Tag Archives: Chief Bender

Oyster Joe Martina

26 May

Joseph John “Oyster Joe” Martina made a name for himself in New Orleans before he threw his first professional pitch. Martina’s father Anthony was at one time the city’s largest oyster dealer, a business he passed on to his sons.

Martina was playing semi-pro ball for the Sam Bonarts—a team sponsored by the owner of a local clothing store, and for a club called the Beavers  when he decided in addition to pitching, he had a talent for distance throwing.

He won $25 in a contest at Pelican Park in July of 1909, The New Orleans Times-Democrat said Martina “threw the sphere from home plate over the back fence.”

martina

Martina, circa 1909

The throw was said to be 394 feet; just 11 feet short of what was considered the world record—there was some dispute in contemporaneous accounts about who actually held the record, some credited it to Larry Twitchell, said to have accomplished the feat in 1888 and others to Same Crane, whose was made in 1884.

Martina made his next attempt on July 31.

The New Orleans Picayune said:

“Joe Martina met with success this afternoon in his effort to break the world’s record for throwing a baseball, his best throw being 416 feet and 2 inches.”

The paper said he “threw a standard league baseball, which was inspected by several representatives of the southern division of the American Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).”

The event was of interest to local gamblers and when Martina made the record-setting throw it created a stir:

“Disputes also arose over Martina being allowed five throws. Those placing wagers against his breaking the record claimed that only three throws should be allowed. It was on the fifth throw that Martina made the record.”

There was also initially some doubt that the record would be accepted by the AAU because of the five throws. The Times-Democrat said:

“Usually only three throws are allowed. But as there are no definite rules governing contests of that kind, Martina’s record will likely stand. Whether it was his fifth of fiftieth it was a great heave and one which should go as a record.”

The Picayune said there might be another problem with the record:

“One regret remains, that the throw was not measured with a steel tape. It was measured with a linen tape, and may not be accepted by the AAU officials, although the throw was so much over the record the is no question of it being farther than Crane’s”

The record, and Marina’s performance in New Orleans’ semi-pro league earned him a tryout the following spring with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association—pitching three innings in the first game of Atlanta’s exhibition series with the Philadelphia Athletics. Marina gave up one run and struck out three.

The Atlanta Georgian and News said:

“Martina is nothing if not confident.

“After his try-out against Philadelphia he said: ‘Why, it’s just as easy to pitch against those big leaguers as it is against the New Orleans semi-pros. I don’t see anything very hard. I think I can make good in the Southern league all right I certainly had the steam against the Athletics. How many his did they make, anyhow’”

The Crackers did not agree, and sold the 20-year-old to the Savannah Indians in the Sally League

Martina bounced from Georgia, to Louisiana, to Mississippi and then Texas over the next four years.

In the spring of 1914, entering his third season with the Beaumont Oilers in the Texas League, Martina faced the New York Giants.  The Giants beat him 5 to 2, but The New York Sun said:

“The Giants had practice hitting speed the other day. Joe Martina, who prescribed the medicine for the National League champions, had it in caloric quantities…I yearned for a chance in the majors, felt I had more stuff than many pitchers sent up from the South but the big opportunity always passed me by.”

Red Murray of the Giants, barely avoided getting hit in the head with a Martina fastball, and told the paper:

“’That fellow’s got as much speed as I ever saw.’ Said John after the game, and the other Giants corroborated him. He’s as fast as (Chief) Bender.”

The Sun took notice of more than the pitcher’s speed:

“This Martina is something of a character. In the course of the game the umpire announced that Mathewson would pitch today. ‘Mathewson?’ queried Martina, who appears to be n iconoclast. ‘What busher’s that?’

“’Say,’ exclaimed the skeptical Martina to Chief Meyers when the latter made a base hit after several fruitless tries in that direction, ‘you’re lucky to get a hit off of me,’ and then, by the way of an afterthought: ‘All the hits you ever get are lucky.’

“Evidently, Mr. Martina is no hero worshiper.”

When he struck out Fred Snodgrass, he asked, “How do you like that, busher?”

Throughout his 20s, Martina was considered an “iron man,” pitching from 261 to 330 innings every year from 1910 through 1915; he also, according to The Picayune regularly pitched Sunday games in New Orleans throughout each off season.
In 1916, he injured his arm—or as The Arkansas Democrat said, his “arm cracked after hard usage.”

Speed Johnson of The Chicago Record Herald compared Martina to White Sox ace Ed Walsh, “The spitball king of other days now is a bench-warmer.”

Johnson said Chattanooga Lookouts manager Kid Elberfeld was the culprit:

“Performing under orders from (Elberfeld) Martina pitched seven games in the first sixteen games of the season. From May 1 to May 13 he officiated in five engagements, toiling with a sore arm.”

