Tag Archives: Bozeman Bulger

“Here, you Bone-Headed Mutt, come here”

19 Aug

A small item in the 1913 edition of “Spalding’s Baseball Guide” reporting the death of long-time minor league player and manager Ed Ashenbach—misspelled Aschenbach by the guide—said he “coined the term bonehead.”

Ed Ashenbach

Ed Ashenbach

Wilbert Robinson told Billy Murphy of The St. Louis Star, the story of how Ashenbach, who The Sporting Life once called “The king of the minors,” came upon the term.

Robinson said it happened in 1902 when Ashenbach managed the Shreveport Giants in the Southern Association and involved an outfielder “by the name of McGowan,” whom he called “Mack.”  There was no “McGowan” with Shreveport, but Monte McFarland and Frank McGuire both played games in the outfield while Ashenbach was in Shreveport:

“One of the opposing players knocked a high fly in Mack’s direction.  Somehow he lost his nerve and was unable to judge it correctly.  He made three or four circles and finally gave it up entirely, just as the ball came down on his head and bounded to the far corner of the field, two runners scoring.

Wilbert robinson

Wilbert Robinson

“’Ash’ was wild.  The game was lost.

“Picking up a catcher’s mask and rushing out to the bewildered fielder he yelled: ‘Here, you bone-headed mutt, come here.’  When he came up with the player he began it again.  ‘Here you bonehead,’ he yelled. ‘Take this mask and put it on or they’ll knock your brains out with the next fly they put over.’”

Before his death in 1912, Ashenbach wrote a book called “Humor Among the Minors,” and reprinted a very similar version of Robinson’s story that was told by Bozeman Bulger in The New York World in 1910.  While Ashenbach vouched for the veracity of the story, he said it wasn’t the first time he used the term, and had actually coined the term earlier–although he got the year wrong.:

“In 1899 [sic, 1897] I played center field for the Springfield. Ohio, club (the Governors in the Interstate League).  On the team were Josh Reilly, third baseman, now retired and deputy coroner of San Francisco (It has been a matter of speculation where Reilly played in 1897–Baseball Reference lists the player with Columbus as Joseph Reilly, The Sporting Life referred to  the player with Columbus as “Josh Reilly”) and a catcher to whom we gave the nickname of Zeekoe, and who was continually doing just the opposite of what he was instructed to do.

Josh Reilly

Josh Reilly

“He had a serious weakness, in that it was utterly impossible for him to catch a high foul fly.  He would dance under the ball until he got dizzy.  Reilly often advised that we build a wooden shed over him so that his head would not be shattered by one of those high fouls.

“One day the expected happened.  The ball went high up into the air, with Zeekoe, as usual, doing his sky-dance, under it.  It finally landed, not in his mitt, but right on top of his head, bouncing fully thirty feet off his bean into the bleachers.  The blow would have felled and ox.  Down went poor Zeekoe, but only for an instant–to pick up his mask, which had been knocked off in the encounter.  That evening in the dining room

“That evening in the dining room, Reilly and I passed Zeekoe, who was enjoying his evening meal with the utmost complacency.  In passing him, I playfully pressed both of my hands on his head to feel for the bump which a blow of that size should have raised.  The lump was conspicuous by its absence.

“‘Are you hurt?’ I inquired of him.  ‘Not a bit,’ he said with pride.  Turing to Reilly, I remarked, ‘No wonder, Josh, that he isn’t hurt.  His head is made of bone.’  I believe this was the very first use of the term.  Ever since that night I have applied the expression ‘bonehead’ to any player guilty of unusual stupidity, and it has gained wide circulation.”

 

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“It was just as Hard to Hit a Curve Ball in 1885 as it is Now”

29 Jan

Cap Anson was visiting New York shortly after the death of his wife in February of  1916, when he was asked by Bozeman Bulger of The New York Globe the question put to every former player:

"Cap" Anson

Cap Anson

“’How do you think the ball players of today compare to the boys back in the eighties?’

“’I was always of the belief,’ the Captain answered, ‘that ball players are born and not made according to set rules.  Therefore, a ballplayer had just as much chance being born in 1885 as in 1915.  Really, I can’t see a great deal of difference.’”

