Tag Archives: Cleveland Blues

A Thousand Words—Deacon McGuire’s Left Hand

14 Jun

mcguirehand

 

James “Deacon” McGuire caught more than 1600 games in a career that spanned parts of 26 seasons between 1884 and 1912.  He broke every finger on both hands and suffered thirty-six separate injuries to his left hand.  In 1906, his x-ray was acquired by the New York papers after yet another injury.

The New York World said doctors were “amazed to see the knots, like gnarled places on an old oak tree, around the joints, and numerous spots showing old breaks.”

Deacon McGuire

Deacon McGuire

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #4

22 May

A Ballplayers Hands

Joe Ardner played second base in the National League for the Cleveland Blues in 1884 and the Cleveland Spiders in 1890; he played another 12 years in the minors.  In 1888 he was with the Kansas City Blues in Western League and provided the following explanation of the care and maintenance of an infielder’s hands:

“A ballplayer’s hands should not be hard, they should be soft.  When my hands are in perfect condition they are almost as soft as a lady’s.  Hard hands on a ballplayer will crack and get sore, but when the skin is pliable and tough there is little danger of the hands bruising, cracking or puffing.  Some folks imagine a ballplayer’s hands to be as hard as a board, but they are wrong.”

Joe Ardner

Joe Ardner

They have realized that the Umpire is Almost Human

National League President Harry Clay Pulliam was very pleased with how civilized his league had become by 1908.  In an interview with The Chicago Tribune he said:

“The game is getting cleaner all the time.  Why, I’ve only suspended about half a dozen men this year, to about forty last year, and I want to say that the players are trying harder to keep the game clean…They have realized that the umpires are almost human.  It’s business with the player now, and they’re banking instead of boozing…It’s a grand game, clean, wholesome, and it’s the spirit of contest that gives it its virility.  Civic pride is another vital adjunct to it.  Every town likes to have its own team a winner.  Sort of local pride or another form of patriotism, I call it.”

Harry Pulliam--National League President

Harry Pulliam–National League President

Soo League Night Games

The Copper Country Soo League was recognized as a league for the first time by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues in 1905; its last season in operation.  The four-team league located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was made up of mining towns along the Soo Line Railroad: the Calumet Aristocrats, the Sault Ste. Marie Soos, the Hancock Infants and the Lake Linden Lakers.

Nearly no records or roster information survives, other than that three future Major Leaguers played in the league: Donie Bush and Fred Luderus played for Sault Ste. Marie and Pat Paige played for Calumet.

In an effort to boost sagging attendance in June, the league first  attempted to merge with the Northern League, and when that effort failed announced a scheduling change.

The Duluth News-Tribune said:

“An innovation…will be introduced by managers of the clubs comprising the Copper Country Soo League.  Owing to the peculiar conditions which exist in some of the cities, it has been decided to play some of the games after supper as an experiment as it is believed the attendance will be larger.”

The Chicago Tribune‘s Hugh Fullerton said:

“(I)n the copper country baseball depends on miners for support…the plan proved quite a success…The miners would come out of their shift at 6 o’clock, the games were called at 6:30 and finished about 8:30 at twilight.  There were few games called by darkness.”

While the move helped three of the teams at the gate, the Sault Ste. Marie Soos failed to draw fans and disbanded late in August.

Calumet won the championship, and along with Hancock and Lake Linden  merged with the Northern league to form the Northern-Copper Country League–Calumet won the league’s first championship in 1906, playing a schedule of day games.

 

Future Phillies star Fred Luderus was a 19-year-old rookie with the Sault Ste. Marie Soos

Future Phillies star Fred Luderus was a 19-year-old rookie with the Sault Ste. Marie Soos

Crazy Schmit

9 May

In 1913, Giants manager John McGraw, wrote an article that ran in newspapers across the country, in which he made the case that baseball had “practically eliminated the ‘bad actor,’” citing the World Series and the development of the game as a business as the primary factors.

McGraw said many of the players of his day “had paths worn from the ballpark to some favorite saloon and back to the grounds.”  McGraw singled out one player in particular to make his point.

