Tag Archives: Charles Emmett Van Loan

“There will be Cliques”

30 Jun

William Ingraham “W.I.” Harris was one of the most important baseball writers of the 19th Century, but like Charles Emmett Van Loan three decades later, he died young and is mostly forgotten today.

He was sports editor for The New York Press, which was billed as “The aggressive Republican newspaper of New York,” and The New York Star.  The Sporting Life said of Harris:

“He feels strongly in any given direction and talks earnestly. One cannot be long in his presence without being convinced of his unswerving honesty and sincerity.”

He was, along with Ren Mulford Jr. of The Cincinnati Times-Star, an outspoken critic of the Players League, and said he agreed with Mulford’s assessment that the appearance of the Brotherhood, and the resulting “baseball war” was “a campaign for the preservation of baseball law on one side and its destruction on the other.”

William Ingraham Harris

William Ingraham Harris

Harris was also considered the best prognosticators among contemporary baseball writers, and before the 1890 season began he said:

 “For the past two years I have had the satisfaction of naming the champions of both major associations before a championship game had been played…and last season (in the National league), with the exception of Pittsburgh and Cleveland, I located the exact position at the finish.”

He said he would not attempt to handicap the results of the three leagues in 1890:

“The writer who ventures to make predictions as to the results of the championship fight in any one of the many leagues at this stage of affairs takes an enormous risk on masticating a pretty tough crow later on.”

But, said Harris, he was “willing to take my chances on giving one tip,” before the beginning of the season.  The “tip” went against the conventional wisdom, in fact, it went against what the entire baseball world considered a certainty; the fate of the club The Chicago Tribune called “The greatest team ever organized.

“(I) shall not undertake to pick any winners this year until the season has been well started.  I propose, however, to nominate one team that will not win a pennant, and that is the Chicago Brotherhood team.  In making this assertion I am bucking against general sentiment, or rather general belief.  The consensus of opinion is the other way.  There is no doubt that on paper the Chicago Brotherhood team is in many respects one of the greatest aggregations of baseball stars ever got together, but there are some potent reasons against its success.“

Harris was critical of the team’s catchers and pitchers:

(Conrad “Dell”) Darling never was a first class catcher and never will be.  (Charles “Duke”) Farrell is a strong hitter, and at times a most brilliant catcher, but he is not a steady or remarkably heady catcher.  Boyle is a good one, but he isn’t in it with such good men as (William “Buck”) Ewing, (Jack) Clements, (Charlie) Bennett, (Charlie) Ganzel, (George “Doggie’) Miller, (Connie) Mack, (Michael “King”) Kelly, (John “Jocko”) Milligan, (Paul) Cook and (Cornelius “Con”) Daily.  On catchers the team is all right on quantity, but short in quality.

“As to pitchers, (Mark) Baldwin, in 1887 and 1889, was a star In 1888 he was not to be depended on.  Baldwin doesn’t take care of himself as he should in the winter time.  As a pitcher he ranks among those who may be great at any time, but who keep you guessing on the dates.

(Charles “Silver”) King, in condition, is a ‘tip topper.’  He was a failure in the League once before, and in the world’s Series against New York didn’t astonish people to any extent.”

He dismissed the other two pitchers, Frank Dwyer and Charlie Bartson as a “medium man” and “unknown quantity,” and said “Unless strengthened in the battery department, and probably not then, this team will not land first.”

