Tag Archives: Chicago Colts

King Kelly’s Contract

25 May

Mike “King” Kelly signed in 1891 to captain the new American Association club in Cincinnati and joined the Boston Reds in that league after Cincinnati released him in August.  But after just eight days with the reds he jumped to the Boston Beaneaters of the National League.

The New York World called Kelly’s action, a “Hard blow to the Association.”

Kelly jumped as representatives of the two leagues were engaged in a “Peace conference” at Washington’s Arlington Hotel.

The Baltimore Sun said:

“The action of Kelly had the effect of breaking up pending negotiations, for the time being at least, the Association representatives leaving the conference when the League men refused to give them any assurance that would be compelled to remain with the Reds.”

kingkelly

Mike “King” Kelly

The Chicago Evening Post claimed to have the story behind Kelly’s move, and concluded which team he “morally” belonged to:

“It is held by persons who urge that they know that the King signed a Boston (NL) contract and accepted advance money two months before (he signed with Cincinnati).  The incident happened at the Fifth Avenue Hotel (in New York) last winter during the conferences that finally ended in the dissolution of the brotherhood.  One night Kelly came into the hotel ‘broke,’ having spent the afternoon and his roll at Guttenberg.”

Guttenberg was a racetrack located across the river from Manhattan, in what is now North Bergen, New Jersey—open from 1885-1893, it was at the time, the only track that held winter racing in a winter climate.

The Evening Post said Kelly found “His old friend, Director (William) Conant of the Boston (National League) triumvirate.”  Kelly said:

“’Bill, I’m dead broke.  Can I touch you for a few hundred?’

“’I don’t know Kel’ was the reply.  ‘I guess, though, you can have the money if you’ll sign a contract to play ball with me.’”

The paper said the two went upstairs to Conant’s room:

“A League contract was produced and a roll of greenbacks was spread before the King’s beaming countenance.  ‘Kel’ picked up the money, signed the contract and then put both the money and the document into his pocket, with the cool remark:

“’When I get ready to return this contract to you, Bill, I will.  See?’

“And with that he walked of.”

The Evening Post said Kelly initially signed with the Boston Reds after his release from Cincinnati because he tried to borrow more money from Conant:

“Conant refused to accommodate him unless that contract was handed over.  But ‘Kel’ was obstinate, and not getting the money from Conant, went over to (Charles A.) Prince, who gladly gave it to him.”

But, Kelly quickly decided to honor the “contract” he signed with Conant:

“These are facts, every one of them, from which it must be inferred that Kelly was really under contract morally to the Boston League people all the time that he played with Cincinnati and the Boston Reds.”

The Beaneaters were in second place, four games behind the Chicago Colts, on the day Kelly jumped, August 25.  Kelly only appeared in 16 games and hit just .231, but Boston went on a tear, winning 30 of their last 40 games after the King joined the club, and overtook Chicago for sole possession of first place on September 30, and won the pennant by three and a half games.

One Minute Talk: High Pockets Kelly

20 Sep

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

George Lange “High Pockets” Kelly was a 20-year-old who hit .158 the previous season in 38 at-bats and was in the process of putting up the identical average in 76 at-bats.  The New York Giants outfielder talked about the pressure of having an uncle who was a famous former player:

High Pockets Kelly

High Pockets Kelly

“It’s sometimes hard to live down a name or a relationship.  I don’t mean to imply when I make this statement that I am sorry I am the nephew of Bill Lange, but you know when you are the nephew of one of the greatest stars the game ever produced you are more apt to be in the public eye while there is a lot more expected of you.

“No matter where I happen to be somebody invariably points me out with the illuminating remark: ‘That’s Bill Lange’s nephew.’  But I’m going to stick to baseball and hope someday to make a name for myself just as did Uncle Bill.”

Uncle Bill

Uncle Bill

Kelly finally became a regular with the Giants after hitting .356 for the Rochester Hustlers in the International league in 1919.  He hit .297 over 16 major league seasons and was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1973.  “Uncle Bill” hit .330 over seven seasons for the Chicago Colts/Orphans before retiring at age 28.

“In Chicago, the Baseball Slump is what the Crank would call Disgusting”

8 Jun

Oliver Perry (OP) Caylor of The New York Herald came to a conclusion in August of 1892 that many have shared before and since:  baseball‘s best days were behind it.

O.P. Caylor

O.P. Caylor

Earlier,  National League President Nick Young had declared 1892—featuring an expanded twelve team circuit after the collapse of the American Association and just weeks into the only scheduled split-season in major league history—an unqualified success.

But now, into what Caylor called “A Dog Days Depression,” reality had set in.

