Tag Archives: Billy Earle

“There Ain’t any Good Umpires”

15 Mar

Perry Werden had a reputation as an umpire baiter during his more than 20 years a professional player

His penchant for hurling obscenities at umpires was so well know that in 1895 The St. Paul Globe, in noting that the Minneapolis Millers had issued free season tickets for all the town’s clergy members said:

“Perry Werden will give them food enough for sermons to last the rest of the summer.”

In 1899, he was thrown out of a game before it began because, The Globe said, “Perry threw the ball at (Jack) Sheridan, swiftly.” That was the culmination of a several-year struggle with Sheridan, who tossed him out of many Western League games. In 1895 The Milwaukee Journal said that during one game in which Sheridan ejected him:

“(T)he actions of Werden and others were so objectionable that 200 spectators left the grounds in a body and stated they would never patronize another game as long as base ball was so conducted in their city.”

On that occasion Werden was fined $50 and escorted from the grounds by two Milwaukee police officers.

While playing for the Memphis Egyptians in 1903, Werden and teammate Al Miller were fined $25 in a Birmingham police court for assaulting an umpire; he was escorted from the field by police on at least two other occasions that season.

Jack Brennan—born Gottlieb Doering—and Werden were teammates as rookies with the St. Louis Maroons in the Union Association in 1884 and remained friends. When Werden played for the Minneapolis Millers in the Western League and Brennan umpired in the circuit, The Globe said:

“They are great friends, but Brennan puts Perry out of the game whenever he gets a chance. When Perry hurt his knee…the umpire sent the following telegram of condolence to the big first baseman: ‘I hope that you will have to saw your leg off,” To this Werden replied” ‘I sincerely hope a foul takes your head off.”’

By 1906, well past his prime at 44, Werden joined the Vicksburg Hill Billies in the Cotton States League. He had played in the same league the previous season with the Hattiesburg Tar Heels and coached the Mississippi College baseball team in the spring.

He signed with Vicksburg–who were off to a 2-14 start under manager Billy Earle–along with Jeff Clarke, who had been the ace of his Mississippi College pitching staff as soon as the season ended on May 10.

Werden was immediately popular, as he had been in every city he played.

The Jackson Daily News said he, “has made many friends,” and was rumored to be in line to replace Earle and manager.

The Vicksburg Herald said:

“The old man has a good supply of ginger left and held down the initial sack in fine form. His coaching was calculated to put life into the youngsters, and he showed as much enthusiasm as a boy. There is no doubt that his presence on the team will add materially to its strength.”

The Vicksburg American reported that Werden and teammate Tom Toner “now have a bachelor’s quarters at the ballpark.” The two lived in a tent, where “Perry is cook and woodchopper and Tommie does other chores. Both are well pleased with the outing.”

And it took only four games for Werden to be “put out of the game and fined $5 for something said to the umpire.” He was tossed from at least two more games in next six weeks.

But, after hitting .328 in the same league the previous season, Werden, who injured a leg in June, hit just .141 in 49 games for Vicksburg.

Werden

On July 8, with the team 23-43, Earle resigned as manager and Werden was released. The American said:

“Perry today stands as one of the grand old ruins of what was once a gilt-edged celebrity, and with due respect to his age and feelings he certainly may be relegated to that realm called ‘has been.’”

The Vicksburg Evening Post was less kind, claiming Earle’s resignation was because “internal dissentions caused principally by Werden made it impossible for him to get good work out of his men.”

The Herald remained in Werden’s corner, saying the club’s directors:

“(F)or some occult reason, regarded him as a disturber. Just how these gentlemen arrived at that conclusion is a mystery. If the matter were left to the patrons of the game—the persons who make baseball a possibility—Werden would have been retained.”

For his part, The Herald said Werden was “grieved because the report circulated that his is a disorganizer…he says he has played ball for twenty-three years and the charge was never made before.”

