Tag Archives: Charlie Comiskey

Frank Bancroft

14 Jul

When Frank Carter Bancroft died in 1921 at age 74, “Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide” said:

“His executive ability and Knowledge of Base Ball, combined with the fact that he was for sport first and the show element of Base Ball secondarily, rendered him one of the most competent of men to handle the affairs of a professional team.”

Frank Bancroft

Frank Bancroft

While working in the front office of the Reds in 1892, Bancroft talked with Harry Weldon, sports editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer about some of the players who got their start with his teams.  He also didn’t seem to mind taking a swipe at a couple former players:

“Probably no man now before the public except Harry Wright or Adrian C. Anson have had a longer or more varied experience with the intricacies of the great National Game than Frank C. Bancroft.  He never wore the spangles, like a great many other managers, but he has been connected with the game in a managerial capacity since the early seventies.  ‘Bannie’ is one of the wittiest men in the profession and he has a fund of anecdotes about players and plays that are well worth hearing.  Many of the great baseball stars now before the public made their debut under Mr. Bancroft’s management.  Many of them who are now drawing $4,000 or $5,000 a season worked under Bannie for about one-tenth that amount and were glad to get it.  Bancroft was one of the leading lights in the original New England League, which graduated a great many of the stars of today.

“At the present time Mr. Bancroft is business manager of the Cincinnati Reds.  He has nothing whatever to do with the players. All of that part of the club’s affairs being under the supervision of Captain (Charlie) Comiskey.  All Bannie has to do is look after the gate, railroad rates and dates.  The other evening the veteran manager was in The Enquirer office and grew reminiscent.  His recital of the details of the debut of some of the stars is worth reproducing.

Harry Stovey, one of the greatest ballplayers today, began his professional career under Manager Bancroft.  He began his career in the pitcher’s box and graduated out of the ranks of a Philadelphia amateur team called the Defiance in 1877 (the Philadelphia Defiance were a professional team, part of the league Alliance).  Manager Bancroft heard of him, and in 1878 engaged him as a change pitcher for the New Bedfords.  G. Washington ‘Grin’ Bradley was the regular pitcher of the team, and as he was an every-day pitcher Stovey was never allowed an opportunity of displaying his pitching abilities on the New Bedford team.  He had to be content with warming the bench until fate was kind and he had a chance.

Stovey

Harry Stovey

“‘Stovey played his first game with our team at Baltimore,’ said Mr. Bancroft.  ‘we were making an exhibition tour when John Piggot, the first baseman, was taken ill, and as we only carried ten men, Stovey was called on to make an attempt to play first base.  His maiden effort was a brilliant one—so brilliant that it lost Piggott his job and made Stovey a fixture on first.  He had at least twenty putouts, no errors and several cracking hits to his credit that day.  He played the season with us, and his fame spread so that he was signed by the Worcester (Ruby Legs) League team and afterward with the Athletics Stovey’s salary the first season in New Bedford for $50 a month.  Now he is paid nearly that much a game.’

George Gore, the crack center-fieder of the New Yorks is another player who came into prominence with the New Bedfords that year.  Gore’s home was in Maine, at a little town called Saccarappa…Gore was about as green a specimen as ever stepped into the business.  He played a few games with the Fall Rivers, and then the New Bedfords got him.  He was a big, awkward country boy then, but he could run like a deer and hit the ball like a trip hammer.  Gore signed with the New Bedfords under Manager Bancroft for $50 a month, but he did not stay with them long.  His terrific batting attracted the attention of the whole baseball world, and soon the more prominent clubs were after him.  While the Chicagos were in Boston the late lamented (William) Hulbert, President of the National League, who was with them, ran up to New Bedford to have a talk with Gore.  Luck was with big George.  He had his eye with him, and made three home runs in the game.  That feat settled his fate.  Before Hulbert left New Bedford he had Gore’s name to a contract to play in Chicago in 1879 at $150 a month.  His career since that time is well known.  Today he is yet a great hitter, and reached first base as frequently as any player in the business, by either hits, errors or bases on balls.  His ability to reach first causes him to be selected to head the battery list of the New Yorks.

Arthur Irwin is another player whom Manager Bancroft put in the business. ‘He made a grand impression in his opening game with me,” said Manager Bancroft.  ‘I was then manager of the Worcester League team, and we were on the hog train for a while, owing to Charlie Bennett’s glass arm and Buck (William “Farmer”) Weaver’s faint heart.  Matters were so bad that a crisis was at hand.  A meeting of the stockholders of the club was called, and it was voted to place the team in my hands for one month, and if no improvement was shown at the end of that time I was to be given the chase.  It was a dying chance for me, and you could gamble that I had my eyes and ears open for a savior of some kind.  Arthur Irwin was then playing with an amateur team called the Aetnas, of South Boston, and I engaged him to play short with the Worcester.  (J. Lee) Richmond, the once famous left-handed pitcher, who played here with the Reds in 1886, was then with the Brown University team and he was telegraphed to come for a trial.  We played the Chicagos that day, and we shut them out, only one man getting first base.  Irwin made a great hit at short, and Richmond was a wizard.  Irwin was a fifty-dollar-a-month man, and that was the start of his professional career.  Richmond is now a physician at Geneva, Ohio.’”

The game Bancroft referred to was an exhibition between Worcester (a member of the National Association) and the National League’s Chicago White Stockings played on June 2 in Worcester. Richmond walked the first batter, Abner Dalrymple, and then retired the next twenty-one before the game was called after seven innings.  The Chicago Tribune said Richmond struck out 8.  Worcester tagged Frank Hankinson for 12 hits and 11 runs (Chicago also committed 11 errors).  Bancroft was correct that Richmond became a physician, but by 1892, he was no longer practicing and was working as a teacher in Toledo, Ohio.

