Tag Archives: Buck Ewing

“Fifty bucks, Buck”

10 Feb

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune called Buck Ewing “the greatest of them all,” after Ewing died in 1906.

Fullerton said, “Ewing stories will be told for generations,” and shared one about a bet with Mike “King” Kelly.

”It happened back in the days when the players of the different clubs were friendly and met at night to discuss and argue over their games instead of sulking separately and discussing their woes.”

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Ewing

He said that day, Kelly had stolen two bases “off the king of catchers,” and Kelly, “kept harping on it until Buck was a bit nettled.”

Ewing told Kelly:

“Well Mike, if Danny Richardson plays second tomorrow, I’ll bet you $50 you don’t steal a base.”

Kelly took the bet, and Fullerton said the following day “three or four of us who knew of the bet sat together in the stands.”

 

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Kelly

Kelly singled in the third inning:

“(O)n the first ball pitched; he tore for second with a fair start. Buck threw. The ball went like a shot, straight towards the bag, perhaps three feet up the line towards first, a perfect throw to catch any runner—except Kelly. Richardson got the ball five feet ahead of the runner. He was stooped over and swung his body quickly to tag Mike, he expecting the King to make one of his famous twisting slides. Instead, Kelly leaped, jumped clear over Richardson, and lighted flat on his back on top of second base.

“Above the roar of the crowd arose Kelly’s voice, and what he said was this:

“Fifty bucks, Buck.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things: Clark Griffith

3 Feb

Griff out West

Griffith loved to tell stories about his time playing in Montana, one story the “truthfulness” of he “vouched” he told The Cleveland Leader in 1912:

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Griffith

“The scene was at Butte, back in the nineties (1892), and the story resulted from a baseball game between Missoula and Butte at the latter town. There were a lot of gamblers in Butte who wanted to back the team, so about $5000 was bet on the game.”

Griffith was on the mound for Missoula:

“Everything went along nicely for a while, with a monster crowd on hand hollering for everything it was worth for Butte to win.

“In the ninth inning Missoula was leading by one run, but after two were out Butte got a man on third and then the catcher let the ball get away from him. It rolled a short distance, but when the catcher went to retrieve it one bug leaned over the stand with a six-shooter in his hand. ‘Touch that ball and you are dead,’ he shouted. And the catcher stood stock still in his tracks.”

Griffith said the players “were scared stiff” and watched the tying run cross the plate.  He claimed Missoula scored in the 10th and won the game 5 to 4.

Griff on Lajoie

In 1900, Griffith and Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune were watching Napoleon Lajoie take ground balls during practice:

“He looks less like a ballplayer, handles himself less like an infielder, goes at a ball in the strangest style, and gets them more regularly than any fellow I ever watched. He fights every ball he picks up, scoops them with without looking, and keeps me nervous all the time.

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Napoleon Lajoie

 

“Every time a grounder goes down to him, I want to bet about three to one he will fumble, but he always gets them. He has some system for making the ball hit his hands which I don’t understand.  And I’ll tell you a secret: He has a system of making his bat hit a ball which drives pitchers to drink.”

Griff’s All-Time Team

In “Outing Magazine” in 1914, Griffith presented his all-time team:

P: Amos Rusie

P: Walter Johnson

P: Cy Young

P: Christy Mathewson

C: Buck Ewing

1B: Charles Comiskey

2B: Eddie Collins

3B: Jimmy Collins

SS: Herman Long

LF: Bill Lange

CF: Tris Speaker

RF: Ty Cobb

Griffith’s most surprising pick was choosing Comiskey over his former teammate and manager Cap Anson. He told the magazine:

“(Comiskey) was the first man to see the possibilities of the position. Before his day a first baseman was only a basket. He stood glued to the bag, received the balls thrown to him, but never moved away.”

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

He said Anson, “Although a great player, was not Comiskey’s equal.”

He chose Long over Honus Wagner he said, because “Hans has a barrel of ability, but he’s not such a foxy player as many persons think, but he is a wonderful batter.”

Griffith called Jimmy Collins, “The most graceful fielding third baseman the game has ever seen,” and said Tris Speaker ”is the most remarkable outfielder that ever lived.”

As or his chosen catcher, Griffith said:

“Buck Ewing never has known an equal as a catcher. I call him the best ballplayer the world ever has known. The only man who approached him was Mike Kelly of the old Chicago White Sox, Kelly too, was a wonder, but not quite equal to Ewing.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #39

15 Jan

A Useful Skill

Vernon Deck hit .297 over parts of seven seasons for eight teams in the low minors from 1927 to 1938.

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Deck

His one particular talent allowed him to be a featured member of the House of David club; barnstorming with the religious sect in the mid-1930s, and again briefly in the early 40s.

Deck’s talent was described in the HODs press materials as:

“The only man who can put a regulation baseball in his mouth.”