While Anson didn’t believe the players of his generation were better, he strenuously disagreed when it was suggested that there had been, in general terms, “a big improvement in the game itself” since his playing days:

“’Where?’ parried the veteran.  ‘The rules are practically the same.  The diamond, the bases, the ball and the bat are exactly the same.  The gloves they wear now make fielding even easier.’

“’Believe me,’ he added with emphasis, ‘it was just as hard to hit a curve ball in 1885 as it is now. We had a few great hitters then just like you have now.  Yes, and we had just as many weak ones.’”

As far as Anson was concerned, there were really only two significant changes in the game:

“The only new thing in baseball that I know of is the spitball.  In the old days, they used to pitch something like it, but not so perfectly and not with such a sharp break.  The spitball is really built on a new principle. That is practically the only new thing.  In the old days, we bunted and stole bases just as you do now, and the runners were blocked away from the plate in exactly the same manner.”

He was honest when asked if he thought he could hit a spitball:

“’No, I don’t. A few years ago when Jack Chesbro was in his prime with the spitter Clark Griffith bet me a hat that Jack could strike me out.  The argument arose over my disbelief in the spitball.  I really did think it simply a lot of newspaper talk then.  Well, we went out and tried it, and Jack did strike me out.’”

Jack Chesbro

Jack Chesbro

Anson said the other “important change in the methods of baseball,” was the number of players on each roster.

“In the old days we rarely ever had over 14 players…I don’t know whether that is a good thing or not.  When we carried a few men each of them felt that he was expected to do his part.  They all worked harder because they had to.  Nowadays if a player doesn’t feel exactly right there are two or three on the bench waiting and anxious to take his place.”

As for salaries, Anson said:

“Yes, there’s been a change there.  What an ordinary ballplayer gets nowadays would have been a star’s salary some years ago.  At that, I always got pretty good money.”

“It smacks of Old-fashioned Common Sense”

26 Jun

For more than a century, major league baseball has looked for ways to increase hitting.  Or, as Bozeman Bulger of The New York World put it in 1917

“Overhauling the rules of baseball to make it harder for the pitcher and more of a joy ride for the boys who wield the ash has always been a favorite winter pastime.”

Burger said former pitcher and current National League President John Tener was “(C)onvinced that the public wants more hitting.”

John Tener

John Tener

Tener and others shared their ideas for rule changes with Bulger on the eve of the meeting of the rules committee.

“Tener proposes making the home plate larger and at the same time allowing a batter to take his base on three balls instead of four.”

[…]

“Then comes Charlie (Buck) Herzog (of the New York Giants) with a suggestion, perhaps the most interesting of all.  It is the outpost of a real imagination that is comprehensive. Before announcing his plan, Herzog calls attention to the injustice of calling strikes on very hard hit line drives that fall foul by inches.  To all intents and purposes, those are real scientific hits, and the fact that luck causes them to fall foul should not act upon the batter as a penalty.  In other words, he is being severely punished for really doing scientific work. Herzog suggests, therefore, that a zone be described along those two foul lines between third and the fence and between first and the ground limits.  This zone should be at least ten feet in width, and any ball hit therein is not to be called a foul.  At the same time, it is not to be called a safe hit.  In other words, the batter loses his hit by bad luck, but it relieves him of an unjust penalty.”

Buck Herzog

Buck Herzog

Incredibly, Bulger completely endorsed Herzog’s proposed rules change and claimed, “Every ballplayer in America” would agree, because “It smacks of old-fashioned common sense.”

Another rule change was proposed by Percy Duncan Haughton.  Haughton, a long-time college football coach (Cornell and Harvard), and Harvard baseball coach in 1915 (he also played both sports at Harvard) had become a part-owner of the Boston Braves in 1916.  Bulger said:

“Mr. Haughton’s scheme has not been taken very seriously by those who were studying these problems while he was still a football player, but there is a real satisfaction in finding a new magnate so much interested in the sport.  The President of the Braves proposes that the distance from third to home and from home to first be lessened by several inches.  It might help the batter a little, but an extreme change like that would be pecking at the one fundamental of the game that has stood all tests.”

The most practical suggestion came from Giants Manager John McGraw, who proposed that no rules be changed, but advocated a more lively ball.

