Tag Archives: Bobby Mathews

“Since I was a boy, I Have Heard this Question Asked”

9 Jan

Jack “Death to Flying Things” Chapman began his career in 1860 with the Putnam Club in Brooklyn, after spending 50 years in baseball, “Baseball Magazine” asked him to weigh in on the best players he had ever seen.

Chapman hedged on who was the greatest pitcher:

“Ever since I was a boy, I have heard this question asked.  I maintain that it cannot be answered, for the simple reason that there have been so many really wonderful pitchers…Let us go ‘way back in the old days.  There was Tom Pratt, Dick McBride, (Phonney) Martin, Jim Creighton, Arthur Cummings, Bobby Mathews, and Al Spalding, all first-class men.”

chapman

Jack Chapman

Of Spalding, Chapman said, “He had speed and command.  He knew how to use his head to fool and opponent.” McBride could “outwit” opposing hitters, and Mathews and Cummings were “foxy.”

Chapman also described what he said led to Creighton’s death in 1862—this version of events appeared later that year in Al Spink’s book, “The National Game,” and remained the narrative surrounding Creighton’s death until the home run story was debunked in recent years.

Chapman said of Creighton’s death:

“(B)aseball met with a most severe loss.  He had wonderful speed, and with it, splendid command.  He was fairly unhittable.”

creighton

Chapman rattled off another 20 names, then said:

“Now mind you, I am not undertaking to mention all the crack pitchers that ever lived—just those who occur to me.  Of course, I never knew one who was a bit better than Charley Radbourn, a man who would go in the box day in and day out and work under any and all conditions, who would pitch when men of the present day would shrink from undertaking.  Rad would go in the box when his arm was so lame that he could not lift it as high as his head when he started to warm up; yet he would keep at it and pitch a game his opponents could not fathom.  He was a very strong man, full of pluck, and used splendid judgement in his pitching.”

Chapman said the Providence Grays teams that Radbourn was a part of were “the best balanced” of their time.  Chapman mentioned third baseman Jerry Denny could “play with either hand,” and that:

“Rad was about as capable with his left as he was his right and was a wonderful fielder.  He liked to go on the field and warm up with the boys and would go in the infield or the outfield—it mattered not to him—anywhere there was an opening—he loved the game so well.  Rad could hit a little bit, too.”

radbourn

Radbourn

Chapman also singled out Charlie Ferguson, “who died in the zenith of his career.  Chapman said Ferguson, “could doubtless play every position better than any one man ever could.  He was also a very fine batsman and a speedy chap on the bases.”

Chapman said of Cy Young:

“No man ever had better command of the ball than did this pitcher.  Here certainly is a model ball player, just as modest as he is skillful.”

While Chapman named as many as 20 “greatest” pitchers, he settled easily on the best player of all-time:

“To name the best man in baseball history in any position is almost invariably a matter of opinion and often one is just as good as another.  I know of but one ballplayer upon whom I firmly believe the burden of opinion will rest as the best ballplayer ever produced, and that man is John Henry [sic, Peter] Wagner— ‘Honus,’ as he is known.  He certainly is the best card and is strong in every particular.  He is a wonderful batsman, base runner and fielder.  He makes easy work of the most difficult plays, and he would certainly excel in any position to which he were assigned—whether in the outfield or the infield.  Wagner is fairly in a class by himself.  Others have shown for awhile then lost their glory, but Wagner shines forever.”

wagner

Wagner

When Chapman died six years later, The Brooklyn Eagle mourned the loss of “one of the few remaining links between the pioneer days of baseball and the present.”

More Superstitions, 1884

2 Jun

Superstitious ballplayers are as old as baseball.

When the Philadelphia Athletics visited Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for an exhibition game 1884, a reporter from The Harrisburg Telegraph talked to “an old base baller” who was attending the game.

The reporter asked:

“’Are base ball players superstitious?’

“’You betcher life,’ said the veteran; ‘why there is Harry Wright (who) always carries a black cat in the bat bag, just for luck.  Al Spalding  of the Chicago carries a buckeye in his pocket for luck, and Bob Ferguson begins to hedge in his bets if he meets a cross-eyed man while on his way to the grounds.’”

harrywright

Harry Wright

The “old base baller” also told the reporter:

Bobby Matthews will never pitch unless he has an old copper cent in his pocket, and Monte Ward, of the New Yorks, carries a mascot around his neck in the shape of a gold coin.  (Jim) Whitney, of Boston, loses heart if he forgets to put his bunch of keys in his pocket before pitching.  Just before the Athletics-St. Louis game last year to decide the championship, (Bill) Gleason, of the St. Louis, got as pale as a sheet when he saw a red-headed boy carry in the bat bag.  He said it was bad luck, and, sure enough, it was.”

gleason

Bill Gleason

Philadelphia won the September 23 game 9-2, giving them a 3 ½ game lead in the American Association race, and held on to win the pennant by 1 game.

