Tag Archives: Brooklyn Atlantics

“I am thoroughly Disgusted with the Business”

12 May

Robert Vavasour “Bob” Ferguson shares claim, with Brooklyn Atlantics teammate Jack Chapman, to the nickname “Death to Flying Things,” although it will likely never be resolved which had the name attached to him first.

Bob Ferguson

Bob Ferguson

What is clear is that Ferguson was an important figure in 19th Century baseball –a player, manager, umpire and executive, and the game’s first switch hitter.

Ferguson was, given the reputation’s of 19th Century  umpires, uniquely popular.

The St. Louis Republican said he was “about the most brilliant of any…He never allowed his word to be questioned and was the most successful umpire in that regard ever in the profession”

The Louisville Post said “Ferguson plays no favorite from the time he calls play.  He sees all men alike and tries to do justice to them.”

The Sporting Life said he was “The only umpire who can satisfy New York audiences.”

In May of 1886 Ferguson resigned from the American Association’s umpire staff to manage the New York Metropolitans, until May of 1887, when he was let go by New York and returned to the association staff.  The Philadelphia Times said his services were so sought after that he was offered “$1200 for the remainder of the season.  This is much in excess of the regular umpire’s salary, but (the Cleveland Blues, Brooklyn Grays and St. Louis Browns) have agreed to stand the additional expense if Ferguson will accept the position.”

Even when criticizing Ferguson for possessing “a whole barrel full of that commodity known as mulishnessThe Cincinnati Enquirer said, “There is no disputing his honesty.”

Intractability was the one major criticism of his work, but Ferguson thought it an asset.  Shortly after returning as an umpire in 1887 The Washington Evening Star said during a game between New York and Philadelphia, a runner starting from second base, noticing Ferguson’s back turned after a passed ball cut third base and scored easily.  Ferguson was alleged to have said:

“I felt morally certain that he did not go to third base, as he scored almost as soon as the base runner who was on third at the time.  But before I could do anything in the matter the crowd began to hoot and I declined to change my decision.  Let an umpire be overcome just once by the players or the crowd and he never will be acknowledged afterward.”

But, despite the respect he sought and received, on and off the field, in 1888 Ferguson told  a reporter for The New York Mail and Express—which said Ferguson was noted for his “bluntness and firmness” as a player– how he really felt about being an umpire:

 “I did not choose it; that is to say, I did not seek it very earnestly.  I had been active on the ball field for so many years that I knew it would be only a question of a short time when my efficiency as a player would be impaired to the extent of my being forced to retire, and the position of umpire being possible for me to obtain and in fact offered to me, I accepted it that I might surely be able to continue upon the field, where I have spent most, and in a general way the happiest years of my life.

“How do I like it?  I do not like it at all.  An umpire, not withstanding newspaper talk regarding his being master of the field, is practically a slave to the whims of players.  He does not, as is generally supposed, go upon a field, and upon the slightest provocation fine a player to any amount simply because that man does not act in accordance with his ideas.  He is not there for that purpose.  He is simply the representative of the officers of the association in which he happens to be employed.

“I give all clubs, whether weak or strong, an equal chance.  The position of an umpire is one that no self respecting man can hold long without wondering whatever possessed him to accept it, and wishing to be free from it.

“But everyone has to earn a livelihood, and I am endeavoring to earn mine, but I will say I am thoroughly disgusted with the business and will welcome the day when I can say: ‘Robert, you are free; your slavery days are over; you can now enjoy the fruits of your labor.’  Don’t misquote me now and say that I am disgusted with the national game, for it would be utterly untrue.  I am fond of baseball, as my many years on the diamond will attest; but to be a player, which position I loved, is one thing; to be an umpire is another.”

Ferguson remained in the American Association through 1889, then joined the Players League as an umpire in 1890, and returned to the American Association for the 1891 season, his last; The Sporting Life said “the Association soured on him” because “his expense bill” was much larger than any other umpire.”

Ferguson tried to get a position with the National League in 1892, but according to The Chicago Tribune he “does not seem to be much sought after.”

Ferguson retired to Brooklyn where he died in 1894 at the age of 49.

