Tag Archives: Charlie Irwin

“The Charming and Fascinating Pig Ward”

14 May

It was as a “coacher” that Piggy Ward—who appeared in 221 games over parts of six seasons with five National League teams between 1883 and 1894—was best known

That reputation began in the minor leagues. In 1889, when Ward was with the Hamilton Hams in the International League, The Detroit Free Press described him:

“A squatty, thickset man, with a bull neck, loaferish appearance, and voice a combination of the bellowing of a bull and braying of a donkey, attempted to make himself conspicuous in yesterday’s game and succeeded, to the intense disgust of the 1200 people present. Whenever the Hamiltons went to bat this unmitigated nuisance placed himself near third base and bellowed, roared, and ranted till everybody in the park was seized with a burning desire to rush upon and club him into silence.”

The paper called him “The champion lunatic of the noisy coaching clan,” but softened somewhat in their assessment of Ward later when it appeared he would not be returning to the International League:

“There is burning curiosity in this vicinity to whether the Hamilton management intends to sign that meadowlark of the ball field, the charming and fascinating Pig Ward. The echoes of his weird voice still reverberate around Recreation Park.”

piggy1904

The press, for the most part, did not approve of his technique. The Buffalo Express said:

“Ward’s coaching is too coarse altogether and should be stopped. The umpire’s voice is drowned in his babble.”

When he played for the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association in 1893, The Birmingham Times noted that he was the first player of the season to be fined for his “loaferish behavior,” while coaching, the paper also said Ward “has entirely too good an opinion of his own merits and too much contempt for the lesser deficiencies of his brother players.”

Ward’s coaching received greater attention when he joined the Washington Senators in 1894.

The Washington Star said during one game in July, “Ward’s lamentations were loud, continuous, and contentious—so much so that (umpire Bob) Emslie warned Capt. (Bill) Joyce that ‘Piggy’ would be sent to the bench if he didn’t keep quiet.”

O. P. Caylor of The New York Herald, in noting that “noisy coaching” had become more widespread that year, referred to the, “(Tommy) Tucker—(Dad) Clarke—‘Piggy’ Ward method of making noise by howling and shrieking from the coaching lines, in order to ‘rattle’ the opposing pitcher.”

Caylor did not approve, and said the practice because “in part, the science of the game is obscured, owing to the frantic attempts of the players to confuse one another.”

Cap Anson agreed, telling Caylor:

“It isn’t respectable ball playing and neither will I adopt that method or let any of my players use it.”

Ward’s “coaching” caused Anson’s Colts a loss on July 8. The Chicago Inter Ocean was not amused:

“The trick which ‘Pig’ Ward resorted to yesterday in the seventh inning no doubt won the game for Washington, but if (manager Gus) Schmelz were not impervious to all decency and self-respect he would release the man on the ground of dirty ball playing. (Ed) Cartwright had hit a high fly to infield, for which (Charlie) Irwin ran. It was a hard sprint, but the shortstop got well under it, when Ward, imitating the voice of Anson, called out ‘(Bill) Dahlen!’ Irwin, who had to keep his eyes up in the air, of course dropped the ball. Cartwright and (Win) Mercer subsequently scored. The game finished 9 to 8, so that these two runs did the work.”

The paper complained that “under the rules there was nothing Umpire (Jack) McQuaid to do except to the fine the fellow, but even this that functionary refused to do. He should have been fined the limit and ordered off the diamond.”

That same season, his coaching, and the extra effort he added to it, drew the ire of The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“When a rotten ball player wants to keep his job, he resorts to dirty tricks to conch his position with his manager. Piggy Ward belongs to this class, and his latest is to paw first with his big feet around first base so as to blind the first baseman and prevent him from seeing thrown or batted balls.”

As Ward’s coaching antics became more commented upon and the nickname “Piggy” became more frequently used for him, The Brooklyn Citizen speculated it was “probably to distinguish him from Brooklyn’s gentlemanly and able Captain,” John Montgomery Ward.

Ward also engaged with fans form the “coacher’s box.” When he returned to Cincinnati as a member of the Senators, The Enquirer related a verbal sparring match Ward engaged in with a fan during a game:

“Piggy Ward is a good coacher. He is on the line nearly all the time, and he has been the target of a good many taunts and unkind remarks from the stand in the two games the last two days. He doesn’t seem to mind it a bit but goes on giving his directions and trying to rattle the opposing team as though everything that came to ears was complimentary.

“Yesterday, a waiter in a downtown restaurant who was with a party of fellow waiters, yelled at Ward:

‘”Who told you that you could play ball? You ought to be behind a plow.’

“’Is that so?’ said Piggy. ‘What are you doing for a living now? The same thing, I suppose. Turning cakes in a fifteen-cent restaurant?’

“Whether it was a chance thrust or not it went home, and for a few moments the waiters and those n the vicinity made matters unpleasant for the fresh young man who endeavored to kid the ballplayer.

Despite having his best major league season at the plate in 1894—hitting .303 in 98 games with the Washington Senators—Ward, who also committed 52 errors at four positions, was often belittled in the press. Sporting Life said:

“Piggy Ward of the Washingtons appears to like the bench better than the field. He was ordered there during the season oftener than any other player in the League.”

Sporting Life also called him “A wretchedly bad second baseman.”

The Star related a conversation between him and his manager:

“’Are you a ballplayer?’ said Schmelz to Piggy Ward. ‘Well, the newspapers say I’m not,’ responded the ever-ready Piggy.”

Ward fractured his thumb on August 14, The Washington Post said the injury occurred while he was “trying to tag a man” at second base.  The injury kept him out of the lineup for several days.

He was released by Washington, ending his big-league career, but not his reputation as a “coacher,” or his story.

Shortly after being let go by Washington, Ward became more of a local hero in his hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania. A fire broke out in the shop of a black barber named J. H. Crocker. The Altoona Tribune said, after several people, tried but failed to get through the dense smoke:

“Frank Ward then made another attempt to get in and succeeded in catching hold of the arm of the man and dragging him out.”

While the man later died, Ward’s heroics were reported in major newspapers in the East.

More Ward tomorrow.

“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.