Tag Archives: Billy Evans

“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.”

billyevans

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.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #19

23 Mar

“Strikes Never got a Pitcher Anything,” 1911

Two days before he collapsed on the field in Chattanooga, Tennessee on April 3, 1911 (and died 11 days later) Addie Joss spoke about pitching with a reporter for the final time.

Joss and the Cleveland Naps were in New Orleans when he told The Associated Press:

“Every time I fool a batter and he misses the ball I feel disappointed.

“Strikes never got a pitcher anything.  Strikeouts don’t win baseball games and increase a man’s salary.  It’s the man who wins games who gets the credit.

Addie Joss

Addie Joss

“What I have said may sound heretical.  But just think it over for a moment, and you will see why a pitcher should want the batter to connect when he is outguessed.

“When the pitcher outguesses the batter the batter is off his balance.  The chances are ten to one he hits at the ball in a half-hearted way.  The chances are twenty to one that if he does connect he will be an easy out.

“Now when that fellow strikes and misses don’t you see that the pitcher must start all over again?  The last strike is just as hard to get as the first one.  When a man misses a ball on which he has been fooled it is just like having an entirely new turn at bat.”

“In the Second Inning, things began to Happen,” 1909

William “Dolly” Gray was a 30-year-old rookie with the Senators in 1909; he came to Washington after pitching seven years for the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League compiling a 117-65 record.  That season he set a record which still stands: the most walks in an inning.

Dolly Gray

Dolly Gray

In 1923, in his syndicated column, Umpire Billy Evans called the game in which it happened, “The weirdest game I have ever seen.”

Evans said of the August 28, 1909, game:

“Gray allowed only one hit—a very questionable one—yet he was beaten 6 to 4. Not an error was made by his supporting cast…I umpired the game, and can recall the happenings of the unusual game as vividly as if they were just being staged.”

[…]

“In the second inning, things began to happen.  Pat Dougherty led off with a high bounder to Bob Unglaub, playing first base for Washington.  Unglaub jumped after it, the ball struck the top of his glove and was deflected into right field.  It was scored as a hit, but I have always thought that Unglaub should have easily handled the ball.

After Dougherty had reached first base, Gray developed a streak of wildness—the most unusual streak I have ever seen.  He walked seven men in succession, forcing in five runs.  The count was three and two on practically every batter.  A couple of outs and another base on balls were responsible for the sixth run of the inning.

Joe Cantillon, managing the Washington club, was short on pitchers at the time and let Gray take his medicine.  In the next inning Gray recovered control and for the rest of the game held the Sox runless and hitless.  Washington staged several rallies and Chicago had a hard time winning 6 to 4…Gray, who really pitched a no-hit game, was beaten…That game stands out in my memory as the most peculiar ball game I ever worked.”

The Box Score

The Box Score

Gray walked 69 batters in the other 217 innings he pitched in 1909.  His hard luck that day in August of 1909 extended for the duration of his short big league career; in three seasons with the Senators he posted a 3.52 ERA and was 15-51.

Meyers’ “Gnarled and Broken” Hand

Like all catchers of his era, John “Chief” Meyers’ hands were, as The New York Tribune described them “gnarled and broken.”

But the paper said he had found a cure after being drafted into the marines in November of 1918:

“(At Paris Island, Meyers) hands toyed with a Springfield, and when he swung the bat in the bi-weekly baseball games on the sand diamond at the great Marine Corps Training Station, where there is no fence, the horsehide pellet generally soared well out into the sea.

Chief Meyers

Chief Meyers

“Meyers says that his marine training has done wonders for him and that it has made him good for many more seasons behind the bat.”

After his discharge, the 38-year-old Meyers played just one more season, with the New Haven Weissmen in the Eastern League, hitting .301.

 

“Those Freak Balls have no Place in the Game”

16 Dec

Billy Evans, “The Boy Umpire,” was a newspaper reporter in Youngstown, Ohio before he worked his first game as an umpire and continued writing about baseball in syndicated articles throughout his nearly 50-year career as an umpire and front office executive.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

In January of 1917 he wrote about a conversation he had the previous summer with Cy Young, the 49-year-old former pitcher, out of baseball for five seasons:

“I met him in the lobby of a Cleveland hotel.  Jokingly, I asked him how his arm felt and if he would be able to pitch that afternoon.  He looked as well as ever.  His waist line alone showed the effects of not being in constant training. At the mention of his arm and the chances of him pitching, Cy’s eyes flashed with the old spirit.”

