Tag Archives: Bill Phyle

“The fans make us the ‘goat’ for Everything”

21 Nov

Chicago Orphans Manager Tom Burns suspended pitcher Bill Phyle without pay in August of 1899, even after Burns was replaced by Tom Loftus, Phyle remained in limbo.

Tom Loftus

Tom Loftus

In January Hugh Fullerton said in The Chicago Tribune that Loftus “probably will give him a chance.”  But in early February The Chicago Inter Ocean said even though Phyle had met with team President James Hart nothing had been resolved.  Phyle told the paper he was offered a contract but was “in no hurry to sign.”

Phyle finally signed at the end of the February, but The Tribune said Chicago would most likely trade him “although Loftus thinks highly of him.”

The team trained in West Baden Springs, Indiana, where according to The Tribune Phyle was “sarcastically called ‘Lucky,’ because of his proverbial hard luck, (he) rarely escapes a day without being hurt.”  He also managed to alienate his new manager.

After several days of poor weather in Indiana, Loftus decided to take the team further south, to Selma, Alabama on March 18.  According to The Tribune Phyle was not on the train:

“Phyle may not be with the team in Selma.  He left Friday (March 16), announcing he was going to see the fights in Chicago.  Manager Loftus hunted up the pitcher before he departed and told him it was a bad plan to start the year in such a manner.  Phyle then said he was ill and was making the journey in order to consult a physician in Chicago.”

Phyle did return from Chicago (where he claimed he had an unspecified operation), and joined the team on the trip south.  Upon his return he continued to suffer a series of illnesses and injuries, which included a bad reaction to a vaccination and a being hit in the knee with a thrown bat, both of which kept him inactive for several days.

Phyle was left in Chicago when the team opened the season in Cincinnati, and his imminent trade or release was speculated upon nearly daily in the Chicago press; he was finally traded to the Kansas City Blues in the American League with Sam Dungan and Bill Everitt for John Ganzel on May 18.  Phyle refused to report to Kansas City and spent the season playing for Chicago City League teams and a semi-pro team in DeKalb County, Illinois.  He was also a regular attendee at Chicago’s boxing venues and was said to own a piece of featherweight contender Eddie Santry.

Phyle returned to the National League in 1901 posting a 7-10 record for the New York Giants.  In 1902 he went to the California League as an infielder and never pitched again.  After his controversial exit from Memphis in 1903—and the aftermath—he continued to play until 1909.

Phyle worked as a boxing referee and as an umpire for more than 20 years in the Canadian, Eastern and Pacific Coast and International  Leagues, and was involved in two final controversies.

Bill Phyle, 1913

Bill Phyle, 1913

In 1920 a grand jury was impaneled in Los Angeles to investigate charges of game fixing in the Pacific Coast League.  Players Harl Maggert, William “Babe” Borton, Bill Rumler and Gene Dale were implicated.  While all criminal charges were eventually dismissed, the four were banned from baseball in 1921.

Phyle was called to testify in front of the grand jury, and said umpires were often blamed when players were crooked:

“The fans make us the ‘goat’ for everything that goes on during the ball game.  How many times we have suffered to suit the whims of a ballplayer who might have been working with the gamblers will never be known.  They just slough us around, call us whatever names they please and yell murder when we happen to fire them out of the game or have them suspended.

“An umpire should have the same authority as a referee has in the prize-ring.  If he believes a ballplayer isn’t giving his best toward the game, he ought to have the privilege of ousting him without taking the manager into confidence.”

In July of 1923 Phyle was working an International League game between the Baltimore Orioles and Rochester Tribe.  Phyle called a Rochester runner safe at first, then immediately reversed his decision.  He was dismissed the following day by league President John Conway Toole.

As a result of the dismissal, four other umpires resigned in sympathy.  Toole, who was attending the game, claimed he had not released him because of the blown call, but because Phyle had failed to work a double hitter he was assigned to earlier in the month.   The decision was upheld, and within three days the four other umpires withdrew their resignation.

Phyle ended his career back in the Pacific Coast League in 1926, and died in Los Angeles in 1953.

Burns “Put the Punishment on Phyle”

20 Nov

After holding out over a temperance clause the Chicago Orphans added to his contract, Bill Phyle finally signed in late March of 1899.  He reported to spring training in New Mexico anywhere from 10 to 30 pounds overweight (depending on the source) and struggled all season to regain the form he showed the previous season.

On April 17 he was beaten 8-0 by the Louisville Colonels in first start.

On April 25 he lost 3-2 to the St. Louis Perfectos.  The Chicago Tribune said “Phyle gave away the game by distributing bases on balls in just the spots where timely hits followed and transformed the favors into tallies that gave the victory.”