Less than a week after his release, Joe O’Brien, president of the American Association asked him to become what he hated most: an umpire.

Werden accepted, but never said a good word about his new career despite immediately receiving positive reviews:

The Columbus (OH) Dispatch said after his first game there:

“Perry Werden is a good umpire. That’s the verdict that must be rendered on his first appearance at Neil Park. He permits no idle coaching and has good judgment on balls and strikes. Pitchers get the corner of the plate when they put them there. Fans liked his work.”

The Indianapolis Sun recounted some highlights from “genial jolly Perry’s” first weeks on the job:

“Werden’s tongue bids fair to be as cutting as that of the Hibernian Tim Hurst. He has umpired but a few games, but he has already won a reputation for being a wit and a master of repartee.”

Werden was quick to return questioned call with insults—during one game in Toledo, Fred Odwell, just sent to the Toledo Mud Hens from the Cincinnati Reds suggested Werden “open his eyes,” after a call, the umpire responded:

“What are you trying to do? Kick yourself back into the big league?”

He ordered Toledo’s Otto Knabe back to his position during an argument before Toledo manager Ed Grillo, “gets next to what a four-flusher you are.”

When Mud Hens third baseman Otto Krueger objected to a call, Werden chastised him for an earlier misplay:

“No, you are a nice bone head. Anybody that don’t know how many men are out and stands like a dummy with the ball at third base while a man runs down to first, has got no business to talk to me. Skidoo.”

When Indianapolis Indians catcher Ducky Holmes questioned a call, Werden responded:

“Little boy, every ball I call you say is a strike, and every strike you say is a ball. Shut up or I’ll have an amateur catching in your place.”

Dick Padden, whose major league career had ended the previous season, and was player-manager of the St. Paul Saints had his value to his club dismissed by Werden during an argument:

“Padden, you can kick all you want to. You dead ones don’t count. When I chase a man, I’ll put out someone who can weaken the team. Stick in Dick. I know you’re tired, but I am not going to put you out.”

Having served well for a few weeks, Werden parodied his well-known umpire hatred when he told The Sun:

“There ain’t any good umpires. There never was an umpire in the history of baseball that knew anything about the rules…there never was an umpire that could tell whether a curve broke over the plate or not…All that an umpire is out there for is to make a bluff at giving the decisions.”

After his many years as a player, Werden said he was “taking the rest cure,” as an umpire:

“The rottener you are the better you get by.”

And he endeared himself to every fan who swore they could see a play better than the umpire on the field:

“I’ve often wondered how the loud-faced fellow, in the stands, at 100 yards off from the play, can see exactly what comes off, But it’s so; he can. He never makes a mistake. I’ll admit sometimes it’s pretty hard for the umpire to see when he’s right on the spot. Where the runner and the ball and the baseman are. That’s the difference between the umpire and the fan. The umpire is always rotten and a dud, while the fan is always wise, just, and correct.”

At the close of his first half season, The Minneapolis Journal said of the new umpire:

“Perry as an umpire is getting away with it in great shape. He is a popular idol around the circuit and gets along well with the players.”

The reluctant umpire was hired back for the 1907 season.

Werden, top left, with the 1907 Western League umpire staff. Standing front l to, r. S.J. Kane and Gerald Hayes tope row, Werden, W.J. Sullivan, Jack Kerwin, and John Egan.

Early in in 1907 season, The Indianapolis News, likened Werden to a mythical wise king, and asked “the Nestor of the umpires,” about his newly chosen career: among the questions and answers:

“What is the future of umpiring? Was asked.

“A fool or a martyr is born every minute.”

“Can you recommend it to the American youth?

“Has he not a friend?”

“Would you advise umpiring as a profession?

“It is more exciting that the South American revolutions and the climate is better.”

“How did you come to be an umpire?”

“I was sent up for life, but the governor changed the sentence.”