Bulger, however, was sure some rules would change:

“(T)he powers that be appear to be intent upon really turning out a new model.”

The New York World's rendering of the proposed changes.

The New York World’s rendering of the proposed changes.

When the meetings at the Waldorf Astoria in New York ended two weeks later, Jack Veiock of the Hearst Newspapers International News Service said:

“(I)t was confidently expected that the members of the rules committee would get together and make a few alterations in the baseball code as it stands today.

“But the rules committee did nothing of the kind  The wise old heads who are in control of baseball are satisfied with the rules.”

 

“Boys of ’76”

5 Jan

On February, 2, 1925, The National League magnates “paused in (their) schedule deliberations” to honor the league’s past, and kick-off the diamond Jubilee celebration.

Thomas Stevens Rice, of The Brooklyn Eagle said:

“In the very same rooms in which it was organized on Feb. 2, 1876, the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs met again yesterday.  These rooms are in what is now called the Broadway Central Hotel, then called the Grand Central Hotel.”

The Associated Press said:

“In the same room in which Morgan G. Bulkeley, of Hartford, Conn., was elected the first president of the National League, the baseball men, paid tribute to the character and courage of those pioneers a half century ago.”

Dozens of dignitaries were on hand, including, John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, John Montgomery Ward, and Governor John Tener

But, the stars that day were six of the surviving players who appeared during the league’s inaugural season:

George Washington Bradley, 72, who won 45 games for the St. Louis Brown Stockings; John “Jack” Manning, 71, who hit .264 and won 18 games as an outfielder and pitcher for the Boston Red Stockings; Alonzo “Lon” Knight, 71, an outfielder and pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1876 and hit .250 and won 10 games, and three members of the Hartford Dark Blues, Tommy Bond, 68, a 31-game winner; Tom York, 74, who played leftfield and hit .259, and John “Jack” Burdock, 72, an infielder who hit. 259. Also present was the only surviving umpire from the 1876 season–Calvin J. Stambaugh.

Calvin Stambaugh, right, the last surviving umpire from 1876 and Frank Wilson, a national League umpire from 1923 until his death in 1928.

Calvin Stambaugh, right, the last surviving umpire from 1876 and Frank Wilson, a national League umpire from 1923 until his death in 1928.

Other surviving 1876 players, including George Wright and and Al Reach cited “advancing age” for their inability to attend.

feb21925pix

Seated from left: York, Bradley, and Manning. Standing: Bond.

 Bozeman Bulger of The New York World said, in relating a conversation between too of the attendees, the event was notable for another reason as well:

“(S)everal of us younger men, moving over closer, discovered a contradiction of a tradition long cherished, that old-timers never could admit any improvement in the game or in the quality of the players.

“‘Have you seen this young fellow, Babe Ruth?’ Bradley asked of Manning.

“‘Yes, indeed,’ admitted Mr. Manning, ‘and don’t let anybody tell you that we ever had a man who could hit a ball as hard as that boy.  I doubt if there will ever be another one.'”

Bulger said the “Boys of ’76” also talked about how they “fought crookedness when a salary of $1,800 a year was considered big pay for a star.”  Bradley, who after baseball became a Philadelphia police officer, said:

“‘Oh, we had crooked fellows following us around back in ’76.  They pretended to make heroes out of us and would hang around the hotels.’

“‘One day Mr. (Chicago White Stockings President, William) Hulbert, a very learned man, advised me to keep away from these men.  He explained how they could ruin a boy and lead others into temptation . I was often approached, but thanks to that wise counsel, I kept myself straight, and I thank God for it today.  It’s worth a lot to me to look you younger men in the eye and feel that in turning the game over to you, we gave you something that was honorable.  It’s up to the players to keep it honorable.”

Tom York summed up his feelings about the game in 1876:

“‘Say, do you remember how proud we used to be after winning a game, when we walked home still wearing our uniform and carrying a bat–and the kids following us?  Ball players–all except Babe Ruth–miss that nowadays.”

 

bondmanning

Bond and Manning talk pitching at the Golden Jubilee kickoff event in 1925.

 

 

 

“What Right has Hanlon to Show me How to Hit?”

