Tag Archives: Charles Comiskey

Frank Isbell and Big Betsy

16 May

Frank Isbell of the Chicago White Sox started hitting in 1905—having never hit better than .257, and after batting just .210 the previous season, Isbell posted a .296 average in 351 at bats in ’05.

isbell3

Frank Isbell

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune suggested it was due to his bat, “Big Betsy.”  Fullerton said:

“The early history of the bat is unknown, but it was believed Issy discovered Betsy in a lot of bats purchased by the club.  He fell in love with her and was always ready when hits were needed.”

In 1906, Isbell led the Hitless Wonders’ regulars with a .279 average, and hit .308 in the World Series versus the Chicago Cubs, including four doubles in his first four at bats in game 5.

Publishers Press News Service said:

“Big Isbell was a tower of strength with the stick.  Four crashing doubles the lanky Swede tore off and besides scoring three runs himself, he drove in three more.”

Isbell added three more hits in game 6, and according to The Chicago Record-Herald, Isbell told Sox owner Charles Comiskey he was going to retire Betsy:

“That grand old bat has seen its last hard work on the ball field.  It’s going to pass the rest of its days in peace.  That stick helped skin the Cubs…Oh, it’s a great bat, but you’ll never see it on a ball field again.  That’s the souvenir I prize above all the rest.”

Isbell changed his mind during the off season.

isbell2

Isbell

Charles Dryden of The Tribune told the story of Big Betsy’s debut in 1907:

“By far the most important arrival of (opening) day was Big Betsy, which traveled by registered letter from Wichita, Kansas.  She is too priceless to be risked any other way.  Big Betsy is the bat from which the talented Mr. Isbell fired four two-baggers in the fifth game of the World’s Series.  News that Betsy had reported sent some high grade chills chasing up and down the spine of the (St. Louis) Browns.”

Isbell, Dryden said, had brought the bat to Mexico City where the Sox trained in 1907, and when he later took a train from New Orleans home to Wichita, “Izzy took a top berth and let Betsy have the lower.”  Isbell then shipped the bat to St. Louis for the opener because, “He had two grips, one in either hand, and there was no secure place for Betsy.  He would not trust the porter.”

Dryden said the bat arrived the Southern Hotel in St. Louis at 11 o’clock on the morning of the game:

“Oozy Ed Walsh helped Izzy receive the stick and together they fondled it with loving hands.  It was Oozy Ed who trained Big Betsy, using her to hit fungoes with in practice.

“The same tarred tape is sticking to the handle, and across the butt end of the weapon Izzy had carved lifelike portraits of the love doubles he smote on that fearful West Side day.”

Four days later with Isbell slightly hobbled by a leg injury, tragedy struck Big Betsy in Detroit.  Dryden said in The Tribune:

“Izzy is in a bad way mentally and physically.  Big Betsy, the fat bat that brought fame and dollars, is no more.  Her shattered fragments wound about with crepe and forget me nots now are in the baggage coach ahead, bound for Wichita, Kansas.  The remains will be framed and hung up in Izzy’s boudoir for future generations to rubber.  It was G. (Sox Shortstop, George) Davis who put Big Betsy in the morgue.  He borrowed her yesterday when Izzy was not looking and busted Betsy wide open hitting into a double play.”

Without Big Betsy and hampered by a season-ending hand injury in August, Isbell hit just .243 in 1907, he hit .247 in 1908 after holding out until June, and .224 in 1909.  Isbell requested, and was granted, his release by Comiskey before the 1910 season in order to accept an offer to become player-manager of his hometown Wichita Jobbers in the Western League.

Joe Nealon

2 May

There was a race to sign Joe Nealon in 1905.  The San Francisco Chronicle said he was “thought to be the equal of Hal Chase,” the fellow first baseman and Californian who made his major league debut that season.

By November, West Coast newspapers had reported that at least four teams were after Nealon—the New York Highlanders, Boston Americans, St. Louis Browns, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates were after Nealon.

nealon

Joe Nealon

There likely would have been even more interest in Nealon if not for his background; as The Chronicle said after Nealon signed with the San Francisco Seals before the 1905 season:

“Parental objection had to be overcome, and this was accomplished through an understanding that the boy would remain in professional baseball not more than two or three seasons.”

Nealon was the son of the James C. Nealon, a wealthy real estate executive, elected official, owner of thoroughbreds, and one of the best known handball players on the West Coast who often played with boxer Jim Corbett.

Nealon attended St. Ignatius College (now the University of San Francisco) and had played in the California State League in 1903 and 1904.

