Tag Archives: Chief Bender

“Is Napoleon Lajoie a Hoodoo?”

14 Nov

Napoleon Lajoie had his share of superstitions and sought to avoid “Hoodoo,” like most players of his era.  But, as Lajoie was winding down his long career, hitting un-Lajoie like .246 for a horrible Philadelphia Athletics team (36-117) in 1916, The Philadelphia Bulletin presented a case that Lajoie himself was the problem:

“Is Napoleon Lajoie a hoodoo?

Napoleon Lajoie

Napoleon Lajoie

“Several baseball managers and ‘Larry’ himself would like to know the answer.  And here is why:

“Lajoie, for many years recognized as the king of second basemen and dubbed ‘King Larry,’ now has visions of the waning of his baseball star of fame, and he has never played on a pennant-winning team…For years he hit well over the .300 mark—once over .400—was one of the most dangerous men to pitch to in a pinch, and fielded his position around second base in a finished, manner—so finished in fact, that he won the distinction of being the classiest second-sacker in baseball.  Every move of the big Frenchman was grace personified.

“Notwithstanding the fact that he was a star of the first magnitude, ranking with Hans Wagner of Pittsburgh—and they are the two real stars of baseball of former years—he never was able to help his team to the pennant.  So, when Lajoie was sold to Connie Mack dopesters and Larry himself thought he eventually would get into a World Series.  But alas!

“Larry joined the Athletics in the spring of 1915, and while his admirers were expecting him to get back his batting eye, which had apparently been dimmed while he was in Cleveland, Connie Mack decided to tear down his wonderful machine.  (Eddie) Collins, (Ed) Plank, (Charles “Chief”) Bender, (Jack) Coombs, and (Jack) Barry were sold (or released), while (Frank) Baker played bush league ball because Connie would not meet his salary demands, and the famous $100,000 infield of the Athletics was wrecked and the run making machine of the world champions was put out of commission.  And the hopes of Larry and his enthusiastic followers went glimmering.  He is on a tail-end team, just like he was at Cleveland.

“And worst of all from Lajoie’s point of view, the Cleveland team has been holding down first place in the American League for many weeks and is a contender for the pennant.

“The question, ‘Is Napoleon Lajoie a hoodoo?’ Again presents itself.”

While Cleveland was in first place as late as July 12, the Lajoie-hoodoo-free Indians still faltered and finished seventh in 1916.

After Philadelphia’s disastrous season—they finished 54 and a half games back—Lajoie accepted the position of player-manager with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the International League.  The 42-year-old second baseman hit a league-leading .380 and led the Maple Leafs to the championship in 1917—the first, and only of his career.

Lost Advertisements–Athletics/Cubs 1910 World Series

13 Sep

1910ws2

Three advertisements for Old Underoof Whiskey that appeared in Chicago during the 1910 World Series between the Cubs and the Philadelphia Athletics.  The first “Safe On First,”  above, appeared after Charles “Chief” Bender beat the Cubs 4 to 1, giving up only three hits in game one.  The second “Still In The Game,” below, appeared before game three.  The bear is holding as “elephant gun” with four spent shells on the ground–(Orval) Overall, (Harry) McIntire, (Lew) Richie, and (Mordecai) Brown–the four pitchers who gave up 13 runs to the Athletics and the first two games.

 

The final one, bottom, “No They are Not Dead” appeared before game four.  The Cubs, down 3 games to 0 beat the Athletics 4 to 3 in 10 innings, Brown relieved Leonard “King” Cole in the ninth and got the decision over Bender.  The following day Jack Coombs beat the Cubs and Brown 7 to 2 to take the series four games to one.

 

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“Chief” Bender’s Catcher

3 Sep

Umpire Billy Evans, in one of his syndicated newspaper columns in the fall of 1910, said: “Most every ball player is more or less superstitious, but the pitchers, I believe, are more susceptible to beliefs uncanny than any of the other diamond athletes.”

Evans singled out Charles “Chief” Bender, who had just completed a 23-5 season with a 1.58 ERA for the World Champion Philadelphia Athletics, as one of the most “susceptible.”

Chief Bender

Chief Bender

According to Evans, Bender preferred throwing to catcher Ira Thomas over the team’s other two catchers Jack Lapp and Paddy Livingston:

“Bender has won lots of games with other catchers doing the receiving, but he never seems quite so steady as when Thomas is paired up with him.”

