Tag Archives: Cal Ewing

Coast League Stories

5 Dec

Abe Kemp began working at newspapers in San Francisco in 1907, when he was 14 years old, and spent the next 62 years primarily at The San Francisco Examiner where he covered his two passions, baseball and horse racing.

kemp

Abe Kemp

Over the years he collected a number of stories of baseball on the West Coast.

Catcher Tubby Spencer hit just .127 in 21 games for the San Francisco Seals in 1913. Contemporaneous reports said Spencer wore out his welcome with manager Del Howard in Portland. Years later, Kemp said the decision to let Spencer go was made during a team stopover in Sonoma County, and not by Howard. Kemp said he saw:

“Spencer staggering down the highway at Boyes Hot Springs one morning and President/Owner Cal Ewing yelling at him, ‘Hey, ‘Tub,’ where are you going?’

“’I’m going for a little air,’ yelled back Tub.

“’Then keep going,’ shouted Ewing, ‘because you will need it. You’re through.’”

tubbyspencer

Tubby Spencer

Harry “Slim” Nelson was a mediocre left-handed pitcher and weak hitter who played a half a dozen years on the West Coast. Kemp told of witnessing him “hit a home run through the screen at Recreation Park” in San Francisco when Nelson was playing for the Oakland Oaks.

“(He) became so excited when he reached second base that he swallowed his cud of chewing tobacco. Later on the bench, Slim was asked how the home run felt and he replied ‘it would have felt a whole lot better if I could have cut it up into singles to last me the season.”

Kemp said when George Van Haltren made the switch from Oaks player to Pacific Coast League umpire in 1909 he told Kemp and umpire Jack McCarthy “umpiring would be easy…because he had so many friends,” throughout the league. Kemp said McCarty responded:

“You mean you had so many friends. You haven’t any now.”

McCarthy appears to have been correct. Van Haltren was criticized throughout his short time as a Coast League umpire, and became a West Coast scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates the following two seasons. Van Haltren made one more attempt as an umpire, joining the Northwestern League staff in 1912; he was no more successful, lasting only one season after incurring the season-long wrath of Seattle Siwashes owner Dan Dugdale who demanded Van Haltren not be retained for the 1913 season.

George Van Haltren

Another player who had similar training habits to Tubby Spencer, according to Kemp, was Charles “Truck Eagan. Kemp said he was with Vernon Tigers manager Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray one day when Eagan played for the Tigers near the end of his career in 1909:

“Eagan, suffering from the effects of a bad night (told) manager Hap Hogan he was suffering from an attack of ptomaine poisoning.

‘”What did you eat’ the artful and suspicious Hogan asked.

“Eagan scratched his head a minute, then said guiltily, ‘It must have been the (bar) pretzels and herring, Hap.”

“A Pork Jinx on the Club”

4 Mar

To mark the Oakland Oaks 1916 home opener, J. Cal Ewing, generally known as “The Godfather of the Pacific Coast League” presented Oakland Manager Harold “Rowdy” Elliott with a gift:  The Oakland Tribune said:

“Ewing gave to the Oaks a mascot in the shape of a real ‘rooter,’ a yearling pig, which was kept on the players’ bench throughout the game.”

The Oaks cruised to a 10-2 victory over the Portland Beavers in front 15,000 enthusiastic Oakland fans, and the superstitious among the ball club and their fans attributed the win to “Margaret,” the new mascot.

The Oaks played well in April, and were in first place until the end of the month, but by mid May they were 16-21, fifth place in the six-team league—and it was noticed that no one had seen “Margaret” for some time.

Rowdy Elliott with Margaret

Rowdy Elliott with Margaret

The Tribune was convinced the disappearance of the pig was responsible for the team’s decline:

“Suffering Pigs!  A Pork Jinx on the club!…The wrathful shade of a female porker is responsible for the Oaks’ slump.  Maggie the Pig was compelled to shuffle all her porcine coil to the accompaniment of roast apples and cranberry sauce, which is no nice way to treat an emblem of Good Fortune.”

The paper also noted that the club’s secretary also worked as a cook, and Ewing should have “had sense enough” to take that into account before presenting the team with a pig.

And, the paper composed a poem:

O Maggie, dear, and did ye hear

   The news that’s goin’ round?

The Oaks are losing day by day

   And soon they won’t be found.

They’ve ingestion badly.

   And they’re looking for the hook

They can’t play ball at all, at all

   Since you went to the cook.

It became a bit of a scandal.

