Tag Archives: Charlie Comiskey

“A Knocking Umpire had Attempted to keep Speaker back”

11 Sep

Jesse Doak Roberts was a prominent figure in Texas baseball.  He was the two-time president of the Texas League (1904-’06 and 1920-’29), and had an ownership stake and managed clubs in the Texas and North Texas Leagues.

Jesse Doak Roberts

Jesse Doak Roberts, circa 1929

In 1911, the then owner of the Houston Buffaloes gave The Houston Chronicle his version of how Tris Speaker ended up in Boston:

“I want to tell you the story of the force that endeavored to act against the rise of Speaker—a force that did not succeed, but which cost me $700 in purchase money, and it was a knocking umpire.

“When Speaker was going at his best in his last year in this league (1906), I had made arrangements with Charlie Comiskey to purchase Tris for $1500…the deal was almost closed.”

Roberts said he was approached “by a (Texas) League umpire,” during a late-season game in Austin who, he claimed, demanded “a commission” for recommending Speaker:

“I told him that I had never asked an umpire to sell one of my players and would not—that I would prefer that they would not recommend any of them…I must have angered him, for he knocked the greatest Lone Star player to Comiskey (later) I got a draft from the Old Roman: ‘We can’t use Speaker.’

(George) Huff, then scouting for Boston, was in town.  He came around to see me and asked what I would take for Speaker.  I told him $1500.  He said that was too much for a class C player—that he would give me $500.”

Roberts said he then tried to sell Speaker to the St. Louis Browns (the biography “Tris Speaker: The Rough and Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend” said Roberts had attempted to sell Speaker to St. Louis earlier that season)

“I refused to accept (Huff’s) offer and wired (Jimmy) McAleer at St. Louis.  I told him I would sell him Speaker under a positive guarantee that he would make good.”

Tris Speaker "hardest hit"

                                 Tris Speaker 

Roberts said McAleer never responded and he “finally made an agreement to sell the boy for $800 cash,’ to Boston.

“A knocking umpire had attempted to keep Speaker back and had kept us from getting the difference between Comiskey’s price if $1500 and Boston’s of $800. And the White Sox lost a great player.”

Roberts never named the umpire who he said cost him $700.

Grantland Rice’s “All-Time All-Star Round up”

10 Aug

In December of 1917, thirty-eight-year-old sportswriter Grantland Rice of The New York Tribune enlisted in the army–he spent fourteen months in Europe.  Before he left he laid out the case, over two weeks, for an all-time all-star team in the pages of the paper:

“As we expect to be held to a restricted output very shortly, due to the exigencies and demands of the artillery game, this seemed to be a fairly fitting period to unfold the results.”

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

Rice said the selections were “not solely from our own limited observation, extending over a period of some eighteen or twenty years,” but included input from players, managers and sportswriters, including  “such veterans” as Frank Bancroft and Clark Griffith, and baseball writers Joe Vila of The New York Sun, Bill Hanna of The New York Herald and Sam Crane, the former major league infielder turned sportswriter of The New York Journal.

Rice said only one of the nine selections “(S)eems to rest in doubt.  The others were almost unanimously backed.”

The selections:

Pitcher:  Christy Mathewson

A. G. Spalding, John (Montgomery) Ward, Larry Corcoran, Charley Radbourn, John Clarkson, (Thomas) Toad Ramsey, Tim Keefe, Bill Hoffer, Amos Rusie, (Mordecai) Miner Brown, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh–the array is almost endless.

“In the matter of physical stamina, Cy Young has outclassed the field.  Cy won more games than almost any others ever pitched.

“(But) For all the pitching mixtures and ingredients, stamina, steadiness, brilliancy, brains, control, speed, curves, coolness, courage, is generally agreed that no man has ever yet surpassed Christy Mathewson…there has never been another who had more brains or as fine control.”

 

[…]

“It might be argued that Radbourn or (Walter) Johnson or (Grover Cleveland) Alexander was a greater pitcher than Mathewson.

