Tag Archives: Billy Barnie

“There was probably none so Unique as Shreve”

24 Jul

Leven Lawrence “Lev” Shreve II came from a prominent family in Louisville, Kentucky.  His great-uncle, and namesake, had been president of the Louisville Gas and Water Company, and the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.

The 19-year-old made his professional debut in 1886, playing with Savannah, then Chattanooga; he was a combined 12-9 with 1.52 ERA.  Shreve was signed by Billy Barnie to join his young pitching staff with the Baltimore Orioles in the American Association.  He came to Baltimore with great expectations.

Lev Shreve

Lev Shreve

The Baltimore Daily News called him “Barnie’s phenom.”  In wasn’t the first time a relatively unknown pitcher was given that name by the Baltimore press.

Shreve had trouble getting as Barnie primarily relied on 21-year-old Matt Kilroy and 22-year-old Phenomenal Smith; Shreve, and fellow 20-year-old Ed Knouff saw limited action in the first two months of the season.

The Sporting Life said he wasn’t happy:

 “Shreve, the Louisville boy…complains that he does not get a fair deal.  He affirms that his arm is in fine trim, but that he is not allowed to pitch. Shreve is an ambitious ball player, and desires to show what is in him.  He says he will quit if Barnie does not play him.”

The Baltimore Sun said

“People are asking why Shreve isn’t given a chance.”

The Sporting Life, perhaps, provided an explanation for the lack of work later that month:

“Cigarette smoking is said to be impairing the efficiency of two Baltimore pitchers, Shreve and Knouff”

It would not be the last mention of cigarettes and Shreve in The Sporting Life;  the pitcher was also said to be “a cigarette fiend,” and “as noted for his cigarette habit” as his pitching.

Neither Shreve, who was sold to the Indianapolis Hoosiers in the National League, nor Knouff, who was sold to the St. Louis Browns, would finish the season with Baltimore; it’s unknown whether smoking was the cause.

Shreve was 3-1 with a 3.79 ERA in five games in Baltimore.

The sale to Indianapolis didn’t seem to hurt Shreve’s confidence according to George Myers, his catcher with the Hoosiers.  Meyers, two decades after playing with Shreve, said the pitcher was talented, cocky and erratic, and described Shreve’s first National League game; a 4-1 10-inning victory over the first place Detroit Wolverines on August 19:

“There was probably none so unique as Shreve…My, but he was a fresh youth…He had awful speed and good curves and perfect control of the ball.  His confidence and egotism were astounding.  I remember one day we were to play against Detroit (Wolverines).  It was when the big four, (Jack) Rowe, (Deacon) White, (Hardy) Richardson and (Dan) Brouthers were on the team.

“Mr. Shreve, who had been assigned to pitch, strutted to the box with the swagger that would have made John L. Sullivan look cheap when John L. was monarch of all in the fistic business.  ‘Just watch me fellows, and see what I do to those swell-headed guys from Michigan,’ said the smiling Shreve.  ‘I am going to make ‘em look like a lot of suckers.’

“Richardson was the first batter up…’So you are the great invincible Hardy Richardson, eh?’ drawled Mr. Shreve.  ‘Well Hardy, old chap, I’m going to show you that you are easy for a good pitcher…Shreve let go the first ball and it went around Hardy’s neck like a shot.  He struck at it after I had it in my hands.  Bang goes the second, also a strike, and the third a wide, slow, outshoot, fooled the great batter completely and Shreve said mockingly: ‘Back to the bench Hardy, I told you that you were easy.

“Big Dan Brouthers, who was always a terror to pitchers, came next and he had blood in his eye…’so this is the terrible Mr. Dan Brouthers,’ grinned the fresh pitcher.  ‘Hate to tell you Dan, how soft a mark you are’…Dan missed the first two, which went close to his chin, and the next he hit like a shot at the pitcher.  Shreve caught it in easy style and gave Brouthers the ‘ha ha’ in most tantalizing fashion as Dan ambled to the bench.

