Tag Archives: Bill Watkins

Things I learned on the Way to Looking up Other Things #27

28 Nov

Chicago’s American Association Franchise

At the close of the 1891 season, The Chicago Tribune assured their readers that Chicago would be a two-team town:

“The Chicago club of the American Association of 1892 is a certainty.  Fred Pfeffer will be its manager and leading spirit, and Sam G. Morton (an executive with A.G. Spalding and Bros. Co.) well known here, its business guardian.”

pfeffer

Fred Pfeffer

According to the paper, the new club’s roster would include:

“(Bill) Dahlen, (Ad) Gumbert, and (Malachi) Kittridge probabilities.  Such men as (Bill) Hart, the Sioux City pitcher, (Bid) McPhee of Cincinnati, (Jake) Beckley of Pittsburgh, Danny Richardson of New York, and (Herman) Long of Boston are in sight.”

The Tribune said the new American Association franchise would build a park on Chicago’s west side:

“Convenient to cable and railroad, and their accommodations will be for 20,000 people.”

The stockholders in the team were said to be some of the most prominent industrialists in Chicago.

The planned team never materialized after the American Association folded and four teams were absorbed into the National League.

Pfeffer, the would be manager, was traded to the Louisville Colonels for Jim Canavan and $1000.

 Weidman’s Swan Song

George “Stump” “Kid” Weidman spent parts of nine seasons in the major leagues, he appeared in his final game in 1888, and posted a career 101-156 record.

stump

Weidman

Ten years after he left the game, C. H. Steiger, The Detroit Tribune sportswriter, quoted an unnamed former teammate about how Weidman wore out his welcome in Detroit during his second tenure with the Wolverines.  Weidman had rejoined Detroit after the Kansas City Cowboys folded:

“He had pitched for us before, and was at that time considered a great pitcher, and he really was.  When he was with us before, he was the most popular boy on the team.  Everything was Kid, and he got the glad hand from everyone until one day he lost it all at once.  It goes to show how easily a man can throw away what it has taken him a long time to acquire”

Weidman won 13 games for the eventual pennant winning Wolverines before being sold to the New York Metropolitans in August, after the former teammate said Weidman was playing right field one day, while Detroit ace Pretzels Getzein was on the mound:

“(The) batter on the opposing club, Philadelphia I think it was, popped up a slow outfield fly to Weidman.  He had lots of time to get it, and it was the easiest kind of chance, but he ran up to within about ten feet of where it would strike, stopped, let it strike and bound into his hands, then threw it in.

“Well, it was the only time I ever saw Getzein mad.  He looked at Weidman, shrugged his shoulders and said to his catcher, ‘What do you think of that?’

“(Manager Bill) Watkins saw it from the bench, and was mad as a hornet.  When Weidman came in, Watkins called him down, and the Kid said he was afraid of over-running it, and thought it was best to do as he did, otherwise the batter might have made two bases on it,  But his explanation didn’t go.”

The teammate concluded:

“I don’t think he meant to throw the game.  He just wanted to let the other fellows get another hit off Getzein.  But the other players in the club rather soured on Weidman after that, and so did the crowd.”

After being sold to the Metropolitans, Weidman appeared in just 15 more games, his major league career was over at age 27.

Bad Bill Eagan

6 Oct

William “Bad Bill” Eagan was just 35-years-old when he died from tuberculosis in 1905, but many people probably didn’t believe it when the news was first reported.  The hard-living Eagan’s demise had been predicted and reported several times.  In 1901, the year after his professional career ended, The Fort Wayne Sentinel said:

“’Bad Bill’ Eagan who died two or three times last year, is running a poker room in Detroit.  Eagan dies on the average of three times a year and is about due for the first of this year’s series.  Eagan captained and played first base for Youngstown before his second demise last season.”

Bad Bill

Bad Bill

In 1899 Connie Mack told The Philadelphia North American:

“Eagan would be one of the best second basemen in the business if he would keep in condition.”

Eagan quickly wore out his welcome during all three of his brief stints in the big leagues.  The first, with the St. Louis Browns in the American Association in 1891, ended, according to The Syracuse Standard after an incident with team owner Chris von der Ahe:

“(Eagan) was a jolly fellow and not afraid of discipline.  The Browns got on a train at St. Louis to come East…von der Ahe’s nasal organ was rather large and red for its age and ‘Bad Bill’ determined to have some sport.

“Walking up to his employer, he caught the nose between his fingers, and said: ‘Say, Chris, how much did it cost to color that?’

“The owner of the cerise nose was furious with rage.  He released Eagan at once.  The train was ninety miles east of St. Louis, and at von der Ahe’s order the conductor put the nose twirler off the train.”

Two years later Eagan joined ‘Cap’ Anson’s Chicago Colts.  Hugh Fullerton  told the story of how he wore out his welcome there after just six games:

“Anson was a quick thinker on the ball field, but once he released the best second baseman that ever wore a suit for thinking a little quicker than anybody else on the nine.

“The second baseman in question was “Bad Bill’ Eagan. Everybody who remembers ‘Bad Bill’ will admit his supremacy on the second bag.  When the play we celebrate came up there was a base runner on second.  Chicago was one run to the good, and it was in the last half of the ninth inning.