J. Lee Richmond

J. Lee Richmond

“Big Roger Connor of last season’s New Yorks, but now of Philadelphia, received his professional introduction under Manager Bancroft.  ‘It sounds queer to say that such a cracking hitter as Roger Connor was ever released for poor batting, but such was the case’ said Manager Bancroft

“’I had him with the New Bedfords in 1878, but he was hitting so poorly that I released him.  He afterward signed with the New Havens the same season, but the disbanded.  Roger left New Haven and went to Waterbury, his home, where he joined an amateur team in that city called the Monitors.  Up to that time he had batted right-handed, but he decided to turn around and try it left-handed.  The change saved his life.  He blossomed out as a great slugger, and his reputation has been growing ever since.

“Connor, like Stovey, began his professional career at $50 a month, and has since climbed to the top rung of high salaried players.  Many young players of today should look upon these as examples for honest and temperate habits have enabled them to remain at the head of the profession, while the path is strewn with a multitude of others who might have been where they are if they had not thought this world was a continuous round of gaiety and fun and discovered their mistake when it was too late.”

 

“Why don’t you make Latham keep still?”

2 May

After winning the first three games of the 1894 season, the Cincinnati Reds dropped six of their next seven.  The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Harry Weldon said most of the players weren’t “fighters.”

“To be a ‘fighter’ in the sense that this term is applied in baseball does not necessarily mean that you must be a leg breaker, a rib crusher or indulge in billingsgate or profanity to your opponent.  It simply means that your mind must be on the game every minute and every second while it is in progress.  It means that you must watch every movement and point and be alert for any opening, however small.

“The Reds are as gentlemanly a team as there is in the league, and it is to their credit that they are so; but there is such a thing as carrying the matter too far.  There is an old adage about ‘fighting the devil with fire’ that some of our local players would do well to follow.  This advice is apparent.  There are times when ‘Excuse me please,’ and ‘I beg your pardon,’ won’t do.  The men to whom they are addressed don’t know what that sort of language means.  In other words, when you are in Rome do as Romans do.”

Weldon said some players were critical of the behavior of Reds third baseman Arlie Latham.  Latham was a Weldon favorite; the two had been friends since Weldon served as secretary for St. Browns President Chris Von der Ahe while Latham played there:

Arlie Latham

Arlie Latham

“There are a few growlers and soreheads who find fault with Latham for talking too much.  I cannot sympathize with such criticism.  Latham does not coach because he likes it or to be ‘funny’ and ‘work the grand stand,’ as many of his detractors would have people believe it.  I once heard one of the soreheads say to Captain (Charlie) Comiskey: ‘Why don’t you make Latham keep still?’

“’Do you want me to put him out of the game?’ replied the Reds’ captain.

“’No, I only want you to make him stop talking.’

“’Well, if I did that, he might as well be out of the game, for he would lose his interest.’

“Every word of this is true.  Latham is too much interested to keep still.  Hardly a ball is pitched in the game by the Reds’ pitchers that Latham from third base doesn’t have something to say.  Scarcely a movement is made at the bat, on the bases or the coaching lines that Latham doesn’t deliver some wordy instructions.

“He is in the game from start to finish.  He couldn’t be funny ‘to order’ to save his life.  The ludicrous and witty sallies he makes from the coaching lines just bubble out of him.  He doesn’t ‘day dream’ or ‘build air castles’ while a play is in progress as some players do.

“His mind is right on the business on hand.  He is a fighter all over.  There are others on the Cincinnati team who would do well to follow his example.  The Pittsburghs and Clevelands are examples of what fighters can do.  Every member of those teams was in the game all the way through when they were here.  Not a play occurred that they were not on their feet hustling and shouting.  The Reds should fall in beside (Latham) from now on and back him up with spirit and noise.

“Nothing pleases a crowd of local enthusiasts more than a scrappy game.  If you have got to go down, boys, do it with all your banners flying.  Fight it to the last-ditch, and then if you are whipped you’ll know how it occurred.”

Harry Weldon

Harry Weldon

The Reds never started fighting in 1894, and finished in tenth place with a 55-75 record; it was Comiskey’s final season as a major league manager, and his least successful.  The following year he purchased the Sioux City franchise in the Western league, and moved the team to St. Paul.

Latham, who hit .313 in 1894, had his final productive season the following year, hitting .313 for an improved Reds club (66-64) managed by William “Buck” Ewing.

Weldon was sports editor of The Enquirer until he suffered a stroke in February of 1900 at age 45, he died two years later.  Ren Mulford Jr., who succeeded Weldon as editor said:

“No more forceful writer on sports topics ever played upon the keys of a typewriter.”

“The Great Baseball Question has been what will Capt. Comiskey do next Season”

3 Dec

In January of 1890 The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said what was on the minds of every baseball executive, writer, and fan:  “The great baseball question has been what will Capt. Comiskey do next Season”

For weeks there was speculation about whether Charles Comiskey, captain and manager of the St. Louis Browns, would remain in the American Association or join the Players’ National League of Professional Baseball Clubs (Players League), the league borne out of baseball’s first union the Brotherhood of Professional Base-Ball Players.

Charles Comiskey, against slang in baseball stories.

