Tag Archives: California League

“The most Superstitious man I ever saw”

18 May

Bill Phyle pitched and played infield in parts of four seasons in the National League with St. Louis, Chicago and New York and in minor leagues across the country from 1895 through 1909. In 1907, he told The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune about “The most superstitious man I ever saw.”

phyle

Phyle

The man was Tom Parrot, Phyle’s teammate in St. Paul, San Francisco, whom he also played against for several seasons in the Southern Association:

Phyle said “Tacks Parrott…is the limit,” and:

“He is a crank on batting and can tell you his batting average any time in the season, or for that matter, any time in the game. He carries a little piece of chalk in his shirt pocket and after each time at the bat he figures out his average on the bench.”

parrott

A 1902 caricature of Parrott 

Phyle said when they played together the second time in 1902:

“I roomed with Parrott in Frisco part of one season. I had taken a slump in my batting, and Parrott’s batting eye had also gone on vacation. He came to me one morning and, with much mystery in his voice, imparted the information that I was a ‘Jonah.’ That night after supper when I went up to my room, I found my trunk and all my clothes out in the hall. The landlady had to give me a new room. Parrott positively refused to room with me anymore, because he said it affected his batting eye.”

 

Phyle said Parrot was obsessed with improving his chances at the plate:

“If a man on a team got a new bat and was hitting well with it the next day, ‘Tacks’ would show up with the same kind of bat. He had a special trunk made to carry his bats and he always had it full. I have seen him go so far as use the same brand of tooth powder that another player used who was hitting well.”

He even imitated food choices, Phyle said, when Parrott was playing in the American Association, Mike Kelley, who played for the St, Paul Saints for several seasons, hit for the cycle one day, “Tacks” approached Kelley after the game and asked what he had for dinner the night before, Kelly said ham and eggs.

“(Parrott) turned up about supper time with a big ham under his arm and two baskets of eggs.  He wouldn’t eat anything for a week but hams and eggs.”

One day in San Francisco, Phyle said:

“The first two times up he got two safe ones. About the time he went to bat the third time the official scorer came down and sat on the bench with the players. ‘Tacks’ struck out. When he saw the scorer there he chased him off the field., declaring him responsible for his striking out.”

“He is a Disorganizer”

13 May

Piggy Ward’s 1891 season provides both a glimpse of the life of the itinerant 19th Century ballplayer and his tendency to be his own worst enemy.

He started the year out West, playing for John McCloskey’s Sacramento Senators in the California League. Along with a teammate named Jack Huston—who had been on clubs with Ward in Galveston, Texas and Spokane, Washington in 1890—he skipped town on May 28. Both players had joined the Sacramento club in the first place despite being on the reserve list of Spokane.

According to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Ward was hitting a league-leading .361, had 24 stolen bases and had scored 41 runs in 36 California League games before he jumped.

The Sacramento Record-Union said of his departure:

“Ward was, in one sense, a valuable man in the team. He was only ordinary as a fielder, or center-bag-guarder, but he exercised the best judgment. He is a good bunter, and his success in base running lies on the fact that he always knows when to take advantage of a chance. But, on the other hand, he is a disorganizer, and caused many a rupture in the Sacramento team.”

Both players left California headed to meet their new club, the Spokane Bunchgrassers of the Pacific Northwest League, owing the Sacramento team’s management money—Ward $141, and Huston “$121, besides a $15 suit of clothes”—and both were arrested when they arrived.

The Record-Union said, John Barnes, the Spokane manager, squared the debt for the two jumpers, who were in the lineup for Spokane the next day—Ward had four hits (and committed two errors) and Huston pitched the final two innings in a 12 to 3 victory over Seattle.

wardhustonbarnes

Ward, standing far right, Huston, standing second from left, and Barnes, seated center, with the 1890 Spokane club

Huston, apparently, felt some loyalty towards his new club, and remained with them for the remainder of the season, while Ward was heading east days later to join the Minneapolis Millers of the Western Association.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune said after Ward went 1 for 2 with a walk, stolen base, and two runs—and played error free ball in right field—in his debut:

“(T)he California phenomenon…is a good batter, coacher, and base runner. The general consensus of opinion was that he’ll do.”

Ward hit .357 in 54 games, which caused the injury-decimated, National League cellar dwelling Pittsburgh Pirates to purchase his contract.

The Pittsburgh Post noted his tendency to jump teams, but said the “rumpus” over his California to Spokane jump had been “amicably settled,” and of the jump to Minneapolis:

“This wrong-doing was also amicably settled.”

Ward was acquired on August 12 but chose to visit his home in Altoona before reporting to the Pirates and apparently did not bother to let the team know. On August 22, The Pittsburgh Press said team president J. Palmer O’Neil “is using the telegraph wires freely today trying to trace the player.” Ward finally arrived the following day; The Press said he reported with a sore back and because “all the men are now playing good ball, Manager (Bill) McGunnigle will not put him in until he is in perfect condition.”