The Oaks quickly denied that the pig had been eaten:

“They say the trouble is that they haven’t eaten her pigship.  Margaret was given to the ground keeper to preserve, and that personage refuses to produce the pig.”

Rowdy Elliott was quick to tell The Tribune the reason for the club’s slump had nothing to do with the team mascot.  He said the blame was clearly the result of another team’s mascot:

“Elliott says the Oaks’ slump can be attributed to no less a personage than Erasmus Pinckney Johnson.”

Johnson was the mascot for Frank Chance’s Los Angeles Angels—The Los Angeles Times said the young African American boy had been found, on Chance’s orders, in late April in order to break a week-long losing streak. The Times routinely described “the good luck charm” in the most racist terms.

Part of the “luck” Johnson brought was derived from rubbing the young mascot’s head.  Elliott claimed during the Oaks’ last series in Los Angeles he had rubbed the Johnson’s head “the wrong way.”

“Since that moment Rowdy has had little luck, winning only two games out of the last fourteen played.  Erasmus hasn’t been doing much for the Angles of late, for Chance’s crew has been in a slump, but he has at least succeeded in wrecking the Oakland club.”

Frank Chance

Frank Chance

So desperate were the Oakland fans for answers that The Tribune enlisted two prominent fans, an Alameda County Circuit Court judge and a local doctor to do a “psychological study of the team.”

“Judge Wells…has come to the conclusion that the team has worked itself into a jinx, and needs the aid of the pig mascot they had in the opening game to pull them through.  Dr. Halsey agrees that hits, pitching fielding and psychology and all may have something to do with it, but the real reason, according to the doctor, is that the boys are suffering from a nervous breakdown that followed shortly after seeing such an enormous crowd at the opening game.”

Things quickly got worse for the Oaks. Elliott was suspended for several days for throwing a ball at umpire Jack Doyle, and the team continued to lose in June, and then for the rest of the season.

At the end of July Elliott was sold to the Chicago Cubs, George “Del” Howard, who had purchased the club during the season, replaced him as the Oaks’ manager.

Oakland finished 1916 in last place with a 73-136 record.  Chance’s Angels overcame their May slump and easily won the championship with a 119-79 record.

Margaret the pig was never heard from again.

A Bobby Eager Story

23 Feb

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake left the city in ruins; it also put the future of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in serious jeopardy.

Years later PCL veteran Bobby Eager wrote about the league in the aftermath of the quake in The San Jose Evening News:

“Did you ever hear of a bunch of ballplayers owning their club in a league?  I never did, but I came within an ace of being a part owner at one time.”

Bobby Eager

Bobby Eager

Eager, then with the Los Angeles Angels, said the league was “pretty much on the bum,” and while leagues in the East had agreed to help the PCL financially, there was no sense of how the league would operate.

Jim Morley, the owner of a large pool hall in Los Angeles, owned and managed the Angels, but said Eager:

“(H)e got cold feet early.  He practically dismissed the team and said he was through.”

San Francisco Seals owner James Calvin (J. Cal) Ewing, whose deep pockets kept the league afloat, was “furious at Morley, quitting like a hound.”

Local boxing promoter “Uncle” Tom McCarey was asked by Ewing and league president Eugene Bert to take control of the club, but when that failed they reached out to a local businessman.

“They got a fellow by the name of Gil Meade to take over…It was decided to play the San Francisco games at Oakland, and go on with the league and give the fans some ball.  Of course it was an uphill fight all around with no grounds at Frisco.

“Meade shot his $5,000, which was his bankroll, in a couple months and he was done and out.”

At the time, The Los Angeles Examiner said Meade left as a result of the league failing to award him a large block of stock in the team that was promised.

Eager said after Meade departed the team was called together by field manager and Captain Frank “Pop” Dillon:

Frank "Pop" Dillon

Frank “Pop” Dillon

“He first wanted to know how much money we all had and we told him.  Then he laid before us his plans.  He showed us how we could take over the club by putting up three or four hundred dollars apiece.  He said we would not get any salaries that year but the next year he thought the club would pay big.  A few of the players (Eager included) were willing to take a chance but most wanted their salaries.  They were not gamblers.”

Dillon could not convince enough of the Angles and Eager’s dream to own a club died.

“The result was the league dug up (William Henry) “Hen” Berry who was running a little poolroom.  Hen’s brother (Clarence, who made a fortune in the oil and horse businesses) let him have enough to back the club the rest of the season which was about $8,000, but next year we won the pennant and Berry cleaned up big.  I know every stockholder who had a $100 share got a $40 dividend the next year.  If we players had taken the club we would have made just as much and might have started something new in baseball in the way of profit-sharing.”