William Phelon, The Chicago Daily News baseball writer, disagreed.  He said Phyle’s “work was of sterling quality.”

Regardless, Chicago Manager Tom Burns didn’t give Phyle another opportunity to pitch for more than a month.

Phelon said it was a mistake for Burns to not use Phyle.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said after the team lost seven of nine games in May “it is passing strange that young Phyle is not given a chance.  On last year’s form Phyle is as good as, if not better than (Jack) Taylor.  The paper called Phyle’s performance in the St. Louis game “gilt-edged” and blamed the loss on “comrades that gave the victory to the enemy.”

Finally, on May 28 Phyle pitched again.   He lost 4 to 3 to the Washington Senators; he gave up three runs on five straight hits with two outs in the ninth.

He lost again on June 1, 7-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies.  Phelon’s opinion of the pitcher was unchanged, and said the losses were simply bad luck:

“Phyle has now lost four straight games.  It is Phyle’s luck to be stuck in whenever the other pitchers have won about three straight, and the team is just about unavoidably due to lose.”

On June 5 Phyle did his best pitching of the season–a victory he is not credited with in the record books.

With the Orphans trailing the Baltimore Orioles 3 to 2 in the third inning, pitcher Clark Griffith was ejected for arguing a called ball.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“It was a queer game.  Phyle pitched after Griffith had been benched…holding the Orioles helpless.”

Chicago won 9 to 4.  And while the Chicago newspapers credited the victory to Phyle, the record books do not.

Box score for June 5 game.  Phyle relieved Clark Griffith in the 3rd inning.

Box score for June 5 game. Phyle relieved Clark Griffith in the 3rd inning.

Phyle became ill later the same week, (some sources said it was recurring malaria), a week later he fell off a bicycle and missed two more weeks.  When he returned to the team on June 22, the Boston Beaneaters beat him 5 to 1.

He was credited with his first “official” win on July 1—a game The Inter Ocean called “a comedy of errors,” and a “depressing exhibition.”   He beat the New York Giants 10 to 9, allowing 10 hits and giving up seven runs in the first two innings.  Each team committed seven errors.

Box score of Bill Phyle's only "official" victory of 1899.

Box score of Bill Phyle’s only “official” victory of 1899.

Chicago went into a slump that would last for the rest of the season; after Phyle’s July 1 win the team was 38-24, in third place, and went 37-49 the rest of the way finishing eighth.

Phyle lost again on July 9 and July 24, and rumors began to circulate that he would be released or traded back to Charlie Comiskey’s St. Paul Saints.

On August 6 Phyle lost 10 to 9 to the Cleveland Spiders.  One week later while the team was on the road, The Inter Ocean reported that he “was sent home by manager Burns.”

The Tribune called Phyle “the scapegoat” and said he and three unnamed teammates  “celebrated after beating a horse race at Washington and Manager Burns, to call a halt, put the punishment on Phyle.

Phelon wrote in The Daily News:

“When the club started for Philadelphia he was told to go home ‘You are through young man, go back to Chicago,’ said Burns, and Phyle went back.  He went back in a rage too, and says he will tell (team president) Jim Hart a lot of things. He says that he has been held up to public derision as a drunkard, all season, and that Burns plays favorites, allowing his friends to jag up as much as they wish and turning all the trouble on others.”

Phelon remained supportive of the pitcher in The Daily News, but in The Sporting Life he reported that Phyle, a former boxer, had deserted the team in early August to go to “St. Louis to see a prize fight, and was not on hand when sorely needed.”

While the relationship between Hart and Burns was strained, and Burns would be replaced at season’s end, Phyle’s complaints went nowhere with the team president and he was suspended without pay.

Ten days after Phyle was suspended Phelon reported that the Baltimore Orioles had offered to trade for or buy Phyle,” (John) McGraw has taken quite a fancy to the young pitcher.”  Hart refused to make a deal.

Phyle never pitched for Chicago again, he is credited with a 1-8 record and 4.20 ERA.

The last Bill Phyle chapter—tomorrow.

“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.

“I Consider him a Weak, Foolish Talker”

13 Nov

Bill Phyle was a no-show.  He failed to appear before Southern Association President William Kavanaugh at the league’s hearing regarding his charges that the end of the 1903 season was fixed.  After the league suspended him he failed to appear in St. Louis to defend his charges in front of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL).  He claimed he was too ill to attend either meeting.

As a result he was expelled from organized baseball in October of 1903.  His appeal was denied in December.

Phyle had very few supporters by the time his fate was settled by the NAPBL, but he still had at least one—kind of:  Milwaukee Brewers Manager “Pongo” Joe Cantillon, the man who sold Phyle’s contract to the Memphis Egyptians.