Elberfeld claimed that Martina injured his arm throwing too many spitballs, Johnson said, “it behooves young pitchers bent on winning fame as iron men to work only in their turn.”

Despite the reported injury, and a release from Chattanooga, Martina pitched 278 innings in 1916 with three teams.

Martina went back to the Texas League for four more seasons—including a 28-win season for Beaumont in 1919.

In 1921 he came back to the Southern Association, with his hometown Pelicans. From 1921-1923 he won 56 games, including a 22-6 mark in 1922. He told The Times-Picayune:

“It’s the old story, “You don’t learn how to pitch until your arm is gone.”

His three-year run with the Pelicans finally earned him a major league contract in 1924.  Umpire Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“Speaking of miracle workers, supermen, and rookie phenoms of baseball, don’t overlook pitcher Joe Martina of the Washington Nationals.

“At the age of 34, when most big leaguers are wondering how much longer they will be able to stand the pace, Joe Martina is making his debut.”

martina24

Martina, 1924

Martina told Evans:

“I had as much stuff fifteen years ago as I have today, and with-it youth, but somehow the major leagues scouts would annually pass me up.”

He was 6-8 for the World Series Champion Senators, he pitched one perfect inning in game three of the World Series. In the off season, Washington Manager Bucky Harris told The Washington Post that Martina “will win at least 15 games this year and may reach the 20 mark.”

He was due to join the Senators in Tampa, Florida on February 19, 1925, but failed to show up. The Post said Martina wired President Clark Griffith and asked to report later because he was having a new home built. Griffith refused and he was “notified by telegraph” that he was suspended. The Washington Evening Star said he would be fined and forced “to labor at a smaller salary,” for the season.  The paper suggested that the pay cut would not impact him greatly because:

“The Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, with the resulting big crowds in attendance and the consequent increase in the oyster business conducted by Martina probably mean that the pitcher can suffer these financial setbacks and still be ahead of the game.”

He arrived in Tampa on March 1; The Star said Griffith withdrew the fine because Martina claimed he had received a letter from the Washington owner that he could report late:

“Griff admitted that in the stress of arranging for the annual pilgrimage South of his club he might have forgotten the original letter to Joe.”

On April 9, Martina, along with left-handers–Jim Brillheart and Jim McNamara—were released by Griffith. The Star said

 “(Martini’s) work this spring indicated he has passed the peak of his form which is not quite good enough for fast company.”

He returned to New Orleans for four more seasons—winning 77 games and leading the Pelicans to Southern Association championships in 1926 and 1927. The 39-year-old went back to the Texas League for one more season in 1929; after a disappointing 10-13 campaign for the Dallas Steers, Martina purchased—or bartered for—his release. The Times-Picayune said:

“Martina has been given his unconditional release at the price of two barrels of oysters. This was the price demanded by Fred McJunkin, president of the Dallas club.”

He played two more seasons in the Cotton States League and took a crack at managing with the Baton Rouge Standards in 1931—he was released mid-season at age 41.

With both the Pelicans and the Knoxville Smokies hopelessly out of the 1931 Southern Association pennant race, Knoxville signed Martina to pitch against New Orleans on the final day of the season. He started the first game of a double header, gave up six runs over eight innings and lost his final game as a professional.

Zipp Newman, sports editor of The Birmingham News and official scorer for the Birmingham Barons for 44 years said Martina’s strong arm was with him to the very end::

“After pitching a full game for Knoxville against New Orleans Sunday, Joe went to the outfield and made the longest throw-in. Joe threw the ball right up to the grandstand. There wasn’t a youngster on the field who could come close to him. Joe Martina arms are few and far between in baseball.”

Martina, who died of a heart attack in 1962, said in an interview with Newman in 1941:

“I am convinced I had more human endurance than any man who ever lived. In all my life I was never tired, even when it was 110 out there on the mound. The answer is simple: I was a good boy. I behaved myself and every at 8 o’clock I was in bed…When my arm was live the ball would sail slightly upward, and nobody could hit me. When it was dead, although the pitch was just as fast, the ball went straight, like on a string, and I was a goner.”

“Almost Every Ballplayer has his Individual Superstition”

4 May

“Almost every ballplayer has his individual superstition,” said The Philadelphia Record in 1918:

On days when Cy Young pitched, “he would always see that the bat boy placed the bats with the handles towards the infield,” Young would not tolerate crossed bats.

“Christy Mathewson always placed his glove, face up, near the sideline, and would never allow anyone to hand it to him when returning to the box.”