But we’ll string with Matty against the field.”

Radbourn was the second choice.  Bancroft said:

“Radbourn was more like Mathewson than any pitcher I ever saw.  I mean by that, that like Matty, he depended largely upon brains and courage and control, like Matty he had fine speed and the rest of it.  Radbourn was a great pitcher, the best of the old school beyond any doubt.”

Catcher:  William “Buck” Ewing

“Here we come to a long array—Frank (Silver) Flint, Charley Bennett, (Charles “Chief”) Zimmer, (James “Deacon”) McGuire, (Wilbert) Robinson, (Marty) Bergen(Johnny) Kling, (Roger) Bresnahan and various others.

“But the bulk of the votes went to Buck Ewing.”

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

[…]

“Wherein did Ewing excel?

“He was a great mechanical catcher.  He had a wonderful arm and no man was surer of the bat…he had a keen brain, uncanny judgment, and those who worked with him say that he had no rival at diagnosing the  weakness of opposing batsman, or at handling his pitchers with rare skill.”

Kling was the second choice:

“Kling was fairly close…a fine thrower, hard hitter, and brilliant strategist…But as brilliant as Kling was over a span of years, we found no one who placed him over the immortal Buck.”

1B Fred Tenney

First Base was the one position with “the greatest difference of opinion,” among Rice and the others:

“From Charlie Comiskey to George Sisler is a long gap—and in that gap it seems that no one man has ever risen to undisputed heights… There are logical arguments to be offered that Hal Chase or Frank Chance should displace Fred Tenney at first.

But in the way of batting and fielding records Tenney wins….Of the present array, George Sisler is the one who has the best chance of replacing Tenney.”

2B Eddie Collins

 “There was no great argument about second base.

“The vote was almost unanimous.

“From the days of Ross Barnes, a great hitter and a good second baseman on through 1917, the game has known many stars.  But for all-around ability the game has known but one Eddie Collins.”

Rice said the competition was between Collins, Napoleon Lajoie and Johnny Evers:

“Of these Lajoie was the greatest hitter and most graceful workman.

“Of these Evers was the greatest fighter and the more eternally mentally alert.

“But for batting and base running, fielding skill, speed and the entire combination, Collins was voted on top.”

 SS Honus Wagner

“Here, with possibly one exception, is the easiest pick of the lot.  The game has been replete with star shortstops with George Wright in 1875 to (Walter “Rabbit”) Maranville, (George “Buck”) Weaver…There were (Jack) Glasscock and (John Montgomery) Ward, (Hardy) Richards0n, (Hugh) Jennings, (Herman)Long, (Joe) Tinker and (Jack) Barry.

“But there has been only one Hans Wagner.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Jennings and Long were rated second and third,  “But, with the entire list  considered there is no question but that Wagner stands at the top.”

3B Jimmy Collins

Rice said:

“From the days of (Ned) Williamson(Jerry) Denny, and (Ezra) Sutton, over thirty years ago, great third basemen have only appeared at widely separated intervals.

“There have been fewer great third basemen in baseball than at any other position, for there have been periods when five or six years would pass without an undoubted star.”

The final decision came down to “John McGraw vs. Jimmy Collins.”  McGraw was “a great hitter, a fine bunter and a star base runner,” while “Collins was a marvel and a marvel over a long stretch…he was good enough to carve out a .330 or a .340 clip (and) when it came to infield play at third he certainly had no superior…So taking his combined fielding and batting ability against that of McGraw and Collins wins the place.  McGraw was a trifle his superior on the attack. But as a fielder there was no great comparison, Collins leading by a number of strides.”

 

OF Ty Cobb

“The supply here is overwhelming…Yet the remarkable part is that when we offered our selection to a jury of old players, managers and veteran scribes there was hardly a dissenting vote.”

[…]

“Number one answers itself.  A man who can lead the league nine years in succession at bat.

“A man who can lead his league at bat in ten out of eleven seasons.

