Tag Archives: Chicago Cubs

“There’s Always Been a Need in Baseball for Another Rube”

20 Sep

In 1944, Grantland Rice of The New York Herald Tribune lamented the inability of Lou Novikoff to live up expectations well into four seasons in the National League:

“It would have ben a big lift to big league baseball if…’The Mad Russian’ of the Cubs could only have approached his minor league average under the Big Tent.”

Novikoff

The reason was baseball’s need for “color;”

“There has always been a need in baseball for another Rube Waddell, another Bugs Raymond or another Dizzy Dean. They had more than their share of color. But they had something more than color—they were also great ballplayers.”

Novikoff, Rice said had “a gob of color,” but hadn’t come close to putting up the numbers he did the Pacific Coast League and American Association:

“Novikoff on the West Coast looked to be as good a hitter as Ted Williams…But he was no Ted Williams in the major show.”

Both Williams and Novikoff had huge seasons in the American Association after leaving the West Coast—Williams hit .366 in Minneapolis in 1938 and Novikoff hit .370 in Milwaukee in 1941—but as Rice concluded:  No one had yet “wipe(d) away the dust from his big-league batting eye.”

The loss of Novikoff to pick up where Dizzy Dean left off “in the headline class, “ was a loss for baseball, Rice said:

“Baseball can use more color than it has known since Dizzy Dean retired to tell St. Luis radio listeners that someone ‘sold into third base.’

“It could use another Rube Waddell, who split his spring and summer days three ways—pitching, tending bar, and going fishing. But it should be remembered Dizzy Dean and Rube Waddell were among the great pitchers of all time.”

There was none he said, as colorful as Babe Ruth. Ping Bodie “was never a great ballplayer, but he was good enough. He was another remembered character. There was the time he bought a parrot and taught the bird to keep repeating— ‘Ping made good.’”

Rive said Bugs Raymond had color and talent—but for too short a time before the color overtook the talent.

Bugs Raymond

“There was the time when Bugs was pitching for Shreveport. He made a bet that he could eat a whole turkey, drink two quarts of Scotch and win a double header. He won his bet tradition says.”

By “tradition” Rice meant Rice. He was the source of the turkey and scotch story as a young reporter covering the Southern League.

Rice’s dream team of colorful players would include:

“Babe Ruth, Rube Waddell, Dizzy Dean, Bugs Raymond, Larry McLean, Tacks Parrott, Arlie Latham, German Schaefer, Al Schacht, Crazy Schmidt [sic Schmit] Rabbit Maranville and one or two more. I wouldn’t however, want to be manager.”

Grantland Rice

While Rice valued color, he said “two of the greatest ballclubs” he ever covered we not at all colorful:

“One was Connie Mack’s Athletics lineup from 1910 through 1914, winners of four pennants in five years. The other was the Yankees after Babe Ruth left, a crushing outfit season after season.

“These two squads were composed of fine ballplayers who were rarely prankish or the lighter side of life—Eddie Collins, Eddie Plank, Stuffy McInnis, Jack Barry, Homerun Baker, Jack Coombs, Chief Bender, to whom baseball was strictly a business matter. The same went for Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, Lou Gehrig, Charlie Keller, Spud Chandler, Joe DiMaggio and others might have made up a session of bank presidents.”

Novikoff never lived up to his minor league hype. He hit a respectable .282 in five major league seasons but only played 17 games in the big-leagues after the end of World War II.

“A man of the Caliber of Taft”

10 Sep

Less than a year before the Black Sox scandal, Ed Bang of The Cleveland News wrote about the need for a central authority to govern the game. He suggested his top candidate:

“William H. Taft.

“That’s the name to conjure with in any walk of life to say nothing of baseball and it may come to pass that one of these days the former president of the United States will be the sole member of the national baseball commission, the court of last resort in the national pastime.”

Taft shakes hands with Mordecai Brown, 1909

Bang called baseball “a rather sick individual” since the Federal League wars of 1914 and ’15., then “confined to bed” when the war department declared baseball a non-essential occupation. The situation became more dire earlier in the year when minor league magnates “threw down the gauntlet,” threatening to no longer honor the draft and options agreements.

“It became evident,” wrote Bang, “that baseball needed a doctor.”

Taft, he said was agreeable to most of the major league owners who, like the public had a “lack of confidence,” in August Herrmann, chairman of the National Commission as well as American League President Ban Johnson, and John Tener, who had resigned as National League president in August.

Bang said:

“A man of the caliber of William Howard Taft, one who is in no way connected with the national pastime either as league president or club owner and one who would give all parties a square deal, would add considerable prestige to the sport. Prestige is what is needed right now and if Mr. Taft or any other figure of equal ability can bring that about, the baseball magnates could well afford to pay him $50,000 a year and figure the money as well spent.”

Taft was, of course never hired, and baseball lacked a single, central power as commissioner through the 1919 season and scandal, until Kennesaw Mountain Landis became the first commissioner in 1920.

“He Never Liked Baseball so Much When he was in it”

8 Sep

After winning 139 games during a 12-year major league career, Fred Toney’s professional career came to an abrupt and unceremonious end after appearing in nine games (4-3 4.09 ERA) for the Nashville Volunteers in 1925.

