Tag Archives: Brooklyn Bridegrooms

“O’Brien…Felt Like Dropping Dead”

8 Oct

Darby O’Brien was a rookie and Charley Jones was near the end of his 12-year career  when the two were teammates with the New York Metropolitans in 1887; his friendship with Jones gone sideways made O’Brien a brief sensation on the police blotter.

darby.jpg

O’Brien was playing for the Brooklyn Bridegrooms the following season when, on July 21 he was arrested along with teammate Jack Burdock were arrested when leaving Brooklyn’s Washington Park after a game.

The troubled Burdock, who battled alcoholism, was arrested for assault for attempting to kiss a 17-year-old stationary store employee the previous year, while, as The New York Sun said he “was under the influence of liquor,”  Burdock was acquitted later that year when the victim failed to appear to testify against him.

burdock

Jack Burdock

Burdock being in trouble was not news, but said The Sun:

“(O’Brien) is one of the steadiest men in the ball business and, consequently felt like dropping dead when (New York Detective)  McGrath told him he was wanted for larceny.”

O’Brien’s alleged crime?  The Brooklyn Eagle said:

“The charge against O’Brien is made by Mrs. Louisa Jones, wife of Charles W. Jones, formerly left fielder of the Kansas City nine, and is that he stole her dog.”

charleyjonespix

Charley Jones

According to Mrs. Jones, O’Brien had given her the dog, “a small pug,” to take care of after the 1887 season and subsequently “presented the dog to her.”  Mrs. Jones said O’Brien later returned to the Staten Island hotel where the Jones’ lived and stole the dog.  The New York World said he “snatched the dog out of her lap,” at the hotel and ran to a train to escape.

After O’Brien was released on “the promise of (Brooklyn owner Charlie) Byrne” that O’Brien would appear in court on July 23, he spoke to a reporter from The Eagle:

“Mrs. Jones story is untrue.  I did not give her the dog nor did I snatch it from her lap, as was reported in a morning paper.  I was stopping at the Nautilus Hotel when she and Jones came there to live.  I got the dog from (catcher Bill) Holbert.  She was a beauty and is Beauty by name.  Mr. Holbert raised her from a pup and I was too fond of her to part with her.  Mrs. Jones admired her very much.  I declined to give her Beauty, but did promise her one the next litter.  That was only to keep her quiet.  She annoyed me very much.  She got square, however, for when I was preparing to go West (after the 1887 season) she and Jones bolted and took the dog with them.  I got Beauty back.”

O’Brien failed to say how he “got Beauty back.”  The Eagle said Holbert backed up his statement.

The World described the scene when O’Brien returned to face the charges:

“Justice Massey, of Brooklyn, was a half hour tardy in his arrival at the courtroom this morning and he found the chamber packed full of people  .

“There were baseball players, baseball enthusiasts and patrons of the national game.  There were a couple of hundred of the youth of the City of Churches, and there as many of the pretty girls for which Brooklyn is famous.”

Both O’Brien and Burdock were in court that morning, but the paper said:

“Darby received most attention, for he is one of the Brooklyn boys who doesn’t pose as a bridegroom.”

In addition to Byrne and Holbert, the New York papers said O’Brien’s Brooklyn teammates Al Mays and Bill McClellan were there for support.

The case was continued and the potential baseball/dog trial of the century was scheduled for September 5, 1888, but ended with a whimper.  The Evening World said:

“Not only is the Brooklyn baseball team in third place in the Association today, but it’s members are at last all out of court.

“Darby O’Brien’s dog case came before Justice Massey this morning and the popular left fielder was promptly on hand to show that he didn’t steal Mrs. Jones’ canine.  He was spared the pains, however, for a note came from the Staten Island complainant in which she declared that she would not press the complaint

“Darby was therefore discharged.”

Unfortunately, the dog did not make it to the trial, O’Brien told The Eagle that in July “(Beauty) had a fit on Sixth Avenue and died.”

O’Brien played with Brooklyn through 1892, became ill with tuberculosis and died in his hometown of Peoria, Illinois in 1893, he was 29.

dob (1).jpg

O’Brien

When word reached Byrne that O’Brien had died, he told The Eagle:

“Darby was a typical, humorous, quick witted young Irishman, handsome and clever.  He was like a good sailor.  He had a sweetheart in every city the team visited.  He was generous to a fault.  His purse was open to everyone and he never called for an accounting.  He was, without exception, in the full sense of the word, the most popular ballplayer in the country—not for his phenomenal ability or his brilliant work, but for his happy go lucky manner.”

Lost Advertisements–President McKinley, Spalding League Ball

29 Nov

mckinleyspalding

 

An April 1897 advertisement for the Spalding.  The advertisement appeared in several papers across the country–including The Chicago Inter Ocean and The Chicago Daily News.

President McKinley Formally opened the Base Ball Season yesterday at Washington with the Spalding Official League Ball…

It seems very appropriate for the American game of Base Ball to be formally opened by the President of the United States, as was done yesterday at Washington by President William McKinley, in breaking the seal and tossing to the umpire the Spalding Official League Ball.”

While the advertisement ran on April 23 so did a story from The Associated Press which said the president was a no-show:

“It was expected that President McKinley would favor the Senators with his presence, he having promised the Washington players if his duties did not prevent he would toss the first ball to the umpire, but he evidently was too busy entertaining office-seekers, and as a result players and spectators alike were greatly disappointed.”

The Brooklyn Bridegrooms defeated the Senators 5 to 4.  It would be 13 years before  William Howard Taft became the first president to throw out the first ball on April 14, 1910, in Washington.

William Howard Taft throws out the first pitch in 1910

William Howard Taft throws out the first pitch in 1910

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.

