Tag Archives: Billy Hamilton

“It was Hard for me to get Used to Some of the Boneheads”

4 Oct

Most baseball writers and dozens of baseball figures caught the twenty greatest “fever” during 1911 and 1912.

After Frank Baker hit .375 with two home runs and five RBIs, leading the Philadelphia Athletics to their 1911 World Series victory over the New York Giants, Grantland Rice opined in The New York Mail:

baker2

Frank Baker

“The twenty greatest ballplayers, picked exclusively for this column by John McGraw and the Giants—John Franklin Baker.”

The Washington Times said Germany Schaefer was asked to put his twenty greatest list together shortly after the end of his best season in 1911:

“Write ‘em out and send ‘em to me,’ the newspaperman suggested.

“Germany did.  The list read as follows: ‘Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, and Germany Schaefer.’”

Germany Schaefer

Schaefer

The Philadelphia Record asked Connie Mack for his twenty greatest list, Mack refused but told the paper “if his life depended on any game of ball,” he would start Chief Bender:

“Do you know, Bender has never yet failed me in a crisis?  Whenever there is a game that the fortunes of our club hinge on I’ve sent in the Chief and he has delivered every time.”

Billy Hamilton, who made a couple of the lists that circulated during 1911 and 1912, told The Boston Globe he was upset no one had named his former teammate Marty Bergen:

“Why, I can’t see how you can possibly leave him out…He and Buck Ewing were in a class by themselves among the men I have seen behind the bat.  I have never seen anything like that snap throw of Martin’s, with the ball always on the runner.”

Wild Bill Donovan then put Bergen on the list he chose for The Detroit News:

  • Ed Walsh
  • Jim Hughes
  • Christy Mathewson
  • Duke Farrell
  • Marty Bergen
  • Hal Chase
  • Fred Tenney
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Eddie Collins
  • Jimmy Collins
  • John McGraw
  • Hughie Jennings
  • Herman Long
  • Ty Cobb
  • Bill Lange
  • Ed Delahanty
  • Willie Keeler
  •  Fielder Jones
  • Fred Clarke
  • Bobby Wallace

Donovan told the paper of Ed Walsh:

“If Walsh were worked about once in four days, instead of being asked to go in three times a week as often is the case now, I believe that he would be unbeatable.”

edwalsh

Ed Walsh

In lauding Farrell, his teammate in Brooklyn, Donovan took a swipe at many of the catchers he worked with during his career:

“The big Duke was a wonderfully heady man, and the only catcher who ever lived on whom it was impossible to work the hit and run game.  Any time Duke called for a waste ball, you could bet your next paycheck that the runner was going to go down.  After pitching to man of his intelligence it was hard for me to get used to some of the boneheads that I encountered later.”

One more list—attributed to several papers and sportswriters at the time—appeared first in The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, and chronicled the “Twenty greatest blunders in baseball:”

20blunders

As the craze was dying down, The Chicago Tribune said Ted Sullivan, the man who I credited with discovering Charles Comiskey—and Comiskey’s favorite scout, would put together “a list of the twenty greatest baseball actuaries of all time were he not a bit doubtful about the other nineteen.”

Grantland Rice’s “All-Time All-Star Round up”

10 Aug

In December of 1917, thirty-eight-year-old sportswriter Grantland Rice of The New York Tribune enlisted in the army–he spent fourteen months in Europe.  Before he left he laid out the case, over two weeks, for an all-time all-star team in the pages of the paper:

“As we expect to be held to a restricted output very shortly, due to the exigencies and demands of the artillery game, this seemed to be a fairly fitting period to unfold the results.”

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

Rice said the selections were “not solely from our own limited observation, extending over a period of some eighteen or twenty years,” but included input from players, managers and sportswriters, including  “such veterans” as Frank Bancroft and Clark Griffith, and baseball writers Joe Vila of The New York Sun, Bill Hanna of The New York Herald and Sam Crane, the former major league infielder turned sportswriter of The New York Journal.

