Tag Archives: Chattanooga Lookouts

“This whole Trouble, Disgraceful to be sure, may be Blamed directly on Jack Sheridan”

14 Mar

On April 7, 1901, The San Francisco Call reported that John F. “Jack” Sheridan had accepted an offer from President Ban Johnson to continue working as an umpire in the American League—which operated as a minor league the previous season.  The paper said “The National League also made a bid for his services.  He will receive $400 a month and expenses.”  It was said to be “the largest salary ever paid to an umpire.”

Sheridan was a former player, a second baseman and outfielder, who played for several San Francisco teams in the California League, including stints with the Haverlys from 1883-85.  He went East in 1885 and appeared in six games for the Chattanooga Lookouts in the Southern league, and that same season began working as an umpire.

sheridanpix

Jack Sheridan

Years later, Mique Fisher, long-time California and Pacific Coast League manager and executive told The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review that Sheridan was signed by the Lookouts after he “sold himself to Chattanooga through a glowing personal description of his own ability,” but Fisher said:

 “Sheridan couldn’t field a ball with a fish net or hit one with a tennis racket.  When the Chattanooga manager saw Sheridan in action, he swore out a warrant charging him with obtaining money fraudulently.  Sheridan had to work out the expense advance in a cigarette factory.”

He worked as an umpire in the Southern League (1885, ‘93), the California League (1886-89, ’91), the Players League (1890), the National League (1892, ’96-97), and the Western/American League (1894-95, 1898-1900).

The best-paid umpire in the game, who was also a San Jose undertaker during the off-season, traveled from his California home to Chicago in early April of 1901, but a detour in Missouri nearly cost him his job.

The Chicago Tribune said Sheridan left the train “and was taken into custody on account of his strange actions.”  The Fort Wayne Sentinel said among the “strange actions” Sheridan “donned his uniform and started to umpire an imaginary game in the middle of the street.”

Johnson sent fellow American League Umpire “Pongo” Joe Cantillon to Missouri to get Sheridan released and accompany him to Chicago.  Sheridan was admitted to St. Elizabeth Hospital.  The Tribune said he was suffering from “nervous prostration,’ while The Cincinnati Enquirer said the league president said Sheridan was “on a protracted drunk.”

The day after he was admitted to the hospital two friends were given permission to take Sheridan out for a walk, The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“As they reached Milwaukee Avenue and Division Street, a (street) car whirled by, and Sheridan swung himself on the rear coach.  His friends yelled in vain to the conductor to stop the train, and lost sight of Sheridan.

“They at once notified the police department to look out for Sheridan…Detective Fitzgerald found Sheridan wandering aimlessly on Jackson Boulevard near Wabash…Sheridan did not know where he was, nor could he tell where he had been since escaping from his friends.”

As Sheridan waited to appear in court to determine whether he was insane, newspapers speculated that Johnson would replace the umpire with either former player Warren “Hick” Carpenter or former Western and National League umpire Al Manassau—Manassau was appointed to the American League staff two days before the season began.

Before he could be adjudicated insane Sheridan made a miraculous recovery just one week into the season.  The San Jose Evening News said:

“Mrs. Sheridan, the mother of Jack Sheridan, the noted baseball umpire, has received a telegram from her son, who is in Chicago, stating that he has fully recovered from his derangement and that he could now continue with his contract.”

Sheridan was back on the field before the month of April of over.  He was competent, served as the American League umpires “chief of staff,”  and umpired in four World Series (1905, 07, 08 and 10); he was also selected, along with National League umpire Bill Klem, to join the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants on their world tour after the 1913 season.

But he also demonstrated erratic behavior for the rest of his career.

Just a month after returning to the field The Sporting Life said “Sheridan became frantic and ran up and down the field like a crazy man,” after a disputed call at home plate in the bottom of the ninth of a May 31 game in Detroit between the Tigers and Baltimore Orioles, which led to Sheridan awarding the game to the Tigers by forfeit.

The Sporting Life’s Baltimore correspondent said Sheridan was “held by President Johnson as a competent man,” despite his “habits.”

He resigned on at least three occasions.  After the 1905 and 07 seasons he said he was retiring to return to San Jose and become a full-time undertaker, only to return the following spring and in June of 1910, he abruptly quit minutes before a game in Washington, but returned within several weeks.

When Sheridan again took the field The Washington Post said he would “establish a precedent, as he will be the only major league umpire wearing glasses.”

Sheridan was also arrested in October of 1907 after a barroom brawl that began over a dispute over $120.  The Associated Press said when police searched Sheridan he was carrying $2700.  He was released from jail the following day after being fined $10.

