Tag Archives: Charlie Graham

“There is a Heap about Baseball that I do not Know”

4 May

After Ted Sullivan blamed Joe Nealon’s father for his failure to secure the first baseman for the Reds, James C. Nealon was not going to let his accusations stand, and sent a letter in response to Sullivan’s letter to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“The public has always permitted, and will always permit a man who has lost the object he was seeking to compensate himself for the loss is excusing his failure by some worthy and absurd explanation, or by throwing the responsibility of the failure on someone else.”

Nealon said he was forced to respond because Sullivan “falsely placed myself and my son in an unenviable light.”

Nealon said he only cared about his son going to the club with “the best and most congenial associations,” and initially, many people he trusted told him Cincinnati was the best option.

He said Sullivan was the reason he and his son changed their minds.  Nealon said he checked train schedules and determined that Sullivan—who left Cincinnati on October 28—could have arrived in California no later than November 3, yet he did not hear from the Reds representative until after the contract was signed with Pittsburgh on November 6.

Nealon also said while he received a telegram from August Herrmann, Cincinnati Reds owner, with the offer of “a certain sum more than any other club,” he never shared that information with the Pirates Fred Clarke, and that the combination of being insulted by the Reds making their offer just about money and Sullivan not arriving in time made up his mind, and as a result:

 “I advised my son to sign a contract with any club he desired.”

After Sullivan arrived in San Francisco, Nealon said:

“He admitted to me that it was all his fault, yet he seeks in your paper to advise the public that it was the fault of my son and myself…I would rather (Joe) fail then to commit a dishonorable act, and I do not want the people of Cincinnati to believe his entry into the major league was associated in any manner with unfairness or unfair dealing.  Mr. Sullivan knows it was not.”

Joe Nealon wrote a letter to The Pittsburgh Post, and said he understood that when he joined the team in Hot Springs. Arkansas:

“There is a heap about baseball that I do not know.  I am eager to learn, however, and will gladly go under instructions.”

joenealon2

Joe Nealon

Even after the beginning of the 1906 season, the stories about what influenced Nealon to sign with the Pirates would not go away.  In May is was reported that it was Jake Beckley, former first baseman for the Reds and Pirates who influenced Nealon to accept Clarke’s offer.  Nealon told The Pittsburgh Press that Beckley had nothing to do with his decision, and continued to blame Sullivan who he said did not “keep faith” with him and his father.

Nealon appeared in every game, hit the Pirates first home run of the 1906 season on May 5, tied Harry Steinfeldt for the league lead in RBI, and led all NL first basemen in total chances and putouts.

At the end of the season it was widely reported that Nealon would not return to the Pirates for the 1907 season.  After the team lost five straight games in September and slipped to third place, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss went on a tear to a wire service reporter—The Philadelphia Inquirer, under the headline “Barney Dreyfuss Lets Himself say Things” said:

“(Dreyfuss said) if his team doesn’t win second place for him he will keep their noses to the grindstone barnstorming for him until their contracts have run out (on October 16)”

Dreyfuss told the reporter:

“One of the things that ails our team is that there are too many capitalists on it.  The boys know that they do not have to play ball for a living, and sometimes that may affect their playing.  There is only one of the old players on the Pittsburgh team who is playing as a means of livelihood—that’s (Tommy) Leach.  The other could give up the game anytime.”

Nealon left the team immediately after the final game in Cincinnati and did not participate in the tour.  The San Francisco Call said he was done:

“Nealon, who became a great favorite in Pittsburgh and all over the league circuit, has had several grievances against Pittsburgh, and it was announced some time ago that the big San Francisco lad had declared himself in no unmeasured terms that he did not have to take the worst of it from anyone connected with the club, nor would he more than one season.”

The Call said Nealon became disenchanted in Pittsburgh when Dreyfuss attempted to trade him and “other Pittsburgh players” to the Brooklyn Superbas for Harry Lumley and Tim Jordan “although Captain Clarke had guaranteed him a full and free tryout for a year.”

Nealon returned to San Francisco to play winter ball, but he failed to make a trip to Stockton for the first game.  The San Jose Evening News said:

“Many San Joseans who took the trip to Stockton…were disappointed in not seeing Joe Nealon…the big first baseman, met with an accident Saturday evening.”

