Tag Archives: Charlie Sweeney

“Sweeney Emptied his Revolver”

6 Apr

Charlie Sweeney was attempting to resurrect his career in 1886.  The previous season he was 11-21 for the St. Louis Maroons and had alienated most of his teammates when after a fight with outfielder Emmett Seery during a post-season exhibition tour.

Things didn’t start much better in 1886.  Sweeney was beaten up in May by five “thugs,” as he walked home from Union Grounds in St. Louis—some have speculated that Seery was behind the attack.

SweeneyCharlie

Charlie Sweeney

Regardless of who was responsible, the beating led to Sweeney petitioning for, and being granted, permission to carry a gun in St. Louis.

Sweeney was 5-6 with a 4.16 ERA on June 27, when, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he and catcher Tom Dolan attended the St. Louis Browns game, and took part in:

“(A) little difficulty at Sportsman’s Park…in which these two players took an active and disturbing part, for which the Maroons managers thought called for prompt and severe action.”

tomdolan

Tom Dolan

The details are scarce; wire reports simply referenced “ungentlemanly conduct” on the part of the Maroons players, but in any case both were released for their behavior.

Within days of being released and within weeks of being granted permission to carry a gun, it was obvious an armed Sweeney was not a good idea.

In July, The Sporting News reported on an incident following his release:

“The hands of the big clock on the wall pointed to the hour of two, and the bartender thought it was time his congregation should disperse and meander homeward.

“He locked the side door and stood near the front entrance, inviting all the boys that were there to take a walk.

“Charley Sweeney was among the number, and he rather objected to leaving the place at that early hour.

“Some of the boys took hold of him and jerked him out of the door.  He had no sooner reached the sidewalk than the door was slammed upon him.  Sweeney was furious.

“He drew the revolver which he has carried about him lately and made an attack on the front door.

“In a moment pistol shot seemed to be coming from every direction.  The bullets, however, all came from Charley’s favorite weapon.

“The few favored ones who had been left behind on the inside were paralyzed with fear.  Some of them climbed over the counter and hid under the pop bottles and kegs of beer.

“Others jumped behind posts, and held their positions with a tenacity that was simply wonderful t behold.  Others made their escape, through the windows in the rear, for the doors were all locked, while a few scrambled under the table and did their best to get out of harm’s way.

“Sweeney emptied his revolver and then reloaded and emptied it again.  The fourteen shots attracted the attention of the police, who soon surrounded the building and called upon Sweeney to cease firing.

“He in the coolest manner possible, put his revolver in his pocket, laughed and walked away.”

The article went on to say that once granted a gun permit from the city after the beating:

“Ever since that he has gone around carrying a small arsenal in his rear pocket, and on several occasions has seen fit to flourish his weapon and threaten to let daylight out of those who happened to be in his way.”

Sweeney’s major league ended the following season, at age 24.

In 1894, he was convicted of manslaughter after shooting a man in a bar in San Francisco.

He was dead before his 39th birthday.

Where are they Now?–1896 Edition

25 Mar

In 1896, The Buffalo Times noted the “delightful trait of character in the true blue base ball fan,” to know everything about “the fortunes of a favorite player…and (who) long after the object of his solicitude has retired from the glare of publicity, will make inquiries concerning his favorite’s occupation and residence.”

In an effort to satisfy the curiosity of the “true blue” fan The Times went “to pains to collect,” information regarding the current place of residence and employment of major leaguers from the previous decade:

Nearly 50 players had already died, and about 20 were still connected with the game as managers, umpires or sportswriters.

The profession with the highest concentration of former players besides those who remained connected with baseball, was the saloon business; The Times found 14 players engaged in saloons, including James “Pud” Galvin, Joseph “Reddy” Mack, and Frank Hankinson.

There were five police officers, including, Charlie Jones and Jack Lynch, of the New York police force.

Two were incarcerated—Charlie Sweeney was in California’s San Quentin Prison for manslaughter, and Frank Harris was in jail in Freeport, Illinois awaiting execution for murder; his sentence was commuted in April of 1896.