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Deck demonstrating his skill

Advice for Baseballists

In 1884, The St. Louis Critic shared a list of “Advice for Baseballists.”

Among their suggestions:

“Try to hit the ball before it passes beyond the range of your bat.”

“If it hits you on the end of the nose do not try to knock it off.  Have a little patience and it will fall off.”

“If it should become embedded in your brain, go on with the game as if nothing had happened.”

“Don’t let the bat slip from your hands when you miss the ball unless you are certain it will hit the umpire.”

“Never knock a ball out of the catcher’s hands. Most catchers don’t like it.”

“If you can manage it, try to send the ball among the spectators. They like to be noticed.”

“Always sneer at the pitcher of a rival club. It makes him feel good. If he plugs you in the eye, you must take it as a joke.”

“When you make a good strike, throw your bat in the air, look at the spectators, appear perfectly cool, and get put out.”

Baseball has Peaked, 1885 Version

In 1885, “An old baseballist,” told The Rochester Post-Express:

“(T)the game has lost interest to spectators.”

The reason?

“(B)y reason of the fact that it has become a mere battle of the pitchers.”

The “old baseballist” predicted:

“The American game of the future will be base ball with no pitcher. The ball will be sprung from a ground trap, and the best batters and fielders will win on a uniformly delivered ball for both sides. This will reawaken the old-time interest in the game.”

Another Useful Skill

In 1896, The Cincinnati Post reported that a local resident named Alvin Pietz had a sent a letter to Reds manager Buck Ewing requesting that Ewing get him appointed to the National League umpire staff—citing a particular skill”

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Ewing

“I am very familiar with the rules and I am noted for the way I enforce discipline. I should like to tackle the Cleveland team the first day, and if I don’t control the game something will drop. I am a hypnotist, like Billy Earle, so you can see I can control most of the bullies.”

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Billy Earle

The paper concluded Pietz’ chance of being appointed remained “decidedly slim.”

“So, Great Buck Ewing is Dead”

21 Aug

“So, great Buck Ewing is dead.”

That was Sam Thompson’s reaction when told by The Detroit News that Ewing had died at age 47.

Ewing was less than five months older than Thompson, who had come out of retirement to play in eight games for the Tigers just two months earlier.

“They’re slipping away, aren’t they, those fine old fellows who by their head work and lovable natures made the game what it is today! It was such men as Ewing, (Tim) Keefe, (Roger) Connor and a score of others who inspired me.”

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Ewing

Although roughly the same age, Ewing was in the major leagues for five seasons before Thompson made his debut:

“As a boy I used to read of the great Ewing, and I set him up as my ideal. He and Connor were always my idols.  Later, when I began to play in the big leagues and (later) went to Philadelphia, I roomed with Roger (in 1892), my acquaintance with—while it in no way lessened my regard for him—sort of pulled him from the pedestal. Ewing, however, I never became so closely attached to, and there was always the baseball idol worship about the man for me.”

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Thompson

Thompson said when he did interact with Ewing, it added “to this setting him higher as the ideal” of a baseball player:

“He was such a whole-souled, lovable chap. His wonderful work on the diamond in no way affected his disposition. He was always modest and retiring.”

And he said:

“There never lived a greater catcher or all -around ballplayer.

“Mike Kelly? Well, Kelly was a grand ballplayer all right, but he was the cunning player, the fellow with startling tricks. Ewing, on the other hand, was the thinker, the deep student of the game. His was the inside game. No player ever lived who could play the same kind of game that Kelly put up, but Ewing was of the different type. He was the more consistent thinker.”

Thompson said he believed Ewing was “the first catcher to get the infield signaling down t anything like a system,” and:

“He was the pioneer of present-day headwork behind the bat. He always had us hugging the bases. He devised tricks that are now common in baseball. They were figured out long before the game started. Kelly’s greatness, on the other hand, lay in his marvelous ability to grasp a situation quicker than lightning.”

He said when he played “with the old Detroit team we used to anxiously await who going to catch,” for the Giants:

“If it was (William ‘California’) Brown there was a sigh of relief. Not that we were belittling the work of Brown; it was simply that Ewing was so much better. He dazzled us. He had the infield under his control all the time. He had tricks of pulling us off the sacks that were new and we did not know what to do. That old Detroit bunch could win with Brown catching almost any day in the week, but with Ewing it was different.”

One man was responsible for New York’s success:

“It was Buck Ewing who won all those championships for the old Giants.

“Tim Keefe stood out as a wonderful pitcher. It was Keefe and Ewing. That old battery was the talk of the country.

“And yet Tim Keefe told me time and again, when they were at their best, that without Buck Ewing he would be no better than any other fairly good pitcher.

“’It’s all Buck,’ he would say, ‘he’s the boy who steadies me and gets the work done.”