Werden’s transformation from umpire attacker to umpire came full circle during a June 11, 1907 game in Louisville, after what The Courier-Journal called a “raw mistake” by the umpire calling a runner safe at second–a call Colonels pitcher Jim “Bull” Durham objected to. The Times said:

“Werden was forced to stand abusive language and as a climax Durham struck Werden with his glove.”

Durham was suspended for a week for the attack.

Late in his second season, Werden told The Minneapolis Journal he couldn’t “get used to umpiring,” Hugh Edmund (Hek) Keough responded in The Chicago Tribune:

Possibly it is because umpiring can’t get used to him.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune summed up Werden’s tenure:

“The big fellow makes his mistakes, but he is honest and fair, and this is all the fans want.”

William Henry Watkins, owner of the Indianapolis Indians, rescued Werden from umpiring after it was reported that he had already signed to move from the American Association to the Western League.

The Minneapolis Journal said:

“Werden will go to Indianapolis to act as assistant manager, coach, and advisor general of the Indianapolis baseball club.”

The Indianapolis News called him “The official coacher and trainer” of the club.

Caricature of Werden as Indianapolis “Coach”

Werden was ejected for the first time as Indians’ “coacher,” during the season’s eighth game by Stephen Kane—his frequent umpiring partner the previous season.

The Indians won their first pennant since 1902 and the coach received much of the credit in the Indianapolis press and was brought back for a second season.

Werden didn’t return in 1910, though he was apparently asked back. He went home to Minneapolis to organized a semi-pro team; Werden’s All-Stars that played for several seasons in Minneapolis’ City League..

He returned to umpiring in the Northern League in 1913—he was the league’s chief umpire– and the Dakota League in 1920 and 21.

Werden was also responsible for one rule change as an umpire. The Toledo Blade told the story:

“One day last summer a couple of fans shied some cushions at the venerable pate of Perry Werden. Perry immediately hied himself to the office of President Joe (O’Brien) and reported that he had been hanged, strangled, and flayed by the Milwaukee bugs.

“O’Brien was required to obey the rule and a $100 penalty was plastered on to Harry Clark, the supposition being that Clark was field captain of the Brewers. Clark denied that he was the leader of the team, and as he produced an affidavit swearing to his statement, O’Brien was powerless to collect the fine. He allowed the matter to drop but was thoughtful enough to bring it up at the annual meeting. Under the new rule the club and not the captain will be liable.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #39

15 Jan

A Useful Skill

Vernon Deck hit .297 over parts of seven seasons for eight teams in the low minors from 1927 to 1938.

deck.jpg

Deck

His one particular talent allowed him to be a featured member of the House of David club; barnstorming with the religious sect in the mid-1930s, and again briefly in the early 40s.

Deck’s talent was described in the HODs press materials as:

“The only man who can put a regulation baseball in his mouth.”

vernondeck.jpg

Deck demonstrating his skill

Advice for Baseballists

In 1884, The St. Louis Critic shared a list of “Advice for Baseballists.”

Among their suggestions:

“Try to hit the ball before it passes beyond the range of your bat.”

“If it hits you on the end of the nose do not try to knock it off.  Have a little patience and it will fall off.”

“If it should become embedded in your brain, go on with the game as if nothing had happened.”

“Don’t let the bat slip from your hands when you miss the ball unless you are certain it will hit the umpire.”

“Never knock a ball out of the catcher’s hands. Most catchers don’t like it.”

“If you can manage it, try to send the ball among the spectators. They like to be noticed.”

“Always sneer at the pitcher of a rival club. It makes him feel good. If he plugs you in the eye, you must take it as a joke.”

“When you make a good strike, throw your bat in the air, look at the spectators, appear perfectly cool, and get put out.”

Baseball has Peaked, 1885 Version

In 1885, “An old baseballist,” told The Rochester Post-Express:

“(T)the game has lost interest to spectators.”

The reason?

“(B)y reason of the fact that it has become a mere battle of the pitchers.”

