Tag Archives: Brooklyn Grays

The Pursuit of Elmer Foster

9 Sep

Elmer Ellsworth Foster was the talk of the Northwestern League in 1887.

His career as a pitcher had lasted just one season; in 1884, while pitching for the St. Paul Apostles, he snapped a bone in his arm while throwing a pitch.

Elmer Foster, 1887

            Elmer Foster, 1887

After he recovered, he returned the following year as an outfielder and second baseman with Haverhill in the Eastern New England League and hit .309.

The following spring, The Sporting Life’s Haverhill correspondent said the New York Metropolitans “have taken Elmer Foster from us.”

Hitting just .184 and, as The Sporting Life put it “reckless at the bat,” Foster went back to Haverhill in August.

In 1887, he returned to Minnesota, this time as centerfielder for the Minneapolis Millers.  The club was owned by his brother Robert Owen Foster, a successful dealer of musical instruments, who with his partner J. E. Whitcomb, had taken over operations of the Millers in January.

The Northwestern League of 1887 was a hitter’s paradise owing mostly to the single-season experiments with the four-strike rule and walks counted as hits—nineteen players with at least 350 at-bats hit better than .350—and Foster led with a .415 average and 17 home runs.   While his performance with the bat was noted, he received an equal amount of publicity for his great fielding.

Throughout the season, Minnesota newspapers reported that Foster’s contract would be sold to a major league team—the Indianapolis Hoosiers were the most frequently mentioned—but the deal never materialized.

When the season ended, The Philadelphia Times said Foster was in high demand:

“During the past week agents from nearly every League and Association (club) have been to Minneapolis to secure (Foster) for next season.  (Horace) Phillips of Pittsburgh; (Gus) Schmelz of Cincinnati; Ted Sullivan, agent for Washington; (Emery “Moxie”) Hengel agent for Detroit; (Charlie Hazen) Morton, agent for (A.G.) Spalding, and agents for the Brooklyn, Metropolitan, and Baltimore Clubs have tried to get him.

(John) Day, of New York, sent him this message:  ‘Multrie on the way to Minneapolis.  Make no promise until you see him.’  Boston also wired him for his terms.  (Horace) Fogel of Indianapolis arrived one night and had Foster in tow all the next day.  The bidding of all these clubs has been going on briskly, until now he is offered exorbitant figures by all the clubs.”

Foster called the fight for services a “circus;” it also turned into a controversy, with two teams claiming to have signed him.  The Saint Paul Globe said:

“The circus he speaks of is a curious one, but he is sublimely unmindful of the part he took in it.  The rules of the baseball covenant prohibit the signing of players until Oct. 20…Manager Fogel of Indianapolis approached Foster before that time and made a verbal contract with him, but Manager (Jim) Mutrie, of New York, took him out to Delano (Minnesota), and after midnight  (on the 20th) got his signature.”

Jim Mutrie

                       Jim Mutrie

Years later, Ted Sullivan, who was perusing Foster on behalf of his Washington Nationals, described Mutrie’s method to sign Foster as a kidnapping:

“Jim Mutrie of New York (Giants) grabbed the great fielder Foster on the streets of Minneapolis…bound and gagged him, threw him into a cab and brought him ten minutes out of the city, held him there and dined and wined him until midnight…then compelled him to take $1000 advance money and a contract of $4500 (various other sources put Foster’s salary at $2400, and $4000).”

Foster, it turned out, didn’t simply have a “verbal contract” with Fogel and Indianapolis when he disappeared with Mutrie, but had, as The Sporting News said, accepted “a draft for $100,” from Fogel at the time the two agreed to terms.  Fogel and Indianapolis owner John T. Brush told The Indianapolis News and The Indianapolis Times that there was “a written agreement” between Foster and the club.

Foster’s wife gave birth to a daughter during the height of the controversy.  He told The Globe:

“If she had been a boy I would have named him Mutrie Fogel, in memory of the baseball managers I have been having a circus with.”

In the end, Indianapolis acknowledged that the agreement with Foster, whether written or verbal, was entered into three days before the legal signing date of October 20 and National League President Nick Young awarded Foster to the Giants.

Foster never had success at the plate during his brief major league career; he hit just .187 in 386 at-bats over parts of five seasons.  But Mutrie called him “(O)ne of the best fielders in the country,” and Sullivan said of Foster’s time in the National League, “(H)e was a wonderful fielder in that league.”

