Tag Archives: Billy Evans

Billy Evans’ Best Infielders

2 Jun

In his nationally syndicated column, Billy Evans was asked to pick the best 10 infielders he saw during his career as an umpire from 1906 to 1927. He said, “The period has been more productive in great infielders than stars at the other positions.”

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Billy Evans

Evans starting four were:

1B: George Sisler

2B: Eddie Collins

SS: Honus Wagner

3B Jimmy Collins

The other six were: Hal Chase, Napoleon Lajoie, Rogers Hornsby, Pie Traynor, Buck Weaver, and Roger Peckinpaugh.

Evans acknowledged:

“(A)t only one position do I feel safe against the opinion of fandom and critics and that is shortstop with Hans Wagner as the selection. The great Honus stands out at that position, a remarkably brilliant performer in all departments of the game. I cannot name anyone who quite compares with him.”

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Wagner

And despite his bias towards the American League, Evans said “Wagner is out if front of all” AL’s shortstops he saw “by a considerable margin.”

He said of his choice for Wager’s backup:

“Although Roger Peckinpaugh was anything but a slugger and couldn’t be rated as more than a fair hitter, I like him better than any other shortstop I have ever seen in the American League. Just as great a fielder as Wagner, one of the smartest players that ever stepped on a major diamond, and a dangerous hitter, particularly in the pinch.”

He said that with “three such sterling performers” at second base, some might disagree with him but:

“I have never seen a smarter player than Collins. On every club that he ever played he was the directing genius, the spark plug. Very fast, a great hitter, an awkward yet brilliant fielder.”

Evans said he picked Weaver as his third-string third basemen, however:

“Were it not for the fact that Weaver dropped out of baseball when he was at the peak of his career, he probably would have established a standard for third base play that would have given him the number one rating.”

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Weaver

As for the choice at first base:

“(I)t is simply a matter of taking your choice between George Sisler and Hal Chase. Sisler was a trifle the better batter, Chase a bit better fielder. Sisler a trifle faster. I would give Sisler a slight edge although it might be possible for many to see an equal margin in favor of Chase.”

Oyster Joe Martina

26 May

Joseph John “Oyster Joe” Martina made a name for himself in New Orleans before he threw his first professional pitch. Martina’s father Anthony was at one time the city’s largest oyster dealer, a business he passed on to his sons.

Martina was playing semi-pro ball for the Sam Bonarts—a team sponsored by the owner of a local clothing store, and for a club called the Beavers  when he decided in addition to pitching, he had a talent for distance throwing.

He won $25 in a contest at Pelican Park in July of 1909, The New Orleans Times-Democrat said Martina “threw the sphere from home plate over the back fence.”

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Martina, circa 1909

The throw was said to be 394 feet; just 11 feet short of what was considered the world record—there was some dispute in contemporaneous accounts about who actually held the record, some credited it to Larry Twitchell, said to have accomplished the feat in 1888 and others to Same Crane, whose was made in 1884.

Martina made his next attempt on July 31.

The New Orleans Picayune said:

“Joe Martina met with success this afternoon in his effort to break the world’s record for throwing a baseball, his best throw being 416 feet and 2 inches.”

The paper said he “threw a standard league baseball, which was inspected by several representatives of the southern division of the American Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).”

The event was of interest to local gamblers and when Martina made the record-setting throw it created a stir:

“Disputes also arose over Martina being allowed five throws. Those placing wagers against his breaking the record claimed that only three throws should be allowed. It was on the fifth throw that Martina made the record.”

There was also initially some doubt that the record would be accepted by the AAU because of the five throws. The Times-Democrat said:

“Usually only three throws are allowed. But as there are no definite rules governing contests of that kind, Martina’s record will likely stand. Whether it was his fifth of fiftieth it was a great heave and one which should go as a record.”

The Picayune said there might be another problem with the record:

“One regret remains, that the throw was not measured with a steel tape. It was measured with a linen tape, and may not be accepted by the AAU officials, although the throw was so much over the record the is no question of it being farther than Crane’s”

The record, and Marina’s performance in New Orleans’ semi-pro league earned him a tryout the following spring with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association—pitching three innings in the first game of Atlanta’s exhibition series with the Philadelphia Athletics. Marina gave up one run and struck out three.