Munce Pique, a long-time figure in Southern baseball—he had a long career as an umpire as a brief one as a player—told the story to Blinkey Horn of The Nashville Tennessean in 1935:

“They were in Mobile, and a runner was on third when a Mobile batter his a long foul. The Nashville left fielder—I can’t remember his name—caught the foul and the runner scored.

“Fred Toney walked out of the box, went over to the dressing room, knocked the lock off the door with a bat and put on his clothing and went home.

“So it wasn’t the case in Munce Pique’s opinion, of a sore arm, but rather that Fred Toney was sore at his left fielder for making a dumb catch.

“You could hardly blame him.”

The story had become relevant in Nashville 10 years later because that summer Toney returned, The Associated Press said:

“The other day the hurler, now 45 [sic, 46] and weighing 270 pounds, walked to the mound in Nashville’s ballpark and began throwing a ‘mighty small ball’ down the slot in batting practice.

“Not even the ever-enthusiastic local fans knew that the middle-aged giant out there was Fred Toney, in new shoes and a drab grey uniform.”

Toney, who had a farm and operated a tavern and gas station on Hydes Ferry Pike in Nashville, and had recently attended his first baseball game in a decade; he, “Never liked baseball so much when he was in it,” but now wanted back in the game as a coach.

Toney pitched in a couple semi-pro games in Tennessee in the summer of 1935, and in the spring of 1936 continued his quest to coach, but even he admitted it was his second choice, telling The Nashville Banner:

“I’ve been trying to get on the Nashville police force, but that has just about fallen through. If I can’t make that I want to start dickering for a coaching job.”

The prospects were dim for 47-year-old, 270-pound rookie cops and for coaches 10-years removed from the game

In September of 1936 Toney’s name was back in the news when the farm, filling station, and a “trophy room (containing) valuable relics from his baseball days; pictures, autographed baseballs, and gloves went up in smoke.”

Toney lost his home, one of his businesses, and every piece of memorabilia he had saved from his career.

The next summer, while working at a local nightclub he continued to seek a coaching job but seemed to have been annoyed by the prospect of interacting with modern players. The told The Associated Press:

“Pitchers today don’t do as they should, because they can’t. They are soft. They can’t take it.”

The pitchers of his day were, “farmers, coal miners, cotton pickers. They were physically equal to the strain.”

Toney concluded that, “young men who live normal lives, going through school and having things pretty easy can’t possibly develop into great pitchers.”

By early 1941, bed ridden with the flu and with no job prospects, Toney made another pitch for a baseball job through The Tennessean, telling a reporter:

“I’ll be up soon and all I ask is a chance.”

The best prospect for a job came from the Kitty League, Shelby Peace, the league president sent a wire to the paper:

“I would be glad for you to notify Fred Toney that if he is willing to accept a job as an umpire in the Kitty League, I will be very glad to send him a contract.”

Toney, in 1949, shows a group of minor leaguers his grip on a ball purported to be the one he used to record the final out in the 17-inning no-hitter in 1917; except more than a decade earlier, Toney was said to have lost every important piece of memorabilia in in afire.

That job never materialized, not did a coaching position.  Toney spent his final years working as a security guard and later as a bailiff in the Davidson County Criminal Court House.

Toney died in March of 1953; shortly before his death, and appropriate for his personality, he did not call either his 17-inning minor league, or 10-inning major league no-hitters his greatest moment. His greatest moment was born out of revenge. He told The Banner:

“When I first came up to the Chicago Cub from Winchester in 1911, my manager was Frank Chance. I have no doubt I’d have spent my entire career with the Cubs if Chance hadn’t left and gone to the American League.

“Johnny Evers, who was known as ‘the Crab.’ And I never got along. I never could go for a brow beating manager. Evers sent me back to Louisville and I had to battle my way back to the big leagues with Cincinnati in 1915.

“Evers was then managing Boston. In my first start against him, boy, I beat him good. That one win did more for me than any other.”

Unfortunately, Toney’s greatest moment wasn’t quite accurate either . He lost three decisions to the Braves in 1915 before beating them with a one-hitter on September 1.

“The Fastest Curve Ball Extent”

1 Sep

In 1921, John McGraw secured employment for Amos Rusie at the Polo Grounds; most current biographies of the “Hoosier Thunderbolt” say he first served as a night watchman and later became the superintendent of grounds at the ballpark—contemporaneous accounts said he was hired as assistant to superintendent Arthur Bell.

The suggestion that the job was an act of charity by McGraw was questioned by some of Rusie’s friends. John Crusinberry of The Chicago Tribune said when rumors had circulated in late 1920 that the former pitcher was destitute in Seattle, his former teammate Jack Doyle, then scouting for the Chicago Cubs, sought out his former teammate on a West Coast trip:

“But it wasn’t a tired and worn laborer who called. It was Mr. Amos Rusie, prominent in the business, social, and political life of Seattle.”

Crusinberry told his readers, Rusie owned a car and a home and was not simply a gas fitter, but rather the “superintendent of the municipal gas works of the city.”

