Tag Archives: Charlie Bennett

Kid Nichols

25 Jun

Add Hall of Famer Charles “Kid” Nichols to the list of those who were convinced that players from an earlier era were of better quality than those “of today,” even if the earlier era was less than a decade before.

Kid Nichols

Kid Nichols

While pitching for the Kansas City Blue Stockings in the Western League in 1903, the 33-year-old pitcher told a group which included a reporter for The Associated Press:

“I am not so sure that the ball players of today are much superior to those of ten years ago in general utility.  It seems to me there was more life and spirit in the games of a decade ago than in those of the present regime.  They weren’t so mercenary in those days and there was much more sportsmanlike spirit.  Nowadays the paramount question with the average player is salary.  He doesn’t care so much about the record of the team he plays with makes as opportunities offered him to make himself individually famous and thus increase the value of his services.  In many clubs teamwork is lacking on account of the intense desire of some of the men to make an impressive showing by individual work.  In the old days one didn’t hear so much of the individual as the playing of the team as a whole an in my opinion baseball would stand on much firmer foundation if the same spirit prevailed nowadays.”

Among the best:

“Take old (Tommy) McCarthy for instance.  As an outfielder none of them had him beaten, and in my opinion there is not an outfielder his equal now.  It was McCarthy who originated the trap ball which he worked so effectively.

“He was absolutely the headiest man in the outfield I ever saw.  You have seen outfielders throw men out at first on line drives, but you haven’t seen it done often.  I’ve seen McCarthy spoil many a legitimate one-base hit by that same play.  Another favorite play of his was this:  A man would be on first and second.  The man at bat would drive to left.  McCarthy would snap it up on a short bound and flip it to second as quick as a flash in time to catch the man who had run off first.  In turn the second baseman would throw the ball to third in time to head off the man who had started from second.  Thus a really legitimate one-base hit was turned into a double play.

“But, speaking of outfielders, Willie Keeler was about as good as any of them for all around ability.  He was like lightning on his feet and was no slouch at hitting.  He certainly did things to me one day in Baltimore.  He faced me four times and this is what he did:  Made four hits to four different parts of the field off of four different kinds of curves.  Keeler was the hardest man to fool I ever pitched to.”

Nichols said Herman “Germany” Long, his teammate for 12 years was:

“(O)ne of the greatest shortstops in the business.  He played with Boston while I was a Beaneater, and of course I had good opportunities to watch him work.  He could cover a world of territory and was a sure and accurate fielder.  You hear many people say that Hughie Jennings in his palmy days was the best infielder ever developed.  In my opinion Long could cover a foot more territory than Jennings.

“When it comes to catchers my preference is, and always has been, Charlie Bennett, whose legs were cut off in a railroad accident at Wellsville, Kansas.  Charlie was always consistent and knew what his brain was given to him for.  He was also an accurate, quick thrower…Martin Bergen was another good catcher.  He was the one who went crazy, you know, and murdered his wife and children.  Bergen always was ‘a little bit off of the top,’ but when he took a notion to do his best, his playing was beyond criticism.  Ed McFarland and (Billy) Sullivan are two right good men, and then there was reliable old Jim McGuire and Charles Zimmer, both of whom were cracker jack.”

bergen

Martin “Marty” Bergen–” always was ‘a little bit off of the top,’

Nichols said as a pitcher “I can hardly be considered a competent judge” of fellow “slabsters,” but continued:

“Personally, I admire the old war-horse, Cy Young, more than any of the others.  He is certainly a remarkable man.  Of the left-handers there a few better than (Frank “Noodles”) Hahn, of Cincinnati; (Christy) Mathewson and (Joe) McGinnity are undoubtedly valuable men.  Clark Griffith is, I think, the headiest pitcher that ever stepped on a rubber.  Among the other great ones are Jack Taylor, Joe Corbett, (Bill) Bernhard, of Cleveland and our own Jake Weimer.

Nichols was largely forgotten as one of baseball’s great pitchers by the time the Baseball Hall of Fame’s inaugural class was selected in 1936.  In the late 1940s, a push for his inclusion was led by sportswriter Grantland Rice.  Rice frequently mentioned the pitcher in his columns and in the summer of 1948 quoted two Hall of Famers regarding Nichols’ prowess:

“A few decades ago I asked Christy Mathewson to name the best pitcher he ever faced.  ‘That’s easy,’ Matty answered.  ‘His name is Charles Kid Nichols of Boston.  Nichols isn’t a good pitcher.  He is a great one.’