The Atlanta Georgian and News said:

“Martina is nothing if not confident.

“After his try-out against Philadelphia he said: ‘Why, it’s just as easy to pitch against those big leaguers as it is against the New Orleans semi-pros. I don’t see anything very hard. I think I can make good in the Southern league all right I certainly had the steam against the Athletics. How many his did they make, anyhow’”

The Crackers did not agree, and sold the 20-year-old to the Savannah Indians in the Sally League

Martina bounced from Georgia, to Louisiana, to Mississippi and then Texas over the next four years.

In the spring of 1914, entering his third season with the Beaumont Oilers in the Texas League, Martina faced the New York Giants.  The Giants beat him 5 to 2, but The New York Sun said:

“The Giants had practice hitting speed the other day. Joe Martina, who prescribed the medicine for the National League champions, had it in caloric quantities…I yearned for a chance in the majors, felt I had more stuff than many pitchers sent up from the South but the big opportunity always passed me by.”

Red Murray of the Giants, barely avoided getting hit in the head with a Martina fastball, and told the paper:

“’That fellow’s got as much speed as I ever saw.’ Said John after the game, and the other Giants corroborated him. He’s as fast as (Chief) Bender.”

The Sun took notice of more than the pitcher’s speed:

“This Martina is something of a character. In the course of the game the umpire announced that Mathewson would pitch today. ‘Mathewson?’ queried Martina, who appears to be n iconoclast. ‘What busher’s that?’

“’Say,’ exclaimed the skeptical Martina to Chief Meyers when the latter made a base hit after several fruitless tries in that direction, ‘you’re lucky to get a hit off of me,’ and then, by the way of an afterthought: ‘All the hits you ever get are lucky.’

“Evidently, Mr. Martina is no hero worshiper.”

When he struck out Fred Snodgrass, he asked, “How do you like that, busher?”

Throughout his 20s, Martina was considered an “iron man,” pitching from 261 to 330 innings every year from 1910 through 1915; he also, according to The Picayune regularly pitched Sunday games in New Orleans throughout each off season.
In 1916, he injured his arm—or as The Arkansas Democrat said, his “arm cracked after hard usage.”

Speed Johnson of The Chicago Record Herald compared Martina to White Sox ace Ed Walsh, “The spitball king of other days now is a bench-warmer.”

Johnson said Chattanooga Lookouts manager Kid Elberfeld was the culprit:

“Performing under orders from (Elberfeld) Martina pitched seven games in the first sixteen games of the season. From May 1 to May 13 he officiated in five engagements, toiling with a sore arm.”

Elberfeld claimed that Martina injured his arm throwing too many spitballs, Johnson said, “it behooves young pitchers bent on winning fame as iron men to work only in their turn.”

Despite the reported injury, and a release from Chattanooga, Martina pitched 278 innings in 1916 with three teams.

Martina went back to the Texas League for four more seasons—including a 28-win season for Beaumont in 1919.

In 1921 he came back to the Southern Association, with his hometown Pelicans. From 1921-1923 he won 56 games, including a 22-6 mark in 1922. He told The Times-Picayune:

“It’s the old story, “You don’t learn how to pitch until your arm is gone.”

His three-year run with the Pelicans finally earned him a major league contract in 1924.  Umpire Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“Speaking of miracle workers, supermen, and rookie phenoms of baseball, don’t overlook pitcher Joe Martina of the Washington Nationals.

“At the age of 34, when most big leaguers are wondering how much longer they will be able to stand the pace, Joe Martina is making his debut.”

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Martina, 1924

Martina told Evans:

“I had as much stuff fifteen years ago as I have today, and with-it youth, but somehow the major leagues scouts would annually pass me up.”

He was 6-8 for the World Series Champion Senators, he pitched one perfect inning in game three of the World Series. In the off season, Washington Manager Bucky Harris told The Washington Post that Martina “will win at least 15 games this year and may reach the 20 mark.”