Bob Harmon wore his hat crookedly on the right side of his head during his first big league win, and “always wore his cap on one side of his head when working.”

harmon

Harmon

Philadelphia’s two former aces, Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, had theirs:

“Bender always pitched his glove to the sideline as he walked out of the box, He never was known to lay it down. He would get his signal from the catcher and step into the box from behind and always right foot first…Plank would never warm up with a new ball on the days he worked. He always hung his sweater on a certain nail in the dugout and ‘woe be unto’ the player who moved it.”

Eddie Collins—arguably the most superstitious player among his contemporaries— “has a certain way to put on his uniform. He always dresses from his feet up.”

Johnny Evers—who believed himself to be one of the most superstitious among his contemporaries— “always believes that his club would win if he put one stocking on with the wrong side out.”

evers2

Johnny Evers

Napoleon Lajoie and Honus Wagner’s superstitions were tied to bats:

“Lajoie had a certain bat which he used in the game and under no conditions would he allow anyone to use it, for the reason that the player using it might get a hit which really belonged to the owner of the bat…Wagner would never allow a player or bat boy to make any move to disarrange the bats or to start putting them away until the last man was out in the last inning, no matter how the score stood.”

Prince Hal Chase, said the paper, believed he could not get a hit “unless he spits in his hands and touches his cap before a pitcher delivers a ball.”

“Old Pete Probably Saved my Life”

7 Dec

In a syndicated article for World Wide Features in 1942, writer Jack Smith talked to the “Chippewa Indian whom grandpa called ‘the game’s greatest money pitcher,’” Charles “Chief” Bender.

Smith said at 58, Bender “can still toss a pretty mean baseball.”

bender.jpg

Bender, 1942

Bender told Smith “he might be around,” anymore if not for Grover Cleveland Alexander, who “performed an operation” on Bender with a pen knife:

“It started on a lurching train carrying a Pullman-car-load of Phillies towards Boston in 1917, Bender, then a National Leaguer, started a playful wresting match with Eppa ‘Jeptha’ Rixey—and inadvertently stuck his arm through a Pullman window pane.”

Mike Dee, who was the Phillies trainer treated the six-inch gash in Bender’s arm, but he told Smith:

“’(T)here weeks later on another train my arm swelled like the head of a rookie pitcher after a no-hit game.

“’So I rolled out of my bunk and awakened Grover.  I showed him the poisoning and offered him my knife.  Old Pete said he wouldn’t mind at all.’”

Bender said he and Alexander sterilized the knife in boiling water, then after tying off the infected area, Alexander used the knife to drain the wound.

Bender said when he showed his arm to Dee the following day, “’Doc told me he couldn’t have done a better job himself.  He said Old Pete probably saved my life.’”

oldpete.jpg

Old Pete

Smith said seeing Bender work out with the Philadelphia Athletics during the spring of 1940 in Newport News, Virginia, and in 1941 in Wilmington, Delaware,

“At an age when most men creak at the joints and swell in the middle, he is still rangy and trim, still has that powerful arm, those long, sinewy fingers.”

Most importantly, Smith said, Bender was extremely humble:

“This man whose name is mentioned in the same breath with those of Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, whose million dollar arm helped make baseball the national pastime, who’s been in the game since he started playing for Pop Warner at Carlisle back in 1902 (note: Bender graduated from Carlisle in 1902, and began playing for Warner there in 1899) will tell you his career is without highlights.

‘”All games were the same to me,’ he says.  ‘I worried about each pitch and that was all…In 1910 I pitched a no-hit no-run game and didn’t know it—not until somebody told me.”

A few days after Smith’s article appeared, Bender was named minor league pitching instructor for the New York Yankees.  The Associated Press said the Yankees minor leaguers should “Get your track pants on…’When a man’s legs and wind are right, he’ll be able to pitch.”

Bender kept running and continued pitching batting practice into his sixties.  He died at age 70 in 1954.

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things–Quote Edition

12 Oct

When you spend hours pouring over microfilm and web based newspaper archives you find something every day that is interesting but not enough for a standalone post—these are random quotes and observations that follow no theme or thread, I just think they should not be lost to the mists of time.