As a result, he appeared in just six games, hit .333 in 18 at bats and made one error in six total chances in the outfield before being released on September 7.

After being let go by Pittsburgh, he headed back to Spokane, but on his way, The Saint Paul Globe said, “The fat all-around ball player seen in a Minneapolis uniform this season,” played briefly with the Oconto club in the Wisconsin State League. The Oshkosh Northwestern reported on September 10 that Ward had signed with Oconto, and he played the following day—Oconto lost 9 to 5 to Oshkosh.

Ward arrived back in Spokane in mid-September and rejoined Huston and the Bunchgrassers. When he returned, The Post-Intelligencer complained that “Ward will receive a salary that will run far above the limit in this league.”

He finished the season with the club—and hit .412 in 12 games –but wore out his welcome. Spokane was struggling to hold onto first place in the closing days of the season—they would lose the pennant the Portland Gladiators by one game—and Ward seemed to succumb to the pressure. The Spokane Review said, during a frustrating 12 to 8 loss that Ward punched Portland’s John Darrah in the stomach as Darrah rounded first in the fifth inning.

He was fined $25 and thrown out of the game. The Spokane Review said:

“If Ward used the vile language during the game attributed to him, he certainly should be disciplined by Manager (John) Barnes. In addition to punching Darrah he also hit (Milt) Whitehead in the stomach with his fist when the latter touched him out in the fifth.”

Ward ended his 1891 season where it began, playing for John McCloskey in Sacramento. The San Francisco Call said he “came jumping back again in a penitent mood.”  The Record-Union said, “cranks were greatly surprised to see Ward playing in the center garden,” when he took the field for his first game back on October 18. The San Francisco Call said he left the team a month later, a week before the close of the season, because of an unknown illness.

More of Ward’s story tomorrow.

Lost Pictures: 1898 PCL Santa Cruz Club

3 Dec

brick

A 1952 photo of 80-year-old Bill “Brick” Devereaux holding a picture of the 1898 Santa Cruz club in the Pacific Coast League.

The Oakland Tribune said Devereaux was able to remember the first and last names of every player in the photo “but one, Cristall, a pitcher.”

Devereaux said the other ten players, in addition to him and Cristall, were Jack “Ike” Walters, Lyle Gorton, Charles “Buck” Francks, Ernest “Kid” Mohler, Julius Streib, Bill Dunleavy, Pete Lohman, George “Hardy” Hodson, Walter “Judge” McCredie, Henry “Smilin'” Schmidt.

Devereaux who spent 1894 and ’95 primarily as a pitcher for teams in Lincoln, Nebraska and Troy, Kansas, told the paper after those two seasons he ‘refused to go east again,” and spent the next 17 seasons playing for California based clubs.  He only left the state to play for a team once, spending his final year in pro ball, 1914, in Calgary, Canada.

Devereaux was something of an eccentric during his playing day.  Del Howard told a story about Devereaux, late in his career, to The San Francisco Call in 1921:

“Brick swiped six bases during the battle (against the San Francisco Seals) and promptly claimed a world record.  ‘Not bad for an old man, eh?’ He chuckled.

“(Seals Manager) Danny Long, sitting on the Frisco bench shouted over ‘Record, where do you get that stuff?  When I was with the Baltimore Orioles I stole seven bases myself in one game.  Read it up.'”

Howard said Devereaux “grew red as a beet,” but didn’t respond.

“Next day, when he came up for the first time, Devereaux hit an easy grounder to short and was out at first base by 20 feet.  Instead of stopping, he turned first at full speed, dashed for the Frisco bench and slid feet foremost into the visitors’ pile of bats scattering them in all directions and throwing dust and cinders in Long’s face.

“Brick rose and carefully brushed off his uniform.

“Well, I’m the best base stealer in Alameda County, anyway, Danny.”

Note:  In the original posting, I misidentified the team shown as the 1902 Oakland Clamdiggers–I misread a caption on an old newspaper photograph.  Thanks for the sharp eye of Jeff Dunn from Santa Cruz who brought the error to my attention.

 

 

Ben Hill

27 Jun

Benjamin L. Hill (some sources incorrectly list his middle initial as “N”), came to Oakland in 1890; Hill was signed by Colonel Tom Robinson to play center field for the Oakland Colonels in the California League.

bhill

Ben Hill c. 1895

The Oakland Tribune said, “Hill is making a reputation as a base runner,” and he moved up in the batting order from seventh, early in the season, to second, and was batting leadoff by June. Then suddenly, he was gone.

According to Sporting Life:

“Ben was a good centre fielder, but incurred the displeasure of manager Robinson and was released.”

Hill finished the season with the San Francisco Haverlys.

He returned to semi-pro ball the following year accepting an offer to play for the Suisun Aetnas on the weekends in Suisun City, California, as Sporting Life said, he was, “given a comfortable business ‘sit’ (running a tavern) on the condition of playing with the team.”

