Tag Archives: Chicago Pirates

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #35

1 Jul

Comiskey versus Anson

In 1888, Ren Mulford, writing in the Cincinnati Times-Star compared Charlie Comiskey to Cap Anson:

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

“Charlie Comiskey, who for several years has successfully piloted the St. Louis Browns to victory, possesses many of the characteristics which made Anson famous. He teaches his men to sacrifice everything in order to advance the interests of the club, but unlike Anson he never humiliates his men on the field. When it is necessary to reprimand any of them for an error or misconduct, he does it quietly. He uses good judgment in picking up players but lacks patience in developing the men.”

Latham on Comiskey

Arlie Latham and Charles Comiskey were together with the St. Louis Brown from 1883-1889, and Latham jumped the Browns to join the Players League with Comiskey in 1890, helping to form the Chicago Pirates–“The greatest team ever organized.” But from the beginning the team was beset with discipline issues and struggled.

lathampix

 Latham

Comiskey benched Latham, who was hitting just .229, in July.  The Chicago Tribune said several attempts were made to trade Latham, and when nothing materialized, he requested to be released and he was on July 29.

Latham returned to the National League, joining the Cincinnati Reds, then aired out his grievances with his former boss and friend when he was with the Reds in Boston in August. The Boston Globe’s Time Murnane said Latham was at the United States Hotel talking to members of the Pittsburgh Burghers who were in town playing Boston’s Brotherhood club:

“Some of Pittsburgh’s Players League boys were anxious to know why Latham was released from Chicago.

“’Comiskey did it,’ was his answer. ‘He has been after me for some time, and said I was playing crooked ball. I was laid off in St. Louis last season for the same thing, but this year Commie was cross and ugly all the time.’

“’You see, he has plenty of money and can afford to be stiff. I dropped three short fly balls in the last game I played in Chicago and Comiskey came and told me that he was on to me and would stand it no longer.’

“’I asked for my release and got it that night. My arm was very sore, but the other men would not believe it. I wanted to stay in the Players’ League and sent word to Al Johnson (owner of the Cleveland Infants) saying I was open for engagement.’”

Latham alleged that Comiskey or someone connected with the Chicago club had a role in blackballing him from the league:

“’I heard from (Johnson) once and then he stopped. I suppose the Chicago people interfered.’”

The Chicago Tribune said Latham actually received an offer from Cleveland but joined the Reds when they offered more money.

Murnane said when Latham arrived in Cincinnati, in an attempt to “get some good work out of the ‘Dude,’” that Reds manager Tom Loftus made him captain:

“(Latham) has been known for years as one who could keep the boys all on the smile while he shirked fast grounders.”

But Murnane claimed he had already worn out his welcome with some of the Reds:

“Since Latham’s release by Chicago he has taken pains to run down the Players’ League until the members of that organization have soured on him (two days earlier) he went out of his way to abuse the Brotherhood, and the result is that he is already getting himself disliked by several level-headed members of his own team.”

Latham stayed with the Reds with five seasons, and Comiskey again became his manager from 1892-1894.

Blame it on Hulbert

After winning the inaugural National League pennant in 1876 with a 52-14 record, expectations were high for the Chicago White Stockings in 1877.

hulbert

Hulbert

After a 26-33 fifth place finish, The Chicago Evening Post said the blame rested in one place:

“There are a great many men in America who do not know how to run a ball club, and Mr. (William) Hulbert, President of the Chicago club, appears to be one of the most conspicuous. The public is familiar with the fact that this year’s White Stocking Nine was more of a disgrace to the city than a credit and there was a considerable wonderment as to why a nine that in 1876 swept everything before it, was in 1877, obliged to content itself with the last place in the championship struggle [sic, Chicago finished fifth in the six-team league).

“From all that can be learned, it would seem that part of the season’s ill success should be attributed to the manner in which the men have been treated by Mr. Hulbert. There are complaints that he was continually finding fault, until the men became discouraged and lost heart in their work. Just how true this is The Post does not propose to determine, but simply gives publicity to a letter from Mr. Hulbert to Paul Hines, in which he distinctly charges Hines with not trying to play.”

According to The Chicago Tribune, the letter, sent in July, suggested that Hines was not “playing half as well,” in 1877 as he had the previous season—Hines’ average dropped from .331 to .280.

The Post said the letter showed how little Hulbert knew:

“To those who have attended the games this season this charge will bring a smile, as Hines is notoriously one of the hardest working and most reliable ballplayers in the country.”

The White Stockings finished fourth the following two seasons, but won back-to back pennants in 1880 and ’81, the final two before Hulbert’s death in April of 1882—the White Stockings won their third straight pennant that year.

“He has not a Single Friend on the Team”

18 Mar

Having been called “The greatest team ever organized,” by The Chicago Tribune, the 1890 Chicago Pirates of the Players League turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments in baseball history, finishing fourth in the eight-team league.

The club suffered from a “lack of discipline” according to The Chicago Times. Charlie Comiskey was cited often for his inability to maintain order on the team. The most glaring, and most reported example took place on September 4.

The Pirates, 11 1/2 games out of first place, were playing the Pittsburgh Burghers.