“I recalled this talk when the mail brought a letter from Ty Cobb at Menlo Park, California.

“‘I think everyone has overlooked one of the greatest pitchers of all time,’ Cobb Writes.  ‘His name is Kid Nichols.  Here are just a few of his records from 1890 to 1906:

“1.  Won three consecutive games on three consecutive days, all pitched in different cities.

“2.  Won 20 or more games for 10 consecutive years.  He won 360 and lost 202. (Nichols’ record was 361-208)

“3.  Won 28 or more games for eight consecutive seasons.  (Nichols won more than 28 games seven times, and not consecutively).”

Despite the inaccuracies in the letter, Cobb and Rice continued to campaign for Nichols and the push to honor him worked.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949.

Nichols, right, with Pie Traynor, left, and Branch Rickey at the Hall of Fame in 1949. Traynor was elected in 1948, but his plaque was not presented until 1949

Nichols, right, with Pie Traynor, left, and Branch Rickey at the Hall of Fame in 1949. Traynor was elected in 1948, but his plaque was not presented until 1949

“Radbourn would only Accept the Money on Condition that the Money be bet on him”

28 Feb

Like most 19th-Century players, Arthur Irwin was convinced the game didn’t get any better after he played.  He talked to a reporter from The Buffalo Times in 1906 and said there still had never been a pitcher who was better than one of his former teammates.

Arthur Irwin

Arthur Irwin

Irwin said:

“In my opinion (Charles “Old Hoss”) Radbourn was the greatest pitcher the world ever saw and I doubt if his equal will appear.  He had a spit ball and worked it to perfection, only it was not known under that name.”

Irwin’s recollections of Radbourn highlight how open gambling was in 19th Century baseball:

“I remember on one occasion when we (the Providence Grays) were playing the Boston team one of our stockholders came to the hotel the night before the game and said he had wagered $6,000 on the Providence club.  Then he told Rad that he would give him $500 if he would pitch.  Radbourn would only accept the money on condition that the money be bet on him and the $500 was so placed.  The afternoon of the game found Radbourn in grand form and he made the Boston players look like a bunch of minor leaguers, not one of them scoring.”

If the story is not apocryphal, it could refer to Radbourn’s 4-0 shutout of the Beaneaters on August 12, 1884 in Boston—it was his only shutout there while he and Irwin were teammates.

"Old Hoss" Radbourn

“Old Hoss” Radbourn

Irwin also told the reporter about an exhibition game in 1884 against the Toledo Blue Stocking in the American Association:

“When we arrived the night before the game we found that they were betting $10 to $7 against us.  That same evening the mayor of a small town some few miles away drifted into the hotel and during the conversation remarked that he guessed we were not very anxious to win the game.  Naturally, we asked why he said that and he said the odds were against us, with no Providence money in sight, but he was willing to bet $2,500 on us if Radbourn pitched.  It was not Radbourn’s turn, but when the mayor supplemented his remarks by offering to give Rad $100 if he went into the box, the offer was snapped up.  Toledo had such stars as Curt Welch and (Tony) Mullane.  Welch, who was the first man up, got to first base.  After that there was nothing to it and not another man reached first during the entire game.”

Not only were no current pitchers as good as Radbourn, Irwin said no current catcher was nearly as tough as another of his teammates with the Worcester Ruby Legs in 1880:

“One of the most remarkable exhibitions of catching I ever saw was performed by Charles Bennett…As you know, we did not use gloves in those days and the pitcher was allowed to take a hop and step before throwing the ball from the box, which was only 45 feet from the batter.  On three successive days Bennett caught 14, 15 and 16-inning games without any protection.  The following day we were booked to play New York and Bennett went in to catch.  After half a dozen balls had been pitched , Charley suddenly dropped his hands and walked away from the plate.  I at once ran over to him and a glance at his hands told me all I wanted to know.  Both hands were black and blue from the base of the fingers almost to the wrist and the bruises went clear through the hands.  Of course it was impossible for him to continue, but imagine the torture he must have suffered before he was forced to quit.  I don’t believe you could find a catcher today who would go through that experience.”