Rice said only one of the nine selections “(S)eems to rest in doubt.  The others were almost unanimously backed.”

The selections:

Pitcher:  Christy Mathewson

A. G. Spalding, John (Montgomery) Ward, Larry Corcoran, Charley Radbourn, John Clarkson, (Thomas) Toad Ramsey, Tim Keefe, Bill Hoffer, Amos Rusie, (Mordecai) Miner Brown, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh–the array is almost endless.

“In the matter of physical stamina, Cy Young has outclassed the field.  Cy won more games than almost any others ever pitched.

“(But) For all the pitching mixtures and ingredients, stamina, steadiness, brilliancy, brains, control, speed, curves, coolness, courage, is generally agreed that no man has ever yet surpassed Christy Mathewson…there has never been another who had more brains or as fine control.”

 

[…]

“It might be argued that Radbourn or (Walter) Johnson or (Grover Cleveland) Alexander was a greater pitcher than Mathewson.

But we’ll string with Matty against the field.”

Radbourn was the second choice.  Bancroft said:

“Radbourn was more like Mathewson than any pitcher I ever saw.  I mean by that, that like Matty, he depended largely upon brains and courage and control, like Matty he had fine speed and the rest of it.  Radbourn was a great pitcher, the best of the old school beyond any doubt.”

Catcher:  William “Buck” Ewing

“Here we come to a long array—Frank (Silver) Flint, Charley Bennett, (Charles “Chief”) Zimmer, (James “Deacon”) McGuire, (Wilbert) Robinson, (Marty) Bergen(Johnny) Kling, (Roger) Bresnahan and various others.

“But the bulk of the votes went to Buck Ewing.”

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

[…]

“Wherein did Ewing excel?

“He was a great mechanical catcher.  He had a wonderful arm and no man was surer of the bat…he had a keen brain, uncanny judgment, and those who worked with him say that he had no rival at diagnosing the  weakness of opposing batsman, or at handling his pitchers with rare skill.”

Kling was the second choice:

“Kling was fairly close…a fine thrower, hard hitter, and brilliant strategist…But as brilliant as Kling was over a span of years, we found no one who placed him over the immortal Buck.”

1B Fred Tenney

First Base was the one position with “the greatest difference of opinion,” among Rice and the others:

“From Charlie Comiskey to George Sisler is a long gap—and in that gap it seems that no one man has ever risen to undisputed heights… There are logical arguments to be offered that Hal Chase or Frank Chance should displace Fred Tenney at first.

But in the way of batting and fielding records Tenney wins….Of the present array, George Sisler is the one who has the best chance of replacing Tenney.”

2B Eddie Collins

 “There was no great argument about second base.

“The vote was almost unanimous.

“From the days of Ross Barnes, a great hitter and a good second baseman on through 1917, the game has known many stars.  But for all-around ability the game has known but one Eddie Collins.”

Rice said the competition was between Collins, Napoleon Lajoie and Johnny Evers:

“Of these Lajoie was the greatest hitter and most graceful workman.

“Of these Evers was the greatest fighter and the more eternally mentally alert.

“But for batting and base running, fielding skill, speed and the entire combination, Collins was voted on top.”

 SS Honus Wagner

“Here, with possibly one exception, is the easiest pick of the lot.  The game has been replete with star shortstops with George Wright in 1875 to (Walter “Rabbit”) Maranville, (George “Buck”) Weaver…There were (Jack) Glasscock and (John Montgomery) Ward, (Hardy) Richards0n, (Hugh) Jennings, (Herman)Long, (Joe) Tinker and (Jack) Barry.

“But there has been only one Hans Wagner.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Jennings and Long were rated second and third,  “But, with the entire list  considered there is no question but that Wagner stands at the top.”

3B Jimmy Collins

Rice said:

“From the days of (Ned) Williamson(Jerry) Denny, and (Ezra) Sutton, over thirty years ago, great third basemen have only appeared at widely separated intervals.