“Much has been said since the League’s second championship season opened (the second half began July 15) about the renewed interest which was alleged to have sprung up and was keeping pace with the new season.  It has taken no more than a month to prove that this so-called revival was an illusion.”

Caylor noted that there was brief uptick in attendance in games played in Eastern cities during the first three weeks of the second half:

“(B)ut before the teams started west the same old rut of passing indifference seemed to be struck.  And nowhere in the west thus far has there been a sign of a promising revival.”

Caylor pointed to two cities as evidence of baseball’s bleak state;

“In Chicago, the baseball slump is what the crank would call disgusting.  People of that progressive center have use for nothing but the best, and Uncle (Cap) Anson this year has not succeeded in giving them such an article in baseball.  The great general has done the best possible, handicapped as he was in the beginning of the season by the poor allotment of players from the Indianapolis (Hoosiers, the defunct American Association franchise) consolidation pool.”

Cap Anson, 50 errors in 1876

Cap Anson

Caylor blamed most of Anson’s problems on a weak middle infield:

“(Jimmy) Cooney, his shortstop, turned out a sudden complete failure and he has never been able to successfully fill (Fred) Pfeffer’s vacant shoes on the nine.  Any team which is weak at short field and second base is bound to be weak all over, and that is the condition of the Chicagos.

“The old man has been experimenting on new material with more or less success and less success than more.  But by the time he gets his men into what he is pleased to consider championship form, the season will be so far spent that he will have no chance to arouse the chilled pride of the army of Chicago baseball ‘rooters.’”

Caylor said Anson had some optimism for “next season.”

“Maybe the Chicago club can well afford to waste this year whipping together a winning team for 1893.  For next year, the World’s Fair (The World Columbian Exhibition) should be bring a small fortune to the treasury of the Chicago club if they can get a winning team together by that time.  Yet there are those who will argue that the World’s Fair is bound to be a financial injury than a benefit to the Chicago club under any circumstance, and the argument is based upon baseball experience in Philadelphia during the year of the Centennial (1876).”

World's Colombian Exhibition

World’s Colombian Exhibition

 

Caylor said even, A. G. Spalding, former White Stockings president, felt the fair “will be a financial burden” on the team.

Spalding believed:

“(T)hat for every visiting stranger who will be attracted to the ball grounds three resident patrons will be kept away by the unusual demand upon their time by excessive business.”

But Caylor said, his former home was in even more distress than Chicago:

 “Cincinnati, the best-paying city of the circuit during the first half of the year, has become financially alarming.”

Cincinnati had suffered as a result of the National League’s cost cutting measure agreed upon in late June, which resulted in rosters being reduced from 15 to 13 players and across-the-board pay cuts of 30-40 percent for all players.  The Reds best pitcher, Tony Mullane, quit as a result of the cuts.

Tony Mullane

Tony Mullane

“The sorry slump in baseball interest at Cincinnati is another exemplification of that old moral taught by the fable of the ‘Hen Which Laid the Golden Egg.’ I know it is modern usage to speak of the golden egg producer as a goose, but my Latin book called it a hen.  As applied to the Cincinnati case it makes little difference whether we call it a hen or a goose…The Cincinnati club’s hen was laying golden eggs regularly through the first season.  The newspapers put the club down as a sure winner financially.  Then came the greed mentioned in the fable.  The officials thought they saw a way to squeeze  the old hen into more active and valuable work, and on the squeezing they killed her.”

As a result of the pay cuts:

“Cincinnati patrons became disgusted.  For the sake of saving a few thousand dollars in salaries while working at a profit, this club had thrown away its chances to win the second championship.  Nobody who understands human nature need wonder the result.”

Cleveland, home of the second half champion Spiders, was the only town where Caylor said the “national game is appreciated.”   But even that, he said was temporary and favorable financial conditions were “a question of considerable doubt.”

The 1892 season was a disaster for Chicago—on and off the field—they finished 70-76, in seventh place, and attendance dropped by more than 72,000 from the previous season.

While Cincinnati led the National League in attendance, the club lost money.

But, contrary to Caylor’s gloomy outlook, the league—after dropping the spilt-season format—bounced back well in 1893.

In Chicago, where Anson put an even worse product on the field—the Colts were 56-71—predictions that the Columbian Exhibition would destroy attendance were wrong.  Aided by the opening of a new ballpark in May, the club drew the fourth-largest attendance in the league—223,500—more than doubling their 1892 numbers.

Cincinnati’s attendance dropped by just 2200 fans despite a disappointing season where the team hovered near .500 all year and finished sixth.

National league attendance increased by nearly half a million from 1892 to 1893.

While baseball was not on a long-term decline, Tony Mullane was.

He returned to the Reds in 1893, but the 34-year-old was never the same–259-187 with a career ERA below 3.00 before his departure, he was 25-33 with a 5.74 ERA after.