He was due to join the Senators in Tampa, Florida on February 19, 1925, but failed to show up. The Post said Martina wired President Clark Griffith and asked to report later because he was having a new home built. Griffith refused and he was “notified by telegraph” that he was suspended. The Washington Evening Star said he would be fined and forced “to labor at a smaller salary,” for the season.  The paper suggested that the pay cut would not impact him greatly because:

“The Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, with the resulting big crowds in attendance and the consequent increase in the oyster business conducted by Martina probably mean that the pitcher can suffer these financial setbacks and still be ahead of the game.”

He arrived in Tampa on March 1; The Star said Griffith withdrew the fine because Martina claimed he had received a letter from the Washington owner that he could report late:

“Griff admitted that in the stress of arranging for the annual pilgrimage South of his club he might have forgotten the original letter to Joe.”

On April 9, Martina, along with left-handers–Jim Brillheart and Jim McNamara—were released by Griffith. The Star said

 “(Martini’s) work this spring indicated he has passed the peak of his form which is not quite good enough for fast company.”

He returned to New Orleans for four more seasons—winning 77 games and leading the Pelicans to Southern Association championships in 1926 and 1927. The 39-year-old went back to the Texas League for one more season in 1929; after a disappointing 10-13 campaign for the Dallas Steers, Martina purchased—or bartered for—his release. The Times-Picayune said:

“Martina has been given his unconditional release at the price of two barrels of oysters. This was the price demanded by Fred McJunkin, president of the Dallas club.”

He played two more seasons in the Cotton States League and took a crack at managing with the Baton Rouge Standards in 1931—he was released mid-season at age 41.

With both the Pelicans and the Knoxville Smokies hopelessly out of the 1931 Southern Association pennant race, Knoxville signed Martina to pitch against New Orleans on the final day of the season. He started the first game of a double header, gave up six runs over eight innings and lost his final game as a professional.

Zipp Newman, sports editor of The Birmingham News and official scorer for the Birmingham Barons for 44 years said Martina’s strong arm was with him to the very end::

“After pitching a full game for Knoxville against New Orleans Sunday, Joe went to the outfield and made the longest throw-in. Joe threw the ball right up to the grandstand. There wasn’t a youngster on the field who could come close to him. Joe Martina arms are few and far between in baseball.”

Martina, who died of a heart attack in 1962, said in an interview with Newman in 1941:

“I am convinced I had more human endurance than any man who ever lived. In all my life I was never tired, even when it was 110 out there on the mound. The answer is simple: I was a good boy. I behaved myself and every at 8 o’clock I was in bed…When my arm was live the ball would sail slightly upward, and nobody could hit me. When it was dead, although the pitch was just as fast, the ball went straight, like on a string, and I was a goner.”

“Fellows Like Cy are Rather few”

27 Feb

In his nationally syndicated column on 1909, umpire Billy Evans said:

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Billy Evans

“If it were possible for the American League umpires to issue any special dispensation, they would give Cy Young the right to go on pitching forever.”

Evans said the leagues ball and strike callers liked Young so much:

“Did you ever hear of a bunch of umpires coming across with the cold cash and making a present to a ballplayer? No? Well that’s just what the American League staff did last year, and Cy was the recipient of the gift.”

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Cy Young

Evans said that when the Red Sox held a benefit day honoring Young in 1908 “and gifts galore were heaped on him,” he was working the game.

The decision to give Young a gift was made by the dean of American League umpires, Tim Hurst, who told Evans:

“Well, Billy, I’ve been umpiring about as long as Cy has been pitching, and I pride myself on having a pretty good memory, but I’ll be blamed if I ever remember Cy kicking over a decision, no matter how rotten it may have been. Perhaps I’ve missed a thousand strikes on him in the last ten years, but never a protest has he uttered.

“Fellows like Cy are rather few in this strenuous game, and I tell you the umpires ought to give the old fellow some little token, just to show him that we appreciate the way he has always acted on the ballfield.”

Hurst suggested that each umpire “come across with a five-spot.”

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Tim Hurst

Evans said his colleagues were all on board:

“’I’m in on the deal. Go as far as you like with money,’ was Jack Sheridan’s reply.

‘”Count me in on anything that old Cy is connected with,’ was Tom Connolly’s answer.

“’Buy anything you like and send me my share of the bill; glad you thought of the stunt,’ was (Silk) O’Loughlin’s reply.

“’Sure, count me in on anything you want,’ wired Jack Egan.”