Cincinnati and Boston appeared to be the most aggressive pursuer of Nealon; according to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“Everybody who has seen him work says that Nealon will fill the bill.  He is described as a second Bill Lange at the bat, and a new edition of Charley Comiskey on the bag.  Allowing for exaggeration he seems to be the real goods.”

The Reds dispatched Ted Sullivan to San Francisco. The Americans sent Dan Long.  They did not know that Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Fred Clarke was on his way West as well; Clarke arrived first. The Pirates manager won out.  The Pittsburgh Post said:

“It was against these two men that Clarke had to use his ingenuity in securing Nealon.  The player is a freelance and was at liberty to join a team of his own selection.  Being independently wealthy and playing baseball only for the sport he finds in it.  Nealon was not influenced by any financial proposition.”

Reds owner August Herrmann told The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“I had become very much interested in young Nealon and regret that we did not succeed in getting him, but there is no use mourning over his loss.”

While Herrmann might not have been mourning, others in Cincinnati were and blamed Sullivan.

Jack Ryder of The Enquirer said:

“Why was not Ted Sullivan on the ground earlier?  Ted left Cincinnati a week ago last Saturday (October 29) with instructions to make a bee line for Frisco.  Mr. Herrmann knew that there was keen competition for  the services of Nealon…If Sullivan had reached San Francisco on Tuesday or Wednesday, as he was expected to do he would have got in ahead of Fred Clarke, and the chances would have favored his securing the player.”

Ryder said he had a letter from James C. Nealon written to Herrmann promising “that his son would sign with Cincinnati, ‘other things being equal,’” Ryder noted that the Reds “offered the boy more salary than any other club including Pittsburgh.”

Ryder concluded:

“Fred Clarke, who was on the spot, while Ted Sullivan was not, was able to persuade (Nealon) that the Pirates are a far better aggregation than the Reds.”

Ted Sullivan was not about to blamed, and fired off a letter to The Enquirer:

“There is not a man in the city of Cincinnati that would feel as much hurt as myself to lose a good man for the Cincinnati club.  The two years that I have acted as agent for Mr. Herrmann he has treated me like a king, and has showed a disposition to back my judgment on the skill of a player.”

tedsullivan

Ted Sullivan

Sullivan said in the letter, he had discovered Nealon’s “hidden skill” in August:

“The skill I noticed in Nealon (I wrote Mr. Herrmann at the time) was skill hidden beneath a dross of inexperience and youth.”

While he conceded that some time in the major leagues would “make him a star,” he assured The Enquirer he was not of the caliber of Sullivan’s favorite first baseman:

“The greatest first baseman in the history of the game, Charles Comiskey, was my own selection and making (which I say without egotism), but the California fledgling, without disparaging him, is a pallbearer compared to the magnetism of the matchless Comiskey.”

Sullivan blamed his inability to sign Nealon on Nealon’s father.  He claimed to have offered $3,800 to the first baseman in August, and was told that money was not the critical consideration, but complained that Nealon Sr. had immediately “proclaimed throughout Frisco, with the aid of a flashlight, and had also the newspaper men transmit (the offer) to all of the papers in the East.”

As for arriving is San Francisco after Clarke, Sullivan blamed that on the railroads:

“(I) was blocked between Salt Lake and Sacramento, caused by the immense amount of trains”

But, said Sullivan, none of that mattered.  Nealon’s father had not dealt with the Reds in good faith:

“Mr. Nealon Sr., who claimed he was not out for the money, called Fred out on the porch of the house and showed him, in confidence, the offer from Cincinnati.”

The latest Cincinnati offer was $6500—with a clause that promised $1000 more than any other offer Nealon would receive–Sullivan said.  Clarke matched the $6500, he said, and signed Nealon.

fredclarkepix

Fred Clarke

There was more said Sullivan:

“Now comes the most brazen effrontery of offended dignity that has more hypocritic brass in it than the Colossus of Rhodes.  With this standing offer of Mr. Herrmann’s in his hands for days before I arrived,  I asked Mr. Nealon Sr., why he did not close with Mr. Herrmann on such a grand offer.  ‘Why,’ says he, ‘I consider it an insult for any man to make me such an offer as that, as it would appear that I was playing one club against the other.”  Think of that insult—one man offers another man $1000 more than the highest bidder and he is insulted.”

Sullivan closed his letter by again questioning Nealon’s prospects of making an immediate impact, and said:

“I would rather go down to Millcreek bottoms and pick up some young fellow that wanted to make baseball a profession, than any young man in the United States who thinks that he is condescending to play ball for $7000.”