Clarence, left, and William Henry Berry played for the amateur Selma (CA) Tigers in the 1890s

Clarence, left, and William Henry Berry played for the amateur Selma (CA) Tigers in the 1890s

Another “Hen” Berry story on Wednesday.

“Mr. Borchers has Merely made Excuses.”

12 Feb

After two arrests and a season-long suspension in 1889, and another arrest and stints with four teams in 1890, George Borchers seemed to have settled down.

The San Francisco Chronicle said in January of 1891 that he was “taking excellent care of himself and will be ready to play winning ball.”

George Borchers

George Borchers

From 1891 through 1893 he pitched in the Pacific Northwest and California League’s and seems to have stayed sober and out of jail.

He was essentially a .500 pitcher, with less than average control; when he was with the Los Angeles Angels in 1893 he walked 210 batters, hit 24 and had 17 wild pitches.

The Los Angeles Herald regularly noted Borchers’ wildness.  In his first appearance for the Angels in April of ’93 he walked six and hit two batters in the first inning, yielding four runs, and was removed in the second after another walk and two more hit batsmen.  After a 21-12 May victory against Stockton the paper said:  “Borchers did himself proud, allowing 13 men to walk to first base, 12 for base on balls and one for being hit.  How the Angels managed to win with him in the box is a marvel.”

From 1894 through the 1896 season he was a baseball nomad, playing for nine teams in six leagues, including a single, disastrous final major league appearance with the Louisville Colonels in May of 1895—he started a game against the Brooklyn Grooms, lasting just two-thirds of an inning, giving up a hit, three walks, a wild pitch and two runs—earning the loss as the Colonels went down 11 to 0.

Caricature of Borchers from The San Francisco Call

Caricature of Borchers from The San Francisco Call

Borchers was out of organized baseball in 1897 and it’s unclear what he was doing and where he was doing it, but he resurfaced the in 1898 as a minor league team owner.  The Pacific Northwest League, which folded after the 1896 season, was resurrected as a four-team circuit organized by Dan Dugdale and William Works.  Dugdale took the Seattle franchise; Works took Tacoma, a Spokane “newspaperman” named Hutchinson took that town’s team, and George Borchers was awarded the Portland club.

The league struggled, and Borchers was stripped of his franchise in early July.  The Tacoma Daily News explained the problem:

“George Borchers is beginning to look upon matters of baseball in a new light.  The (league) is holding an inquest on his official corpse this afternoon, sitting in Portland.  The chief is not to figure any longer as manager of the Portland baseball team…The trouble has all arisen over Borchers’ treatment of his men.  He has not distributed cash since the opening of the season and as he is still short on the amount due the league will be displaced…Mr. Borchers has merely made excuses.”

Borchers returned to California and appeared in games for three Pacific Coast League teams during the remainder of the season: Santa Cruz, Stockton and Watsonville.

Borchers would continue, on and off, as a player until 1903—including a season as player/manager with the California League’s San Jose Brewers in 1899.  But in 1901 he made headlines when he became embroiled in a scandal.

 

Borchers was pitching for the Oakland Commuters in the California League, and failed to show up for a game he was scheduled to pitch on May 1.  The San Francisco Call said:

“George Borchers, the star pitcher of the Oakland baseball nine, has disappeared…None of the missing player’s close friends in baseball circles can explain why he decamped so suddenly nor where the absent ballplayer has gone.”

“Some of the Oakland players are injecting a bit of romance into the story, the names of some of the fair enthusiasts of Golden Gate being introduced as the possible cause for the handsome pitcher’s sudden leave taking.  But none seem to be able to tell with certainty the story that he has fallen victim to the charms of some fair one.”

The plot thickened the following day when Oakland owner J. Cal Ewing hired a private detective to track the missing pitcher, and an angry father went public.

J. Cal Ewing

J. Cal Ewing

While Ewing’s investigator hunted, an Oakland real estate developer named Don Miller told The San Jose Evening News his daughter Grace had disappeared:

“(Miller) is convinced that she has gone with the ballplayer.  Neither Borchers, who has a wife in Portland, not Miss Miller has been seen since last Monday, when they boarded an eastward-bound train.”

Miller told the paper:

“I am endeavoring to locate them now, and if I ever find the man who has broken up my home he’ll need nothing but a coffin.  I’ll find them yet.”

After a week, he turned up in Ogden, Utah, pitching for that town’s club in the Inter-Mountain League.  The Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel said:

“He says he left simply to better his position and justifies his action on the ground that the California League takes players who skip out on other leagues and the local players are in competition with them all the time.  He thinks he had the right to skip out likewise and better his position.  He claims the reason he left secretly was because he feared Ewing would cause him trouble.