23 Jun

How are hitters created?  Bozeman Bulger of The New York Evening World attempted to answer the question, and described the hitting styles of some of the game’s biggest stars in 1906:

“Batting is a natural gift and to be a success the player must be allowed to swing the willow in his own sweet way.”

Bulger said John McGraw who “For nine years…had a batting average of .330” (actually .346 from 1893 to 1901) was asked his secret:

“Don’t know, I simply used my eye and my arms and figured it out.”

When McGraw played for the Baltimore Orioles, Manager Ned Hanlon tried to show him “how to hit (and) on one occasion he corrected him sharply.”  McGraw said:

“That set me to thinking, and I went to my room and dug up a lot of old records.  In these I saw that Hanlon had never hit as good as .300, that is for a period of two or three seasons (Hanlon hit .302 in 1885) while I had been hitting over .300 right along.  Therefore, I asked myself ‘what right has Hanlon to show me how to hit?’”

Ned Hanlon

Ned Hanlon

Bulger said

“In the past few years Yale and Harvard and Princeton and other colleges have employed coaches to teach them how to hit.  The experiment was futile, and no hitters were developed that did not already possess the gift.

“Take the great batters of to-day and you will find that no two of them stand at the plate alike.  Long since astute managers have found that it is a useless waste of time to attempt a correction of habits easily acquired.  To be successful a ball player must do everything in a perfectly natural manner.  This is paramount in batting.”

Bulger then wrote about the “peculiarities” of some contemporary hitters:

Sam Mertes of the Giants invariably pulls his left foot back as he swings at the ball.  Mertes also crouches with somewhat of a forward lean and keeps his feet wide apart.

Roger Bresnahan and Mike Donlin, two of the greatest hitters in the world, are what are called vicious swingers.  Bresnahan has absolutely no fear.  He never thinks of being hit, but runs squarely into the ball, and when he plants his bat squarely against it a scorching line drive follows.  Nobody hits a ball with more force than Bresnahan.

“Donlin stands with his feet about one foot apart and usually holds the bat perfectly rigid at his waist, slanting at an angle of about 45 degrees.  He can either ‘chop’ or swing hard with the same degree of accuracy.  Donlin is said to be the greatest natural hitter in the business.  He says he has no idea how he does it.

George Stone, one of the most remarkable batters of the age, has a (boxer Jim) Jeffries  crouch at bat which has caused experienced baseball managers to say George wouldn’t last as soon as the pitchers got next to him.  Stone puts a terrific amount of weight into one of his blows, swinging with his shoulders and smashing a line with fearful force.

George Stone

George Stone

“His position has been termed awkward, inelegant, and not conducive to good hitting, but Stone to-day leads the American League with a better average than the great (Napoleon) Lajoie.

“Larry is the personification of grace and elegance at bat.  He has that careless indifferent method which attracts, is devoid of nervousness but active and alert.  Infielders will tell you that there is a force in the balls smashed by Lajoie which makes them unpleasant to handle.  Lajoie is the finished artist.

“His great rival in the National League Honus Wagner is just the opposite.  Hans grabs his stick at the end, holds it high about his shoulders, and when he swings his legs are spread from one end of the batter’s box to the other.  Wagner is awkward standing almost straight and goes after outcurves and drops with equal avidity.  Hans often reaches to the far outside of the plate for a low outcurve and plants it into right center field.

Charlie Hickman stands at the outer edge of the box and swings with his body and shoulders His fondness for the balls on the outside of the pan are known to opposing pitchers.  Lave Cross puts his two feet into the angle of the batter’s box nearest the catcher, while (Dave) Altizer usually spreads out, varying this position with a crouching posture, from which he runs up on a ball.”

“I Remember Well the First Day Latham Coached”

11 Jun

Arlie Latham “The Freshest Man on Earth” is generally credited as the first full-time third base coach.  Even before John McGraw hired him to coach third for the New York Giants in 1909, Latham’s antics as a “coacher” were already legendary—in 1907 Ted Sullivan, one of baseball’s pioneers and Latham’s manager with the St. Louis Browns, told The Washington Evening Star about Latham’s first time.