His first day on the job in New York was the first time he had seen a major league game since 1900—the Yankees beat the Tigers 7 to 3.  William Blythe Hanna of The New York Herald talked to the man with, “speed like Walter Johnson’s and the fastest curve ball extent,” a couple of days later.

Ruse at Polo Grounds, 1921

Miller Huggins, the manager of the Yankees said he handed Rusie a baseball when the former pitcher arrived that first day:

“’So, that’s the lively ball?’ Said Amos. ‘Well, it feels to me exactly like the ball I used to pitch in the nineties. If it’s any livelier I have no means of telling it, so I’ll have to take you work for it.”

Rusie grips the “lively” ball

Rusie said even the ball in the 1890s made it “hard enough then to keep the other fellows from making hits,” and as for his legendary speed:

“My speed?’ added the big fellow, diffidently, ‘Oh, I dunno. They said I had a lot of it.’

“’They also say nobody ever had as fast a curve ball as you.’

“’Yes, they said that when I was pitching, but it isn’t for me to say.”

Back to the difference, or lack thereof from his perspective—between the current ball and ball of the nineties, the 50-year-old said he wouldn’t be able to tell by trying to throw one:

“I couldn’t do anything with a baseball now. It’s been a good while since I could. Arm’s gone.”

Rusie was a rarity among veterans of his era—he didn’t insist that the players and the game of his era was superior:

“I can’t see much difference in the game now and then, either. They’re doing what we did, the hit and run and the bunt and all that. Maybe outfielders play back farther now. You know we didn’t have the foul strike rule, and that made it harder on the pitchers. They had to pitch more balls.”

 To a reporter from The Associated Press, Rusie conceded some things had changed:

“In the old days the Polo Ground’s stands were wooden affairs, not nearly so large as the steal ones now. The ‘L’ trains were drawn by steam engines then, and there weren’t any subways. Instead, if taxicabs, the sports used Hansom cabs. But—it’s the same old game.”

More Friday

“Rube Prides Himself on his Strength”

27 Aug

After a six to three Reds victory over Chicago on August 7, 1901, The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune told the story of why Chicago’s Rube Waddell and several fans came late to the game.

Jake Stenzel, a Cincinnati native, had returned home after his nine-year major league career came to an end and opened a bar across the street from League Park:

Stenzel

“During yesterday’s game there was a counter attraction in Jake Stenzel’s saloon, where Rube Waddell was exhibiting feats of strength. Fifty or more people who came out in that neighborhood for the purpose of seeing the game found Rube’s exhibition entertaining enough, and, consequently, did not hand their coin into the little window of the ball ark entrance.”

Stenzel and another man had lured Waddell into the bar by telling him fishing stories:

“Stenzel said he caught a bass weighing fourteen pounds, and Rube immediately went him four pounds better, and added that he caught the fish with his fingers.”

Stenzel then told Waddell that he caught his fish on property he owned in Indiana and was considering purchasing additional acres.

“’Well, if there’s fishing down there, Jake, it’s cheap, and you better buy it right away,’ advised Rube. ‘I am thinking of buying a place like that myself. When I do, I’ll stock with bass and give up baseball.”’

Rube

The paper said Stenzel’s friend told Waddell:

“’I don’t think you’re strong enough for a fisherman,’ and then the fun began, for Rube prides himself on his strength.”

Waddell responded”

“’Ain’t strong enough, eh? Well. Wait till I show you.’ And Rube rushed over to the end of the counter and raised it off the floor. Then he took a full keg of beer and lifted it over his head, and he wound up his exhibition by picking Jake Stenzel up bodily and throwing him to the pavement.”

With that:

“The crowd cheered, and Rube ran across the street to see the rest of the game.”

“Wrecked the Morale of my Clubs”

23 Aug

In 1925, Frank Menke said in his King Features syndicated column:

“Rube Waddell sleeps his last long sleep, but the memory of him shall last through all the baseball years.”

Menke said Waddell was, “possessed of the mightiest arm the game has ever known,” but was, “handicapped by a brain eccentric to an extreme.”

Rube

Borrowing a phrase from Billy Murphy, the sports editor of The St. Louis Star, Menke called Waddell, “The Peter Pan of the National Game.”

Fred Clarke, Waddell’s first major league manager, told Menke his version of the story of the pitcher’s arrival in Washington D.C. to join the Louisville Colonels in August of 1897:

“’I climbed into bed about midnight, all in,’ related Clarke, ‘I was awakened out of sleep by a heavy pounding on my door. Striking a match, I looked at my watch and found it was 3:30 a.m.’

“’Who is it?’ I growled.’

“’Open up, it’s a friend,’ said a voice outside.

“’I opened the door—and a big, lanky fellow rushed at me, hand extended, and with a wide grin on his face.

‘’Hello, Freddie; hello, Freddie,’ he chuckled, ‘How are you old boy, how are you? Let me have $2 will you?

“’Doesn’t seem as if we’ve ever met before, ‘I said. ‘Would you mind telling me who you are.’”

“’Why, I’m your new pitcher—Rube Waddell; I’m surprised you don’t know me. Just got in town and I need $2.’

Clarke said he told Waddell he didn’t have the money, but “it is customary in the big leagues for a new player to visit all the older players on the team as soon as he arrives,” and sent Waddell to bother his new teammates.