The Pittsburgh Press said:

“Jimmy Ryan and Tip O’Neill, two of the Chicago Players’ League club outfielders, had an animated spat after Ryan had been retired at third base…Jimmy claimed that Tip had not coached him properly, and made use of some very offensive language. He then turned round to Comiskey, who had been an eyewitness to the whole proceeding, and with an oath said that unless O’Neill was laid off that he—Ryan—would lay himself off.”

The Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette said the incident was “one of the dangers” the papers had warned of when speaking against the formation of the Players League:

“(S) of the players might take advantage of a condition of affairs brought about by the brotherhood movement, and, with and idea that they had as much to do with the running of things as anybody else, refuse to submit to necessary discipline.”

Comiskey immediately suspended Ryan and told him to return to Chicago.

“Jimmy was accordingly paid up to date and furnished with a ticket for the Windy City.”

The Press said Ryan’s teammates applauded the move:

“’You have no idea of how mean that fellow Ryan has been this year,’ said a Chicago player. ‘He has not a single friend on the team today. He is a good ballplayer, he does not drink and no man on the team takes better care of himself then the same Ryan. He has a bad attack of his old complaint, the swelled head. Comiskey has been very lenient with him and he has been playing good ball.”

Ryan was the team’s leader in batting average and RBIs at the time, but Comiskey vowed to make an example of his best offensive player in order to restore discipline, and had no problem calling out a few others, although not by name.

Charles Comiskey

Comiskey

He told The Chicago Inter Ocean:

“Yes, I am through with this man and he will not play under me any longer. He has been trying to have his own way on everything. There are three or four men in this club whom I have been compelled to take, and they have an idea that they can run things to suit themselves.”

Comiskey said Ryan “acted very ungentlemanly” and blamed the play at third on him. He said Ryan was thrown out because he failed to slide, but none of the news reports mentioned whether O’Neill told him to slide.

Comiskey stayed true to word that he was “through” with Ryan—until 11 days later, when the Pirates returned to Chicago from their road trip.

Ryan was back in the lineup for the second game of a September 15 double-header with the Buffalo Bison.

The Tribune said:

“When the second game was called, Jimmy Ryan appeared to take his place at center. He was warmly received and responded by hammering the ball around in desperate fashion.”

Ryan was 3 for 4 with a triple in a 7-3 Chicago victory and continued to hit for the last two weeks of the season; he led the Pirates with a .340 average and 89 RBIs.

“The greatest team ever organized,” was broken up when the Players League folded after their inaugural season. Ryan returned to the Chicago Colts. Comiskey and O’Neill went back to the St. Louis Browns.

“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

The Wealthiest Ballplayers, 1894

19 Sep

In 1894, major leaguer turned sportswriter, Sam Crane wrote about the wealthiest players in baseball in The New York Press:

(Cap) Anson is probably the wealthiest ball-player on the diamond today.  His wealth has been estimated anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000.  It is, without doubt, nearer the latter sum than the former.”

"Cap" Anson

“Cap” Anson

Anson’s fortune would be long gone, due to a series of poor investments and other financial setbacks, by the time he died in 1922.

“From the time he joined the Chicago club he has enjoyed a big salary.  In his nearly 20 years’ connection with the club he has acted as manager and captain since the retirement as a player of A.G. Spalding in 1877.  Anson, of course received extra salary as manager, and has also been a stockholder in the club…He has been fortunate, too, in real estate transactions in the “Windy City,” under the tutelage of Mr. Spalding, and could retire from active participation in the game without worrying as to where his next meal was coming from.”

The men who Crane said were the second and third wealthiest players managed to keep their fortunes.

Jim O’Rourke is thought to come next to Anson in point of wealth.  Jim came out as a professional player about the same time as Anson.  He did not get a large salary at first with the Bostons, which club he joined in 1873.  He remained with the team until 1878, when he went to Providence.  Jim was young and giddy when he came from Bridgeport to Boston, in 1873, and did not settle down into the staid, saving player he now is…He was a ‘sporty’ boy then, and liked to associate with lovers of the manly art.  Patsy Sheppard was his particular friend in the ‘Hub,’ and James made the boxer’s hotel his home for some time.  When he went to Providence in 1879 Jim began to think of saving his money, and from that time on his ‘roll’ began to increase.

Jim O'Rourke

Jim O’Rourke

Dan Brouthers has received big salaries only since 1886, when he, as one of the famous ‘big four,’ was bought by Detroit from Buffalo.  But since then he has pulled the magnates’ legs and socked away the ‘stuff.’  He has been situated so that he has been able to make the magnates ‘pony up’ to the limit, and Dan had no mercy.  He said he was out for the ‘long green,’ and he got it.  When the Boston club bought Brouthers, (Abram “Hardy”) Richardson, (Charlie) Bennett, (Charles “Pretzels”) Getzein and (Charlie) Ganzell, Dan grasped the opportunity and got a big bonus and also a big salary.  He made the Detroit club give up a big slice of the purchase money before he would agree to be sold.