“A man who can run up the record for base hits and runs scored in a year—also runs driven in.

“Well, the name Ty Cobb answers the rest of it.”

OF Tris Speaker

 “The man who gives Cobb the hardest battle is Tris Speaker.  Veteran observers like Clark Griffith all say that Speaker is the greatest defensive outfielder baseball has ever exploited…Speaker can cover more ground before a ball is pitched than any man.  And if he guesses incorrectly, which he seldom does, he can go a mile to retrieve his error in judgment…And to this impressive defensive strength must be added the fact he is a powerful hitter, not only a normal .350 man, but one who can tear the hide off the ball for extra bases.”

Tris Speaker "hardest hit"

Tris Speaker 

OF “Wee Willie” Keeler

Mike Kelly and Joe KelleyJimmy Sheckard and Fred Clarke—the slugging (Ed) Delehanty—the rare Bill LangeBilly Hamilton.

“The remaining list is a great one, but how can Wee Willie Keeler be put aside?

“Ask Joe Kelley, or John McGraw, or others who played with Keeler and who remember his work.

“Keeler was one of the most scientific batsmen that ever chopped a timely single over third or first…And Keeler was also a great defensive outfielder, a fine ground coverer—a great thrower—a star in every department of play.

“Mike Kelly was a marvel, more of an all-around sensation, but those who watched the work of both figure Keeler on top.”

Rice said of the nine selections:

“The above is the verdict arrived at after discussions with managers, players and writers who have seen a big section of the long parade, and who are therefore able to compare the stars of today with the best men of forgotten years.

“Out of the thousands of fine players who have made up the roll call of the game since 1870 it would seem impossible to pick nine men and award them the olive wreath.  In several instances the margin among three or four is slight.

“But as far a s deductions, observations, records and opinions go, the cast named isn’t very far away from an all-time all-star round up, picked for ability, stamina, brains, aggressiveness and team value.

“If it doesn’t stick, just what name from above could you drop?”

“If you say that Man was not out, you are a Liar”

24 Jun

At the height of Billy Sunday’s popularity as America’s most influential evangelist, his “gentlemanliness,” and ability, on the baseball field became more legend than fact.

Billy Sunday, evangelist

Billy Sunday, evangelist

John Brinsley Sheridan of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch attempted to dispel some of the legends in 1917:

“Sunday tells young men now ‘to play the game’ uprightly.  This is how Sunday played it in 1885:

“The Browns and Chicago were playing for the world’s championship before 10,000 persons, who paid from 25 to 75 cents to see the game…The Browns kicked on the decisions of Umpire (David F. “Dave”) Sullivan and refused to play unless he retired from the game.  They could not do that sort of thing on the lots nowadays.  When Sullivan retired, (Cap) Anson and (Charles) Comiskey, the leaders of the teams, agreed that William Medart, a pulley manufacturer of St. Louis, should umpire.  Medart was a spectator at the games.  He put on a mask and a protector and proceeded to umpire. “

William Medart

William Medart

In the ninth inning of game four, with Chicago trailing 3 to 2, White Stockings pitcher Jim McCormick reached first on an error by Comiskey.  A contemporary account in The Chicago Tribune said:

“(McCormick) was standing with one foot on the bag when Comiskey made a motion to throw the ball.  He never moved, but by force of habit Comiskey touched him and laughed.  The umpire, who was not appealed to at all, electrified the spectators and players by calling McCormick out.”

Sheridan said, “This is how a baseball reporter of the day (from The Post-Dispatch) described what happened next:

“Sunday, fists clenched, eyes blazing, ran at Medart and cried, ‘Robber, robber.  That man is not out.’  Medart advanced to meet Sunday with firm step and beetling brow and aid, ‘If you say that man was not out you are a liar.’  ‘Who says that I am liar?’ Cried Sunday. ‘I do,’ said Medart, assuming a posture of defense.  ‘I’ll make you pay for that,’ cried Sunday, advancing on Medart.  ‘You can collect now,’ replied Medart, boldly.”