Young told Evans he was “ready and willing:”

Cy Young

Cy Young

“’Honestly Bill, the old arm feels as good as ever,’ was his reply to my query.  ‘Never hurt me in my life, don’t know what it is to have a pain in that good old right arm.  When I quit I had more speed and a better curve than a lot of fellows who are still big leaguers, and I didn’t develop that curve until I had been a big league pitcher many years.  You know, it was excess weight, and not a glass arm, that made me quit pitching. My fielding failed me long before my arm showed signs of weakening, and when I was in my prime I was hardly (Napoleon) Lajoie on ground balls, bunted ones in particular.  During my last two or three years as a big leaguer the boys were wise to my inability to field, even as well as I once did, and they made life miserable for me in many a game.  You might say I was practically bunted out of baseball.”

Young said control “more than any other feature” was the key to his longevity:

“I saw many a pitcher come and go and it was lack of control that started most of them on their way to retirement or to the bushes.  Wasted effort ruins man a pitcher’s arm.  I never used any more energy than was necessary.  I have known a lot of pitchers who invariably did enough pitching for three games every time they were called.  It seemed as though they would have three balls and two strikes on every batter. “

Young said early in his career he learned to warm up differently than most pitchers:

“In the old days pitchers when warming up prior to pitching used to do so at random.  They would hurl the ball to the catcher without any definite purpose.  The sole aim was to get the muscles of the pitching arm loosened.  When I warmed up I always had the catcher take off his cap and set it on the ground for an imaginary home plate.  I figured this scheme would not only loosen up the muscles but help my control, for instead of throwing every ball aimlessly to the catcher, I made an effort to get every ball over the plate…Many pitchers used to warm up from any old distance.  They might pitch from forty to sixty feet.  I always insisted on warming up from the regulation pitching distance.”

[…]

“That I was right in many of my theories has been proven by the methods now used by every major league club.  Practically all have regular places for the pitchers to do their preliminary work.  I mean they have the distance carefully measured to conform to the rules, and have regular pitching rubbers and home plates.”

Evans asked Young what he felt about “new fangled” pitches like the spitball and emery ball:

“’I don’t think about them,’ answered Young.  ‘I just laugh.  We didn’t have to resort to that stuff in the old days, and there were some pretty good pitchers serving them up then.  Speed, curves and a change of pace ought to be enough for any pitcher.  Those freak balls have no place in the game, but it is a pretty hard matter to legislate them out.”

“That Short but Trite remark shaped my Career.”

24 Aug

In 1906, William George “Billy” Evans became the youngest umpire in major league history.  “The Boy Umpire” was just 22-years-old.

A decade later, in a syndicated newspaper article, he told the story of how he, by chance, he began his career as an umpire.  Somewhat altered versions of the story were told over the years, including a version in his obituary; however, this was his earliest, direct telling of the story:

Billy Evans

                                         Billy Evans

“It was one day in 1903 that I journeyed out to the ballpark to cover the game for the paper (The Youngstown Vindicator).  There was a delay when the time arrived to start to the contest.”

Evans said the umpire had become ill and while “a number of ex-players” were at the ballpark, the opposing managers could not agree.

“Finally, my name was suggested and proved acceptable to both managers.  I was informed of their decision but declined with thanks.

“The crowd was impatient.  It became noised about that I was the only man acceptable to both managers, and that since I refused to work the game would probably be called off.”

Evans was determined not to work the game, but said a voice from the stands changed his mind.

“Just when it seemed that I was to escape the ordeal a fan in the bleachers with a decidedly loud voice yelled: ‘What’s the matter—have you lost your nerve?’

“That short but trite remark shaped my career.”

Evans said one of the managers told him he’d earn $15 for the game—later versions said Youngstown Ohio Works Manager Marty Hogan told him what he’s be paid:

“Fifteen dollars for a couple of hours’ work—almost as much as I was getting for carrying the title of sporting editor for an entire week!  It made umpiring appeal to me.  Attired in the very best clothes I had, I took the field for my debut.”