On July 30, 1914, Sheridan called Ray Morgan of the Washington Senators out on a close play at first base in Detroit.  The Washington Post said Morgan, who had slid, “came up with a handful of dirt and threw it on the ground at Sheridan’s feet…Sheridan evidently thought that Morgan intended to hit him, and did not even give the National’s second sacker time to put up his guard, but whaled away at his smaller opponent.”

Ray Morgan

Ray Morgan

Morgan punched Sheridan, and after both dugouts emptied, Sheridan was also punched by Washington’s Eddie Ainsmith.  The disturbance spilled over to the stands with a few Washington players, including Morgan and Ainsmith, taking on Detroit fans before police restored order.

The Post said:

“This whole trouble, disgraceful to be sure, may be blamed directly on Jack Sheridan, the umpire, who has been at fault so many times this year.  In the first place Sheridan has threatened to beat up several of the Washington players.  Sheridan told (David “Mutt”) Williams and (Joe) Engel that he would punch them in the nose, the same as he had Morgan, if they did not do as he told them.”

Ban Johnson never took action against Sheridan for the incident in Detroit, but Morgan and Ainsmith drew suspensions from the league.

On August 1, 1914, The Associated Press reported that “The baseball players fraternity intends to take steps to have Umpire Jack Sheridan retired from service on grounds of incompetence.”

The incident, and dust up on August 12 with Jack Fournier of the White Sox inspired a poem from The Chicago Tribune’s Ring Lardner:

Making Night Hideous

Oft in the stilly night,

Ere slumber’s chain has bound me

Fond memory brings the sight

Of athletes crowding round me;

The scowls, the sneers

Of Jack Fourniers

And Morgans strike my vision;

I hear the barks

And rude remarks

That greet each close decision.

Thus in the stilly night,

Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,

I sometimes get tight up and fight

The chairs and tables round me.

At the end of the 1914 season, Sheridan returned to California.  On October 31 The Associated Press reported that Sheridan would not be returning as an umpire:

“Sheridan will probably be retained as a sort of supervisor of umpires, spending his time roaming around the circuit.”

Just three days later Sheridan died of heart failure in San Jose at age 62—he was said to have suffered sunstroke during an August game and never fully recovered.  Ban Johnson supported him to the end; just weeks before the umpire died the American League president told a reporter:

“I sincerely doubt if the baseball game will ever know another Jack Sheridan.  He had all of the virtues of other arbiters, and none of their mistakes.”

Frank Harris and “Pacer” Smith

5 Mar

Frank Harris was sentenced to die on November 29, 1895, in Freeport Illinois for shooting a man named Charles Bengel in May of that year.  Charles N. “Pacer” Smith was sentenced to die the same day in Decatur, Illinois for killing his 5-year-old daughter and 17-year-old sister-in-law and attempting to kill his estranged wife.

Smith and Harris were well acquainted, but accounts differed as to how well.  The Sporting Life said Smith “was at one time a resident of Freeport, and while here was known as Harris’ bosom friend and partner in a number of local ventures.”  The Decatur Review said the two played together on a team in Freeport in 1892. The Decatur Evening Bulletin said that the two had been teammates in Monmouth, Illinois in 1889.  (The Monmouth team was formed at the tail-end of the season to play out the Central Interstate League schedule of the Davenport Hawkeyes who  had folded–but neither Harris nor Smith are listed on any extant rosters for Monmouth).

Smith told The Decatur Daily Republican:

“I know Harris well.  He was with the Rockford club while I was with Ottawa and then we were together in the same club in the Southern League.  He was always a ratty, crazy fellow.  He married a rich girl in Freeport and will escape hanging if money is any good.”

(Surviving records show Harris with Rockford in 1890 and Smith with Ottawa in 1891. Harris played with the Chattanooga Lookouts in the Southern League in 1885; there is no record of Smith having played for the team).

Smith, who claimed he converted to Catholicism while awaiting the hangman, wrote a letter to Harris imploring him to do the same:

“Friend Frank—although in trouble myself, still I can find the time and inclination to sympathize with an old comrade in the same fix, and especially as the circumstance s connecting the two cases are so similar and out of the ordinary.  We are both to take our departure from this ‘vale of tears’ upon the same date to met [sic] him ‘who rules the universe,’ and before whom we both have to stand in judgment to hear perhaps the same verdict and sentence against us, once again in comradeship where the bickering and tribulations of this world have to part.

“I am happy to state to you I have received the consolations of religion to aid me in my extremity, and I wish you in answering this could assure me you, too, had claimed that only staff which it is possible for you to now lean upon with any surety and safety.  I have joined and been baptized in the faith of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, as I believe it to be the only and true church.  I have received its consolations and am resting easy in the confidence of its efficacy.

“I hope I will meet you in a ‘better world.’ Hoping to hear when you write that you have gone and done as well for yourself spiritually.  I will close by subscribing myself yours fraternally.