Clarke said he “ducked my players” the next morning at breakfast because:

“(E)veryone had been visited by the Rube during the night and those fellows were intent upon murdering the man who had sicced the Rube onto them.”

Waddell appeared in just two games for Louisville in 1897 but returned to Clarke and the club in 1899 and then spent 1900 and part of the 1901 season playing for Clarke in Pittsburgh. Clarke told Menke that no player had ever caused him, “one tenth the trouble” that Waddell had:

“But some way, somehow, no matter what he did, it wasn’t possible to be mad at him for long.”

Clarke said Waddell, “wrecked the morale of my clubs to such an extent that I finally decided to get rid of him.”

The Pirates sold the pitcher’s contract to Chicago in May of 191, but Clarke said the Orphans were not the first club with which they had a deal for the sale:

“I sold him to Boston. The Boston club asked me to sign up Rube for them. The lefthander had been getting $1200 from us, Boston was willing to pay him more.”

Clarke said he presented Waddell with a $1500 contract:

“’No, I won’t do that,’ said Rube, ‘I’d rather play for you for $1200. I don’t want to go to Boston.”

Clarke said the offer was increased three times, to $1800, $2100, and finally $2400 but Waddell said:

“No, Freddie, I’d rather play for you for $1200.”

Clarke said:

“He flatly refused to go there, so the Boston deal was cancelled and a short time later we shipped Rube along to Chicago, which was a town he liked.”

Waddell was sent to Chicago in the midst of a eight game back to back home and road series between the two clubs—Waddell lost the first game of the game of the series pitching for Chicago and lost the fifth as a member of the Pirates.

Clarke said during that series Chicago manager Tom Loftus threatened Rube with a $25 if he ever fraternized with members of the opposing club on the field, and then told a story—the facts of which don’t square with any game played between the two clubs that season, but fits the pattern of the classic Rube Waddell story:

“When we made our next trip to Chicago we were fighting for a position near the top and every game counted. Chicago sent Rube in against us and he was pitching air-tight baseball. All during the game we tried in one way of another to talk to him, but Rube, remembering about the possible $25 fine, wouldn’t even look at us in a friendly way.

“Coming in from the field after the eighth, with the score 5 to 1 against us, I passed alongside Rube and said in a stage whisper:

“’Say, Honus Wagner, Sam Leever, and myself are going hunting for quail near your old town of Butler in the fall and when we do, we’ll let you know Rube, because we want you to come along with.’

 The distraction worked. Clarke said:

“It is a matter of history we made six runs off Rube in that inning and won the game.”

In fact, Waddell lost three time to the Pirates in 1901—the 4 to 2 loss the day after Chicago acquired him, 6 to 1 on June 2 (Leever got the win), and 5 to 1 on August 11, but none of games match Clarke’s “matter of history.”

Incidentally, Waddell almost didn’t appear in the August 11 game. He was scheduled to pitch the day before—the game was rained out—but right before it was, The Chicago Tribune said he was detained by the police for some old debts incurred in Pittsburgh:

“After dodging constables for three days to avoid service, Manager Loftus was glad when two of the minions corralled Rube.”

Waddell told his manager he could “settle with them for $21.” Loftus paid the debt, and he was able to take the mound the following day.

More Rube Wednesday

“Fraught with the Most Hard Work and Trouble”

7 May

After the 1908 World Series, Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers wrote an article that appeared in The Chicago Evening Post. Evers took exception to people who thought he had an easy job:

“When you hear a person give voice to the expression, ‘Ball-players have an easy time of it,’ you are doubtless inclined to side in with him an agree that we get our money without an awful lot of trouble. But permit me to say, you are far from the truth in your belief.”

Evers countered:

“(I)t’s safe to declare that of all the occupations entailing a remuneration of say $3000 per annum, that of the diamond artist is fraught with the most hard work and trouble.”

Johnny Evers

Evers allowed that baseball was “a good healthy game,” and brought “much enjoyment,” but:

“(W)hen you have to get out, day in and day out, for six or seven months, and play, think you not it is likely to grow rather monotonous and wearisome? No matter whether you feel lively or listless, so long as you can stand up, you have to keep at it and turn out mighty perfect work, or you’ll find yourself looking for new occupation. It’s no joke when you’re feeling in the dumps to trot out on the field, with the sun beating down on you, and the temperature at ninety or thereabouts and jump around and act as though the greatest pleasure in the world for you consisted of running your legs off, and getting in front of balls that are coming your way at the rate of a mile a minute.”

Evers said that “in most cases” a “brain worker…takes himself off to the country” to get away from his job, while the ballplayer, “has to stick right to his job, no matter how worked out he feels.”

He said success in baseball was dependent on “grey matter” not strength:

“It’s a case of think, think, all the time, and the fellow who trusts to luck and does not see to it that that he has his brains under full steam every minute will not last long.”

And thinking wasn’t limited to the field:

“You have to study both from personal observation and from books and newspapers, the peculiarities of every man who plays on any of the teams in the league with. You have to know just where this player is likely to hit an inshoot, and where he is likely to send a straight ball or an outshoot.