“There have been fewer great third basemen in baseball than at any other position, for there have been periods when five or six years would pass without an undoubted star.”

The final decision came down to “John McGraw vs. Jimmy Collins.”  McGraw was “a great hitter, a fine bunter and a star base runner,” while “Collins was a marvel and a marvel over a long stretch…he was good enough to carve out a .330 or a .340 clip (and) when it came to infield play at third he certainly had no superior…So taking his combined fielding and batting ability against that of McGraw and Collins wins the place.  McGraw was a trifle his superior on the attack. But as a fielder there was no great comparison, Collins leading by a number of strides.”

 

OF Ty Cobb

“The supply here is overwhelming…Yet the remarkable part is that when we offered our selection to a jury of old players, managers and veteran scribes there was hardly a dissenting vote.”

[…]

“Number one answers itself.  A man who can lead the league nine years in succession at bat.

“A man who can lead his league at bat in ten out of eleven seasons.

“A man who can run up the record for base hits and runs scored in a year—also runs driven in.

“Well, the name Ty Cobb answers the rest of it.”

OF Tris Speaker

 “The man who gives Cobb the hardest battle is Tris Speaker.  Veteran observers like Clark Griffith all say that Speaker is the greatest defensive outfielder baseball has ever exploited…Speaker can cover more ground before a ball is pitched than any man.  And if he guesses incorrectly, which he seldom does, he can go a mile to retrieve his error in judgment…And to this impressive defensive strength must be added the fact he is a powerful hitter, not only a normal .350 man, but one who can tear the hide off the ball for extra bases.”

Tris Speaker "hardest hit"

Tris Speaker 

OF “Wee Willie” Keeler

Mike Kelly and Joe KelleyJimmy Sheckard and Fred Clarke—the slugging (Ed) Delehanty—the rare Bill LangeBilly Hamilton.

“The remaining list is a great one, but how can Wee Willie Keeler be put aside?

“Ask Joe Kelley, or John McGraw, or others who played with Keeler and who remember his work.

“Keeler was one of the most scientific batsmen that ever chopped a timely single over third or first…And Keeler was also a great defensive outfielder, a fine ground coverer—a great thrower—a star in every department of play.

“Mike Kelly was a marvel, more of an all-around sensation, but those who watched the work of both figure Keeler on top.”

Rice said of the nine selections:

“The above is the verdict arrived at after discussions with managers, players and writers who have seen a big section of the long parade, and who are therefore able to compare the stars of today with the best men of forgotten years.

“Out of the thousands of fine players who have made up the roll call of the game since 1870 it would seem impossible to pick nine men and award them the olive wreath.  In several instances the margin among three or four is slight.

“But as far a s deductions, observations, records and opinions go, the cast named isn’t very far away from an all-time all-star round up, picked for ability, stamina, brains, aggressiveness and team value.

“If it doesn’t stick, just what name from above could you drop?”

“Baseball is now Played by certain Mathematical rules and Regulations”

16 Jul

The Chicago Tribune’s Hugh Fullerton concluded in 1906 that base running had “in a sense, become a lost art.”

“Baseball is now played by certain mathematical rules and regulations, and there is no more of the brilliant individual feats of the old days.  Everyone who plays now knows just what stage the game is in, what to do in that stage, and if he does not the signals from the batter to show him his duty.  In the old days most of them ran unaided by bunt, ‘squeeze,’ hit and run, or blocking or feinting to bunt to draw the fielders out of position.

“Teams still run, hoping to demoralize the opposition, but not to the extent that they did in the early years of the game.”

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

According to Fullerton no team ran wilder than the Chicago White Stockings of the 1880s

 “Mike Kelly was perhaps the most daring of all base runners.  He never was extremely fast, and in his later years grew extremely slow—but he stole almost as many bases when slow as ever he did.  Indeed, the best base runners the game has known were men of medium speed in running, and few of the really fast sprinters ever were good base runners.  Kelly ran bases with his head instead of his feet.

