Tag Archives: Buffalo Bisons

Luke Easter, Sausage King

31 May

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Between the 1952 and ’53 season, Cleveland Indians first baseman Luke Easter (r) went into the sausage business with his brother-in-law Raymond Cash (l).  The business, Ray’s Sausage still operates in Cleveland.  In a Jet Magazine article  Easter said they only managed to sell 20 pounds their first week, but by January of 1953 they were selling 2,300 pounds a day.  The article said Easter had “taken out a license to place his sausage on sale” at Indians games.  He said:

“I can make this business go by hitting lots of home runs (but) even if our sausage makes a million dollars I won’t quit baseball, I’ll stay in baseball as long as I can walk.”

During the fourth game of the 1953 season Easter was hit by a pitch, breaking a bone in his foot, as a result the 37-year-old, who had hit 31 home runs with 97 RBIs in 127 games the previous season, dropped to 7 and 31 in 68 games;  his career with the Indians ended after only 6 games in 1954.  But while Easter didn’t hit “lots of home runs” in Cleveland after starting the company, he did stay in baseball for almost “as long as (he could) walk.”

Playing primarily in the International League with the Buffalo Bisons and Rochester Red Wings, Easter remained in baseball until 1964, hitting more than 235 homes runs.

Easter was killed in a hold up in Cleveland in 1979.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer editorialized the day after his death:

“For all of his huge size and great strength, Luke Easter was a gentle man.  It is a contradiction to the way in which he lived that his life should be ended violently.

“He had courage.  He played first base for the Cleveland Indians from 1949 to 1954, a time when it was far from easy to be a black athlete in the major leagues…He was shot dead yesterday at age 63, victim of a cowardly attack from ambush outside a bank office .

“It is a wound to the community.  Luke Easter, athlete and gentleman, will be missed.”

Luke Easter, 1949

Luke Easter, 1949

Jim Lillie

28 May

The Sporting Life described Jim Lillie as “one of the most sensational of right fielders,” and “the rival of Mike (King) Kelly in the position.”  The New Haven Register said he earned his nickname “grasshopper”  as a result of his “agility in the outfield.”

His career was brief, and his short post-baseball life was tragic.

The 21-year-old Connecticut native was said to have been discovered by “Orator Jim” O’Rourke “on the lots and commons of New Haven.”  He played his first professional game on May 17, 1883 with the Buffalo Bisons in the National League.  Lillie appeared in 50 games, hitting .234. In November his hometown newspaper, The New Haven Register, got his position wrong (saying he was used primarily as a catcher—he caught in two games), but said “his record was highly credible,” and that he had already signed for the 1884 season.

Jim Lillie

Jim Lillie

Lillie spent two more seasons in Buffalo; leading the team in games played both seasons.  In 1884 he led National League outfielders with 41 assists; his 40 errors also led the league.  He committed 33 errors the following season; he hit .223 and .249 for the Bisons.  When the team disbanded after the 1885 season, his contract was assigned by the National League to the Kansas City Cowboys, who had been admitted to the league on a trial basis.

He had, for him, a typical season in the field: 30 errors (third in league), 30 assists (second) and 199 putouts (third).  He also had one of the all-time worst performances at the plate; hitting .175 in 426 at bats, with only nine extra base hits (all doubles), he finished the season with 82 total bases—for identical .197 on base and slugging percentages.

The 30-91 Cowboys were dissolved in February of 1887, with the players being sold to the league.

Lillie remained in Kansas City, and had the best season of his career with the Cowboys, now in the Western League.  He also met an 18-year-old woman named Nellie O’Shea, the daughter of a wealthy Kansas City contractor and said The Kansas City Star, “a young lady highly spoken of.”

Lillie, playing primarily in left field, hit .369; a hitter’s haven, the Western League leader, Jimmy Macullar hit .464, and Lillie’s average was good for 34th best in the league.

On December 29, 1887 Lillie married Nellie O’Shea.

He joined the Fort Worth Panthers in the Texas League around June 1 of 1888, but left the team in less than two weeks.  The Dallas Morning News said he was released, The New Haven Register said he left Texas to be with his wife and go to work for his father-in-law, “(Lillie) promised her to settle down,” and planned on returning to baseball for the 1889 season.

He never had the chance to return to the game.  On September 10, 1888, the Lillie’s child was stillborn.  Two days later, a fire broke out in their home.  The Associated Press said:

“(Nellie) was making preparations for supper when the accident occurred…She had moved the gasoline stove too near the cooking stove and in filling the reservoir with gasoline some of it became ignited.  The flames at once enveloped her…(Lillie) entered at that moment or (she) would have been burned to death…Lillie did not notice his own condition until after he had summoned  a physician.”