Frederick “Crazy” Schmit pitched for parts of five seasons for five different American and National League teams from 1890-1901, posting a career record of 7-36.  (Schmit’s name was almost universally misspelled by contemporary newspapers–the misspellings have been corrected in quotes that reference him).

Crazy Schmit

Crazy Schmit

McGraw wrote (and likely embellished) about Schmit, who was his teammate in 1892 and ’93 and who he managed in 1901 with the Baltimore Orioles:

  “(W)e had a pitcher named Schmit generally and aptly called ‘Crazy’ Schmit.  His habits were nothing for a temperance society lecturer to dwell upon as an example…I called (Schmit) into a corner the day before the first game (of a series with the Cleveland Blues) and told him that I wanted him to pitch the next afternoon and asked him to get into good shape.  He said he would be out there with everything on the ball.  That was one thing about him—he never knocked his own ability.

“But Schmit’s notion of preparations did not coincide with mine.  I learned afterwards that he went directly from my lecture to his favorite loafing place and remained there telling his friends what he would do to Cleveland the next day.”

McGraw claimed that Schmit fell down on the mound (there’s no contemporary report o confirm it) and:

“Those were the days of quick action, so I rushed into the box from third base where I was playing, sore enough to do anything.

‘Get out of here.’  I yelled at him ‘You are released.’

“He laboriously regained his feet, and with ludicrous dignity walked out of the pitcher’s box and toward the exit of the park.  As he left he whirled on me and exclaimed dramatically: ‘I go to tell the world that the great Schmit has been released.”

McGraw said the pitcher only made it as far as the same tavern he had been at the day before, “and we had to send his clothes to him.”

John McGraw

John McGraw

McGraw wrote that before he released Schmit he used a tactic he later tried with “Bugs” Raymond; withholding money from the pitcher to keep him from spending it on liquor:

“After a time I began to miss baseballs in great numbers from the clubhouse and my suspicions were aroused, so I followed Schmit when he left the grounds one night…Schmit proceeded to a corner and mounted a soapbox which he produced from the bushes nearby, and then he pulled five or six league balls, partly used, out of his pocket and began to auction them off as ‘genueen leeg balls.’  For some of them he got as high as $5 apiece.  Or rather, he received $5 for the first one, and then I interrupted him and took the rest away.”

Schmit was released by the Orioles on June 10, 1901; he continued to pitch in semi-pro and outlaw leagues for more than a decade and worked as a scout–for the New York Giants, managed by John McGraw.

Another “Crazy” Schmit story tomorrow.

“Leather-Fisted Phil”

12 Apr

“Leather –Fisted Phil” is what Phillip J. Powers was called in his 1914 Associated Press obituary which said:

“(Powers) was famous for his ability to stop the swiftest throws of the league’s star pitchers.”

He most likely earned the nickname in 1877 when, like many other catchers of the era, he began using a small, leather pad on his hand while with the London Tecumsehs of the International Association.

After the London team disbanded in August of 1878 Powers joined the Chicago White Stockings.  According to The Chicago Inter Ocean:

“He is a tall young fellow…He is described as a good catcher, but liable to get hurt, fair at the bat, and a genial man on the grounds.”

Powers would spend parts of seven seasons and 155 games in the National League and American Association with the Boston Red Stockings, Cleveland Blues, Cincinnati Red Stockings and Baltimore Orioles, hitting .180.  In between his engagements as a player Powers was an umpire.

It was as an umpire that he made a name for himself, but it probably wasn’t what he had in mind.  Few umpires, even in an era when members of the “profession” were poorly trained and underpaid, were the target of as much criticism as Powers.

In 1881 he began the season as a National League umpire.  By July he had become a target in several cities,

The Detroit News said:

“Phil Powers has acquired reputation enough in the last two weeks to last him a lifetime.  The erroneous umpiring he did here, people were inclined to regard as errors of judgment, but to say the least his ‘mistakes’ have become so numerous that his utter unfitness for the position he holds is unquestioned.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer took the criticism even further:

“Powers is said to have been offered $150 to play ball (for the Detroit Wolverines) for one month, but refused it.  As an umpire he cannot, if square, earn more than $15 or $20 a week and expenses; and must take the chance at that of being chosen an umpire.  He preferred to be an umpire.  Several of his decisions on Saturday were grossly unfair, and, what is worse, they bore heavily on Cleveland.  They were so one-sided that many of the spectators believed he deliberately purposed to give the game to Troy.”

