Tag Archives: Binghamton Bingoes

“Johnson can Hit the Ball as far as Anybody”

14 Oct

After Hal Chase replaced George Stallings as manager of the New York Highlanders, Otis “Ote” Johnson was given another opportunity to play for the team.

Highlanders’ second baseman Frank LaPorte and third baseman Jimmy Austin were traded to the St. Louis Browns for third baseman Roy Hartzell.  Chase said he’d move shortstop John Knight to second and playing Johnson at shortstop.

The Sporting Life quoted Chase saying he planned to play Johnson at short “for his batting,” but noted that Johnson “only batted .223 in the fast Eastern League last season.”

Otis "Ote" Johnson

Otis “Ote” Johnson

New York scout Arthur Irwin agreed with Chase that the team needed Johnson’s bat in the lineup, and told The New York Globe:

“Johnson can hit the ball as far as anybody, and what is more he can hit often.”

The New York Herald said:

“Johnson is a beautiful fielder as well as a good hitter, and it is Chase’s intention to have him take the shortstop job.”

That’s where Johnson was on Opening Day, a 2 to 1 victory over the defending World Champion Philadelphia Athletics; Johnson batted seventh, went 0 for two with a walk and a sacrifice, and scored a run.

After sweeping Philadelphia in three games, New York split a four game series with the Washington Senators.

The Washington Herald said New York’s new shortstop “sure looked good, he fielded his position in fine shape,” and “keeps the infield alive with his funny remarks.”

A month after the season began The Indianapolis News said Johnson was “called home (to Muncie, Indiana) by the serious illness of his mother.”  Three days later the paper said he returned to New York “his mother’s condition having considerably improved.”  Within a week of his return the New York papers reported that Johnson had filed for divorce from his wife.

Less than two weeks later Johnson lost his starting job; Knight moved to short and Earle Gardner played second base.

Ote Johnson

Ote Johnson 1911

The San Francisco Chronicle said of the former Pacific Coast League star:

“Ote Johnson has been benched for his weak hitting.  He put up a star game in the field…but Ote did not respond with the hitting which featured his work when he was with Portland.”

Three days after he was benched Johnson left the team again to finalize his divorce.  After returning Johnson became New York’s primary utility infielder until he fell out of favor with Hal Chase.  The manager had been criticised as the team slumped for, as The Globe said “utterly lacking in the qualities for successful management.”

By August the team was fourteen games out of first place and The Herald said:

“Hal Chase, who has been very lenient with his players, is drawing the string tighter.”

The paper said Johnson “has been suspended without pay for violating the club’s rule of discipline.”  It was never revealed what rule was violated, but Johnson was suspended for about a week.  Johnson also hurt his throwing arm in August, further limiting his playing time.

Many in the New York press questioned Chase’s ability as a manager; Wilton Simpson Farnsworth of The New York Evening Journal was the exception.  Farnsworth said of Chase, when the team was 13 games back in August:

“Hal Chase, the game’s greatest first baseman, has made good as manager of the new York Yankees…Knockers claim that poor management is keeping the Yanks down, but forget it! A bad break in luck plus innumerable injuries is the cause.”

Hal Chase

Hal Chase

Regardless of the reasons, 1910’s second place team was limping to a sixth place finish. Chase resigned as manager in November.  Johnson hit just .234 and committed 31 errors in just 65 games.  He was released to the Rochester Hustlers in the International league in December.

Johnson spent just one season in Rochester; he hit .268 and got married; after the season his contract was sold to the Binghamton Bingoes in the New York State League (NYSL).  Johnson protested the pay cut his Binghamton contract called for, and initially threatened to jump to the PCL, he eventually signed a contract and became popular with fans.  He hit the Bingoes first home run of the 1913 season and was awarded with a free daily shave from a local barber and fan named Billy McCann.

He played most of the next three seasons in the NYSL—with the exception of 45-games with the St. Paul Apostles in the American Association at the beginning of the 1914 season.