Hill played with the Aetnas, a member of the Northern California based Valley League, for two seasons. When Suisun played a series in Sacramento, The Record-Union said:

“Ben Hill, an old Sacramento favorite, is captain and center fielder of the visitors. He is playing better ball now than he did with the Oaklands, which is saying a great deal, as he put up a fine game with the Colonels.”

While he appeared successful on the field, Hill was doing even better in the bar business and bought his own tavern. According to Sporting Life:

“He became popular and the saloon made money. Ben saw his value, borrowed some money and opened a bar and card rooms on his own account. He soon had the patronage of the whole town and was clearing from $400 to $500 per month.”

In 1892, Hill married 17-year-old Agnes Nelson.

But by 1894, the paper said, “(Hill) could not stand prosperity. He made periodical trips to the city; where his profits disappeared, no one knows how. He lost his business and is willing to play ball again.”

Hill and his wife had a two-year-old son when he lost the bar and there were no offers to return to baseball. He moved his family to Oakland in March of 1895 and took a job as a railroad brakeman. In November, he left his family in Oakland to seek work in Portland, Oregon.

Hill returned to Oakland in January of 1896, and on the evening of January 11, met with his wife on the street, they walked to the corner of Twelfth and Kirkham, where Hill pulled a revolver and shot her three times.  She died at the scene.

agnes

Agnes Hill

According to The San Francisco Call, Hill walked to the nearby Piedmont Cable Company power house, handed the gun to an employee and waited for the police to arrive.

Two days after the killing, a reporter for The Oakland Tribune spoke with Hill:

“He is now at the city jail, about the most cool and unconcerned prisoner there. He does not repent his crime. He talks as dispassionately of killing his wife as he would any ordinary everyday occurrence.”

Meyer Cohen, a long-time Northern California “baseball enthusiast,” and one-time baseball writer for The Oakland Times, told The Tribune that Hill had been born in Sparta, Wisconsin in 1860 and:

“He attended college and studied for the ministry, but instead became a ballplayer.”

Cohen claimed Hill began his professional career in 1893 and said he played in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Minneapolis, Macon, Georgia, Omaha and Kearney, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon, although there is little or no evidence of his time in any of those cities.

Cohen said that Charlie Ganzel had recommended Hill to Oakland:

“(He) fully sustained all that was said of him. He became a great favorite and as he was a good player, he made a host of friends.”

Cohen said under Hill’s leadership the Suisun Aetnas were “one of the best amateur clubs in the state,” and that Billy Hulan, who had a brief major league career but spent nearly two decades as a minor league player and manager, played for Hill before started his professional career in 1892.

At trial, Hill’s attorney claimed temporary insanity. Hill’s wife had admitted she was pregnant as the result of an affair and struck him, and according to his defense attorney:

“These acts…might not in themselves justify killing in a sane man, but were sufficient to render a man who loved his wife as Hill did to become insane.”

The jury disagreed.

Hill was found guilty and sentenced to hang within 10 days of his conviction in March of 1896. He received a temporary stay of execution while his case was appealed.

The San Francisco Chronicle said Hill’s brother and sister in law began an appeal fund and solicited “The ball players of America,” to contribute. The paper said Charlie Ganzel “is treasurer of the fund which promises to be a good sized one.”

The fund must have done fairly well, Hill’s legal team managed to get several stays of execution while his case worked his way up to the Supreme Court, he also had his case presented to the governor twice in an effort to be granted executive clemency.

According to The Call, while his appeals proceeded:

“Ever since Hill was convicted of the murder…and brought to San Quentin under sentence of death he has devoted his entire time to reading and studying the bible. In fact, so ardent have been his religious devotions that the murderer was believed to be a fanatic.”

benhill

Ben Hill c. 1898

Hill began preaching to his fellow death row inmates, including Theodore Durrant, the “Demon of the Belfry,” who killed two women in the church he was the superintendent of the Sunday school—the 1895 murders were called “San Francisco’s crime of the century.” Durrant had also received several stays while awaiting his appeal.

The Call said:

“Durrant is an interested listener and one of Hill’s best scholars.”

The Supreme Court denied his appeal in February, and on April 6, 1898 Hill stood on the scaffold at San Quentin.

The Oakland Tribune went into exacting detail of the execution, noting that Hill spoke his last words—admitting his guilt—at 10:32 AM, and was dead a minute later.

The Tribune declared:

“It was the most successful execution ever held in San Quentin and Hill proved to be the gamest man who ever mounted a prison scaffold.”

Like describing a ball game, the state’s executioner Amos Lunt told the paper:

“He was the gamest man I ever saw on the scaffold, and he is the sixteenth man I have worked on. Durrant (his appeals had run out and he had been hung three months earlier) was not in it with him. He was cool and spoke longer and with less trembling than Durrant did.”

Hill’s brother and sister in law adopted his son.