Buttons Briggs

3 Jun

Chicago Tribune sportswriter Hugh Fullerton claimed pitcher Herbert “Buttons” Briggs became a member of Cap Anson’s Chicago Colts as a 20-year-old in 1896 because as a 19-year-old he struck Anson out three times when the Colts visited Little Rock in April of 1895.

Buttons Briggs

Buttons Briggs

Like many of Fullerton’s stories, there was probably some embellishment; the box score from the game in question shows that Briggs only struck out two batters and was hit fairly hard—but he did make some kind of an impression and was signed by Anson.

Fullerton said Briggs was cocky when he joined the club and seemed to back it up in his first game, a 3 to 1 victory over the St. Louis Browns.  But, said Fullerton, Briggs learned some humility that day, courtesy of a veteran umpire:

“Briggs stood high in Anson’s estimation and Anson wanted to pitch him (in the season’s second series)…Briggs was fast, he had a speedy outcurve and a fast high one—but he was wild and some of the others didn’t want him to pitch.  But Briggs pitched.  He was chock-full of self confidence and freshness in those days, and all leagues looked alike to him.

“He wound up into a knot, whirled and shot the first ball across the heart of the plate, waist high, and so fast the catcher didn’t even see it.

“Before the ball fairly splashed into (Malachi) Kittridge’s mitt, Briggs with his arm still extended yelled ‘How’s that?’

“(Jack Sheridan) who was umpiring looked the youngster over from head to foot and then remarked calmly ‘Under the circumstances that is a ball. Had you not asked me it would have been a strike.’”

Jack Sheridan

Jack Sheridan

Fullerton claimed that incident brought Briggs down to earth, and he never “kicked” to umpires as a result.

Briggs struggled for three years with the Colts—he was 17-28 with a 4.85 ERA before being sent to the Western League in July of 1898.  After five minor league seasons he returned to Chicago and was 19-11 with a 2.05 ERA as a 2.05 ERA.  He was 8-8 with a 2.14 ERA in 1905 and was traded to the Brooklyn Superbas in the deal that brought Jimmy Sheckard to the Cubs.

Perhaps not completely broken of his early cockiness, Briggs refused to play for Brooklyn and jumped to an outlaw team in Ohio.  He never played in the major leagues again.

“A Flat-Footed Player is as Bad is a Flat-Headed one”

27 Jan

As part of his 1910 series of articles called “How I Win,” syndicated journalist Joseph B. Bowles spoke to Bill Dahlen, manager of the Brooklyn Superbas, during Dahlen’s first season as a big league manager.

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen 

“The only theory on which I ever have worked is that every man on a team should work for the common interest, that each man should help out each other one, and that eight men if strong ought to help out the weak one.

“Close attention to every move is essential.  Not only should a player watch every change of position of his opponents…The mind must be alert at every instant during a game.  There is no room in major league baseball for any except fast-thinking and fast-moving players.  I do not mean that a player must be a ten-second man.  I mean he must be on his toes, ready to jump in any given direction without the loss of an instant.”

Dahlen said success was all about footwork:

“A man who handles his feet well, either batting, fielding or base running, is a good player, for footwork is better than ability with the hands.  It is necessary for a player to be shifty on his feet as it is for a boxer.  No one can be shifty unless he is on his toes all the time, and a flat-footed player is as bad is a flat-headed one—and usually the two things go together.

“The batter who is on his toes, balanced and ready for the jump, will hit, for he can shift and swing and still get his weight behind the bat.  The shifty runner on first is ready to move either way—to dive back to first or go on to second.  In the field, he moves with the ball, and is moving when it is hit, so he covers more ground.”

Dahlen had advice for young players:

“(He) should watch every move of the batter, and poise himself for the start just as a sprinter does.  I remember that one of the first things taught me after I joined the Chicago club was starting, and the crowd of great players under (Cap) Anson won many games because they started faster and were readier in seizing an opportunity than their opponents were.  Another thing they taught me was sliding to bases, not only so as to avoid being touched, but also to avoid getting hurt or hurting anyone.  That slide known as the ‘Chicago slide’ was the invention of (King) Kelly and adopted by (Tom) Burns, (Ned) Williamson, (Fred) Pfeffer and the great players of that day. There is more footwork to that slide than in any other department of the game.  It consists of watching the position of the baseman who is receiving a thrown ball and throwing the body in the opposite direction, sliding on the hip with the leg partially bent under and the toe hooking the bag.”

Bill Dahlen

Dahlen

Dahlen’s footwork was not enough to guide four bad Brooklyn teams to a winning season.  During his managerial career (1910-1913) the Superbas were 251-355.