Cy Young was asked by The Cleveland News in 1909 if there would ever be a successful ambidextrous pitcher in the major leagues:

“Elton Chamberlain, who was with Cleveland in the early 90s, essayed to perform this feat occasionally, but about all he had with his left arm was a small amount of speed and a straight ball. The way pitchers have to work nowadays a man who can use one rm and use it effectively is quite a man as pitching goes.”

chamb

Elton Chamberlain

In 1909, Time Murnane noted in The Boston Globe that Billy Sunday, as an evangelist was earning more than 10 times what the “highest-paid men” in baseball were making. Of Sunday’s ability he said:

“No doubt Mr. Sunday is a very good evangelist, much better it is hoped than he ever was as a ballplayer. Mr. Sunday was a fast runner. That marked his limit as a baseball star. He could not hit or field or throw well enough to make it worthwhile talking about.”

billysunday2

Billy Sunday, evangelist

In 1946, Grantland Rice of The New York Herald Tribune asked Connie Mack during a discussion of Bob Feller which pitcher he felt had the “greatest combination of speed and curves,” of all time:

“He hesitated less than two seconds. ‘Rube Waddell,’ he said. ‘The Rube was about as fast as Feller, not quite as fast as (Walter) Johnson. But the Rube had one of the deepest, fastest-breaking curves I’ve ever seen. Johnson’s curve ball was unimportant. Feller isn’t as fast as Johnson but he has a far better curve ball.’”

Mack did, however, concede:

“’Feller and Johnson were far more dependable than the Rube who now and then was off fishing or tending bar when I needed him badly.’”

rube

Rube

In 1916, in his nationally syndicated American League umpire Billy Evans asked Napoleon Lajoie about the best pitchers he faced:

“I never faced a wiser twirler than Chief Bender…he made a study of the art. If a batter had a weakness, the Chief soon discovered it, and from that time he made life miserable for that particular batsman. His almost uncanny control made it possible for him to put into execution the knowledge he would gain of the batter’s weakness. I know of a certain big league player, and he was a good one, who would request that he be taken out of the game any time Bender worked…Best of all, he had the heart of an oak and in a pinch always seemed to do his best work.”

chiefbender

Chief Bender

In 1907, the Washington Senators hired Pongo Joe Cantillon to manage the team, Ted Sullivan, “the man who discovered Comiskey,” was never shy about taking credit for an idea, and told The Washington Star:

“As I was instrumental in enticing Cantillon to come to Washington I know the salary that was offered, and I saw the contract. It was nearly twice the salary of a United States Senator, and there is not a bench manager today in the eastern country that is getting one-half the salary of Cantillon. The Washington management has corrected all the errors of the past in getting a baseball pilot who knows all the bends and shallows in the baseball river.”

pongo

Pongo Joe

Despite the money, and Cantillon’s knowledge of the “bends and shallows,” the Senators finished 8th twice and 7th once during Cantillon’s three seasons in Washington, he had a 158-297 record during his only stint as a big league manager.

“It was Hard for me to get Used to Some of the Boneheads”

4 Oct

Most baseball writers and dozens of baseball figures caught the twenty greatest “fever” during 1911 and 1912.

After Frank Baker hit .375 with two home runs and five RBIs, leading the Philadelphia Athletics to their 1911 World Series victory over the New York Giants, Grantland Rice opined in The New York Mail:

baker2

Frank Baker

“The twenty greatest ballplayers, picked exclusively for this column by John McGraw and the Giants—John Franklin Baker.”

The Washington Times said Germany Schaefer was asked to put his twenty greatest list together shortly after the end of his best season in 1911:

“Write ‘em out and send ‘em to me,’ the newspaperman suggested.

“Germany did.  The list read as follows: ‘Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, Germany Schaefer, and Germany Schaefer.’”

Germany Schaefer

Schaefer

The Philadelphia Record asked Connie Mack for his twenty greatest list, Mack refused but told the paper “if his life depended on any game of ball,” he would start Chief Bender:

“Do you know, Bender has never yet failed me in a crisis?  Whenever there is a game that the fortunes of our club hinge on I’ve sent in the Chief and he has delivered every time.”

Billy Hamilton, who made a couple of the lists that circulated during 1911 and 1912, told The Boston Globe he was upset no one had named his former teammate Marty Bergen:

“Why, I can’t see how you can possibly leave him out…He and Buck Ewing were in a class by themselves among the men I have seen behind the bat.  I have never seen anything like that snap throw of Martin’s, with the ball always on the runner.”

Wild Bill Donovan then put Bergen on the list he chose for The Detroit News:

  • Ed Walsh
  • Jim Hughes
  • Christy Mathewson
  • Duke Farrell
  • Marty Bergen
  • Hal Chase
  • Fred Tenney
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Eddie Collins
  • Jimmy Collins
  • John McGraw
  • Hughie Jennings
  • Herman Long
  • Ty Cobb
  • Bill Lange
  • Ed Delahanty
  • Willie Keeler
  •  Fielder Jones
  • Fred Clarke
  • Bobby Wallace

Donovan told the paper of Ed Walsh:

“If Walsh were worked about once in four days, instead of being asked to go in three times a week as often is the case now, I believe that he would be unbeatable.”

edwalsh

Ed Walsh

In lauding Farrell, his teammate in Brooklyn, Donovan took a swipe at many of the catchers he worked with during his career:

“The big Duke was a wonderfully heady man, and the only catcher who ever lived on whom it was impossible to work the hit and run game.  Any time Duke called for a waste ball, you could bet your next paycheck that the runner was going to go down.  After pitching to man of his intelligence it was hard for me to get used to some of the boneheads that I encountered later.”