Sullivan was not the only representative of a club who had expressed interest in Nealon who now questioned the prospects ability.  In response to Frank Chance of the Chicago Cubs who said Nealon was “not of National League Caliber,” The Pittsburgh Press responded:

“Sour Grapes?”

The rest of the story on Friday.

“They Have Baseball ‘Rooting’ Down to a Science in Chicago”

26 Apr

The 1907 Chicago White Sox stayed in the American League pennant race all season, they were within one game of first place as late as September 24.

Eddie “Hotspur” McBride, the sports editor of The Buffalo Enquirer, credited some fans for the club’s success:

hotspurmcbride

Eddie “Hotspur” McBride

“They have baseball ‘rooting’ down to a science in Chicago, according to baseball fans from other cities who have taken in games in the Windy City this year.  In fact, they have their own poet laureate and every now and then he spiels off a few verses, has them printed by a committee appointed by the fans and the slips are passed through the grandstand, where at a signal they are sung in unison by the big crowds and many is the opposing pitcher on the White Sox grounds who has gone down to defeat unable to stand the awful shrieks of those singing fans.”

McBride said he received a “Dissertation on scientific rooting,” from the leaders of the singing fans “an attorney by the name of Cantwell,” and the “poet laureate,” a man named Robert Farrell:

“’A lot of rooters go to the park and just yell,’ said Cantwell.  ‘They don’t know what they yell and they don’t know why they are yelling.  They just yell because it’s customary to yell when you attend a baseball game.’”

Cantwell said:

“’That used to be the theory of rooting.  But that isn’t effective rooting.’

“’Today’s rooting is a science.’

“’When you root you root because you want to gain some effect.  For instance, you know the pitcher can be sent into the air.  So you root to send him on his balloon ascension.  But you can’t hope to do it by just exercising your lungs.’”

Cantwell offered “the most effective manner” for rooting:

“’Just yell one sentence at him for a long time. Keep it up.  Don’t get discouraged if you don’t rattle him in the first inning.’

‘”If you’re a wise rooter you won’t expect to.’

“’Take (Ed) Siever of Detroit for instance.  He’s a grand pitcher, an icicle, but can be sent on a balloon ascension. How?  By yelling the same sentence at him time after time.

“’This is a good one to hand him: you can’t put it over. You can’t put it over.’

“’At first it doesn’t bother him.  Inning after inning passes and he sticks to earth. But pretty soon it begins to worry him.  You don’t yell another thing at him.  All the time it’s just ‘You can’t put it over.’

“’Thousands are now yelling that sentence.  It gets on his nerves.  He begins to lose to control.  The next thing you know he’s up in the air, you’ve got three or four runs and the game is won.’”

sievers

Ed Siever

Cantwell said the fans had gotten to Siever earlier in September:

“He was pitching in grand form.  We conceived the idea of predicting.’

“’When he went into the box we yelled:  ‘We’ll chase you in the fifth,’ He just smiled at us  All the first inning we yelled nothing else…well, we were so persistent in it that finally it began to tell:’

“’In the fifth inning the Sox scored six runs, drove Siever from the box.  Wild Bill Donovan finished the game which we lost, 9 to 6.”

Cantwell got a couple key details wrong—Siever lasted until the seventh in the September 3 game, although he did allow six runs in that inning, and he was relieved by George Mullin, not Donovan.

The Detroit Free Press said the group totals around 150 in total and was primarily comprised of employees of the Chicago Board of Trade.

McBride claimed that Charles Comiskey said the rooters were “worth ten games a season for the Sox.”

Cantwell told McBride:

“(T)he men in the stands can win every doubtful game.”

The rooters and the White Sox fell short, finishing in third place, five and a half games behind the champion Tigers.

“The Fourth of July in Baseball has Always been a Day of Reckoning”

4 Jul

During the 19th Century, when completing any given season in the black, or finishing the season at all, was not a foregone conclusion for a large percentage of professional teams; in 1892 O.P.  Caylor of The New York Herald said of Independence Day:

“The Fourth of July in baseball has always been a day of reckoning, as it were.  All clubs, associations or leagues endeavor to retain their breath of life until after America’s natal day so that they may partake in the feast of the turnstiles upon that baseball festival.  The great anniversary of liberty has served many times to lift a weakened club out of financial distress and give it a chance to continue in business probably till the season’s end—at least for a month or two longer.”

O.P. Caylor

O.P. Caylor

Caylor said everyone in baseball held their breath two years earlier during the run up to the holiday:

“In the early fight between the League and the Brotherhood in 1890, old League generals declared that if the Fourth of July that year should be a rainy day, generally on the circuit many of the Brotherhood clubs would be compelled to suspend before the season ended, but if the day should be fair they might pull through to the season’s end. The day was fair, and the attendance everywhere was large.  That meteorological condition was a blessing not only to the Brotherhood but to the old League clubs as well.”

