Tag Archives: Charlie Hickman

“It’s Strange how these Stars of Balldom have such Beliefs”

27 Aug

Throughout his career as an American League umpire, Billy Evans, who had covered baseball for The Youngstown Vindicator continued to write syndicated newspaper articles.  He was fascinated by the superstitions that controlled the actions of so many players.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

He followed a 1907 article about the subject, with more stories the following year:

“Of all professions, that of baseball player is the most superstitious…Of course, there are many superstitions in common, yet most of the players have pet ideas of their own on which they place much reliance.  The data of origin of many of the superstitions is a deep, dark mystery.”

Evans said:

“There is certainly nothing out of the ordinary to be seen in a load of hay, yet most players welcome the sight of one during the playing season.  In the dictionary of baseball a load of hay signifies two hits that afternoon for the discoverer, and history tells us there is nothing dearer to a player’s heart than base hits…While its supposed strange magic often fails, still the players retain faith in it.  On the other hand, the sight of a load of empty barrels is always dreaded, for some it means a shutout, to others merely defeat.”

Of one popular superstition of the time, Evans said there was “no greater believer in shaking up the bats when a rally is on” than Cleveland Naps pitcher Charles “Heinie” Berger:

“Ordinarily a team keeps its bats lined up in front of the bench in a fairly tidy manner.  According to Heinie’s code that is all well and good when everything is moving along smoothly, but when a rally appears to be in the air, the proper way to encourage it, according to Berger, is to scatter the bats in every direction.”

Heinie Berger

Heinie Berger

Evans told the story of the Naps’ August 21, 1908, game, although some of the details regarding the scoring wrong, he got most of the facts correct:

“One day last summer during an important game at Philadelphia, the Athletics got away with a seven-run lead in the first two innings.  When they added another in the third, it certainly looked as if things were all off so far as Cleveland was concerned.  Until the seventh inning the Naps bench was not unlike a funeral.  Two runs in the seventh stirred up a little hope, and caused Heinie to heave a few big sticks in different directions.  His actions caused Umpire Jack Sheridan (Sheridan and Evans both worked the game, Sheridan was behind the plate) was to offer a mild rebuke and incidentally warn Heinie that he wanted nothing but silence during the rest of the afternoon.”

Cleveland scored two runs the following inning, and had the tying run on base:

“Heinie proceeded to scatter the two dozen or more bats in all directions.  That was too much for the veteran Sheridan, and after he had made Berger replace all the bats back in a straight line, he tied a can on the Teuton and chased him from the lot.

“Berger viewed the remainder of the game from the bleachers, failing to carry out completely the edict of the umpire.  When the Naps scored the two men on the sacks and tied up the game he was happy.  Heinie was confident that the bat superstition had aided in the victory that he was sure would result, now that the score was tied.  When the Athletics scored a run in the eighth that proved to be the winner his confidence in the theory was not shaken in the least. He blamed the defeat on Sheridan, claiming that as soon as the umpire ejected him from the game the spell was broken.”

Evans also wrote about his favorite superstitious player, “Wild Bill” Donovan, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers.  Evans had previously mentioned Donovan’s fear of throwing a shutout during his first start of each season, and his actions in one game in particular, but now gave a more detailed account:

“It all seems rather foolish, yet I have worked back of Donovan on two such occasions and have every reason to believe that Bill makes it possible for his opponents to score.  In one of the games Detroit had the affair clinched 8 to 0 in the eighth.  With one down and a man on second Charley Hickman stepped to the plate.  A straight fast one is the most delicious kind of dessert for Charley, although he likes almost any old thing in the shape of curves and slants.

“There is no more strategic pitcher in the league than Donovan, yet he started off the reel to hand them up to Hick’s liking.  After fouling off three, Hick met a fast one on the nose and was blowing hard at third by the time the ball was relayed back to the infield.  He scored a moment later, but Detroit too the game easily, 8 to 2.  Bill had escaped the much despised shutout.  By the way that year was the most successful of Donovan’s career, and, of course, merely served to strengthen his belief.”

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan

Again, Evans got nearly all the details correct—except the final score was 9 to 2.  The May 24, 1907, game was Donovan’s first start of his best season in baseball (25-4, 2.19 ERA for the American League Pennant winners), and he did lose a shutout to Washington in the eighth inning on a Hickman triple.