“One of the best trick that old team ever pulled off was against Boston in Chicago.  Kelly engineered the deal, although he was on first base, with a runner—(Tom) Burns, I think—on third.  One was out and the worst hitter on the team was up, with one run needed.  Kelly was standing on first, and as the pitcher prepared to deliver the ball Kel went dashing towards second, yelling at the top of his lungs.

“The pitcher took a glance to see if the runner had left third and saw him standing still, and to his astonishment saw Kelly still tearing towards second.  He hesitated, expecting Kel would stop or slow up—then threw, and threw high, while Kel, instead of sliding and reaching second in safety, merely touched the base and tore towards third at top speed, leaving the second baseman holding the ball in astonishment.  The runner at third had moved off ten feet as Kel came tearing towards him yelling commands, and catching the drift of the play, he sprinted for home.  The throw went to the plate ahead of him as he rushed homeward and seeing himself hopelessly out he slowed up a bit, and Kelly, coming on from third, slid around him, escaped the astonished catcher, who was tagging the other runner, and scored, evening up the game.”

Mike "King" Kelly

Mike “King” Kelly

Fullerton also wrote about the “Kelly Slide,” or “Kelly Spread,” the hook slide Kelly made famous, which also went by another name:

“Kelly invented the ‘Chicago Slide,’ which was one of the greatest tricks ever pulled off.  It was a combination slide, twist and dodge.  The runner went straight down the line at top speed and when nearing the base threw himself either inside or outside of the line, doubled the left leg under him—if sliding inside, or the right, if sliding outside—slid on the doubled up leg and the hip, hooked the foot on the other leg around the base, and pivoted on it, stopping on the opposite side of the base.

“Every player of the old Chicago team practiced and perfected that slide and got away with hundreds of stolen bases when really they should have been touched out easily  There are some modern players who make the slide something as it was done then, but Bill Dahlen of New York really is the only one in either big league who executes it regularly and perfectly.”

And, as with most Fullerton reminiscences there were stories about his personal favorite players; which may, or may not have actually happened on a baseball field somewhere, to someone.

Elmer Foster was a great base runner, after his style.  He ran regardless of consequences and perhaps no man that ever played in fast company ever took an extra base on a hit oftener as did Elmer.  He simply refused to stop at his legitimate destination, and kept right on.  When he got caught he always said:  ‘Why, I wasn’t a bit tired.  Why should I have stopped running?’

“On day Foster was turning third, trying to score from second on a short hit, when Billy Kuehne bumped him with his hip, threw him out into the grass, and forced him to stop.  Elmer was wild.  He kept yelling, ‘I’ll be around here again.’  The next time up he made a two base hit and he never stopped at second, but dashed on for third at top speed.  The second baseman, surprised, made a high throw to third and Kuehne stretched to get the ball just as Foster, leaping through the air, landed on his chest with both feet and kicked him half way to the grandstand.  Foster came home running backwards and yelping with delight at Kuehne—and then got sore because he was called out.”

Elmer Foster

Elmer Foster

“One of the funniest incidents in base stealing I ever saw happened in Chicago one of the yeas that Bill Lange led the league in base running.  It was a close race between Lange and (Billy) Hamilton for the honors and the season was drawing to a close.  The game was close, and Lange led off the eighth inning with a two bagger.  Anson went to bat and laid down a perfect bunt, intending to sacrifice.  He went out in a close finish at first, and looking up, discovered Lange still perched on second.  He was furious, but the condition was mild compared to what he experienced an instant later when Lange stole third—and took the lead fo the base running honors.”

 

Giants Versus Phillies in Verse

30 May

When the New York Giants met the Philadelphia Phillies on May 1, 1895 The New York Evening Sun provided a novel recap—the entire game was presented in verse:

 

The weather did its level best

To fire with joy the rooter’s breast,

And old Sol sent his brightest rays

To make up for past wet days

He shone with full and festive strength

Upon the Polo Grounds at length.

The balmy breezes of May Time

Resembled some fair eastern clime.