While racing to catch the train to Stockton, Nealon tripped and fell into a stone wall.  He broke two bones in his left hand.”

In December, the Pittsburgh papers reported that Nealon had declared himself “Completely healed,” in a letter to Barney Dreyfuss.

By February The Pittsburgh Press was assuring readers:

“Reports from the West have Joe Nealon in the best condition of his career.  Just keep your eyes on this big fellow this season; he is going to be a winner in every sense of the word.”

Despite the high expectations, Nealon was a disappointment to the pirates when he reported to  West Baden, Indiana in March.  The Press said:

“If the fans at home could see big Joe Nealon now they would not know him.  With his sweater on he looks like a three hundred pounder.”

Nealon actually weighed 216 pounds, roughly 20 pounds heavier than he was in 1906.

Additionally, The Pittsburgh Post said Nealon was experiencing stiffness in his left hand.

The Press announced that Nealon had gotten down to his playing weight and that his had had healed just in time for the opening of the season, but a knee injury sliding into second during the Pirates third game sidelined him for nearly two weeks, and according to The Post included a visit to John “Bonesetter” Reese, the Youngstown, Ohio doctor who treated many major leaguers.

Nealon was hitting just .217 in June when The Washington Post noted that two California Thoroughbreds—Nealon and Joe Nealon—both bred by friends of Nealon’s father, and both stakes race winners in 1907, were having decidedly better years than the first baseman.

Nealon steadily improved his batting average but had already fallen out of favor with fans and in the papers.  Rumors persisted that the Pirates were trying to trade for Fred Tenney of the Boston Doves.  By September, The Press said:

 “There is suspicion among the Pittsburgh players that Tenney may be secured as first baseman…to succeed Joe Nealon whose work this season is said to have been below standard.”

When Harry Swacina was purchased by the Pirates from the Peoria Distillers in the Three-I League that same month, the Pittsburgh correspondent for The Sporting News said:

 “He is an improvement over Joe Nealon in every department of the game.”

The New York Sun summed up the consensus view:

“Joe Nealon came out of California with the reputation of being a better first baseman than Hal Chase was, but in making a big league reputation Chase simply lost his fellow Californian.”

Swacina hit just .200, but got most of the playing time at first base in September, Nealon finished with a .257 average.

joenealon

Nealon

The Press speculated in November about who would play first base for the Pirates in 1908:

“Most of the fans have eliminated Joe Nealon from the competition all together, for it is an open secret that both President (Barney) Dreyfuss and Manager (Fred) Clarke were displeased with the way the young Californian acted this year, and it is presumed that no further time will be wasted with him, but that he will either be traded or released outright.”

In December, Nealon ended any remaining speculation by announcing his retirement—two weeks before his 23rd birthday. The Post said:

“The big Californian has quit the professional diamond for all time and will become a partner in business with his millionaire father…But for the intercession of Fred Clarke, it is said he would have been asked to retire about mid season, alleged infractions of the club’s rules and his general attitude of indifference being criticized by the local management.”

Nealon went to Hawaii in December with a team of West Coast stars—including Bill Lange and Orval Overall— formed by Mique Fisher and told reporters he would play weekends in San Francisco in 1908.

After returning from Hawaii, Nealon made his retirement official in a letter to Dreyfuss.  The Press said:

Joe writes that he is helping his father  who has a contract to erect a large public building in California…he asks, however, that his name be kept on Pittsburgh’s reserve list and wishes his teammates the best of luck.”

Nealon went to work with his father and appeared in 62 games for the Sacramento Senators in the California State League in 1908—hitting .372; as late as July he was hitting .436.  Nearly every Pacific Coast League time tried to sign him that summer, but The Oakland Tribune said:

“(Nealon) declared positively to the writer yesterday that he would not play ball, except as he is doing now, and Joe said there was not enough money in any of the Coast League treasuries to make him change his mind.”

Despite his protestations, nearly every team on the West Coast sought to sign Nealon.  Charlie Graham, Owner of the Sacramento Sacts made an offer that The San Francisco Call said led Nealon to tell a friend he wasn’t sure he could refuse.  He eventually did refuse, and instead signed to play for the Oakland Commuters in the California State League. The Call said he was the highest paid player on the West Coast.