“The Duke of Minneapolis”

20 Nov

Martin F. Duck was born in Zanesville, Ohio in 1867.  He played under the name Martin Duke.   As he was becoming a well-known pitcher The Kansas City Times told a story which purported to explain why he changed his name:

 “The real name of the (Minneapolis) Millers’ best pitcher is not Duke, but Duck…Martin was pitching in a game up in Michigan and in the ninth his club led the opposing team by one run. (With two runners on base) a man up in the grandstand began imitating the quack of a duck…as the ‘quack, quack, quack continued his face became lobster-colored.  He shouted to his taunter that he would fix him after the game, but the fiend…went on with his ‘quack, quack, quack’”

At this point, Duck allegedly threw the ball into the stands at his tormentor, allowing both runs to score, “After that he dropped the name Duck entirely.”

By the time that story appeared Martin Duke seemed headed for a productive career.  He went 14-12 with the Zanesville Kickapoos in the Ohio State League in 1887.  In 1888, he again pitched for Zanesville, now in the Tri-State League and for The Toledo Maumees in the same league—no  records survive for that season.

The five-foot, five-inch Duke made a name for himself the following year.  While pitching for the Millers in the Western Association, he posted a 24-16 record and struck out 347 batters in 355 innings, earning the nickname “Duke of Minneapolis.”

In February of 1890, The Chicago Inter Ocean said Chicago’s Players League team was after the pitcher:  “Captain Comiskey of the Chicago Brotherhood has been on Duke’s trail for weeks, with the result that although Duke has not yet signed a contract we will play with the Chicago Brotherhood club this season.”

If Comiskey was, in fact, on Duke’s trail he never got his man.  Duke returned to Minneapolis, and while statistics for 1890 no longer survive, but the press routinely called him the Millers’ best pitcher.

In 1891, he slipped to 10-11, and in May he was suspended for being, as The Sporting Life said, “Out of condition” (a euphemism for his problem drinking), but earned an August trial with the Washington Statesmen in the American Association.  The Saint Paul Globe said of his departure:

“Martin Duke–the one, the only, the statuesque Duke–has bidden good-bye to the ozone of Minnesota and beer of Minneapolis…Last night he boarded the train, moved his hand in adieu, cocked his hat to one side, closed an eye, uttered a certain familiar expression peculiar to Dukes and disappeared forever.”

Martin Duke

Duke failed his Major league trial.  In four games, he posted a 0-3 record and walked 19 batters in 23 innings.

Despite his poor debut, he received another opportunity, this one with the Chicago Colts in 1892. When he was signed in January, The Chicago Tribune said:

“Duke’s last season, owing to lax discipline, was not a success, but this season he promises to regain his old form, as he is bound by an ironclad contract to abstain from intoxicating drinks.  By his contract half his salary reverts to the club if he breaks the pledge.  This should keep him straight.”

He received a big buildup in The Chicago Daily News:

“(He) is one of Captain Anson’s new colts, and he not only puts the ball over the home plate with almost the speed of a cannon shot, but he also seems to have a head studded with eyes, for stealing second base when he is in the box is always most hazardous business.  His pitching arm is so strong and shapely and so well equipped with powerful muscles that it would win admiration from a blacksmith.”

Despite the accolades he was released before the beginning of the season, The Tribune said:

“Martin Duke is also down for release. He has shown up poorly so far, and the club cannot use five pitchers anyhow.”

He signed with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association and seemed to regain his old form posting a 13-3 record.  It was his last successful season.

After getting off to a 2-5 start in 1893 Duke was released by New Orleans, and initially there were no takers for his services.  The Milwaukee Journal said why:

“Martin was always a good pitcher, but his mouth and his temper were too great a load for any team to carry any length of time.”

Duke bounced around the minor leagues after that with short stints for teams in the Eastern League, Southern Association and Western League until 1895, when he returned again to Minneapolis.  But after 13 games with the Millers, he injured his arm and was released in June.  According to The St. Paul Globe, he injured the arm again in August; rupturing a tendon while pitching for a semi-pro team in Rosemount, Minnesota.

In 1897, The Sporting Life reported that Duke, employed in a Minneapolis tavern, was “Trying to get in shape” in order to return to the diamond that season, but he never played professional ball again.

Duke died from pneumonia on December 31, 1898, in Minneapolis.  The Sporting Life said:

“He possessed great ability as a pitcher, but never lasted long with any club, as he was a hard man to control, and was given to dissipation, which ultimately led to enforced retirement from the profession and untimely death.”

Duke was 31 years-old.

A shorter version of this post appeared in October 2012

Tug Arundel

16 Nov

Twenty-one years before catcher Gabby Street caught a baseball dropped. From the Washington Monument, another catcher attempted it with less success.