Dan Brouthers

Dan Brouthers

“The Brotherhood war, when Dan jumped to the Boston Players league was another favorable opportunity for him, and he grasped it and the boodle with his accustomed avidity.  Dan has planted his wealth in brick houses in Wappingers Falls (NY), and can lie back at his ease with his 30,000 ‘plunks’ and laugh at the magnates.  It is this feeling of contentment that has made Dan almost too independent and has affected his playing lately (Brouthers appeared in just 77 games in 1893, but hit .337, and hit .347 in 123 games in 1894).  Dan is what ballplayers call ‘hard paper,’ which was a most distinguishing characteristic of every one of the ‘big four.’”

Detroit’s “Big Four” consisted of Brouthers, “Hardy” Richardson, James “Deacon” White and Jack Rowe.

“Hardy Richardson was not so awful bad, but Jim White and Jack Rowe took the whole bake shop for being ‘hard papes.’  They have both been known to start on a three weeks’ trip with 80 cents each, and on their return Jim would ask Jack, ‘How much have you spent?’  Jack would reply:  “I haven’t kept run of every little thing, but I’ve got 67 cents left.’   Jim would remark gleefully: ‘Why, I’m three cents ahead of you; I’ve got 70 cents.’  And Pullman car porters are blamed for kicking when a ball club boards their car!  Jack and Jim would sleep in their shoes for fear they would have to pay for a shine.  The only money they spent was for stamps in sending home papers, which they borrowed from the other players.  They are both well off now, however, and can afford to laugh at the players who used to guy them.”

Deacon White

Deacon White

(Charles) Comiskey has been fortunate in getting big money since 1883.  (Chris) Von der Ahe appreciated the great Captain’s worth and paid him more and more every year.  The Brotherhood business enabled him to make a most advantageous contract, and as manager and Captain of the Chicagos he received $7,000 salary besides a big bonus.  His contract with Mr. (John T.) Brush to play and manage in Cincinnati called for $23,000 for three years and $3,000 in cash.  This was made in 1891 and runs this year (1894).  Comiskey has his money invested in Chicago real estate, which is paying him a good income at the present time.

(John “Bid”) McPhee, (William “Buck”) Ewing, (Harry) Stovey, (Paul) Radford, (Ned) Hanlon, (Jack) Glasscock, (Tim)Keefe, (Charles “Chief”) Zimmer, (Charlie) Buffington, (Charlie) Bennett, and (Fred) Pfeffer are players who are worth from $10,000 to $15,000, which has all been made by playing ball.  There are only a few more players who have much in the ‘stocking.’”

“There will be Cliques”

30 Jun

William Ingraham “W.I.” Harris was one of the most important baseball writers of the 19th Century, but like Charles Emmett Van Loan three decades later, he died young and is mostly forgotten today.

He was sports editor for The New York Press, which was billed as “The aggressive Republican newspaper of New York,” and The New York Star.  The Sporting Life said of Harris:

“He feels strongly in any given direction and talks earnestly. One cannot be long in his presence without being convinced of his unswerving honesty and sincerity.”

He was, along with Ren Mulford Jr. of The Cincinnati Times-Star, an outspoken critic of the Players League, and said he agreed with Mulford’s assessment that the appearance of the Brotherhood, and the resulting “baseball war” was “a campaign for the preservation of baseball law on one side and its destruction on the other.”

William Ingraham Harris

William Ingraham Harris

Harris was also considered the best prognosticators among contemporary baseball writers, and before the 1890 season began he said:

 “For the past two years I have had the satisfaction of naming the champions of both major associations before a championship game had been played…and last season (in the National league), with the exception of Pittsburgh and Cleveland, I located the exact position at the finish.”

He said he would not attempt to handicap the results of the three leagues in 1890:

“The writer who ventures to make predictions as to the results of the championship fight in any one of the many leagues at this stage of affairs takes an enormous risk on masticating a pretty tough crow later on.”

But, said Harris, he was “willing to take my chances on giving one tip,” before the beginning of the season.  The “tip” went against the conventional wisdom, in fact, it went against what the entire baseball world considered a certainty; the fate of the club The Chicago Tribune called “The greatest team ever organized.

“(I) shall not undertake to pick any winners this year until the season has been well started.  I propose, however, to nominate one team that will not win a pennant, and that is the Chicago Brotherhood team.  In making this assertion I am bucking against general sentiment, or rather general belief.  The consensus of opinion is the other way.  There is no doubt that on paper the Chicago Brotherhood team is in many respects one of the greatest aggregations of baseball stars ever got together, but there are some potent reasons against its success.“

Harris was critical of the team’s catchers and pitchers:

(Conrad “Dell”) Darling never was a first class catcher and never will be.  (Charles “Duke”) Farrell is a strong hitter, and at times a most brilliant catcher, but he is not a steady or remarkably heady catcher.  Boyle is a good one, but he isn’t in it with such good men as (William “Buck”) Ewing, (Jack) Clements, (Charlie) Bennett, (Charlie) Ganzel, (George “Doggie’) Miller, (Connie) Mack, (Michael “King”) Kelly, (John “Jocko”) Milligan, (Paul) Cook and (Cornelius “Con”) Daily.  On catchers the team is all right on quantity, but short in quality.