Charles Comiskey

On January 15, in a letter to The Sporting News, Comiskey announced his decision:

“During the past few weeks many interviews have appeared with me in different newspapers of the country relative to my having signed a contract with the St. Louis and Chicago Brotherhood clubs.  Up to this writing I am mind and fancy free.  But before Saturday night, January 18, I will have signed a contract to play at first base for the Chicago Brotherhood team.  I take this step for the reason that I am in sympathy with the Brotherhood.

“I believe its aims are for the best welfare and interest of the professional players.  I believe that if the players do not this time stand true to their colors and maintain their organization they will from this day forward be at the mercy of the corporations who have been running the game, who drafted the reserve rule and give birth to the obnoxious classification system.

“I have taken all the chances of success and failure into consideration, and I believe that if the players stand true to themselves they will score the grandest success ever achieved in the baseball world.

“But besides having the welfare of the players at heart I have other reasons for wanting to play in Chicago.  My parents and all my relatives reside there, and the all the property I own is located in the city.  I was raised there and have a natural liking for the place.  But, outside of all these reasons, my relations with the management of the St. Louis club have, during the past year been so unpleasant I do not care to renew them.  I have many friends in St. Louis, and for their sake I hate to leave here, but the other reasons out-balance this friendship, so I will cast my lines with the Chicago club.

“This is the first letter I have written on the subject which seems to have interested the baseball world throughout the whole of the present winter.

“Yours respectfully, Chas. Comiskey”

A week before the season began The Chicago Tribune said Comiskey’s new club “on paper, is the greatest team ever organized.”   Despite the hype, Comiskey’s Chicago Pirates finished in fourth place.  The Players League lasted only one season and dissolved in November of 1890.

Comiskey’s backing of the Brotherhood against “the corporations who have been running the game” would probably have come as a surprise to many of those who played for him when he owned the Chicago White Sox.  Arnold “Chick” Gandil, banned from baseball for his role in the 1919 Black Sox scandal said of Comiskey in a 1956 article in “Sports Illustrated:”

“ He was a sarcastic, belittling man who was the tightest owner in baseball. If a player objected to his miserly terms, Comiskey told him: “You can take it or leave it.” Under baseball’s slave laws, what could a fellow do but take it? I recall only one act of generosity on Comiskey’s part. After we won the World Series in 1917, he splurged with a case of champagne.”

Chick Gandil

Chick Gandil

“Clark Griffith nearly Ended the Life of William Phyle”

19 Nov

Bill Phyle was expelled from baseball after failing to back up his allegations that the 1903 Southern Association pennant race was fixed—four years earlier he had an even more eventful season.

Phyle started his career as a pitcher; he was 18-9 in 1897, and 21-21 in 1898 for the St. Paul Saints when he was traded to the Chicago Orphans for Frank Isbell.

Bill Phyle

Bill Phyle

He appeared in three September games, winning two with a 0.78 ERA, and was expected to contribute the following season.

In March of 1899 Phyle failed to report to Hudson Hot Springs, New Mexico to join manager Tom Burns and Orphans for spring training.

The Chicago Tribune said the pitcher had refused to sign his contract:

“It is asserted on good authority that pitcher Phyle has refused so far to sign a Chicago contract owing to the insertion of a temperance clause in the document…Phyle objects strenuously to the temperance contract which has been offered to him.  He has asserted positively within the last three weeks that he would never sign such an agreement.”

The Tribune said the contract clause wasn’t the only issue that might keep Phyle from playing in Chicago in 1899; the pitcher had, inadvertently, alienated Burns and team president James Hart the previous September:

“Phyle was unfortunate in his entry into the major league in incurring the displeasure of the Chicago president and manager.  There is a peculiar story connected with the affair.  Last year some members of the Chicago team believed that someone was carrying reports to Hart and Burns regarding the conversations of the players concerning their opinions of the heads of the club.  One night in Washington some of the men put up a job on the man they suspected in order to find out if their suspicions were correct.    In the presence of the man in question they made unflattering remarks regarding the president and manager of the club, and Phyle, being an innocent party to the plot, listened, approved some of the statements quoted as facts, and also took up the discussion.  It is asserted the conversation was carried to President Hart and Manager Burns.  At any rate, Phyle has been in disfavor since that time.”

The Tribune said Phyle was the only player who was given a contract that included a temperance clause.

With the situation at an impasse, Charlie Comiskey, Phyle’s manager in St. Paul, intervened.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said Comiskey, who called Phyle “one of the most promising youngsters” in baseball, sent a “tersely worded” telegram to the pitcher who “decided to sign the Chicago contract temperance clause and all.”

Phyle reported to Hudson Hot Springs ten pounds overweight on March 21.

Three days later he went duck hunting with teammates Clark Griffith, Bill Lange, Jack Taylor and Jimmy Callahan at A.G. Spalding’s New Mexico ranch.  The Inter Ocean said of the trip:

“A bullet from a Winchester rifle in the hands of Clark Griffith nearly ended the life of William Phyle, the promising young pitcher of the Chicago ball team.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

Phyle, unbeknownst to Griffith, remained in the group’s boat while Griffith fired on a flock of ducks flying near the boat:

“Griffith pulled the trigger and a ball tore its way through the stem of the boat…The ball carried in a direct line over the young pitcher’s head, and could not have missed him by more than six inches.”

Phyle was shaken, but unhurt, while “Griffith’s nerves received such a shock that he was weak and almost prostrated for some time after.”

Things didn’t get much better for Phyle after his near-death experience—tomorrow.