Evans said a superstition often attributed to Cy Young, was not a superstition at all:

“The veteran Cy Young, the grand old man of them all, is one of the few players who doesn’t take much stock in omens of good or bad luck.  Cy, however, has one big hobby.  He always prefers to pitch on dark days…The dark day idea is no superstition with Cy.  No one except the batters perhaps realizes how hard it is to hit his fast ball when the light is dim.  It is really a pleasure for him to work out of turn on such days, for he knows what a big handicap he has over his opponents.”

Evans said another Hall of Fame pitcher had a bizarre habit, that while perhaps not a superstition, bears mentioning:

Jack Chesbro, the famous spitter, is always of the opinion that someone is slipping a doctored ball over on him, and quite often asks for a new one when the cover doesn’t taste just right.”

The umpire concluded:

“It’s strange how these stars of balldom have such beliefs and stick to them, but they do.  The ball player lives in a world of his own, more than any other profession with the possible exception of the actors.”

“What Right has Hanlon to Show me How to Hit?”

23 Jun

How are hitters created?  Bozeman Bulger of The New York Evening World attempted to answer the question, and described the hitting styles of some of the game’s biggest stars in 1906:

“Batting is a natural gift and to be a success the player must be allowed to swing the willow in his own sweet way.”

Bulger said John McGraw who “For nine years…had a batting average of .330” (actually .346 from 1893 to 1901) was asked his secret:

“Don’t know, I simply used my eye and my arms and figured it out.”

When McGraw played for the Baltimore Orioles, Manager Ned Hanlon tried to show him “how to hit (and) on one occasion he corrected him sharply.”  McGraw said:

“That set me to thinking, and I went to my room and dug up a lot of old records.  In these I saw that Hanlon had never hit as good as .300, that is for a period of two or three seasons (Hanlon hit .302 in 1885) while I had been hitting over .300 right along.  Therefore, I asked myself ‘what right has Hanlon to show me how to hit?’”

Ned Hanlon

Ned Hanlon

Bulger said

“In the past few years Yale and Harvard and Princeton and other colleges have employed coaches to teach them how to hit.  The experiment was futile, and no hitters were developed that did not already possess the gift.

“Take the great batters of to-day and you will find that no two of them stand at the plate alike.  Long since astute managers have found that it is a useless waste of time to attempt a correction of habits easily acquired.  To be successful a ball player must do everything in a perfectly natural manner.  This is paramount in batting.”

Bulger then wrote about the “peculiarities” of some contemporary hitters:

Sam Mertes of the Giants invariably pulls his left foot back as he swings at the ball.  Mertes also crouches with somewhat of a forward lean and keeps his feet wide apart.

Roger Bresnahan and Mike Donlin, two of the greatest hitters in the world, are what are called vicious swingers.  Bresnahan has absolutely no fear.  He never thinks of being hit, but runs squarely into the ball, and when he plants his bat squarely against it a scorching line drive follows.  Nobody hits a ball with more force than Bresnahan.

“Donlin stands with his feet about one foot apart and usually holds the bat perfectly rigid at his waist, slanting at an angle of about 45 degrees.  He can either ‘chop’ or swing hard with the same degree of accuracy.  Donlin is said to be the greatest natural hitter in the business.  He says he has no idea how he does it.

George Stone, one of the most remarkable batters of the age, has a (boxer Jim) Jeffries  crouch at bat which has caused experienced baseball managers to say George wouldn’t last as soon as the pitchers got next to him.  Stone puts a terrific amount of weight into one of his blows, swinging with his shoulders and smashing a line with fearful force.

George Stone

George Stone

“His position has been termed awkward, inelegant, and not conducive to good hitting, but Stone to-day leads the American League with a better average than the great (Napoleon) Lajoie.

“Larry is the personification of grace and elegance at bat.  He has that careless indifferent method which attracts, is devoid of nervousness but active and alert.  Infielders will tell you that there is a force in the balls smashed by Lajoie which makes them unpleasant to handle.  Lajoie is the finished artist.

“His great rival in the National League Honus Wagner is just the opposite.  Hans grabs his stick at the end, holds it high about his shoulders, and when he swings his legs are spread from one end of the batter’s box to the other.  Wagner is awkward standing almost straight and goes after outcurves and drops with equal avidity.  Hans often reaches to the far outside of the plate for a low outcurve and plants it into right center field.