Evans said that first game—a 1-0 victory in thirteen innings for the visiting team from Homestead, Pennsylvania—had “but few close decisions, and I got along famously.”

The regular umpire was still sick the following day.

“I gathered in $15 more.  My bankroll was so large that for the first time in my life I felt that a pocketbook was a necessity instead of a luxury.”

The following day, Evans accepted a permanent position “(A)lthough there were many times when I seriously doubted my wisdom in accepting the position.”

Three years later, Evans made his big league debut in New York.

“When I stepped on the field it seemed that wherever I looked I could see grinning faces.  I imagined that all of them were laughing at me when as a matter of fact I suppose there was scarcely a single person on the field who noticed me.”

Evans, who was harshly criticized early in his career, also wrote about his most dangerous incident on the field.

“I have dodged a million pop bottles…I have had them pass just above my head, between my legs, and, in fact, graze almost every part of my anatomy; but never have I been hit by a missile really intended for me.  I did stop a bottle that was intended for somebody else, and that stop almost resulted in the Great Umpire declaring me out.

“I was working a game at St. Louis, between the Detroit and the St. Louis clubs in the fall of 1907.”

The Tigers were locked in a three-team race  with the Philadelphia Athletics and Chicago White Sox—entering the series in second place, the Tigers fell to third after losing a doubleheader on September 14.

On September 15 the teams met for another doubleheader.  An overflow crowd filled an area of left field in front of a “swinging gate about six feet long out in the left field fence, about ten feet above the ground…used to facilitate the delivery of bottled goods into the park.”

With the game tied in the fifth inning, St. Louis pitcher Harry Howell was batting:

“(Howell) hit a ball into left field.  As I followed its course I was surprised to see the opening in the fence.  A few minutes before I had occasion to glance in that direction, and had observed nothing wrong.  I afterward learned that the gate had been opened only a few seconds before Howell hit the ball.

“It was my bad luck to have the ball pass squarely through the opening.  When Howell made the hit I had run toward third base in order to be able to follow the ball more closely.  When it passed through the opening I was about fifteen feet back of third base.  Howell paused at second base, and I motioned for him to continue home.”

[…]

“I was at once surrounded by a group of Tigers players all talking at the same time.  There is no fairer man in baseball that Hughey Jennings, the famous leader of the Detroit team, and I told that gentleman that the easiest way to settle the argument was to get rid of the players, and the two of us would thresh it out, which he proceeded to do.”

As Evans and Jennings wrapped up the argument, Evans suddenly slumped to the ground unconscious.

“The next thing I remember was when I came to in the hospital, and inquired what happened.”

What happened was a 17-year-old Browns fan named Hugo Dusenberg threw a pop bottle which struck Evans at the base of his skull.  As Evans lay unconscious on the field, fans attacked Dusenberg.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said:

“(Dusenberg) was saved from lynching by the quick action of the players who formed themselves into a guard and held back with bats a mob that swarmed.”

The St. Louis Republic said:

“Fifty policemen fought their way through the mob, rescued the assailant and with the greatest difficulty conducted him out of the grounds.”

Initial reports said Evans’ injury was serious—The Associated Press said his chance of recovery was “slim,” The Washington Post said he was “Probably fatally hurt.”  By the following day, it was reported that Evans would recover, but would likely miss the remainder of the season. Despite the grave predictions, Evans returned to work on October 5, the second to last day of the regular season; he worked the bases, with Jack Sheridan behind the plate, in a game between the Tigers and Brows in St. Louis.

Dusenberg, an American citizen who worked as a clerk at the German consulate in St. Louis, was charged with assault with the intent to kill Evans.  The Republic said in the days following the incident that “Sentiment is for the prosecution to the limit.”

Two months later Dusenberg was released after paying a $100 fine.