One more list—attributed to several papers and sportswriters at the time—appeared first in The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, and chronicled the “Twenty greatest blunders in baseball:”

20blunders

As the craze was dying down, The Chicago Tribune said Ted Sullivan, the man who I credited with discovering Charles Comiskey—and Comiskey’s favorite scout, would put together “a list of the twenty greatest baseball actuaries of all time were he not a bit doubtful about the other nineteen.”

Lost Advertisements–Home Run Baker, Ide Silver Collars

15 Jun

hrbakeradAn advertisement for Ide Silver Collars, featuring John Franklin “Home Run” Baker:”

“Your silver collars have certainly made a big ‘hit’ with me.  The buttonholes are the easiest and best ever.”

bakerpix

After Baker returned to baseball with the New York Yankees in 1916, he “wrote” a very short syndicated newspaper piece, part of a series which asked some of the game’s best hitters to name “The Six Hardest Pitchers I ever Faced.”

Baker said:

“In naming my six hardest and best pitchers, I must invade my old club for three of them, though I never batted against them in championship games.  From my standpoint, the six best during my career were:

“Walter Johnson–Washington Americans.

“Edward Walsh–Chicago Americans.

“‘Dutch’ Leonard–Boston Americans

“Eddie Plank–Philadelphia Americans

“Albert Bender–Philadelphia Americans

“John Coombs–Philadelphia Americans.

“Johnson is the present-day wonder; Walsh was the king in his prime, and young Leonard is a puzzle among present left-handers, but I must award the plum to my three great old pals.”

Baker 1916

Baker 1916

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #18

7 Mar

Tener on Anson

In 1917, John Tener wrote an article in “Baseball Magazine” about Cap Anson, his former manager with the Chicago White Stockings.

John Tener

John Tener

The former pitcher and outfielder, who went on to serve in the United States Congress and as Governor of Pennsylvania, and who in 1917 was president of the National League said:

“Pop Anson was the Greatest Batter who ever lived.  You may look up his record, compare it with others and draw your own conclusions.  When I say this I am well aware of the claims of Ed Delehanty, Hans Wagner and many other great hitters.  I give them all due credit, but in my opinion, Anson was the greatest of them all.

"Cap" Anson

Anson

“He was, first of all, a free hitter. He loved batting…He had that true eye which enabled him to hit the ball squarely on the nose.  His hits were line drives.  They were solid smashes with the full force of his muscular shoulders behind them.”

[…]

“He was an excellent judge of the precise fraction of a second that he needed to swing that heavy bat of his against the best the pitcher could offer.  He didn’t exactly place his hits, but he contrived to drive the ball behind the base runner about where he wanted to drive it…He was big and strong and heavy.  Some hitters of the present day fatten their averages by their nimbleness in reaching first.  Anson drove the ball solidly into the outfield and took his time in going to first.”

Conte on Mendez

Jose Pepe Conte was a well-known sportswriter in Havana, Cuba. Frank Menke of Heart Newspaper’s International News Service (INS) said of him:

Jose Pepe Conte

Jose Pepe Conte

“Pepe is a fellow who knows heaps and heaps about ancient history, European customs, chemistry, baseball and prize fighting.”

The Pittsburgh Press called him:

“(A) Cuban newspaperman, political personage, and unearther of baseball talent.”

In 1912, the INS distributed an article Conte wrote about the pitcher he thought was the best ever:

“American baseball fans can talk all they want about their (Chief) Benders, (Christy) Mathewsons, (Ed) Walshes and (Mordecai) Browns, but down in our country we have a pitcher that none of the best batters in the country can touch. This is the famous Black Tornado, (Jose) Mendez.  Talk about speed.  Why, when he cuts loose at his hardest clip the ball bounces out of the catcher’s mitt Talk about speed, Mendez has to pitch most of the time without curves because we haven’t a catcher who can hold him.  To make things better, Mendez can bat like (Ty) Cobb.  He has won his own games on various occasions with smashes over the fences for home runs.  He weighs about 154 pounds and is a little fellow.”

