Tag Archives: Bob Emslie

A Cricketer on Baseball

6 Jun

Spencer Thomas Oldham was born in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, England—what the “The American Cricketer” called “that famous nursery of cricketers.”  By 1883 he had been playing professionally in the United States for a decade, and The Associated Press called him “One of the best-known cricket players in the country.”

cricket

Cricket Match, 1800s

That year, The Baltimore Sun, which said of Oldham, “(H)is accent is strong, his views are decided and he comes from a village where seventy-two professional bowlers may be found, ” asked him for his opinion of baseball.  He had just seen his first game in August when the St. Louis Browns played the Orioles.

“It was a sight, such throwing and catching and fielding, I never saw the like before.  The tall fellow on the first base of the St. Louis (Charles Comiskey) could catch anything.  We can’t work together that way in cricket.  The ball is too big, hard and heavy.”

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

And, he was asked, if he noticed the curveball thrown by Baltimore pitcher Bob Emslie:

“’Aye, did I?’ was the reply. ‘I was sitting just in line with the pitcher and catcher.  That fellow Emslie was a terror.  I saw the balls break in the air without touching the ground.  They just curved around and fooled the batters that funny.’”

Bob Emslie

Bob Emslie

So impressed was Oldham, he claimed he saw a pitch “start straight, shoot down and then up again.”   And he was unsure how anyone was able to hit “with the broomstick handles they use.”

But asked to compare the two games, Oldham refused.

“It’s different altogether.”

Oldham said most people didn’t understand the scientific nature of his sport:

“The feature of cricket is batting.  Fielding, of course, is necessary, but a good batter is of more use than a good fielder.  A bowler’s object is to get your wicket down.  You try to keep him from doing it.  The balls you see coming on your wicket you block by bringing your bat down to the ground. The balls that you know are off your wicket you must hit for all you are worth…The power of attack is smaller than the power of defense, and therefore runs are plentiful.  Now in baseball, it seems just the other way.  A man who makes two runs is doing good business.  Errors are therefore more costly and good hits more praiseworthy.”

He also implied that Americans were too impatient to appreciate cricket:

“It takes all day to play a game of cricket.  Two hours and a half suffice for a game of baseball.”

Oldham thought some professional baseball players might be able to play cricket, but it wouldn’t be easy to make the transition:

“Well, the fielding is the same, but when he goes to the bat he must unlearn all his baseball tactics and learn how to cut, drive, stop, hit to leg or off to side…I wish some of those (baseball) players would devote the time and study they give to baseball to cricket.”

While never conceding that baseball was superior, or even equal to his game, Oldham concluded:

“Baseball—well, baseball is a splendid game.  I’d like to see some more of it.  I would learn some points from it.”

“This Fellow has about as much Judgment of Balls and Strikes as a Six-year-old Kid”

10 Sep

Umpire baiting was an art form for managers like John McGraw.  In 1906 Tim Murnane wrote in The Boston Globe about the way McGraw, and his players, intimidated a first-year umpire named John Conway during a game between the New York Giants and Boston Beaneaters.

On May 1 the Giants had defeated the Beaneaters 7 to 5, and according to Murnane:

“I was very much interested with the tactics of the Giants in a game here, when they found the clever Irvin Young in the box, and knew it would take extra work to defeat the local team.

“Umpire Conway was behind the bat in this game, and the New York boys went after the young umpire from the first ball pitched until the last man went out.  Conway was consistently giving Young the small end of the decisions on balls and strikes, and yet the New York men tried to make it appear that he was giving them a terrible roast.  The Giants worked like sailors, never letting up;  in fact, their good work with the stick and on the bases was commendable in every way, and what they were saying to the umpire could only be heard in the front seats, and perhaps that was a good thing for the game.”

Tim Murnane

Tim Murnane

Murnane said the actions of the Giants were reminiscent of those of McGraw and other members of the Baltimore Orioles in the 1890s, but “this time it was umpire and not their fellow players,” who were the target:

“As each man passed the umpire they would make some remark, until finally (Dan) McGann, (Roger) Bresnahan and McGraw were put out of the grounds by Conway.  Note the four names, all of Celtic origin, every man out for a salary, the umpire doing his best to please, and doing it certainly in a fair way to the visitors, and yet the trio must be doing something for effect, perhaps to give the umpire something to think of when he went to New York, or perhaps to affect his work in the next game.  There was an object in the uncalled-for nagging.  The result was that Pitcher Young was actually affected, and put up a weak all-round game as the contest went along, the Giants finally winning out as a result of his poor work.”