Evans said the preference extended to warming up as well:

“While there are scores and scores of pitchers who have their favorite catchers, still they are content to let one of the other receivers warm them up between innings, but not so with the Chief.  When Bender starts a game he absolutely refuses to throw to anyone other than Thomas.

“It is often the case that when the side is retired, the catcher happens to be a base runner.  Naturally much time is consumed by him in hurrying from the base he occupied to the bench to get his mask, glove and protector, and then back to the plate.  It is customary for most managers under such circumstances, to send one of the other catchers up to the plate to keep the pitcher warmed up.  I have seen Bender refuse at least a dozen times during the past summer to warm up with one of the Athletics other than Thomas.  He waits for Ira and takes a chance on getting cold in preference to putting the “jinx” on himself by tossing the ball to someone else.”

Bender's favorite catcher Ira Thomas

Bender’s favorite catcher Ira Thomas

The feeling was mutual.  In a 1911 article in The Pittsburgh Press, Thomas, who in addition to Bender also caught Jack Coombs (31-9, 1.30 ERA), Cy Morgan (18-12, 1.55 ERA), and Eddie Plank (16-10, 2.01 ERA) in 1910, said of Bender:

“I don’t take my hat off to…any other pitcher when Chief Bender is around.  He is a wonder of wonders.  No one can show me where there is a better pitcher in general.

“Bender has everything a pitcher needs and in a series of seven games he is almost invincible.”

Thomas remained with the Athletics organization for another 40 years as a coach, minor league manager and scout; he finished his scouting career with the Yankees, retiring in 1956.  He died in 1958.

Bender left Philadelphia in 1914 when he jump the Athletics for the Federal League; he returned to the Athletics organization in the 1930s.  He died in 1954.

Bender and Thomas shared a baseball card--the 1912 T202 Hassan Triple Folder

Bender and Thomas shared a baseball card–the 1912 T202 Hassan Triple Folder

The two remained close for the rest of their lives and often appeared together at baseball banquets.  One story Bender always told; the “greatest thrill” of his career, his May 12, 1910 no-hitter against the Cleveland Naps (this version was related in The Trenton Evening Times in 1936).  With two outs in the ninth Cleveland’s Elmer Flick hit a pop-up in front of home plate, the ball initially popped out of Thomas’ mitt before he secured it for the final out:

“Watching Ira juggle that ball and then hold it was my greatest thrill.”

“Calvo has been the Victim of a Cruel and Merciless Conspiracy”

4 Jun

When he signed 18-year-old Jacinto “Jack” Calvo Gonzalez, Washington Senators manager/owner Clark Griffith was no stranger to Cuban players, having managed Armando Marsáns and Rafael Almeida with the Cincinnati Reds, but Calvo’s signing was the beginning of Griffith’s 40-plus year commitment to signing players from Cuba.  During his tenure the Senators signed more than half of the 63 Cuban players in the major leagues.

Calvo was “discovered” while playing with Almendares in the Cuban National League, where he hit .342 in 19 games.  He made even more of an impression during a series Almendares played against the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association, Calvo hit .400 and his older brother Tomas hit .385.

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He also hit .400 during a six-game series with the Philadelphia Athletics, The Associated Press said he didn’t compile those numbers facing minor league pitchers picked up for the series, but “against (Eddie) Plank, (Jack) Coombs, and (Charles “Chief”) Bender.”

When rumors circulated that Washington might have signed Calvo, Bender said:

“I never saw a faster youngster in my life; he can hit too, and looks for the entire world like a class ball player…If Griffith has signed him he will never regret it, for there is no chance for him to be a failure.”

By December of 1912 Griffith had Calvo under contract.  The Pittsburgh Press said:

“The young Cuban sent a letter to Griff, written in Spanish.  ‘They did not teach Spanish where I went to school,’ said The Old Fox, ‘so I can’t translate the missive.  However, as he signed his contract I guess everything is alright.’”

The Boston Red Sox signed Tomas Calvo later in December.

While Tomas never made it in Boston, Jacinto made his debut with the Senators on May 9; he hit only .242, but everyone noticed his arm.  After a June game with the St. Louis Browns, The Associated Press said:

“The youngster astonished the bugs yesterday with his remarkable throwing arm.  At one time he heaved the ball from the right field fence directly to (Germany) Schaefer’s hands at second.”