Thompson’s first major league game—July 2, 1885–was against the Giants, with Keefe on the mound (although he misremembered Ewing being behind the plate that day—it was Pat Deasley):

“I don’t recall whether I did anything in the game (Thompson replaced Gene Moriarty in right field after the latter was in the 5th inning, he was 1 for 2 and scored a run) but I do remember we won. We beat the Giants 4 to 0.

“That victory did more for me among the players than any one thing. They called me their mascot. New York had been beating them right along.”

 

Thompson said when he left the Phillies in 1898, he nearly played for Ewing:

“I had left Philadelphia and had decided to give up the game. Ewing was then managing the Reds and wrote me asking if I would come to Cincinnati. He said he thought he could put through a deal whereby I could sign up all right.

“I was sorely tempted, as I had always wanted to play in Cincinnati. I had always been given a good reception there and had played some of my best games there.

“I didn’t accept, however. I thought that I might not do as well as I had, and I didn’t want to show poorly after all the good work I had done in that city.”

“The only Great Game in the Country”

7 Aug

Smiling Mickey Welch spent his post-baseball years operating various businesses in Holyoke, Massachusetts, but visited Boston and New York often—until he eventually moved back to New York.

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Welch

In 1908, Welch, “one of the most famous pitchers of half a generation ago,” talked to Tim Murnane, the baseball writer for The Boston Globe, on a trip to visit his former teammate Tim Keefe in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

“’It certainly seems to me,’ said Welch a few days ago, ‘That the players of today have nothing over the stars of the past. I’m not at all prejudiced and I believe that I am at least fairly competent to judge, as I have kept right up with the many changes that have been made since I left the business.”

Murnane said of Welch:

“Mickey finished his career in the baseball world 15 years ago [sic, 16], but he still retains his deep interest in the great national game, and each season always plans to come to Boston or to go to New York to watch the work of the present-day players and compare them with those of his time, when by his superb work in the pitcher’s box he assisted in winning a couple of pennants and world championships for Gotham.”

Welch, who had just sold his salon in Holyoke, “to engage in the milk business with his oldest son, Frank,” asked Murnane:

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Welch, with wife Mary and seven of the couple’s nine children

“Where, for instance, is there today any greater baseball player than Buck Ewing was? Ah, he was the greatest of ‘em all—indeed the grandest that the game has ever known. Universally acknowledged by all followers of the sport as the king of catchers, he also shone in other departments, for he was a hard natural hitter, could run bases with the top-notchers and could play any of the infield or outfield positions as well as any of the regulars holding down those berths.”

Welch said he and Ewing—who died in October of 1906–were “the warmest of friends for years and that friendship dated from the days when as a member of the Troy team, I first became acquainted with him while he was with the Rochester club (in 1880).”

Welch said from the day Ewing joined Troy later that season and after they went to New York together when the Trojans disbanded after the 1882 season:

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Ewing

“Buck and I were chums and for all that time used to room together.”

Murnane said that Welch, who “always made it a point to take the very best care of himself,” was in “as splendid condition,” as he was when he pitched:

“One of his favorite hobbies is walking, and on every pleasant day in the fall and winter he and Jack Doyle, also a famous old-time ball tosser, may be seen setting from the Welch home to take a jaunt to Mt. Tom, which is between Holyoke and the neighboring town of Northampton.”

Some nights Murnane said the two went out in the evening and “they sit for hours and talk over the good old days when they were players of mark in the fastest company.”

After all of those talks with Doyle about their days in baseball, he maintained:

“I’m throwing no bouquets at myself but have there ever been any better pitchers than Tim Keefe, John Clarkson and Charlie Radbourn? I say ‘no’ emphatically. Then look at the rest. Dan Brouthers has never been excelled as a batsman and I don’t believe he ever will be. He could land a ball farther and with less apparent effort than any ballplayer that ever swung a bat. I faced him many a time and I could never discover that he had any weakness.

“(Cap) Anson was also a fine hitter, as were Deacon White, Hardy Richardson, Jim O’Rourke, Mike Tiernan, (Ed) Delahanty, and George Gore, to say nothing of a dozen more whom I might mention. Jerry Denny has never been excelled as a third baseman, and Johnny Ward is the headiest man that has ever played shortstop. ‘Dickie’ Johnston, pride of Boston for years, and Curt Welch of the old St. Louis Browns and (Jimmy) McAleer of the Clevelands were easily the most brilliant outfielders of the past.”

Welch also believed “the best club in the history of the game,’ were the 1888 and 1889 Giants—Welch was 26-19 1.93 in ’88 and 27-12 3.02 in 1889 for those New York teams.

“Buck Ewing was the captain, and a magnificent one he was too. Buck used to catch nearly all of the games.”