According to The New York World, on the day after the holiday in 1890, Caylor’s recollections were mostly correct; while the weather was “mostly fair” in several cities, the paper said there was “Bad weather in Boston, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.”  Overall, the Players League won the day, drawing more than 48,000 fans, followed by more than 38,000 for the American Association.  The “old League clubs” were not quite as “blessed“ as Caylor indicated; with home games in two of the three “Bad weather” cities, the National League drew just more than 31,000 fans.

Caylor said while the 1892 season—which included the National league’s only scheduled split-season schedule, with a 12-team league which included four clubs picked up from the defunct American Association —was a struggle for the National League, the only remaining major league would not face the fate of some minor leagues.  The Eastern League’s New Haven franchise folded in June, and in order to not play out a schedule with a nine-team league, “The Athletics of Philadelphia were a little more than willing to ‘cash in,’ and so the circuit was hewed down to an octagon.”

Caylor called the situation in the National League “not so promising,” but said:

“(A) club franchise in that body is so valuable as a piece of property the year around that no fears are entertained of even the most unfortunate of the twelve putting up its shutters and turning its grounds into a sheep’s pasture before the season ends.”

Despite the fact that no team would be “putting up its shutters” before the end of the season, Caylor said that as of Independence Day, only the Pittsburgh Pirates, who “Not one reader in a hundred would have picked,” were operating in the black for the first half of the season, and only because Pittsburgh “has a cheap team.”

Caylor said:

“Of the other eleven clubs a few were about even on receipts and expenditures and some were far behind with losses.  Especially was this the case with the New York and Chicago Clubs.”

Hindsight being Hindsight, just six weeks later, Caylor would suggest that the decision made by league magnates to pare down rosters and institute across-the-board pay cuts at mid-season (July 15), was, at least in Cincinnati, “(A) way to squeeze the old hen into more active and valuable work (laying golden eggs), and on the squeezing they killed her.”

But on “America’s natal day,” he seemed to support the decision of baseball’s executives:

“(They decided the) remedy much be retrenchment. Clubs must employ only the minimum number of players…and salaries must come down…The fact that at least four of the twelve clubs pay over $50,000 each in team salaries proves the ruinous and unbusinesslike height to which baseball salaries were forced by the two years of conflict between the fighting factions.  (John Montgomery) Ward and (Charles) Comiskey each receive $7,000 salary for seven months’ service—a sum proportionately larger than that paid to United States Senators and more while the service lasts than is received by the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

John Montgomery Ward

John Montgomery Ward

The most egregious example, according to Caylor was:

“The present New York team is a whole sermon against expensive teams.  It draws $50,000 from the club treasury and is one of the bitterest disappointments ever placed upon the field.  There is not even the excuse of ‘hard luck’ or accident to lift the team out of its disgrace.”

The Caylor of August—who called the season “a Dog’s Day Depression,” still held out hope in July:

“There is every reason to believe that this (the second half) will be a much more exciting fight than the first.  The clubs will all start into it with much more certainty of equality, and those that have been weak will make a mighty effort to strengthen the vulnerable places of their teams.”

A Cricketer on Baseball

6 Jun

Spencer Thomas Oldham was born in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, England—what the “The American Cricketer” called “that famous nursery of cricketers.”  By 1883 he had been playing professionally in the United States for a decade, and The Associated Press called him “One of the best-known cricket players in the country.”

cricket

Cricket Match, 1800s

That year, The Baltimore Sun, which said of Oldham, “(H)is accent is strong, his views are decided and he comes from a village where seventy-two professional bowlers may be found, ” asked him for his opinion of baseball.  He had just seen his first game in August when the St. Louis Browns played the Orioles.

“It was a sight, such throwing and catching and fielding, I never saw the like before.  The tall fellow on the first base of the St. Louis (Charles Comiskey) could catch anything.  We can’t work together that way in cricket.  The ball is too big, hard and heavy.”

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

And, he was asked, if he noticed the curveball thrown by Baltimore pitcher Bob Emslie:

“’Aye, did I?’ was the reply. ‘I was sitting just in line with the pitcher and catcher.  That fellow Emslie was a terror.  I saw the balls break in the air without touching the ground.  They just curved around and fooled the batters that funny.’”

Bob Emslie

Bob Emslie

So impressed was Oldham, he claimed he saw a pitch “start straight, shoot down and then up again.”   And he was unsure how anyone was able to hit “with the broomstick handles they use.”