“The Aristocrat of all Mascots”

1 Jul

Shortly after the 1920 World Series, The Associated Press (AP) claimed to have discovered why the Brooklyn Robins, after taking two out of three games from the Indians at home, dropped four straight in Cleveland:

“At last the secret…is out.  The Dodgers declined to take their mascot, Eddie Bennett, with them to the lair of the Indians, and without his lucky presence they were swamped.  And not only that.  Bennett, indignant over having been left at home, has quit the Brooklyns!  That’s revenge!”

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle said, Bennett, a Brooklyn native, came to the attention of baseball fans in 1919 when he served as bat boy and mascot for the American League Champion Chicago White Sox:

“(H)e used to hang around the players’ entrance to the ballparks on both sides of the bridge.  The Yankees were playing at the Polo Grounds then, and one day one of the White Sox noticed a wistful little fellow in the front row of hero worshippers.”

Eddie Bennett

Eddie Bennett

White Sox outfielder Oscar “Happy” Felsch, noticed Bennett suffered from kyphosis (the excessive curvature of the spine—in Bennett’s case it was said to have been caused by an injury when he fell out of his stroller as an infant) and asked “’Are you lucky?’ ‘Sure,’ cried Eddie Bennett eagerly.”  With Bennett serving as bat boy, the Sox defeated the Yankees.  With that:

“Felsch spoke to Eddie Cicotte about taking him back to Chicago. Cicotte spoke to Manager (William) Kid Gleason.  Eddie Bennett became the official White Sox mascot.”

Bennett spent the rest of the season with the Sox and roomed with pitcher Dickie Kerr on the road. After the Black Sox scandal broke—Bennett told reporters, “I was one of the honest ones”—the 16-year-old returned to New York and went to work for the Robins.

Dean Snyder, writing for Scripps’ Newspaper Enterprise Association, said of Bennett during Brooklyn’s pennant run:

“(The Robins) bought the kid a swell uniform and told him to hang around.

“From the day he started as the official mascot…things began to look up.”

But, Snyder noted, Bennett was strictly a mascot and not a bat boy in Brooklyn:

“Little Eddie is a hunchback. The players positively forbid him to touch their bats.  They just want him to stick around. They’re might superstitious about their war clubs.”

After being left home by the Robins for the club’s ill-fated trip to Cleveland, Bennett jumped to the Yankees; he told The AP:

“I’m going to be with a real club this year.  Oh boy, to watch that (Babe) Ruth sock them every day.”

Bennett with Ruth

Bennett with Ruth

For the third straight season, Bennett was part of a pennant winner, and for the third straight year his team lost the World Series.  But this time he stayed put and remained a fixture with the Yankees for another decade.

American League Umpire Billy Evans, in one of his syndicated columns, said Bennett took his position very seriously and related a story about seeing him in a restaurant during a Yankee losing streak:

“Bennett was seated across from me at a table in the diner. We were served at about the same time, and I noticed he ate but little of the food he had ordered.

“’Something wrong with the food Eddie?’ I ventured.

“’The food is all right, I guess there is something wrong with me,’ replied Eddie.

“’Cheer up, Eddie.  The Yankees can’t lose all of them,’ I said with a laugh.

“’Babe hasn’t made a home run in a week.  The team never gets any runs for Bob Shawkey.  Every time Scotty (shortstop Everett Scott) makes an error it means a run.  Waite Hoyt has a bad inning every game,’ was Eddie’s come back.

“’Why worry about these things, Eddie?’ The Yankee mascot looked at me in a puzzled manner, as if I might be joshing him.

“’That’s my business, I’m a mascot,’ said Eddie in all seriousness.  ‘I am supposed to bring luck, to help Ruth make home runs, keep Scotty from making errors, have the team get runs for Shawkey, and no bad innings for Hoyt.’

“Eddie was disgusted at my failure to appreciate the importance of his position.”

In 1928, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle called Bennett “(T)he aristocrat of all mascots…eight flags in 10 years is the mark for other mascots, living and still to be born to try to equal.  It will probably never be beaten.”

Bennett’s career came to an end in May of 1932; according to The United Press (UP) he was riding in a cab which crashed and “was pinned to a pole,” Bennett suffered several broken bones, including a leg broken in several places, and spent months in the hospital. (The AP said he was hit by the cab while walking).

He made a brief, dramatic return to the Yankees a year later.