“He was worried over the account that he had left with Miss Grace Miller, but denied it.”

The paper noted that while Borchers wife remained in Portland, he had received two train tickets from the Ogden club.

Eventually, the truth came out.  Borchers returned to California to secure a divorce from his wife and married the former Miss Miller.  He spent 1902 playing and managing for a team in Salt Lake City, and managing a bowling alley there.

The second Mrs. Borchers became ill in November of 1902 and died two weeks later from peritonitis.

His last scandal behind him, Borchers married again and operated a large dairy in Sacramento until his death in 1938.

 

 

The Color Line and the PCL

22 Jan

In the spring of 1913 Walter “Judge” McCredie brought Rube Foster’s Chicago American Giants to the West Coast to play five games against his Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League (PCL).  The American Giants won four of the games and also split a two-game series against Nick Williams’ Portland Colts of the Northwestern League.

Walter "Judge" McCredie

Walter “Judge” McCredie

When McCredie made arrangements with Foster for the American Giants to return west in 1914 it created a stir in the PCL.  Joe Murphy of The San Francisco Call wrote:

“Some of the magnates and officials of the Pacific Coast League are bitterly opposed to Manager Walter McCredie’s plan of playing a series of games with the Chicago Giants, an aggregation of colored ball players.  The Beavers played the colored tossers during their training trip last season and were badly beaten by them.”

Murphy said “no official action can be taken against McCredie to prevent his team engaging in games with the dusky tossers,” but said several prominent PCL figures “do not mince any words” regarding the games.

Dan Long, who had managed the San Francisco Seals from 1908 through 1912, was now a West Coast scout for the Chicago White Sox and booked the team’s 1914 spring games in California.  Long said he turned down a request for the Sox to play the American Giants:

“Colored players are barred in organized baseball, and I can see no reason why white players should even meet them in exhibition games, if they are barred by the baseball powers.  Baseball is a sport that must be elevated, and it is up to the managers and players to keep it free from criticism.

“I never arranged or played in any games with colored players, and I doubt Mr. (Charles) Comiskey, owner of the White Sox, would allow his team to play with the colored men.”

James Calvin “Cal” Ewing, the owner of the San Francisco Seals, who was one of the PCL’s founders and a former president of the league, was equally as outspoken:

“If I were a player working for McCredie, and he asked me to go out and play against these colored fellows, I would refuse to do it for him.

“There are two classes I bar from playing on my ball park—colored tossers and bloomer girls.  They will never use any park I control.”

Cal Ewing

Cal Ewing

Allan T. Baum, entering his third season as the PCL’s president said he was against the games, but was powerless to act because the games were played outside of the league’s regular season:

“I have no jurisdiction in the matter, but my sentiments are strongly against it.  I am sure that there is not another manager in the league who would consider playing with the Chicago Giants.”

Lester Aglar Walton, managing editor of the East Coast’s largest circulation black newspaper, The New York Age, responded to “the vicious article” from the West Coast:

“Joe Murphy, in an heroic effort to start needless agitation relative to the drawing of the color line in organized ball, does a journalistic stunt which, while humorous for the absurdities contained therein, is a curious document for the lamentable ignorance which this writer and other show on the subject.”

Walton said the color line was borne solely out of fear:

“The cowardly practice of using the color prejudice subterfuge as a cloak to hide the white man’s fear in open competition with the colored man in various avenues of endeavor will someday lose its effectiveness.  The truth of the matter is some white managers and players are not opposed to playing colored teams solely on account of color, for if their aversion was based purely on color the Indian would not be permitted to join organized baseball, nor would teams of the two major leagues journey every winter to Cuba to engage in games with native players, many of whom are as black as the ace of spades.”

“Manager Walter McCredie is the only game white man in the Pacific Coast League.  He is not afraid to permit his team to meet a strong colored nine and fight it out on the diamond.  There would not be a word of complaint today about the beavers and Giants playing a series of exhibition games had not the colored team given undisputed evidence of its supremacy last spring.”

Lester Aglar Watson

Lester Aglar Watson

McCredie claimed he wasn’t making a social statement.

He told The Portland Oregonian he needed to schedule the games in order to compete with teams like San Francisco in the regular season.  The Seals, he said, were preparing for the season by playing the White Sox, and taking in between $15,000 and $20,000 in the process:

“Yet they rave because I book the Beavers for four or five games against the Negroes, although they furnish the only stiff opposition available.