And the old player told the paper:

“Big (Dan) Brouthers, of the Buffalos, carries a barlow knife for luck.  Oh, yes, base ball players are superstitious, an’ don’t ye forgit it.”

“In the Sixth Inning the Fun Began”

27 Aug

Samuel Jewett Kelly came from a prominent Cleveland family, his grandfather started one of the most prestigious law firms in the city and his father served as a judge and member of the city council.  Samuel, born in 1866, became a well-known journalist, and for more than a decade before his death in 1948 he wrote articles for The Cleveland Plain Dealer chronicling Cleveland in the 19th Century.

In 1937 he wrote about Cleveland’s first professional league baseball game on May 11, 1871—The Forest Citys versus the Chicago White Stockings.

The Forest Citys of Cleveland participated in the first game of the newly formed National Association on May 4 in Indiana, shut out 2 to 0 by Bobby Matthews of the  Fort Wayne Kekiongas,  followed by two road games in Illinois versus the Forest Citys of Rockford (a 12-4 win) and the Chicago White Stockings (a 14-12 loss).  Now they were taking the field in front of a crowd of about 2,500 for Cleveland’s first home game.

Kelly described the scene:

“White shirts trimmed in blue, blue hose and belt, high russet leather shoes, big monogram (a crossed “C” and “F”) on the shirt.

“When they walked out on the field and took their places, wearing neatly shaped white cloth caps and blue band and the rim bound with ribbon of the same color, they looked fine pictures of old-time ball players. Many of them wore quite fluffy side-whiskers while some had goatees with mustache.”

When Jimmy Wood and the White Stockings arrived in Cleveland they brought with them James Henry Haynie, a reporter for The Chicago Times and the National Associations recording secretary.  Haynie would serve as umpire for the game.   (Kelly incorrectly gives his middle initial as “L”)

Some reports said the arrival of Haynie with the Chicago team was a surprise, and a different umpire was expected, others (including Kelly’s recollection 65 years later) said Haynie was one of five potential umpires that forest City manager Charlie Pabor approved.  Regardless of the circumstances by which he arrived, Haynie, like many other umpires of the 1870s took a lead role in the game’s outcome.

Charlie Pabor

Charlie Pabor

According to Kelly:

“That first professional game in Cleveland ended unexpectedly in a furor of excitement in the eighth inning, almost a riot.”

The game was tied 6 to 6 through five innings.  Kelly said “in the sixth inning the fun began.”

With one out and Chicago at bat Ed Pinkham and George Zettlein walked:

 “(Michael ’Bub’) McAtee hit a grounder to (Ezra) Sutton at third (Jim) Carleton at first, cutting McAtee off for the third out, as everybody said.  But umpire Haynie said different and Chicago piled up five runs that inning.”

The Forest Citys came to bat in the eighth inning down 18 to 10.  According to Kelly:

“There had been five decisions against Cleveland.  In the eighth there was one more.  It was the last straw.  Pabor was declared out at third and after consulting with the officers of the club the Forest Citys agreed to surrender the game as it stood and appeal …Everybody swarmed on the field and talked to their heart’s content”

The game was awarded to the White Stockings–the first forfeited game in the National Association.

Many histories of Cleveland baseball implied that Haynie (universally misidentified with the wrong middle initial—an indication that all relied entirely on Kelly’s 1937 account) was a one-time “plant” intended to steal the game from the Forest Citys.  In reality he served as an umpire for several games throughout the season, including Chicago’s game with Fort Wayne two games later, without incident or charges of favoritism.

A “Dispatch” to The Pittsburgh Commercial after the Fort Wayne game, a 14-5 Chicago victory, said:

“There were some doubts about taking (Haynie), owing to his reported partiality shown the Whites at Cleveland, but since the game has closed both clubs have expressed themselves satisfied by his decisions, which were all made promptly.”

The first National Association game in Cleveland was an appropriate beginning for the team.  The Forest Citys finished in eighth place in the nine team league with a 10-19 record, and folded after posting a 6-16 record in 1872.  There was no big league baseball in Cleveland again until the Blues joined National League in 1879.