Mrs. Lillie lingered for nearly three weeks before dying of her injuries on October 4.  Lillie, who had attempted to remove his wife’s burning clothes, had his hands burned “down to the bone,” and initial reports said he’d have to have some of his fingers amputated.  There’s no record of how well his hands recovered, but he never played baseball again.

He stayed in Kansas City and according to The Kansas City Star “managed (Nellie’s) estate.”  Within two years he would contract typhoid fever, and he died November 9, 1890.  The Star said his last words were to a friend at his bedside:

“I am afraid, Charlie, it is three strikes and out.”

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.

“It is Not as Though they were Men of High Honor”

1 Apr

As the 1879 season drew to a close, The Chicago Inter Ocean lamented that the fourth place White Stockings, despite “the receipts of the year,” would only “have between $2,000 and $3,000 on the right side of the balance-sheet.”

According to the paper, the Cincinnati Reds would lose at least 8,000; the Boston Red Sox and Troy Trojans were both $4,000 in the red, the Cleveland Blues and Buffalo Bisons lost “a little,” while the National League Champion Providence Grays made “a little.”  The Syracuse Stars were “completely wiped out;” the franchise would be replaced by Worcester in 1880.

What was the reason for the lack of profits?  The Inter Ocean said it was those over paid players,:

“The folly of paying men from $1,000 to $1,800 for six months work.  It is not as though they were men of high order, who had spent large sums of money in training for a high profession…On the contrary, the best of them are nominally farmers or mechanics, who at their legitimate business are worth from $30 to $40 a month, and that is all they worth at baseball.”

Hall of Famer Jim O'Rourke hit .348 in 1879, "worth from $30 to $40 a month."

Hall of Famer Jim O’Rourke hit .348 in 1879, “worth from $30 to $40 a month.”

After all, The Inter Ocean said, “a majority of them are simply ‘hoodlums.’”’

“There is no league player who is a good investment, simply as player at over $2 a day and expenses…For a captain, a man of good executive ability, more might reasonably be paid.  The executive capacity should demand an extra remuneration above the manual labor supplied by the ordinary player.

“Players are now so plenty that there is no need of the usual insane rush for engagements.  This season has shown that cheap men can do no more nor no less than high-priced men—that is, fall all to pieces and lose everything.”

1879 National League Champion Providence Grays

1879 National League Champion Providence Grays

Elton Chamberlain

17 Dec

Elton Chamberlain (for the last thirty years always referred to by the nickname “Icebox,” but that name was not in common use for him contemporaneously; he was called Iceberg fairly often. ) was primarily known for two things:  A righthander, he pitched ambidextrously in at least one game, and on May 30, 1894 he gave up four home runs and a single to Bobby “Link” Lowe—17 total bases, a record which stood for 60 years.

He was also embroiled in one of the early controversies over gambling while playing for the Cincinnati Reds in 1893 when he was accused by his manager, Charles Comiskey, of throwing the first game of a July 4 doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“Pitcher Elton Chamberlain of the Cincinnatis  is accused of throwing the game to the Philadelphias yesterday morning.  He is charged with being in league with Joe Brill, a local gambler.”

The story said Comiskey, notified of the allegation:

“(D)ecided to investigate (and) after a consultation with a club official, put Chamberlain in for three innings to watch him. Chamberlain’s pitching was very bad and be was taken out of the game in the third inning.”

Chamberlain’s teammates Jim Canavan and Silver King quickly came to his defense.  King said he thought he would be the starting pitcher, not Chamberlain, until just before the game started; therefore Brill and Chamberlain could not have conspired.

Chamberlain said of the story:

“It was cruel and cowardly to try to ruin a man like that.”

The Sporting Life ripped The Enquirer and Comiskey:

“This is not the first time The Enquirer has accused ball players of dishonesty, and once it got into and lost a libel suit with Tony Mullane for accusing him of crookedness. Comiskey in his time has also made similar charges and Insinuations against guiltless players.”

The New York Herald said “The whole affair was so silly,” and seemed to have Comiskey in mind with this statement:

“The club official who suspends a player on the charge of dishonesty should be made to prove his charges or himself be forever barred from further connection with any club.”

The Herald also recommended that steps be taken to officially clear Chamberlain and punish those who accused him:

“The National Board should at once take up pitcher Chamberlain’s case and investigate it beyond the limit of doubt and when they reach the facts, whatever the facts; someone should be made to suffer.”

Cincinnati’s management, Comiskey included, quickly repudiated the charges that appeared in The Enquirer, although from all indications they were directly responsible for the charges being reported in the first place.

Elton Chamberlain

Elton Chamberlain

The headlines of July faded by August; there was no official investigation and no one was “made to suffer.”