“He Used to Knock Down Infielders”

4 Nov

William Alexander “Bill” Lange is best known for a play that likely never happened.  The legend was that he had made a spectacular catch that culminated with the Chicago Colts’ outfielder crashing through the left-field fence in Washington in an 1897 game with the Senators.  It is most likely another in a long line of exaggerations and apocryphal stories from Lange’s friend, Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton—a story that first appeared in that paper with no byline in 1903, but was repeated by Fullerton many times in later years.   A nice analysis of that story appears here.

Bill Lang, seated fourth from left, with 1896 Chicago Colts

Bill Lang, seated fourth from left, with 1896 Chicago Colts

Lange played just seven seasons, retiring after the 1899 season at age 28 to join his father-in-law in the insurance and real estate business in San Francisco.

During the spring of 1900, The Chicago Daily News said “The wise ones in the baseball business” were certain he’d be back, including Chicago’s manager Tom Loftus and President James Hart, and Charlie Comiskey, “’When the season opens and the sun warms up he can’t stay away,’ remarks Comiskey, with a knowing wink.”

Despite the certainty that he would, Lange never returned.

Lange, who stole 400 career bases, was called “Little Eva” because of his gracefulness.  In 1909 Billy Sunday called him “the greatest outfielder in baseball history.”  Connie Mack called him the best base-runner he ever saw.  In fact,  Mack and Clark Griffith considered Lange so good that they petitioned the Hall of Fame in 1940 to change the “rules (which) restrict membership to players of the twentieth century” in order to allow for Lange’s induction.

Griffith said Lange was “the best outfielder that ever played behind me:”

“Lange here was rougher base-stealer than (Billy) Hamilton.  He used to knock down infielders.  Once I saw him hit a grounder to third base.  He should have been out, but he knocked down the first baseman.

“Then he knocked down the second and third baseman and scored.  Connie Mack was the catcher.  No he didn’t knock Connie down because he didn’t have to.”

Mack told the same story over the years.

Lange never made the Hall of Fame.  He died in 1950.

Bill Lange 1931

Bill Lange 1931

In his final years the story about the “catch” had become so ingrained in the legend of Bill Lange that other players told essentially the same story Fullerton did (the most widely disseminated versions appeared in “The American Magazine” in 1909 and in Johnny Evers‘ book “Touching Second,” coauthored by Fullerton), but inserted themselves into the story.  In 1946 Griffith told reporters:

“It happened right here in Washington, I was pitching for Chicago.  Bill missed the train from New York, and arrived in the fourth inning.  We were then with the Chicago Colts and Cap Anson fined Lange $100 before he put him in the game.

“I had a one-run lead when Al (“Kip”) Selbach of Washington hit a terrific drive.  Lange ran back hard, and when he crashed into the wooden fence his 210 pounds took him right through the planks.

“He caught the ball at the same time and held it.  All we could see were his feet sticking through the fence and Bill’s arm holding the ball.  When he came back to the bench, he handed the ball to Anson and said:

‘This ought to cancel that $100 fine.’ It did too.”

When Lange died Griffith said:

“I have seen all the other great outfielders—Speaker, Cobb, DiMaggio –in action and I consider Bill Lange the equal of, if not better than, all outfielders of all time.  There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.”

“Figures of your kind are Pathetic”

13 Aug

John McGraw made news for an “innovation” in 1909.  The Associated Press said:

“McGraw has adopted an innovation in baseball which will appeal to fandom throughout the National league circuit and probably prevent (Fred) Merkle and others from running to the clubhouse before they ‘touch second.’ The innovation is the signing of the once famous player Arlie Latham as coach for the base runners.”

Arlie Latham, top center, facing team mascot, with 1888 American Association champion St. Louis Browns

Arlie Latham, top center, facing team mascot, with 1888 American Association champion St. Louis Browns

Walter Arlington “Arlie” Latham, was “particularly known for his humor” in the 1880s and 90s.  Primarily a third baseman with the St. Louis Browns in the American Association, the Chicago Pirates in the Players League and the Cincinnati Reds in the National League, Latham was nicknamed “The Freshest Man on Earth.”

The Associated Press said Latham:

“(B)rought much enjoyment to spectators of the Cincinnati club’s games and the Reds kept Latham a long while after he deteriorated as a player because of his drawing power as a comedian and humorist.

“Latham will don the uniform of the Giants and take his place in the coacher’s box while the Giants are at bat and between coaching the baserunner and batsmen and ‘getting the goat’ of the opposing pitchers will furnish an interesting sidelight to the New York games.”

Things did not go smoothly when Latham joined the team.  During spring training in Marlin, Texas Latham and McGraw were returning to their rooms at the Arlington Hotel when Giants outfielder James “Cy” Seymour, according to The St. Louis Post Dispatch, “knocked him down, and then bit him on the cheek.”  The article said McGraw and Latham did not know the “reason (Latham) was attacked,” but McGraw announced that Seymour was given his unconditional release.  McGraw said:

“Seymour is done with the New York club, and that goes.  It was the worst thing I ever saw pulled off.  Nothing like that can go on the New York club.”

Despite what he said McGraw did not release Seymour; the outfielder was suspended for the first week of the regular season, and The Dallas Morning News said McGraw made Seymour pay “his own expenses in Texas after the unpleasant episode.”

Arlie Latham, New York Giants coach

Arlie Latham, New York Giants coach

Latham was often criticized for his antics and even more often for the quality of his work as a coach, which became such a running joke that The New York Times said after the Giants had beaten the Cardinals in a September 1910 game:

“Arlie Latham’s team won it with their eyes shut, 11 to 3.  Latham’s coaching was invaluable yesterday.  He advised the players to touch every base and this tip won the game for them.”

