 to 5 to Oshkosh.

Ward arrived back in Spokane in mid-September and rejoined Huston and the Bunchgrassers. When he returned, The Post-Intelligencer complained that “Ward will receive a salary that will run far above the limit in this league.”

He finished the season with the club—and hit .412 in 12 games –but wore out his welcome. Spokane was struggling to hold onto first place in the closing days of the season—they would lose the pennant the Portland Gladiators by one game—and Ward seemed to succumb to the pressure. The Spokane Review said, during a frustrating 12 to 8 loss that Ward punched Portland’s John Darrah in the stomach as Darrah rounded first in the fifth inning.

He was fined $25 and thrown out of the game. The Spokane Review said:

“If Ward used the vile language during the game attributed to him, he certainly should be disciplined by Manager (John) Barnes. In addition to punching Darrah he also hit (Milt) Whitehead in the stomach with his fist when the latter touched him out in the fifth.”

Ward ended his 1891 season where it began, playing for John McCloskey in Sacramento. The San Francisco Call said he “came jumping back again in a penitent mood.”  The Record-Union said, “cranks were greatly surprised to see Ward playing in the center garden,” when he took the field for his first game back on October 18. The San Francisco Call said he left the team a month later, a week before the close of the season, because of an unknown illness.

More of Ward’s story tomorrow.

Jimmy Rogers

16 Sep

In January of 1897 owner Barney Dreyfuss and the directors of the Louisville, Colonels met to determine the future of the club.  The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“The most important meeting in the history of the Louisville Base-ball club was held last night at the Louisville Hotel.  It was marked by more liberality than had been shown by the club during all the years since it became a member of the big league.”

No one was surprised that Dreyfuss’ protégé, team secretary Harry Clay Pulliam was named team president, nor was it surprising that Charles Dehler was retained as vice president.

But no one had predicted the Colonel’s choice to replace Bill McGunnigle as manager.

McGunnigle had succeeded John McCloskey, and the two combined for a 38-93 record and a twelfth place finish.

James F. “Jimmy” Rogers would be a first-time manager; three months short of his 25th birthday and only 110 games into his major league career.  The Courier-Journal knew so little about the new manager that the paper got his age and place of birth wrong, and also reported incorrectly that he had minor league managerial experience.

While he had only played 72 games with Louisville in 1896 and only 60 at first base, The Courier-Journal called Rogers “the best first baseman the Colonels ever had.”  Even so, the paper acknowledged that “as a manager he is yet to be tried.”

Just why was he the right man to manage the team?

“One of the chief reasons Rogers was selected was that he is sober.”

Jimmy Rogers

Jimmy Rogers

Despite being “the best first baseman the Colonels ever had,” Rogers opened the season as the team’s starting second baseman; thirty-five-year-old minor league home run king Perry Werden, acquired from the Minneapolis Millers of the Western League played first base for Louisville.

The team won five of their first seven games, and then went 12-22 through June 16 when Rogers was fired as manager and released; he was hitting .144 and made 16 errors in forty games at second base.

Rogers was replaced as manager by Fred Clarke; the future Hall of Famer was two weeks shy of his 24th birthday.

The Cincinnati Post said the outgoing manager was not only to blame for the team’s poor performance but also for center fielder Ollie Pickering’s slump; Pickering hit .303 after joining Louisville in August of 1896 but was hitting .243 on the day Rogers was let go:

“The claim is made that Jimmy Rogers is responsible for the decline of Pickering.  The Virginian created a sensation last fall, but “Manager Jimmy” tacked the title “Rube” to Pick, and it broke his heart.”

Ollie "Rube" Pickering

Ollie “Rube” Pickering

Pickering was released in July, signed with the Cleveland Spiders, and apparently recovered from his broken heart, hitting .352 in 46 games for Cleveland.

Rogers would never play another major league game.  He was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates the day after Louisville released him, but became ill with the flu and never played for them.  A month later he joined the Springfield Ponies in the Eastern League and finished the season with them.  Rogers played for East Coast minor league teams until in August of 1899 when he became ill while playing with the Norwich Witches in the Connecticut League.

In January of 1900, Rogers died at age 27.  Two different explanations for his death appear in various newspapers; both may be wrong.  The Courier-Journal and several other newspapers said his death was the result of the lingering effects of “being struck on the head by a pitched ball several years ago while playing in the National League.”

The New Haven (CT) Register repeated the story about Rogers being hit by a pitch, and said that while that injury contributed to his death, he had died of Bright’s disease—a kidney ailment now referred to as nephritis.

Rogers’ Connecticut death certificate listed the cause of death as a bacterial inflammation of the brain.