On May 23, 1933, Bennett entered the Yankees clubhouse on crutches in the midst of what The International News Service called “The great home run famine.”  Neither Babe Ruth nor Lou Gehrig had hit one since April 30:

“It was the longest home run slump for the twins since they started making life miserable for American League pitchers.  For weeks they rubbed their carcasses and bats with sundry kinds of magic oils and rabbit’s feet, consulted Yogi’s and employed every luck charm known to the superstitious in an effort to shake off the jinx.  It took Eddie Bennett, the little cripple who formerly was the club’s bat boy, to shatter the jinx.  Before yesterday’s game he solemnly tapped both sluggers with his magic crutch and that turned the trick.”

Eddie Bennett

Eddie Bennett

Both Ruth and Gehrig hit home runs off Oral Hildebrand (who came into the game with a 6-0 record) in an 8 to 6 victory over the Cleveland Indians.

It was a final happy moment for Bennett.

While he continued to be paid by Yankees owner Jacob Rupert, depression and alcoholism consumed the last years of his life.  The 31-year-old, “aristocrat of all mascots,” was found dead on January 17, 1935, according to The UP “cold and stiff in his drab rooming home…He lived out his days among his baseball trophies, drinking steadily”

Edit:  As noted in the comments, I say above that Bennett left the White Sox “when the scandal broke,”  which implies September of 1920 when the grand jury was impaneled. I should have said “when rumors of the scandal broke,” which began during the 1919 series and continued throughout the 1920 season.

“The Longest Three-bagger on Record”

11 Feb

Babe Ruth was the reason American League Umpire Billy Evans called for a rule change after the 1918 season.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

Ruth tied Philadelphia Athletics outfielder Clarence “Tillie” Walker for the league lead with 11 home runs, but Ruth was not given credit for what would have been number 12 on July 8.

Ruth’s Red Sox were in a scoreless tie with the Cleveland Indians in the tenth innings of the first game of a doubleheader.  Stan Coveleski gave up a single to Amos Strunk with one out, and Ruth came to the plate.

The Boston Post said:

“Coveleski will probably hear the crash of Ruth’s bat for many a day.  The ball sped like a bullet far into the right field bleachers almost to the top.”

The Boston Globe said:

“It is getting so now that Ruth is the man of the hour every day.  His mighty crash into the right field bleachers in the 10th inning drove Strunk home.”

Ruth’s blast landed more than half way up into the right field bleachers, and The Boston Herald said a ball had never been hit further at Fenway Park, but noted, because Strunk had crossed the plate with the winning run “The best the scorers could give Ruth was a triple;” or, as The Post called it “The longest three-bagger on record.”

The box score

The box score

That winter, in his nationally syndicated column, Evans called Ruth’s “triple:”

“(O)ne of the longest drives I have ever seen.

“If there was a real, genuine, sure-enough home run, that wallop was the last word.  It was the longest drive Ruth made for the season, yet in the records he is credited with only a three-base hit.”

Ruth hit

Ruth hit “The longest three-bagger on record.”

To Evans, the solution was simple:

“I believe a more just scoring would have had the final result 2 to 0 in favor of Boston.  I believe a rule should be made which said that when a ball was knocked over the fence, or into the bleachers in an extra-inning game, all runners on the bases, as well as the batsman, should be entitles to score.”

For any present day fan, Evans’ suggestion sounds like common sense.  But, in 1918 it was criticized in many quarters.  One of the biggest critics of the potential rule change was William Blythe Hanna of The New York Herald.  Hanna said the rule change would go against everything the game stood for:

“Nothing could smack more of sophism than such advocacy.  Ball games end when the winning run crosses the plate, and any juggling with the rules to give a man a home run under the circumstances noted would be making the game subordinate to individual feats, which, of course, would be contrary to all the well-founded tenets of sport, discipline and organization.  It is surprising that a man of Evans’ intelligence could take so specious, so fallacious a view.”

Evans suggested his proposed rule change again in a column the following year, and sportswriter Fred Lieb of The New York Sun—a non-voting member of the rules committee—introduced the proposal.  The final roadblock was committee member and National League umpire Hank O‘Day, who according to Lieb insisted “I’m telling you, it is illegal.  You can’t score runs after the game is over!”