Oliver Perry Caylor said in The New York Herald said he was “an umpire of recognized fairness and merit…His honesty was always above suspicion, and scandal never breathed a word against his upright life professionally.”

“Offered him $1,000 to Throw the Game”

21 Aug

Pitcher George “Charmer” Zettlein began his professional career with the Chicago White Stockings in 1871 when his friend, manager Jimmy Wood convinced him to leave the Brooklyn Atlantics.  He followed Wood to the Troy Haymakers, Brooklyn Eckfords and Philadelphia Whites, and they returned to Chicago together in 1874.

1875 would be the end of their professional association.

It’s unclear where the trouble began.  When Wood’s “private” conversation with a reporter from The St. Louis Democrat was printed verbatim in the newspaper, Zettlein was the only Chicago player he said anything negative about—referring to his friend “as a poor batter and runner.”   Whether the comment contributed is unclear, but shortly after the season began, and the team started struggling, The Chicago Tribune said there was undisclosed “trouble” between the pitcher and manager.

George Zettlein

George Zettlein

Rumors of tension between the two heated up when allegations of throwing games were leveled at team captain Dick Higham; Zettlein also became a target of rumors, including second-hand reports that Wood accused him of “laying down.”  The Tribune said the day after Higham was replaced as team captain:

“It is known that the name of Zettlein was brought before the meeting (of the White Stockings directors) in connection with hints before made that affected his honesty.  It is due to Mr. Zettlein to say that no charges were made against him…the conviction is generally expressed that the White Stockings pitcher works hard to win.”

After the White Stockings and Zettlein lost 15-3 to the Mutuals in New York on July, 31 Wood and his pitcher were finished.  Zettlein sent a letter to club President William Hulbert accusing Wood of “arbitrary and unjust” treatment, and demanded his release.

The Tribune said:

“(Zettlein) will play ball in Chicago no more, except as the member of some visiting club.  He has asked to be relieved from the contract which binds him to the Chicago management.  His request has been granted, and he will not return here with the club…Zettlein states that Wood’s conduct towards him during their Eastern trip has been unbearable.”

Part of Zettlein’s dissatisfaction was that Wood played him at first base in three games; although he had played at least one game in the field every season except 1874, seemingly with no complaints.

The Tribune said Zettlein claimed Wood “has systematically imposed upon him to such an extent that he cannot remain.”

Already on the East Coast, Zettlein immediately signed with the Philadelphia Whites.  His troubles weren’t over.

After less than a month with the Whites, the vague rumors in Chicago turned into direct allegations from his new teammates.  The Philadelphia Times said on August 31, after an 11-3 Athletics loss:

“After the game between the Philadelphia and Hartford (Dark Blues) clubs yesterday, while the (Athletics) players were undressing an exciting discussion took place to the cause of the severe defeat.  (Third baseman/manager Mike) McGeary was angry and he charged (outfielder Fred) Treacy with being in collusion with the gamblers and selling the game, and pointing to Zettlein, said, ‘And there’s another one who’s in it.’”

Zettlein and Treacy had been teammates, with Wood, on the 1871 White Stockings.  Both players denied the charge, and both were immediately suspended by the team pending an investigation.  At the same time the two suspended players charged that McGeary was the gambler, and said a Hartford player, well-known for his integrity could back up their allegations.  The Times said:

“Zettlein and Treacy had a talk with (Jack) Burdock, of the Hartfords…a meeting of the Philadelphia club was held, at which the subject was brought up.  Zettlein and Treacy were present, and made statements to the effect that Burdock (intended to show) that prior to the game McGeary had approached him and told him he had a large amount of money bet on the success of the Philadelphias and offered him $1,000 to throw the game so that the Philadelphias should win, and that he refused to have anything to do with such an arrangement.”

Burdock was also said to have additional information, including a charge that “McGeary approached him with (other) offers, saying they could make plenty of money,” but there is no record of Burdock ever discussing McGeary, or the allegations publicly.  The Times said “there was an exciting discussion over these astounding charges, “and that a committee was appointed to conduct an investigation.

Mike McGeary

Mike McGeary

Like most of the “investigations” into allegations of gambling in the National Association there appears to have been little real investigation of any of what was happening with the Philadelphia Whites.  Within a week the team announced that the “charges were not sustained.”  The only fallout from the scandal was that Bob Addy replaced McGeary as manager for the final seven regular season games.