After playing for the Elmira Colonels in 1915 Johnson recommended two players to his friend Walter “Judge” McCredie on the Portland Beavers—his teammate, pitcher Frank Caporal, and Syracuse Stars first baseman Owen Quinn—and it appeared the 31-year-old Johnson might be heading back to Portland where he remained very popular.

On November 9 Johnson went hunting with friend in Binghamton.  The (Portland) Oregonian said:

“Ote Johnson, famous ‘Home Run’ Ote of the Portland Pacific Coast team of 1907, 1908 and 1909, is dead…It seems Johnson, in company with a party of friends, went forth in search of game and while chasing a wounded fox stumbled and fell, both barrels of the shotgun he was carrying discharged into his abdomen.

“To the older generation of Portland fans Johnson will be remembered for his prowess in poling out long bingles.  He was one of the longest hitters that ever wore the livery of a Coast League club.  Some are prone to argue that he eclipsed the performances of (Frank) Ping Bodie and Harry Heilman, who are now the long-swat stars of the circuit.  Johnson also had a peculiar throw from third that will be remembered–He had a perfect underhand throw and was a wonder at handling bunts.”

He was buried in Johnson City, New York–his pallbearers included several players: Mike Roach, Charles Hartman, Mike Konnick, and William Fischer,

Count Campau Explains the “Science of the Sport”—Part 2

28 Mar

Charles “Count” Campau was among the fastest and best base runners of the 19th Century; he stole 63 bases in 147 games major league games, and stole 100 with Savannah and New Orleans in 1887.  In 1900 Campau, then 36 appears, not to have slowed down much.

The Binghamton (NY) Press said at a “field day” competition in Montreal, Campau “circled the bases in 14 ½ seconds and won a handsome gold watch, which he now carries as a souvenir of the feat.”  The Press also said “At one time Campau challenged any baseball player in the world to run a match race of 100 yards for 100.”

"Count" Campau

“Count” Campau

In 1893 Campau wrote an article for the New Orleans Times-Picayune about the “Science of the Sport,” last week‘s post included his comments about the battery, this week, the rest of the article:

“Many people will not believe that a third baseman’s position is one of the hardest and most trying.  As soon as he makes a hot pick-up he must immediately send the ball to first to score the batter out.  He must be a quick, hard and accurate thrower, or a fast base runner will have a good chance to get to first.

“The short stop and second baseman, as a rule, generally work together, but the short stop aids the baseman more than he receives help, in fact, the second baseman is a sort of short stop.  Should a batter be right-handed the grounder will invariably go to the short stop.  If a man has already reached first, the short stop depends upon the second baseman to be at the bag, and send the ball to him…A left-hand batter will send the ball between first and second, where the second baseman generally plays.  Should there be a man on first, the short stop is looked upon to cover the bag, and if the hit is a fast grounder and both men are quick throwers, a double can be easily worked.

“The first baseman is a mean position to play.  It looks easy, but is hard.  He has got to play a short stop game, must be a sure catcher of a thrown ball and is supposed to get a low thrown ball or a high one, and must catch a ball either on the left or right side.  This position is the best place for a captain; for he can see every play that is made better than should he be in the outfield, and can readily argue a decision with an umpire without walking a mile to do so.

“The outfield must be greatly depended upon and must catch all the balls in that territory..  The outfielders have not as much work as the infielders, but they have to look up at Old Sol and must have a good pair of eyes.  They must be hard, quick throwers to be of any value to the team and have got to watch the base runners and use judgment  as to the proper place to throw the ball…A person can be a good fly ball catcher with diligent practice.  He must know where to run and judge a ball.  As soon as he can do this there will be no trouble to succeed.

“A captain must be a cool man and be able to command respect from his men and let them know that his rulings must be obeyed…When his side is in he should instruct his men how to bat, when to bunt or sacrifice. “

Campau said “Baseball is a great exercise, for it is played with brain and every muscle, and daily practice will make any person become strong quick, for every muscle is brought into play and is developed.”