Welch said of the team:

“We won the pennant rather easily in the National League in ’88, and fully as easily beat out the St. Louis Browns for the world’s flag. But the next season of ’89, we had to go some right up to the very last notch to pull away from the Bostons in the National League, the championship not being decided until the final day of the season when we won in Indianapolis while the Bostons lost in Pittsburgh. Then we met the Brooklyns, champions of the American Association. In a series of nine games, we won five”

Welch got two details wrong; while 1889 was the first pennant decided on the season’s final day and Boston did lose to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, the Giants beat the Cleveland Spiders that day; also, in the series the Giants won six of the nine games with Brooklyn.

Welch vowed to Murnane, “I shall never lose my interest,” in “the only great game in the country.”

 

“One of the Greatest Shortstops the Game has ever Known.”

26 Dec

Ed McKean had played 12 years in Cleveland before being part of the mass player transfer to the St. Louis Perfectos before the 1899 season.  The career .302 hitter was struggling, and according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer, he requested his release:

“Ed is very sensitive to criticism, and the papers have been roasting him lately, until he got into such a nervous state that he couldn’t play ball a little bit.”

Buck Ewing said he was “forced out of the game,” and “one of the greatest shortstops the game has ever known.”

McKean’s release opened the door for Hall of Famer Bobby Wallace’s switch to shortstop.

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Edward [sic Edwin] J. McKean

McKean, like his former teammate Cupid Childs had a large build, and according to the St. Louis papers needed to shed a few pounds to get back into playing shape.

The St. Louis Republic said McKean intended to spend the next several months preparing to “play in Cleveland” the following season.

McKean, said The Buffalo Courier, had a “peculiar stand at the bat,” which “often balked” pitchers

“Instead of striking the conventional side or profile position in the batman’s box.  McKean gave the twirler a three-quarter view of his burly figure.”

The paper also said before becoming a ballplayer McKean had made a name for himself as a wrestler—contemporary news accounts occasionally referred to him as “Sandow,” because of his physique; a reference to Eugen Sandow the “father of modern bodybuilding”

McKean filled his time away from baseball by becoming a wrestling and boxing referee in Cleveland—if he was looking for a job that shielded him from criticism, he chose wrong.  McKean served as referee for at Cleveland’s Business Men’s Gym, between Art Simms and Tommy White in December on 1899.  The St. Louis Republic described the situation:

“Sandow Ed McKean, the burly grounder-copper, who secured a divorce from St. Louis on the ground of incompatibility of temperament, finds life as a referee of pugilistic encounters no less a bed of roses than playing short before a critical local crowd…Experts and common spectators asseverate that White was a winner by a mile, but Sandow fumbled the points of the game, let the strikes registered by White go over without calling them, and said it was a draw.  The people yelled for a rope, and McKean thought he was again staggering at short in League Park…It was not the hated yet harmless ‘Take him out!’ that was heard, but ‘Hang the robbing rascal.’”

McKean was accused of “being in cahoots” with Simms’ manager, who the paper said was a former Boston sportswriter who McKean knew from his playing days.

White hailed from Chicago, and one of his hometown papers The Inter Ocean was even harsher in their assessment of McKean.  The paper claimed:

“(White) took Mr. Art Simms in hand and administered probably the most terrific beating that had been handed out to a pretentious lightweight in recent years…(but) McKean, who used to be a fair sort of infielder, under Patsy Tebeau, called the bout a draw.”

The Chicago paper not only questioned McKean’s integrity but claimed that three of the four recent fights he had refereed “have been marked by decisions almost as ludicrous.”

Curiously, both papers failed to mention that Simms had participated in three of the four fights in question—coming away with a 2-0-1 record for the three bouts (Simms was 33-14-9 for his career and 5-0-1 in fights officiated by McKean.)

Throughout the 1900 season McKean’s imminent return was reported—usually bound for the Cleveland Lake Shores in the American League.  The Sporting News said in June:

“McKean is hard at work practicing to get into the game.  He goes to League Park every day, and the way that he works indicates that he is not out there for fun.”

Cleveland used six different shortstops during the 1900 season, but McKean was never signed.  Published reports that he would sign with the New York Giants never materialized either.

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McKean

His sitting out the entire season might have saved a life—while working at his bar The Short Stop Inn on St. Clair Avenue and Seneca (present day Third Street) in Cleveland in August of 1900, he, according to press reports, stop a potential lynching.

The Cleveland News said a news boy threw a rock at a black man, and when the man confronted the rock thrower:

“(Twenty) news boys took up the trouble. They followed the negro threatening him until he turned on them (near McKean’s saloon).”

Another confrontation took place in front of the saloon and “a volley of stones were fired at” the man who then ran into McKean’s business.

“Other newsies joined their companions until 150 boys were standing in front of the place.  Their noise attracted a crowd of men and all became excited when they explained that a negro had attacked them.

“’It’s nothing but a boys fight,’ said McKean, trying to quiet the crowd.  But he did not succeed.  Men and boys collected stones and clubs, and the situation was becoming dangerous when McKean took the negro out the back way while employees guarded the front entrance.  McKean boosted the man over the back fence and he made his escape through Noble Street.”

