Tag Archives: Bluegrass League

Stewart Strader

11 Aug

Stewart W. Strader was the son of a prominent business leader in two of Kentucky’s signature businesses.  His father, Colonel Robert Stuart Strader operated a distillery and was a prominent breeder of Standardbred Trotters.  In 1875, the elder Strader moved the family from Boone County, Kentucky to Lexington where he was involved in the founding and management of The Red Mile—the world’s second oldest harness racing track.

Advertisement for R.S. Strader and Son Distillery. The "Son" was Stewart's older brother Wilson.

Advertisement for R.S. Strader and Son Distillery. The “Son” was Stewart’s older brother Wilson.

Stewart Strader was born in Lexington in 1882, one of seven sons.  By the age of 20 he had become an important figure in baseball circles in and around Lexington, as owner, manager and one of the best players on Lexington’s local semi-pro team.

Before the 1903 season The Lexington Leader said Strader was attempting to get his team accepted into the Central League and “Lexington’s application for a franchise is looked upon quite favorably,” but days later The Lexington Herald said Strader “decided most of the cities composing the Central League were too far to enable his club to play them with profit.”  He instead entered his team in Cincinnati’s Sunday League and played against other independent teams during the week.

Stewart Strader 1903

Stewart Strader 1903

His reputation quickly spread, and while there were rumors in the press that he would be signed by the Cincinnati Reds, they did not materialize, but he did receive a letter from William Henry “Bill” Watkins, president and manager of the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association.  Watkins wrote:

“I thought I would write you and see if you had any idea of going into the professional end of the game next season.  If you will consider a trial with us, I would like to hear from you.”

Strader accepted the offer, but by the time he reported to Indianapolis in late March, Watkins had left Indianapolis to manage the Minneapolis Millers.  In his first game with the Hoosiers, an exhibition against Purdue University, Strader played right field and was 3 for 3 with a triple.  The Indianapolis News said, “Strader is a hitter of merit and with a little more work should develop into a strong fielder.”

Two days before the beginning of the regular season Indianapolis purchased left fielder Ed “Pinky” Swander from the St. Louis Browns, and right fielder George Hogriever, who had refused to sign after hitting .330 the previous season, agreed to terms with the Hoosiers.   Strader was released to the Greenville Cotton Pickers in the Cotton States League.  His hometown paper, The Herald, said he “had been holding down right field with due credit,” but Indianapolis Manager Bill Phillips felt “he was too young for the fast company.”

Strader 1904

Strader 1904

After hitting .309 for Greenville in 81 at bats, he was sold to the Macon Highlanders in the South Atlantic League where he hit just .200 in 130 at bats.

Strader spent the next five years making brief stops with seven different minor league teams, buying and selling the independent Lexington club at least twice, and tending a saloon he opened in 1905.

 

Stewart Srader

Stewart Srader

In 1908, Lexington became part of the newly formed Blue Grass League.  It was the city’s first team in organized ball in more than a decade, and Strader may, or may not, have been involved in an attempt to wrest control of the team from owner and manager Thomas Sheets.

Strader opened the season in the Virginia State League, where he appeared in 10 games for the Richmond Colts and Danville Red Sox.  In late May, he returned to Kentucky and signed a contract with Sheets’ Lexington Colts.  On May 31 he played center field for the Colts and was 0 for 3.  The following day he was released.

The Herald speculated that another player, Warren Fieber (who had purchased the independent Lexington team from Strader two years earlier and later sold it back to him) would also be released:

“Sheets admitted that an effort had been made to undermine him in the last two days, but would make no further statement.”

Fieber, who was hitting .320 on June 1, remained with the team, but his batting average plummeted to .222 by the season’s end.  Strader stayed in the Bluegrass League and signed with the Shelbyville Grays; he had the best season of his pro career, hitting .324.

Strader played his final season of pro ball the next year with the Frankfort Statesmen.  In June The Herald said:

 “Lexington fans have noted with considerable satisfaction that Stewart Strader a Lexington boy now with Frankfort is leading the Blue Grass League in batting.”

Strader was hitting .410 as late as June 23, but slumped badly in the second half of the season and finished with a .264 average.  At the end of the 1909 season Strader and Patrick Downing, a former minor league player, were appointed deputies by the Fayette County Sheriff.  The Leader said the two deputies they replaced “apparently would not play ball.”

Strader signed with the Davenport Prodigals in the Three-I League in the spring of 1910 but was released before the season began.

During the last several years of career, and the first decade after he left the diamond, the Strader family was regularly mentioned in the local press for things other than baseball.

Two brothers died tragically, one, according to The Leader, by his own hand after shooting a woman in Lexington’s “Tenderloin District.” The other was murdered during a dispute while hunting.

Strader began operating taverns and restaurants in Lexington in 1905, and the family spent the better part of a decade bringing various lawsuits against each other involving the failure of the distillery after their father’s death and other business disputes.  During one dispute Strader’s older brother W.P. had him arrested claiming Stewart Strader “would do bodily harm or injury to him.”

Despite the family drama, Strader remained a successful businessman and prominent member of Lexington society.  He owned the Berlin Café—which he originally purchased with one of his brothers in 1905–until 1940 and for seven years in the 1920s operated Third Avenue Motor Company in Louisville, which sold the Anderson Six—produced by the Anderson Motor Car Company in South Carolina.