He conceded that “The outfield and infield are well-nigh perfect.”  But, there was a bigger problem than the weak pitching and catching; Harris predicted tension between second baseman Fred Pfeffer, who had raised $20,000 for the creation of the Players League, recruited most of his Chicago White Stockings teammates to jump to the Brotherhood, and was one of the club’s directors, and team captain and first baseman Charles Comiskey:

“(T)he Comiskey-Pfeffer or the Pfeffer-Comiskey combination.  By the way, which is it?  The answer to this will have quite a bearing on the general result…There will be cliques.  Germany and Ireland will be at war in less than a month.  The public may not know, but the lack of harmony will be there and will have its effect.  Comiskey is a great baseball captain.  At least he was in the American Association.  His methods are well-known.  He was supreme at St. Louis.  Everything went.  The men had no respect for (owner Chris) von der Ahe.  They feared Comiskey.  At Chicago Comiskey will find some men who have just escaped from the rule of a greater captain than himself, perhaps a harder task master.  They have reveled all winter over the prospect of freedom from that restraint, proper and effective though it was.  They are stockholders—yes magnates—now.  Will they swallow Comiskey’s manners on the field and in the dressing room?  As Charlie Reed sings, ‘Well, I guess not.’ (Reed was a famous minstrel performer in the 1880s and 18890s)

“Comiskey must change his methods.  He will have to gag himself; he will have to, figuratively, kiss the baseball blarney stone; he will have to be cheerful, under protest; and, above all, if harmony be his objective point he will have to please Director Pfeffer.  He may not try to do these things; he probably won’t.  Comiskey will have his way.  He always has had it.  He can only rule by practically despotic methods.”

Fred Pfeffer

Fred Pfeffer

Harris correctly concluded that Brooklyn, New York, and probably Boston (the eventual champions) would finish ahead of Chicago.  At season’s end, The Chicago Times summed up how prescient Harris had been about the fourth place team in the Players League:

“The outside world cannot fully realize the bitter disappointment felt here over the poor showing made by Comiskey’s team during the season just closed.  Surely it was strongest aggregation of players ever collected in one club, but its lack of success was mainly from two causes—lack of discipline and the miserable condition of certain members of the club.

“There has been absolutely no discipline in the team, and some of the men paid as much attention to Comiskey’s orders as they would to a call from some church congregation.  An order to sacrifice was met with a smile of scorn, and the ball was hammered down to an infielder, who made an easy double play.”

Harris died the following summer on July 7, at age 33, of tuberculosis.  The Boston Globe, the first paper he worked for, said:

“Being of a most observing nature, a ready thinker and as it were, a lightening calculator, he managed to foretell many of the leading baseball events of the year weeks ahead…Mr. Harris was without exaggeration, one of the brightest of his class, a ready and graceful writer and a hard worker.”

W.I. Harris (#5), as a member of the New York Reporters Baseball Club at the Polo Ground in 1889.

W.I. Harris (#5), as a member of the New York Reporters Baseball Club at the Polo Ground in 1889.

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Bugs Versus Rube

9 Jun

Charles Emmett Van Loan is largely forgotten today, but from 1904 until his death in 1919 at age 42, he was considered one of the best, and most prolific, baseball writers in the country.

Grantland Rice said:

“Van Loan was not only a great story-teller.  He was the first writer of his time to see the romance and the glamour of the game, mingled with its amazing fund of humor.”

In addition to his newspaper work, which included stints in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver, Van Loan wrote some of the most popular fictional baseball stories of his era—he published four collections of baseball stories, as well as anthologies of  boxing, horse racing and golf stories.

Hugh Fullerton said of his death:

“Van is dead and sports in America have lost their greatest interpreter, and fighters, ball players and athletes of all grades have lost their best friend.”

Charles Emmett Van Loan

Charles Emmett Van Loan

As sports editor for The New York American in 1910 Van Loan weighed in on the two most interesting pitchers of the day:

“In the race for distinction as the most erratic, eccentric and daffy pitcher of the big leagues “Bugs” Raymond is leading by an elbow over our old friend, G. Edward Waddell, known to fame and a portion of Missouri as the ‘Rube.’

“The battle between G. Edward and the ‘Bug’ has been a close one.  For many moons Waddell held the belt for eccentricity.  If he had not been a wonderful baseball player, he would have been chucked to the minors years ago, but pitchers like Waddell are so rare that they must be preserved to the game.