Jose Mendez

Jose Mendez

[…]

“No one has been found who can hold him when he really extends himself.  He has shown his skill in the past when he has faced the best batters of the Cubs and Detroit teams when those teams were champions, and when the Athletics went there last year.  Mendez has more curves than any pitcher in America, and if some inventive genius could produce a whitening process whereby we could get the fellow into the big leagues he could win a pennant for either tail-end team in either league.”

Sullivan on Comiskey

In his book, “The National Game,” Al Spink said Ted Sullivan was “the best judge of a ball player in America, the man of widest vision in the baseball world, who predicted much for the National game years ago, and whose predictions have all come true.”

Ted Sullivan

Ted Sullivan

Sullivan was a player, manager, executive, and in 1921, he wrote a series of articles for The Washington Times called “The Best of my Sport Reminiscences.”  He said of Charles Comiskey, who he was crediting with “discovering” at St. Mary’s College in Kansas:

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

“As a player, Comiskey was easily the best first baseman of his time…His intuition in defining the thoughts of his opponents and making his play accordingly placed him head and shoulders over any man that played that position before or after.

“Comiskey was with John Ward and King Kelly one of the greatest of base runners.  I do not mean dress parade base running, either, merely to show the crowd he could run.  Comiskey’s base running was done at a place in the game when it meant victory for his side.  He was far from being the machine batter that Anson, Roger Connor and some others were; but as a run-getter, which means the combination of hitting, waiting, bunting and running, he outclassed all others.  Jack Doyle, when in his prime with Baltimore and New York, was the nearest approach to Comiskey in brainwork.  There are no others.”

“Pulling a Lave Cross,” Eddie Collins on the Life of a Ballplayer

24 Feb

In 1914, Eddie Collins contributed an article about the life of a major leaguer in The National Sunday Magazine, a syndicated insert that appeared in several papers across the country.

Eddie Collins

Eddie Collins

He described the beginning of his first road trip in the big leagues:

“It happened two days after I had joined the Philadelphia Athletics.  As ‘Mr. Sullivan,’ (Collins initially played under the name Edward T. Sullivan), still being an undergraduate at Columbia, I had watched two games from the grandstand at Shibe Park.

“The series over, Manager (Connie) Mack told me to report at the railroad station in time to catch a train that was leaving at six o’clock.  The Athletics were to make a quick September (1906) swing around the circuit.”

Collins said he was “about the first one at the depot,” and “eager as a boy” to begin his big league career.

Once on the train, he described the reaction of the players the first time the porter announced that dinner would be served:

“What transpired, immediately, might have led one to believe that the porter had insulted nearly everyone in the car.  There was a stampede.  Every one of the Athletics was up and rushing down the aisle, throwing aside magazines and newspapers, tumbling and pitching toward the door. The porter was knocked over and it is no exaggeration to state that one of our players—a very fleshy outfielder with elephantine tread (Topsy Hartsel)—walked over him in his haste.

“’What’s the matter with those fellows?’ I asked a veteran who had not joined the stampede.

“In justice to him, be it explained that he had a sprained ankle and couldn’t run.

“’They’re pulling a Lave Cross,’ he threw over his shoulder, as he hobbled after the others as fast as his lame ankle would permit.

“I came to know what ‘Pulling a Lave Cross’ meant.”

Lave Cross

Lave Cross

Collins explained the term, which referenced the former Athletics player:

“He was in the big leagues for years and during that period, he was never beaten into a dining car or eating room of any sort.  He always caught the first cab out of the station; he always was the first to plunge into the sleeper and select the best berth.  He never ran second where personal comforts or tastes were at stake.  During all his years, and the competition is keen, he was supreme.”

Collins said while Cross’ behavior might have been extreme, “haste” was “a habit inbred in all successful” ballplayers:

“I have noticed that after the game we all dress like firemen getting three alarms, race back the hotel, race into the dining room, race through our meal.  Then we saunter out into the lobby and kill two or three hours trying to see which foot we can stand on longer.  At first I marveled at this, then I found myself racing along with the rest of them.”

Calling himself, and his colleagues “rather peculiar individual(s)” Collins said of ballplayers:

“On the field, all his energies and thoughts are concentrated on one idea—the winning of the game.  His day’s work done, however, he throws that all off.  His first desire is to avoid the crowds and excitement.  Then he persistently refuses to talk baseball.  If you want to make yourself unpopular with big league ballplayers, drop into their hotel some night and try to talk baseball to them. “

Collins next provided readers with “some idea of ballplayers out of spangles,” to bring them into “closer touch.”