The Giants doubled-down on their harassment of Conway after the game was over.  Murnane said Fred Knowles, the Giants Secretary,

“(I)nformed me that the New York players complained of Conway’s breath, saying that he had been drinking and was under the influence of liquor during the game.  What are the honest facts?  A friend of mine at the same hotel with Conway and Bob Emslie (the other umpire) told me that he was with the umpires the night before, as well as that morning, and heard them refuse to take a drink of any kind.  I was speaking to Conway just before the game, and took pains to note if he had been drinking, and I can say positively that he had not.”

Murnane’s comments are curious, given that he said Knowles informed him of the accusation after the game, yet he claims he “took pains” to confirm whether Conway was drinking before the game began.

“Now, doesn’t it seem unfair to pass around cold-blooded lies about an umpire doing his duty, to a management who naturally listens to stories of this kind, and then tries to make it easy for players?  I could forgive every act of the New York men, as they are out for blood, and are fine ballplayers, but I must pass up players who will try to harm a good, honest fellow, for Conway is a good umpire and had the nerve to pick the big fellows out, and no two men in the business need the call-downs that McGann and Bresnahan do.”

Murnane’s Boston colleague, Jacob Charles Morse of The Herald, called the Giants actions “reprehensible,” but said the umpire was partially to blame:

“Had Conway started in at the very first a lot of trouble might have been obviated, but it was not until he had allowed the New Yorks to kick at strikes and decisions, to leave their places, something strictly forbidden by the rules, and to bellow like bulls.  Bresnahan could be heard all over the field telling the umpire to ‘get out.’  Early in the game a bunch gathered around the umpire without the least expostulation, and went back to their places when the seemingly felt like it.”

Despite McGraw, McGann and Bresnahan receiving three-game suspensions for their actions, Morse said “The penalty imposed for the actions of the individuals was ridiculously light; not at all commensurate with the gravity of the offense.”

Things did not get any easier for Conway.

He had another run-in with the Giants at the end of June which resulted in another McGraw ejection.

He was also assaulted by two different St. Louis Cardinals; William “Spike” Shannon in June, and Mike Grady in August.  The August incident, during a game in Boston, required police to escort Conway from the field and resulted in a three game suspension for Grady.

Mike Grady had two altercations with Conway

Mike Grady had two altercations with Conway

After a second incident with Grady; this time in Pittsburgh on September 4, The Pittsburgh Press took the side of the Cardinals catcher, and harshly criticised Conway:

 “Umpire Conway officiated the game at Exposition Park yesterday afternoon.  To be more exact, a man named Conway attempted to imitate a real umpire, but the attempt was a failure…this fellow has about as much judgment of balls and strikes as a six-year-old kid, and he makes some of the weirdest mistakes ever seen.  To make matters worse, Conway thinks he is funny and laughs at his poor decisions…The Press never condones umpire baiting, but Conway called one strike on Grady that was not within two feet of the plate, and it is little wonder indeed that Michael was exasperated.

“It is to be hoped that Conway’s career as an umpire in the National League will end with the present season.  There are a score more competent men umpiring in the minor leagues today.  Conway is not fit for the position he occupies.  He takes trouble with him wherever he goes, owing to his inefficiency.”

National League President Harry Pulliam apparently agreed; Conway was not retained for the 1907 season.

He joined the Eastern League in 1907, but trouble continued to follow him.  In June he was assaulted by Toronto Maple Leafs second baseman Tim Flood—which resulted in Flood serving 10 days in jail.

Tim Flood

Tim Flood

 

Less than a week later, after the Jersey City Skeeters scored a run in the ninth inning to beat the Newark Sailors 2 to 1, Conway was attacked by fans in Newark’s Wiedenmayer Park.  The New York Times said:

 “A mob waited after the game until Umpire Conway left the dressing room on the grounds for the train, and when he appeared in the street the mob hooted, hissed and threw mud at him.”

He was escorted to the train station by “a squad of policemen.”

Just weeks into the 1908 season Conway decided he had enough, and resigned.  The Sporting Life said he “quit umpiring to go into business.”

Conway never worked a professional game again, although he worked several Ivy League games before giving it up all together in 1910.  He died in Massachusetts in 1932–the same year McGraw, too ill to continue baiting umpires, resigned as manager of the Giants.