The Sporting Life said:

“(Latham) undoubtedly lost a lot of games by bad coaching.  He got so unreliable that in a tight pinch McGraw would shift him from third to first and take the third line himself.”

The Sporting Life also said that Latham served as McGraw’s spy;  a position that would later be filled by another colorful McGraw coach, Dick Kinsella.

Giants outfielder Fred Snodgrass told Lawrence Ritter in “The Glory of their Times,” that Latham “was probably the worst third base coach who ever lived.”

It looked like the end of the line for baseball’s first full-time coach after the 1910 season.  The New York Herald said Latham “will not wear a Giant uniform next season,” and:

“He may amuse old timers, who remember him as a great ball player with (Charlie) Comiskey’s St. Louis Browns, but the new generation of fans seems to regard his efforts with disfavor.”

Despite the criticisms and predictions of his impending firing, Latham was back with Giants in 1911.  After the Giants pennant winning season Latham again joined the Giants for spring training in Texas in 1912, but in March, according to The Associated Press:

“(Latham) was carried as one of the twenty-five men permitted on the payroll.  McGraw did not want to let Latham go, but needed the place on the payroll for a real player.”

While McGraw didn’t want to lose his coach, most of baseball thought the end of Latham’s coaching career was a good thing; but even the New York press was not as harsh in their assessment of Latham as was Ed Remley, the baseball writer for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

“Arlie Latham has passed.

“May he rest in peace, for he is truly dead…Arlie has been called the fool of baseball and with much justice.  He was not the fool in any modern sense but more like the professional jesters who were kept in the courts of kings in the middle ages.

“Today, reading descriptions of the position of the court jesters, their crude horseplay jokes, we are not filled with laughter but with pity…The crude vassals of a former generation thought the brutal jokes of the court fool were funny; the bleacherites of today laugh at Arlie Latham pretending an engrossing interest in a game which he cannot even play himself…Vale, Latham—You have our sympathy, but we are not really sorry you are gone.  Figures of your kind are pathetic and pathos has nothing to do with baseball.”

Latham was next heard from when he accepted a coaching position with Patrick “Patsy” Flaherty’s Lynn Fighters in the New England League; that job only lasted until June.  Latham managed to run afoul of the entire Lynn team.  The Associated Press said he was forced to resign because “Players thought he was after manager Flaherty’s job and threatened to go on strike unless he was dismissed.”

Latham finished the 1914 season as an umpire in the Massachusetts and Rhode Island based Colonial League.  He did not return the following season, and in May of 1915 The Pittsburgh Press reported under the headline “Arlie Latham Has Quit The Diamond for All Time Now,” that he had found a new line of work; operating a deli in the Washington Heights neighborhood in Manhattan:

“He declares that as a delicatessener he is batting only .106 at present, but that when he gets properly warmed up and learns how to shave 15 ½ ounces of ham for a pound he will hit with the best of them in the delicatessen league.”

By 1917 Latham was in Europe, for the last act of his baseball career.  From 1917 to 1923 he lived in London and organized baseball leagues for military personnel.  The highlight of his stay was the July 4, 1918 game between the Army and Navy teams.  Latham served as umpire and greeted the most important dignitary at the game, King George V.  The Associated Press said:

“It had been planned to have the king throw out the first ball, but this was abandoned because of the netting in front of the royal box, so the king brought the ball out on the field and handed it to the umpire.  One of the balls used was autographed by the king with an American fountain pen and mailed tonight to President Wilson as a souvenir. “

Arlie Latham, front row center, with army team in London, 1918

Arlie Latham, front row center, with army team in London, 1918

After returning to the States, Latham first returned to the deli, then later was hired to work in the press box at the Polo Grounds, he remained a fixture at the New York ballpark until his death at age 92 in 1952.

As a result of outliving his critics and becoming one of the last surviving links to the 19th Century game by the time of his death, memories had faded about the “pathetic” figure of Latham, and only the image as  “baseball’s clown prince” remained.

“I Object to Being Made a Freak.”

17 Jul

In 1913 American League President Ban Johnson set out to put an end to the practice the Baseball Writers Association called “A growing Evil,” ghost-written articles appearing under the by-lines of famous ballplayers.

William Peet of The Washington Herald revealed the identities of the ghost writers in March of 1913; Gerhard “Roger” Tidden of The New York World had been the man responsible for articles bearing the name of Ty Cobb, but Tidden died just three months after the revelation.   While the practice waned after 1913, Cobb remained defiant, and continued “authoring” a syndicated column for the next several years.

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb

Cobb’s articles, for the most part, steered clear of trouble with the league president, but the assertions he made about the Chicago White Sox and manager Clarence “Pants” Rowland in June of 1915 caused a major stir.

Cobb said:

“Battery signal stealing, which has been the cause of several scandals in big league baseball threatens to make more trouble this season if anyone is able to prove what is generally suspected about one of the American League clubs.

“I will not mention the name of the organization which has been accused by the opposing players…because I couldn’t present any proof.”

Cobb then went on for seven paragraphs trying to present proof, and provided enough hints to make it clear he was talking about the White Sox.

Cobb’s said

 “The team I have in mind has won almost all its home games…It looks mighty funny, though, the way this club could hit at home and the feeble manner in which it has been swatting on the road and almost all of the Tigers will take an oath that something out-of-the-way is coming off.”

Chicago, through 49 games, was in first place; 22-8 at home and 9-10 on the road.  Detroit was in second place a game back.  If he left any doubt Cobb said later in the column when discussing the American League pennant race in general:

“The White Sox, who burned up things at home, have not been doing so well on the road.”