Honus Wagner, he said, was not a fan of fans:

“Down in Carnegie (PA) there are about twenty unfortunates…who are taken care of solely through Wagner’s generosity.  He has a heart as big as his clumsy looking body, but he hates the baseball ‘bug.’  Frequently wealthy fans have called at Wagner’s hotel on the road and tried to engage him in conversation.  Generally he will excuse himself and going over to the elevator boy will sit and chat with him for an hour at a time.  Wagner’s worst enemy will not tell you he is conceited, but he hates the fans prying into his affairs.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Connie Mack, he said, “is the same kind of man” as Wagner:

“Connie is forever handing out touches to old time players.  He is always thinking of anybody connected with baseball from the bat boys up. I know he insisted out little hunchback mascot (Louis Van Zelst) getting a share of the World Series’ money—not that any players objected—but it was Connie’s thought first.

“’Little Van comes in on this,’ he said.”

Louis Van Zelst

Louis Van Zelst

 

Collins also talked about how his teammates occupied themselves on the road:

“You will never find Chief Bender, our Indian pitcher, hanging around the hotel.  Too many original fans are apt to salute him with a war-whoop.  Besides, he is golf mad and when not on the diamond, he is to be found on the links… (Carroll “Boardwalk”) Brown, the young pitcher who did so well for us last year, is a billiard expert… (Stuffy) McInnis and (Eddie) Murphy are the ‘movie fiends’ of our club and are the only ones (Collins said many players were scared to go to the movies because they thought it would damage their eyes).  They can call the name of every star as soon as they see the face on the screen. Jack Barry, our shortstop, is inordinately fond of Hebrew literature and Biblical history.  This, although he, as well as his name, is Irish.”

Collins also shared his manager’s rules for the Athletics when the team was traveling:

 “It is one of Mack’s rules that we are only allowed to play cards on the trains…Connie is against card playing, which only leads to-night after night sessions, ill feelings and finally, disruption. I could tell you of at least one American League team that was broken by card games…Everybody has to be in bed by half past eleven and report in Mack’s room at half past ten in the morning.  For an hour Mack talks baseball, planning our campaign for the day.”

After Mack’s meeting, it was time to eat, and Collins shared his insights on ballplayers and food:

He said a “young pitcher on our club” should be a star, but “he has a weakness for roast beef,” and “persists in stuffing himself at noon time.”  He didn’t name the pitcher.

 “Walter Johnson, the greatest pitcher in baseball, also has a noonday weakness.  It is ice cream, but he seems to thrive on it.  Jack Barry feels off-color if he does not get his slice of pie…On the day he is going to pitch, Eddie Plank, our veteran left-hander, always eats tomato soup.  He thinks he would lose if he did not observe this ritual.”

Collins concluded:

“There is great temptation for the young minor league player, being put up at first class hotels…to eat his head off.  I honestly believe that more good youngsters have been ruined for big league work simply from overeating than any other extraneous cause.”

Other than their general disdain for ‘bugs,’ Collins said, in the end, players of the current era were unrecognizable from their counterparts of a generation earlier:

“Ballplayers today are scrupulously careful never to offend anyone in any way.  Especially do they take pride in being Chesterfields when women are around.”

Connie Mack vs Herman W. Souse

6 Nov

In his autobiography “My 66 Years in the Big leagues,Connie Mack said, “My first great disappointment came in 1912.”

Connie Mack

                          Connie Mack

After two straight World Series victories, Mack’s Athletics stumbled to a disappointing third-place finish.  With his team 15 ½ games out of first on September 6, Mack suspended pitcher Charles “Chief” Bender and Reuben “Rube” Oldring for, as The Philadelphia Inquirer  put it:

 “(T)heir failure to live up to the training requirements, as demanded by Mack and all common sense baseball managers.”

Chief Bender

                                Chief Bender

The Inquirer said “Mack refused to discuss this matter further,” but just days later in Detroit he gave what The New York World called “a sermon” on the reason for the suspensions:

“Booze and baseball don’t mix; never did, and never will. A pitcher who thinks he can fan Herman W. Souse is simply pitching to the greatest home run hitter he ever faced.

“Once in awhile you hear of some marvel who can stay out all night, drink all the breweries dry, wreck a few taxi cabs and otherwise enjoy himself, and then step in the box and pitch a wonderful game of ball.  Players who haven’t any more sense point to Rube Waddell, Bugs Raymond and that brand and say: ‘Ah, those were the good old days.  None of these high-priced managers and their red tape then.  And what wonderful players we produced in those days.’

“Well, look at Waddell—one of the most remarkable pitchers nature ever produced.  But Waddell, with all his talent, couldn’t stay in the major leagues.  Why?  Because he stood there and pitched himself to Old Man Barleycorn, and finally every one he threw was slammed over the fence.  And that’s the way all go.  Is it so wonderful, after all?