“Charles N. Smith ‘Pacer’”

Pacer Smith

Charles “Pacer” Smith

Smith also wrote a lengthy account of his life, baseball career and the murders he committed.  The Chicago Inter Ocean noted that he:

“Admits a petty double murder; but Mr. Smith avows he never threw a ballgame.”

While scaffolds were being erected in Decatur and Freeport, a group of Harris’ supporters, led by the town’s former mayor, Charles Nieman traveled to the state capital to seek a stay from Governor John Peter Altgeld.

Smith’s prediction that Harris would “escape hanging” proved to be correct.  On November 27 the governor postponed Harris’ execution until May 1, 1896.  The Sterling Gazette said the scaffolding in Freeport had been completed, the judge “strongly opposed” the governor’s decision and that the sheriff had already “sent out tickets of admission” for the hanging.

The Freeport Bulletin said:

“Harris has been very despondent for several days, and had made up his mind that he would be hanged Friday, and when informed that the governor had granted him a respite he broke down and wept like a child.  All day long he heard the carpenters at work on the scaffold, and could see the preparations made for his execution.”

As  “Pacer” Smith ascended the scaffold on November 29 a reporter from The Decatur Evening Bulletin asked him if he was aware that Harris had received a reprieve:

“He said he had, but seemed more interested in the fact that Harris had professed Christianity and been baptized.

“’It was my letter to him that is responsible for his conversion.  That was what influenced him. ‘

“When asked what he would say to a reprieve for himself, he snapped his fingers and said:

“’I don’t care that much.  I am all ready to go.’”

A few minutes later, at noon, “The drop occurred,” and “with a few convulsions the murderer died.”

Harris’ reprieve became permanent on April 23, 1896.  Governor Altgeld commuted his sentence to life in prison and he was sent to Illinois’ Joliet State Prison.   Despite the life sentence, The Joliet Republican said when Harris arrived at the prison:

“It is thought that the man will be pardoned out within a couple of years as he has the sympathy of the entire community where he lived.”

Frank Harris

Frank Harris

His release was not as quick as expected.  Harris applied unsuccessfully for parole on numerous occasions after his incarceration, and his wife divorced him in 1897.   But he did still have a large number of supporters in Freeport and other towns where he played.  In 1908, The Rockford Republic said friends from his time playing there had joined his friends from Freeport to work for his release, claiming he had been provoked by the man he shot.  Harris told the paper:

“It would be like one coming from the grave to again see the wonderful works of God and man, and oh, how I long to see it all.  Only a few days of liberty would be heaven on earth for me…there is a place in life for me and when I am released I will make a place.  I was never a bad man, but committed a crime through circumstances too strong for me to overcome.”

After more than a decade of efforts on Harris’ behalf,  Illinois Governor Charles S. Deneen pardoned him in 1911.

Harris returned to Freeport where he opened a tailor shop.  The former player had one last brush with the law in 1922.  The Freeport Journal-Standard said he threatened the chief of police and “several other people.”  As a result “A gun was taken away from Harris and he was informed by Chief Root that he would have to cease toting a gun.  Harris promised to refrain from drinking.”

A 1929 advertisement for Frank Harris' tailor business

A 1929 advertisement for Frank Harris’ tailor business

He continued operating tailor shop until March of 1939 when he went to the state hospital in East Moline, Illinois where he died eight months later on November 26 at age 81–one day short of the 44th anniversary of his reprieve.

“An Almost Complete Surrender”

23 Sep

At the close of the Southern Association’s tumultuous 1902 season league president William Kavanaugh, and the majority of the team owners, led by the New Orleans Pelicans’ Abner Powell, set out to oust Charlie Frank of the Memphis Egyptians.

Charlie Frank

Charlie Frank

After a decade as a player, including two seasons with the St. Louis Browns in the National League, Frank was one of the founding members of the new Southern Association in 1901 and became the president and manager of the Memphis Egyptians.

The Atlanta Constitution said that right from the beginning Frank became “the storm center for southern baseball politics… (He) was constantly engaged in some sort of furious baseball litigation.”

After signing three players–Jim St. Vrain, Charlie Babb,  and Bill Evans—who were under contract with other teams during the 1902 season, Frank became embroiled in a months-long legal battle with the league and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL).

In October of 1902, Frank lost his legal battle, and it was thought that the time was right to force him out.  The New Orleans Times-Picayune said Powell and Kavanaugh were “confident that a new party” would take over the Memphis franchise and “do much better than the old.”

Powell, Kavanaugh, and the other league owners overestimated their influence in Southern baseball and underestimated Frank’s.

While Powell and company were trying to find a replacement for Frank, he was creating a new league.  The Constitution said:

“(Frank) determined to organize an outlaw league, got financial backing in Memphis and actually formed a circuit.”