“Deacon White came next and Shreve kidded him unmercifully.  ‘Deacon who told you that you could hit anything?’ was the greeting white was given.  The Deacon scowled and muttered ominous.  ’Duck soup is what you are for me.’ Sand Shreve, as White missed the first ball by several inches.  ‘Oh, how easy,’ was the next rejoinder, and Deacon smashed blindly at an outshoot, a moment later striking out on one of those speedy ones such as had sent Richardson to the bench.

“The Big Four could do absolutely nothing with Shreve’s delivery, and the other members of their team were just as helpless…This fellow Shreve was one of the best pitchers I ever met, but he was an erratic chap, and dreadfully hard to handle.”

George Myers

George Myers

After beating the eventual National League champions in his first start, Shreve ended up a disappointing 5-9 with a 4.72 ERA for Indianapolis.

Myers said on another occasion Shreve approached him before pitching against the Chicago White Stockings, who had won the National League championship in 1886:

“’Say, George, what team is this we are up against today?’

“I immediately began to read him a lecture, telling him that a young man just starting in on his career as a professional ballplayer shouldn’t deport himself in such a manner. ‘The idea of you coming on to the grounds when the champion Chicagos are here, and not knowing it, why—‘  ‘The champion Chicagos,’ interrupted Shreve, ‘Never mind, George, just watch me.  Oh just wait and see what I will do to that bunch.”

Myer s said Shreve shutout the White Stockings.  (This story appears to be either apocryphal or conflated with another incident as Shreve did not shutout Chicago that season).

Shreve was 11-24 in 1888 and 0-3 in 1889 when he was released by the Hoosiers.  He played three minor league seasons and was out of professional baseball by the age of 24.

Myers said his former teammate was “erratic as Rube Waddell,” and:

“I could tell story after story about this man Shreve.  If he had taken care of himself he would have been the greatest pitcher in baseball history.”

“The Ty Cobb of Trapshooters”

15 Jul

Lester Stanley “Les” German broke into professional baseball with a bang in 1890.  The 21-year-old played for Billy Barnie’s Baltimore Orioles, a team that had dropped out of the American Association and after the 1889 season and joined the Atlantic Association, a minor league.

German was 35-9 in August when the American Association’s Brooklyn Gladiators folded in August, the Orioles returned to the association, and German returned to Earth; posting a 5-11 record for the big league Orioles.

German was a minor league workhorse for the next two and a half seasons.  He was 35-11 for the Eastern Association champion Buffalo Bisons in 1891; he appeared in 77 games and pitched 655 innings for the Oakland Colonels in the California League in 1892, and was 22-11 for the Augusta Electricians in the Southern Association in July of 1893 when his contract was purchased by the New York Giants.

Les German, 1894

Les German, 1894

German would never win in double figures again; In five seasons in the National League he was 29-52, including a 2-20 mark with the 1896 Washington Senators.

It was German’s next career that earned him the most notoriety.  A crack shot, German became one of the most famous trapshooters in the country for the next thirty years.  He won numerous championships and was often featured in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show with Annie Oakley.

A National Sports Syndicate article in 1918 said “Lester German is the Ty Cobb of trapshooters.”  The article said that beginning in 1908, when official records were first kept, German had maintained a “remarkable average,” shooting a t a better percentage than any other professional marksman.

Les German, 1918

Les German, 1918

As German’s reputation as a shooter grew, his legacy as a pitcher became inflated.

A mention of his baseball career in a 1916 issue of “The Sportsmen’s Review”, credited German, and his 9-8 record,  with “leading the Giants,” to their 1894 Temple Cup series victory over the Baltimore Orioles, there was no mention of Amos Rusie’s two shutouts .  A 1915 article in The Idaho Statesman inexplicably said German “headed the National League in both pitching and fielding” in 1895—German was 7-11 with a 5.54 ERA and committed 2 errors in 45 chances on the mound; he also made eight errors in 11 games he filled in for the injured George Davis at third base.

German operated a gun shop and continued to organize and participate in shooting tournaments until his death in Maryland in 1934.

“Barnie’s Phenom”

10 Apr

The Baltimore Orioles needed pitching in 1889; Billy Barnie’s team had finished in 5th place in the American Association with a 57-80 record, and a 5.69 team ERA.