Elmer Foster

      Elmer Foster

After he was released by the Giants, he played 31 games with the Chicago Colts in 1890 and ’91, but his brief stay with the club allowed his name to live on with fans long after his career ended.  One of the favorite subjects of Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, who called him “The rowdy of the rowdies,” Foster’s name was a staple of Fullerton’s stories for three decades after his career ended.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #10

21 Jul

Trash Talk, 1886

The Philadelphia Times reported in July of 1886 about a feud between two American Association pitchers; Brooklyn Grays rookie Steve Toole and St. Louis Browns star Dave Foutz:

“Steve Toole says Foutz is the ugliest player in the Association.  Foutz returns the compliment by saying that Toole is no pitcher, but his face paralyzes the batsmen.”

Dave Foutz

Dave Foutz

Steve Toole

Steve Toole

The National Convention—1867

The Nashville Union and Dispatch’s take on a decision which would reverberate for the next 80 years:

“Still Against The Negro—The National Convention of base-ball players in session at Philadelphia last week resolved that no club composed of persons of color, or having in its membership persons of color, should be admitted into the National Association.

“To show the significance of this action we may state that there were four hundred and eighty-one clubs represented in this convention including clubs from the following states:  Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon and Nebraska.  From which it is evident that the Northern base-ballists are opposed to Negro equality.”

Boss Schmidt—Throwing and Fighting

Charles “Boss” Schmidt is best known for leaving Ty Cobb with two black eyes and a broken nose in 1907 after Cobb slapped a black groundskeeper and choked the man’s wife when she attempted to intervene;  he also was a member of three pennant-winning Detroit Tigers teams (1907-1909).

Charles "Boss" Schmidt

Charles “Boss” Schmidt

During the era when several players received tremendous publicity for catching balls dropped from great heights. Schmidt received only minimal attention for an impressive throwing feat in 1909.

The Tigers were staying at Washington’s Arlington Hotel during an August series with the Washington Senators when Schmidt, according to The Associated Press:

“Charles Schmidt of the Detroit baseball team threw a 10-cent baseball from Vermont Avenue in front of the Arlington over the eight-story Shoreham Hotel (the one torn down in 1929, not the Omni Shoreham which was built in 1930 and is still standing), which faces on fifteenth Street.  He took a run, and the ball went up until it disappeared over the roof line of the hotel.  It was later found in Fifteenth Street.  Whether it cleared the building entirely or bounced from the roof is not known, but it was a splendid throw, for the distance from where Schmidt stood to Fifteenth Street is nearly 400 feet.”

shoreham

The Shoreham Hotel, Washington D.C., the eight story hotel Schmidt cleared with “a 10-cent baseball.”

Schmidt participated in two professional bouts in Fort Smith, Arkansas after the 1911 season—he won a six-round decision and participated in one four-round no decision.  While some thought Schmidt could potentially fight champion Jack Johnson (who some sources say he spared against during this period), it’s clear Schmidt never took seriously the idea of fighting Johnson.

In a letter later printed in The Detroit Times Schmidt told a friend:

“This white man’s hope bunk is the biggest joke ever put over on the public.  I admit I like the boxing game, but I have never even considered gathering a living from the roped arena.  I like to do just four things.  Play ball, fight, hunt and eat.  Boxing is all right for a little amusement when it’s too cold to play ball…As for this dope on my being the white man’s hope, somebody is loon, it sounds like a squirrel talking to a nut.

“I have joined the Tigers again, and mean to show by my playing that I am with the team heart and soul.  Whatever my personal opinions have been, whatever my playing is, whatever critics have said about me, no one can say that I have not given the Detroit team the best I have…I don’t know who this guy is who has been sending fight dope from Fort Smith about my challenging Jack Johnson, but whoever he is, he ought to get a job in New York.  He could sell J. Pierpont Morgan a nicely enameled brick without difficulty.

“Yours is peace, prosperity and pennants, Charlie.”

Despite being released by the Tigers before the beginning of the 1912 season, Schmidt remained true to his word that baseball, not boxing, was his sport of choice.  His big league was over, but he continued as a player and manager in the minor leagues until 1927.  He never fought again.

“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.”

Erastus Wiman’s Trophy

20 May

A trophy presented to the 1886 American Association Champions was created as a peace-offering to heal bitter feelings in the wake of one of professional baseball’s early controversies.

Erastus Wiman was a former Canadian journalist who had become a railroad, ferry and entertainment magnate on Staten Island.  Wiman, who promoted Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and a circus at his Staten Island Amusement Company, wanted to add baseball, at the adjacent St. George Cricket Grounds, to the entertainment offerings on the island in order to increase commuter traffic.

 

The St. George Cricket Grounds--home of the 1886-87 Metropolitans. The Giants would play a handful of home games there in 1889.

The St. George Cricket Grounds–home of the 1886-87 Metropolitans. The Giants would play a handful of home games there in 1889.