But asked to compare the two games, Oldham refused.

“It’s different altogether.”

Oldham said most people didn’t understand the scientific nature of his sport:

“The feature of cricket is batting.  Fielding, of course, is necessary, but a good batter is of more use than a good fielder.  A bowler’s object is to get your wicket down.  You try to keep him from doing it.  The balls you see coming on your wicket you block by bringing your bat down to the ground. The balls that you know are off your wicket you must hit for all you are worth…The power of attack is smaller than the power of defense, and therefore runs are plentiful.  Now in baseball, it seems just the other way.  A man who makes two runs is doing good business.  Errors are therefore more costly and good hits more praiseworthy.”

He also implied that Americans were too impatient to appreciate cricket:

“It takes all day to play a game of cricket.  Two hours and a half suffice for a game of baseball.”

Oldham thought some professional baseball players might be able to play cricket, but it wouldn’t be easy to make the transition:

“Well, the fielding is the same, but when he goes to the bat he must unlearn all his baseball tactics and learn how to cut, drive, stop, hit to leg or off to side…I wish some of those (baseball) players would devote the time and study they give to baseball to cricket.”

While never conceding that baseball was superior, or even equal to his game, Oldham concluded:

“Baseball—well, baseball is a splendid game.  I’d like to see some more of it.  I would learn some points from it.”

Letters from the Front–Joe Jenkins

30 May

When Joe Jenkins, backup catcher for the Chicago White Sox, enlisted in the army shortly after the 1917 World Series, it didn’t cause much concern for the team’s prospects.  The Chicago Daily News said:

“With Ray Schalk behind the plate, the Sox could give away a dozen Jenkinses and not miss them.”

joejenkins

Joe Jenkins

Malcolm MacLean of The Chicago Evening Post said regardless of Jenkins’ value to the White Sox, the catcher was committed to the war effort.  He recounted a conversation with the usually “happy-go-lucky” Jenkins during Chicago’s spring trip to Marlin Springs, Texas before the 1917 season:

“(I) spied Jenkins sitting alone in the smoking compartment of the special car.  There was no smile on his face.  He invited us to have a seat.

“’”I’m thinking about this war,’ he said.  ‘It’s up to us young, unmarried fellows to get busy, and I’m going to be one of them within a few months.’”

Jenkins went to officer’s training school at Camp Gordon, Georgia, and then to France as a second lieutenant with the 132nd Infantry Regiment, composed primarily of soldiers from Chicago’s South Side.

Jenkins at

Jenkins at Camp Gordon

Shortly after the armistice was signed in November of 1918, MacLean was a given a letter Jenkins had written to a friend in Chicago several weeks earlier.  MacLean said Jenkins had been “promoted, while under fire from second to first lieutenant.”

According to MacLean, “At one stage of the game, all the other officers of his company being disabled, Jenkins commanded his company in an advance,” and as a result received the promotion.  MacLean said Johnny Evers mentioned in a letter that he had met Jenkins in France shortly after the latter was promoted.

Jenkins also wrote two letters to White Sox President Charles Comiskey—as with the letter MacLean was given, both letters to Comiskey were written before the armistice, but received weeks after—and were printed in Chicago newspapers.

In the first, Jenkins wrote:

“My Dear Mr. Comiskey…I have been in the front line for four days, having gone up to look over the situation with the major.

“Believe me, I am a brave man, but I did not bargain to eat any of these high explosives.  One of the shells just missed me about ten feet.  It hit on top of the trench and had it hit in the trench I would not be writing to you today.

“To be honest with you, this is some league that I am in and it is a lot faster than the old American, for you know that when you boot one in this league you are through and can’t come back.”

Jenkins wrote to Comiskey again, approximately three weeks later:

“Well I thought you had forgotten me, but today I got your letter, and you may be sure that I was delighted to hear from you.  We have been scrapping for the past ten days on the Meuse, North of Verdun, and believe me, the fighting has been hot and sharp.  We have just been moved to a more quiet sector, the purpose for which is rest, and believe me we can use it nicely.  It is becoming apparent that Germany is through, and in the last offensive I was in their spirit and morale was at a very low ebb.”

Jenkins also assured Comiskey that the Chicago Southsiders in the 132nd “can go some.”

The catcher  told Comiskey he planned on joining the Sox at Mineral Wells in the spring of 1919 and promised:

“I will bring something back in the line of a trophy for your office with me as shipping it would be risky.  This trophy that I refer to was taken where the fighting was thickest.”

There is no record of what the “trophy” was or whether Jenkins brought it to Comiskey.