“It is to laugh.  Likewise the statement that playing against the Negroes hurts baseball.  It might, were we to consider them on an equal footing because of the strong race prejudice that exists here on the Coast. But the games are nothing more or less than training affairs.”

Despite the objections, Foster and his team arrived on the West Coast in March of 1914.

The rest of the story on Friday

Ovie, Oh, Ovie

17 Jan

Arm trouble ended Orval Overall’s career early.  When he left baseball for the first time after the 1910 season he had a 104-66 record, won 20 games twice, and went to the World Series four times with the Chicago Cubs (3-1 in eight appearances).

orvie

Orval Overall

After a visit to John D. “Bonesetter” Reese, a self-trained Youngstown, Ohio-based practitioner of alternative medicine, who while popular among many of the era’s major stars, was condemned by medical professionals.  Despite being “healed,” Overall was unable to come to terms with the Cubs and sat out the 1911 season.

Remaining in his native California, Overall worked at the gold mine he owned with Cubs teammate Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown in Three Rivers and pitched for Stockton team in the “outlaw” California League.  His success in California during the fall of 1911 gave the Chicago press hope he would return to the Cubs in 1912.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“Orval Overall’s arm seems to get better every time he pitches a game.  Last week the former Cub whom Manager (Frank) Chance is trying to persuade to return to the West Side team struck out seventeen men twirling against the All-Sacramento team for Cy Moreing’s Stockton outlaws.”

Later in the fall Overall hurt his arm again.  He returned to “Bonesetter” Reese in December and told The Youngstown Vindicator he was finished with organized baseball, and would “Confine himself to his mining business and with occasional independent ball.”

Overall pitched a few games for a semi-pro team in Visalia; thirty minutes from his mine.

Orville Overall

Orville Overall

In February of 1913, he petitioned the National Commission to reinstate him and declare him a free agent because the Cubs “omitted to send him a contract” in 1912.  The commission granted his reinstatement but returned him to the Cubs.

Overall pitched in just 11 games, with a 4-5 record and .3.31 ERA; he was released to the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in early August.

Overall’s return to the West Coast was an event, and Seals fans even attempted to tell the club when the popular pitcher should make his first start.  The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“Orval Overall, the famous California pitcher, who built up such a reputation with the Chicago Cubs, will pitch for San Francisco today against Venice (Tigers).  A petition signed by sixty Seal fans was sent to (Manager) Del Howard yesterday, with the request that Overall’s first appearance be billed for Sunday afternoon.”

Howard chose to start Overall the day before the fans requested, nevertheless, the game drew a crowd of nearly 10,000 and The Chronicle said: “they gave him a reception long to be remembered.”

Overall gave up five runs, and was lifted in the ninth inning for a pinch hitter.  The Seals lost 8-5 in 11 innings.  He ended the season 8-9 with a 2.14 ERA.

At the end of the 1913 season, Overall announced his retirement.  San Francisco fans were not convinced and said The Chronicle said he “was being counted upon to be one of the mainstays in the box.” But chose to take a job with Maier Brewing Company “in the South” (Venice, CA—still a separate city from Los Angeles at the time.  The Maier family also owned the PCL’s Venice Tigers).  San Francisco fans were not convinced, and there was speculation for the next four months that Overall would return.

Reporter L. W. Nelson, The San Francisco Call’s resident poet composed a verse to try to coax the pitcher back:

Ovie, Oh, Ovie

Ovie, oh, Ovie, come home to us now,

For the season is soon to begin,

And we need you, yes, badly, to show the folks how

The Seals, when they have you, can win!

Ovie, oh, Ovie, sign up with us quick,

Put your name on the contract from Cal,

For we know you can make all others looks sick,

If you pitch for our Seal crew, old pal!

Ovie, we know it is your fondest dream

To work down in Venice for Maier,

Midst the Milwaukee water, the lager and steam—

We know you would like it down there!

Ovie, oh, Ovie, sign up to play ball,

And don’t try your beer selling skill,

For the job in the brew’ry won’t help us at all,

But your pitching most certainly will!

(“Cal” was Seals owner James Calvin Ewing)

As late as March 1914 Overall hinted that he might return, but the pleas and the poem did not sway him.

He left the beer business after a year to manage his family’s large lemon and orange growing operation near Visalia, which would make him quite wealthy.  He became a banker and dabbled in politics and competitive trap shooting.  He died in 1947.

Overall (center) was president of the California-Nevada Trap Shooters Association (1918)

Overall (center) was president of the California-Nevada Trap Shooters Association (1918)