“Not Quite Such an Idiot”

5 Apr

The 1889 American Association season began and ended as a two-team race between the Brooklyn Bridegrooms and St. Louis Browns, who had won four straight championships—the third place Philadelphia Athletics finished 16 games back.  The battle between Brooklyn and St. Louis was bitter and culminated in September with a charge of umpire bribery.

St. Louis owner Chris von der Ahe made a charge of attempted bribery of an umpire.  He said Brooklyn Captain William “Darby” O’Brien had attempted to bribe umpire John Kerins “$100 and the chance for him to umpire in the World’s Series if Brooklyn got there.” (Some accounts claim the amount was $1000, but the overwhelming number of contemporaneous stories put the figure at $100).

Chris von der Ahe

Chris von der Ahe

The Browns owner claimed “I can prove,” the charges and said “Kerins himself told the story in my presence.  Captain (and manager Charles) Comiskey and another party were in the carriage at the time.”

The other “party” never materialized, and Comiskey, no stranger to dubious charges, never fully backed his boss with a statement confirming the accusation.

Kerins, who since 1884 had bounced back and forth between playing in the American Association with the Indianapolis Hoosiers, Louisville Colonels and Baltimore Orioles, and working as a minor league and Association umpire, called the claim “Simply absurd.”

John Kerins

John Kerins

 

He said he never spoke to von der Ahe, and “I never told Comiskey that any attempt had been made to bribe me,” and that all the charges came from a misinterpreted conversation he had with Comiskey.

Kerins said he simply mentioned to the Browns manager that O’Brien had made “A casual remark,” that “I would give $100 out of my own pocket if Brooklyn could win the championship.”

Kerins said he told O’Brien he’d like to serve as an umpire in the World Series (against eventual National League champions the New York Giants), but it appears Kerins, like every other Association umpire, told many people he’d like to earn the additional money paid to post-season umpires.

Kerins told The Baltimore American that he was:

“Not quite such an idiot as to sell (myself) for the paltry sum of $100.”

O’Brien issued an indignant statement about the charges that appeared in The Chicago Times and other newspapers:

“I was completely nonplussed when I read that story, and, as it was the first intimation I had had of it, you can well imagine my surprise.  To think that that story should reach the eyes of my folks in Peoria and that they might believe me capable of stooping to a dishonest act is what galls me.”

Darby O'Brien

Darby O’Brien

Brooklyn went on to beat the Browns by two games for the American Association Pennant and lost the World Series to the Giants six games to three.

Nothing came of the charges, and it seems doubtful von der Ahe and Comiskey actually believed they were true.

A postscript:  After Comiskey jumped the Browns the following season to join the Chicago Pirates in Players League, von der Ahe signed Kerins (who had all but called him a liar six months earlier), and named him manager in May (one of five Browns managers that season) for 17 games; under Kerins the browns were 9-8.  In June Kerins, hitting .127, was replaced as manager and released by the Browns.

“A Vain and Foolish Kick”

23 Nov

The Brooklyn Bridegrooms won the 1890 National League Championship by 6 ½ games over the Chicago Colts behind pitcher Tom Lovett who posted a 30-11 record.

Just three years earlier there was speculation that Lovett’s career might be over due to overwork.

Tom Lovett, 1890

Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1863, Lovett began his professional career with Waterbury in the Connecticut State League in 1884.  He appeared in 16 games for Philadelphia Athletics in the American Association in 1885 and was in the New England League with the Lynn/Newburyport Clamdiggers.

In 1887 he signed with the Bridgeport Giants in the Eastern League and dominated the league in May and early June.  Despite getting off to a fast start (the team was 20-5 in May), Bridgeport was suffering a decline in attendance and the franchise was in trouble.

At the same time community leaders in Oshkosh, Wisconsin were determined to win the Northwest League championship, and they put enough money together to offer to purchase Lovett who was 21-3, as well as Tug Wilson, Bridgeport’s catcher and leading hitter, and shortstop Dan Shannon, the Eastern League’s leading base stealer.

Lovett was 20-2 for Oshkosh (40-7 for the season) and they easily won the championship, but he did not pitch during the season’s closing days; The Sporting Life reported that “Lovett is said to be lame in the arm.”

Despite speculation well into the next spring that his arm was permanently “lamed,” Lovett recovered and posted a 30-14 season in 1888 with Omaha in the Western Association.   In the fall of 1888 he was purchased by Brooklyn, then in the American Association.

Lovett was 17-10 in his first season with Brooklyn, and followed that with his pennant-winning performance in 1890.  He then dropped to 23-19 in 1891 as the team fell to 6th place; Lovett threw a 4-0 no-hitter in June against the New York Giants.

After the 1891 season Brooklyn attempted to cut his salary to $2800 (various sources say he either earned $3000 or $3500 in 1891).  Lovett demanded $3500 and turned down a compromise offer of $3200.

He said he could earn more money operating his tavern in Providence and chose to sit out the 1892 season.

The Sporting Life called it, “A vain and foolish kick against salary reduction.”

In this case the critics might have been correct.  The Lovett-less Grooms improved from 61-76 in 1891 to 95-59 in 1892.

Hat in hand, he returned to Brooklyn for the 1893 season signing for $2400.

Lovett pitched in only 14 games and had a 3-5 record before hurting his arm again.  The following season he pitched for the Boston Beaneaters until he was released in July.  His Major League career over, Lovett finished 1894 in the Eastern League with the Providence Clamdiggers and spent 1895 with the renamed Providence Grays in the same league.

Lovett, with Boston 1894

Lovett, most likely baseball’s first true hold out, spent the rest of his life in Providence and died in 1928.