Charlie Bennett

Charlie Bennett

Irwin also didn’t have much use for the belief that the game had progressed in terms of strategy since his playing days:

“It is amusing to hear (John) McGraw and other talk about the wonderful progress made in playing scientific baseball.  I am sure we put up just as clever a game in the 80s as they do today, but we did not have fancy names for our plays.  We worked the squeeze, hit and run and other tricks.  When I first came to the Philadelphia club (1886) I worked the trap play and got away with it.  There were men on first and second and the ball was hit into short left field.  I yelled for (George) Wood to let me have it, although it was his ball.  Then I let it drop through my hands and the bleachers let out an unearthly holler.  I picked up the ball; shot it to second in time to tag the man there and then the other man was easy.  We had taken our places on the bench before the crowd got wise to the play and then the cheers more than made up for their hisses.”

“He Would let a Fast one hit him Square in the Chest”

11 Sep

Charlie Bennett was one of the best catchers of the 1880s, and is credited with inventing the chest protector.  Bennett always gave the credit for the invention to his wife. The Detroit Free Press told the story in the 1914:

“It was a constant source of worry to Mrs. Bennett to watch her husband being made a target for the speed merchants of thirty years ago.  And she fully realized the pressing necessity of some kind of armor to prevent the hot shot sent through by these speedy slabmen from caving in a rib or two which belonged to her better half.

“So she and her hubby proceeded to contrive some means of saving the aforementioned ribs.  After much deep thinking and considerable labor they gradually shaped out something that had a faint resemblance to the protector worn today.  A crude but very substantial shield was made by sewing strips of cork of a good thickness in between heavy bed ticking material.   After much hard work and many dove like spats they had it ready for trial.  Charlie didn’t have the nerve to wear it outside his shirt for fear of the fans roasting him about being chicken-hearted, so he wore it under his baseball shirt.”

Charlie Bennett

Charlie Bennett

The article said after Bennett began wearing the protector in games sometimes “he would let a fast one hit him square in the chest.  The ball would rebound back almost to the pitcher, much to the amazement of the fans and players, who weren’t on to the hidden cause.”

Bennett’s career came to an end after the 1893 season.  While taking a train with former Boston Beaneaters teammate John Clarkson for a hunting trip, Bennett slipped while getting off a moving train to speak to a friend, when the train began moving he tried to climb back aboard, slipped and fell under the wheels.  Bennett lost his left leg at the ankle and his right at the knee.

Johnny Evers, in his book “Touching Second: Science of Baseball” written in 1910 with Hugh Fullerton, told a story about Bennett watching a game years after his accident:

 “He was watching a game at Detroit when a young base runner, trying to steal second, slid straight at the baseman, who was reaching to take a high throw.  The baseman blocked him with one leg, caught the ball and touched the runner out. “’I could have beaten that myself,’ muttered Bennett in disgust. “’Without legs, Charlie?’ inquired a friend. “Yes—without legs,’  Snorted Bennett angrily, ‘for I would have had brains enough not to slide where he could block my feet.’”

Charlie Bennett threw out the first pitch at every Detroit Opening Day from 1896-1926...he died in February of 1927.

Charlie Bennett threw out the first pitch at every Detroit Opening Day from 1896-1926…he died in February of 1927.

Profiles of Members of Spalding’s World Tour

22 Apr

Among those who joined A.G. Spalding’s world tour between the 1888 and 1889 seasons, was Simon “Si” Goodfriend, a sports writer for The New York World who later became a theatrical agent.  In 1935 The New York Times said of Goodfriend “has watched baseball as a fan and a sportswriter since the days of the Civil War.”

Simon "Si" Goodfriend

Simon “Si” Goodfriend

Throughout the trip Goodfriend wrote brief profiles of some of the players:

On Hall of Famer John Montgomery “Monte” Ward:

“Ward is a credit to the professional brotherhood of ballplayers.  He is not only ambitious to elevate the standing of the profession but he is equally ambitious personally.  He is exceedingly studious and never visits a strange city (without visiting) the art galleries, museums and libraries and takes copious notes of what he sees.  He presents the same disposition on the sea voyage.  He is a busy person both with his pencil and at his ball practice.”