Nealon captained the Oakland club, and hit .274 in 138 games.  How Nealon differed from his teammates and most players was probably best illustrated during a bench clearing brawl between Oakland and the Stockton Millers in June.  The Oakland Tribune said:

“(E)very man on both teams, with the exception of Joe Nealon, was mixed up…Nealon simply walked about the field and sat on the bench while the trouble was going on, and if anyone should ask right quick what player showed the only good judgment on the field the answer would be Joe Nealon.”

Nealon announced his retirement again, a week after his 25th birthday.

Nealon’s father had just helped elect San Francisco’s new mayor, Patrick Henry McCarthy, The Tribune said Nealon was “slated for a fat political job.”

Nealon was appointed deputy in the San Francisco County Clerk’s office in January.

On March 28, The Tribune said:

“(Nealon) is lying on death’s door in his home in San Francisco, suffering from typhoid fever.  Several physicians have been at the bedside of the ill athlete almost constantly for the past few days, and although they hold out but slight hope for his recovery, they state that his splendid physique may enable him to pull through.”

Nealon died five days later.

 

“A Ballplayer can’t chase ‘Chickens’ and Chase Flies”

25 Feb

With money borrowed from his brother Clarence, an oil speculator, Henry “Hen” Berry stepped in to take over ownership of the Los Angeles Angels in 1906.

"Hen" Berry

“Hen” Berry

Berry’s Angels won the Pacific Coast League championship in 1907 and ’08, and that success, along with his own profits in the oil business, made Berry a wealthy man in his own right.

He also managed, during his tenure with the Angels, to sell a player to a big league club for the highest amount ever received by a Coast League Club to that point, when he was paid $5,000 by Charles Comiskey of the Chicago White Sox for 18-year-old Lee “Flame” Delhi in 1911; Delhi appeared in just one game for the Sox the following season and was out of organized ball well before his 25th birthday.

Berry was also the driving force in getting the league to finally adopt a two-umpire system in 1912.

He also had a theory about what the type of lifestyle that best suited his players.  In 1914, he talked about it with a reporter from The Los Angeles Examiner:

“’A ballplayer can’t chase ‘chickens’ and chase flies at the same time with any degree of certainty that he’ll land the flies.’

“That is ‘Hen’ Berry’s way of saying that a player whose head is turned by the hero-worship of the fair patrons on the diamond stands a mighty slim chance at high fielding averages or of shining in the .300 batting class…Wedding bells for all players, he believes, would result in the highest possible efficiency.”

Eighteen of the 21 members of the Angels were married, and it was that way by design:

“’It is his susceptibility to the attentions of pretty hero worshippers that keep many a promising athlete from reaching the high place that otherwise would be his in the world of sport,’ asserts Berry.

“’The ballplayer is perhaps more constantly beset by these fair idolizers than any other professional athlete because women frequent the diamond more generally by far than any other sport.’

“’So we have the very thing which keeps baseball keyed up to concert pitch—the element of personal admiration for the players—becoming the most dangerous possibility in pulling a good man down or keeping him mediocre.’”

"Hen" Berry caricature

“Hen” Berry caricature

While Berry conceded that marriage didn’t guarantee that a player would be “immune from lionizing” by women, it would at least reduce the “social diversions which frazzle a man’s nerves.”

Marriage, said Berry, resulted in “Emotional calm” and provides “stability which goes far towards winning pennants.”

Berry’s theory had not resulted in any recent success; after his two pennants in 1907 and ’08, the Angels had experienced a drought that would continue in 1914 when his predominately married club finished second to the Portland Beavers.

Berry sold the Angels after the 1914 season and moved north, purchasing the San Francisco Seals.

He picked up two more championships with the Seals—it is unclear how many of the players on each pennant-winning club were married– and sold the team to group headed by former Coast League catcher Charlie Graham before the 1918 season.

San Francisco Seals owner Charlie Graham

Charlie Graham

After leaving baseball, Berry managed the family’s oil holdings in California.  On March 13, 1929 the steering broke on Berry’s car as he rounded a curve while driving near his home in Maricopa.  The car plunged 100 feet into a ravine, and the former West Coast baseball magnate was dead at age 59.

“Calvo May Come Out But No One Cares”

5 Jun

Jacinto Calvo and San Francisco Seals owner Charlie Graham were unable to come to terms on a contract for 1918, and the local press quickly turned on the outfielder.