At the game, Evans said, “In a very humble” he presented the pitcher with “a swell traveling bag to old Cy as a little gift from the umpires.”

Young told Evans:

“Well, of all the gifts, I never did expect one from the umpires, but just tell the boys for me that I prize it more highly than anything ever given to me.”

Evans said he once heard Young explain to a fan why he never argued calls:

“What’s the use of kicking? The umpires, like me, are doing their level best, and doing it honestly. Of course, they make mistakes; lots of them; we all do. On the whole, however, I think the breaks of the year are about even. Often, I pitch a ball that I think is just over the corner of the plate and is a strike, but the umpire calls it a ball. Then again, I send one up to the batter, that I figure is an inch or two outside, but the judge of play calls it a strike. No real umpire has ever been known to change a decision of judgement, so it’s simply wasting time to kick.”

“This Little Comedy of Superstition”

29 Jan

Billy Evans wrote a nationally syndicated column throughout his time as an American League umpire; he also wrote occasional articles for “St. Nicholas Magazine,” a monthly for children that operated from 1873 until 1943.

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 Evans

In the April 1914 edition, Evans told a story to illustrate how “Baseball players are perhaps the most superstitious class of people in the world.” Evans’ story was from the 1913 World Series:

“The Athletics, a team made up mostly of college men, and supposed to possess more intelligence than the average ball team, were the actors in this little comedy of superstition. For years the Philadelphia club stayed at the same hotel in New York, one very close to Forty-Second Street.”

Evans said Connie Mack decided:

“Perhaps it might be better to have the players stay at a hotel further uptown during the series. He thought his would enable the team to be free from the noise and excitement in the downtown hotels. Arrangements for the change had been practically completed when the players heard of the proposed shift.”

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Mack

Evans said the players met in small groups, then convened in one large group to discuss the move.

“Then the meeting ended, and one of the players, a college graduate, (likely the notoriously superstitious Eddie Collins) made his way to manager Mack. He called the latter aside, and advised him, in substance, as follows:

“’The boys understand that you intend changing hotels.’

“’Only During the World Series,’ answered Mack. ‘I thought they would like to get away from the noise and bustle,’

‘They have delegated me to request no change be made in hotels during the World Series.’”

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Collins

Mack argued that the new hotel “far surpassed” the team’s current lodgings. The player responded:

“We have won several pennants, and always stayed at this hotel. When we beat the Giants for the World Series in 1911, we stayed at this hotel. And the boys would much prefer staying here during the present series. Most of them think a change in hotels would surely ‘jinx’ or ‘hoodoo’ them.”

Mack backed down, “Right here then is where we’ll stay.”

Said Evans:

“The player who had acted as a committee of one rejoined the others and made known the outcome of the conference. And then to justify their superstition, the Athletics went out and beat the Giants.”

“The most Aggravating Pitcher”

13 Jan

Louis Lee Arms, writing for The St. Louis Star in 1913, like many of his contemporaries, presaged the pitch clock when reporting on the ace of the Philadelphia Athletics pitching staff:

“The next time Eddie Plank pitches at American League Park many fans who desire to get home approximately during the same month that they started for the ball yard, so that their friends may not think they have been upon a European tour or some other long vacation, will forego the pleasure of watching even such  a brilliant baseball scientist as Plank in action.”

Arms called Plank “the most aggravating pitcher” in the league.

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“He draws himself within himself after the fashion of a mud turtle once he finds himself in a pinch and there is nothing but the shell.”

Arms said in his last start against St. Louis, Plank “consumed from thirty to sixty seconds” between each pitch:

“Plank’s reasoning is obvious. He figures that wit a man in the batting box anxious to hit, the longer he hesitates in throwing the ball the more perturbed and overwrought becomes the batsman, with the result that he cannot hit normally, highly psychological as anyone can see.”

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Plank

Arms described Plank’s routine after a pitch:

“Receive the ball from the catcher.

Then drop it.

Rub dust on it.

Expectorate upon the glove.

Rub the ball vigorously upon the glove.

Turn and talk in an animated way to Eddie Collins.

Step upon the pitching slab facing the catcher.

Nod dissent to several signals.

Expectorate again upon the glove.

Nod an assent to the signal of the catcher.