“As to pitchers, (Mark) Baldwin, in 1887 and 1889, was a star In 1888 he was not to be depended on.  Baldwin doesn’t take care of himself as he should in the winter time.  As a pitcher he ranks among those who may be great at any time, but who keep you guessing on the dates.

(Charles “Silver”) King, in condition, is a ‘tip topper.’  He was a failure in the League once before, and in the world’s Series against New York didn’t astonish people to any extent.”

He dismissed the other two pitchers, Frank Dwyer and Charlie Bartson as a “medium man” and “unknown quantity,” and said “Unless strengthened in the battery department, and probably not then, this team will not land first.”

He conceded that “The outfield and infield are well-nigh perfect.”  But, there was a bigger problem than the weak pitching and catching; Harris predicted tension between second baseman Fred Pfeffer, who had raised $20,000 for the creation of the Players League, recruited most of his Chicago White Stockings teammates to jump to the Brotherhood, and was one of the club’s directors, and team captain and first baseman Charles Comiskey:

“(T)he Comiskey-Pfeffer or the Pfeffer-Comiskey combination.  By the way, which is it?  The answer to this will have quite a bearing on the general result…There will be cliques.  Germany and Ireland will be at war in less than a month.  The public may not know, but the lack of harmony will be there and will have its effect.  Comiskey is a great baseball captain.  At least he was in the American Association.  His methods are well-known.  He was supreme at St. Louis.  Everything went.  The men had no respect for (owner Chris) von der Ahe.  They feared Comiskey.  At Chicago Comiskey will find some men who have just escaped from the rule of a greater captain than himself, perhaps a harder task master.  They have reveled all winter over the prospect of freedom from that restraint, proper and effective though it was.  They are stockholders—yes magnates—now.  Will they swallow Comiskey’s manners on the field and in the dressing room?  As Charlie Reed sings, ‘Well, I guess not.’ (Reed was a famous minstrel performer in the 1880s and 18890s)

“Comiskey must change his methods.  He will have to gag himself; he will have to, figuratively, kiss the baseball blarney stone; he will have to be cheerful, under protest; and, above all, if harmony be his objective point he will have to please Director Pfeffer.  He may not try to do these things; he probably won’t.  Comiskey will have his way.  He always has had it.  He can only rule by practically despotic methods.”

Fred Pfeffer

Fred Pfeffer

Harris correctly concluded that Brooklyn, New York, and probably Boston (the eventual champions) would finish ahead of Chicago.  At season’s end, The Chicago Times summed up how prescient Harris had been about the fourth place team in the Players League:

“The outside world cannot fully realize the bitter disappointment felt here over the poor showing made by Comiskey’s team during the season just closed.  Surely it was strongest aggregation of players ever collected in one club, but its lack of success was mainly from two causes—lack of discipline and the miserable condition of certain members of the club.

“There has been absolutely no discipline in the team, and some of the men paid as much attention to Comiskey’s orders as they would to a call from some church congregation.  An order to sacrifice was met with a smile of scorn, and the ball was hammered down to an infielder, who made an easy double play.”

Harris died the following summer on July 7, at age 33, of tuberculosis.  The Boston Globe, the first paper he worked for, said:

“Being of a most observing nature, a ready thinker and as it were, a lightening calculator, he managed to foretell many of the leading baseball events of the year weeks ahead…Mr. Harris was without exaggeration, one of the brightest of his class, a ready and graceful writer and a hard worker.”

W.I. Harris (#5), as a member of the New York Reporters Baseball Club at the Polo Ground in 1889.

W.I. Harris (#5), as a member of the New York Reporters Baseball Club at the Polo Ground in 1889.

“The Great Baseball Question has been what will Capt. Comiskey do next Season”

3 Dec

In January of 1890 The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said what was on the minds of every baseball executive, writer, and fan:  “The great baseball question has been what will Capt. Comiskey do next Season”

For weeks there was speculation about whether Charles Comiskey, captain and manager of the St. Louis Browns, would remain in the American Association or join the Players’ National League of Professional Baseball Clubs (Players League), the league borne out of baseball’s first union the Brotherhood of Professional Base-Ball Players.

Charles Comiskey, against slang in baseball stories.

Charles Comiskey

On January 15, in a letter to The Sporting News, Comiskey announced his decision:

“During the past few weeks many interviews have appeared with me in different newspapers of the country relative to my having signed a contract with the St. Louis and Chicago Brotherhood clubs.  Up to this writing I am mind and fancy free.  But before Saturday night, January 18, I will have signed a contract to play at first base for the Chicago Brotherhood team.  I take this step for the reason that I am in sympathy with the Brotherhood.

“I believe its aims are for the best welfare and interest of the professional players.  I believe that if the players do not this time stand true to their colors and maintain their organization they will from this day forward be at the mercy of the corporations who have been running the game, who drafted the reserve rule and give birth to the obnoxious classification system.

“I have taken all the chances of success and failure into consideration, and I believe that if the players stand true to themselves they will score the grandest success ever achieved in the baseball world.

“But besides having the welfare of the players at heart I have other reasons for wanting to play in Chicago.  My parents and all my relatives reside there, and the all the property I own is located in the city.  I was raised there and have a natural liking for the place.  But, outside of all these reasons, my relations with the management of the St. Louis club have, during the past year been so unpleasant I do not care to renew them.  I have many friends in St. Louis, and for their sake I hate to leave here, but the other reasons out-balance this friendship, so I will cast my lines with the Chicago club.