Charlie Hickman stands at the outer edge of the box and swings with his body and shoulders His fondness for the balls on the outside of the pan are known to opposing pitchers.  Lave Cross puts his two feet into the angle of the batter’s box nearest the catcher, while (Dave) Altizer usually spreads out, varying this position with a crouching posture, from which he runs up on a ball.”

The Tribune’s First All-Star Team

21 Feb

In 1933 The Chicago Tribune underwrote the first All-Star game, created by Arch Ward, the  paper’s sports editor,  to coincide with the Century of Progress World’s Fair—more than 30 years earlier The Tribune published one of the earliest  sportswriter selected “all-star teams.”

Near the end of the 1902 season, The Tribune polled sportswriters from American League cities to pick “An all American League Nine.” (No similar poll was done for the National League)

The writers polled:

Jacob Charles Morse—The Boston Herald

Joseph M. Cummings—The Baltimore News

John Arnold HeydlerThe Washington Post

Frank Leonardo HoughThe Philadelphia Inquirer

Joseph Samuel Jackson—The Detroit Free Press

Henry P. Edwards—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Alfred Henry SpinkThe St. Louis World

Irving E. (Sy) Sanborn—The Chicago Tribune

The only unanimous choice was Cleveland Bronchos second baseman Napoleon Lajoie—Lajoie appeared in just 86 games, but hit .379.

Napoleon Lajoie --the only unanimous choice

Napoleon Lajoie –the only unanimous choice

The most disagreement was behind the plate; four different catchers received votes:  Billy Sullivan of the Chicago White Sox and Lou Criger of the Boston Americans received three votes each;  Freeman Ossee Schrecongost who played 18 games with Cleveland and 79 with the Philadelphia Athletics, and William “Boileryard” Clarke of the Washington Senators each received one vote.

Cy Young of Boston led pitchers with five votes, with Philadelphia’s Rube Waddell being the choice of the other three.

Four first basemen were also chosen, but Harry Davis of the Philadelphia Athletics was the consensus choice with five votes.  Cleveland’s Charlie “Piano Legs” Hickman, Washington’s George “Scoops” Carey, and “Honest John” Anderson of the St. Louis Browns all received one vote.

Cleveland’s Bill Bradley edged Boston’s Jimmy Collins four to three, with Philadelphia’s Lafayette “Lave” Cross getting the remaining vote.

Bobby Wallace of St. Louis was the shortstop consensus with six votes, Boston’s Freddy Parent and Chicago’s George Davis received one vote each.

Booby Wallace, the choice at shortstop

Bobby Wallace, the choice at shortstop

Washington’s Ed Delehanty got four votes in left field, Philadelphia’s Tully “Topsy” Hartsell two; one vote each went to Boston rookie Patsy Dougherty and Philadelphia’s Dave Fultz (who played center field)

With or without his vote as a left fielder, Fultz was the consensus in center field.  He received four votes at that position; Chicago’s Fielder Jones got two votes, Jimmy Barrett, the only Detroit Tiger to make the list received a single vote (from Joseph Samuel Jackson of Detroit) and Harry “Deerfoot” Bay of Cleveland received one vote.

Jimmy Barrett, the only Tiger

Jimmy Barrett, the only Tiger

Right field included a couple more out of position players, Charlie Hickman picked up one vote despite being primarily a first baseman and playing just 27 games in the outfield in 1902.  Delehanty, almost exclusively a left fielder in 1902, received one vote in right.  Elmer Flick of Cleveland was the consensus with four votes.  Danny Green of Chicago received two votes.

The Results

The Results

The 1902 effort was not repeated by the paper.

Fred Abbott

9 Oct

Fred Abbott (born Harry Frederick Winbigler) spent more than a decade in the minor leagues before the Cleveland Naps purchased his contract from the New Orleans Pelicans prior to the 1903 season.  The 28-year-old rookie appeared in 77 games for the Naps.

Fred Abbott

Fred Abbott

After his first big league season he told The Cleveland Press about his most embarrassing moment with the Naps:

“I was behind the bat in a game at Washington one day last summer when the batter hit a ball straight up over my head.  I should judge it went nine miles high.  As I tore off my mask a bleacherites flashed the sun’s rays in my eyes by aid of a looking-glass.  It nearly blinded me.