Back off the pitching slab.

Pluck several blades of glass.

Walk up to it again.

Turn and gaze about the ball field to see that the outfield is properly placed.

Wave one outfielder into position

Make a sarcastic remark to the umpire.

Make ready to pitch.

Consume five seconds in looking steadfastly at the ground.

Pitch.”

Arms concluded:

“Exaggeration Not a bit of it. This is exactly what Plank did on several occasions Monday in the first and second innings when he was in a pinch.”

Plank slowly won 18 games and one more in the World Series for the World Champion Athletics.

When he died 13 years later, Umpire Billy Evans said of Plank’s routine:

“No pitcher in the history of the game ever kept the batter or umpire as much on edge.”

“Schalk had Defined the Intention of the Baserunner”

25 Feb

American League Umpire Billy Evans, writing in his syndicated newspaper column in 1923, said of Chicago White Sox catcher Ray Schalk:

“(He) is one o the greatest catchers the game has ever produced largely because he does other things aside from the mere giving of signals, catching, and throwing the ball.

“Ray Schalk is a thinker.  There is a reason for everything he does on the ball field.  He gives thought to every ball pitched.  He is constantly looking over his playing field to see that infielders and outfielders shift properly for the style of pitch he has signaled for.”

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Schalk

Evans said Schalk particularly excelled when Hal Chase was playing first base for the Sox from June of 1913 until June of 1914, “he and Schalk pulled of many remarkable plays.”

Evans described the two best plays he saw Schalk and Chase pull off.  The first, a sacrifice bunt with “a very fast man” on first.  The pitcher fielded the bunt and threw to Chase at first to retire the batter:

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Chase

“The third baseman, in order to get out of the pitcher’s way in fielding the ball, had purposely fallen to the ground.  The base runner…noticed that third base was uncovered as he rounded second base.  He decided to try for third.  Schalk had defined the intention of the baserunner before he reached second and had raced down to third base from his position back of the plate.

“Chase had also sized up the situation.  He held his throw until Schalk was able to get into position to receive it.  Then he made a fast, accurate throw, Schalk received the throw a fraction of a second ahead of the runner, and managed to get the ball on him by making a dive for him as he started his hook-slide”

Evans described Schalk’s other “remarkable” play:

“(I)t seems Schalk and Chase agreed that when a batsman singled to right field with no one out, Chase would continue to play deep first base and pay no attention to the runner.  This was done to cause the runner to round first and take a big lead towards second in case the ball was fumbled (by the right fielder).

“Schalk’s part of the play was to rush to first just behind the runner.  It was the duty of the right fielder to make a snap throw to Schalk, in order that he might get the runner.”

Evans said he saw Schalk, who in another column he called “One of the smartest catchers to ever don a mask,” attempt the play several times with Chase over the roughly 150 games they played together, and while he only saw them work it successfully once, “Yet, as after events proved, it saved the game.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things–Quote Edition

12 Oct

When you spend hours pouring over microfilm and web based newspaper archives you find something every day that is interesting but not enough for a standalone post—these are random quotes and observations that follow no theme or thread, I just think they should not be lost to the mists of time.

Cy Young was asked by The Cleveland News in 1909 if there would ever be a successful ambidextrous pitcher in the major leagues:

“Elton Chamberlain, who was with Cleveland in the early 90s, essayed to perform this feat occasionally, but about all he had with his left arm was a small amount of speed and a straight ball. The way pitchers have to work nowadays a man who can use one rm and use it effectively is quite a man as pitching goes.”

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Elton Chamberlain

In 1909, Time Murnane noted in The Boston Globe that Billy Sunday, as an evangelist was earning more than 10 times what the “highest-paid men” in baseball were making. Of Sunday’s ability he said:

“No doubt Mr. Sunday is a very good evangelist, much better it is hoped than he ever was as a ballplayer. Mr. Sunday was a fast runner. That marked his limit as a baseball star. He could not hit or field or throw well enough to make it worthwhile talking about.”