“You have to know how much a lead a certain player can be given off a base before you can catch him napping. You have to discover what player is likely to lay down a bunt, and what one will always hit it out. Then you will have to make a long exhaustive study of the pitchers, so that you will be able, once in a while, to out-guess them.”

And while some doubted the complexity of the Cubs’ signs; Evers said:

“(Y)ou have to get in your head a long and complicated series of signals, which cover almost every imaginable twist and turn of a baseball game. You have to have a pretty good set of brains to get a whole lot of signs down to such perfection that you can recognize them and act immediately, though you may almost be crazy with excitement, and have a mad mod of twenty or thirty thousand people shrieking at you.”

Then there was the pressure:

“The great uncertainty of baseball makes every player have the feeling that to him alone is likely to come the chance to make or mar the work of the entire season. A little error at a crucial moment, and everything will be lost.”

There was no greater strain than knowing, “upon you alone depends the winning of a game which may perhaps mean the capturing of the pennant and the addition of thousands of dollars to your employers’ profits, and the salaries of your fellow players and yourself.”

Evers said, “the great strain that the engineer on a fast train works under,” was no greater than that of a ballplayer:

“The engineer knows that if everything holds together, as he is almost practically certain it will, he is running no very great risk. The ball player on the other hand knows that there is no telling what is about to occur. For the engineer there are but two courses of thought, one—if nothing breaks, all is well; the other—if anything happens, jump.”

Evers said the ballplayer’s money “was well earned,” and:

“I might have touched on the fact that the ball player is the source of enormous profits to the one who employ him, and consequently should get his fitting share of the profits, but I do not wish to be put down as a knocker, because in reality, I’m an optimist.”

“A Good Plumber’s Helper but an Inferior Umpire”

21 Apr

Edward F. Ballinger of The Pittsburgh Post described Bill Byron thusly:

“(He) is looked upon among the players as the man who rendered more peculiar decisions than any other official in diamond history.”

Honus Wagner singled out Byron for rendering “the worst decision I ever saw.”

Wagner included the incident in his 1924 series of articles about his career for The North American Newspaper Alliance. He said he was stealing third in a game against the Giants:

“The catcher threw the ball into my feet making it impossible for Devlin—I think it was Devlin— [Note: It was Milt Stock] to pick it up. We both got in a tangle as I slid through a cloud of dust. The ball was bound under my arm where nobody could find it.”

Byron

While the Giants looked for the ball, Wagner headed towards the plate:

“About ten feet from home the ball dropped on the baseline. Now here’s where McGraw got in his fine work. He rushed up to umpire Byron, who had run down to third base to make the decision and told him I carried the ball to the bench in my hand.

“’If you don’t believe it, go to the bench and make them give it to you,’ he urged Byron.

“About this time McGraw’s attention was called to the ball lying on the base path.”

McGraw then told Byron, “That proves it. See! Wagner just rolled it out.”

Wagner said a confused Byron called him out for, “Carrying the ball to the bench with your hand.”

Wagner’s recollection was a bit faulty, in addition to forgetting who was playing third base. The incident happened on July 17, 1914, during the sixth inning of what would turn out to be a 21-inning 3 to 1 victory for the Giants. The game was, to that point, baseball’s longest game and both pitchers, Babe Adams and Rube Marquard pitched complete games.

As for the play, Wagner was not attempting to steal; he was advancing to third from first on a hit by Jim Viox and the throw came from center fielder Bob Bescher.

Contemporaneous accounts in The Pittsburgh Press, The Dispatch, and The Post all said that when the ball fell from Wagner’s uniform, it was immediately picked up by Marquard who threw to third trying to retire Viox who was called safe, rather than Wagner’s version where McGraw called Byron’s attention to the ball.

McGraw, said The Press, came out on the field at that point, “and told Byron Wagner was out.” The umpire agreed and also sent Viox back to second The Post said:

“The Pirates gathered around the umpire and raised a hubbub. (Fred) Clarke read the riot act and was motioned off the lot by umpire Byron.”

Pittsburgh protested the game, but Byron’s ruling was upheld.

Fred Mitchell, manager of the Cubs, was also not a Byron fan, and told Billy Evans in 1920:

“He hasn’t improved much since the summer (1917) he gave a decision that cost me $100 and the game. We were playing in St. Louis and big Mule (Milt) Watson was on the rubber. Art Wilson was at the plate. Watson, as he started to pitch, stubbed his toe and in trying to hold back on the ball threw it wildly and hit Wilson in the back of the neck. Byron would not let him take his base, saying it was a slow ball. I protested and consequently was chased and later fined $100.”

Mitchell’s details of the September 3 game were all correct, except for the outcome of the game. The Cubs beat the Cardinals and Watson 6 to 5. Mitchell had also, “had a mix-up” with Byron the previous day, according to The Chicago Tribune, when the umpire had initially called Tom Long of St. Louis out on a play at the plate, “then called him safe, although (catcher Rowdy) Elliott held the ball.”

Cardinals owner John C. Jones held the same opinion Mitchell did off Byron.  Earlier that same season, Byron made another questionable call on another play involving Tom Long. The Cardinals outfielder hit a ball off Eppa Rixey that appeared to be fair for a double. Byron, despite “the fact that a gap in the whitewash marked the spot,” where the ball hit called it foul.