Ward, who had spearheaded the effort to create the first player’s union in 1885 and the creation of the Players League in 1890.

John Montgomery Ward

John Montgomery Ward

Of John Kinley Tener, White Stockings pitcher and future United States Congressman and Pennsylvania Governor:

“I was going to allude to John K. Tener as a typical handsome American gentleman, but unfortunately I learned, but a day or two ago, that he was born in Ireland and came to America with his parents when he was 9-years-old…His features are clear cut, regular and refined.  His manners are gentle and cultured. Baseball players secured a worthy brother professional when he joined their forces, and there is a to be regretted possibility that he may retire again next season…Anson can be relied on to make a great effort to hold him back.  On the trip Mr. Tener acts as a secretary and treasurer to Mr. Spalding.”

John Tener

John Tener

Tener jumped the Cubs to join the Pittsburgh Burghers in Players League in 1890; after posted a 3-11 record with an ERA of 7.31 Tener left baseball for the banking business, and ultimately politics.

Jimmy Manning, who would quite possibly save an umpire’s life in Kansas City in 1890, was also on the tour:

“(He) is another modest young man with a blond mustache, of which he is proud.   He recently graduated from the Boston college of Pharmacy.”

Jimmy Manning

Jimmy Manning

Philadelphia Quakers outfielder Jim Fogarty:

(Monte Ward) mentions in his book on baseball (that Fogarty was) probably the best right fielder in the country, is a bright looking young fellow with an exuberance of spirits, unquestionably inherited from the land of Erin, and that apparently has no limit.  It is said that he is writing for a Philadelphia paper.  If his letters are half as bubbling and genial as he is at sea they will make interesting reading.  With the exception of (Charlie) Bennett of the Detroits, Fogarty probably has as bad a pair of hands from hard knocks in baseball games as any player in the country.”

Fogarty also jumped to the Players League, joining the brotherhood team in Philadelphia; however he became ill during the season would die of tuberculosis in May of 1891.

Jim Fogarty

Jim Fogarty

Of Billy Earle, “The Little Globetrotter,” McClure said:

“Little William Earle…has already proven himself a first-class backstop (and) is still quite a lad, being only 21 years old.  He is heavy-set has a jolly round face, an habitual smile and tightly curled hair.  He rarely smokes, doesn’t drink and would almost sooner play ball than eat.

Billy Earle

Billy Earle

Some of Goodfriend’s observations about Earle would prove to be wrong, as discussed in an earlier post.

Goodfriend’s profiles of the White Stockings’ “stone wall infield” tomorrow.

Alamazoo Jennings

16 Apr

Alfred Gorden Jennings earned his nickname the day after his only professional game, as the catcher for the  Milwaukee Grays in 1878; and it was given to him by on of the most famous baseball writers of the era.

The Grays had three catchers in 1878; Charlie Bennett, Will Foley and Bill Hobart, all of whom were injured on August 15 while Milwaukee was in Cincinnati for a series with the Reds.   Grays Manager Jack “Death to Flying Things” Chapman found Jennings, who had been playing with local semi-pro and amateur teams for a decade, and put him in the lineup for the August 15 game.

Pitcher Mike Golden was on the mound for Milwaukee, and Jennings told sportswriter Rem Mulford Jr. years later:

“We were all mixed in our signs.  I signed for an outcurve and got an inshoot which broke a couple of fingers.  ‘Go ahead,’ I said, ‘ I’ll stay here all day even if I have to stop ‘em with my elbows.  You can’t drive me away.’  Well they didn’t.”

Jennings was officially credited with 10 passed balls (he claimed he had 17), a record that stood until 1884.