Eighteen months, and five more executions, after Hill was put to death, Amos Lunt, the state’s executioner went insane. The Call said:

amoslunt.JPG

Amos Lunt

“His diseased imagination has conjured up the specters of those he has executed, the gibbering, mocking ghosts of twenty-one blood-stained wretches…’They are after me,’ whispered the demented hangman. ‘There are several under the bed now.”

Lunt was committed to Napa State Hospital where he died two years later.

Rube in L.A.

1 Jun

Bobby Eager was a popular, if not enormously talented, catcher for eight seasons in the California and Pacific Coast Leagues.  After his career, when he wasn’t at his job with Standard Oil, The San Jose News said he could be seen in town “any afternoon when the weather is right, fanning with a bunch of fans.”

The paper decided he enjoyed telling stories about his career so much, they offered him an occasional column to tell his stories and share his opinions.

One of his favorite subjects was Rube Waddell, who spent part of the 1902 season on the West Coast.  Eager called him “The greatest southpaw pitcher” he had seen.

Eager behind the plate.

Eager behind the plate.

“When Rube Waddell was with Los Angeles he was the life of the club.  There was never a dull minute with Waddell on the bench.  If ever there was a nut he was it.  They called him a rube.  Don’t know where they picked up the name, but he was anything but what his name would indicate.  With all his antics Waddell was a wise coot, and if you think he wasn’t I would like to have the extra money it cost (Angels Manager) Jim Morley to keep him on the team.

“It was a cold day that Rube didn’t ‘touch’ Jim for a five-spot.  Rube was getting a fat salary—as fat as salaries went in those days… Never knew exactly what Waddell got, but I know it was more than any other player on the club pulled down.

Rube

Rube

“While Rube was on the club Morley slept with one eye open.  He was always afraid of losing him.  On this occasion, Waddell had just made a borrow off Jim of a twenty-spot when word drifted into Morley’s billiard parlor that Waddell was seen going toward the railroad station. The rumor was sufficient to stir Morley.”

The manager quickly took action.

“Morley rang up the depot and found a train left in 10 minutes for the East.  He dashed out on the street, jumped into the first carriage he saw and drove pell-mell to the train.  Into the Pullman car he hiked and sure enough, there was Waddell. He had bought his ticket and was going back to report to Connie Mack, who had come through with more money.  At first, Waddell denied he was leaving.  He said he just came down to see a friend off, but he soon had to admit that he had a ticket.

“Jim came through with another piece of change and Waddell surrendered his ticket and returned to the team.  But he wasn’t with it very long before he beat it.”

Waddell “beat it” for good on June 20, leaving the West Coast for Philadelphia.  He was 11-8 with a 2.42 ERA with the Angels, with the Athletics he was 24-7, 2.05–he pitched a total of 444 innings that season.

Eager said despite the money Los Angeles was out, “I doubt if Morley lost much on Waddell for he was always a drawing card when he pitched and one good thing about Rube he was never lazy.  He would pitch every day if you would let him.”

“Age is a Hard Master”

21 Sep

“Turkey Mike” Donlin spent his later years trying to earn a living as an actor; his limited success on the stage and screen forced him to accept several baseball jobs as well.  In 1922, he was hired as a scout by the Boston Red Sox—it was his most active season in the game since his final game with the New York Giants in 1914.

Mike Donlin

                Mike Donlin

Like most players of his era, he had a general disdain for the current state of the game.  He shared his disgust with a reporter from The Associated Press (AP) when he arrived in San Francisco after a trip through Texas:

“In the Texas League I found a majority of the players ill with a strange disease consisting of absolute refusal to run out flies or ground balls that look like easy outs. That kind of baseball is beyond me.

“I saw Texas League players getting as high as $700 a month loafing on balls hit to the infield and running to the bench on high flies.  They couldn’t do it and get away with it in my time.

“When I was starting $300 a month was a big salary and believe me, we earned all we got.  We ran out all our hits in those days and, not only that, we had to fight every inch of the way, not alone with spirit, but with our fists.”

The money seemed to bother him as much as the lack of hustle.

While in San Francisco he met Willie Kamm, who the Seals had agreed to sell for the then record amount of $100,000 (and three players) to the Chicago White Sox.  Donlin, who said the St. Louis Perfectos purchased him from Santa Cruz in the California League for $500 in 1899.

According to The AP when they were introduced Donlin said:

“I wanted to meet you, young fellow, because you’re the highest priced minor leaguer ever sold, and I’m the cheapest.”

Always short of money and never  one to refuse a paycheck, and perhaps encouraged by what he considered to be the lesser quality of current players, Donlin accepted an offer to join the Rock Island Islanders of the Mississippi Valley League for two games while he was scouting in the Midwest during August.

According to The Rock Island Argus, Donlin “one of the most picturesque characters the national pastime has ever produced,” was signed to a one-day contract to “keep within the league rules.”  There is no record of what the Islanders paid Donlin for the one-day stunt.