The problem for the Powell group was that Frank’s proposed league, and its investors, were more financially sound than the existing league.  Charlie Frank challenged the Southern Association again, and again the Southern Association blinked.

Rather than losing the league, the other team owners accepted every one of Frank’s demands and welcomed him back.

The Associated Press called it “an almost complete surrender,” by the Powell-Kavanaugh contingent:

“Charles Frank retains the Memphis franchise; Memphis club and Frank restored to good standing; Memphis will be paid for all losses sustained during last season, on account of unplayed games, legal costs, etc…”

Additionally, Frank saw to it that every investor in his “new league” was reimbursed for their costs; the Association covered “all obligations made by the promoters,” including honoring the contracts of all players who had been signed, most of whom were absorbed into Southern Association teams.  Additionally, Chattanooga, Tennessee was dropped from the league and a franchise in Montgomery, Alabama was “awarded to the promoters” of Frank’s “new league.”

It was estimated that Frank received $5,000 in the settlement.  He put some of that money towards building a solid team for 1903, winning his first pennant.  Memphis won again in 1904; early in the season, Frank handed over the managerial reins to Lew Whistler.

Lew Whistler

Lew Whistler

In 1905, Frank became president, principal owner, and manager of the New Orleans Pelicans, and promptly led them to a pennant— in spite of a Yellow Fever epidemic in New Orleans which required the team to relocate to Atlanta for part of the season.  Frank’s Pelicans also won pennants in 1910 and ’11.  He sold his interest in the team after the 1911 season but remained manager for two more years.

Charlie Frank's 1910 New Orleans Pelicans

Charlie Frank’s 1910 New Orleans Pelicans

In 1916 Frank returned to the Southern association again, organizing a stock company to purchase the Atlanta Crackers.  He managed Atlanta to a fifth place finish in 1916, and then won pennants in 1917 and ’19.

Frank sold his majority interest in the Crackers in May of 1921 but continued to manage the team.  In May of 1922, he resigned citing poor health—he died in Memphis three weeks later.

Sammy Strang

5 Nov

Samuel Strang Nicklin, “The Dixie Thrush,” was one of baseball’s great renaissance men.

Born in Tennessee in 1876, he was the scion of one of Chattanooga’s most prominent families.  His father John Bailey Nicklin served in the Union Army during the Civil War, moved to Chattanooga in 1866, and served as mayor from 1887-1889.

Sammy Strang

Samuel Nicklin spent one year at the University of Tennessee where he starred on the football and baseball teams. He also had two short stints in professional baseball 1893 and 1896, which included 14 games with the Louisville Colonels in the National League when he was 19.  Late in 1896, he enlisted as a private in the Tennessee Volunteers, served in Spanish-American War and rose to the rank of captain.

After leaving the service, Nicklin signed a contract with Cedar Rapids Bunnies in the Western Association and dropped his last name; he was known as Sammy Strang for the rest of his career.

The Milwaukee Journal said of the name change:

“(Strang) came of a rich southern family with deep prejudices against professional ball.”

This “prejudice” likely had nothing to do with it given that in addition to serving as Chattanooga mayor, the elder Nicklin was active in professional baseball, serving as president of the Southern Association in the 1890s.

A career .269 hitter, Strang was best known for being one of baseball’s first regular pinch-hitters while playing for John McGraw’s New York Giants from 1905 until June of 1908.  According to The Associated Press:

“McGraw noted the regularity with which he hit in pinches.  So he called him a ‘pinch hitter’—and the term stuck.”

During the 1909 season, Strang began coaching the baseball team at West Point.  He retired from baseball after playing from 1908-1910 with the Baltimore Orioles in the Eastern League, to study opera.

Sammy Strang

During his baseball career, Strang was known for writing songs and singing but decided to seriously pursue a music career in 1910.  He traveled to Paris where he trained under Jean De Reszke, one of the greatest male opera stars of the 1890s.

Upon returning from Paris, he chose not to accept an offer to join an opera company and instead returned to West Point, where he continued as coach until 1917.

Strang returned Tennessee shortly before his father’s death in 1919 to manage and take over ownership of the struggling Chattanooga Lookouts in the Southern League.  While the Lookouts did not win a league championship during Strang’s tenure, he was credited with turning the franchise around and sold the team, for which he paid nothing 1919, for a reported $75,000 in 1927, while retaining ownership of the stadium, Andrews Field.

Unfortunately, Strang’s most ambitious plan–to sign Satchel Paige in 1926–never materialized.

According to Larry Tye’s book “Satchel Paige: The Life and Times of an American Legend,”   Strang failed in an attempt to sign Paige for $500 to pitch a game against the Atlanta Crackers. Paige said of the deal:

“I just had to let him paint me white.”

Samuel Strang Nicklin died in Chattanooga in 1932.