The “old baseballist” predicted:

“The American game of the future will be base ball with no pitcher. The ball will be sprung from a ground trap, and the best batters and fielders will win on a uniformly delivered ball for both sides. This will reawaken the old-time interest in the game.”

Another Useful Skill

In 1896, The Cincinnati Post reported that a local resident named Alvin Pietz had a sent a letter to Reds manager Buck Ewing requesting that Ewing get him appointed to the National League umpire staff—citing a particular skill”

ewing

Ewing

“I am very familiar with the rules and I am noted for the way I enforce discipline. I should like to tackle the Cleveland team the first day, and if I don’t control the game something will drop. I am a hypnotist, like Billy Earle, so you can see I can control most of the bullies.”

billyearle1905

Billy Earle

The paper concluded Pietz’ chance of being appointed remained “decidedly slim.”

Profiles of Members of Spalding’s World Tour

22 Apr

Among those who joined A.G. Spalding’s world tour between the 1888 and 1889 seasons, was Simon “Si” Goodfriend, a sports writer for The New York World who later became a theatrical agent.  In 1935 The New York Times said of Goodfriend “has watched baseball as a fan and a sportswriter since the days of the Civil War.”

Simon "Si" Goodfriend

Simon “Si” Goodfriend

Throughout the trip Goodfriend wrote brief profiles of some of the players:

On Hall of Famer John Montgomery “Monte” Ward:

“Ward is a credit to the professional brotherhood of ballplayers.  He is not only ambitious to elevate the standing of the profession but he is equally ambitious personally.  He is exceedingly studious and never visits a strange city (without visiting) the art galleries, museums and libraries and takes copious notes of what he sees.  He presents the same disposition on the sea voyage.  He is a busy person both with his pencil and at his ball practice.”

Ward, who had spearheaded the effort to create the first player’s union in 1885 and the creation of the Players League in 1890.

John Montgomery Ward

John Montgomery Ward

Of John Kinley Tener, White Stockings pitcher and future United States Congressman and Pennsylvania Governor:

“I was going to allude to John K. Tener as a typical handsome American gentleman, but unfortunately I learned, but a day or two ago, that he was born in Ireland and came to America with his parents when he was 9-years-old…His features are clear cut, regular and refined.  His manners are gentle and cultured. Baseball players secured a worthy brother professional when he joined their forces, and there is a to be regretted possibility that he may retire again next season…Anson can be relied on to make a great effort to hold him back.  On the trip Mr. Tener acts as a secretary and treasurer to Mr. Spalding.”

John Tener

John Tener

Tener jumped the Cubs to join the Pittsburgh Burghers in Players League in 1890; after posted a 3-11 record with an ERA of 7.31 Tener left baseball for the banking business, and ultimately politics.

Jimmy Manning, who would quite possibly save an umpire’s life in Kansas City in 1890, was also on the tour:

“(He) is another modest young man with a blond mustache, of which he is proud.   He recently graduated from the Boston college of Pharmacy.”

Jimmy Manning

Jimmy Manning

Philadelphia Quakers outfielder Jim Fogarty:

(Monte Ward) mentions in his book on baseball (that Fogarty was) probably the best right fielder in the country, is a bright looking young fellow with an exuberance of spirits, unquestionably inherited from the land of Erin, and that apparently has no limit.  It is said that he is writing for a Philadelphia paper.  If his letters are half as bubbling and genial as he is at sea they will make interesting reading.  With the exception of (Charlie) Bennett of the Detroits, Fogarty probably has as bad a pair of hands from hard knocks in baseball games as any player in the country.”

Fogarty also jumped to the Players League, joining the brotherhood team in Philadelphia; however he became ill during the season would die of tuberculosis in May of 1891.

Jim Fogarty

Jim Fogarty

Of Billy Earle, “The Little Globetrotter,” McClure said:

“Little William Earle…has already proven himself a first-class backstop (and) is still quite a lad, being only 21 years old.  He is heavy-set has a jolly round face, an habitual smile and tightly curled hair.  He rarely smokes, doesn’t drink and would almost sooner play ball than eat.