With ground so dry, yet without dust,

What player could but do or bust?

Both teams had somewhat rusty grown

By inactivity o’erthrown.

The Slowtown people were the first

To warm up with a practice burst.

The pitchers limbered up their arms,

And batters tried to work their charms

Upon the curves they volleyed in

By practice with their batting pin.

The twirlers seemed a trifle wild,

But pitcher Weyhing only smiled

And nodded like a coony fox

When told to take the pitcher’s box.

Gus Weyhing started for Philadelphia.

Gus Weyhing started for Philadelphia.

And when the players pranced about

Their frozen legs thawed quickly out.

The Phillies practicing today

Were much like Boston in their play.

The old men on the team were not

In practice quite up to the spot.

All balls that sizzled down their way

They let proceed and did not stay.

Young Turner, who was hurt last week,

Again was forced the bench to seek.

His strength gave way while in left field,

And homeward to the plate he reeled.

His captain gave him some more grace,

And Delehanty took his place.

The Giants showed up very well.

Their work was shop and clear’s the bell.

When time was called this first of May,

Four thousand people saw them play.

No umpire came to judge the game,

It had to go on just the same:

So German had to take the job,

With Reilly for his pal, be gob.

The Game:

First Inning.

Now with a last tug at his hat

Big Delehanty came to bat.

He got first on four bad balls

And down to second safely crawls,

When Hallman hit a daisy one

That Stafford stopped, but on the run.

Hamilton’s small infield fly

Was caught by Staff—Good eye! Good eye!

Clements hit to center field

And Delehanty homeward spieled.

Meanwhile Hallmann took a brace

And stood triumphant on third base.

Cross hit to Fuller, who threw to Staff,

Who dropped it, to the rooters’ wrath.

Hallman scored, and Clements out

By force at third produced a shout.

Then Sullivan to Stafford hit

He threw to Doyle and Sully quit.

Two runs.

Hot buns!

Now Fuller drew four measly shoots

And went to first by easy scoots.

Val Haltren got four balls also

And straightway down to first did go,

Advancing Fuller by this feat

To second where he took a seat.

Davis down to Hallman hit,

And Van was forced because of it.

Doyle knew a trick worth two of that—

His single hit the fence, that’s flat.

Fuller scored and David stirred\His stumps and landed safe on third.

Tiernan’s hit scored Davis too.

Staff went to first on balls, hurroo!

Burke struck thrice at the spinning sphere,

And Burkeville sadly moaned, ‘Oh, dear!’

A pretty single Farrell sent,

And skipping down to first he went.

‘Twas pretty work, and what is more,

Enabled Doyle and Mike to score.

Then Farrell climbed the second stair.

‘Twas no use.  Rusie fanned the air.

Amos Rusie started for New York

Amos Rusie started for New York

Four runs.

Great guns!

Second Inning.

Boyle sent an easy one to Staff,

He didn’t fail to do his half.

But promptly threw him out to Doyle,

Who didn’t let the good thing spoil.

Then Weyhing also fanned the air.

Thus Rusie evened things for fair.

The Delehanty followed suit

And made the third man out to boot.

No run,

Not one.

Here Clements found he was too fat,

And Buckley went behind the bat.

Fuller’s smash in center fails;

Van Haltren gets his base on balls.

In this respect Cap Davis vied.

The bases were all occupied.

Doyle force the Cap at second base,

Where Hallman calmly holds his face,

But in the turmoil that ensued

Short Fuller struck an attitude,

Then down the last course took a skate

And like a rabbit crossed the plate.

Mike singled to the right field loam,

Van Haltren also scampered home.

Then Stafford missed the fatal strike.

At second Hallman caught our Mike.

Score two—

That’s true!

Third Inning.

Then Hallman sent a liner hot,

Which Rusie let go like a shot.

The batter ambled to first base,

And Amos hid his blushing face.

Then Hamilton to Davis hit,

And Hallman took bag 2 on it.

On Buckley’s sacrifice to Doyle,

Hallman went to avis’ soil.