The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“(Calvo) is a simple-minded Cuban boy…When he is hitting he can go around the bases in nothing flat.  When he has a batting slump, he develops water on the knee and can hardly limp up to the plate.”

He remained in Cuba and served as a police officer in Havana.

It was rumored again in 1919 that Calvo might return to the Seals, but The Chronicle, under the headline “Calvo May Come Out But No One Cares,” made it clear that twelve months had not softened opinions about the holdout outfielder:

“Calvo has written friends that he wants to come back, but if he stays in that dear old Havana until Charlie Graham coaxes him back, he will grow whiskers a foot long.  Graham really tried to get Calvo last year, for he was in a bad way for lack of outfielders, but if there is any coaxing to be done this year, Calvo will do it.”

Calvo

Calvo

Terms were not reached for 1919, and Calvo remained in Havana for another year.

In February of 1920 The Chronicle said Calvo, “Who bobs up every year about this time,” had written Graham saying he wanted to return to the Seals, then in March the paper reported that “The Havana World” said that Calvo “has joined the Franklin, PA independent team together with (Manuel) Cueto.”

Neither report proved true; instead, Calvo was signed by Clark Griffith for a second tour of duty with the Washington Senators.  In 17 games he had only one hit, a triple, in 23 at-bats before being sent to the Little Rock Travelers in the Southern Association in July.

Calvo could not hit American League pitching, but no one questioned his throwing arm; except teammate Stanley “Bucky” Harris.  The future Hall of Famer wrote in 1925, in a series of articles he wrote for The North American Newspaper Alliance, that his doubts about Calvo’s arm almost cost him his career:

“I thought I could hurl a baseball farther than anyone on the club and entered into a contest with Jack Calvo, an outfielder.  The Cuban has a reputation for having a great arm.  I had won a long-distance throwing contest…while with the Buffalo club.  That convinced me I could hold my own.”

Despite being warned against taking on Calvo by teammate Clyde Milan, Harris went ahead with the contest, the two stood in the infield:

“(Calvo) cut loose.  He threw the ball over the right field bleacher wall.  I realized it was a truly wonderful peg.”

Harris said he was concerned about being caught by manager Clark Griffith and rushed his throw:

“My elbow cracked as the ball left my hand.  It sounded to me as if a board had been broken across a fence…The ball dropped yards inside the park.”

Harris said for three weeks he “wondered if I ever would be able to throw a ball again.”  By the time Harris returned to the lineup, Calvo was on his way to Little Rock where he hit .306.

From 1921 through 1926 Calvo spent his summers playing baseball in the states; most notably in Fort Worth, where he helped lead the Texas league Panthers to two Dixie Series victories over the Southern Association champions in 1923 and ’24.  His winters were spent working as a lieutenant in Havana’s Harbor police and playing baseball in the Cuban League.

Calvo’s career ended abruptly in September of 1926.  The San Antonio Light reported that the former Fort Worth outfielder, then with the Memphis Chickasaws in the Southern Association “must forego baseball…and return to his job, his leave of absence was about to expire, and he packed up and beat it for a boat.”

Calvo played briefly in Cuba that winter but never played professionally again.  He was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1948 and died in Miami in 1965.

“Calvo has been the Victim of a Cruel and Merciless Conspiracy”

4 Jun

When he signed 18-year-old Jacinto “Jack” Calvo Gonzalez, Washington Senators manager/owner Clark Griffith was no stranger to Cuban players, having managed Armando Marsáns and Rafael Almeida with the Cincinnati Reds, but Calvo’s signing was the beginning of Griffith’s 40-plus year commitment to signing players from Cuba.  During his tenure the Senators signed more than half of the 63 Cuban players in the major leagues.

Calvo was “discovered” while playing with Almendares in the Cuban National League, where he hit .342 in 19 games.  He made even more of an impression during a series Almendares played against the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association, Calvo hit .400 and his older brother Tomas hit .385.

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He also hit .400 during a six-game series with the Philadelphia Athletics, The Associated Press said he didn’t compile those numbers facing minor league pitchers picked up for the series, but “against (Eddie) Plank, (Jack) Coombs, and (Charles “Chief”) Bender.”

When rumors circulated that Washington might have signed Calvo, Bender said:

“I never saw a faster youngster in my life; he can hit too, and looks for the entire world like a class ball player…If Griffith has signed him he will never regret it, for there is no chance for him to be a failure.”