He played in both games as the Islanders dropped a doubleheader to the Ottumwa Cardinals.  The Argus said of his performance:

“Even Mike Donlin, once peerless performer for the New York Giants, fizzled as a mascot.  Mike donned an Islander uniform as per announcement and was seen in right field in both games.  Age is a hard master.”

Donlin “handled two chances cleanly” in the first game, but was 0 for 4 at the plate with two strikeouts, a foul out to third and a fly out which “sent the centerfielder to the scoreboard to haul (it) in.”

He fared slightly better in the second, going 1 for 3 with two ground outs and a single on a “Texas Leaguer into right field territory.”  No balls were hit to him in the second game.

donlin1

      The Box Scores

donlin2

 

He was no more successful as a scout than he was as a player that week in Rock Island.

Two days before he played with the team, Donlin watched the Islanders’ Carl Stimson pitch a 23-inning complete game against Ottumwa.  Stimson lost the game 4 to 2—he committed two errors in the 23rd inning—but allowed only 10 hits and struck out 18.

The 27-year-old Stimson was a sub .500 pitcher (10-15) who had come to Rock Island in a trade with the Waterloo Hawks just a month earlier, but Donlin was impressed with the performance and Stimson’s 6’ 5” frame—Stimson also might have benefitted from a minor illness his wife suffered that month, The Argus said he left the team for several days to attend to her and Donlin was not able to stay long enough to watch him pitch a second time.

The 23-inning game box score

       The 23-inning game box score

Despite only seeing him once, The Argus said Donlin was “convinced that Carl is worthy of a trial in the big show,” and recommended that the Red Sox purchase his contract.

Stimson joined the Red Sox the following spring, but was slowed by an ear infection and finally joined the club in June.  Donlin’s discovery appeared in just two games over one month in the big leagues, giving up 12 hits, five walks, and 10 earned runs over four innings before being released.

Donlin continued making appearances on the stage, had small acting roles in dozens of movies, occasionally worked as a scout, and struggled to make a living.  In 1927, he began to suffer from a heart ailment and remained broke and in poor health and until his death in 1933.

“The Sock on the jaw ended the game and their Friendship”

2 Sep

In June of 1922, Seventy-two-year-old Cal McVey was still working; more than 40 years after his final game with the Cincinnati Reds, he was a night watchman at a San Francisco lumber company.

A reporter from The San Francisco Call and Post called him to let him know the National League had just voted him a monthly pension.

“It was welcome news to the old-timer.  Jobs have been more and more infrequent and difficult to hold…Rheumatism and other ills of advancing age have meant weeks in the hospital…The idea of a benefit for the veteran had been suggested and abandoned, for the name ‘Cal McVey’ carried little significance to the bulk of 1922 fans.”

A benefit game on McVey’s behalf between two military teams held in 1919 at San Francisco’s Recreation Park had drawn a very small crowd.

The paper said

“(T)he league will only be doing what is partially due a man who was one of the real founders of organized baseball and one who did his full share toward keeping the game out of the clutches of the gamblers.”

McVey had been “approached” while playing for the Boston Red Stockings.

“This gambler was a friend of Cal and the two were playing billiards one day in Boston when the proposition was made…(McVey hit the gambler) so hard on the jaw that he forgot all about baseball and everything else for awhile…The sock on the jaw ended the game and their friendship.”

Cal McVey

                   Cal McVey

The Call and Post claimed McVey left major league baseball behind while still in his prime at the age of 30 partly as a result of his disdain for gamblers.  After the 1879 season, McVey, then manager of the Reds came to the West Coast with the team for a series of games with the Chicago White Stockings and local teams:

“Cal suspected two men on his team of being too friendly with gamblers.  But he could not prove anything on them, nor could he get the owner of the club to fire them (and) he was disgusted that fall because his team did not win the pennant when he thought it had the class to do so.”

After finishing in second place in 1878, the Reds added shortstop Ross Barnes and had high expectations for the 1879 season—McVey replaced Deacon White as manager in June—they finished the year 43-37 (34-28 under McVey) in fifth place.

McVey “took a flyer” on an investment in a mine while in California and The paper said he was “unlucky enough” to have quickly made a $3500 profit—he earned $2000 with the Reds that season.

“That settled it.  No more baseball for him (not entirely, McVey did play in the California and Pacific Leagues in 1880 and played with some independent teams in the mid-1880s). He was cut out for a mining broker.  He sold his stuff in Cincinnati and moved to San Francisco.”

McVey was successful in San Francisco until the 1906 earthquake and resulting fires:

“Cal was running a cigar store at Third and Folsom Streets…His wife (Abbey) was hurt in the disaster and, after a lingering illness of two tears, she died.  Cal says the light of his life went out when his wife died.”

After the loss of his wife and business, McVey worked a series of jobs.  In 1913, a wire service report said he had been “crippled” in a mine explosion in Nevada and friends in California asked many of his former teammates to help him financially.