(Bill) Dahlen was playing third base for Chicago.  The man hit a sharp liner down to second.  ‘Bad Bill’ started for it and at the same instant the man started for third base.

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen

“The liner was a clipper and the ball struck ‘Bad Bill’s’ hands and bounded out.  It struck the ground ten feet away, with ‘Bill’ right after it.  Once he got his hands on it and without stopping to look where he was throwing.  ‘Bill’ let the ball fly to third base.

“Most ball players after fumbling the ball would have tossed it to the pitcher or thrown it home if, after looking around, they saw that the base runner had started to try to score.

“In this case the base runner, after touching third, went on for twenty feet and then stopped for an instant to see what had become of the ball.  He saw it coming straight as a die for third base, and went back there like a flash.  But the ball beat him by ten feet.  Unfortunately for the game, and also for “Bad Bill’ Dahlen had taken it for granted that Eagan would throw the ball to the home plate, and was not looking for it to be thrown to him.  Consequently the ball went by him, going within four inches of his nose, and striking the grand stand far behind.

“The result was that both base runners got safely home before Dahlen recovered himself and the ball, and the game was lost to Chicago.

“Anson was furious and immediately after the game gave ‘Bad Bill’ his release for making that throw.  As a matter of fact, it was the best possible play under the circumstances, and Dahlen, rather than “Bad Bill’ was to blame for it not coming out as planned.  If ‘Dal’ had thought as quickly as ‘Bill’ the game might have been settled right then and there.”

Eagan received one more trial with a major league team in 1898.  He started the season on the bench for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but was given the opportunity to start when regular second baseman Dick Padden left the team over a dispute with Manager Bill Watkins in May.

Eagan hit .328, but committed 10 errors, in 19 games at Pittsburgh.  He was sold to Louisville Colonels on June 5. The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“He is a clever fielder, a fair batsman, extremely aggressive and absolutely fearless (and will) certainly strengthen the team in one of its weakest spots.”

But Eagan never appeared in a game for Colonels.  The following day The Courier-Journal said the deal was off, and Manager Fred Clarke would only say, via telegram:

“Called deal for Eagan off for good reasons.”

The Colonels passed on Eagan despite being a team badly in need of a regular second baseman—Clarke tried nine different men at there during the season, and his primary second baseman, Heine Smith hit .190 and committed 16 errors in 26 games.

Eagan finished the 1898 season with the Eastern League’s Syracuse Stars, where he had played from 1894 to 1897.  He finished the year of 1898 in jail in his native Camden New Jersey.

That story  Wednesday

Stewart Strader

11 Aug

Stewart W. Strader was the son of a prominent business leader in two of Kentucky’s signature businesses.  His father, Colonel Robert Stuart Strader operated a distillery and was a prominent breeder of Standardbred Trotters.  In 1875, the elder Strader moved the family from Boone County, Kentucky to Lexington where he was involved in the founding and management of The Red Mile—the world’s second oldest harness racing track.

Advertisement for R.S. Strader and Son Distillery. The "Son" was Stewart's older brother Wilson.

Advertisement for R.S. Strader and Son Distillery. The “Son” was Stewart’s older brother Wilson.

Stewart Strader was born in Lexington in 1882, one of seven sons.  By the age of 20 he had become an important figure in baseball circles in and around Lexington, as owner, manager and one of the best players on Lexington’s local semi-pro team.

Before the 1903 season The Lexington Leader said Strader was attempting to get his team accepted into the Central League and “Lexington’s application for a franchise is looked upon quite favorably,” but days later The Lexington Herald said Strader “decided most of the cities composing the Central League were too far to enable his club to play them with profit.”  He instead entered his team in Cincinnati’s Sunday League and played against other independent teams during the week.

Stewart Strader 1903

Stewart Strader 1903

His reputation quickly spread, and while there were rumors in the press that he would be signed by the Cincinnati Reds, they did not materialize, but he did receive a letter from William Henry “Bill” Watkins, president and manager of the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association.  Watkins wrote:

“I thought I would write you and see if you had any idea of going into the professional end of the game next season.  If you will consider a trial with us, I would like to hear from you.”

Strader accepted the offer, but by the time he reported to Indianapolis in late March, Watkins had left Indianapolis to manage the Minneapolis Millers.  In his first game with the Hoosiers, an exhibition against Purdue University, Strader played right field and was 3 for 3 with a triple.  The Indianapolis News said, “Strader is a hitter of merit and with a little more work should develop into a strong fielder.”

Two days before the beginning of the regular season Indianapolis purchased left fielder Ed “Pinky” Swander from the St. Louis Browns, and right fielder George Hogriever, who had refused to sign after hitting .330 the previous season, agreed to terms with the Hoosiers.   Strader was released to the Greenville Cotton Pickers in the Cotton States League.  His hometown paper, The Herald, said he “had been holding down right field with due credit,” but Indianapolis Manager Bill Phillips felt “he was too young for the fast company.”