Everyone, including American League President Ban Johnson, assumed Cobb was talking about the Sox.  Johnson said:

 “(Cobb) must prove the charges, or I will keep him from playing baseball.  If any man in the American League makes a charge of dishonesty and refuses to back up his charge with the absolute evidence, that man will have to get out of the game.”

The White Sox were less concerned; The Chicago Tribune said the charges made Sox players “grin,” and Rowland told reporters:

“I suppose we had out tipping instruments planted in the Polo Grounds when we made nineteen hits in New York the other day.”

Clarence "Pants" Rowland

Clarence “Pants” Rowland

In his next column Cobb issued a non-denial denial and at the same time openly, and loudly, defied Johnson:

“I made no specific charge against the White Sox…What I did say was that a strong rumor of sharp practice was abroad, and I reiterate that statement right here.”

___

“Mr. Johnson even went to the extreme of saying that he would drive me out of baseball.  He hasn’t done this yet and I expect to stay around for a few more days.  If the league president is willing to pay the salary that my three-year contract calls for, I will be perfectly willing to take a vacation at that, for I have long wanted to do a number of things that baseball interferes with.”

Cobb reiterated the charges and offered no evidence, but said he was justified in making the claims because his manager might have believed them:

“(Tigers) Manager (Hughie) Jennings thought the report sufficiently serious to detail one of our players for plain clothes duty in the bleachers, and he also wrote Manager (Bill) Donovan of New York, telling him of a warning we had received and cautioning him to be on the lookout.  So you see the signal tipping report was not a creature of my own imagination, but a matter of sufficient seriousness to warrant an investigation by our manager in his official capacity.”

Cobb’s only bit of backtracking was to say that if “it should be proved the White Sox tried signal stealing it would be without the knowledge of Mr. (Charles) Comiskey.”  Cobb said Comiskey “wouldn’t countenance anything of this sort for a moment.”

Cobb took one last swing at Ban Johnson, charging the league president with giving “sensational interviews” about him to get “the people excited artificially. If this is Mr. Johnson’s idea, I wish he would abandon it.  I object to being made a freak.”

If there was any doubt whether the American League’s star player or the league president wielded more power, it became obvious within a week.

Johnson, who The Associated Press said “long has been opposed to players permitting their name to be used over baseball stories,” decided not only had Cobb not written the columns, but claimed “a Detroit newspaperman” made up the allegations “out of whole cloth,” and incredibly said that Cobb had “no knowledge,” of the columns despite Cobb being quoted by numerous sources discussing the charges.

Ban Johnson

Ban Johnson

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner summed it up best:

“We are rather surprised each morning upon picking up our newspaper to discover that Ty Cobb is still making two-base hits, two steals and catching a few flies instead of being driven out of baseball by (Ban) Johnson.  By the way how did Johnson get into baseball?”

As quickly as Johnson backed down, the charges went away.  Despite the strong start the White Sox faded, and continued to fade even after the acquisition of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson on August 21, finishing third, nine and a half games behind the pennant-winning Boston Red Sox and seven games behind the Tigers.

Cobb led the league for the ninth straight season, hitting .369.

The one legacy from the brief 1915 controversy seems to be Cobb’s dislike of Rowland, who later became a scout for the Tigers.  In his 1984 book “Ty Cobb,” Charles C. Alexander said Cobb only agreed to manage the Tigers before the 1921 season because he was told:

 “Pants Rowland, whom Cobb considered an incompetent fraud, might very well get it and Cobb would have to play for him.”

Rowland, who remained in baseball until 1959 as a manager, scout and executive with the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League and Chicago Cubs in the National League, appears to have also held a grudge.   Up until his death at age 90 in 1969, Rowland often said two of his former players, Jackson and Eddie Collins were better than Cobb.

 In 1953 at the Old Timers Baseball Association of Chicago Banquet Rowland said “I wouldn’t have traded (Collins) for Cobb.  What made him greater than Cobb was that he inspired the entire ball club.  Ty was an individualist.  He was interested only in Cobb.”

Rowland called Jackson the “greatest natural hitter,’ he ever saw, and said Ted Williams, not Cobb, was the only player “of the same make-up.”

“The Sudden Reappearance of ‘Silver’ King”

27 Jun

Oliver Perry “O.P.” Caylor wrote in June of 1896 in The New York Herald:

“One of the baseball surprises of the season is the apparently successful reappearance of ‘Silver’ King upon the National League diamond.  Without any warning the Washington club sent him in against the Pittsburgh team, and he not only won his game, but held the latter down to six hits, Of course all this caused a great deal of gossip wherever baseball is a subject of interest.”

When Charles Frederick “Silver” King (born Koenig), took the mound for the Washington Senators and beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8 to 1 in the second game of a May 30 doubleheader, it was his first appearance in professional baseball in nearly three years.

King had been one of baseball’s best pitchers of the 1880s, with a 142-70 record from 1887-1890 while playing for Charlie Comiskey, first with the St. Louis Browns in the American Association and then following Comiskey to the  Chicago Pirates in the Players League.

Comiskey (8) and pitcher Silver King (14) with the 1888 St. Louis Browns, King would follow Comiskey to the Chicago Pirates in the Players League in 1890

Comiskey, seated center(8) and Silver King standing second from right (14) with the 1888 St. Louis Browns, King would follow Comiskey to the Chicago Pirates in the Players League in 1890

Caylor said that during Flint’s heyday:

“His most successful delivery was what is known as ‘the cross fire,’ first used effectively, I believe, by (Charles “Old Hoss”) Radbourne and at present the prominent stock in trade of (Wilfred “Kid”) Carsey of the Philadelphias (Phillies).  It consists of standing on the extreme end of the pitcher’s plate, stepping away still farther from the direct line towards the batsman and sending the ball across the home base at an angle, which, although small, is very bothersome to the man with the bat.”