Jenkins said in closing:

“Give my regards to all the boys and tell them that in this league over here the pitchers all have plenty on everything that they throw.”

Jenkins made it back to the US on April 15, 1919—on the same ship as Sergeant Grover Cleveland AlexanderThe Chicago Tribune said:

“Jenkins fought in Flanders, the Argonne, and St. Mihiel.  He escaped unwounded and looks ready to play baseball at a moment’s notice.”

Sergeant Grover Cleveland Alexander

Sergeant Grover Cleveland Alexander

He didn’t make it to Mineral Wells but joined the Sox for their opener in St. Louis.  The Daily News said he told manager Kid Gleason he was available to pinch hit:

“’You know I’m a valuable man in a pinch, Kid.  When I came up to hit in a pinch over there the Kaiser lit out for Holland and he’s been there ever since.”

1919 White Sox, Jenkins is bottom left

1919 White Sox, Jenkins is bottom left

Ready to play or not, Jenkins appeared in just 11 games for the pennant-winning White Sox—four behind the plate—and had three hits in 19 at bats.

He remained with the Sox through the 1919 World Series—a member of two World Series teams, he did not appear in a game in either series—and was released that winter.

His big league career over, Jenkins played 11 more seasons in the minors, retiring in 1930.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #18

7 Mar

Tener on Anson

In 1917, John Tener wrote an article in “Baseball Magazine” about Cap Anson, his former manager with the Chicago White Stockings.

John Tener

John Tener

The former pitcher and outfielder, who went on to serve in the United States Congress and as Governor of Pennsylvania, and who in 1917 was president of the National League said:

“Pop Anson was the Greatest Batter who ever lived.  You may look up his record, compare it with others and draw your own conclusions.  When I say this I am well aware of the claims of Ed Delehanty, Hans Wagner and many other great hitters.  I give them all due credit, but in my opinion, Anson was the greatest of them all.

"Cap" Anson

Anson

“He was, first of all, a free hitter. He loved batting…He had that true eye which enabled him to hit the ball squarely on the nose.  His hits were line drives.  They were solid smashes with the full force of his muscular shoulders behind them.”

[…]

“He was an excellent judge of the precise fraction of a second that he needed to swing that heavy bat of his against the best the pitcher could offer.  He didn’t exactly place his hits, but he contrived to drive the ball behind the base runner about where he wanted to drive it…He was big and strong and heavy.  Some hitters of the present day fatten their averages by their nimbleness in reaching first.  Anson drove the ball solidly into the outfield and took his time in going to first.”

Conte on Mendez

Jose Pepe Conte was a well-known sportswriter in Havana, Cuba. Frank Menke of Heart Newspaper’s International News Service (INS) said of him:

Jose Pepe Conte

Jose Pepe Conte

“Pepe is a fellow who knows heaps and heaps about ancient history, European customs, chemistry, baseball and prize fighting.”

The Pittsburgh Press called him:

“(A) Cuban newspaperman, political personage, and unearther of baseball talent.”

In 1912, the INS distributed an article Conte wrote about the pitcher he thought was the best ever:

“American baseball fans can talk all they want about their (Chief) Benders, (Christy) Mathewsons, (Ed) Walshes and (Mordecai) Browns, but down in our country we have a pitcher that none of the best batters in the country can touch. This is the famous Black Tornado, (Jose) Mendez.  Talk about speed.  Why, when he cuts loose at his hardest clip the ball bounces out of the catcher’s mitt Talk about speed, Mendez has to pitch most of the time without curves because we haven’t a catcher who can hold him.  To make things better, Mendez can bat like (Ty) Cobb.  He has won his own games on various occasions with smashes over the fences for home runs.  He weighs about 154 pounds and is a little fellow.”

Jose Mendez

Jose Mendez

[…]

“No one has been found who can hold him when he really extends himself.  He has shown his skill in the past when he has faced the best batters of the Cubs and Detroit teams when those teams were champions, and when the Athletics went there last year.  Mendez has more curves than any pitcher in America, and if some inventive genius could produce a whitening process whereby we could get the fellow into the big leagues he could win a pennant for either tail-end team in either league.”

Sullivan on Comiskey

In his book, “The National Game,” Al Spink said Ted Sullivan was “the best judge of a ball player in America, the man of widest vision in the baseball world, who predicted much for the National game years ago, and whose predictions have all come true.”

Ted Sullivan

Ted Sullivan

Sullivan was a player, manager, executive, and in 1921, he wrote a series of articles for The Washington Times called “The Best of my Sport Reminiscences.”  He said of Charles Comiskey, who he was crediting with “discovering” at St. Mary’s College in Kansas:

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

“As a player, Comiskey was easily the best first baseman of his time…His intuition in defining the thoughts of his opponents and making his play accordingly placed him head and shoulders over any man that played that position before or after.