Joe Cantillon

Joe Cantillon

Cantillon told William A. Phelon of The Chicago Daily News that his former player wasn’t too bright, but that he also wasn’t wrong:

“I consider him a weak, foolish talker, who opened his head when it did not do him any good.  Just the same, Billy Phyle had cause for the charges which he made, and I got it good and straight that there was work done in the Southern league last season which was on the scandalous pattern.”

Cantillon stopped short of saying the season was fixed—but not very far short:

“Understand I do not say, neither does Phyle charge, that any games were sold, or that either manager or club owners were in on any such deals.   Even though there are thousands who say—apparently with mighty good reason—that the league is crooked, always has been crooked since it started, and always will be crooked—I do not accuse anyone of selling out.”

Cantillon then came pretty close to accusing Atlanta of selling out:

“This is the way the thing was done—and if anybody wants to howl I’ll show the goods and produce the names.  When Memphis was playing Atlanta it was a case of anything to beat out Little Rock.  The Atlanta players, knowing that their only chances had gone glimmering, were anxious to help their friend’s to beat Mike Finn’s gang (Little Rock).  There was no sell out and there were no intentional errors—nothing so gross and coarse as that.  But a couple of the best regulars on the Atlanta team were laid off; a couple of substitutes were put in their places; a raw, unseasoned amateur was sent in to pitch, and then, to make assurances doubly sure, the Atlanta catcher told each Memphis batsman just what to expect as he came to the plate.”

Cantillon also said the Birmingham Barons were “trying to help (Little Rock) along,” and:

“Every player in the league was dead wise to the whole situation, but Billy Phyle was the only man who was foolish enough to open his face, and he got soaked proper.”

Cantillon claimed to “positively know” that Phyle had been sick, and that was the only reason he failed to appear to substantiate his claims in front the league and the NAPBL.  Regardless, he said Phyle would have had a difficult time:

“Even if he had been able to attend, what show would he have had, with every manager determined to clear his own skirts and swat Bill for the squeal he made?”

Cantillon challenged anyone in the Southern Association to refute his allegations.

In February of 1904 Cantillon cancelled a scheduled spring tour of the South and Phelon said in The Daily News that Southern Association teams had refused to play against Brewers.

The following month Clark Griffith, who was in the South with the New York Highlanders, told The Atlanta Constitution that Cantillon was “ a nice fellow,” who “had been misquoted and had not authorized the interview, and in fact knew nothing of it until it appeared in the press.”

Cantillon himself never directly denied his statement, but The Constitution, content to keep the focus of Southern wrath on Phyle was happy to give the Milwaukee manager a pass:

“(Griffith’s claim) puts a new light on the question and it is very probable that he has been judged too harshly in the south…Phyle as a baseball issue is now dead.  Any effort to revive him and bring him forward on the stage either as a hero suffering persecution or a sick man worrying his life out by the blacklist hanging over him, will meet with the opposition of every paper in the south.”

Phyle went to Toledo and spent the spring and summer wiring Southern Association President Kavanaugh asking for reinstatement so his contract could be assigned to the Mud Hens.  After his application was rejected in May, and again in July, Phyle joined the independent Youngstown Ohio Works team.  The team played exhibition games that summer with the Brooklyn Superbas and Pittsburgh Pirates—both National League clubs were fined $100 for playing against the blacklisted Phyle.

(Some sources list Phyle as a member of the 1904 Johnstown Johnnies in the independent Pennsylvania League, but several Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Williamsport Gazette and The Scranton  Republican said in August “Phyle turned down a $225 per month offer from Johnstown.”)

Phyle became part of another scandal in 1905.

Bill Phyle

Bill Phyle

Youngstown joined the newly formed Ohio-Pennsylvania League, and needed to submit a roster to the NAPBL for approval.  Phyle’s name did not appear on the submitted list, but he played third base for the club all season, including an exhibition with the Cincinnati Reds on August 31. Youngstown was fined $500 in mid September and ordered to release Phyle.  Cincinnati was fined $100.

Phyle was finally reinstated in February of 1906, after he submitted a letter to the directors of the Southern Association retracting all of his 1903 allegations.

His contract was assigned to the Nashville Volunteers who sold him to the Kansas City Blues in the American Association.  After hitting .295 in 72 games, Phyle got one last trip to the National League.  He was traded to the St. Louis; he hit just .178 for the Cardinals.  He retired after playing three years in the Eastern League with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1907-1909.

More than twenty years later Joe Cantillon was apparently forgiven in the South.  He managed the Little Rock Travelers to back-to-back eighth place finishes in 1926 and 1927.

The rest of Bill Phyle’s story next week.