Then Cross lined one to Fuller’s ground,

He neatly grabbed it on the bound

And slung the pellet down to Doyle,

Who gently plucked it from the soil,

Touched first bad with his Trilby boot.

‘My,’ yelled the crowd, but you’re a beaut!’

No score.

For us Burke hit to center field,

A single the resultant yield.

Then all Burkeville with one acclaim

Rose up and cheered their hero’s name.

eddieburke

Eddie Burke–“Then all Burkeville with one acclaim–Rose up and cheered their hero’s name”

Next Farrell, seeing Fuller’s hit,

Got up and duplicated it.

The Burke took second, Eddie third,

When Delehanty sadly erred.

Then Cross, who’s never known to scowl,

Froze tight to Rusie’s little foul,

But Filler once more four balls drew

And quickly down to first base flew.

Four bad ones, too, Van Haltren got,

Which forced Ed Burke home on the spot.

Duke tried to score on Davis’ crack,

But Buckley tapped him on the back.

Doyle smashed a single out to right.

Two runs came in –‘twas out o’ sight!

Cap Davis, graceful as a bird,

Flew round the course and perched on third,

But Tienan hit to Sully’s place

And perished tamely at first base.

Score Three.

That’s we!

Fourth Inning.

Thompson four balls got, and Sully’s bunt

Let him to first—the little runt!

Boyle’s liner went to Stafford’s spot,

Who held it, though he said ‘twas hot,

And laced it onto Fuller’s paws,

Who touched bag 2 midst much applause.

Big Thompson, who should have been there,

Was caught far off his base for fair.

Now Stafford added glory won

By nabbing Weyhing’s hit.  No run.

Now Weyhing thought he had enough,

And Smith tried pitching—that’s the stuff.

When Stafford stepped up to the plate,

The crowd arose and cheered him great,

Whereas poor Staff was struck with awe

And fanned out, much against the law.

Then Hallman gathered in the sphere,

And though the thing was very near

He plugged it down to first with vim.

Burke found the ball ahead of him.

Farrell fanned the ozone thrice

And took a back seat calm and nice.

No score once more.

Fifth Inning.

When Delehanty went to bat,

He didn’t know where he was at.

He sent one down to Davis’ ground,

Who plucked it neatly on the bound

And passed it on to Jack Doyle’s place,

Who took it in with airy grace.

Hallman out, short to first,

And Hamilton was likewise curst.

No score.

Now roar!

Rusie’s out caused quite a howl,

And Buckley gobbled Fuller’s foul.

Hallman fumbled big Van’s hit;

The latter safe on first did sit.

He didn’t tarry but a minute,

But stole bag two—

Gosh, Van was in ir!

But Davis stopped all hope of fun

By going out at first.  No run.

Sixth Inning.

Buckley went out, Davis to Doyle,

Van Haltren kept Cross’ fly off soil.

Davis took Thompson foul on the run,

And the Phillies retired without a run.

Doyle sent one down to second base

And on the bench resumed his place.

Tiernan bunted mid a shout

And beat the ball two feet about.

Hamilton took in Stafford’s fly,

And Burke went out as slick as pie.

No runs.

Good fun.

Seventh Inning.

Sully’s slow bunt along the ground

Ahead of him at first he found.

Boyle died at first in style as slick.

‘Twas Fuller this time who did the trick.

Rusie attended to Smith’s weak hit.

The Quakers were certainly not in it.

No Score.

Hurrah!

Farrell out at Hallman’s door,

And Rusie fanned the air once more.

Fuller got four nasty ones,

Then down to second quickly runs.

Smith struck out lengthy Van,

Who batted like a pygmy man.

No more.

Oh, pshaw!

Eighth Inning.

For Slowtown Delly made a hit,

And Hallman duplicated it.

Fuller muffed the ball in thrown,

And Delehanty ran clear home.

Hallman safe to second crawls,

And Hamilton to first on balls.

Buckley out at first by tag.

And Hamilton off second bag.