In October when the Whites met the Athletics in a 10-game Philadelphia series, Zettlein walked off the mound during the sixth inning of the tenth game with his team behind 7 to 3.  The Philadelphia Inquirer said “Zettlein left the field, giving as an excuse that some of his men were trying to lose the game.”

Zettlein, (7), Wood (8), Treacey (9), as teammates with the 1871 Chicago White Stockings.

Zettlein, (7), Wood (8), Treacey (9), as teammates with the 1871 Chicago White Stockings.

Jimmy Wood never managed again after 1875.

After poor seasons during the National League’s inaugural year in 1876, Zettlein (4-20 for the Athletics) and Treacy (.214 and 39 errors for the New York Mutuals), two of the principals in the 1875 scandal were out of baseball.  McGeary, who joined the St. Louis Brown Stockings in 1876, would become a major figure in the 1877 game fixing scandal of 1877.  As with the charges 1875, nothing was proven and after sitting out the 1878 season McGeary returned to the National League and played until 1882.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up Other Things #5

8 Aug

Johnny Evers “Ardent Worshipper of Hoodoo Lore”

Edward Lyell Fox was a war correspondent in World War I; after the war he was accused of taking money to write stories favorable to the German government.  Before that he wrote extensively about baseball for several American magazines.

In 1910, writing for “The Columbian Magazine”, Fox interviewed Johnny Evers of the Chicago Cubs about the “almost unbelievable efforts made by ballplayers to offset what they firmly believe to be ‘hoodoos.’”

Evers was one of the most superstitious players in the game, “an ardent worshipper of voodoo lore,” according to Fox, and Evers said the Cubs “are more superstitious than any team in the big leagues,” and that manager Frank Chance “is one of the most ardent respecters of diamond ‘hoodoos.’”

It’s not certain that Evers’ claim that “most players firmly believe in,” the superstitious he listed for Fox, but it’s clear he believed them:

 “If any inning is favorable to a player, he will try to lay his glove down on the same spot where he had placed it the inning before.

“While going to different parks in cars, the sight of a funeral cortege is always regarded as an ill omen.”

Evers also said the sight of a handicapped person was also an “ill omen…unless you toss him a coin.”

On the other hand Evers said a wagon load of empty barrels was a sign of good luck.

Johnny Evers,

Johnny Evers,

 

“Too much of a Good Thing”

Even in baseball’s infancy that were critics that said the popularity of the game was “too much of a good thing.”

In September of 1865 The Philadelphia Inquirer editorialized:

 “Let us take, for instance, the base ball (sic) pastime, which is now assuming the proportions of a violent and widespread mania.”

The culprit, according to the editorial, was the athletic club teams that were growing in popularity and  no longer “satisfied with a game or two a week.”

 “(S)ome of these associations devote, three, four or five days at a time to their games; that they are not satisfied with playing on their own grounds for their own benefit and amusement, but that they thirst for popular applause, and are rapidly transforming their members into professional athletes…They issue their challenges, and hotly contend for mastery with clubs belonging to other cities.”

 The Inquirer did predict one aspect of baseball’s new popularity:

 “It can be easily seen that this spirit must soon lead on to gambling. So far the only prize of the base ball and cricket matches has been a ball or some implement of the game, but private wagers have undoubtedly been laid upon the playing of certain clubs, and money has changed hands upon results.”

The Enquirer was also concerned that the game defied “common sense” because “during the heats of summer violent bodily exercise should be avoided; but upon this subject common sense and the base ball mania seem to be sadly at variance.”

The editorial concluded that “the young men,” make sure “they do not depreciate themselves to the level of prize fighters or jockeys, who expend their vim on horse races and matches made for money.”

Athletic of Philadelphia versus Atlantic of Brooklyn, in Philadelphia October 30, 1865--"a violent and widespread mania."

Athletic of Philadelphia versus Atlantic of Brooklyn, in Philadelphia October 30, 1865–“a violent and widespread mania.”