Ted Sullivan

Ted Sullivan

“’I remember well the first day Latham coached,’ said Sullivan.  ‘It was in Cincinnati in 1883.  I must confess I never had much use for a ‘fresh’ player, and soon after Latham reported I was not backward in telling him he was too d— fresh, but  I later discovered that he was a wonderful player, and that his freshness was of a most harmless and hilarious nature.  But after I gave him the reprimand I noticed he was a little timid about saying anything, but was still of good cheer.

“One day in Cincinnati Will White had the Browns on his staff with his little stingy rise ball.  My best men were on the bases and there was no one on the line.  I asked the men on the bench, ‘Is there no one here able to coach a little?’ Latham speaks up and says, ‘I will coach if you want me.’”

Never one for understatement, Sullivan said what happened next:

“Well, if Gabriel had entered a graveyard and blown his trumpet, and the tombstones had loosened their grip on the dead, it would not have created more of a sensation.  Latham walked out to the home plate and to the consternation of umpire, players and myself, delivered this talk to pitcher White:

‘My Dear Mr. White, we have been very courteous to you during the game, but as the Browns need a few runs we will have to be rude to you for awhile,’ and then stalking off to third base went through those gyrations that afterward made him famous all over America.  White was dumbstruck at the flow of words that afterward fell from Latham, and he became so rattled that the Browns batted him out of the box and won the game.”

Will White

Will White

No Browns game in Cincinnati that season matches well with Sullivan’s initial account—he continued to tell the story to reporters for more than a decade and sometimes said instead the game was “against Cincinnati—the game that best fits Sullivan’s description was a 9 to 5 Browns win over the Reds on May 16. But, contemporary accounts attribute White’s faltering, which led to the Browns come from behind victory, to a knee injury rather than any “flow of words” from Latham.

“Latham was the original funny man in the coacher’s box, and he stood in a class entirely by himself.  He has had many imitators, but they have never reached the position that Latham occupied, for he was a genius in the work and never used language that would offend the ears of the most prudish.

“Many years ago it used to be Latham’s great aim to get out on the coaching line here in Washington in the games that local pet—Win Mercer—was to do the pitching.  It will be recalled that Mercer was an extremely handsome fellow, and often it fell to his lot to pitch on Ladies’ Day.  Latham took the greatest delight in endeavoring to disconcert Mercer, the large number of ladies being mad enough to pull his hair, while at the same time they were convulsed with laughter at his sayings and antics.  He and Mercer were great chums, and when Latham was secured by the Wagners (J. Earl and George) to travel with the Washingtons (in 1899) for coaching purposes alone the two were inseparable, thus showing that though a thorough minstrel and actor, his chaff never broke into bitter personalities  or severed friendships.

“We have our Hughey Jennings and others of today, but in the history of baseball there has only been one ideal coacher from the line—Arlie Latham.”

Latham with the New York Giants

Latham with the New York Giants

When McGraw hired Latham two years later, Bozeman Bulger, sports writer for The New York Evening World said the Giants’ new third base coach had just as much fun as a minor league umpire as he did when coaching—Bulger was a writer for The Birmingham Age-Herald while Latham was working in the Southern Association:

“I had the fun one time of traveling with Latham while he was an umpire in the Southern (Association).  On one of those days the Birmingham club was playing at Little Rock, and Pat Wright was playing first for Little Rock, and Pat Millerick, of Birmingham was at the bat.  He hit a little grounder toward short, and for a moment it was fumbled.  Pat went lumbering down to first.  Seeing that he couldn’t quite make it on the run, he slid for the bag.  Pat Wright at the same time got the ball a little wide and slid for the bag himself, so as to beat the runner.  The feet of both hit the bag at about the same time.”

Latham made no call on the play.

“’Judgment!’ yelled Millerick, as he threw up his hand.

“Everybody waited for Latham to make a decision.

“’Wait a minute,’ said Arlie, ‘I want to do this thing right.’  He then rushed into the clubhouse and came out with a tape measure.  While the crowd sat in suspense Latham deliberately measured the feet of the two Pats—Millerick and Wright.  It was shown that Wright’s foot was one inch longer, and Millerick was promptly declared ‘Out!’  Nobody had the nerve to question the decision.”