Hallman to third on this play

And scored on Cross’ hit—hooray!

Thompson singled to center field,

And Cross to third base quickly spieled.

Sully smashed along the ground.

The ball at first ahead he found.

Score two.

That’s you.

Davis, Hallman to Boyle,

And Hamilton took care of Doyle.

Tiernan first on balls, and Staff

Forced him at second—made him laugh.

No run

By gun!

Ninth Inning.

Fuller caught Boyle’s fly like glue,

And Smith’s strike out made No. 2

Delehanty out at first.

The crowd yelled a triumphant burst.

To sum it up, the game was great.

The rooters left the grounds elate.

Then round the town they took a turn,

For every one had cash to burn.

The Box Score

The Box Score

“He Used to Knock Down Infielders”

4 Nov

William Alexander “Bill” Lange is best known for a play that likely never happened.  The legend was that he had made a spectacular catch that culminated with the Chicago Colts’ outfielder crashing through the left-field fence in Washington in an 1897 game with the Senators.  It is most likely another in a long line of exaggerations and apocryphal stories from Lange’s friend, Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton—a story that first appeared in that paper with no byline in 1903, but was repeated by Fullerton many times in later years.   A nice analysis of that story appears here.

Bill Lang, seated fourth from left, with 1896 Chicago Colts

Bill Lang, seated fourth from left, with 1896 Chicago Colts

Lange played just seven seasons, retiring after the 1899 season at age 28 to join his father-in-law in the insurance and real estate business in San Francisco.

During the spring of 1900, The Chicago Daily News said “The wise ones in the baseball business” were certain he’d be back, including Chicago’s manager Tom Loftus and President James Hart, and Charlie Comiskey, “’When the season opens and the sun warms up he can’t stay away,’ remarks Comiskey, with a knowing wink.”

Despite the certainty that he would, Lange never returned.

Lange, who stole 400 career bases, was called “Little Eva” because of his gracefulness.  In 1909 Billy Sunday called him “the greatest outfielder in baseball history.”  Connie Mack called him the best base-runner he ever saw.  In fact,  Mack and Clark Griffith considered Lange so good that they petitioned the Hall of Fame in 1940 to change the “rules (which) restrict membership to players of the twentieth century” in order to allow for Lange’s induction.

Griffith said Lange was “the best outfielder that ever played behind me:”

“Lange here was rougher base-stealer than (Billy) Hamilton.  He used to knock down infielders.  Once I saw him hit a grounder to third base.  He should have been out, but he knocked down the first baseman.

“Then he knocked down the second and third baseman and scored.  Connie Mack was the catcher.  No he didn’t knock Connie down because he didn’t have to.”

Mack told the same story over the years.

Lange never made the Hall of Fame.  He died in 1950.

Bill Lange 1931

Bill Lange 1931

In his final years the story about the “catch” had become so ingrained in the legend of Bill Lange that other players told essentially the same story Fullerton did (the most widely disseminated versions appeared in “The American Magazine” in 1909 and in Johnny Evers‘ book “Touching Second,” coauthored by Fullerton), but inserted themselves into the story.  In 1946 Griffith told reporters:

“It happened right here in Washington, I was pitching for Chicago.  Bill missed the train from New York, and arrived in the fourth inning.  We were then with the Chicago Colts and Cap Anson fined Lange $100 before he put him in the game.

“I had a one-run lead when Al (“Kip”) Selbach of Washington hit a terrific drive.  Lange ran back hard, and when he crashed into the wooden fence his 210 pounds took him right through the planks.

“He caught the ball at the same time and held it.  All we could see were his feet sticking through the fence and Bill’s arm holding the ball.  When he came back to the bench, he handed the ball to Anson and said:

‘This ought to cancel that $100 fine.’ It did too.”

When Lange died Griffith said:

“I have seen all the other great outfielders—Speaker, Cobb, DiMaggio –in action and I consider Bill Lange the equal of, if not better than, all outfielders of all time.  There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.”