“Comiskey was with John Ward and King Kelly one of the greatest of base runners.  I do not mean dress parade base running, either, merely to show the crowd he could run.  Comiskey’s base running was done at a place in the game when it meant victory for his side.  He was far from being the machine batter that Anson, Roger Connor and some others were; but as a run-getter, which means the combination of hitting, waiting, bunting and running, he outclassed all others.  Jack Doyle, when in his prime with Baltimore and New York, was the nearest approach to Comiskey in brainwork.  There are no others.”

Lost Advertisements–Anheuser-Busch, Washington Senators

5 Feb

 

ab1910sox

In 1910, a series of Anheuser-Busch ads  appeared in several Washington D.C. papers. The ad above appeared when the Chicago White Sox faced the Senators in early May:

Comiskey’s New White Sox are in Town

The headline referred to Charles Comiskey‘s shakeup of his team, which included the appointment of Hugh Duffy as manager, and a new starting infield; first baseman Chick Gandil, second baseman Rollie Zeider, and shortstop Lena Blackburne, and Billy Purtell at third.

An advertisement later that week featured caricatures of Napoleon Lajoie and Hughie Jennings, and described Rube Waddell as “The only wild animal of his kind in captivity:”

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The ads were similar in style and content to those for Old Underoof Whiskey that appeared in Chicago papers during the same period–all advertised upcoming games, commented on the behavior of fans and players, and chronicled the year’s pennant races–with one exception.

A July ad featured the full text, with illustrations, of Ernest Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat:”

ab1910casey

They only appeared for one season.

 

Lost Advertisements–Cubs, White Sox and Whales Endorse Steele’s Game of Baseball

18 Dec

steeles

A 1915 advertisement for Steele’s Game of Baseball, a table-top game which claimed to have “Over 1,000,000 absorbing combinations,” and promised that the player would “enjoy it beyond anything you might have believed possible:”

Greatest of All Indoor Games

“Everybody becomes a ‘fan’ when Steele’s Game of Baseball in on the table.  The parlor or living room fades away.  In its place appears the vision of the baseball field.  The thrill of the great game enters the veins, action follows action; one tense, gripping situation follows another so rapidly that the breathless interest is sustained.  Time flies away on the wings of pleasure and outside attractions cease to call to the family where Steele’s Game of Baseball has entered.”

The game was produced by the Burr-Vack Company, a Chicago-based office supply dealer, and received glowing endorsements from members of the city’s three teams:

World’s Greatest Ball-Men are “Fans

Charles A. Comiskey owner Chicago ‘White Sox’ and probably the most famous man in baseball, says: ‘I think Steele’s Game of Baseball is the next best thing to the real outside game–full of thrills and with an endless number of exciting situations.  Would be sorry to part with the one I have.’

“‘Heine’ Zimmerman third baseman of the ‘Cubs’ and famous hitter says: ‘I  beg to thank you for the Steele’s Baseball Game.  After one starts to play it you almost imagine you are watching the real game on the diamond.  I expect to get considerable amusement out of it.’

Mordecai Brown famous pitcher, formerly of the ‘Cubs’ but now with the ‘Whales’ says: ‘Next to the real game, I enjoy playing Steele’s Game of Baseball.It’s a dandy and should make a big hit.’

Chas. E. Weeghman owner of Chicago ‘Whales’ Federal League pennant winners says, ‘I’m for Steele’s Game of Baseball.  It’s a great game and one any lover of baseball (or anyone else) is sure to enjoy to the limit.  You’ve put it right across the plate with this game.’

Frank M. (Home Run) Schulte famous ‘Cubs’ left fielder says: ‘I am pleased with the Steele’s Baseball Game you sent me.  It affords considerable amusement and is almost as interesting as the real game.”

Joe Benz ‘White Sox’ pitcher and one of the stars of the American League, says, ‘I think it is one of the most interesting parlor games on the market.  It is sure to make a big hit. I enjoy it immensely.'”

[…]

“Note what the famous professional baseball players portrayed here say about Steele’s Game of Baseball.  In the long winter, when outdoor ball is impossible, these stars of the diamond find a dandy substitute in Steele’s Game of Baseball.”

Despite the endorsements, the “Ideal Xmas Gift,” which cost one dollar and was “For sale by all State Street, Department, Stationary, Toy, and Book stores,” appears to have quickly disappeared–there are no mentions of the game in newspapers after 1915.