Despite O’Day’s objection the rule change was officially enacted by the Rules Committee on February 9, 1920 in Chicago.  Hanna had his final word on the rule the following day in The Herald:

 “This is a radical departure, and it is by no means a sure thing that is was based on sound reasoning.”

“It’s Strange how these Stars of Balldom have such Beliefs”

27 Aug

Throughout his career as an American League umpire, Billy Evans, who had covered baseball for The Youngstown Vindicator continued to write syndicated newspaper articles.  He was fascinated by the superstitions that controlled the actions of so many players.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

He followed a 1907 article about the subject, with more stories the following year:

“Of all professions, that of baseball player is the most superstitious…Of course, there are many superstitions in common, yet most of the players have pet ideas of their own on which they place much reliance.  The data of origin of many of the superstitions is a deep, dark mystery.”

Evans said:

“There is certainly nothing out of the ordinary to be seen in a load of hay, yet most players welcome the sight of one during the playing season.  In the dictionary of baseball a load of hay signifies two hits that afternoon for the discoverer, and history tells us there is nothing dearer to a player’s heart than base hits…While its supposed strange magic often fails, still the players retain faith in it.  On the other hand, the sight of a load of empty barrels is always dreaded, for some it means a shutout, to others merely defeat.”

Of one popular superstition of the time, Evans said there was “no greater believer in shaking up the bats when a rally is on” than Cleveland Naps pitcher Charles “Heinie” Berger:

“Ordinarily a team keeps its bats lined up in front of the bench in a fairly tidy manner.  According to Heinie’s code that is all well and good when everything is moving along smoothly, but when a rally appears to be in the air, the proper way to encourage it, according to Berger, is to scatter the bats in every direction.”

Heinie Berger

Heinie Berger

Evans told the story of the Naps’ August 21, 1908, game, although some of the details regarding the scoring wrong, he got most of the facts correct:

“One day last summer during an important game at Philadelphia, the Athletics got away with a seven-run lead in the first two innings.  When they added another in the third, it certainly looked as if things were all off so far as Cleveland was concerned.  Until the seventh inning the Naps bench was not unlike a funeral.  Two runs in the seventh stirred up a little hope, and caused Heinie to heave a few big sticks in different directions.  His actions caused Umpire Jack Sheridan (Sheridan and Evans both worked the game, Sheridan was behind the plate) was to offer a mild rebuke and incidentally warn Heinie that he wanted nothing but silence during the rest of the afternoon.”

Cleveland scored two runs the following inning, and had the tying run on base:

“Heinie proceeded to scatter the two dozen or more bats in all directions.  That was too much for the veteran Sheridan, and after he had made Berger replace all the bats back in a straight line, he tied a can on the Teuton and chased him from the lot.

“Berger viewed the remainder of the game from the bleachers, failing to carry out completely the edict of the umpire.  When the Naps scored the two men on the sacks and tied up the game he was happy.  Heinie was confident that the bat superstition had aided in the victory that he was sure would result, now that the score was tied.  When the Athletics scored a run in the eighth that proved to be the winner his confidence in the theory was not shaken in the least. He blamed the defeat on Sheridan, claiming that as soon as the umpire ejected him from the game the spell was broken.”

Evans also wrote about his favorite superstitious player, “Wild Bill” Donovan, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers.  Evans had previously mentioned Donovan’s fear of throwing a shutout during his first start of each season, and his actions in one game in particular, but now gave a more detailed account:

“It all seems rather foolish, yet I have worked back of Donovan on two such occasions and have every reason to believe that Bill makes it possible for his opponents to score.  In one of the games Detroit had the affair clinched 8 to 0 in the eighth.  With one down and a man on second Charley Hickman stepped to the plate.  A straight fast one is the most delicious kind of dessert for Charley, although he likes almost any old thing in the shape of curves and slants.

“There is no more strategic pitcher in the league than Donovan, yet he started off the reel to hand them up to Hick’s liking.  After fouling off three, Hick met a fast one on the nose and was blowing hard at third by the time the ball was relayed back to the infield.  He scored a moment later, but Detroit too the game easily, 8 to 2.  Bill had escaped the much despised shutout.  By the way that year was the most successful of Donovan’s career, and, of course, merely served to strengthen his belief.”