McKean spent all of 1901 managing his bar, working as a referee—without any further charges of crookedness—and training wrestlers; Although The Cleveland Leader reported in the spring that McKean was again working out at League Park and had “many offers from the American League.”

He finally returned to baseball in 1902, signing to manage and play first base for the Rochester Bronchos in the Eastern League.

McKean hit .314 but the club struggled all season and The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said McKean had for some time “wanted to be released from the team” to attend to his bar.  His wish was granted on August 18—with the team in sixth place with a 42-53 record, he was replaced by Hal O’Hagan—the team went 15-21 under O’Hagan.

McKean returned to his bar, managing wrestlers, and umpiring amateur games in 1903 and 1904, all the while, promising another comeback.  Several newspapers reported he was either considering, or on the verge of joining various minor league clubs as manager.

He returned again in 1905.  McKean signed to manage and play shortstop for the Colorado Springs Millionaires in the Western League. He struggled at the plate—hitting .191 in 22 games–and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said his arm was gone and he was “slated for the junk pile.”  Released by Colorado Springs in June, McKean appeared with seven more teams through the 1908 season: the 44-year-old called it quits for at the end of the 1908 season.

McKean refereed the occasional fight, organized semi-pro teams around Cleveland, and maintained his bar, which was the meeting place for baseball, boxing, and wrestling fans.  At some point he appears to have closed his bar and gone to work for Cleveland boxing promoter

When he died in 1919, The New York Sun noted that McKean was:

“(O)ne of four big league shortstops who had a life’s average batting .300 or better.  Jack Glasscock, Hughie Jennings, and Honus Wagner were the others, and it might be added that this quartet were classed as the greatest shortstops in the game.”

“It was Hard for me to get Used to Some of the Boneheads”

4 Oct

Most baseball writers and dozens of baseball figures caught the twenty greatest “fever” during 1911 and 1912.

After Frank Baker hit .375 with two home runs and five RBIs, leading the Philadelphia Athletics to their 1911 World Series victory over the New York Giants, Grantland Rice opined in The New York Mail:

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Frank Baker

“The twenty greatest ballplayers, picked exclusively for this column by John McGraw and the Giants—John Franklin Baker.”

The Washington Times said Germany Schaefer was asked to put his twenty greatest list together shortly after the end of his best season in 1911:

“Write ‘em out and send ‘em to me,’ the newspaperman suggested.

“Germany did.  The list read as follows: ‘Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, and Germany Schaefer.’”

Germany Schaefer

Schaefer

The Philadelphia Record asked Connie Mack for his twenty greatest list, Mack refused but told the paper “if his life depended on any game of ball,” he would start Chief Bender:

“Do you know, Bender has never yet failed me in a crisis?  Whenever there is a game that the fortunes of our club hinge on I’ve sent in the Chief and he has delivered every time.”

Billy Hamilton, who made a couple of the lists that circulated during 1911 and 1912, told The Boston Globe he was upset no one had named his former teammate Marty Bergen:

“Why, I can’t see how you can possibly leave him out…He and Buck Ewing were in a class by themselves among the men I have seen behind the bat.  I have never seen anything like that snap throw of Martin’s, with the ball always on the runner.”

Wild Bill Donovan then put Bergen on the list he chose for The Detroit News:

  • Ed Walsh
  • Jim Hughes
  • Christy Mathewson
  • Duke Farrell
  • Marty Bergen
  • Hal Chase
  • Fred Tenney
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Eddie Collins
  • Jimmy Collins
  • John McGraw
  • Hughie Jennings
  • Herman Long
  • Ty Cobb
  • Bill Lange
  • Ed Delahanty
  • Willie Keeler
  •  Fielder Jones
  • Fred Clarke
  • Bobby Wallace

Donovan told the paper of Ed Walsh:

“If Walsh were worked about once in four days, instead of being asked to go in three times a week as often is the case now, I believe that he would be unbeatable.”

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Ed Walsh

In lauding Farrell, his teammate in Brooklyn, Donovan took a swipe at many of the catchers he worked with during his career:

“The big Duke was a wonderfully heady man, and the only catcher who ever lived on whom it was impossible to work the hit and run game.  Any time Duke called for a waste ball, you could bet your next paycheck that the runner was going to go down.  After pitching to man of his intelligence it was hard for me to get used to some of the boneheads that I encountered later.”

One more list—attributed to several papers and sportswriters at the time—appeared first in The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, and chronicled the “Twenty greatest blunders in baseball:”

20blunders

As the craze was dying down, The Chicago Tribune said Ted Sullivan, the man who I credited with discovering Charles Comiskey—and Comiskey’s favorite scout, would put together “a list of the twenty greatest baseball actuaries of all time were he not a bit doubtful about the other nineteen.”