“The Duke of Minneapolis”

20 Nov

Martin F. Duck was born in Zanesville, Ohio in 1867.  He played under the name Martin Duke.   As he was becoming a well-known pitcher The Kansas City Times told a story which purported to explain why he changed his name:

 “The real name of the (Minneapolis) Millers’ best pitcher is not Duke, but Duck…Martin was pitching in a game up in Michigan and in the ninth his club led the opposing team by one run. (With two runners on base) a man up in the grandstand began imitating the quack of a duck…as the ‘quack, quack, quack continued his face became lobster-colored.  He shouted to his taunter that he would fix him after the game, but the fiend…went on with his ‘quack, quack, quack’”

At this point, Duck allegedly threw the ball into the stands at his tormentor, allowing both runs to score, “After that he dropped the name Duck entirely.”

By the time that story appeared Martin Duke seemed headed for a productive career.  He went 14-12 with the Zanesville Kickapoos in the Ohio State League in 1887.  In 1888, he again pitched for Zanesville, now in the Tri-State League and for The Toledo Maumees in the same league—no  records survive for that season.

The five-foot, five-inch Duke made a name for himself the following year.  While pitching for the Millers in the Western Association, he posted a 24-16 record and struck out 347 batters in 355 innings, earning the nickname “Duke of Minneapolis.”

In February of 1890, The Chicago Inter Ocean said Chicago’s Players League team was after the pitcher:  “Captain Comiskey of the Chicago Brotherhood has been on Duke’s trail for weeks, with the result that although Duke has not yet signed a contract we will play with the Chicago Brotherhood club this season.”

If Comiskey was, in fact, on Duke’s trail he never got his man.  Duke returned to Minneapolis, and while statistics for 1890 no longer survive, but the press routinely called him the Millers’ best pitcher.

In 1891, he slipped to 10-11, and in May he was suspended for being, as The Sporting Life said, “Out of condition” (a euphemism for his problem drinking), but earned an August trial with the Washington Statesmen in the American Association.  The Saint Paul Globe said of his departure:

“Martin Duke–the one, the only, the statuesque Duke–has bidden good-bye to the ozone of Minnesota and beer of Minneapolis…Last night he boarded the train, moved his hand in adieu, cocked his hat to one side, closed an eye, uttered a certain familiar expression peculiar to Dukes and disappeared forever.”

Martin Duke

Duke failed his Major league trial.  In four games, he posted a 0-3 record and walked 19 batters in 23 innings.

Despite his poor debut, he received another opportunity, this one with the Chicago Colts in 1892. When he was signed in January, The Chicago Tribune said:

“Duke’s last season, owing to lax discipline, was not a success, but this season he promises to regain his old form, as he is bound by an ironclad contract to abstain from intoxicating drinks.  By his contract half his salary reverts to the club if he breaks the pledge.  This should keep him straight.”

He received a big buildup in The Chicago Daily News:

“(He) is one of Captain Anson’s new colts, and he not only puts the ball over the home plate with almost the speed of a cannon shot, but he also seems to have a head studded with eyes, for stealing second base when he is in the box is always most hazardous business.  His pitching arm is so strong and shapely and so well equipped with powerful muscles that it would win admiration from a blacksmith.”

Despite the accolades he was released before the beginning of the season, The Tribune said:

“Martin Duke is also down for release. He has shown up poorly so far, and the club cannot use five pitchers anyhow.”

He signed with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association and seemed to regain his old form posting a 13-3 record.  It was his last successful season.

After getting off to a 2-5 start in 1893 Duke was released by New Orleans, and initially there were no takers for his services.  The Milwaukee Journal said why:

“Martin was always a good pitcher, but his mouth and his temper were too great a load for any team to carry any length of time.”

Duke bounced around the minor leagues after that with short stints for teams in the Eastern League, Southern Association and Western League until 1895, when he returned again to Minneapolis.  But after 13 games with the Millers, he injured his arm and was released in June.  According to The St. Paul Globe, he injured the arm again in August; rupturing a tendon while pitching for a semi-pro team in Rosemount, Minnesota.

In 1897, The Sporting Life reported that Duke, employed in a Minneapolis tavern, was “Trying to get in shape” in order to return to the diamond that season, but he never played professional ball again.

Duke died from pneumonia on December 31, 1898, in Minneapolis.  The Sporting Life said:

“He possessed great ability as a pitcher, but never lasted long with any club, as he was a hard man to control, and was given to dissipation, which ultimately led to enforced retirement from the profession and untimely death.”

Duke was 31 years-old.

A shorter version of this post appeared in October 2012