 

Odds, 1896

Early in 1896 The New York Sun reported on “an early development of interest.”  A local bookmaker had issued odds on the 1896 National League race:

“He lays odds of 3 to 1 against Baltimore finishing first; 7 to 2 against Cleveland and Boston;  4 to 1 Philadelphia and New York; 7 to 1 Chicago; 8 to 1 Brooklyn and Pittsburgh; 15 to 1 Cincinnati; 40 to 1 Louisville; 100 to 1 Washington, while (Christian Friedrich “Chris”) von der Ahe’s outfit (St. Louis) is the extreme outsider on the list.  Any lover of the German band can wager any amount and “write his own ticket.”

The final standings:

1. Baltimore Orioles

2. Cleveland Spiders

3. Cincinnati Reds

4. Boston Beaneaters

5. Chicago Colts

6. Pittsburgh Pirates

7. New York Giants

8. Philadelphia Phillies

9. Washington Senators

10. Brooklyn Bridegrooms

11. St. Louis Browns

12.  Louisville Colonels

1896 Orioles, 3 to 1 favorites, won the National League Championship.

1896 Orioles, 3 to 1 favorites, won the National League Championship.

Lost Advertisements—1870s “Buy your Base Ball Supplies”

1 May

west&co

This advertisement from around 1870 was for West & Co., a book and stationery business founded by Henry Harris West in 1857.  West was instrumental in forming the first post-Civil War team in Milwaukee.  The Milwaukee Cream Citys were organized in October of 1865, with West serving as the team’s first president.

The Cream Citys were a dominant amateur team in 1866 and ’67, playing in Wisconsin and Illinois—although they lost

By the time this ad appeared the Cream Citys had declined in stature.  They joined the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) in 1868, and while remaining an amateur team, were  badly beaten by quasi-professional teams, losing 67-13 to Brooklyn Atlantics and 43-16 to the Unions of Morrisania (South Bronx).

When openly professional clubs were admitted to the NABBP in 1869, things got even worse for the Cream Citys, they were beaten 85-7 and 84-17 by the Cincinnati Red Stockings in two July games.

Milwaukee would have its first fully professional team in 1877 when the West End club joined the League Alliance.

West died in 1893; the company would eventually be renamed H.H. West & Co. The  East Water Street headquarters was destroyed by fire the following year.

H. H. West & Co., 1870s

H. H. West & Co., 1870s

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #3

26 Apr

Tools of ignorance

As catchers began to wear more equipment the was widespread disapproval.  In 1884 The New Haven News said:

“With his frontal liver-pad, his hands cased in thick gloves and the familiar wire helmet on his head, the average baseball catcher looks for all the world like an animated combination of a modern bed-bolster and a medieval knight.”

Roger Bresnahan, 1907, more than 20 years after catcher's began to look like "medieval knights."

Roger Bresnahan, 1907, more than 20 years after a catcher began to look like a “medieval knight.”

Cuban Giants Challenge

In August of 1888, The Freeman declared the Cuban Giants “virtually the champions of the world.”

The paper said that the first professional black baseball team, were willing to take on any ballclub, but:

“The St. Louis Browns, Detroits (Wolverines) and Chicagos (White Stockings) afflicted with Negrophobia and unable to bear the odium of being beaten by colored men, refused to accept their challenge.”

1887-88 Cuban Giants--"virtually the champions of the world."

1887-88 Cuban Giants–“virtually the champions of the world.”

The Elizabeth Resolutes

The Elizabeth (NJ) Resolutes were one of the worst professional teams of baseball’s infancy.  The 1873 National Association team only played 23 games, losing 21, and from the beginning of the season, the franchise was on the verge of demise.

The New York Herald summed up the general feeling about the team in an August article:

“The Resolute Club, whom everyone hoped had disbanded, as was reported, put in an appearance on the Union grounds yesterday afternoon and played the (Brooklyn) Atlantics, committing, as usual, about five hundred errors.”

It was the first, and last, game on the mound for pitcher Len Lovett.

The Herald concluded:

“The game was a most wretched affair.”

dougallison

Catcher Doug Allison who hit .300, and his brother Art, who hit .320, were rare bright spots for the resolutes.