Billy Earle

Billy Earle

Some of Goodfriend’s observations about Earle would prove to be wrong, as discussed in an earlier post.

Goodfriend’s profiles of the White Stockings’ “stone wall infield” tomorrow.

Actually, it Probably Wasn’t the Superstition

5 Dec

As with George Treadway, a story can get repeated throughout the decades while a large, key portion is lost in the process; such is the case with Billy Earle.

His career ended because of the superstitions of other players who thought he was “creepy,” as David Nemec described him in his excellent book “The Beer and Whiskey League.”  In “The New Bill James Historical Abstract,” James credulously quotes the assertion from sportscaster Bill Stern‘s 1949 book “Favorite Baseball Stories” that Earle was:

“(F)orced out of baseball, because of nothing more than superstition, the belief that he was a hypnotist with the power of ‘the evil eye.’”

For awhile even Earle tried to use it as an excuse.

But actually, it was probably the morphine.

William Moffat Earle was at times a great player, but more often impetuous and prone to jumping contracts.

He earned his nickname “The Little Globetrotter” after being part of the 1888 world tour organized by Albert Spalding.  Earle said of the trip:

“We played everywhere from the catacombs of Rome to Cheops of Egypt, under the shadow of the pyramids and out through India and the Islands of Ceylon.”

Billy Earle and the other members of the world tour

Billy Earle and the other members of the world tour at the Great Sphinx of Giza

After returning from the tour Earle joined the Cincinnati Red Stockings in the American Association.  He bounced back and forth from Major League to minor league teams for the next six years.  During that time, there were a number of humorous references to Earle’s interest in hypnotism, but none claimed it was an impediment to his career; however, in 1897, upon being released after one game with the Columbus Senators of the Western League the legend began.

In September of 1897 a fairly long article appeared in The Baltimore Sun under the headline “A Haunted Ballplayer,” and then ran in papers around the country. The story said:

“(Earle) cannot get a position on any ball team in the country, not even the small minor league teams.”

Earle told a sad story of teammates avoiding him and fearing the “hoodoo.”  He even blamed his being released by Pittsburgh  after the 1893 season on it, ignoring the fact that he was only signed because of injuries to the three other Pirate catchers, Connie Mack, Joe Sugden and Doggie Miller—and emergency catcher Jake Stenzel.

That 1897 story became the story of Billy Earle.

It also said:

 “He is, moreover, a pleasant, intelligent, strictly temperate man.”

The first two might very well have been true.  The last was not.

The rest of the story about Billy Earle has been lost, forgotten, or just ignored.

In August of 1898, The Cincinnati Enquirer told the real story of why Billy Earle had been out of baseball.  The “strictly temperate” Earle was addicted to morphine.

His friend John McGraw helped get him treatment in a Baltimore hospital; his former Cincinnati teammates took up a collection to buy Earle a ticket to Philadelphia to stay with his parents after treatment.

He kicked the habit, and then for three seasons managed and played for an independent team in Richmond, Indiana; he also coached teams in Havana, Cuba during the winters of 1900 and 1902-1904. And he returned to professional baseball; hardly the profile of a blacklisted man.

Earle signed as a player/manager with the 1903 Vicksburg Hill Billies in the Cotton States League.  He continued his playing career through 1906, and either managed or worked as an umpire in Midwest-based leagues through 1911.

Billy Earle, player/manager Columbia Gamecocks 1905.

Billy Earle, player/manager Columbia Gamecocks 1905.

Billy Earle died in Omaha, Nebraska in 1946.

Were there some players in the superstitious world of 19th Century baseball who were uncomfortable playing with or against Earle? Probably.  If he had hit .320 and not had a drug problem would he have had a 10-year or more major league career regardless of superstitions? Probably.