Strader 1904

Strader 1904

After hitting .309 for Greenville in 81 at bats, he was sold to the Macon Highlanders in the South Atlantic League where he hit just .200 in 130 at bats.

Strader spent the next five years making brief stops with seven different minor league teams, buying and selling the independent Lexington club at least twice, and tending a saloon he opened in 1905.

 

Stewart Srader

Stewart Srader

In 1908, Lexington became part of the newly formed Blue Grass League.  It was the city’s first team in organized ball in more than a decade, and Strader may, or may not, have been involved in an attempt to wrest control of the team from owner and manager Thomas Sheets.

Strader opened the season in the Virginia State League, where he appeared in 10 games for the Richmond Colts and Danville Red Sox.  In late May, he returned to Kentucky and signed a contract with Sheets’ Lexington Colts.  On May 31 he played center field for the Colts and was 0 for 3.  The following day he was released.

The Herald speculated that another player, Warren Fieber (who had purchased the independent Lexington team from Strader two years earlier and later sold it back to him) would also be released:

“Sheets admitted that an effort had been made to undermine him in the last two days, but would make no further statement.”

Fieber, who was hitting .320 on June 1, remained with the team, but his batting average plummeted to .222 by the season’s end.  Strader stayed in the Bluegrass League and signed with the Shelbyville Grays; he had the best season of his pro career, hitting .324.

Strader played his final season of pro ball the next year with the Frankfort Statesmen.  In June The Herald said:

 “Lexington fans have noted with considerable satisfaction that Stewart Strader a Lexington boy now with Frankfort is leading the Blue Grass League in batting.”

Strader was hitting .410 as late as June 23, but slumped badly in the second half of the season and finished with a .264 average.  At the end of the 1909 season Strader and Patrick Downing, a former minor league player, were appointed deputies by the Fayette County Sheriff.  The Leader said the two deputies they replaced “apparently would not play ball.”

Strader signed with the Davenport Prodigals in the Three-I League in the spring of 1910 but was released before the season began.

During the last several years of career, and the first decade after he left the diamond, the Strader family was regularly mentioned in the local press for things other than baseball.

Two brothers died tragically, one, according to The Leader, by his own hand after shooting a woman in Lexington’s “Tenderloin District.” The other was murdered during a dispute while hunting.

Strader began operating taverns and restaurants in Lexington in 1905, and the family spent the better part of a decade bringing various lawsuits against each other involving the failure of the distillery after their father’s death and other business disputes.  During one dispute Strader’s older brother W.P. had him arrested claiming Stewart Strader “would do bodily harm or injury to him.”

Despite the family drama, Strader remained a successful businessman and prominent member of Lexington society.  He owned the Berlin Café—which he originally purchased with one of his brothers in 1905–until 1940 and for seven years in the 1920s operated Third Avenue Motor Company in Louisville, which sold the Anderson Six—produced by the Anderson Motor Car Company in South Carolina.

Strader died in Lexington on August 9, 1948.

Page Fence Giants

30 Sep

The Page Fence Giants would become one of the great early teams in black baseball; some sources say they played 156 games, winning 118 their first year.  But things did not go well in their first game.

Organized by John “Bud” Fowler and Grant “Home Run” Johnson, the team represented the Adrian, Michigan-based Page Woven Wire Fence Company; at the time the nation’s largest fence company;  Augustus “Gus” Parsons served as the team’s business manager and scheduled their games (he’s often misidentified as the team’s manager).

Grant "Home Run" Johnson, left center row and John "Bud" Fowler, right center row, with the independent Findley (OH) Sluggers in 1894.

Grant “Home Run” Johnson, left center row and John “Bud” Fowler, right center row, with the independent Findley (OH) Sluggers in 1894.

Their first game was scheduled for April 10 against the Western League’s Indianapolis Hoosiers.

The Indianapolis News said of the Giants:

“Besides playing ball they perform feats of tumbling, and there is a quartet among them that sings between innings.”

The team also would arrive in towns riding bicycles in parade formation (the Giants’ other sponsor was the Monarch Bicycle Company).

While they often played for mostly white crowds The News said the stands “were very nearly peopled” with black fans; they did not get the show they had hoped for:

“In the first inning the Indianapolis team had fourteen men to bat and scored eight runs.  It seemed evident that one more inning of slaughter like the first would precipitate a race riot, and President (and manager William “Bill”) Watkins diplomatically let up.  The ease with which Indianapolis did everything it wanted to, and the “rough deal” the colored team received at the hands of umpire Andrews conspired to make the score look like the original report of the Armenian massacre…The one-sided score, which misrepresents both teams as far as figures are concerned.”

Page Fence lost 26-1.

The Box Score

The Box Score

They also lost two games against the Cincinnati Reds, then lost Fowler and pitcher George Wilson to the Adrian Reformers in the Michigan State League (where they were teammates of Honus Wagner).

The Giants returned to Indianapolis in 1896, losing 16-3 to the Hoosiers

The Giants returned to Indianapolis in 1896, losing 16-3 to the Hoosiers

Despite their first game, the Giants continued drawing crowds and winning games until they disbanded in 1898—with most of the players joining the newly formed Chicago Columbia Giants.