“Death to Flying Things”

3 Apr

The nickname “Death to Flying Things,” is likely the only thing most baseball fans would know of John Curtis “Jack” Chapman, and even that is a morass of different and often questionable research.  He shares the nickname with one-time Brooklyn Atlantics teammate Bob Ferguson, and competing versions of the story disagree about whether first baseman/outfielder Chapman or infielder Ferguson is the one most commonly referred to by the nickname—and never with contemporaneous citations to back up the assertions.

Regardless, Chapman was an important figure during the advent of the game.

He was a well-known amateur player in the 1860s with the Brooklyn Atlantics (as opposed to the National Association team of the same name he and Ferguson played for in 1874) and the Quaker City’s of Philadelphia. Beginning at age 30 he played a total of 113 in the National Association, with Brooklyn and St. Louis, and during the National League’s inaugural season in 1876 he played and managed the Louisville Grays.

Jack Chapman, far right, with 1868 Brooklyn Atlantics

Jack Chapman, far right, with 1868 Brooklyn Atlantics

After the 1876 season, the career.246 hitter retired as a player.  Over the next 22 years he managed parts of ten seasons in the National League and American Association; including an 88-44 finish and American Association championship with the Louisville Colonels in 1890.  He also managed for 11 seasons in the minor leagues, retiring from baseball after the 1899 season.

When his managerial career ended Chapman was often asked to discuss the current state of baseball; carrying on a tradition as old as the game, and one that will never end, Chapman was adamant that the game as it was currently being played did not measure up the game during his prime.  In a column that appeared in several newspapers in 1900 he said:

“Our great national game is today in bad shape both financially and in other ways.  Whether this situation is caused by the rowdyism of the players I cannot say, but it seems to me that if the rules were strictly lived up to and the chief of umpires and his staff did their duty the game would soon climb back to the high plane it once occupied.

“The players of 10 and 15 years ago were just as fast, tricky and well up in the game as those of today…Years ago the ball used to have two and one-half ounces of rubber in it, whereas now there is only one ounce.  This reduction has made the sphere less lively and consequently easier to field…The men are now harnessed almost like football players, with gloves, pads masks and other paraphernalia.  We hadn’t these accessories in the old days, yet I don’t think the fielding is much improved.”

But mostly Chapman seemed to be concerned with his legacy as a manager:

“Probably no other man has brought out so many players as I have, mainly because I always have made it a point to be on the lookout for new blood by means of which I could improve my team…I think I may claim without anyone gainsaying my assertion, that I have turned out and sold to the National and other leagues more players who have proved to be crackerjacks than any other man living.

Robert Winchester and Mickey Welch, two old timers were ‘finds’ of mine, while Hugh Jennings, Roger Connor, Jimmy Collins, (Bill) Hoffer, (Harry) Howell and many others too numerous to mention in the major and minor leagues were developed by myself.”

Jack Chapman 1900

Jack Chapman 1900

Unfortunately, he said little and provided no details about the most significant incident of his career: as manager of the Louisville Grays in 1877 his team was the first to be involved in a gambling scandal:

“I had four men of my own team—(George) Hall, (Bill) Craver, (Al) Nichols and (Jim) Devlin—put out by the league because they were caught throwing a game.  That was the first time such a thing had ever happened, and it caused a great sensation at the time.”

“Death to Flying Things” died in 1916 in Brooklyn at age 73.

Rooney Sweeney

18 Oct

John “Rooney” Sweeney was better known for his unpredictability and for making  good copy for the 19th Century press than for anything he did on the baseball field.  He remains one of the few Major League players for which a date of death is unknown.

Born in New York City in 1858, Sweeney’s first professional experience was in 1881 in the Eastern Championship Association, a league which only lasted one season.  Like many of the short-lived leagues of baseball’s first 30 years, the ECA had no fixed schedules and no control over player movement making it impossible to keep full rosters.  Sweeney played with four teams in the league: The Brooklyn Atlantics, New York Mets, New York Quick Steps and New York New Yorks.

There’s no record of where Sweeney played the following season, but in 1883 he played for Camden Merritts in the Interstate Association and made his Major League debut with the Baltimore Orioles in the American Association.