By December of 1912 Griffith had Calvo under contract.  The Pittsburgh Press said:

“The young Cuban sent a letter to Griff, written in Spanish.  ‘They did not teach Spanish where I went to school,’ said The Old Fox, ‘so I can’t translate the missive.  However, as he signed his contract I guess everything is alright.’”

The Boston Red Sox signed Tomas Calvo later in December.

While Tomas never made it in Boston, Jacinto made his debut with the Senators on May 9; he hit only .242, but everyone noticed his arm.  After a June game with the St. Louis Browns, The Associated Press said:

“The youngster astonished the bugs yesterday with his remarkable throwing arm.  At one time he heaved the ball from the right field fence directly to (Germany) Schaefer’s hands at second.”

On August 13 Calvo was sent to the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association and made his first appearance with the team the following day, batting seventh, going 1 for 4.  The Atlanta Constitution said “He’s fast, fields pretty well, throws like a shot and meets the ball squarely.”

Calvo only lasted 10 days in Atlanta.  He was hit on the right arm with a pitch thrown by Charles “Curly” Brown of the Montgomery Rebels.  He was returned to the Senators and did not appear in another game that season.  (Some sources show Calvo with the Long Branch Cubans in the New York New Jersey League—it was most likely his brother Tomas, an infielder, rather than career outfielder Jacinto, who played shortstop for the team in 94 games).

Calvo started the 1914 season with the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League.  After only 11 games (he was 4-8 with one double, one triple and a stolen base) he was sent to the Victoria Bees in the Northwestern League.  Later in the season a story came out explaining his abrupt departure from Los Angeles.

Calvo with the Washington Senators

Calvo with the Washington Senators

The Spokane Spokesman-Review said, “Calvo has been the victim of a cruel and merciless conspiracy,” despite the fact that “in the exhibition games last spring against the White Sox Calvo loomed up head and shoulders above the other Angel gardeners, out hitting them by a wide margin and displaying more speed on the bags than the whole Angel team combined.”

The paper claimed that a female reporter:

“(o)n one of the local papers…dragged out of him the fact that his father was a rich sugar planter in Havana, and that he played baseball for fun and not for money…That was the beginning of the end for little Calvo. “

The story said fans began harassing Calvo, and:

“Instead of coming to his rescue, the players on the Angel team ‘rode’ the boy unmercifully.  It was pathetic to see the friendless little Cuban trying to get into the good graces of his teammates.  One day, in the clubhouse the boy sat down on a bench and cried before them all.  His spirit was broken.”

Calvo hit .289 for Victoria in 1914, and spent the spring of 1915 with the Senators before being release before the beginning of the season.  After his release he played with his brother Tomas for the Long Branch Cubans, by then a member of the Independent Negro League; he also played for Havana in the Cuban-American Negro Clubs Series.

Calvo next played for the Vancouver Beavers in the Northwestern League and the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League, hitting .329 in 1916, and slipping to .263 in 1917. After the 1917 season, the outfielder returned, unsigned, the contract sent to him by Seals owner Charlie Graham.

Calvo had been very popular in San Francisco during his nearly two seasons with the Seals, but was criticised by fans and local press for his holdout, especially because he was holding out on the even more popular Graham.  The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“He sent his terms, and as they were exactly what he asked for before.  (Charlie) Graham is wondering why the Cuban went to the trouble to wire at all.”  The paper criticised Calvo for “asking for more money than he got last year,” while “better players than he have submitted to a salary slash on account of war conditions.”

San Francisco Seals owner Charlie Graham

San Francisco Seals owner Charlie Graham

The Chronicle lamented the fact that Seals outfielder Biff Schaller would miss the entire season with an injury, otherwise “Calvo could have stayed in Havana for all that anyone here cares.”

As it turned out, Calvo did stay in Havana.  For all of 1918 and ’19, not returning to the states until 1920.  Tomorrow–Jacinto Calvo’s return.

“Mique” Fisher 2

7 May

On October 12, 1906, with the World Series between the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs deadlocked at two games apiece, August “Garry” Herrmann, President of the National Commission, received a telegram from Fresno, California:

“Fresno will give $25,000 guarantee; guarantee 40,000 fans and sunshine for deciding game of World Series.

–Mike Fisher”

Fisher said the offer to bring the series and Fresno native Frank Chance to town was backed by “the businessmen here.”