Frank Harris

Frank Harris, convicted murderer

Five former players were firemen, three of them, John “Monk” Cline, Tom McLaughlin and William “Chicken” Wolf, were all members of the Louisville Fire Department:  Wolf was involved in an accident while responding to a fire in 1901 which left him with a severe head injury and contributed to his death two years later.

Other highlights:

Clarence “Kid” Baldwin—Tramp (Baldwin died the following year in a Cincinnati mental hospital)

Warren “Hick” Carpenter—Pullman car conductor

William Holbert—United States Secret Service

William “Blondie” Purcell—Racetrack bookie

William "Blondie" Purcell

William “Blondie” Purcell

Ed Andrews—Orange grower

George “Jumbo” McGinnis—Glassblower

Daniel “Cyclone” Ryan—Actor

Pitcher turned actor Daniel "Cyclone" Ryan, circa 1903

Pitcher turned actor Daniel “Cyclone” Ryan, circa 1903

John Frank Lane (1880s umpire)—Actor, he was most famous for appearing in plays written by Charles Hale Hoyt, a former sports writer for The Boston Post, and the man responsible for putting Mike “King” Kelly on the stage.

“Sweeney was Drunk, but I didn’t Know it”

22 Aug

In 1884 Frank Bancroft’s Providence Grays won the National League pennant and defeated the American Association’s New York Metropolitans in the World Series—the first post-season exhibition to be called the World Series.  Late in 1896 he told a reporter for The Boston Post his version of the story of the turning point in that season:

Frank Bancroft

Frank Bancroft

 

“We were leading the championship race (the Grays were in 2nd place at the time of the game in question).  Both (Charles) Sweeney and (Charles “Old Hoss”) Radbourne were pitching in grand style.  In those days you couldn’t take a player out of the game and put another one in his place unless he was sick.  I wanted to save my pitchers all I could.  One day we were playing the Bostons (Bancroft was incorrect; the game was against the Philadelphia Quakers on July 22).  I had (Joseph) Cyclone Miller in right field and Sweeney in the box.  I told Joe Start, who was captain of the team that if we got far enough ahead in the game to take Sweeney out of the box and bring in Miller.  I did this to save Sweeney’s arm.  In the sixth inning we had a lead of 7 to 2 (the score was 6 to 2).  I told Start to make the change.  He asked Sweeney to go out in the field.  Sweeney was drunk, but I didn’t know it.  Start’s request made Sweeney mad.  He didn’t take it in the way it was meant.  He walked off the field.  I went after him, but couldn’t get him to come back.

“He called me a vile name.  The president of the club (J. Edward “Ned” Allen) went to him and asked him what he meant, and he called him everything vile on the calendar.  Sweeney was very drunk.  We had to finish the game with eight men, and the Bostons [sic] beat us out (Providence lost 10 to 6).  The directors of the club had a meeting that night, expelled Sweeney and came within an ace of breaking up.  In fact, they did vote to disband.”

Charlie Sweeney

Charlie Sweeney

With Sweeney gone, the team was left without their two top pitchers.  Bancroft had suspended Radbourn earlier in the month, and he was still sitting out at the time—Radbourne was unhappy sharing the pitching duties and was rumored to be heading to the St. Louis Maroons in the Union Association–The Providence Evening Press in describing Sweeney’s July 22 outburst said he had “caught Radbourn’s complaint.”

Picking up the story in The Post, Bancroft said:

“They said there was no use of going on with one pitcher.  I said to President Allen: ‘If you will give me authority to tell Radbourne that you will not reserve him at the end of the season, I can get him to pitch all the rest of the games this year.’  ‘All right,’ said Allen, ‘you have that authority.’  I found old Rad at his boarding house.  I told him about the proposition.  ‘It’s a go,’ said Rad.  ‘I’ll get rid of reservation if I lose my arm.  I’ll pitch all the other championship games this season.”