The morning after the game in The Cincinnati Enquirer, the headline on Oliver Perry “O. P.” Caylor’s story read:

Alamazoo Jennings Makes His Debut Behind the Bat

His Gall Holds Out but His Hands Weaken

Caylor said:

“(Jennings) looked so large and handsome and very like a catcher that Manager Chapman was mashed, and straightaway engaged him, and clinched the bargain with a dinner.  When Al pulled on his sole- leather gloves and poised near the grandstand at three o’clock, the crowd scarcely breathed.  Zip came the ball from Golden’s hand; bang it went against the backstop because Al had stooped too late to pick it up.  It took several minutes for him to gauge the speed of Golden’s pitching, but he got it down fine at last, and stopped a ball every once in awhile.  But, the low comedy parts came in when the new catcher went up close behind the bat.  A batter had but to get on first base and a run was scored.  They went to second and third without danger, and tallied on a passed ball.”

Jennings told Mulford his reaction to Caylor’s story:

“I read a few lines and wanted to fight.  I read a few lines more and had to laugh.”

The Box Score

The Box Score

That game was the end of Jennings’ one-day professional career.  Shortly afterwards he began a more than 10-year run as a minor league umpire in the Bluegrass, Southern, Northwestern and Interstate Leagues.  He also served as an umpire in the Union Association in 1884, his only season in a major league.

Mulford would occasionally update his readers about Jennings, of whom he said:

“With all his peculiarities, Amamazoo is a good fellow, and he has as many friends in and out of the profession as anybody ever connected with the great national game.”

By 1891 he gave up umpiring to become “The Parched Corn King of America,”selling his product in “three cities–Cincinnati, Covington and Newport—and netting every day ten times the amount of the original capital invested in the enterprise.”

by November of 1894 Jennings had moved on from the “parched corn” business, to “pushing an insect killer,” when as The Sporting Life said: “Death entered another victory upon his scorebook.”  He was 43-years-old.

The Enquirer said for his funeral his friends ordered a “floral piece…over seven feet high.  It is made of beautiful flowers.  Two large floral bats cross each other above, and below then are two floral balls, and at the bottom of the piece the inscription: ‘His Last Decision.'”

Count Campau Explains the “Science of the Sport”—the Battery

20 Mar

Charles Columbus “Count” Campau earned his nickname because of his regal appearance and his background; he was a member of a prominent Detroit family and educated at Notre Dame, and was regarded as one of the smartest players of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

His Major League career was brief, just 147 games with the Detroit Wolverines, St. Louis Browns and Washington Senators, but he was one of the best known, and highest regarded minor league players for 20 years.

Charles Columbus "Count" Campau

Charles Columbus “Count” Campau

Campau was especially popular in New Orleans, where he played for parts of four seasons, managed for one, and adopted as his home.

In 1893 Campau, who The New Orleans Times-Picayune called “one of the best students of baseball,” wrote an article as “Advice for Amateurs” about the “Science of the Sport:”

 “Many a time I have been asked for my views on the successful way to make a good ball player.  From a player’s standpoint a ball player is born and not made.  But with continued practice and coaching from and older and experienced head the amateur will probably reach the top notch in the profession.  There are two things, when combined, (which) will make a good ball player.  A practical and intellectual knowledge of the pastime or sport will aid the amateur.”

The New Orleans Pelicans captain explained what passed for “scientific baseball” in 1893; position by position:

“The most important position is the pitcher. For three reasons he ranks as the most important player on the team. He is the pivot upon which the victory of the team rests.  Should he be slightly disabled or out of condition all hopes of victory would go glimmering and the rest of the team would not put up a good game of ball.  A good pitcher, with fair fielders, is better than a poor pitcher with brilliant fielders.  With a weak pitcher, a fast fielding team would make a sport, and with good hitters would likely win one game out of ten.”

Campau blamed pitching for the Pelicans slow start that season; in spite of being “as hard a batting team” as there was in the league, they “could not win for the reason that the box was decidedly weak.”

“Another important factor in a game is the catcher…A catcher with good judgment and a quick brain will prevent the speedy base runner from advancing, and will lessen the work of the pitcher by watching the bases.  A good battery, with judgment, will work a hard batter, and the chances are that he will pop up a fly or send a grounder to short.  The catcher’s work does not only consist of receiving the delivery of his pitcher, for such a catcher is not worth the chest protector he wears, and will never become a success…(Charlie) Bennett(Jack) Clements, (Buck) Ewing and (Morgan) Murphy are catchers who watch every point of the game.  They back up the first baseman at every safe opportunity.”

"Count" Campau

“Count” Campau

More from the “Count” next week.