It is doubtful Herrmann took the offer seriously, and it’s probably just as doubtful that Fisher took it seriously, but it was picked up by newspapers across the country, and Fisher enjoyed the publicity.

It was a last bit of publicity before his career in organized baseball ended.  Later in the month he was dismissed as manager of the Fresno Raisin Eaters, and the team was dropped from the Pacific Coast League (PCL) the following spring.

Within weeks Fisher had moved on to a new project; he announced that he was in the process of forming a team to travel to Hawaii.  The San Francisco Call said “It will be the first American ball team to make the trip across the Pacific in a little over nineteen years,” since Spalding’s world tour.

In conjunction with Jesse Woods, a Honolulu promoter, Fisher organized a tour of the Hawaiian Islands with a team of PCL stars.

Mike Fisher

Mike Fisher

Upon his return, Fisher got more ink on the West Coast, when he headed to Nevada with Charlie Irwin of the San Francisco Seals; the two met with businessmen in the mining towns of Goldfield and Tonopah to discuss forming a professional league—Fisher told The San Jose Mercury News that he was now “against organized baseball,” and if he got involved in the league “it will be an outlaw organization.”

Fisher chose not to get involved in the new league, but immediately went to work on an even more ambitious tour than the 1907 Honolulu trip.

With the sponsorship of the Reach Sporting Goods Company, Fisher would accompany a group of stars to China, Japan and the Philippines.  Early publicity promised the travelers would include Ty Cobb, Hal Chase, and Frank Chance.

When the ship set sail in November of 1908 those three stars were not on board, but “several hundred fans and friends” were present when the steamer China left the port in San Francisco to see the group off.  The team was substantially the same as the one that toured Hawaii the previous year—an aggregation of PCL stars and a few National and American League players– and consisted of: Jim Delahanty, George Hildebrand, Bill Burns, Pat Flaherty, Jack Bliss, Babe Danzig, Harry McArdle, Nick Williams, Joe Curtis, Heine Heitmuller, Jack Graney and Bill “Brick” Devereaux.

Despite the failure to land Cobb, Chase or Chance for the tour, the West Coast press applauded Fisher for even attempting the trip, The Call said:

“The undertaking which he has fathered and which is so successfully underway at the present time is a big proposition.  With the single exception of the around-the-world trip of the A.G. Spaldings years ago, nothing on as big a scale as this has ever been attempted.  To take a team of American baseball players over a journey that will total 10,000 miles before they return, to play games in China, Japan, Manila and Honolulu is something that two or three years ago would have been laughed at as an impossibility.”

The tour lasted more than three months, with the team barnstorming through Japan, China, the Philippines and Hawaii, playing local and US Service member teams.  Though reports varied, the team played between twenty and thirty games, and lost no more than four.

While they drew large crowds throughout the trip, the newspapers back home reported that the tour was a financial disaster; when the players arrived back in San Francisco on February 15, 1909 aboard the Tenyo Maru, Fisher responded to the reports:

“I hear that it has been said that the trip was a financial frost.  Well, anybody who says that is a liar.  We broke even in Japan and made money in Manila and Honolulu.  I am satisfied with the trip.”

Fisher didn’t mention the financial results in China; likely because that leg of the tour was a disaster financially.  Years later he would tell a story about the team’s experience there, complete with his usual exaggerations:

“In one game we played in Canton we had 150,000 people inside, and as the gatemen had been instructed to accept Chinese money it required the combined efforts of the entire team to tote the money up to the hotel.  A special staff of accountants was busy all night totaling it up and in the morning we discovered we had $46.15.”

Fisher promised to take a team to Australia the following year.  The trip never took place; instead Fisher purchased a Seattle dance hall called the Dreamland, and quickly became the target of the pious women of the city.  Early in 1910 Fisher was indicted by “The King County grand jury, as a direct result of the activity of the Women’s Clubs,” for violating liquor laws, allowing “unescorted women” into his dance hall, and other assorted charges.  A special prosecutor, Justice William Henry White, one of the most respected jurists in Washington State, was appointed to prosecute Fisher and other club owners targeted by the women.

Ever the promoter, Fisher used the indictment to promote his dance hall and rally public support.  After the indictment was handed down Fisher sponsored a “Sermon in the Dreamland rink.”  According to The Seattle Times, Fisher engaged Reverend Frank Herthum, who “has liberal ideas about amusements.”