“The Montgomery Team Threw to us Three Games by Arrangement”

12 Nov

The Southern Association kicked off their 1903 season assuming things couldn’t help but go better than the previous year.  The actions of Memphis Egyptians owner/manager Charlie Frank—who continued to put players in the Memphis line up who had been blacklisted by the league—had thrown the season into chaos.  The situation became so contentious that the headline in The Atlanta Constitution said after the final day of the season:

  To The Relief of All the Season is Now Over

A post season agreement restored the league—and made Frank even a greater power in the league.

As part of the settlement Frank received an estimated $5000 which he immediately put towards building a contender for 1903.

Frank built a good team and continued to improve it; as the team battled for the pennant in the final month the roster included veterans Perry Werden, Joe Delehanty, and Charles “Dusty” Miller.

In July he paid a reported $2500 to the Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association for outfielder Sam Dungan, pitcher Ray “Dad” Hale and third baseman Bill Phyle; Frank named Phyle team captain.

Bill Phyle

Bill Phyle

Frank’s team finished strong and edged out the second place Little Rock Travelers on the final day of the season; Memphis beat the Atlanta Crackers 9 to 5 in front of 7500 fans—the then largest ever crowd at Atlanta’s Red Elm Park.

The final standings

The final standings

The following week Little Rock defeated Memphis 3 games to 2 in a best of five series; the Southern Association season appeared to have come to peaceful close on September 28, 1903.

That changed two days later.

Newspapers across the South reported on serious charges that were being made in Memphis.  The Associated Press said:

“According to statements made by William Phyle, former National League player and this year a captain of the pennant-winning Memphis team…the Memphis club won first honors by inducing players on the opposing team to ‘throw’ the final (series).”

Phyle told reporters the scheme began earlier in September:

“The Montgomery team (Black Sox) threw to us three games by arrangement, but Little Rock kept on winning and kept it close on out heals.  I knew that Birmingham (Barons) threw to Little Rock too.  Then the deciding and final game of the season between Memphis and Atlanta arrived, and we had to win the last two games to keep the lead.  Two of the Atlanta pitchers were given $25 each to allow Memphis to win…and another player was also bought.  We won one game by (George) Winters misjudging a fly that allowed (Ted) Breitenstein a three-bagger and the deciding run.”

Winters error came in the second to last game; he was absent from the final game of the season.

Phyle later told an Atlanta reporter that the pitchers who were paid off were Frank “Zeke” Wilson and John Ely.  Charlie Frank, who had just announced he was leaving Memphis to take control of the New Orleans Pelicans, denied the charges and claimed Phyle was simply angry over a “dispute involving money.”

Zeke Wilson

Zeke Wilson

Phyle also said the five-game post season series was “prearranged, so that the deciding game was played in Memphis before a Sunday crowd.”

League President William Kavanaugh scheduled a meeting in Memphis for October 17 to investigate the charges, and Phyle went to West Baden, Indiana.

Phyle demanded travel expenses to return to Memphis for the meeting, he initially claimed that the money the league wired came too late. Then Kavanaugh ordered him, by telegram, to “catch the first train for Memphis,” Phyle refused, now claiming he was ill.

The meeting was held without Phyle.  Zeke Wilson testified that he had received $50 from Charlie Frank, but that it was given to him after the season in order to secure his release from Atlanta.  He said he intended to sign with Frank in New Orleans (he ended up signing with Montgomery in 1905, but joined Frank in New Orleans in 1905).

As for Winters, who made the error that allowed Memphis to win the second to last game and was absent for the final game, The Sporting Life said that charge was “very easily explained.” It was claimed he failed to appear in the final game because of a dispute with Atlanta management over transportation money.

Managers Lew Whistler of Montgomery and Michael “Duke” Finn of Little Rock denied that either club was involved in “anything crooked.”  John Ely did not appear but sent a letter denying all charges.

Without Phyle in attendance to provide his evidence the league “exonerated all clubs and players mentioned in his charges,” and suspended Phyle indefinitely.

Next Phyle was ordered to St. Louis to defend his charges before the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.  He again failed to appear.

On October 25 Bill Phyle was expelled indefinitely from professional baseball.

The following week he appealed the decision; claiming his illness was the only reason he failed to appear and that if allowed “he will appear and substantiate the charges which he has made.”

He was never given another opportunity to present his case.  His appeal was denied in December.

Tomorrow: More on Bill Phyle.

The 1903 Memphis Egyptians--

The 1903 Memphis Egyptians–Bill Phyle is number 11, Joe Delehanty 2, Perry Werden 4, “Dusty” Miller 12, Ted Breitenstein 13, Charlie Frank, bottom left with bow tie