McCormick also attempted to attack Medart, but Mike “King” Kelly “(S)topped McCormick and then forced Sunday to sit down.”

But the future evangelist could not be calmed down:

“Sunday’s eyes were blazing and his teeth were set.  When he sat down he continued to abuse Medart, who said, “Shut up your mouth, there Sunday, or I’ll put you off the field.’ Sunday shut up his mouth, but continued to glare at Medart.”

Medart, before his death in 1913, described the scene to Sheridan:

“Billy was a cocky guy in those days and was not disposed to back down for any man.  Rather fancied himself.  I was somewhat of an athlete, gymnast and boxer.  I fancied myself, too.  I am sure that Sunday and I would have collided had it not been for Mike Kelly.

“Sunday was livid with rage.  I was mad myself.  I did not seek the job of umpiring.  I only took it to ensure the progress of the game.  I was there as a mere spectator.  Probably I was the only responsible man in the stand that was known to the managers of both teams, and, therefore, acceptable to them.  I did the best I could, but I have no doubt my work was bad.  I had not umpired ten games in my life.  I was just an amateur with a taste for ball games(Medart had umpired National League games in 1876-77 and worked at least one more St. Louis game in 1887).”

Sheridan said the man responsible for keeping Sunday and Medart from coming to blows, was also the first, and a somewhat unlikely, supporter when Sunday was “saved.”.

“Most of the baseball players of the day were men who lived lightly.  Among the gayest and lightest of the lot was Mike Kelly, the famous $10,000 beauty, by many said to have been the greatest of all baseball players.  Kelly had been reared in the Roman Catholic faith, but the “king” of the ballplayers was not overburdened with religion.  Ballplayers all speak well of Kelly.  He is their idol.  He was wild and wooly, he lived life and died at 35 [sic, 36], but he was sweet to all men.  Most of the ballplayers of Sunday’s day were wont to ridicule him for his conversion at first.  All but Kelly, the wildest of the wild.”

Mike "King" Kelly

Mike “King” Kelly

According to Sunday:

“Kelly was the first man to meet me after the news of the conversion became public.  He shook me by the hand and said, ‘Bill, I am not much on religion myself, but I am strong for a man who honestly believes.

“After that, the boys all were for me.  Whatever Kelly said was law with them.”

As for Sunday’s ability as a player, Sheridan said:

“Many people say Sunday is a great evangelist.  He was not a great baseball player.  One of his many biographers says that Sunday always tried to hit the baseball where it would hurt his opponents most and help his friends most.  The fact of the matter is that Sunday was lucky to hit the ball at all…(I)t is certain that, not at any time, was Sunday’s bat feared by opposing pitchers or players.

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday

“Nor was the evangelist-to-be a great fielder or runner.  He was very fast on his feet.  That helped him a lot (and) in fact was his best asset as a ballplayer…He could outrun such men as Curt Welch and Dickey Johnston 3 yards to 2 yards, but Welch and Johnston could outfield Sunday, for they got quicker starts on batted balls than Sunday.  When it came to baserunning much slower men could beat Sunday because they knew when to run and how to get a good start on the pitcher.  Sunday never learned these little niceties of baseball.  As a matter of fact, hey are not really learned.  They are like Sunday’s gift for preaching, something given a man, his genius.”

Hugh Nicol

25 Aug

In 1884 Hugh “Little Nic” Nicol was one of the most popular members of the St. Louis Browns—so popular, a local boy’s team named themselves after the right fielder, and the Nicol was invited to address the team.