Mike Fisher's Dreamland Dancehall, Seattle

Mike Fisher’s Dreamland Dance Hall, Seattle

Herthum preached, and Fisher presented a free vaudeville show.  The paper said Fisher had stirred up a “protest against the effort to close the dance hall without having provided a substitute where clerks, servant girls and employees in the shops may pass an evening to their liking.”  At the same time The Times noted that the prosecutor was becoming impatient with the women who brought the charges because they continually promised to provide evidence that “has not yet come to light.”  The charges were quietly dismissed within weeks.

Fisher left Seattle sometime in 1911 and began operating the Arcadia Dance Hall in San Francisco.

Advertisement for Fisher's Arcadia Dancing Pavilion.

Advertisement for Fisher’s Arcadia Dancing Pavilion.

In January of 1917 Fisher made headlines in California when he announced that he was directing an effort to restart the California State League, which had folded after the 1915 season.  He said he would have clubs in Sacramento, Fresno, Stockton and San Jose.  Within two weeks Fisher abandoned the plan.  The San Jose Mercury News was not surprised:

“Mr. Fisher, the wonderful getter of publicity, has his publicity and is through.  Probably he has done wonders for his dance emporium or whatever it is he runs.”

The following year the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League came on the market; the first name reported as a potential buyer was Mike Fisher.  Fisher again got his headlines, but it was his old friend Charlie Graham who got the team.  Graham, and a group of investors purchased the Seals and the former catcher was installed as manager.

Charlie Graham, left, Mique Fisher, right, with World Middleweight Champion and actor Freddie Steele.

Charlie Graham, left, Mique Fisher, right, with World Middleweight Champion and actor Freddie Steele.

With his friend in charge The Mercury News said Fisher became a fixture “around the San Francisco ballpark ever since Graham bought in on the Seals in 1918,” he would remain a fixture at Recreation Park, and later at Seals Stadium for more than 20 years , and continued to provide copy for West Coast s sports writer

As a result of his friendship with Graham, who recommended he get the honor, 77-year-old Fisher was selected to travel to Cooperstown to represent the PCL at baseball’s centennial celebration in 1939.  The man who so loved seeing his name in the paper  received headlines one more time, when he died in San Francisco on June 6, 1943.

“Mique” Fisher and the PCL

6 May

Michael Angelo “Mique” Fisher is one of the forgotten pioneers of the Pacific Coast League (PCL).  Fisher had no given middle name, but adopted the name Angelo “after the famed painter he admired.”

Born in New York City in 1862, Fisher’s family relocated to Sacramento, California shortly after the end of the Civil War.  Fisher was a semi-pro outfielder with teams in San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento, and in 1884-85 played for the San Francisco Haverlys in the California League.  Sometime later in the decade he joined the Sacramento police force.

Fisher’s only connection with baseball from 1885 until he was nearly 40-tears-old was as a fan and as a friend of a young catcher named Charlie Graham who had played at Santa Clara University and in the California League.

In 1902 Detective Captain Fisher made a career change.

The Sacramento Gilt Edges in the California League were owned by a local businessman named Arthur Beebe.  Beebe, according to The Sporting Life “incurred the displeasure of his associates in the league owing to his continual kicking against the umpires appointed by President (James T.) Moran.”

At a league meeting in February the franchise was taken away from Beebe and awarded to Fisher.  The San Francisco Call said Beebe blamed the move on San Francisco owner Henry Harris, who he said “is backing Mike Fisher.”

Michael Angelo “Mique” Fisher, circa 1905

Michael Angelo “Mique” Fisher, circa 1905

There’s no contemporary reference to why Harris preferred Fisher to Beebe, but within a year Harris would spearhead the effort to expand the California League to the Pacific Northwest—forming the PCL, and might simply have wished to pack the league with allies for the planned expansion.

The new Sacramento owner’s first move was to sign Charlie Graham, who played for Harris in San Francisco in 1901; Graham was named captain.  The Gilt Edges got off to a horrible start, but according to The Sporting Life “managed to replace the weak ones with men that worried other clubs at all stages, and finally crawled up into the .400 class.”

In December of 1902 The Seattle Times reported that Harris’ scheme was official:

“The California League will be known next year as the Pacific Coast League.  It will expand and take in Seattle and Portland.”