It is unclear how incapacitated McVey was from the accident, in 1919 he was healthy enough to travel to Cincinnati for the World Series, but by 1922, when the National League granted his pension, McVey was nearly destitute and in poor health.  He told the reporter who called him with the news he “was proud today that the National League had ‘remembered an old fellow like me.’”

McVey 1922

                  McVey 1922

McVey died in San Francisco four years later.

“I Never did trust an Umpire no how”

12 Nov

During an eight-year career spent in the California and Pacific Coast Leagues, Robert Joseph “Bobby” Eager was never a star but was very popular with West Coast baseball fans.  Years after he played his final game for the San Jose Prune Pickers in 1909 he began writing occasional columns about the game for The San Jose News.

Bobby Eager

Bobby Eager

Eager backed up starting catcher Henry “Heine” Spies with the Los Angeles Angels:

“(O)ne of the best backstops the Coast has ever had.  Spies was known as the best foul ball chaser that ever put on a glove, barring none.  It seemed as though he really knew just where to go when a batter hit a long foul, he was right on the job.  I have played with him for five years and have never seen him misjudge a fly ball.  It got so that every time a foul ball went up, no matter where it went, the crowd would yell ‘Heine would have got it,’ even though the ball went out of the lot.  Well, to make a long story short, Los Angeles was playing and Heine was catching, Charlie Baum was pitching.  A foul ball went up and Heine chased the ball up against the grandstand and made a most wonderful catch, but it seemed as though the ball must have touched the stand in some way and Umpire (Jack) Huston ruled that it didn’t go.”

Henry "Heine" Spies

Henry “Heine” Spies

Eager said Spies argued Huston’s call, and as a result, the umpire—who had been a teammate of Spies in 1891 with the Sacramento Senators—fined the catcher $5.

“The next day was pay day and when Spies went to get his dough he was 5 short.  He immediately hunted up Huston at Morley’s pool rooms, where most of the ball players hung out (in addition to owning the billiard hall, Jim Morley managed the Los Angeles Angels for four seasons).  He immediately demanded that Huston either give him the $5 back or they go to the mat, which Huston refused to do, of course.  There was trouble, and poor Heine was fined $50 by the president of the league for beating up an umpire.  I never will forget how hard Spies took it to heart.  He and I were going down Market Street, San Francisco, and we were looking in the different windows and we came across a big furniture store with a swell bedroom set for $50.  Heine looked at it for a long time.  I looked up to see the tears rolling down his cheeks, and turning to me he said: ‘See—see, Bobby, there, see what Huston robbed me out of.  I could have had that swell bedroom set if he hadn’t gone and fined me that $5.  I never did trust an umpire no how.  They all seem to be a bunch of burglars.”

In addition to his occasional work for the newspaper, Eager coached several local baseball teams and worked for the Standard Oil company until his death on February 2, 1926.

“Sweeney was Drunk, but I didn’t Know it”

22 Aug

In 1884 Frank Bancroft’s Providence Grays won the National League pennant and defeated the American Association’s New York Metropolitans in the World Series—the first post-season exhibition to be called the World Series.  Late in 1896 he told a reporter for The Boston Post his version of the story of the turning point in that season:

Frank Bancroft

Frank Bancroft

 

“We were leading the championship race (the Grays were in 2nd place at the time of the game in question).  Both (Charles) Sweeney and (Charles “Old Hoss”) Radbourne were pitching in grand style.  In those days you couldn’t take a player out of the game and put another one in his place unless he was sick.  I wanted to save my pitchers all I could.  One day we were playing the Bostons (Bancroft was incorrect; the game was against the Philadelphia Quakers on July 22).  I had (Joseph) Cyclone Miller in right field and Sweeney in the box.  I told Joe Start, who was captain of the team that if we got far enough ahead in the game to take Sweeney out of the box and bring in Miller.  I did this to save Sweeney’s arm.  In the sixth inning we had a lead of 7 to 2 (the score was 6 to 2).  I told Start to make the change.  He asked Sweeney to go out in the field.  Sweeney was drunk, but I didn’t know it.  Start’s request made Sweeney mad.  He didn’t take it in the way it was meant.  He walked off the field.  I went after him, but couldn’t get him to come back.

“He called me a vile name.  The president of the club (J. Edward “Ned” Allen) went to him and asked him what he meant, and he called him everything vile on the calendar.  Sweeney was very drunk.  We had to finish the game with eight men, and the Bostons [sic] beat us out (Providence lost 10 to 6).  The directors of the club had a meeting that night, expelled Sweeney and came within an ace of breaking up.  In fact, they did vote to disband.”

Charlie Sweeney

Charlie Sweeney

With Sweeney gone, the team was left without their two top pitchers.  Bancroft had suspended Radbourn earlier in the month, and he was still sitting out at the time—Radbourne was unhappy sharing the pitching duties and was rumored to be heading to the St. Louis Maroons in the Union Association–The Providence Evening Press in describing Sweeney’s July 22 outburst said he had “caught Radbourn’s complaint.”