“The Twenty Greatest Fever”

2 Oct

In November of 1911, an interviewer asked industrialist Andrew Carnegie to name the 20 greatest men of all time.  Within days, Carnegie’s list was parsed and picked apart, and led to what The Chicago Daily News called “The twenty greatest fever.”

Lists of the twenty greatest everything appeared in papers across the country for the next year.  Of course, the question was put to many baseball figures and led to a number of interesting lists and quotes.

One of the first to weigh in was Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, in The Daily News:

  • Buck Ewing
  • King Kelly
  • Cap Anson
  • Charlie Ferguson
  • Fred Pfeffer
  • Eddie Collins
  • Honus Wagner
  • Jack Glasscock
  • Harry Lord
  • Ty Cobb
  • Fred Clarke
  • Willie Keeler
  • Tom McCarthy
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Charles Radbourn
  • Bobby Caruthers
  • Christy Mathewson
  •  Clark Griffith
  • Ed Walsh
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Charles Comiskey

Comiskey said Eddie Collins, who would acquire for $50,000 three years later, was the best current player:

“He’s got it on all the others in the game today.  I don’t know that a good lawyer went to waste, but do know that a mighty good ballplayer was found when Eddie decided to give up the technicalities of Blackstone for the intricacies of baseball.   There isn’t much use saying anything about Connie Mack’s star, everybody knows he is a wonder as well as I do.”

Cy Young was asked by The Cleveland News to name his 20 greatest:

“I guess we’d have to make a place for old Amos Rusie, ‘Kid’ Nichols should be placed on the list too, ‘Kid’ forgot more baseball than 90 percent of us ever knew.  And there was Bill Hutchinson, just about one of the greatest that ever lived.  You can’t overlook Walter Johnson, and, by all means Ed Walsh must be there.  The same applies to Mathewson.  Then comes my old side partner, Bill Dinneen.  Bill never was given half enough credit.”

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Amos Rusie

Young rounded out the battery:

“I’d pick old Lou Criger first of all the catchers.  George Gibson of the Pittsburgh team, to my way of thinking, stands with the leaders.  Give the third place to Oscar Stanage of Detroit, and I feel safe in saying that I have chosen a really great catcher.”

Young said:

“Doping out the infields is comparatively easy.  Without hesitation I would name Hal Chase, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Hans Wagner, Bobby Wallace, Jimmy Collins, Herman Long, and Charlie Wagner.”

Young said of his infield choices:

“You can’t get away from Bobby Wallace for a general all round gentlemanly player, he has never had a superior at shortstop unless that man was Honus Wagner.  Maybe Johnny Evers is entitles to consideration, but I never say him play.”

As for his outfielders, Young said:

“Ty Cobb’s equal never lived, according to my way of thinking, and I doubt if we will ever have his superior.  Say what they will about Cobb, but one who is true to himself must acknowledge his right to rank above all other players.

“I chose Cobb, Fred Clarke of Pittsburgh, Tris Speaker of Boston and Bill Lange for the outfield, and regret that the limitations prevent me from choosing Jim McAleer.  McAleer was the best fielder I have ever seen.  I say that with all due respect to Cobb and other competitors.

“Tris Speaker is a marvel, and only because of his playing at the same time as Cobb is he deprived of the honor of being the greatest outfielder…Many fans of today probably don’t remember Bill Lange.  Take my word for it, he was a marvel.  He could field, bat, and run bases with wonderful skill.  No man ever had the fade-away slide better than Lange.”

The reporter from The News noticed that Young had, “chosen his twenty greatest players without mentioning his own great deeds,” and asked Young whether her felt he belonged on the list.  Young said:

“Oh, I’ve heard a whole lot of stuff about myself as a player, but I was but ordinary when compared to the men I name as the greatest in the game.”

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Cy Young

When Ty Cobb presented his list of the 20 greatest current American League players to The Detroit News, the paper noted his “Very becoming modesty” in leaving himself off of his list.  Cobb’s picks were:

  • Ed Walsh
  • Bill Donovan
  • Walter Johnson
  • Jack Coombs
  • Vean Gregg
  • George Mullin
  • Billy Sullivan
  • Oscar Stanage
  • Ira Thomas
  • Hal Chase
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Eddie Collins
  • Jack Berry
  • Owen Bush
  • Frank Baker
  • Harry Lord
  • Sam Crawford
  • Clyde Milan
  • Joe Jackson
  • Tris Speaker
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Ty Cobb

Cobb included Bobby Wallace, Russ Ford, and Heinie Wagner as honorable mentions.

More of the lists and quotes from “The twenty greatest fever,” on Thursday

“Baseball has Kept me so Happy”

27 Sep

Like every ballplayer of his era, Jim O’Rourke spent a lot of time in his 1910 interviews with Tip Wright of The United Press comparing the current game to his days on the diamond:

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Jim O’Rourke

“They talk about their speed and curves these days, but the raise ball little (Candy) Cummings—he weighed only 115 pounds—used to throw is a lost art.