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Billy Sunday, evangelist

In 1946, Grantland Rice of The New York Herald Tribune asked Connie Mack during a discussion of Bob Feller which pitcher he felt had the “greatest combination of speed and curves,” of all time:

“He hesitated less than two seconds. ‘Rube Waddell,’ he said. ‘The Rube was about as fast as Feller, not quite as fast as (Walter) Johnson. But the Rube had one of the deepest, fastest-breaking curves I’ve ever seen. Johnson’s curve ball was unimportant. Feller isn’t as fast as Johnson but he has a far better curve ball.’”

Mack did, however, concede:

“’Feller and Johnson were far more dependable than the Rube who now and then was off fishing or tending bar when I needed him badly.’”

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Rube

In 1916, in his nationally syndicated American League umpire Billy Evans asked Napoleon Lajoie about the best pitchers he faced:

“I never faced a wiser twirler than Chief Bender…he made a study of the art. If a batter had a weakness, the Chief soon discovered it, and from that time he made life miserable for that particular batsman. His almost uncanny control made it possible for him to put into execution the knowledge he would gain of the batter’s weakness. I know of a certain big league player, and he was a good one, who would request that he be taken out of the game any time Bender worked…Best of all, he had the heart of an oak and in a pinch always seemed to do his best work.”

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Chief Bender

In 1907, the Washington Senators hired Pongo Joe Cantillon to manage the team, Ted Sullivan, “the man who discovered Comiskey,” was never shy about taking credit for an idea, and told The Washington Star:

“As I was instrumental in enticing Cantillon to come to Washington I know the salary that was offered, and I saw the contract. It was nearly twice the salary of a United States Senator, and there is not a bench manager today in the eastern country that is getting one-half the salary of Cantillon. The Washington management has corrected all the errors of the past in getting a baseball pilot who knows all the bends and shallows in the baseball river.”

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Pongo Joe

Despite the money, and Cantillon’s knowledge of the “bends and shallows,” the Senators finished 8th twice and 7th once during Cantillon’s three seasons in Washington, he had a 158-297 record during his only stint as a big league manager.

“Baumgardner Ought to be one of the Greatest Pitchers in Baseball”

30 Jul

Two things were certain after George Baumgardner’s major league debut—a 4 to 1 victory over the Big Ed Walsh and the Chicago White Sox—he had talent, and he was a bit odd.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“He had a lot of speed.  The best thing he had was splendid control.  He seemed able to cut the ball across any portion of the plate except the middle, and he seldom gave the Sox a chance to belt a good one, yet he was getting them over for strikes.”

The Chicago Daily News said Baumgardner was told it was a big deal that he had beaten Walsh:

“’Who is this fellow Walsh?’ he asked.  He was told that Big Ed is considered by many the greatest pitcher in the game.  ‘If he’s so good why don’t some National League clubs draft him?’  Inquired Baumgardner innocently.  He has since been told that the American League, in which he promises to earn fame, is a major organization just like the National.”

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Baumgardner, 1912

He was 37-47 with a 3.12 ERA in his first three seasons for Browns teams that lost 101, 90, and 88 games.

However, he was sent home by the Browns after appearing in just seven games in 1915—he was 0-2 with a 4.43 ERA.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, the pitcher “has hit the lonesome trail of the West Virginia pines…and has been advised to go home and get in shape.”

After the 1915 season, American League umpire Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column that, “Baumgardner…ought to be one of the greatest pitchers in baseball, but he is not, and thereby hangs a rather interesting tale.”

Evans said:

“Baumgardner has wonderful speed and a beautiful curve.  He is fleet of foot and a corking good fielder.  There are in the major leagues today any number of pitchers rated as stars who do not possess one-half the natural ability.”

Evans said in addition to his slow start, the Browns gave up on the pitcher so easily because of the financial stress the Federal League had caused American and National League clubs:

“Baumgardner’s salary was surely $4,000 or better, because George Stovall tried to sign him for the (Kansas City) Feds.  Stovall, having managed the Browns (Stovall jumped to Kansas City before the 1914 season) was familiar with Baumgardner’s ability. There are few players who would let such a salary slip away from the without making some effort to retain it.”

Evans claimed that after they sent him home, the Browns never heard from their pitcher, and “his whereabouts during the summer was unknown,’ to the team.

“The only news ever received from the eccentric pitcher came through a St. Louis traveling man, who made the small towns in the south.  He bumped into Baumgardner in a West Virginia hamlet pitching for one of the village clubs.  He watched him perform, said he never looked better; so good in fact he could have gotten a long without his outfield.”