Long was called out on strikes on the next pitch The Cardinals lost 3 to 2 to the Phillies.

So incensed was Jones at the umpire, whom The St. Louis Star called, “a good plumber’s helper but an inferior umpire,” that he wrote an open letter to fans that appeared in St. Louis papers. He told fans who were present, “The good of the game demands,” that they wire league president John Tener about “Byron’s judgment.”

Jones’ message resulted in bottles and other items being thrown at Byron the following day. Two fans were injured. Cardinal President Branch Rickey disavowed Jones’ comments:

“I strongly advised against it. In fact, both (manager) Miller Huggins and myself wired President Tener that the message did not officially express the club’s sentiments.”

Despite his comment that he did not support the club owners’ position, Rickey was more critical of the umpire in his telegram to Tener than Jones had been in his message to the fans:

“(His) attitude and manners generally were extremely antagonistic to the crowd…If Byron will keep his face to the filed and not parade about in front of the stands, he will have no trouble.”

The previous season, Byron “wrote” an article for The Pittsburgh Press. He said he became an umpire in 1896 only because he couldn’t find enough work in his “first love, steamfitting.” Over two decades he worked his way from the Michigan State League to the National League.

Before steamfitting and umpiring, Byron had briefly played minor league ball:

“As for myself, I am frank to admit that I was the worst ball player that ever broke into the Texas League. I managed to hold my job with the Dallas club for a while, but the race was too fast. It nearly ruined a good steamfitter. Afterward I played semi-professional ball occasionally in Michigan but gave up the game—and what was baseball’s loss was the plumbing trade’s game.”

After four seasons in the Michigan State League, he worked his way up to South Atlantic League, then the Virgina League, followed by International League and finally the Eastern League before his big-league career began.

He became well known—and versions of the story were told for the next two decades—for a call he made on August 31, 1909. In an Eastern League pitchers duel between the second place Newark Indians, with manager Joe McGinnity on the mound and Big Jeff Pfeffer pitching for the fourth place Toronto Maple Leafs.

The game was scoreless in the sixth inning with Newark batting:

The Detroit News said:

“Two were out and the batter (Joe Crisp) raised a high foul within the easy reach of both the Toronto catcher and third baseman.”

Toronto Third baseman Jimmy Frick and catcher Fred Mitchell both stopped when Newark “coacher” Benny Meyer yelled “I’ll take it.”

“The catcher backed away and the ball fell on the Dominion of Canada. Great glee broke out among the Newark contingent, who seemed apparently to conclude that the strategy of the coacher had won the batsman another chance to connect. But they reckoned without Mr. Byron.

“’Batter out!’ yelled the ump.”

McGinnity and “his entire team” came out on the field.:

Byron told the Newark manager:

“’He’s out on interference.’

“This set McGinnity fairly crazy and he frothed at the mouth, ‘But there wasn’t a man within 10 feet of Mitchell when he backed away,’ he screamed.

‘”He’s out on vocal interference; get into the field and finish the game.’ And Byron pulled his watch.”

Pfeffer and McGinnity both went the distance in a 13-inning game won by Toronto 1 to 0. McGinnity filed a protest with the league, but Byron’s decision was upheld.

Byron said the “secret of umpiring” was that “The umpire must keep his head and let the other man lose his.”

The umpire retired before the 1920 season saying he could make more money at his first love.  Evans said of his seven seasons in the National League:

“Like the rest of the umpires, he had his faults. No umpire is infallible, so Bill made mistakes like the rest of us, but they were always honest mistakes.”

He said Byron “always looked trouble in the eye,” and “no gamer fellow” ever wore a mask.

Despite his contentious relationship with McGraw, Evans told a story about a game in New York.  The previous day while making a ruling on a play involving fan interference, “the umpires were criticized” by reporters for their long deliberation. The following day:

“At an amusement park near the Polo Grounds, it was customary for an aviator to do a series of stunts. Usually the aviator paid the Polo Grounds a visit before landing. On this occasion, he flew unusually low over the grounds, so that it was easily possible to see him greet the big crowd with a wave of the hand. Evidently Bill Byron had given some thought of the criticism of the day previous unjustly heaped on the arbitrators for what was called a needless delay.

“Calling time and turning toward the New York bench, he addressed manager McGraw of the Giants thusly.

“If the ball hits the airplane, John, while it is flying over fair territory, it is good for two bases. If it lands in some part of the machine and stays there while flying over fait territory, the runners shall stop at the base last touched when such thing occurs. If the ball lands in some part of the machine while the machine is outside playing territory, it will be good for a home run. Play.”

Evans said McGraw “was shaking with laughter.

The press box was as well:

“Byron’s retort courteous to their slam had not gone over their heads.”

L. C. Davis of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of Byron’s retirement:

“It will always be a moot question whether Lord Byron was greater as a singer or an umpire. But whether singing or umpiring the fans agree that he displayed all the earmarks of a good plumber.”

More Byron, Friday.

“Byron was more to blame than I was”

19 Apr

After National league umpire Tim Hurst died in 1915, his American League counterpart Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“In the passing of Tim Hurst, baseball lost the quaintest character of the diamond. It was believed there would never be another one to approach him., but in Bill Byron baseball has a pocket edition of Timothy Carroll Hurst.