When news of Street’s feat was reported in 1908, Oliver Romeo Johnson, who had been a sportswriter for The Indianapolis News in 1887, recalled the circumstances:

“On one of our eastern trips we followed the Chicagos in Washington, and while there the catching of a ball dropped from the monument was much talked of, because one of the Chicago players was said to have done it a few days before.  My impression is that it was (Cap) Anson himself, although it might have been Silver Flint.

“One of our team, John Thomas ‘Tug’ Arundel, a catcher, said it was ‘dead easy’ to catch a ball dropped from the monument, and a bet was made on it.  A crowd of us went out to see the attempt.  Arundel wore catcher’s gloves—which were not so thick as they now are—on both hands and put layers of cotton under them. He tried eight or ten times to catch the ball…but failed every time, and after he had battered up his hands so he could not play for some days he gave it up.”

Tug Arundel

Tug Arundel

Several days after Johnson’s recollection appeared in The News, Horace Fogel, who had been Arundel’s manager with the Hoosiers and dropped the balls from the monument, weighed in.  Fogel, then sports editor of The Philadelphia Telegraph, disputed the claim that Anson or Flint had caught a ball and said of his catcher’s attempt:

“Arundel, if I remember alright, only succeeded in getting his hands on one ball and it almost tore them off at the wrists. Tug explained afterward that he had not figured on ‘A ball weighing a ton coming from that distance.’ The other balls, a dozen or more, I tossed out to him, Arundel missed, some by fifty feet, he misjudged them that badly.”

Horace Fogel

Horace Fogel

Bad judgment was a staple of Arundel’s career which was marred by arrests for drinking and fighting.    He appeared in just 76 major league games over four seasons from 1882 to 1888 and played for at least 16 different professional clubs during his 10 seasons in professional ball, often quickly wearing out his welcome.

The Memphis Appeal said he was:

“(T)he handsomest player in the profession, who would sooner fight than eat.”

The Washington Critic summed up the opinion many had of Arundel when he was acquired by the Nationals in 1888:

“’Tug’ Arundel has been secured by the Washington management, as last week’s reports indicated he would be.  He is not popular here.  However, it is to be hoped that Manager (Ted) Sullivan can keep him muzzled.”

After his release, when it was rumored he might join the Detroit wolverines, The Detroit Free Press told readers:

“Detroit wouldn’t have Tug Arundel under any circumstances.”

After every incident, Arundel pledged to change his ways.

After an 1887 drunken melee in Indianapolis, which resulted in the arrests of Arundel along with teammates Jerry Denny and John (Patsy) Cahill, he told The Indianapolis News he took “a total abstinence pledge for six months.”

In the spring of 1889, he was arrested in his hometown, Auburn, New York twice. First for assaulting a police officer and then for a bar fight with another former major leaguer, and Auburn native, Mike MansellThe Auburn Bulletin said Arundel “Got the worst of it.” A month after the fight, The Sporting Life said Arundel “writes he is in fine shape and looking for an engagement.”

In 1890, the 28-year-old Arundel was nearing the end of the line.  He signed with the Saginaw-Bay City (Michigan) club in the International Association and told The Detroit Free Press that he was serious about sobriety this time:

“I lost splendid situations and almost ruined my reputation through liquor, but, sir, I realize the baneful effects of over-indulgence in intoxicating liquors and I have resolved never to touch another drop.  I have kept aloof from it for the past three months and am now in as good condition as I ever was in my life.”

It is unclear whether, or for how long, Arundel kept his last public pledge.  He appeared to have played fairly well behind the plate for Saginaw-Bay City.  Although he hit just .152, The Free Press, which three years earlier assured readers that Arundel was not wanted on the city’s National League club, was pleased when he signed with the Detroit Wolverines of the Northwestern League:

“(Arundel) has faced the greatest pitchers on the field and held them all.  Arundel is a good trainer for young ones, and did good work while with the Hyphens in 1890.”

Whether because of drinking or injuries (The Free Press and The Detroit News said he suffered from “Split fingers” several times throughout the season) Arundel was finished after the 1891 season, at age 29.

Arundel returned to Auburn and was eventually committed to the Willard State Hospital for the Chronic Insane in New York where he died in 1912.

The Pursuit of Elmer Foster

9 Sep

Elmer Ellsworth Foster was the talk of the Northwestern League in 1887.

His career as a pitcher had lasted just one season; in 1884, while pitching for the St. Paul Apostles, he snapped a bone in his arm while throwing a pitch.

Elmer Foster, 1887

            Elmer Foster, 1887

After he recovered, he returned the following year as an outfielder and second baseman with Haverhill in the Eastern New England League and hit .309.

The following spring, The Sporting Life’s Haverhill correspondent said the New York Metropolitans “have taken Elmer Foster from us.”