Evans said the man asked the pitcher if he had been in touch with the Browns:

“’I am waiting to hear from them,’ was Baumgardner’s reply.  ‘I guess if they really thought they could use me they would have me rounded up.  I ain’t much on letter writing; they don’t need to expect any word from me.”

Evans said:

“It hardly seems possible that in times of war, when big salaries were almost possible fir the mere asking, a fellow would let it get away from him (but) nothing worries the big fellow, it is easy come, easy go with him.”

Baumgardner’s 1916 season was even more unusual than 1915.  He again reported to the Browns out of shape, and struggled.

In June, the Browns attempted to sell him to the Memphis Chickasaws in the Southern Association.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“George Baumgardner of Barboursville, WV, the heart of the Blue Ridge belt, is all puffed up like a pouter pigeon because he has signed a new contract with the Browns.  All of which proves how easy it is to get Baumgardner all puffed up.

“This contract, which Baumgardner considers and asset, according to his own statement, calls for $75 a month.”

The paper said Baumgardner would have earned $200 a month with the Chickasaws, but told manager Fielder Jones:

“Who’ll ever see me pitch in Memphis?”

Baumgardner lasted just one more month in St. Louis.  He appeared in four games for the Browns and posted a 7.88 ERA before being released on July 20.

The Sporting News said the Browns attempted send Baumgardner to the Little Rock Travelers, where he would have earned $250 a month and he again said he wasn’t interested:

“But even that ($75 a month) was too much, thought Fielder Jones, so one day last week he handed Baumgardner another release, his second or third in three months, and told him positively to get away and stay away.”

Baumgardner said his right arm had “gone back on him,” and that he was going to “go back to the mountains and practice with my left arm.”

After several days he joined the Travelers.

He only lasted a month in Little Rock.  Baumgardner was 2-1 in five appearances on August 21 when The Arkansas Democrat said he was heading back to West Virginia:

“(He) says he is going home this week and stay there until next season—maybe.  Or he may come back and help the Travelers in the last few days.”

Baumgardner promised the paper he would return and “not lose more than four games” in 1917.

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Baumgardner, 1917

The Arkansas Gazette summed up his 1917 season:

“Every time “Bummie” goes out he gets a beating.”

And he didn’t keep his word.  He lost five games in 1917, winning three, before being released by Little Rock on June 7.

After winning 37 games in his first three major league seasons, Baumgardner’s professional career was over six weeks before his 25th birthday.

“The Decomposition of a Perfectly Healthy Game”

1 Jun

Umpire Billy Evans said:

“Perhaps nothing shows up an umpire worse than for the catcher to hold up the ball on him, after he has declared the pitch a ball, while the receiver is equally confident it should have been a strike.  Repetition of the stunt often draws a tin can and sometimes several days’ rest.”

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Billy Evans

After the 1908 season, in his nationally column, Evans said that some umpires took it more personally than others:

(Gabby) Street, who broke into the American League last season and established a record that makes him stand out as one of the best backstops in the business, looks on his first run in with Silk O’Loughlin with a lot of humor.  Nothing hurts the arbitrator any more during the game more than to intimate that he possibly could be wrong, and when Street held up a ball, to inform Silk that his judgment was questioned, he almost keeled over.

“’Throw it back; throw it back, busher,’ yelled Silk in his loudest voice.

“Street complied at once and didn’t question the arbitrator any more during the game, but admits that O’Loughlin kept up a continual chatter over the incident throughout the rest of the contest.

“’Don’t forget this is your first year in the league Street, and I’ve been up here six or seven seasons.  I’ll do the umpiring and you tend to the catching, and you will find you have plenty of work to keep you busy.  Sometime you will hold one of those balls up to me when I’m not feeling good and you will probably draw a week’s vacation.”’

gabbywash

Gabby Street

And, the umpire said, it wouldn’t just be him:

“’Unless you want to have all the umpires in the league a bunch of soreheads you had better forget that trick of holding up the ball.’ These were just a few of the things Silk got out of his system during the remainder of the game, and Street didn’t make any effort to contradict him.”