Hugh Nicol

Hugh Nicol

A reporter for The St. Louis Critic was on hand when Nicol imparted his baseball wisdom to the kids:

“I’m no speech maker, but if you like I’ll give you a pointer or two, and you can take ‘em or leave ‘em, just as you like.  First, when you go to the bat don’t sneak up there, but pick up your club determined like, and look at the pitcher as you’d look at a mosquito which you had the dead wood on.  Then when he curls the ball away, up around your left year duck your head, look mad and whisper, ‘Oh, you sucker you know better than to give me a good ball.’  That’s what you call workin’ the pitcher—makin’ him mad as a bull—so mad that he’ll put the ball just where you say he can’t put it, but where you know he’s going to put it, and when he puts it there smash her right in the eye.

“Then when you’ve smashed her, don’t stop and admire the smash, but make for first as though the devil was trying catch hold of your coat tails.  When you reach first don’t stop unless you hear the captain yell: ‘Hole yer first; hole it!’  If he yells ‘hole it,’ obey orders.  Don’t think you know more than him, because if you get to thinkin’ that way your head will begin to swell, and all the ice in St. Louis won’t take down the swellin’ If you only reach first, place your arms akimbo and look at the pitcher as though you had got there by a fluke and was going to hold to her if it was the last act.  If you are a runner, and not one of those tired cusses that crawl when they think they’re flyin’.

“Make for second the moment he pitches the ball; and when you get near the bag, grab hold of it and come up smilin’ at the umpire , as though you meant to say “Oh, I beat the ball about a foot, and he never touched me anyhow.’  If you work it right the umpire will sing out, ‘Hole yer second!’

“But, fellers if you can’t run when you reach first stay there and thank God you got that far.  Don’t try to make second for if you do the catcher will make a bloomin’ gillie out of you.  But make out that you are a dandy on the run, and bob up and down like a bear dancing on a red hot stove.  That kind of business works up the pitcher and he’ll try to catch you nappin’, but instead he’ll fire the ball away over the first baseman’s head.  Then if you can run a little bit you can get all the way ‘round.  But take care that he don’t catch you nappin’.  If he does that the captain will call you a bum base runner and you’ll feel like clubbin’ the life out of yourself.”

Thirty-five years later, Nicol attended an old-timers banquet at the Great Northern Hotel in Chicago and spoke with Al Spink, then occasionally writing for The Chicago Evening Post.  Spink called Nicol “the smallest and most wonderful right fielder in America.”

Nicol, like most of his 19th Century brethren, thought his old teammates were better than current players:

“I can’t see where the game has improved a bit since we played it…and I can’t see where the players of today are any better than our old gang…I don’t see any players cavorting around on the diamond today that are any better than the Browns’ old infield when it was composed of (Charles) Comiskey, (William “Yank”) Robinson, (Arlie) Latham and (Bill) Gleason…Where are there any better players than our old Chicago infield—(Cap) Anson, (Fred) Pfeffer, (Ned) Williamson and (Tom)Burns?”

1885 St. Louis Browns--Nicol is on the far right of the bottom row.

1885 St. Louis Browns–Nicol is on the far right of the bottom row.

Nicol also objected to the way the game was played:

“(W)here is there the  enthusiasm and the effort to win that was in evidence in the days when we played?

“Nowadays a player often goes to the bat acting like a man who has lost an immediate member of his family.

“We used to go up smiling and acting as though we were certain of clouting out a homer, although we often fell down on the proposition.

“And then, too, many of your players of today make little attempt to advance themselves in the various departments of play.

“They do not half try to learn all the fine points of the game as we did in the days of old, but simply try to get by.  They are content if they get a couple of hits every afternoon and play an errorless game.  The first thing they do each morning is to get the newspaper and look at the hit and error columns.  If they don’t see themselves credited with a hit perhaps they did make, some sports writer gets a terrible panning.”

Nicol managed in the Three-I League and later  coached baseball and served as athletic director at Purdue University from 1906 until 1914—he resigned both positions in November of 1914 after a dispute with his football coach Andy Smith and Smith’s assistant Pete Vaughn (who was also Purdue’s basketball coach).

Nicol 1904

Nicol 1904

Nicol was often credited by contemporary sports writers with inventing the head-first slide.

He died in Lafayette, Indiana in 1921.

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.

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