Radbourn did not pitch “all the other” games that season but did pitch 75—with 73 complete games, 678 2/3 innings.  Bancroft said of his pitcher:

“It was the greatest feat of endurance I ever witnessed.  Rad was in awful shape before it was all over…Why, (his arm) hurt him so bad when he would get up in the morning that he couldn’t get it up high enough to fasten his collar button.  He had to comb his hair with his left hand.  It used to make me shudder to look at him, but he was gritty.  He would go out in the afternoon before the game, and instead of loosening up by easy pitching, as pitchers do nowadays, he would go in the field and throw the ball just as far as he could.  He would throw for ten or fifteen minutes, until he got wound up, and then he would go in to pitch a winning game.”

"Old Hoss" Radbourn

“Old Hoss” Radbourn

Bancroft said the pitcher “could split the plate any time he wanted to,” and that during “morning practice, to show what he could do, Radbourn would set a pop bottle on the home plate and knock it down three out of four times.”

The release of Sweeney had an immediate positive effect on the Grays.  On the day of the incident, The Evening Press said: “The pennant is no doubt out of the reach of Providence this year.”

The following day, after Radbourn pitched the team to an 11 to 5 over the New York Gothams, the paper’s outlook brightened:

“The summary expulsion of Sweeney for crookedness seemed to have a salutary effect, on Wednesday, for the purging of the club of such a bad egg resulted in a better class of patrons on the grand stand than for many weeks.  The attendance throughout was better than the management had looked for after the airing of Sweeney’s revolt, about 700 being present. “(There were just 450 in the stands the day before for “Sweeney’s revolt”)

Sweeney had not yet left for St. Louis and the paper took the opportunity to take one final shot at the pitcher:

“Sweeney is still about town, and wherever he goes the women whom he escorted to the ball game on Tuesday are seen with him.  The conduct of this fellow is shameful, and he will regret it when he fully wakes up to its enormity.”

The twenty-one-year-old Sweeney pitched the Maroons to the Union Association championship with a 24-7 record and 1.83 ERA.  Whether his arm couldn’t handle the strain, or as a result of his off-field habits, he would only win 16 more games (losing 30), and was out of the major leagues at age 24.

He returned to his home in California and played for teams in the California, Central California Leagues, after his retirement he worked for a short time as a police officer and later worked in saloons around San Francisco.

By the time Bancroft shared his reminiscences of 1884 with The Post, Sweeney was incarcerated in California, and Radbourne was dying in Illinois.

In July of 1894, Sweeney shot a man named Cornelius McManus during an altercation in a bar.  The San Francisco Chronicle said when he was informed the following day that the victim was dead “he broke down and wept bitterly.”  Sweeney was convicted of manslaughter four months later and sentenced to eight years.

The Chronicle said he was released after serving “a little over three years of his sentence,” after which “his health broke down.”  Sweeney died of Tuberculosis in 1902—most sources say he died on April 4—The Call and The Chronicle both said he died on April 3.

Radbourn pitched 1311 innings in 1883 and ’84, and started and won all three games in the 1884 World Series.  Bancroft said that after the Grays won the championship:

“President Allen kept his word, and gave him his release; but Rad didn’t take it.  The club offered him just twice as much salary for the next year.”

Radbourn pitched seven more seasons and finished his career with a 309-194 record.  After being accidentally shot in a hunting accident, and suffering from a variety of ailments, he died in February of 1897.

Bancroft remained in baseball until January of 1921 when he retired a business manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He died two months later at age 74.

The Adventures of George Borchers

7 Feb

George Bernard “Chief” Borchers was a West Coast phenom.  The Sacramento native was so good as a 16-year-old in 1885 that the town’s two professional teams battled for his services.  After pitching half the season for one club, The Sacramento Record-Union said:

“George Borchers, heretofore pitcher for the Alta Baseball Club, has resigned his position in that club and will hereafter pitch for the Unions.”

Box score for Borchers' first start for the Sacramento Unions (July 26, 1885) after jumping the Sacramento Altas.  Borchers beat his former team 3 to 0.

Box score for Borchers’ first start for the Sacramento Unions (July 26, 1885) after jumping the Sacramento Altas. Borchers beat his former team 3 to 0.