Picking up the story in The Post, Bancroft said:

“They said there was no use of going on with one pitcher.  I said to President Allen: ‘If you will give me authority to tell Radbourne that you will not reserve him at the end of the season, I can get him to pitch all the rest of the games this year.’  ‘All right,’ said Allen, ‘you have that authority.’  I found old Rad at his boarding house.  I told him about the proposition.  ‘It’s a go,’ said Rad.  ‘I’ll get rid of reservation if I lose my arm.  I’ll pitch all the other championship games this season.”

Radbourn did not pitch “all the other” games that season but did pitch 75—with 73 complete games, 678 2/3 innings.  Bancroft said of his pitcher:

“It was the greatest feat of endurance I ever witnessed.  Rad was in awful shape before it was all over…Why, (his arm) hurt him so bad when he would get up in the morning that he couldn’t get it up high enough to fasten his collar button.  He had to comb his hair with his left hand.  It used to make me shudder to look at him, but he was gritty.  He would go out in the afternoon before the game, and instead of loosening up by easy pitching, as pitchers do nowadays, he would go in the field and throw the ball just as far as he could.  He would throw for ten or fifteen minutes, until he got wound up, and then he would go in to pitch a winning game.”

"Old Hoss" Radbourn

“Old Hoss” Radbourn

Bancroft said the pitcher “could split the plate any time he wanted to,” and that during “morning practice, to show what he could do, Radbourn would set a pop bottle on the home plate and knock it down three out of four times.”

The release of Sweeney had an immediate positive effect on the Grays.  On the day of the incident, The Evening Press said: “The pennant is no doubt out of the reach of Providence this year.”

The following day, after Radbourn pitched the team to an 11 to 5 over the New York Gothams, the paper’s outlook brightened:

“The summary expulsion of Sweeney for crookedness seemed to have a salutary effect, on Wednesday, for the purging of the club of such a bad egg resulted in a better class of patrons on the grand stand than for many weeks.  The attendance throughout was better than the management had looked for after the airing of Sweeney’s revolt, about 700 being present. “(There were just 450 in the stands the day before for “Sweeney’s revolt”)

Sweeney had not yet left for St. Louis and the paper took the opportunity to take one final shot at the pitcher:

“Sweeney is still about town, and wherever he goes the women whom he escorted to the ball game on Tuesday are seen with him.  The conduct of this fellow is shameful, and he will regret it when he fully wakes up to its enormity.”

The twenty-one-year-old Sweeney pitched the Maroons to the Union Association championship with a 24-7 record and 1.83 ERA.  Whether his arm couldn’t handle the strain, or as a result of his off-field habits, he would only win 16 more games (losing 30), and was out of the major leagues at age 24.

He returned to his home in California and played for teams in the California, Central California Leagues, after his retirement he worked for a short time as a police officer and later worked in saloons around San Francisco.

By the time Bancroft shared his reminiscences of 1884 with The Post, Sweeney was incarcerated in California, and Radbourne was dying in Illinois.

In July of 1894, Sweeney shot a man named Cornelius McManus during an altercation in a bar.  The San Francisco Chronicle said when he was informed the following day that the victim was dead “he broke down and wept bitterly.”  Sweeney was convicted of manslaughter four months later and sentenced to eight years.

The Chronicle said he was released after serving “a little over three years of his sentence,” after which “his health broke down.”  Sweeney died of Tuberculosis in 1902—most sources say he died on April 4—The Call and The Chronicle both said he died on April 3.

Radbourn pitched 1311 innings in 1883 and ’84, and started and won all three games in the 1884 World Series.  Bancroft said that after the Grays won the championship:

“President Allen kept his word, and gave him his release; but Rad didn’t take it.  The club offered him just twice as much salary for the next year.”

Radbourn pitched seven more seasons and finished his career with a 309-194 record.  After being accidentally shot in a hunting accident, and suffering from a variety of ailments, he died in February of 1897.

Bancroft remained in baseball until January of 1921 when he retired a business manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He died two months later at age 74.

“Dunnie’s” Narrow Escape

28 Jul

Samuel Morrison “Dunnie” Dungan returned home to Southern California in 1889 after graduating from Eastern Michigan University– the Michigan State Normal School– and joined the F.N. Hamilton’s a powerful San Diego-based semi-pro team that included 39-year-old Cal McVey, a member of Harry Wright’s Cincinnati and Boston Red Stockings teams from  1869 through 1875 (with a detour to Baltimore in 1873).

In the spring of 1890 the Oakland Colonels, champions of the California League in 1889 recruited Dungan to catch for them during a series of exhibition games in Los Angeles.  The Oakland squad did not impress Southern California critics.  The San Diego Union said:

“It is drawing it mild to say that it was the rottenest game that been played on the ground.  If it was not a fake, than the Oaklands cannot play ball.  Do they suppose up about San Francisco and Oakland that they can bring down to Southern California a lot of boys and show the Southerners how to play ball?”