Hitting just .184 and, as The Sporting Life put it “reckless at the bat,” Foster went back to Haverhill in August.

In 1887, he returned to Minnesota, this time as centerfielder for the Minneapolis Millers.  The club was owned by his brother Robert Owen Foster, a successful dealer of musical instruments, who with his partner J. E. Whitcomb, had taken over operations of the Millers in January.

The Northwestern League of 1887 was a hitter’s paradise owing mostly to the single-season experiments with the four-strike rule and walks counted as hits—nineteen players with at least 350 at-bats hit better than .350—and Foster led with a .415 average and 17 home runs.   While his performance with the bat was noted, he received an equal amount of publicity for his great fielding.

Throughout the season, Minnesota newspapers reported that Foster’s contract would be sold to a major league team—the Indianapolis Hoosiers were the most frequently mentioned—but the deal never materialized.

When the season ended, The Philadelphia Times said Foster was in high demand:

“During the past week agents from nearly every League and Association (club) have been to Minneapolis to secure (Foster) for next season.  (Horace) Phillips of Pittsburgh; (Gus) Schmelz of Cincinnati; Ted Sullivan, agent for Washington; (Emery “Moxie”) Hengel agent for Detroit; (Charlie Hazen) Morton, agent for (A.G.) Spalding, and agents for the Brooklyn, Metropolitan, and Baltimore Clubs have tried to get him.

(John) Day, of New York, sent him this message:  ‘Multrie on the way to Minneapolis.  Make no promise until you see him.’  Boston also wired him for his terms.  (Horace) Fogel of Indianapolis arrived one night and had Foster in tow all the next day.  The bidding of all these clubs has been going on briskly, until now he is offered exorbitant figures by all the clubs.”

Foster called the fight for services a “circus;” it also turned into a controversy, with two teams claiming to have signed him.  The Saint Paul Globe said:

“The circus he speaks of is a curious one, but he is sublimely unmindful of the part he took in it.  The rules of the baseball covenant prohibit the signing of players until Oct. 20…Manager Fogel of Indianapolis approached Foster before that time and made a verbal contract with him, but Manager (Jim) Mutrie, of New York, took him out to Delano (Minnesota), and after midnight  (on the 20th) got his signature.”

Jim Mutrie

                       Jim Mutrie

Years later, Ted Sullivan, who was perusing Foster on behalf of his Washington Nationals, described Mutrie’s method to sign Foster as a kidnapping:

“Jim Mutrie of New York (Giants) grabbed the great fielder Foster on the streets of Minneapolis…bound and gagged him, threw him into a cab and brought him ten minutes out of the city, held him there and dined and wined him until midnight…then compelled him to take $1000 advance money and a contract of $4500 (various other sources put Foster’s salary at $2400, and $4000).”

Foster, it turned out, didn’t simply have a “verbal contract” with Fogel and Indianapolis when he disappeared with Mutrie, but had, as The Sporting News said, accepted “a draft for $100,” from Fogel at the time the two agreed to terms.  Fogel and Indianapolis owner John T. Brush told The Indianapolis News and The Indianapolis Times that there was “a written agreement” between Foster and the club.

Foster’s wife gave birth to a daughter during the height of the controversy.  He told The Globe:

“If she had been a boy I would have named him Mutrie Fogel, in memory of the baseball managers I have been having a circus with.”

In the end, Indianapolis acknowledged that the agreement with Foster, whether written or verbal, was entered into three days before the legal signing date of October 20 and National League President Nick Young awarded Foster to the Giants.

Foster never had success at the plate during his brief major league career; he hit just .187 in 386 at-bats over parts of five seasons.  But Mutrie called him “(O)ne of the best fielders in the country,” and Sullivan said of Foster’s time in the National League, “(H)e was a wonderful fielder in that league.”

Elmer Foster

      Elmer Foster

After he was released by the Giants, he played 31 games with the Chicago Colts in 1890 and ’91, but his brief stay with the club allowed his name to live on with fans long after his career ended.  One of the favorite subjects of Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, who called him “The rowdy of the rowdies,” Foster’s name was a staple of Fullerton’s stories for three decades after his career ended.

“There were Absurd Errors, Collisions, Accidents, Spectacular Batting”

2 Mar

William Henry “Josh” Reilly had a memorable big league debut for the Chicago Colts in 1896.

Josh Reilly

Josh Reilly

Reilly filled in at shortstop for Bill Dahlen in a May 2 game against the St. Louis Browns.  The Chicago Tribune said Dahlen was “(E)ngaged at home in holding a hot water bag against a turbulent tooth.”

While the toothache story was reported in the Chicago papers, The Sporting Life was not sold on the reason for the hard-drinking Dahlen’s absence:

“Dahlen laid off—was sick, or—well, you know Dahlen.”