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan

Again, Evans got nearly all the details correct—except the final score was 9 to 2.  The May 24, 1907, game was Donovan’s first start of his best season in baseball (25-4, 2.19 ERA for the American League Pennant winners), and he did lose a shutout to Washington in the eighth inning on a Hickman triple.

Evans said a superstition often attributed to Cy Young, was not a superstition at all:

“The veteran Cy Young, the grand old man of them all, is one of the few players who doesn’t take much stock in omens of good or bad luck.  Cy, however, has one big hobby.  He always prefers to pitch on dark days…The dark day idea is no superstition with Cy.  No one except the batters perhaps realizes how hard it is to hit his fast ball when the light is dim.  It is really a pleasure for him to work out of turn on such days, for he knows what a big handicap he has over his opponents.”

Evans said another Hall of Fame pitcher had a bizarre habit, that while perhaps not a superstition, bears mentioning:

Jack Chesbro, the famous spitter, is always of the opinion that someone is slipping a doctored ball over on him, and quite often asks for a new one when the cover doesn’t taste just right.”

The umpire concluded:

“It’s strange how these stars of balldom have such beliefs and stick to them, but they do.  The ball player lives in a world of his own, more than any other profession with the possible exception of the actors.”

“Evans, who, at the Least, is Incompetent”

2 Dec

William George “Billy” Evans was nicknamed “The Boy Umpire” when he was hired by the American League at the age of 22.  After 21 seasons  he became a front office executive, working for the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers; he was also president of the Southern Association, authored two baseball books and in 1973, 17 years after his death, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

But during his first season as an umpire, 1906, he was not held in high esteem in Chicago.

On September 10 the White Sox were in second place, a game behind the New York Highlanders.  The Sox trailed the Tigers 2 to 1 in the 9th inning.  Chicago shortstop George Davis laid down a bunt and was called out at first by Evans.  Every Chicago paper said Evans beat the throw by “at least a step.”

The call precipitated a near riot.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“Instantly a shower of bottles from the first base bleachers drove the umpire, coacher, and players away from the vicinity of the base.”

After the next two batters were retired:

“Evans walked off the field amid another volley of bottle from the third base stand.”

The Tribune and The Chicago Inter Ocean said Evans and fellow umpire Tommy Connolly were mobbed by fans as they attempted to leave the ballpark with a police escort.  Both papers said “one or two blows” from fans connected with the umpire during his retreat.

The Inter Ocean said, “Evans has been the most heartily reviled arbiter that ever worked in any league.”

The Tribune said two weeks earlier Evans cost the Sox a game in Philadelphia.  After Chicago scored two runs in the top of the sixth inning to take a 5 to 4 lead, Evans “let the Athletics take advantage of his inexperience,” and stopped the game on account of rain with two men out in the bottom of the inning.  The Inter Ocean said, “(Sox Manager Fielder) Jones and (second baseman Frank) Isbell nearly came to blows with the umpire and members of the Athletic team.”

After a half hour, the game was called and the score reverted back to the end of the 5th inning, giving Philadelphia a 4 to 3 victory.

The next day, September 11, the Sox played the St. Louis Browns at South Side Park.  Evans worked the game along with Jack Sheridan.  The newspapers said Sox owner Charles Comiskey had discontinued the sale of “bottled goods” at the park that day.

The Browns won 7 to 3, and the Chicago press put much of the blame for the loss on the rookie umpire.

The Tribune said:

President (Ban) Johnson’s persistence in sending Evans, who, at the least, is incompetent, is giving baseball a black eye in Chicago.  Half the crowd believes the charges that Evans is working under instructions from Johnson to beat Chicago.  These charges undoubtedly are founded on mere prejudice, yet, had Evans been under instructions and trying to beat Chicago, he could not have done better than he did yesterday.”

The Inter Ocean said the Browns “were aided and abetted by Umpire Evans, the boy wonder…Why Ban Johnson insists upon sending the joke to officiate at important games is more than any sane man can see.”