Samuel Dungan

Samuel Dungan

The Union said the Hamiltons, as well as two other San Diego teams, the Schiller & Murthas and the Llewellyns “can beat the Oakland team out of sight.”

The paper said only one player stood out:

“Dungan, the San Diego catcher, who caught for the Oaklands both days, was about the only redeeming feature of that club…And he does not pretend to be a professional.”

As a result of his play during the exhibitions, Dungan was signed by the Colonels;  he still caught occasionally but was now primarily an outfielder.  Team owner Colonel Thomas P. Robinson was unable to restrain his enthusiasm when Dungan was signed, telling The Oakland Tribune:

“I believe Dungan is the greatest batter we’ve ever had here—better than (Lou) Hardie or (Vince) Dailey, the latter of whom I rank as the best of the old men.”

Fred Carroll, a California native who played with the Pittsburgh Burghers in the Players League in 1890, called Dungan “the only scientific batter on this coast.”

Statistics are incomplete for the 1890 California League season, but both The Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Dungan was the league’s batting champion.  The Los Angeles Herald said he hit .332.  The Colonels finished third in the four-team league.  The Tribune said it was “probable that Dungan will go East.”

He was first rumored to be heading to be heading to the Washington Statesmen in the American Association but ended up signing with the Western Association’s Milwaukee Brewers.

It was Dungan’s departure from the West Coast in the spring of 1891 that led to the biggest headlines of his career.

The San Francisco Chronicle told the story:

“Sam Dungan, the ballplayer who was with Oakland last season and who led the California League in batting, is being pursued by an irate wife who says she will follow him to the end of the earth if necessary to again clasp him in her arms.  It seems that last year among the many conquests Dungan made in Oakland was Miss Mamie Bodgard.  She became wild over him, and at last was introduced to him.  After the season Dungan came south to his home in Santa Ana, but communication between himself and Miss Bodgard kept up.  She sent him many dainty perfumed notes.  Finally the marriage of the couple was announced and it created no great surprise.

“Now comes the thrilling part of this story.  Two hours after the marriage had taken place (in Los Angeles) Dungan left his bride and journeyed to Santa Ana, where he had an interview with his parents, who are well and favorably known and rank among the leading families.  Sam is a college graduate and was the idol of his parents.  Mrs. Dungan also journeyed to Santa Ana.  She did not go to the home of the Dungan’s, but went to the Richelieu Hotel.  She is a most pronounced brunette, rather petite, and is reported to have a temper.  The couple had parted, and the news of the separation soon became noised around.  Mrs. Dungan consulted a lawyer to have her ‘hubby’ restrained from leaving Santa Ana, but the heavy hitter eluded his young wife and started for Milwaukee, giving his bride the slip at Orange, she being on the same train with him that far.”

The jilted bride told a reporter for The Los Angeles Herald that she was “a grass widow,” but vowed to pursue Dungan to Milwaukee.  Mrs. Dungan’s trip to Milwaukee was unsuccessful.

A year later The Herald reported that a court in Santa Ana had awarded Mrs. Dungan $25 a month  “and she is very elated in consequence.”  She was said to have gone to Milwaukee twice the previous year and had taken to reading “Sammy’s love letters on the street corners,” of Santa Ana:

“Mrs. Dungan is an excellent dresser and is an exceptionally handsome woman.  She doubtless could be induced to kiss and make up, but the parents of her husband stand in the way of a reconciliation.  The Dungan’s are anxious to have Sam get a divorce, but he  can’t very well, and Mrs. Dungan says: ‘Never in a thousand years.'”

A divorce was finally granted in 1893.  Sam Dungan remarried in 1900.

Dungan went on to play parts of five seasons in the major leagues, mostly with the Chicago Colts and had a .301 career batting average.  He was an excellent minor league hitter, putting up several excellent seasons—including averages of .447, .424 and .372 in 1894, ’95, ’97 with the Detroit Creams and Detroit Tigers in the Western League. He also hit a league-leading .337 in 1900 for the Kansas City Blues in the inaugural season of the American League.

Dungan returned home to Santa Ana after retiring at the close of the 1905 season and participated in many old-timers games in Southern California.  The Santa Ana Register reported on his heroics during a 1924 fundraising game for former player Ed Householder who was dying of stomach cancer—Dungan joined Sam Crawford, Gavvy Cravath, Fred Snodgrass and other West Coast baseball legends for the game in Los Angeles:

“Yesterday, Dungan, now a prosperous Santa Ana resident and rancher, proved that years have not dimmed the remarkable eye nor time deprived the power from his arms and shoulders that enabled him, year after year, to outhit the other big league players of his day.

“Dungan rapped out a two-bagger with two men on the cushions in the tenth inning.  This blow broke up the game.  Previously Dungan had smashed out three other bingles.  Thus, Dungan of Santa Ana, the oldest man on the field in point of years, was the heaviest hitter just as he used to be years ago.”

Dungan died in Santa Ana in 1939.