Bugs Raymond

Bugs

“We all remember the sorrows of Oscar Hammerstein and the many tribulations forced upon him by his singers, particularly the women.  A woman with a wonderful voice can get away with anything short of murder in the first degree by blaming it upon her artistic temperament—which is an ornamental means for plain unadorned meanness, selfishness or petty spite.  If a soprano got jealous of another woman and tore up her contract, refused to sing her roles and played smash generally, she could blame it upon her artistic temperament, and all was forgiven.  What a shame the ‘Rube’ never heard about that artistic temperament thing!  It would have been such a handy alibi for him.

“Waddell stuck in the limelight by virtue of his ability to throw a ball like a streak of lightning and throw it twice or three times in the same place…In between his marvelous performances the ‘rube’ established himself as a bartender, a side-show barker, an actor, a sidewalk comedian, a rough and tumble battler and a very competent vessel for mixed liquors.  He enjoyed the proud eminence of supreme bug of the major leagues and everything was lovely until ‘Bugs’ Raymond happened along.  ‘Bugs’ went the ‘Rube’ one better.  Waddell in his balmiest days never had a special keeper engaged, by the management to take him gently but firmly by the elbow and steer him away from temptation.

Rube

Rube

“You never heard of a chorus girl with an overdose of the artistic temperament.  A chorus girl who develops tantrums is fired immediately.  You never heard of an eccentric ballplayer who was not a good one, a bad player would be sent  back to herd the cows and coax the potatoes out of the ground with a hoe.

“’Rube’ and ‘Bugs’ are good players.  Raymond almost drove (John) McGraw to despair last season, for the chubby manager realized what an excellent pitcher ‘Bugs’ really was and tried to save him for the hard finish of the season.  McGraw even went so far as to try physical persuasion upon his big, but erratic southpaw, upon the ground that a swift wallop on the nose is sometimes better than a ream of argument.

“McGraw tried to keep money out of Raymond’s hands, figuring that if he never had a cent he would be forced to keep his nose dry.  No use.  ‘Bugs’ had too many friends.  His admirers were always ready to purchase even if ‘Bugs’ had to look up in the air when it came his turn to deliver orders to the gent in the apron.

“’Turn him loose on a desert isle’ said one of the players, referring to Raymond, ‘and inside of an hour he will turn up with a flask on his hip.  How he does that I don’t know.  I guess he just charms that liquor.

“Unfortunately George Edward must retire from the competition.  Boston is his hoodoo town,  By reason of matrimonial troubles ‘Rube’ was forced to cut Boston off the pitching list, and just as the clouds cleared away, bing! On the elbow with a red hot liner, and out goes the ‘Rube’ with a broken bone.

“At the end of last season nobody believed that McGraw would make another effort to reform the thirsty Raymond.  It was thought that in spite of the fact that ‘Bugs’ won 600 percent of his games, he would get the gate, but McGraw decided to try it again on the ground that a pitcher of Raymond’s class is worth saving at any cost.  McGraw is willing to gamble.  Should he fail to straighten out the big spitballist everybody will say:  ‘I told you there wasn’t any use.’  On the other hand, should the private keeper keep ‘Bugs’ away from the disturbance water and his pitching be up to his usual standard, everyone will say that McGraw showed excellent judgment in hanging on to his souse paw through thick and thin.

“An erratic pitcher is a hard strain on a team.  The men behind him never know when he is going to blow up and they are kept on a strain whenever the eccentric one works.

“When ‘Bugs’ goes into the box in good condition, his head clear and his muscles hardened by work, he pitches good enough baseball for any man’s club.  His keeper has been steering him away from the gin mills for some time—touch wood everybody—and at last accounts McGraw was hopeful that the problem had been solved.

“They say the ever loving ‘Rube’ is consumed with jealousy because ‘Bugs’ has a keeper.  A man with a broken wing doesn’t really need a keeper.”

McGraw was unable “to straighten out the big spitballist,” Raymond’s big league career was over by June of 1911, and he was dead just more than a year after that.  Waddell’s major league days were over within weeks of Van Loan’s observations, and he was dead less than four years later.