Four years later, after ejecting Street, then a member of the New York Highlanders,  from a game with the Tigers, for arguing balls and strikes, O’Loughlin faced one of the most harrowing incidents of career.  The New York Sun said:

silk

Silk O’Loughlin

“First, (Manager Harry) Wolverton was chased off the field, then (pitcher Jack) Quinn… was put out for kicking over a called ball and throwing his glove, and then Street aired his opinion of O’Loughlin as an arbiter and was summarily dismissed..”

The ejections led to “Certain spectators in the grand stand with an acute sense of fair play threw bottles out at O’Loughlin, who stood his ground without flinching in the face of the glassware bombardment and the hooting which went with it.”

The New York Tribune said the incident was “the decomposition of a perfectly healthy game (and) was a frightful site.”

After the game, a 9 to 5 Detroit victory, The Tribune said:

“O’Loughlin was surrounded by a lusty corps of Pinkertons after the game, and was protected from a crowd of spectators who acted threateningly.”

When O’Loughlin died during the 1918 influenza epidemic at age 42, Evans, who worked behind the plate in the last game O’Loughlin worked,  said, “Baseball was a serious proposition for him,” and told the late umpire’s hometown paper, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that he “planned to write a biography of O’Loughlin’s life soon.”

Evans never wrote the book.

“One of the Most Mysterious Cases in Baseball”

16 May

Before the 1925 season, Billy Evans, the American League umpire and syndicated columnist, said St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Allan Sothoron was:

“One of the most mysterious cases in baseball.”

sothoron

Evans said the 32-year-old who had spent parts of nine seasons in the major leagues:

“Here was a pitcher who was recognized as one of the richest prizes ever found.  He had a fast ball, a spitter, a curve, a change of pace; control—well, just everything that a great pitcher requires.

“And Sothoron lived as a pitching star, but not for long.  A weakness was discovered.  Show the opposing side a weak spot and it plays through it.

“Sothoron, with an iron arm are rare intelligence, could not control his throw once he fielded the ball.”

During five seasons in the American League from 1917-1921, Sothoron made 50 errors in just 356 total chances.

“On bunts or easy taps hit straight to him he lost his bearings.  With one swish of his arm, he threw—threw in any direction which usually was yards away from his fielder.

“To first, second, third base or the plate, Sothoron aimed and fired.

“And eventually, he threw himself out of the American League.”

Evans said Indians manager Tris Speaker “thought he could correct the fault’ when he acquired Sothoron in June of 1921, and for a time he thought he had–Speaker told The Cleveland News when he acquired the pitcher that the problem was Sothoron “throwing flat-footed.”

Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker

He won 12 and lost four, with a 3.24 ERA for Cleveland—although he did commit four errors in just 36 total chances.  But in 1922, Speaker “gave up the job” after Sothoron appeared in just six games—he was 1-3 with a 6.39 ERA and made one error on six chances.

Evans said after he was released by Boston:

“Sothoron, disgusted with himself, retired from baseball.”

He returned to baseball in 1923, with the Louisville Colonels in the American Association.  Despite a 6-9 5.92 season with the Colonels, Evans said:

“The scene changes.  Branch Rickey, as manager of the St. Louis Browns in 1914, discovered Sothoron.  And he refused to believe that such an evil could not be corrected.  He took a chance and purchased Sothoron for his St. Louis Cardinals in 1924.”

Branch Rickey

Branch Rickey

And the pitcher responded:

“The story is not closed.  Sothoron was one of the few pitchers with a perfect fielding average in the National league last season.”

He was 10-16 with a 3.57 ERA, but handled 37 total chances without an error, which included “making 35 perfect throws in aiding in the retirement of batters or runners.”

Evans attributed Sothoron’s fielding to:

“Branch Rickey’s system of training… (Rickey) saw that Sothoron…simply scooped in the ball and made his throw.  He did not steady himself.

“For days and weeks, Sothoron was put through such a course—fielding a ball, pausing, steadying himself, then following through with the throw.”

Evans suggested that “after 10 years of drifting” Sothoron had “finally found himself.”

It did not last.

He pitched for the Cardinals for two more seasons, he was 13-13 with a 4.09 ERA, and he committed five errors in just 31 chances.   He finished his career with an .871 fielding percentage.