“This is the first letter I have written on the subject which seems to have interested the baseball world throughout the whole of the present winter.

“Yours respectfully, Chas. Comiskey”

A week before the season began The Chicago Tribune said Comiskey’s new club “on paper, is the greatest team ever organized.”   Despite the hype, Comiskey’s Chicago Pirates finished in fourth place.  The Players League lasted only one season and dissolved in November of 1890.

Comiskey’s backing of the Brotherhood against “the corporations who have been running the game” would probably have come as a surprise to many of those who played for him when he owned the Chicago White Sox.  Arnold “Chick” Gandil, banned from baseball for his role in the 1919 Black Sox scandal said of Comiskey in a 1956 article in “Sports Illustrated:”

“ He was a sarcastic, belittling man who was the tightest owner in baseball. If a player objected to his miserly terms, Comiskey told him: “You can take it or leave it.” Under baseball’s slave laws, what could a fellow do but take it? I recall only one act of generosity on Comiskey’s part. After we won the World Series in 1917, he splurged with a case of champagne.”

Chick Gandil

Chick Gandil

“Figures of your kind are Pathetic”

13 Aug

John McGraw made news for an “innovation” in 1909.  The Associated Press said:

“McGraw has adopted an innovation in baseball which will appeal to fandom throughout the National league circuit and probably prevent (Fred) Merkle and others from running to the clubhouse before they ‘touch second.’ The innovation is the signing of the once famous player Arlie Latham as coach for the base runners.”

Arlie Latham, top center, facing team mascot, with 1888 American Association champion St. Louis Browns

Arlie Latham, top center, facing team mascot, with 1888 American Association champion St. Louis Browns

Walter Arlington “Arlie” Latham, was “particularly known for his humor” in the 1880s and 90s.  Primarily a third baseman with the St. Louis Browns in the American Association, the Chicago Pirates in the Players League and the Cincinnati Reds in the National League, Latham was nicknamed “The Freshest Man on Earth.”

The Associated Press said Latham:

“(B)rought much enjoyment to spectators of the Cincinnati club’s games and the Reds kept Latham a long while after he deteriorated as a player because of his drawing power as a comedian and humorist.

“Latham will don the uniform of the Giants and take his place in the coacher’s box while the Giants are at bat and between coaching the baserunner and batsmen and ‘getting the goat’ of the opposing pitchers will furnish an interesting sidelight to the New York games.”

Things did not go smoothly when Latham joined the team.  During spring training in Marlin, Texas Latham and McGraw were returning to their rooms at the Arlington Hotel when Giants outfielder James “Cy” Seymour, according to The St. Louis Post Dispatch, “knocked him down, and then bit him on the cheek.”  The article said McGraw and Latham did not know the “reason (Latham) was attacked,” but McGraw announced that Seymour was given his unconditional release.  McGraw said:

“Seymour is done with the New York club, and that goes.  It was the worst thing I ever saw pulled off.  Nothing like that can go on the New York club.”

Despite what he said McGraw did not release Seymour; the outfielder was suspended for the first week of the regular season, and The Dallas Morning News said McGraw made Seymour pay “his own expenses in Texas after the unpleasant episode.”

Arlie Latham, New York Giants coach

Arlie Latham, New York Giants coach

Latham was often criticized for his antics and even more often for the quality of his work as a coach, which became such a running joke that The New York Times said after the Giants had beaten the Cardinals in a September 1910 game:

“Arlie Latham’s team won it with their eyes shut, 11 to 3.  Latham’s coaching was invaluable yesterday.  He advised the players to touch every base and this tip won the game for them.”

The Sporting Life said:

“(Latham) undoubtedly lost a lot of games by bad coaching.  He got so unreliable that in a tight pinch McGraw would shift him from third to first and take the third line himself.”

The Sporting Life also said that Latham served as McGraw’s spy;  a position that would later be filled by another colorful McGraw coach, Dick Kinsella.

Giants outfielder Fred Snodgrass told Lawrence Ritter in “The Glory of their Times,” that Latham “was probably the worst third base coach who ever lived.”

It looked like the end of the line for baseball’s first full-time coach after the 1910 season.  The New York Herald said Latham “will not wear a Giant uniform next season,” and:

“He may amuse old timers, who remember him as a great ball player with (Charlie) Comiskey’s St. Louis Browns, but the new generation of fans seems to regard his efforts with disfavor.”

Despite the criticisms and predictions of his impending firing, Latham was back with Giants in 1911.  After the Giants pennant winning season Latham again joined the Giants for spring training in Texas in 1912, but in March, according to The Associated Press:

“(Latham) was carried as one of the twenty-five men permitted on the payroll.  McGraw did not want to let Latham go, but needed the place on the payroll for a real player.”

While McGraw didn’t want to lose his coach, most of baseball thought the end of Latham’s coaching career was a good thing; but even the New York press was not as harsh in their assessment of Latham as was Ed Remley, the baseball writer for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

“Arlie Latham has passed.