The Baltimore papers thought he had found a solution in April of 1889, The Sun said:

“Yesterday a big six-footer strolled up to the ball grounds while the Baltimore boys were at play.  He put on a suit and went in to pitch.  The ball-players laughed at first, but soon found that they could not hit the stranger.  He placed the ball in every conceivable position, and his curves and in-and-out shoots were remarkable.  When he picked up the bat he made the ball and the centre-field fence come together.  Mr. J.M. Ritter, a traveling salesman, had seen the young pitcher at play in Virginia and brought him to Baltimore.”

The Baltimore American was also enthusiastic:

“Great things are expected of Goetz, the Greencastle giant.”

His full name was George Burt Goetz, a 24-year-old house painter from Greencastle, Pennsylvania, who had played semi-pro ball in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

His first outing was against Pennsylvania University at Oriole Park; The Sun said Goetz “delighted 1,000 persons yesterday afternoon by his work in the box.” He pitched five shutout innings, giving up just two hits in a 20-1 victory; he also hit four singles, The Sun raved “He gives promise of becoming a great pitcher, batter and runner.”

The Sun said Goetz’ arrival was almost biblical:

“(He) has apparently created almost as much of a sensation among the local ball enthusiasts as David did when he strolled in among the embattled hosts of the Hebrews and offered to take the Philistine champion down a peg or two. ..Let us hope for the honor of the Baltimore Club that Mr. Goetz will prove a Baltimore David, and that the big champions of opposing teams may fall before his lightning delivery and Heaven-inspired curves.”

Within a week Goetz had been brought back to earth when he was pounded in an exhibition game against the National League’s Boston Beaneaters in Baltimore, he gave up 15 hits, 12 runs (6 earned), and committed three errors in a 12-5 loss.

The Sun conceded that “David met Goliath and came out second best this time,” but remained hopeful:

“(T)here’s life in him yet, which the season may develop into full growth.”

As quickly as he had arrived, it was reported that Goetz had returned to Pennsylvania to recover from an unknown illness; The Sporting Life simply said “Barnie’s Phenom Goetz is sick and recuperating in Greencastle.”

Oriole Manager Billy Barnie

Orioles Manager Billy Barnie

Goetz made it back to Baltimore and pitched in a June 6 game “Between two nines composed of Baltimore club players…for the benefit of the Johnstown (flood) sufferers.”  The Sun said “Goetz was too much for them,” allowing only four hits.

That outing appears to have earned him a shot for his professional debut; eleven days later Goetz started the first game of a double-header against the last place Louisville Colonels.  The Sun said:

“With a hard, steady work and a display of intelligence he may become a success.  At times he would fire the ball over the plate with a speed like a rifle shot, but when men were on bases he was nervous.  He was twelve times safely with a total of seventeen bases.”

Goetz gave up six runs (four earned); Baltimore tied the game with a three-run ninth inning, and won it with four in the tenth, earning Goetz the victory, Bert Cunningham pitched the tenth inning for the Orioles.

It would be his only appearance.

On July 4 the Orioles released Goetz. With little fanfare or explanation Barnie’s phenom was through.

Goetz signed with the York franchise in the Middle States League later in 1889.

He dropped out of sight until 1892 when The Sun reported that Goetz was “the sensation of the Wisconsin-Minnesota League,” pitching for Hayward, Wisconsin, and had recently struck out 19 in a game with the West Superior team.  The paper facetiously noted “It was reported Goetz had drowned in the Johnstown flood, but seems to have turned up again.”

Goetz’ catcher in Wisconsin was a Baltimore native named Milton K. Osborn; the two would play again the following season with a team in Little Falls, Minnesota and both joined the Lynchburg Hill Climbers of the Virginia League in 1894.  No statistics survive for any of Goetz’ post-Baltimore stops.

His trail goes cold after 1894.  There are many listings in city directories for George B. Goetz’ throughout the country for the next several decades, and there are reports that he was in California as late as 1912—but nothing else is known about “Barnie’s phenom”