Silver King

Silver King

Caylor said King was “put out of the business” in 1893 when “the pitcher’s box was set back five feet,” (to the current 60’ 6”).  While King’s record slipped during the last two seasons the distance was 55 feet to a combined 36-53 while pitching for the Pirates and New York Giants, he had respectable ERAs of 3.11 and 3.29.  After the rule change King went 8-10 with a 6.08 ERA pitching for the Giants and Comiskey’s Cincinnati Reds in 1893, and then disappeared.

Caylor thought there was “a great deal of significance to King’s return to the diamond,” and predicted a trend:

“It means managers, having exhausted the new crop and finding nothing before them worth a trial, are forced to look behind and try to rekindle some of the half burned out embers. Washington not only took up King, but they gave (Les) German a trial after the New York club let him go.  (Cap) Anson (Chicago Colts) went back to (Fred) Pfeffer after finding (Algernon “Algie”) McBride, (Josh) Reilly and (George) Flynn wanting and was even forced to put himself into his nine to fill out the weak spots.”

Caylor said it was “astonishing  to look over the list of new material which was brought into the National League last spring and notice how small a part of it has been able to keep ‘in the swim.’  Every day one hears that some younger player has been released or that another has been loaned or farmed to a minor league club.”

Caylor’s prediction of success for the “trend,” and the players named was a mixed bag.  Anson, who had never really gone away, hit .331 in 108 games, for the Colts, but Pfeffer hit just .244 in 94 games. German fared the worst, he was 2-20 in 1896 and 3-5 the following season before being released in August.

King managed to post a 16-16 record for the Senators in 1896 and ’97 but never found his early career form.  After the 1897 season, he returned to St. Louis where he died in 1938.

Caylor would become ill the following season, and died in October of 1897.

The Curve and The Spitter

26 Jun

Hugh A. “Hughey” Reid only appeared in one professional game; he went 0-4 and played right field in a game for the American Association’s Baltimore Canaries against the White Stockings in Chicago in August of 1874,  as was the practice at the time, Baltimore recruited Reid, a local semi-pro player to fill in for the injured Oscar Bielaski.

Reid wasn’t known in the amateur and semi-pro leagues in Chicago as an outfielder.  He was considered one of the best pitchers in town, and played for the Chicago Aetnas, one of the premier teams in the city, and according to The Chicago Tribune “The champion amateur team of 1869.”

Hugh Reid

Hugh Reid

Among Reid’s teammates with the Aetnas were future big leaguers Jimmy Hallinan and Reid’s brother-in-law and catcher Paddy Quinn.

Reid worked as a stereotyper (made metal printing plates), for The Chicago Evening Post after his career ended.

In 1920, Reid was interviewed by Alfred Henry “Al” Spink, founder of The Sporting News.  By 1920, Spink, who had played amateur baseball in Chicago against Reid with a team called the Mutuals (named for the more famous aggregation in New York), had relocated to Chicago and was writing for The Evening Post.

Al Spink

Al Spink

The occasion was “field day exercises of the old timers” at Pyott Park at the corner of Lake Street and Kilpatrick Avenue in Chicago; the days events were followed by a banquet.  “Cap” Anson, Charles Comiskey, Hugh Nicol, and Fred Pfeffer were among the dozens of former pro, semi-pro, and amateur players who attended.

Spink described the 70-year-old Reid; “same old smile, same old swagger, same old don’t care a tinker’s, same old Hughey.”

Nine years earlier Spink had credited William Arthur “Candy” Cummings with originating the curveball in his book “The National Game,” but by 1920 others were making the case for different candidates.  Spink asked Reid his opinion:

“Without a doubt Cummings was the first pitcher to put the curve on the ball.

“As Cummings was using the outcurve as early as 1867, and Bobby Matthews only broke into the game at Baltimore in 1869, there is very little doubt as to who discovered the art of curving.

“In fact, it was not until years later, when the rules allowed the pitchers to raise their arm above the waist, that Matthews became master of the curve.”

Candy Cummings

Candy Cummings

Reid also talked about the pitch Mathews did introduce:

“I am quite sure that Mathews was the first to work the delivery mow bearing the insanitary name

“Before delivering the ball he would rub it hard on his trousers, always on the same spot, where the seams are the farthest apart…he would draw his two fingers across his lips, take the ball with two fingers and a thumb and send it in with only fair speed.  He had perfect control and usually sent the ball about waist-high for a player calling for a low ball.  The break came just in front of the plate and the ball usually went into the ground or very high in the air.  Few line drives were made off of Mathews.”

Bobby Mathews

Bobby Mathews

Reid also talked about Alphonse Case “Phonney” Martin.  At the same time that Spink was making the case for Cummings in “The National Game,” Martin told William Aulick of The New York Globe that he developed the pitch. Aulick concluded:

“Some people say this was the first cousin of the curve ball, but they don’t say this when old Alphonse Martin is around.  He insists it wasn’t anyone’s cousin–it was Mister Curve himself.”

Reid disagreed, he described Martin’s pitch as a “freak ball,” and said:

“I first saw Martin pitch down on the old lake front grounds in Chicago against the original White Stocking team.  He simply threw a slow lob ball that came so slow you had to nearly break your back to hit it.  But, at that, his delivery was a success, and most of the balls hit from it went high in the air and came down in some fielder’s hands…He threw a slow teaser that reached the plate about shoulder-high and dropped while still spinning.”