“May he rest in peace, for he is truly dead…Arlie has been called the fool of baseball and with much justice.  He was not the fool in any modern sense but more like the professional jesters who were kept in the courts of kings in the middle ages.

“Today, reading descriptions of the position of the court jesters, their crude horseplay jokes, we are not filled with laughter but with pity…The crude vassals of a former generation thought the brutal jokes of the court fool were funny; the bleacherites of today laugh at Arlie Latham pretending an engrossing interest in a game which he cannot even play himself…Vale, Latham—You have our sympathy, but we are not really sorry you are gone.  Figures of your kind are pathetic and pathos has nothing to do with baseball.”

Latham was next heard from when he accepted a coaching position with Patrick “Patsy” Flaherty’s Lynn Fighters in the New England League; that job only lasted until June.  Latham managed to run afoul of the entire Lynn team.  The Associated Press said he was forced to resign because “Players thought he was after manager Flaherty’s job and threatened to go on strike unless he was dismissed.”

Latham finished the 1914 season as an umpire in the Massachusetts and Rhode Island based Colonial League.  He did not return the following season, and in May of 1915 The Pittsburgh Press reported under the headline “Arlie Latham Has Quit The Diamond for All Time Now,” that he had found a new line of work; operating a deli in the Washington Heights neighborhood in Manhattan:

“He declares that as a delicatessener he is batting only .106 at present, but that when he gets properly warmed up and learns how to shave 15 ½ ounces of ham for a pound he will hit with the best of them in the delicatessen league.”

By 1917 Latham was in Europe, for the last act of his baseball career.  From 1917 to 1923 he lived in London and organized baseball leagues for military personnel.  The highlight of his stay was the July 4, 1918 game between the Army and Navy teams.  Latham served as umpire and greeted the most important dignitary at the game, King George V.  The Associated Press said:

“It had been planned to have the king throw out the first ball, but this was abandoned because of the netting in front of the royal box, so the king brought the ball out on the field and handed it to the umpire.  One of the balls used was autographed by the king with an American fountain pen and mailed tonight to President Wilson as a souvenir. “

Arlie Latham, front row center, with army team in London, 1918

Arlie Latham, front row center, with army team in London, 1918

After returning to the States, Latham first returned to the deli, then later was hired to work in the press box at the Polo Grounds, he remained a fixture at the New York ballpark until his death at age 92 in 1952.

As a result of outliving his critics and becoming one of the last surviving links to the 19th Century game by the time of his death, memories had faded about the “pathetic” figure of Latham, and only the image as  “baseball’s clown prince” remained.

“The Sudden Reappearance of ‘Silver’ King”

27 Jun

Oliver Perry “O.P.” Caylor wrote in June of 1896 in The New York Herald:

“One of the baseball surprises of the season is the apparently successful reappearance of ‘Silver’ King upon the National League diamond.  Without any warning the Washington club sent him in against the Pittsburgh team, and he not only won his game, but held the latter down to six hits, Of course all this caused a great deal of gossip wherever baseball is a subject of interest.”

When Charles Frederick “Silver” King (born Koenig), took the mound for the Washington Senators and beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8 to 1 in the second game of a May 30 doubleheader, it was his first appearance in professional baseball in nearly three years.

King had been one of baseball’s best pitchers of the 1880s, with a 142-70 record from 1887-1890 while playing for Charlie Comiskey, first with the St. Louis Browns in the American Association and then following Comiskey to the  Chicago Pirates in the Players League.

Comiskey (8) and pitcher Silver King (14) with the 1888 St. Louis Browns, King would follow Comiskey to the Chicago Pirates in the Players League in 1890

Comiskey, seated center(8) and Silver King standing second from right (14) with the 1888 St. Louis Browns, King would follow Comiskey to the Chicago Pirates in the Players League in 1890

Caylor said that during Flint’s heyday:

“His most successful delivery was what is known as ‘the cross fire,’ first used effectively, I believe, by (Charles “Old Hoss”) Radbourne and at present the prominent stock in trade of (Wilfred “Kid”) Carsey of the Philadelphias (Phillies).  It consists of standing on the extreme end of the pitcher’s plate, stepping away still farther from the direct line towards the batsman and sending the ball across the home base at an angle, which, although small, is very bothersome to the man with the bat.”

Silver King

Silver King

Caylor said King was “put out of the business” in 1893 when “the pitcher’s box was set back five feet,” (to the current 60’ 6”).  While King’s record slipped during the last two seasons the distance was 55 feet to a combined 36-53 while pitching for the Pirates and New York Giants, he had respectable ERAs of 3.11 and 3.29.  After the rule change King went 8-10 with a 6.08 ERA pitching for the Giants and Comiskey’s Cincinnati Reds in 1893, and then disappeared.

Caylor thought there was “a great deal of significance to King’s return to the diamond,” and predicted a trend:

“It means managers, having exhausted the new crop and finding nothing before them worth a trial, are forced to look behind and try to rekindle some of the half burned out embers. Washington not only took up King, but they gave (Les) German a trial after the New York club let him go.  (Cap) Anson (Chicago Colts) went back to (Fred) Pfeffer after finding (Algernon “Algie”) McBride, (Josh) Reilly and (George) Flynn wanting and was even forced to put himself into his nine to fill out the weak spots.”