James Henry Haynie

James Henry Haynie

___

A postscript:

James Henry Haynie served in the 19th Illinois Volunteer Regiment in the Army of the Cumberland during the Civil War.  After the war he went to work for The Chicago Times where he remained until 1875 when he became foreign editor of The New York Times.  He later served as a Paris-based correspondent for several newspapers.  He returned to the United States in 1895 and died in Boston in 1912.

Haynie covered the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 for The Times.  Twenty years after the fire a reporter for The Chicago Republican named Michael Ahern claimed that he, Haynie and John English, a reporter for The Chicago Tribune had together created the story that the fire was the result of a cow belonging to Catherine O’Leary kicking over a lantern.

The Curve and The Spitter

26 Jun

Hugh A. “Hughey” Reid only appeared in one professional game; he went 0-4 and played right field in a game for the American Association’s Baltimore Canaries against the White Stockings in Chicago in August of 1874,  as was the practice at the time, Baltimore recruited Reid, a local semi-pro player to fill in for the injured Oscar Bielaski.

Reid wasn’t known in the amateur and semi-pro leagues in Chicago as an outfielder.  He was considered one of the best pitchers in town, and played for the Chicago Aetnas, one of the premier teams in the city, and according to The Chicago Tribune “The champion amateur team of 1869.”

Hugh Reid

Hugh Reid

Among Reid’s teammates with the Aetnas were future big leaguers Jimmy Hallinan and Reid’s brother-in-law and catcher Paddy Quinn.

Reid worked as a stereotyper (made metal printing plates), for The Chicago Evening Post after his career ended.

In 1920, Reid was interviewed by Alfred Henry “Al” Spink, founder of The Sporting News.  By 1920, Spink, who had played amateur baseball in Chicago against Reid with a team called the Mutuals (named for the more famous aggregation in New York), had relocated to Chicago and was writing for The Evening Post.

Al Spink

Al Spink

The occasion was “field day exercises of the old timers” at Pyott Park at the corner of Lake Street and Kilpatrick Avenue in Chicago; the days events were followed by a banquet.  “Cap” Anson, Charles Comiskey, Hugh Nicol, and Fred Pfeffer were among the dozens of former pro, semi-pro, and amateur players who attended.

Spink described the 70-year-old Reid; “same old smile, same old swagger, same old don’t care a tinker’s, same old Hughey.”

Nine years earlier Spink had credited William Arthur “Candy” Cummings with originating the curveball in his book “The National Game,” but by 1920 others were making the case for different candidates.  Spink asked Reid his opinion:

“Without a doubt Cummings was the first pitcher to put the curve on the ball.

“As Cummings was using the outcurve as early as 1867, and Bobby Matthews only broke into the game at Baltimore in 1869, there is very little doubt as to who discovered the art of curving.

“In fact, it was not until years later, when the rules allowed the pitchers to raise their arm above the waist, that Matthews became master of the curve.”

Candy Cummings

Candy Cummings

Reid also talked about the pitch Mathews did introduce:

“I am quite sure that Mathews was the first to work the delivery mow bearing the insanitary name

“Before delivering the ball he would rub it hard on his trousers, always on the same spot, where the seams are the farthest apart…he would draw his two fingers across his lips, take the ball with two fingers and a thumb and send it in with only fair speed.  He had perfect control and usually sent the ball about waist-high for a player calling for a low ball.  The break came just in front of the plate and the ball usually went into the ground or very high in the air.  Few line drives were made off of Mathews.”

Bobby Mathews

Bobby Mathews

Reid also talked about Alphonse Case “Phonney” Martin.  At the same time that Spink was making the case for Cummings in “The National Game,” Martin told William Aulick of The New York Globe that he developed the pitch. Aulick concluded:

“Some people say this was the first cousin of the curve ball, but they don’t say this when old Alphonse Martin is around.  He insists it wasn’t anyone’s cousin–it was Mister Curve himself.”

Reid disagreed, he described Martin’s pitch as a “freak ball,” and said:

“I first saw Martin pitch down on the old lake front grounds in Chicago against the original White Stocking team.  He simply threw a slow lob ball that came so slow you had to nearly break your back to hit it.  But, at that, his delivery was a success, and most of the balls hit from it went high in the air and came down in some fielder’s hands…He threw a slow teaser that reached the plate about shoulder-high and dropped while still spinning.”

Alphonse "Phonney" Martin

Alphonse “Phonney” Martin

Reid insisted Martin’s pitch was not a curve:

“Cummings and Cummins alone was the originator of the curve.”