Strader died in Lexington on August 9, 1948.

Alamazoo Jennings

16 Apr

Alfred Gorden Jennings earned his nickname the day after his only professional game, as the catcher for the  Milwaukee Grays in 1878; and it was given to him by on of the most famous baseball writers of the era.

The Grays had three catchers in 1878; Charlie Bennett, Will Foley and Bill Hobart, all of whom were injured on August 15 while Milwaukee was in Cincinnati for a series with the Reds.   Grays Manager Jack “Death to Flying Things” Chapman found Jennings, who had been playing with local semi-pro and amateur teams for a decade, and put him in the lineup for the August 15 game.

Pitcher Mike Golden was on the mound for Milwaukee, and Jennings told sportswriter Rem Mulford Jr. years later:

“We were all mixed in our signs.  I signed for an outcurve and got an inshoot which broke a couple of fingers.  ‘Go ahead,’ I said, ‘ I’ll stay here all day even if I have to stop ‘em with my elbows.  You can’t drive me away.’  Well they didn’t.”

Jennings was officially credited with 10 passed balls (he claimed he had 17), a record that stood until 1884.

The morning after the game in The Cincinnati Enquirer, the headline on Oliver Perry “O. P.” Caylor’s story read:

Alamazoo Jennings Makes His Debut Behind the Bat

His Gall Holds Out but His Hands Weaken

Caylor said:

“(Jennings) looked so large and handsome and very like a catcher that Manager Chapman was mashed, and straightaway engaged him, and clinched the bargain with a dinner.  When Al pulled on his sole- leather gloves and poised near the grandstand at three o’clock, the crowd scarcely breathed.  Zip came the ball from Golden’s hand; bang it went against the backstop because Al had stooped too late to pick it up.  It took several minutes for him to gauge the speed of Golden’s pitching, but he got it down fine at last, and stopped a ball every once in awhile.  But, the low comedy parts came in when the new catcher went up close behind the bat.  A batter had but to get on first base and a run was scored.  They went to second and third without danger, and tallied on a passed ball.”

Jennings told Mulford his reaction to Caylor’s story:

“I read a few lines and wanted to fight.  I read a few lines more and had to laugh.”

The Box Score

The Box Score

That game was the end of Jennings’ one-day professional career.  Shortly afterwards he began a more than 10-year run as a minor league umpire in the Bluegrass, Southern, Northwestern and Interstate Leagues.  He also served as an umpire in the Union Association in 1884, his only season in a major league.

Mulford would occasionally update his readers about Jennings, of whom he said:

“With all his peculiarities, Amamazoo is a good fellow, and he has as many friends in and out of the profession as anybody ever connected with the great national game.”

By 1891 he gave up umpiring to become “The Parched Corn King of America,”selling his product in “three cities–Cincinnati, Covington and Newport—and netting every day ten times the amount of the original capital invested in the enterprise.”

by November of 1894 Jennings had moved on from the “parched corn” business, to “pushing an insect killer,” when as The Sporting Life said: “Death entered another victory upon his scorebook.”  He was 43-years-old.

The Enquirer said for his funeral his friends ordered a “floral piece…over seven feet high.  It is made of beautiful flowers.  Two large floral bats cross each other above, and below then are two floral balls, and at the bottom of the piece the inscription: ‘His Last Decision.'”

11-Inning No-Hitter

24 Sep

Harry Wormwood played seven seasons in the New England League with Worcester, Fall River and Portland.  His statistics are incomplete but he was basically a .500 pitcher and weak hitting utility infielder with a fairly uneventful career until June 9, 1910.

Pitching for the Fall River Indians Wormwood pitched an 11-Inning no-hitter against his former team, the Worcester Busters.  Game summaries mention that Fall River did not commit any errors, but don’t say whether Wormwood walked any batters.

The Eastern press couldn’t ignore the fact that just one year earlier in the Bluegrass League Fred Toney of the Winchester Hustlers had thrown a 17-inning no-hitter against the Lexington Colts, so the papers referred to Wormwood’s feat as “The Eastern record for a no-hit game.”

Toney of course would become famous for another no-hitter in 1917 when he was with the Cincinnati Reds—he and Chicago Cubs pitcher Jim “Hippo” Vaughn hooked up in one of baseball’s greatest pitching duels, with neither allowing a hit through nine innings.  Vaughn would allow a hit in the 10th and lose the game 1-0.

But back in 1910 Toney was not well known and was referred to in the New York Times and other papers simply as “Pitcher Torrey (sic) of Winchester, KY,” in the coverage of Wormwood’s no-hitter.

The following season Wormwood nearly duplicated his feat.  He held the Lawrence Barristers hitless for 10 2/3 innings; Wormwood gave up three straight singles in the 11th, but retired the side without giving up a run.  He held Lawrence hitless for two more innings and the game ended in a 0-0 tie after 13 innings.  1911 was Wormwood’s best season, he posted a 20-15 record and hit .289.

Harry Wormwood, from a picture of his high school football team in Auburn, ME

Wormwood finished his career with the Portland Duffs in 1913—newspaper reports from 1914 and 1915 say he spent time with the Lewiston Cupids in the New England League and the Hartford Senators in the Colonial League, but there are no records to confirm this.

Wormwood passed away January 9, 1955 in Auburn, Maine.