Despite the ill feelings in Cleveland, Powers joined the Blues in August and caught five games for the team after Michael “Doc” Kennedy was injured and John Clapp was “called away by an illness in his family.”   He finished the season with the New York Metropolitans in the Eastern Championship Association.

Powers again became a full-time player from 1882-1885, and was part of the Red Stockings American Association championship team in 1882.  He was released by Cincinnati in July of 1885, signed with the Baltimore Orioles and was again released the following month.

1882reds

1882 Cincinnati Red Stockings, Phil Powers standing 2nd from left

Powers was signed by the St. Louis Browns in the spring of 1886, but released before the beginning of the season, and was added to the National League umpiring staff in August.  He again worked as an umpire through the 1887 season, left to return to London, Ontario to manage the Tecumsehs in the International Association, but again returned to the National League as an umpire in August of 1888.   He came back just in time to find himself in the middle of a controversy involving two Hall of Famers.

New York Giants catcher/captain William “Buck” Ewing was hit on the wrist by a ball during a game with the White Stockings in Chicago.  In 1888 the opposing team’s captain had to agree that an injury was serious to necessitate a substitution; Chicago’s “Cap” Anson said he did not agree to a substitution when backup catcher “Big Bill” Brown entered the game in the 6th inning.  Anson appealed to the umpire, and according to The Chicago Inter Ocean, “(Powers) said that Captain Ewing was not so badly hurt that he could not play.”

After a heated argument, during which The Inter Ocean said Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner,” Powers declared the game “forfeited to Chicago by a score of 9 to 0.”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Powers had been involved in a similar situation in 1886, refusing to allow Philadelphia Quakers catcher “Deacon” McGuire to leave a game after an injury.  The Chicago Tribune said Quakers captain Arthur Irwin “told McGuire to catch ‘away back’ (from the plate).” The Tribune said Irwin’s actions created a “scene” and “pandemonium reigned,” until Anson agreed to allow Philadelphia to replace McGuire.  White Stockings President A.G. Spalding “preferred charges against umpire Powers” for losing control of the game.

The substitution rule was changed in 1891, putting an end to controversies regarding the replacement of injured players.

But controversies involving Powers continued.  More on Monday.

“It is Not as Though they were Men of High Honor”

1 Apr

As the 1879 season drew to a close, The Chicago Inter Ocean lamented that the fourth place White Stockings, despite “the receipts of the year,” would only “have between $2,000 and $3,000 on the right side of the balance-sheet.”

According to the paper, the Cincinnati Reds would lose at least 8,000; the Boston Red Sox and Troy Trojans were both $4,000 in the red, the Cleveland Blues and Buffalo Bisons lost “a little,” while the National League Champion Providence Grays made “a little.”  The Syracuse Stars were “completely wiped out;” the franchise would be replaced by Worcester in 1880.

What was the reason for the lack of profits?  The Inter Ocean said it was those over paid players,:

“The folly of paying men from $1,000 to $1,800 for six months work.  It is not as though they were men of high order, who had spent large sums of money in training for a high profession…On the contrary, the best of them are nominally farmers or mechanics, who at their legitimate business are worth from $30 to $40 a month, and that is all they worth at baseball.”

Hall of Famer Jim O'Rourke hit .348 in 1879, "worth from $30 to $40 a month."

Hall of Famer Jim O’Rourke hit .348 in 1879, “worth from $30 to $40 a month.”

After all, The Inter Ocean said, “a majority of them are simply ‘hoodlums.’”’

“There is no league player who is a good investment, simply as player at over $2 a day and expenses…For a captain, a man of good executive ability, more might reasonably be paid.  The executive capacity should demand an extra remuneration above the manual labor supplied by the ordinary player.

“Players are now so plenty that there is no need of the usual insane rush for engagements.  This season has shown that cheap men can do no more nor no less than high-priced men—that is, fall all to pieces and lose everything.”

1879 National League Champion Providence Grays

1879 National League Champion Providence Grays