Campau played and managed until the 1905 season, finishing his career with the Binghamton Bingoes in the New York State League; released by Binghamton mid-season, he became an umpire, working in the Southern, Eastern and New York State Leagues June of 1907.

Charles Columbus "Count" Campau 1904

Charles Columbus “Count” Campau 1904

Campau gave up umpiring for thoroughbred racing; he served as a handicapper, clerk of scales and placing judge at a variety of race tracks, including Kenilworth Park in Buffalo, King Edwards Park in Canada, Oriental Park in Cuba, and finally, the Fair Grounds in his adopted home of New Orleans.

Campau died in 1938.

Fall from Grace

24 Oct

Grayson S. “Gracie” Pierce played parts of three seasons in the major leagues and was a National League umpire selected to preside over the final game of the 1886 championship series.  It went downhill from there.

Pierce was born in New York City in 1860.  Nearly every contemporaneous newspaper account referred to him as “Grace,” not “Gracie.”

Grayson Pierce

Pierce hit .186 playing for five different teams in the American Association and National League during his brief big league career; he was only slightly more successful during his single minor league season playing with the Hartford Babies and Binghamton Bingoes in 1885.

During his playing career there are references to Pierce occasionally serving as an umpire in college and professional games, and according to The Cincinnati Commercial he worked as a longshoreman in New Orleans each winter; he became a National League umpire in 1886,

In October of 1886, The Chicago White Stockings of the National League met the St. Louis Browns in the 1886 World Series.  Pierce was selected to serve as umpire in game 5, but according to The St. Louis Globe- Democrat, “(H)e was not on the grounds, as a long search revealed.”

Pierce got his chance the following day—with St. Louis leading the series 3-2, he was again selected to serve as umpire.  It didn’t go well for the White Stockings or Pierce.

Chicago blew a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning and lost the game in the tenth.  Pierce’s performance was universally panned.  The Globe-Democrat said:

 “For Umpire Grace Pierce of the League staff had been selected.  His judgment was weak and his decisions throughout the game gave rather poor satisfaction.”

The Globe-Democrat’s assessment was echoed elsewhere as well.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said that among the crowd:

“There was much loud talking and opinions of Pierce were quite freely expressed.”

Pierce was not a member of the National League staff the following year and instead worked in the International Association.  In September, a variety of charges were made against Pierce by the owner of the Syracuse Stars.  The complaint, filed with the league, said Pierce was drunk at games in Syracuse and Newark, and also claimed as reported by The Rochester Post-Express:

 “(Pierce) had forced Con. Murphy (Cornelius Murphy) to drink against the latter’s will and that he took (Tom) Lynch out of bed at 10 o’clock at night and started out ‘to do the town’  both returning in the morning ‘boiling drunk.’”

Pierce denied the charges saying Murphy concocted the story after Pierce had ejected him from a game and fined him $3 in Newark.  The Post-Express sided with Pierce and said:

“Grace is not a total abstainer, but in his long career on the ball field he has never been charged with drunkenness.  So far as Con. Murphy is concerned it has never been known before that he would have to be forced to take a drink.”

As for the charges regarding the drinking binge with Lynch, Pierce said:

“I was going home I found Lynch drunk in the street, I took him home and put him to bed.”

There is no record of what became of the charges, but Pierce did continue working as an umpire on the East Coast through the 1891 season.

The Sporting Life reported that Pierce did not have a position with a league for the 1892 season.

He disappeared for two years and  was not heard from again until July of 1894 when The New York Times reported:

“(Pierce) formerly a baseball player and umpire, was arraigned before Justice Burke in the Harlem Police Court yesterday morning charged by Barney Brogan a liquor saloon keeper…with stealing $35 from his cash drawer after the saloon was closed.”

Pierce, who The Brooklyn Daily Eagle described as being “in a half-dazed condition” in court,   denied the charges but was unable to post the $1000 bond.  He was sent to Blackwell’s Island (the prison located on what is now Roosevelt Island). He became ill and died at City Hospital on Blackwell’s Island six weeks after his arrest.

City Hospital, Blackwell’s Island