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

Chamberlain finished the season with a 16-12 record and his 3.73 ERA led the Reds’ pitching staff.  The following year was his last full season in the Major Leagues.

In 1895 he played for the Warren (PA) franchise in the Iron and Oil League.  The team won the pennant behind the pitching of Chamberlain and another former Major Leaguer, Tom Vickery.

They also had a 21-year-old shortstop named Honus Wagner.

No statistics survive for that season, but forty years later Wagner, writing for The Pittsburgh Press, said Chamberlain “Seldom lost a ballgame for us,” and that Chamberlain and Vickery “gave out plenty of their knowledge to us youngsters.”

Chamberlain bounced around minor and semi-pro leagues after one last Major League trial with the Cleveland Spiders in 1896.  In 1898 he accepted, then rejected, an offer to serve as a National League umpire.  After turning down the umpire job Chamberlain, a Buffalo native, said he would become a professional boxer and challenged a local middleweight named Jack Baty to a fight that would include a $500 side bet.  Baty’s fight record indicates the bout did not take place.

Chamberlain attempted to resume his baseball career with the Buffalo Bisons in the Western League in 1899—by July he was released and The Sporting Life reported that Chamberlain, a rabid horse player “is once more following the races.”

Chamberlain Died in Baltimore in 1929.

Chamberlain and Comiskey as teammates with the St. Louis Browns.  Chamberlain is 5, Comiskey 8.

Chamberlain and Comiskey were also teammates with the St. Louis Browns. Chamberlain is 5, Comiskey 8.

“Champ” Fertsch

5 Oct

A bullet nearly ended Edward “Champ” Fertsch’s career before it really got started.

Fertsch was born in Moorestown, New Jersey (birthplace incorrectly listed as Reading, PA in Baseball Reference) in 1874. The 5’ 10” 175 pound righthander played with the Carlisle Colts of the Cumberland Valley League in 1895, then pitched for Salisbury in the unaffiliated Peach Tree League in Maryland and Taunton in the New England League—records are incomplete or nonexistent for these seasons.

Fertsch joined the Reading Coal Heavers of the Atlantic League in 1898 and played two seasons, winning 14 games in 1899.  In 1900 Fertsch split time between New Castle in the Interstate League and Buffalo Bisons in the then minor league American League.  Fertsch’s contract was purchased by the Brooklyn Superbas, but he never had the opportunity to report the following spring.

That fall Fertsch was hunting with a friend, as the friend climbed a fence his gun discharged and Fertsch was hit the left arm.  Initially the arm was to be amputated, but Fertsch implored doctors to save it.

Assuming his career was over Brooklyn released Fertsch, but he sufficiently recovered to rejoin the Coal Heavers for the 1901 season.

According to the Reading Eagle “Fertsch cannot use the limb very well in delivering or batting, but it does not seem to hinder his twirling.”

“Champ” Fertsch

No records survive for the 1901 season, but Fertsch pitched well enough coming off the shooting to earn another shot in the Eastern League; splitting time with the Providence Grays and the Jersey City Skeeters Fertsch posted a 17-11 record.

Fertsch remained in the Eastern League for the next four seasons (no statistics survive for 1902 or ‘03), after 9-10 and 11-14 seasons in 1904 and ’05, Fertsch played the next four seasons with the Lancaster Red Roses and Reading Pretzels in the Tri-State League.

Again no complete records are available for those years, but Fertsch was frequently referred to in the Eagle as Reading’s and the Tri-State’s “Highest paid professional ballplayer.”

Fertsch was plagued by arm injuries after returning to the Tri-State and retired at the close of the 1909 season.  He became an umpire in the Tri-State League in 1910, but only served for one season because of a league rule change which no longer allowed umpires to be residents of one of the Tri-State club’s cities.

Fertsch again attempted to pitch for Reading in 1911, but only appeared in one game.

After baseball Fertsch was considered one the best bowlers in Pennsylvania.

He died in Reading in 1964.

“The Phlinging Pharmacist”

15 Aug

In addition to having one of the best names in the history of organized baseball, Phifer Fullenwider had one of the best nicknames also.

A minor league pitcher for 13 seasons, Fullenwider went to spring training with the New York Giants in 1912 after a 26-9 record the previous season for the Columbia Commies in the Sally League.

Phifer Fullenwider

A Pharmacist in the off season, Fullenwider was a fan favorite in Buffalo, where he pitched four full seasons and part of a fifth for the Bisons in the Eastern League, including a 20-win season in 1913.

The Buffalo fans and sportswriters tagged him with the sobriquet “Phifer Phullenwider the Phlinging Pharmacist.”

Fullenwider pitched until 1923 compiling a record of 192-135.  Born in Rowan, North Carolina December 13, 1886, after his playing days he returned to North Carolina where he died in Durham on June 15, 1982.