Caylor said it was “astonishing  to look over the list of new material which was brought into the National League last spring and notice how small a part of it has been able to keep ‘in the swim.’  Every day one hears that some younger player has been released or that another has been loaned or farmed to a minor league club.”

Caylor’s prediction of success for the “trend,” and the players named was a mixed bag.  Anson, who had never really gone away, hit .331 in 108 games, for the Colts, but Pfeffer hit just .244 in 94 games. German fared the worst, he was 2-20 in 1896 and 3-5 the following season before being released in August.

King managed to post a 16-16 record for the Senators in 1896 and ’97 but never found his early career form.  After the 1897 season, he returned to St. Louis where he died in 1938.

Caylor would become ill the following season, and died in October of 1897.

“The Greatest Team Ever Organized”

24 Apr

Hopes were high for The Players League, and for Chicago’s franchise, the Pirates, in the newly formed baseball brotherhood.

Rumors had been reported for more than two months, but finally on January 18 The Chicago Daily News said that Charlie Comiskey “came to town yesterday morning, and at 4 o’clock signed…for three years,” to serve as captain and manager; the contract was said to be worth “$5,000 per annum.”

President Charles A. Weidenfelder had built a strong ballclub, with major assists from Fred Pfeffer, Chicago White Stockings second baseman, who encouraged most of that team to jump to the new league, and Frank Brunell, a former Chicago newspaper man who was secretary of the new league, and traveled to St. Louis to encourage Comiskey to jump to the brotherhood.

There was an embarrassing moment in March when Chicago newspapers reported that the carpenters union was complaining that non-union labor was being used to build the team’s ballpark at Thirty-Eighth Street and Wentworth Avenue.    The secretary of the union was quoted in The Chicago Tribune saying  Brunell had “promised to make it right.  But he didn’t.”

Despite the  irony of a league borne out of the game’s first labor movement betraying organized labor (there were similar difficulties in Boston and Philadelphia), enthusiasm for the new league was high; in Chicago the expectations were higher.  A week before the season opened The Chicago Tribune said:

“The elements which go to make up a great team are united in the Chicago Brotherhood Club, which, on paper, is the greatest team ever organized.”

Comiskey’s club opened the season on April 19 in Pittsburgh.  According to The Chicago Inter Ocean:

“It was a great day for the Players League…There were 9,000 people by the turnstiles’ count to see the fun…It was by all odds the biggest crowd that had ever turned out to witness an opening game of ball in Pittsburgh.”

The pregame festivities included a parade through the streets of Pittsburgh featuring both teams, league officials and a Grand Army of the Republic brass band.

“(Pittsburgh) Manager (Ned) Hanlon was presented with an immense floral horseshoe, Comiskey with a big floral ball on a stand of floral bats, Pfeffer with a basket of roses…(Chicago’s Arlie) Latham ‘stood on his head, with a smile well-bred, and bowed three times’ to the ladies.  (He had) the legend ‘We are the people’ in great black letters on (his) broad back.”

After the fanfare, “Pfeffer and the boys played a particularly brilliant game,” as Chicago defeated Pittsburgh 10-2.

Box Score--Chicago Pirates/Pittsburgh Burghers, Opening Day, 1890.

Box Score–Chicago Pirates/Pittsburgh Burghers, Opening Day, 1890.

Opening Day was the high point for Chicago. The league as a whole struggled financially and attendance dropped sharply after the initial excitement wore off.  Only eight games into the season, barely 500 people attended Chicago’s game in Cleveland on May 1.

Comiskey’s “greatest team ever organized,” was never able to keep pace with the league champion Boston Reds and finished fourth in the eight team league, 10 games back.

The Chicago Times lamented the team’s poor showing and blamed it on a “lack of discipline,” (the article appeared in slightly different form in several newspapers):

“The outside world cannot fully realize the bitter disappointment felt here over the poor showing made by Comiskey’s team during the season just closed.  Surely it was strongest aggregation of players ever collected in one club, but its lack of success was mainly from two causes—lack of discipline and the miserable condition of certain members of the club.

“There has been absolutely no discipline in the team, and some of the men paid as much attention to Comiskey’s orders as they would to a call from some church congregation.  An order to sacrifice was met with a smile of scorn, and the ball was hammered down to an infielder, who made an easy double play.”

The Times said “(Tip) O’Neill, Latham, Pfeffer, (Jimmy) Ryan and others utterly ignored Comiskey’s mandates, and in consequence there was continual disorder.”

The paper’s primary target was shortstop Ned Williamson.  The criticisms might have been unjustified: the former White Stockings favorite had struggled with the knee injury he sustained on the 1888-89 world tour, and might have already been ill as his health would decline rapidly, and he’d be dead by 1894; the victim of tuberculosis:

“Williamson played a game of which an amateur should have been ashamed, and was thirty pounds overweight throughout the season.”

The paper promised “there will be numerous, changes in the club, provided the players League is still in existence,” in 1891.

It was not to be.  By November league secretary Brunell told The Chicago Herald:

“The jig is up.  We are beaten and the Brotherhood is no more.”