Alphonse "Phonney" Martin

Alphonse “Phonney” Martin

Reid insisted Martin’s pitch was not a curve:

“Cummings and Cummins alone was the originator of the curve.”

“The Greatest Team Ever Organized”

24 Apr

Hopes were high for The Players League, and for Chicago’s franchise, the Pirates, in the newly formed baseball brotherhood.

Rumors had been reported for more than two months, but finally on January 18 The Chicago Daily News said that Charlie Comiskey “came to town yesterday morning, and at 4 o’clock signed…for three years,” to serve as captain and manager; the contract was said to be worth “$5,000 per annum.”

President Charles A. Weidenfelder had built a strong ballclub, with major assists from Fred Pfeffer, Chicago White Stockings second baseman, who encouraged most of that team to jump to the new league, and Frank Brunell, a former Chicago newspaper man who was secretary of the new league, and traveled to St. Louis to encourage Comiskey to jump to the brotherhood.

There was an embarrassing moment in March when Chicago newspapers reported that the carpenters union was complaining that non-union labor was being used to build the team’s ballpark at Thirty-Eighth Street and Wentworth Avenue.    The secretary of the union was quoted in The Chicago Tribune saying  Brunell had “promised to make it right.  But he didn’t.”

Despite the  irony of a league borne out of the game’s first labor movement betraying organized labor (there were similar difficulties in Boston and Philadelphia), enthusiasm for the new league was high; in Chicago the expectations were higher.  A week before the season opened The Chicago Tribune said:

“The elements which go to make up a great team are united in the Chicago Brotherhood Club, which, on paper, is the greatest team ever organized.”

Comiskey’s club opened the season on April 19 in Pittsburgh.  According to The Chicago Inter Ocean:

“It was a great day for the Players League…There were 9,000 people by the turnstiles’ count to see the fun…It was by all odds the biggest crowd that had ever turned out to witness an opening game of ball in Pittsburgh.”

The pregame festivities included a parade through the streets of Pittsburgh featuring both teams, league officials and a Grand Army of the Republic brass band.

“(Pittsburgh) Manager (Ned) Hanlon was presented with an immense floral horseshoe, Comiskey with a big floral ball on a stand of floral bats, Pfeffer with a basket of roses…(Chicago’s Arlie) Latham ‘stood on his head, with a smile well-bred, and bowed three times’ to the ladies.  (He had) the legend ‘We are the people’ in great black letters on (his) broad back.”

After the fanfare, “Pfeffer and the boys played a particularly brilliant game,” as Chicago defeated Pittsburgh 10-2.

Box Score--Chicago Pirates/Pittsburgh Burghers, Opening Day, 1890.

Box Score–Chicago Pirates/Pittsburgh Burghers, Opening Day, 1890.

Opening Day was the high point for Chicago. The league as a whole struggled financially and attendance dropped sharply after the initial excitement wore off.  Only eight games into the season, barely 500 people attended Chicago’s game in Cleveland on May 1.

Comiskey’s “greatest team ever organized,” was never able to keep pace with the league champion Boston Reds and finished fourth in the eight team league, 10 games back.

The Chicago Times lamented the team’s poor showing and blamed it on a “lack of discipline,” (the article appeared in slightly different form in several newspapers):

“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.”

The Times said “(Tip) O’Neill, Latham, Pfeffer, (Jimmy) Ryan and others utterly ignored Comiskey’s mandates, and in consequence there was continual disorder.”

The paper’s primary target was shortstop Ned Williamson.  The criticisms might have been unjustified: the former White Stockings favorite had struggled with the knee injury he sustained on the 1888-89 world tour, and might have already been ill as his health would decline rapidly, and he’d be dead by 1894; the victim of tuberculosis:

“Williamson played a game of which an amateur should have been ashamed, and was thirty pounds overweight throughout the season.”

The paper promised “there will be numerous, changes in the club, provided the players League is still in existence,” in 1891.

It was not to be.  By November league secretary Brunell told The Chicago Herald:

“The jig is up.  We are beaten and the Brotherhood is no more.”

Brunell attempted to put a positive spin on the news, telling the paper it was mistaken to infer the “Brotherhood has weakened.”  Rather “we began to see that the interest in baseball was on the wane, and in order to prevent it from dying out entirely…we finally concluded that a consolidation of forces (with the National League and American Association) would be better for all concerned.”

The Herald wasn’t buying Brunell’s statement:

Brunell’s talk has finally let in the light on a subject previously enveloped in darkness.  It appears now that the Players League folks actually courted a knockout, and bankrupted themselves from pure patriotic motives.  The ex-secretary is a funny little man.”

Brunell would go on to found The Daily Racing Form in 1894.

Comiskey returned to the St. Louis Browns in the American Association.  Tip O’Neill, who also jumped the Browns to join the Players League, returned to St, Louis with his manager.

Comiskey (8) was joined in Chicago by three members of his American Association championship teams in St. Louis.  Arlie Latham (7), Tip O'Neill (11), and pitcher Silver King (14) who posted a 30-22 record.

Comiskey (8) was joined in Chicago by three members of his American Association championship teams in St. Louis. Arlie Latham (7), Tip O’Neill (11), and pitcher Silver King (14) who posted a 30-22 record.

Fred Pfeffer stayed in Chicago, spending one more turbulent season with Cap Anson, before being traded to the Louisville Colonels.

Arlie Latham, “The Freshest Man on Earth” went to the Cincinnati Reds in the National League.

Ned Williamson never played again.