But the Evans’ most ardent critic was William A. Phelon, sports editor of The Chicago Journal:

“Umpire Evans is the worst that ever yet came down this or any other pike in the history of the modern universe…And Ban says he is the best in the game.  We are not selfish and we are willing to let some other city endure him.  We can get over the shock of his removal.  If he doesn’t move he may have a statue down on the lake front, a statue 200 feet high made of bottles.  Give us liberty, give us death, give us any old thing, but, by the snakes of old Ireland, give us an umpire!”

Phelon also said Evans “seems to be a gentlemanly individual, whose place in life is evidently a long ways from the profession of umpiring.”

1906 White Sox

Despite the blame heaped on the young umpire in the press, the White Sox went 17-7 the rest of the season and won the pennant by three games.  They went on to beat the Chicago Cubs 4 games to 2 in the World Series.

Things got better for Evans as well.  He worked his first World Series in 1909—the youngest umpire to do so– and participated in five more from 1912 to 1923.  He was the third umpire to be elected to the Hall of Fame; Connolly and Bill Klem were the first two.

“Chief” Bender’s Catcher

3 Sep

Umpire Billy Evans, in one of his syndicated newspaper columns in the fall of 1910, said: “Most every ball player is more or less superstitious, but the pitchers, I believe, are more susceptible to beliefs uncanny than any of the other diamond athletes.”

Evans singled out Charles “Chief” Bender, who had just completed a 23-5 season with a 1.58 ERA for the World Champion Philadelphia Athletics, as one of the most “susceptible.”

Chief Bender

Chief Bender

According to Evans, Bender preferred throwing to catcher Ira Thomas over the team’s other two catchers Jack Lapp and Paddy Livingston:

“Bender has won lots of games with other catchers doing the receiving, but he never seems quite so steady as when Thomas is paired up with him.”

Evans said the preference extended to warming up as well:

“While there are scores and scores of pitchers who have their favorite catchers, still they are content to let one of the other receivers warm them up between innings, but not so with the Chief.  When Bender starts a game he absolutely refuses to throw to anyone other than Thomas.

“It is often the case that when the side is retired, the catcher happens to be a base runner.  Naturally much time is consumed by him in hurrying from the base he occupied to the bench to get his mask, glove and protector, and then back to the plate.  It is customary for most managers under such circumstances, to send one of the other catchers up to the plate to keep the pitcher warmed up.  I have seen Bender refuse at least a dozen times during the past summer to warm up with one of the Athletics other than Thomas.  He waits for Ira and takes a chance on getting cold in preference to putting the “jinx” on himself by tossing the ball to someone else.”

Bender's favorite catcher Ira Thomas

Bender’s favorite catcher Ira Thomas

The feeling was mutual.  In a 1911 article in The Pittsburgh Press, Thomas, who in addition to Bender also caught Jack Coombs (31-9, 1.30 ERA), Cy Morgan (18-12, 1.55 ERA), and Eddie Plank (16-10, 2.01 ERA) in 1910, said of Bender:

“I don’t take my hat off to…any other pitcher when Chief Bender is around.  He is a wonder of wonders.  No one can show me where there is a better pitcher in general.

“Bender has everything a pitcher needs and in a series of seven games he is almost invincible.”

Thomas remained with the Athletics organization for another 40 years as a coach, minor league manager and scout; he finished his scouting career with the Yankees, retiring in 1956.  He died in 1958.

Bender left Philadelphia in 1914 when he jump the Athletics for the Federal League; he returned to the Athletics organization in the 1930s.  He died in 1954.

Bender and Thomas shared a baseball card--the 1912 T202 Hassan Triple Folder

Bender and Thomas shared a baseball card–the 1912 T202 Hassan Triple Folder

The two remained close for the rest of their lives and often appeared together at baseball banquets.  One story Bender always told; the “greatest thrill” of his career, his May 12, 1910 no-hitter against the Cleveland Naps (this version was related in The Trenton Evening Times in 1936).  With two outs in the ninth Cleveland’s Elmer Flick hit a pop-up in front of home plate, the ball initially popped out of Thomas’ mitt before he secured it for the final out:

“Watching Ira juggle that ball and then hold it was my greatest thrill.”