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen

The Chicago Inter Ocean called the game “Worse than cough medicine,” and said:

“Of all the untabulated, unscheduled, unexpected, terrible, heartrending, frayed-out exhibitions of something or another that must be classed under the head of baseball, yesterday’s game with St. Louis was the worst.”

The Tribune said:

 “There were absurd errors, collisions, accidents, spectacular batting.”

Reilly was responsible for three of those “absurd errors,” and some of the “spectacular batting,” going 2 for 6 in his debut; he was also responsible for what The Tribune called “The electrifying feature of the game.”

The Inter Ocean described what happened:

(Monte) Cross got to first because (Chicago first baseman) George Decker thought his arm was as long as the legs of a man who has to stand on a ladder to comb his hair.  His arm was short by about six feet.  Then (Tom) Parrott made a single to center… (Duff) Cooley knocked a hot liner, and everybody started to sprint.  Reilly was playing at short, and stuck his finger nail into a loose stitch just as the ball shot past him.  He slammed it to (Harry) Truby, where Cross should have been, but was not, and Truby in turn, tossed it over to Decker to fondle while Parrott endeavored to correct himself.”

That game was the only highlight in Reilly’s major league career.  He played a total of nine games in Chicago—the other 8 at second base—and made a total of 11 errors.  And, after going 2 for 6 in his debut, he was just 6 for 36 thereafter.   Then, in late May Reilly became ill—accounts varied regarding what the illness was, The Sporting News said it was typhoid fever, The Sporting Life, and The Chicago Daily News said pneumonia.

Reilly returned home to the West Coast.  By September, his debut heroics were long forgotten, The Tribune simply said:

“(Reilly) was a disappointment and he was released.”

Despite his brief and relatively inauspicious big league career, Reilly was a popular minor leaguer for more than a decade.

An often told story about him, alleged to have taken place the year before his short trial in Chicago, illustrates just how superstitious 19th Century players could be.

The earliest telling was in 1897 in The Tribune, and it appeared on several occasions, in several papers, over the next 15 years with various embellishments.  There was no byline on the original story, but it was likely written by Hugh Fullerton–who retold it himself several times.

Reilly spent the 1895 season in Texas, playing with the San Antonio Missionaries and the Fort Worth Panthers in the Texas-Southern League.  Reilly opened the season with the Missionaries, who got off to a horrible start; they won just three of their first 28 games:

“The team was discouraged and sore.  They held a meeting and were on the verge of firing their mascot or committing violence upon his person when Josh Reilly…came to the rescue with a new proposition.  The mascot was put into a full dress coat, with gray baseball trousers and a silk hat, and the bats, some half a score of them, were pulled upon his back.  Then the team formed in line and marched down to the hotel, where “The Divine Healer,” Schlatter was stopping.”

Francis Schlatter was, at that time, walking across the American Southwest gaining fame and followers.  Three years earlier he had come to believe he received a “directive from God” to heal the sick, and became a messianic figure for many during his brief time in the spotlight.

Francis Schlatter

Francis Schlatter, “The Divine Healer”

“The divine was brought forth and made to pronounce a blessing upon the bats…and through all the season those inspired bats continued to give out base hits., and the team went close to the top of the league.”

While Reilly never disputed the story–and seemed to tell it himself on occasion–Fullerton’s ending was pure fiction. San Antonio continued to struggle and blessed or not, the Missionaries’ bats were mostly silent all season–the team never left the cellar and was 21-72 in August when they disbanded.

Josh Reilly, 1930--he died in San Francisco in 1938.

Josh Reilly, 1930–he died in San Francisco in 1938.

In different versions of the story, it was claimed that Reilly still used one or more of the “blessed bats.”  In another, Reilly “Hit .344” with one of the bats “and after he broke that bat he hit .189 for the rest of the season.”

Fullerton had one more Reilly story that he told often–first appearing in 1906 but recycled frequently for two decades–this one about his fielding troubles during his brief stay in Chicago and the impact the ire of fans has on a struggling player:

“(Reilly) was pretty bad as a fielder, and getting no better rapidly.  the jeers, hisses and hoots of the crowd merely made him mad.  He wanted to fight back.  His Irish blood was boiling.  For a time it seemed as if he would win and prove himself a great ball player merely by his nerve in playing at all under such a constant shower of criticism.  But one day Josh got through.  I found him frothing at the mouth out at the club house.  He was done.  He never would play again–unless he got a chance to kill a certain man.  When he grew calm enough.  I discovered the cause of it.