“No, sir, the day of the stewed ballplayer has gone and it won’t come back.  If the members of my team want to drink, all right.  But they can’t drink and play ball at the same time.  That’s settled.  They can do whatever they prefer, but they can’t do both.

“There are no exceptions to my rule, either.  Any manager will tell you the same.  A short life and a merry one—that’s it.  And the merrier it is the shorter it will be in the big leagues.”

In December of 1912, The Philadelphia Record said Bender had written a letter to Mack asking his manager “to please forgive him.”

According to The Inquirer, he was forgiven and set to return to the Athletics in 1913:

“This winter Bender has spent nearly all the daylight hours automobiling and hunting in the South.  He looks stronger than ever.”

The “stronger,” sober Bender appeared in 48 games, 21 as a starter, and posted a 21-10 record with a 2.21 ERA, and helped lead the Athletics to their third championship in four seasons.

In “My 66 Years in the Big leagues” Mack said of him:

“Let me say here that I consider Chief Bender the greatest one-game pitcher, the greatest money pitcher baseball ever has known.”

Armando Marsans’ Tall Tale

19 Oct

Baseball writers were fascinated by every utterance of the Cincinnati Reds’ two Cuban players, Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida.  Marsans was the more popular—and more successful—of the two.   He was also the product of well-to-do background.

marsansandalmeida

                           Marsans and Almeida

William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star illustrated the cultural difference between the Reds’ two Cuban players:

“(S)omeone asked Almeida and Marsans if they wouldn’t like tickets to a grand opera.  ‘Si, si, accented Marsans, delightedly.  I love grand opera—eet ees fines’ of all entertainment for a gentleman.’

‘I thank you much,” negatived Almeida, “but I care not to go.  To me, grand opera eet sound like de screech of de beeg tomcat, and about so much sensible.’”

Perhaps made up on his own, perhaps captivated by the erudite Marsans, perhaps in on the joke—it wasn’t always clear when Phelon was in on the joke—he quoted Marsans spinning a tale of a Cuban legend in his column in 1912:

“I have seen all the great ballplayers of the present time.  I have been in post-season series against (Napoleon) Lajoie and (Joe) Jackson and have made trips just to see Ty Cobb.  They are wonderful ballplayers, but I give you my word that the greatest I ever looked upon was an Indian named Canella, and popularly called Cinnamon.

“Canella was of a strange Indian race that is supposed to be extinct—the Sibboneys [sic Ciboney] of Cuba, who populated the island when the Spaniards came.  The historians and scientific books all say that they are extinct, and it would doubtless be so, if it were not for the fact that they still live in eastern Cuba and have a little city of their own.  They are tall men with ancient Greek faces—nothing but the color of the Indian to make resemble such men and (John “Chief”) Meyers and (Charles “Chief”) Bender—and they are an athletic people, more agile and active by far than we.  Baseball is their own pet diversion, and Canella, known as Cinnamon, was the greatest of them all.

“Canella, who cannot be over 27 even now, came out a few years ago, and at once became the marvel of eastern Cuba.  He was a pitcher, and a star on the slab, but he was also a batsman, lightening base runner, and clever outfielder.  The records of six years ago show Canella, in some 60 games hit .446 and stole 55 bases.  Havana’s best clubs went up against him and found him invincible while he turned the tide of the closest games with his own batting.

“Canella received no offers from the big American leagues, They took it for granted he was a light colored negro, and when his friends explained that he was an Indian the Americans laughed and said ‘There are no Indians in Cuba—the Spaniards killed them all 400 years ago.’

Armando Marsans

Armando Marsans

“So Canella kept right on playing in Cuba, and he seemed to improve each succeeding season.  At least he became so terrible that even the Havana and Almendares clubs sought excuses to avoid meeting him, and the weaker clubs would face him and get shut out every time.  Finally, some influential Cubans managed to make an American magnate understand that Canella was no Negro, and all was arranged for his tryout in the coming spring.  And then came the news that Canella’s arm was gone, and he could never pitch again.

“It seems that the Indians of Sibboney [sic] still practice the games of their forefathers, and of their favorite sports which is throwing the javelin,  Coming home for a visit, Canella saw the young men of the tribe practicing the spear throw.  Laughingly, he said ‘It is many years since I have done thix—let me try.’ And picking up a slender spear, he hurled it with all his might—and something went snap, crack, in his upper arm as he let go of the javelin.  The arm, so long accustomed to throwing the baseball, gave way when he tried to throw the spear, and never since has Canella been able to throw a ball from the pitching slab as far as the catcher.  It was a shame because Cinnamon Canella was the greatest pitcher, the finest batter, and the fastest base runner that I have ever gazed upon.”