“’I can’t see it,’ I shouted, expecting either (Earl) Moore, who was pitching or Hick (“Cheerful” Charlie Hickman), who was at first, to take the ball.  But neither man stirred.  Instead Cheerful took my latitude and Earl my longitude.

“’Go toward first two steps,’ yelled Moore.  I did.

“’Go back about three feet,’ shouted Hick.  I did.

“Now put your hands straight over your head,’ howled both men in chorus when they had got me placed.  I did.

“And although my eyes were shut tight, the ball dropped straight into my hands.”

Abbott played one more season in Cleveland, and played for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1905.  The Phillies sold his contract to the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association (AA).

Abbott laid down roots in Toledo.  He played five seasons there and operated a bowling alley and pool hall on Euclid Avenue with his teammate Harry Hinchman; until Hinchman took over as Mud Hens manager.

The Pittsburgh Press said:

“Rather tough on a baseball player when your own business partner releases you and sells your ability to play to a club on the other side of the country? “

Hinchman had succeeded James “Ducky” Holmes as manager late in the 1910 season; Abbott was sold to the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League shortly after the season ended:

“One of Hinchman’s first managerial duties was to sell his partner to the Los Angeles club, Hinchman believing that Fred had been connected to the Toledo club too long and that both he and the club would be benefited by the change.”

Abbott wasn’t thrilled, but took the news in stride:

“Gee, I had been in Toledo so long that I had about made up my mind that I was going to die in the harness there…It’s a good move sending me to Los Angeles, but I will have to put in a longer season there than in the AA, and the pay offered is just the same.  I didn’t like that angle to the case very well, but they have got us ballplayers where they want us and I suppose it is up to Fred to run along and play.”

Fred Abbott with Los Angeles Angels 1911

Fred Abbott with Los Angeles Angels 1911

Los Angeles apparently grew on Abbott; he only spent one season with the Angels before retiring, but remained in L.A. until his death in 1935.

Chief and Cy

19 Dec

Charles “Chief” Zimmer caught Denton True “Cy” Young’s first Major League game; an 8-1 victory for the Cleveland Spiders over Cap Anson’s Chicago Colts.

Years later, Davis Hawley, a Cleveland banker and hotel magnate who also owned a minority share of the Spiders and served as the team’s secretary, related a story about Young’s debut:

“The night of Young’s first National League game, he complained to me that although he had let Anson’s team down with a few hits, he had not had his usual speed.”

Hawley who had watched him pitch in the Tri-State League asked why he felt that way.

“Well, down in Canton the catchers could not hold me I was so fast, but this man Zimmer didn’t have any trouble at all, so I guess I didn’t have much speed.”

Zimmer would go on to catch 247 of Young’s starts through 1898, including 19 shutouts; second in both categories to Lou Criger, who played with Young in Cleveland, St. Louis and Boston.

Zimmer would catch Young a few more times after 1898.

In 1921 the 54-year-old Young pitched two shutout innings, with the 60-year-old Zimmer catching, in a game between Cleveland Major League legends and amateur stars staged as part of Cleveland’s 135th anniversary celebration.  In addition to Young and Zimmer, Nap Lajoie, Earl Moore, Bill Bradley, Charlie Hickman, Nig Cuppy and Elmer Flick were among the participants.

Earl Moore, Cy Young, Bill Bradley, Charlie Hickman, Nap Lajoie and Chief Zimmer at the 1923 game.

Earl Moore, Cy Young, Bill Bradley, Charlie Hickman, Nap Lajoie and Chief Zimmer at the 1923 game.

The game was such a success that for the next four years it became an annual event at League Park (called Dunn Field during the 1920s); Young pitched the first two innings of each game with Zimmer catching. The event benefited the Cleveland Amateur Baseball Association medical fund.

Young always shared credit for his success with his catchers.  In the 1945 book “My Greatest Day in Baseball As told to John P. Carmichael and Other Noted Sportswriters,” he said:

“Every great pitcher usually has a great catcher, like Mathewson had Roger Bresnahan and Miner Brown had Johnny Kling. Well, in my time I had two. First, there was Chief Zimmer, when I was with Cleveland in the National League, and then there was Lou Criger, who caught me at Boston and handled my perfect game.”

A little more “Chief” tomorrow.