“‘He was a big man sitting in the bleachers’ said Josh.  ‘While they were all yelling at me for booting a hot one, he sat still.  I saw him and  said to myself ‘there’s one friend of mine up there.’  He never said a word until the seventh inning.  Then he stood up, stretched himself, walked down two or three steps and yelled:  ‘Reilly, you’re a disgrace to the Irish!’  If I had him I’d killed him.'”

“People who saw the Sport are still Laughing”

17 Dec

High expectations came with George W. “Big Mike” Mahoney to his hometown Boston Beaneaters in 1897.

A baseball, track and football star at Georgetown University—he played football until the University disbanded the team after his backfield mate George “Shorty” Bahen—a foot shorter than Mahoney– died from injuries sustained during the team’s Thanksgiving Day game against Columbia in 1894.

George "Big Mike" Mahoney

George “Big Mike” Mahoney

In 1895, he gained notice for his pitching after striking out 13 batters in a game with Yale.

The following year, The Philadelphia Times said:

“He has won enviable renown as a pitcher, where his remarkable strength, speed and ability to curve have made him a very formidable player.  He has also played football, where his remarkable physique, weight and strength have stood him in good stead.  One would imagine that his weight—236 pounds—would prevent his running with any remarkable speed, but it is so distributed—he being probably the largest athlete in the college world, measuring six feet five—that it is little of an encumbrance to him.”

In the spring of 1897, it was rumored that Mahoney would not return to Georgetown and instead sign with Boston.  The Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“(I)t is understood that he will play professionally with the Boston league team.  Mahoney is considered a wonderful pitcher, as well as being a fine catcher and first baseman.”

Shortly after signing with the Beaneaters, The Washington Evening Times said Mahoney had been offered the opportunity to take up yet another sport:

“(Mahoney) has a chance to shine pugilistically.  En route to Pittsburgh Sunday the Bostons had Bob Fitzsimmons for a traveling companion.  Fitz was smitten with Mahoney’s size, and offered to take him in charge and coach him into a high-class heavyweight.”

Bob Fitzsimmons-wanted to train Mahoney for the ring.

Bob Fitzsimmons-wanted to train Mahoney for the ring.

Mahoney turned down the offer.

On May 18 Boston was in Chicago; trailing the Colts 9 to 5 in the eighth inning, Mahoney made his big league debut on the mound for the Beaneaters.

The Colts and The Chicago Daily News were not kind to the rookie:

“Mr. Mahoney, the largest man seen in the League for many moons, made his debut in professional ball at the west Side Grounds yesterday.  He now wishes he had tarried at his Georgetown school.  The reception given Mr. Mahoney was one of the warmest ever seen around these districts since the year 1, and the people who saw the sport are still laughing.

“Mr. Mahoney is 6 feet 5 or more, and one of the finest looking men imaginable.  Small girls, who admire big men, could be heard squeaking, ‘Isn’t he cute?’ all of the stand.  He has been loafing around the park during the present series, doing nothing but taking life easy, and the multitude were really getting inquisitive as to who he was and what right he had to live.

“He went into the fray at a rather inauspicious time.  The Colts had just demolished (Ted) Lewis and had biffed fat (Jack) Stivetts in the solar plexus.  When Mr. Mahoney’s giant frame loomed up there was a shout of laughter, then a pause of dread lest the monster should prove strong and speedy in proportion to his fearful size.

“He threw a ball:  (Bill) Dahlen hit it.  He threw another: (Bill) Lange hit it.  He threw one more: (Walter) Thornton hit it.  And the picnic might have gone on had not the long man climbed eleven feet higher and pulled down a bounding ball (Mahoney had jumped high to rob Colts catcher Tim Donahue of a hit up the middle)”

Mahoney faced seven batters, allowed two runs, three hits, walked one and struck out one.

Mahoney

Mahoney

The Daily News ended the ridicule by allowing that Mahoney might, someday, be a good pitcher:

“The fate of Mr. Mahoney is no new experience for a young pitcher.  Many a man who has afterward been a star has been a horrible fizzle on his first appearance, while many a man who has panned out no good on earth has made a glorious debut.  Thornton was a conspicuous success on his initial day, and has been nothing in the way of box work since.  (Clark) Griffith did not do very well the first tie he pitched for (Cap) Anson, and he is the best of all nowadays.  Mr. Mahoney, if given a fair show, may yet become a (Amos) Rusie.”

Mahoney never received “a fair show.”  He never pitched in another major league game.  He caught one game for Boston, and went 1 for 2 with an RBI, but was released in July of 1897.  Mahoney appeared in two games for the St. Louis Browns the following season—he was 1 for 7 and committed one error.  For his four-game big league career he hit .111 and posted an 18.00 ERA.

After one more season playing for several East Coast minor league teams, Mahoney returned to Boston where he became a police officer; he died there in 1940.