“The present day men can’t do it.  The nearest thing is a little upshot, which (Joe) McGinnity of Newark through last year.  You simply couldn’t hit Cummings’ raise ball squarely.  It was bound to climb the face of the bat, and the best you could get was a little pop-up.”

O’Rourke told Wright, “The greatest catcher I ever knew was ‘Buck’ Ewing,” of his former Giants teammate, he said:

“He led in batting, running, catching, fielding and base-stealing, and he could think quicker than any other man I ever saw in a game.”

As for pitchers:

Amos Rusie leads them all, and he promised to make  a record no pitcher in baseball, unless he were a genius could outdo; but poor old Amos disappeared!  I think Tim Keefe was a great curve pitcher, but for endurance I have to hand the laurels to Charles Radbourn, of the Providence Nationals.  In 1883, when his team was after the pennant, Radbourn pitched 72 games [sic 76] 37 of which were consecutive, and of the 37 games 28 were victories (Radbourn was 48-25, Providence finished third).

“If you ask me the difference between the pitchers of today and the pitchers of former days, I would say that the pitchers today have the cunningness not to go into a box oftener than once or twice a week, while the old timers used to think nothing of pitching six or seven games a week.”

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“Old Hoss” Radbourn

O’Rourke saved his greatest praise for his Boston Red Stockings teammate Ross Barnes.  He told Wright:

“Before telling you about Ross Barnes as a batter, I want to tell something about his work at second base…Barnes had long arms that he could snap like a whip.  His throws from second to the plate were the most beautiful I have ever seen.

“His speed was so tremendous that the ball did not seem to have any trajectory at all and it landed in the catcher’s hands at the same height it started from.”

O’Rourke said, Barnes was “even more wonderful,” at the plate:

“It was Barnes’ wonderful third base hits that caused the rule to be made that a ball, even if it struck within the diamond, must be declared a foul if it rolled outside the baseline…He had a trick of hitting the ball so it would smash on the ground near the plate just inside of the third base line, and then would mow the grass over the line (in foul territory)…No third baseman could get away from his position quickly enough to stop one of Barnes’ hits.”

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Barnes’ “third base hit”

O’Rourke mentioned two other “wonderful hitters” he saw “when a mere boy;” Dickey Pearce and Tom Barlow:

“I have seen these men with little short bats, which I believe were later ruled out of the game, make the wonderful bunt hits which we have taken to calling a modern institution.”

O’Rourke said both became “ordinary players” after they were no longer able to use the shorter bats, “not realizing that a bunt could be made with a long bat.”

And, like all old-timers, O’Rourke knew how to “fix” the modern game:

“The one big question in baseball today is how to make the game more interesting.”

O’Rourke advocated for removing the foul strike rule to increase hitting and wanted to “place the pitcher farther away from the plate.”

O’Rourke summed up his forty plus years in the game to Wright:

“Baseball has kept me so happy and healthy that there is not a minute of my past life I would not willingly live over.”

 

 

“This Player has More Honor Than 99 Business men out of 100”

17 Sep

James Palmer O’Neill was the President of the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys—one of baseball’s worst teams of all-time.  With mass defections to the Pittsburgh Burghers of the Players League, the club won four of their first six games, then began a free-fall that ended with the team in eight place with 23-113 record.

O’Neill, who held an interest in the club, but bought controlling interest from Owner William Nimick before the 1891, kept the team afloat during that disastrous 1890 season, and according to The Pittsburgh Dispatch, never lost his faith in the prospects of National League baseball in the city right through the final road trip:

“(The team) landed at Jersey City, bound to play the last series of the disastrous season…They had great difficulty in raising the  money to pay ferryboat fares to Brooklyn and things were awfully blue.  It was raining hard when I met Mr. O’Neill later that morning at Spalding’s Broadway store, and the prospects of taking the $150 guarantee at the game in the afternoon were very slim…(reporters) asked Mr. O’Neill about his club and the outlook for the League.

‘”Never better!  Never Better! We shall come out on top sir, sure.  We’ve got the winning cards and we mean to play them.’”

The paper said O’Neill’s luck changed that day as “he wore his largest and most confident smile, and used the most rosy words in his vocabulary…such pluck compelled the fates to relent.”

The rain stopped and O’Neill was able to leave Brooklyn “with $2000 or more in his clothes,” to meet expenses.

Before the 1891 season, O’Neill told Tim Murnane of The Boston Globe, just how difficult it was to run a National League club during the year of the Brotherhood:

“I think I could write a very interesting book on my experience in baseball that would be worth reading.  How well I remember the opening game in Pittsburgh last spring, and how casually President Nimick was knocked out—and O’Neill laughed heartily at the thought of Nimick’s weakening

“After witnessing the immense crowd of nearly 10,000 people wending their way to the brotherhood grounds, Nimick and I went to the league park.  As we reached the grounds, Nimick walked up to the right field  fence and looked through a knot hole. ‘My God,’ said he, and he nearly fell in a heap at my feet,  ‘Can it be that I have spent my time for 10 years trying to build baseball up in this city and the public have gone entirely back on me?’”