Brunell attempted to put a positive spin on the news, telling the paper it was mistaken to infer the “Brotherhood has weakened.”  Rather “we began to see that the interest in baseball was on the wane, and in order to prevent it from dying out entirely…we finally concluded that a consolidation of forces (with the National League and American Association) would be better for all concerned.”

The Herald wasn’t buying Brunell’s statement:

Brunell’s talk has finally let in the light on a subject previously enveloped in darkness.  It appears now that the Players League folks actually courted a knockout, and bankrupted themselves from pure patriotic motives.  The ex-secretary is a funny little man.”

Brunell would go on to found The Daily Racing Form in 1894.

Comiskey returned to the St. Louis Browns in the American Association.  Tip O’Neill, who also jumped the Browns to join the Players League, returned to St, Louis with his manager.

Comiskey (8) was joined in Chicago by three members of his American Association championship teams in St. Louis.  Arlie Latham (7), Tip O'Neill (11), and pitcher Silver King (14) who posted a 30-22 record.

Comiskey (8) was joined in Chicago by three members of his American Association championship teams in St. Louis. Arlie Latham (7), Tip O’Neill (11), and pitcher Silver King (14) who posted a 30-22 record.

Fred Pfeffer stayed in Chicago, spending one more turbulent season with Cap Anson, before being traded to the Louisville Colonels.

Arlie Latham, “The Freshest Man on Earth” went to the Cincinnati Reds in the National League.

Ned Williamson never played again.

Profiles of Members of Spalding’s World Tour, “The Stonewall Infield”

23 Apr

While with the players who took part in the world tour between the 1888 and ’89 seasons, Si Goodfriend observed:

 “My experience in traveling with baseball clubs, the circumstances of which necessarily brings about a close association, has impressed me with the fact that most of them are, as a rule, men of far more intelligence and better manners than they are generally given credit for.”

Among those players were all four members of the Chicago White Stockings “Stonewall Infield:” Adrian Constantine “Cap” Anson, Nathaniel Frederick “Fred” Pfeffer, Edward Nagle “Ned” Williamson, and Thomas Everett “Tom” Burns.

Goodfriend said of Anson:

“Decidedly the most unique and interesting figure of all is that of Captain Anson.  He shows the same peculiarities of temperament off as on the ball field.  He takes advantage of every point he sees and, and holds it…He may not admire a fellow baseball player personally, but this will not induce him to detract from his skill or standing as a player.

“’Old Anse’ has genuine sporting blood in him, and will bet on anything that turns up…There isn’t anything (aboard)the ship he won’t bet on if he has a fair chance of winning.  Anson’s nature is not nearly as harsh as some people imagine.  The rippling water in the moonlight or the graceful soaring of a bird will draw out the greatest sentiments from him.”

Like John Tener, Anson would enter politics, but was less successful.  After being elected Chicago’s city clerk in 1905, he was defeated in the Democratic primary for Cook County (IL) Sheriff in 1907

"Cap" Anson

“Cap” Anson

Of Pfeffer he observed:

“(He) is handsome and has no striking mental characteristics.  He has a long, flowing, brown mustache and soft brown eyes, both of which would readily come under the head of a womanly ‘lovely.’  To show the nature of the man I need only mention a little incident that is causing him much worry at the present time.  His only relative is his mother who lives in Louisville.  Before leaving on the trip he promised to write to her regularly and while on the ocean he promised to cable home from every point possible.  He did not know there was no cable from Honolulu, and now he is worrying himself that his old mother will be anxious about him until he can cable from Auckland.  It will seem an age to him until that city is reached.”

Pfeffer, along with “Monte” Ward was a leader in baseball’s nascent labor movement, Pfeffer was frequently at odds with Anson, and led the exodus of most of the White Stockings’ starters to the Players League.  Despite that, in 1918 Anson called Pfeffer the game’s all-time greatest second baseman after sportswriter Grantland Rice said Eddie Collins of the White Sox was the best ever.

Fred Pfeffer

Fred Pfeffer

Williamson, he said, was “unassuming” and:

“(A) big tender-hearted fellow, whom everybody likes.  He writes in an exceedingly clever and interesting style, and can ‘fake’ a good story like a veteran journalist.”

Ned Williamson with White stockings mascot

Ned Williamson with White stockings mascot

Williamson wrote his own dispatches from the tour which became popular features in Chicago papers.  He injured his knee on the tour and A.G. Spalding refused to help him with medical expenses; the 36-year-old Williamson jumped to the Players League in 1890, but his health began to deteriorate that year while playing for the Chicago Pirates.  He died of tuberculosis in 1894.

Goodfriend on third baseman Burns:

“(He) is a bright, intelligent man, who spends most of his time in reading; works of a standard heavy and weighty character being favorites.  He has the reputation of being a great dresser, and is said to have as many trunks with him as a New York belle would carry to Saratoga.”

Tom Burns

Tom Burns

Nearly a decade after the tour, Burns would be the man who replaced Anson as manager of the Chicago National League ballclub.  Burns took the reins of the “Orphans” in 1898, ending Anson’s 19-year run as manager.

Burns was named manager of the Jersey City Skeeters in the Eastern League in 1902, but died just weeks before the beginning of the season.