He played for the California League’s Sacramento Altas in 1886 and the Oakland Greenhood & Morans in the same league in 1887. The Sporting Life said of him:

“Borchers is possessed of Herculean strength, great endurance, and is a heavy batsman.”

The Sacramento Bee said Borchers “would soon rank as one of best pitchers on the coast,” if he got “command of the ball and his temper.”

Before the 1888 season the 19-year-old became the subject of a bidding war.  He pitched several games against the New York Giants during John Montgomery Ward’s barnstorming/honeymoon tour of the West Coast in the winter of 1887.

Ward told New York reporters that Borchers was the best pitcher in the California League.  The Sporting Life called him “Ward’s especial favorite,” and “Ward’s find.”  By January The Boston Post said he turned down an offer from the Beaneaters, The San Francisco Chronicle said he rejected the Detroit Wolverines, and The Philadelphia Times said “(Athletics Manager Bill) Sharsig is hopeful to sign Borchers.”  The Times also said Ward’s Giants had made an offer but:

“The young man wanted a mortgage on Central Park and a large chunk of Coney Island.”

The San Francisco Chronicle said Borchers came from a wealthy family (his father owned a brewery) and were “opposed to his playing ball.”

Whatever the reason, Borchers opened the 1888 season with the Greenhood & Morans.  He pitched at least four games for Oakland before it was announced on May 2 that the 19-year-old had signed a major league contract.  The  Chronicle said:

“The baseball world was thrown into a state of excitement yesterday when the press dispatches made the unexpected announcement that George Borchers prize pitcher of the Greenhood & Moran club, had been signed to pitch for the Chicagos.”

The paper said when White Stockings President Al Spalding sent a telegram to Borchers asking his terms, the pitcher, “treated the telegram as more of a joke than anything else, and in the spirit of fun telegraphed back” asking for $3000, with a $500 advance.

“He never dreamed of receiving a favorable answer, and his surprise can well be imagined when a few hours later the answer came accepting his terms.”

Despite being what The Chronicle claimed was the “largest salary ever paid to a California player in the East,” Borchers immediately regretted the agreement:

“He says he does not feel much like leaving here and would like to back out if he could, but, knowing that he is legally bound by his act, he will of course stand by it.”

The pitcher arrived in Chicago on May 13 to great fanfare.  The Chicago Tribune said “if he equals the reports of his ability that precede him, the team will be as nearly invincible as it is possible for a baseball organization to be.”

Caricature of Borchers from The Chicago Tribune--1888

Caricature of Borchers from The Chicago Tribune–1888

White Stockings shortstop Ned Williamson, who batted against Borchers on a West Coast trip, compared him to another California pitcher who made his big league debut at age 19:

“He pitched more like Charley Sweeney than any other man I ever saw, and Sweeney was as good as any that ever stepped in the box.”

Borchers made his debut on May 18.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“Another wonder has been discovered and the Chicago Ball Club has it.  The wonder is George Borchers, the California pitcher.  He was put in the box to pitch for the Chicagos yesterday against the Bostons in the closing game of the series.  The result is manifest in the score—13 to 0…Borchers was made the hero of the hour.  He has come to stay, and his work yesterday is a guarantee of his ability to keep his place.”

The Chicago Tribune was more subdued than The Inter Ocean:

“(Borchers) has an easy delivery. Good curves and great speed, but his command of the ball remains to be determined.  Yesterday he was wild.  Three wild pitches were charged to him, and with a less active and reliable man than (Tom) Daly behind the bat more would have been recorded.  Those that got by Daly were extremely wild.  Still he was effective.”

The game, played in the rain at West Side Park, in what The Chicago Daily News called “practically a swamp,” was called after five innings.

The papers couldn’t agree on the attendance either–The Inter Ocean said it was 3000, The Tribune, 1500 and The Daily News 2000.

Borchers allowed just three hits and beat Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn in his first major league game.

Things went downhill from there; the rest of Borchers’ story on Monday.