“No more fearless umpire ever held an indicator than Tim Hurst. Bill Byron runs him a close second.”

Evans said before coming to the National League in 1913, Byron was the subject “of many stories of wild minor league riots, in which Bill played the leading role without so much as mussing his hair.”

Fearless was one adjective used about Byron, but there were many others. After the 1911 season, Ed Barrow, president of the Eastern League removed Byron from the league’s staff. The Baltimore Sun said many celebrated the move:

“Byron’s chief fault is his stubbornness, and he, as well, is a bit dictatorial and oversteps his authority on the diamond…For the good of the game–in the face of many prejudices–Barrow has acted wisely in giving him the ‘can.'”

Bill Byron

Known as the “singing Umpire,” Byron’s “little ditties” were so well known that writers like L.C. Davis of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Willian Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star both wrote columns suggesting new songs for the umpire.

Davis suggested that when the Cubs Heine Zimmerman argued a call:

Heinie, Heinie, I’ve been thinking,

I don’t want none of your slack;

To the clubhouse you’ll go slinking,

If you make another crack.

Johnny Evers complained to Phelon:

“How can a guy tend to his batting when the umpire’s warbling in his ears?”

John McGraw was Byron’s biggest foil and foe, and Byron had a song for the manager of the New York Giants:

“John McGraw is awful sore

Just listen to Napoleon roar

The crowd is also very mad

They think my work is very bad.”

In 1917, in an often told story, after a game in Cincinnati, the Giants manager landed two punches before he was separated from Byron after an ejection.

McGraw

After the incident, McGraw provided a signed statement admitting to punching Byron, but blaming the incident on the umpire:

“Byron said to me: ‘McGraw, you were run out of Baltimore.”

When the umpire repeated the charge, McGraw said he “hit him. I maintain I was given reason.”

When Byron arrived in St. Louis the day after the incident to work a series between the Cardinals and Phillies, he refused to answer when asked by a reporter from The Philadelphia Inquirer if McGraw had punched him, instead:

“Bill pointed the right hand to the jaw. There was dark clot—which indicated that something landed as early as 20 hours ago.” 

McGraw’s justification for the attack notwithstanding, he was fined $500 and suspended for 16 days.

McGraw responded, claiming to be “discriminated against personally,” by league President John Tener,” and that “Byron was more to blame than I was.”

He said the action taken against him would result in:

“Umpires with Byron’s lack of common intelligence and good sense, will now be so overbearing with players there will be no living with them.”

But the feud had been brewing since the umpire entered the league.

In August of 1914, in a game where the Reds scored five runs in the eighth to beat the Giants 5 to 4, The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“The character of McGraw was shown by his getting into an insulting ruction with Umpire Byron…He was so angered at losing out that he pelted the official with vicious expletives and delayed the game for several minutes.”

In 1915, Sam Crane, the former player turned baseball writer for The New York Journal, and a close friend of McGraw, chronicled a clash between the two during a September 25 game between the seventh place Giants and sixth place Cardinals in St. Louis:

Byron was being taunted from the New York bench and decided utility infielder Fred Brainard was the culprit and ejected him:

“Brainard (in a startled voice: ‘Who me/ Why, I didn’t open my mouth, did I boys?’

“Chorus of players: ‘No, he didn’t.’

“A mysterious voice from a far corner of the dugout: ‘’Byron, you can’t hear any better than you can see. You’re rotten.’”

At this point, Byron walked to the Giants bench and gave Brainard one minute to leave.

McGraw responded, “You have pulled another boot Byron,” and accused the umpire of once ordering a player off the bench who was coaching at first base, and asked how he knew it was Brainard:

“Umpire Byron (turning pale): ‘I caught Brainard with his mouth open.’”

The Giants bench laughed at the umpire and McGraw accused him of always “guessing” at his decisions.

At this point Crane said Byron, “five minutes after he had given Brainard one minute,” removed his watch from his pocket and again gave Brainard a minute to leave and told McGraw he would be ejected as well. The manager responded:

“Why should I be put out of the game? I haven’t done anything. Neither has Brainard. You’re all tangled up. Do you know the rules? What time is it by that tin timepiece you have got there?”

Byron repeated the order and threatened to forfeit the game to St. Louis. McGraw said:

“Go ahead and forfeit. You will be in very bad if you do. Every one of my players here say Brainard did not say a word. You will be in a nice fix with Tener, won’t you. You will have a fat chance to umpire the world’s series. Go ahead and forfeit the game.”

Byron then summoned three police officers to remove Brainard, but according to Crane, the police sergeant said,” I will have to take the umpire along, too.”

This elicited more laughter from the Giants bench.

Crane’s story ends with McGraw chastising the umpire while finally telling Brainard to go, and Byron returning to homeplate while singing:

“Oh, I don’t know. The multitude and the players are enraged at me; but I gained my point. Oh, I don’t know; I ain’t so bad.”

And the game “then proceeded, and smoothly throughout.”

Crane claimed the whole ordeal took at least 15 minutes.