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O’Neill trying to catch a championship, 1891

O’Neill said:

“I looked and could see about two dozen people in the bleachers, and not many more in the grand stand (contemporary reports put the attendance at 1000).  Nimick and I then went inside the grounds, and when the bell rang to call play we started up the stairs to our box, carrying the balls to be used in the game.  When about half way up, the president staggered and handed me the balls.  I went up to throw one out for the game.  Nimick turned back, went home without seeing the game, and was not in humor to talk base ball for several weeks.”

O’Neill then told how he managed to keep the team going for the entire season while Nimick planned to fold the team:

“When he came around about four weeks later it was to disband the club, throw up the franchise and quit the business.  I talked him into giving me an option on the franchise for 30 days.  When the time was up I put Nimick off from time to time, and as I didn’t bother him for money he commenced to brace up a little.  I cut down expenses and pulled the club through the season, and now have the game on fair basis in Pittsburgh, with all the old interests pulling together.”

Despite the near collapse of the franchise—or maybe because the near collapse allowed him to get control of the team—O’Neill had good things to say about the players who formed the Brotherhood:

“I have great admiration for the boys who went with the Players’ League as a matter of principle, and will tell you one instance where I felt rather mad.  About the middle of the season, Captain Anson was in Pittsburgh and asked me if I couldn’t get some of my players to jump their contracts (to return to the National League).  “All we want,’ said Anson, ‘is someone to make the start, and then (Buck) Ewing, (King) Kelly, (Jimmy) Ryan, (Jim) Fogarty and other will follow.’

“I told Anson that I had not tried to get any of my old players back since the season started in, but that Jimmy Galvin was at home laid off without pay, and we might go over and see how he would take it.  The Pittsburgh PL team was away at the time.

“We went over to Allegheny  , where Galvin lived, and saw his wife and about eight children.  They said we could find him at the engine house a few blocks away, and we did.  Anson took him to one side and had a long talk, picturing the full downfall of the Players’ League and the duty he owed his family.  Galvin listened with such attention that it encouraged me.  So I said: ‘Now, Mr. Galvin, I am ready to give you $1000 in your hand and a three year contract to return and play with the League.  You are now being laid off without pay and can’t afford it.’

“Galvin answered that his arm would be all right in a few days, and that if (Ned) Hanlon would give him his release he might do business with me, but would do no business until he saw Manager Hanlon.  Do what we would, this ball player, about broke, and a big family to look out for, would not consent to go back on the brotherhood.”

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Galvin

O’Neill said he told Anson after the two left Galvin:

“’I am ashamed of myself.  This player has more honor than 99 business men out of 100, and I don’t propose any more of this kind of business.’ I admire Galvin for his stand, and told Anson so, but the Chicago man was anxious to see some of the stars make a break so the anxious ones could follow.”

O’Neill, after he “lit a fresh cigar,” told how Murnane how he negotiated with his players:

“At the close of (the 1890) season (George “Doggie”) Miller came to me and wanted to sign for next year, as he had some use for advance money.  I asked him how much he thought he was worth, and he said $4000 would catch him.

‘”My goodness son, do you what you are talking about?’ said I, and handing him a good cigar asked him to do me a favor by going home, and while he smoked that cigar to think how much money was made in base ball last season by the Pittsburgh club.  I met Miller the next day at 3 o’clock by appointment, and he had knocked off $800, saying he thought the matter over and would sign for $3200.

“’Now you are getting down to business,’ said I.”

O’Neill sent Miller home two more times, and after he “smoked just for of my favorite brand,” Miller returned and signed a three year contract at $2100 a season.

O’Neill said:

“You see that it always pays to leave negotiations open until you have played your last card.”

Murnane concluded:

“For his good work for the league and always courteous treatment of the players’ league, Mr. O’Neill has the support of not only his league stockholders, but such men as Hanlon, John M. Ward, and the entire Pittsburgh press.  He has the confidence of A.G. Spalding, and is sure to give Pittsburgh baseball a superior quality next season.”

Reborn as the Pirates under O’Neill, the club improved slightly in 1891.  O’Neill, who according to The Pittsburgh Press, lost as much as $40,000 during the 1890-91 season “a blow from which he never recovered financially,”  left Pittsburgh to start the Chamberlain Cartridge Company in Cleveland; he returned to Pittsburgh and served as president of the Pittsburgh Athletic club—which operated the Pirates—from 1895-1898.

He died on January 6, 1908.  The Associated Press said in his obituary:

 “(He was) known from coast to coast as the man who saved the National League from downfall in 1890, ‘the brotherhood year.’”

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