In December of 1885 he purchased the American Association New York Metropolitans from John Day for $25,000; Day also owned the New York Giants in the National League.

The other American Association owners claimed the sale was merely a scheme to take the Mets out of Manhattan and thus weaken the Association, and immediately expelled the team and began making arrangements to assign the team’s players to other organizations.

Erasmus Wiman

Erasmus Wiman

Wiman went to court in Philadelphia and was granted an injunction.  His new players stood with him and agreed not to seek contracts with other teams until the issue was resolved, and George F. Williams, the general manager of his company, accused American Association owners of being the schemers, telling The New York Times:

“The real motive was a scheme on the part of Charles Byrne, of the Brooklyn club.  He knew that a strong club on Staten Island would lessen the attendance at Washington Park, in Brooklyn, and besides this he was anxious to secure two of players (first baseman Dave) Orr and (outfielder James “Chief”) Roseman…the only way in which to gain his point was to act in concert with others who are also anxious to get the services of some of our men.”

Later in the month, Judge Martin Russell Thayer ruled that there was no merit to the American  Associations’ expulsion of the Mets, The Times said:

“(Thayer) sent the ‘Mets’ all the way around the bases, and landed them safely home in the association, there to stay as long as the organization holds together as an aggregation of baseball clubs.”

Despite the victory in court, bad feelings between Wiman and the other owners remained throughout the winter and spring.

In April Wiman announced that he had ordered a trophy, described by The Sporting Life as “solid silver, 26 inches high, representing a batsman in position to bat a pitched ball. The whole will be enclosed in plate glass case.”

Newspaper drawing of Wiman's Trophy

Newspaper drawing of Wiman’s Trophy

Various reports put the trophy’s value between $1,000 and $2,000.

According to a wire service article that ran in several papers across the country, Wiman ordered the trophy for two reasons:

“(F)irst, to show that he had no ill feelings towards the members of the association because of the bitter legal fight which he encountered on entering it, and second, as a stimulant to extraordinary exertion by the various clubs in order that they might possess so valuable a work of art.”

Wiman’s Metropolitans would never have any hope of winning his trophy.  They finished in 7th place in 1886 and 1887, never drew well on Staten Island, and disbanded at the end of the ’87 season.

Brooklyn’s Charles Byrne got the last laugh; he purchased the team’s remaining assets to protect his territorial control and acquired seven Mets players, including Orr, Darby O’Brien and Paul Radford, who helped lead the team to a second place finish in 1888.  O’Brien, Brooklyn’s captain, would lead the team to a championship in 1889

Wiman would quickly fall upon hard times.  By 1893, the man who was reputed to have been worth between $2 and $3 million, was nearly broke.  In 1894, he was arrested for forgery and embezzlement, and according to The Times “was locked up in the tombs (NYC’s House of Detention).”  Wiman was found guilty, but the conviction was reversed.

The Times said that despite attempts to start businesses “He never recovered his ability to engage successfully in business after these reverses…and he died a poor man”

There are no references to the trophy after an 1886 mention in The Sporting Life that it was presented to the St. Louis Browns.

Filling in the Blanks, Pearson, Minneapolis Millers, 1884

18 Apr

Baseball Reference lists “Pearson” as a pitcher for the Minneapolis Millers in the Northwestern League in 1884.

Edward Pool Pearson’s professional career was brief and ended dramatically.

Born in Waterloo, New York in 1859, Pearson attended Hobart College, where he studied mathematics.

He pitched three seasons with the Hobart team—his battery mate there was James Adelbert McCauley, who also made his professional debut with the Millers in 1884, and went on to play with the St. Louis Browns, Buffalo Bisons, Chicago White Stockings and Brooklyn Grays in the National League and American Association.

jim McCauley, Pearson's teammate at Hobart and with Minneapolis

jim McCauley, Pearson’s teammate at Hobart and with Minneapolis

Pearson was 5-7 with a 1.54 ERA in 13 appearances with the Millers when he took the mound to pitch against the Milwaukee Brewers on August 7.  According to The Associated Press:

“Pearson, the pitcher for the Minneapolis Club, while delivering the ball, broke his arm above the elbow.  It broke with a snapping sound that could be heard all over the diamond, the ball rolling along the grass to the Captain’s line.  Pearson uttered a loud cry of pain and fell to the ground.  He was immediately carried to a doctor’s office, where the broken bone was set…The accident will necessitate his retirement from the diamond, as he has no desire to ever play ball again.”

After the injury he  returned to Hobart, graduated in 1885 and received a Master’s Degree in 1889.  Pearson died in 1932.