Although there is no other source for the claim, a 1910 article on the origin of catcher’s equipment in The Freeman claims that Sweeney was playing on the West Coast in Oakland for part of 1883 and was one of the first catchers to wear a mask, “The day he placed it on his head and went up behind the bat he was ‘Booed’ until he took it off in disgust.  Later the fans began to see the benefits of the wire covering.”

John “Rooney” Sweeney”

Sweeney then played with the Baltimore Monumentals in the Union Association in 1884.  He appeared in three games for the St. Louis Maroons in the National League in 1885 before being released.

According to The Sporting Life:

“When Rooney Sweeney was recently released by (Maroons owner Henry) Lucas he had quite a roll. So before leaving St. Louis, just to blow in a dollar or two, Rooney… hired a fine team of grays and a park wagon from a livery stable.  This was at ten o’clock Thursday morning.  At three o’clock Friday morning, eleven hours behind time, a messenger boy drove the team into the stable. Both the grays looked ready for the bone-yard and the owner at that moment would have sold them for a song. Their whole appearance showed that they had been driven nearly to death.

“Several men in the stable armed themselves with clubs and horsewhips and started out in search of Rooney. He must have been told of their coming, however, for before daybreak he took a train. It was lucky for him that the train started out before the livery men caught him.”

Rooney’s never again appeared in the Majors, but was said to have joined a team in Troy, New York after leaving St. Louis.  In 1887 and ’88 he played in the New England League, and then dropped out of sight, and apparently out of baseball, again.

In 1890, Sweeney signed with the London Tecumsehs in the International Association.

Official records indicate that he only appeared in one game—The Chicago Tribune, on May 12 reported on his debut:

 “Rooney Sweeney’s return to the diamond was not a success.  In his opening game nine bases were stolen on him and he had three errors.”

Things went downhill from there.  Sweeney was released in mid-May but apparently remained in London.  In June, it was reported that he had been arrested for stealing $40 from London pitcher James Maguire.

He received four months in jail and as the judge handed down the sentence The Sporting Life said, “Sweeney wept copiously.”

It was reported that Sweeney spent his time in jail writing letters to friends, one of which found its way into several newspapers.  Regarding the crime he was convicted of, Sweeney wrote:

 “We were all playing poker in a room up here and there was a big pot on the table.   Just then somebody flung a big black cat square on the table.  Of course the cat was scared and in her hurry to get away scattered the chips every which way and knocked down the stacks that were standing in front of the players.   Well, I just grabbed what I thought was my share, the same as any man would do, and it got me into jail, that’s all.”

After his release from jail, there are no records that indicate he ever again played in a professional game, but nearly every article written about him mentions that “He is not averse to playing baseball again.”

In 1892, Sweeney became involved in boxing, claiming he was going to manage fighters.  Just weeks later he was reported he was through with boxing and said:

 “I thought ballplayers was (sic) the ungreatfullest (sic) lot on earth, but they ain’t in it with fighters.”

And of course, the articles said, “Rooney is going to try his hand again at catching.”

Within a year of Sweeney’s foray into the boxing world both of his parents and his brother, New York City police officer Jeremiah Sweeney, died, and it was reported that he had inherited a great deal of property in New York and New Jersey, but of course in between collecting rents he said he’d like to play baseball again.

Sweeney was next heard from in September of 1897 when The Sporting Life said:

 “John Sweeney, a once famous base ball player, more popularly known as “Rooney” Sweeney  is dying in the Hudson Street Hospital as the result of injuries sustained by a fall in Battery Park last night.

“For some past Sweeney has been assisting the boatmen at the Battery…last night, while seated on the excursion pier, he was seized with an epileptic fit, and fell heavily to the ground, sustaining a concussion of the brain. An ambulance was rung up, and he was hurried to the hospital.  Sweeney has played with many of the principal base ball clubs both in the East and West, being at one time a member of the famous Metropolitan nine. He was also identified during his career with the St. Louis and Indianapolis.”

But that might not have been the end for Sweeney.  Three years later it was reported that he was working as a “Fireman on a tug boat.”

Sadly, that’s the last bit of information about the enigmatic Sweeney.  Whether he had succumbed to his illness in 1897 or he recovered and ended up aboard that tug boat we may never know.  No records of his death are available.