The Los Angeles Angels won the first PCL championship, but it was another Los Angeles team that caused the most excitement for Fisher and Sacramento in 1903.

In March three of Fisher’s players, Win Cutter, Charles Doyle and George Hildebrand jumped to the Los Angeles team, in the newly formed Pacific National League—they were said to have been recruited by former teammate Elmer Stricklett.  Hildebrand agreed to return, but Fisher took action as the other two prepared to board a train for L.A.  The San Francisco Call said:

“There was a sensational scene at the railway depot this afternoon, when Michael Fisher, manager of the Sacramento baseball nine, appeared with a police officer armed with warrants and caused Cutter and Doyle, two of the start players, to be placed under arrest on charges of obtaining money under false pretenses.”

The players were held in jail until they agreed to return to Fisher’s club, and the charges were dropped.

After the 1903 season Fisher relocated the franchise to Tacoma, Washington; the move brought better geographical balance to the league, and gave the PCL a foothold in a city that had just been vacated by the rival Pacific National League.

Charlie Graham remained team captain and the pitching staff was improved with the addition of Jim St. Vrain and Orval Overall.  Fisher’s Tacoma Tigers took the pennant, winning both halves of the split season schedule.

Charlie Graham

Charlie Graham

it was Graham, not Fisher, who was generally given credit for the success of the team.  As The Portland Oregonian later said:

“Mique Fisher in the strict sense of the term never was a great manager.  In a general way he knew baseball, but as a master of the fine points of the game as it should be played he was not up to the big thing…It was Graham who taught the players how to play the game.”

The paper did concede that Fisher was a good players’ manager:

“His players liked him and worked hard for him and that always helped a whole lot.”

Other tended to dismiss Fisher, The Spokane Daily Chronicle called him:

“The man who has acted as the original blast furnace for the hot air factory.”

Fisher not only had his baseball acumen questioned, but the move to Tacoma turned out to be disastrous from a business standpoint. The Oregonian said the Tigers won in 1904 despite “little enthusiasm,” from the city of Tacoma.  Fisher also began to run afoul of his investors, according to The Daily Chronicle:

“It is no secret  the stockholders have been losing money and blame for that is laid on the manager.”

The 1905 Tigers started strong, winning the first half—again playing to small, indifferent crowds, then fell apart in the second half, finishing last.  The Tigers were badly beaten five games to one in a postseason series by the Los Angeles Angels.

In September of 1905, Fisher announced that a six-game series with the Oakland Oaks would be played in Spokane, Washington, giving rise to rumors that the team would relocate there the following season.  The rumor also stirred up a conflict with the Northwestern League, who laid claim to Spokane and took their case to the National Commission.

Fisher initially denied that the team had designs on Spokane, but in October he this telegram to The Spokane Chronicle:

“To Sporting Editor…Spokane has been awarded to the Coast League by the National Commission.”

The San Francisco Bulletin said the league needed to abandon Tacoma and:

“It certainly seems that the admission of Spokane is the only logical course for the league to pursue.”

Logic did not win out.  By November Fisher had negotiated a deal to move the team to Fresno, California, a town with roughly one-third the population of Spokane—the PCL made it official in January of 1906 that the Tacoma Tigers would become the Fresno Raisin Eaters.

Fisher had owned a half interest in the team in Tacoma, he gave up his ownership stake in Fresno and signed a three-year contract with the club.

It turned out to be another bad decision.

Fisher, for the first time, managed a team without Charlie Graham by his side.  The catcher started the season with the Boston Americans (his only big league season), but left the team in May to return to San Francisco a month after the 1906 earthquake—various sources attributed his departure to being homesick, wanting to be near family, or to attend to his wife who was ill; in any case he never returned east and signed with the Sacramento Cordovas in the California League in August.

Fresno was a last place team from wire-to-wire, finishing with a winning percentage well below .400.

The new ownership fired Fisher, who eventually sued the team to recover $500 he said he was promised if terminated before his three-year contract expired.  He never collected the $500 and told reporters:

I was gypped out of the franchise.”

Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray was named to succeed Fisher as manager, but Fresno was dropped from the PCL after the Seattle Siwashes withdrew from the league, in order to maintain an even number of teams.

Fisher’s managerial career was over, but his baseball career was not; more on that tomorrow.