The Post-Dispatch didn’t mention police, implied that Byron clearly won the encounter, and said, “five minutes were consumed in this senseless argument.”

The paper scolded the umpire for the “bush league trick” of pulling out his watch, but said:

“In time, however, McGraw relented under the threat of a forfeiture, which means a fine of $1000, and Brainard went his way.”

McGraw might have gotten the better of Byron in their 1917 fight in Cincinnati, but in 1915 the umpire “landed twice” on Boston Braves third baseman Red Smith after the game when Smith renewed an earlier argument over balls and strikes September 16 in Chicago. Smith attempted to get at Byron after being hit but was stopped by the other umpire, Al Orth.

Byron and McGraw continued to butt heads and the umpire’s combative style and singing continued to draw attention.

George Moriarty, the Detroit Tigers infielder, turned American League umpire—who also wrote songs—and often included poems about players in the nationally syndicated column he began writing in 1917, said—in part–of Byron:

“It’s wonderful the way you face the throng of maddened players all season long;

While other umps get busted on the bean you pacify the athletes with a song.

You know that music charms the savage beast, and as they rush to stab you in the vest,

And tell you how they’ll tear you limb from limb, you sing like John McCormack at his best.”

More on Byron Wednesday.

“Crying as if our Hearts Would Break”

29 Mar

Many different versions of how and when Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker finally reconciled—and when—after years of mutual animus have been told over the years. Evers told the story himself—and talked more about both Tinker and Frank Chance—while he was scouting for the Boston Braves in Georgia, in a 1931 interview with Ralph McGill of The Atlanta Constitution

McGill, incidentally, was an outspoken anti-segregationist who rose from assistant sports editor to managing editor and publisher at The Constitution and won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for his editorials on the civil rights movement.

“(W)hen Johnny Evers sat in a room at the Atlanta Athletic Club until a late hour Saturday morning and recalled the old days he held a dozen men on his words: Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

 

Johnny Evers,

McGill said Evers, “told the story of how the trio played for 12 years and were then parted for 11 to meet for the first time two days before Jack Dempsey went into the ring against Luis Firpo (1923)”

With “something glistening in his eyes,” Evers told the story to McGill and the others:

“Joe Tinker and I never got along well. We were both high strung. If a man bumped me at second, Joe was over there to help me. But when it came to just us—well, we often raced off the field into the clubhouse and went to it with fists. If I made a good play, he told me. If I made a poor one, he told me. And I him. As I said, we didn’t get along.”

Then, he said, “came the breakup…And not for 11 years did I see either of them or them one another.”

Days before the Dempsey/Firpo fight Evers received a telegram from Chance who was in New York:

“Come on down. Joe is here.”

Evers said:

“I got on the train and went. I got the number of the room from the clerk. And I went up and knocked.

“’Come in,’ yelled Frank Chance.

“’I knocked again.

“’Come in,’ he yelled louder than ever.

“I knocked once more.

“’All right, you so and so, stay out,’ yelled Chance.

“I turned the knob of the door slowly and then swung it open.

“Tinker and Chance were sitting there at a table, staring at me and I at them across a span of 11 years. We stared there motionless and wordless for five minutes.

“And then I took a step forward and we were all together with our arms about each other’s shoulders and we were all crying as if our hearts would break.”

Tinker to Evers to Chance

Evers turned his attention to Chance, who had died seven years earlier. McGill said:

‘”The Peerless Leader’ they called him. And he must have been. Johnny Evers thought so. He didn’t say, but as he talked of Chance there was something in his voice, something he felt in the old days when they were helping to make the Cubs famous.”

Evers said of his former manager:

“Chance had more courage than any man I ever saw. He was a born fighter.”

 Evers cited Chance’s sparring with Joe Choynski, a heavyweight contender who finished with a 59-17-6 record, with 39 KOs; Jim Corbett said no opponent ever hit him harder:

“Chance stayed four rounds when he was a student in California with Joe Choyniski [sic], one of the greatest of the heavyweights. (He) was touring then and offering $100 to any man who would stay four rounds. Chance was the college champion, and he went in there and stayed four rounds. He was cut to pieces and knocked down innumerable times. But he stayed four rounds.”

Evers either embellished the story in places or heard an embellished version to begin with.

Chance took part in a three-round exhibition with Choynski on May 18, 1896. The fight was not part of some challenge offered by Choynski, but rather a benefit for one of the instructors at the Fresno Athletic Club. Chance’s bout was part of what was advertised in The Fresno Bee as a night of “vaudeville and novelty.”

The bout with Chance was the first of two sparring matches for Choynski that evening—the other was with the honoree E.V. Bradstreet—and The Bee makes no mention of any knockdowns or the savage beating Evers implies:

“Chance is Fresno’s best boxer and did nobly, but Choynski taught him several things…Chance did comparatively well.”

Evers also suggested that the “fight” with Choynski did permanent damage to his former manager:

“It left him with an impediment in his speech from which he never recovered.”

Finally, he suggests the embellishments were Chance’s and not his:

“’Johnny,’ he used to say to me. ’that was hardest $100 I ever earned.’ What a fighter he was.”

More insights from Evers from his 1931 scouting trip for the Braves, Wednesday.