On August 13 Calvo was sent to the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association and made his first appearance with the team the following day, batting seventh, going 1 for 4.  The Atlanta Constitution said “He’s fast, fields pretty well, throws like a shot and meets the ball squarely.”

Calvo only lasted 10 days in Atlanta.  He was hit on the right arm with a pitch thrown by Charles “Curly” Brown of the Montgomery Rebels.  He was returned to the Senators and did not appear in another game that season.  (Some sources show Calvo with the Long Branch Cubans in the New York New Jersey League—it was most likely his brother Tomas, an infielder, rather than career outfielder Jacinto, who played shortstop for the team in 94 games).

Calvo started the 1914 season with the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League.  After only 11 games (he was 4-8 with one double, one triple and a stolen base) he was sent to the Victoria Bees in the Northwestern League.  Later in the season a story came out explaining his abrupt departure from Los Angeles.

Calvo with the Washington Senators

Calvo with the Washington Senators

The Spokane Spokesman-Review said, “Calvo has been the victim of a cruel and merciless conspiracy,” despite the fact that “in the exhibition games last spring against the White Sox Calvo loomed up head and shoulders above the other Angel gardeners, out hitting them by a wide margin and displaying more speed on the bags than the whole Angel team combined.”

The paper claimed that a female reporter:

“(o)n one of the local papers…dragged out of him the fact that his father was a rich sugar planter in Havana, and that he played baseball for fun and not for money…That was the beginning of the end for little Calvo. “

The story said fans began harassing Calvo, and:

“Instead of coming to his rescue, the players on the Angel team ‘rode’ the boy unmercifully.  It was pathetic to see the friendless little Cuban trying to get into the good graces of his teammates.  One day, in the clubhouse the boy sat down on a bench and cried before them all.  His spirit was broken.”

Calvo hit .289 for Victoria in 1914, and spent the spring of 1915 with the Senators before being release before the beginning of the season.  After his release he played with his brother Tomas for the Long Branch Cubans, by then a member of the Independent Negro League; he also played for Havana in the Cuban-American Negro Clubs Series.

Calvo next played for the Vancouver Beavers in the Northwestern League and the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League, hitting .329 in 1916, and slipping to .263 in 1917. After the 1917 season, the outfielder returned, unsigned, the contract sent to him by Seals owner Charlie Graham.

Calvo had been very popular in San Francisco during his nearly two seasons with the Seals, but was criticised by fans and local press for his holdout, especially because he was holding out on the even more popular Graham.  The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“He sent his terms, and as they were exactly what he asked for before.  (Charlie) Graham is wondering why the Cuban went to the trouble to wire at all.”  The paper criticised Calvo for “asking for more money than he got last year,” while “better players than he have submitted to a salary slash on account of war conditions.”

San Francisco Seals owner Charlie Graham

San Francisco Seals owner Charlie Graham

The Chronicle lamented the fact that Seals outfielder Biff Schaller would miss the entire season with an injury, otherwise “Calvo could have stayed in Havana for all that anyone here cares.”

As it turned out, Calvo did stay in Havana.  For all of 1918 and ’19, not returning to the states until 1920.  Tomorrow–Jacinto Calvo’s return.

The Sad Story of Alan Hill

31 Aug

Alan J. Hill seemed destined for the major leagues.

Nicknamed “Mooney,” he had a mediocre first season as a 20-year-old with the Richmond Colts in the Virginia League (Thirty-five year-old teammate Chief Bender went 29-2 with a 1.06 ERA for the Colts that season).  Hill followed that up with three excellent seasons with the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association.

As a reserve outfielder in 1920 he hit .366.  In 1921, playing in the same outfield as Jim Thorpe, Hill hit .318 in 137 games, and hit .296 in 152 games in 1922 for a terrible Mud Hens team that went 65-101.

Hill moved to the Columbus Senators in 1923 and was the starting centerfielder.  A month into the season he was struggling, hitting .204 through 23 games when he suffered a nervous breakdown.

Nothing is known about the cause of his illness or what his prognosis might have been.  Hill was committed to the Woodville State Hospital in Collier Township, Pennsylvania.

On February 25, 1924 Hill wandered away while working on the grounds with other residents.  The next morning his body was found on the train tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  He was 25.

Hill was most likely buried among the nearly 700 graves marked only with numbers on the grounds of the hospital, which was closed in 1992.

Update:  As noted in the comments, a relative of Alan Hill informed me that he is buried at McKeesport and Versailles Cemetery in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.