Tag Archives: Cleveland Naps

Wee Willie Sudhoff

19 Jun

William “Wee Willie” Sudhoff was in the midst of his best season.  The 28-year-old pitcher, who was 28-52 during his first three major league seasons, was on his way to his first 20-win season for the St. Louis Browns in 1903.

Born in St. Louis, Sudhoff was a local favorite.  The St. Louis Republic said about him signing with the Browns (NL) in 1897:

 

sudhoffpix2

Willie Sudhoff with the Ben Winklers, a local St. Louis amateur club circa 1895

 

“Although he had many chances to play with the big Eastern teams, Willy Steadfastly refused their offers and remained loyal to the city of his birth.”

On August 28, the Browns left Cleveland aboard a train carrying the ballclub and the Cleveland Naps— the teams were scheduled to play a doubleheader the following day in St. Louis.  In Napoleon, Ohio, the engineer misread a signal and the train derailed.

The Associated Press said:

“The Cleveland sleeper (car, the first sleeper on the special train that consisted of a baggage car and two sleepers) turned completely over on one side and the boys on the upper said were thrown over on top of those who occupied berths on the opposite side.”

The rear car, carrying the Browns, ended up in a ditch but did not turn over.

In what The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called, “(A) miraculous escape from almost total annihilation,” no players on either club were seriously injured.

Sudhoff was the most seriously injured player; he had a strained wrist and “had his hand cut,” and missed his scheduled start against Cleveland.

Despite the relatively minor injury, teammates and friends said Sudhoff was never the same after the derailment.

After ending 1903 with a 21-15 record and 2.27 ERA for the 65-74 Browns, Sudhof threatened to leave the Browns two weeks before the 1904 season opener.  The Post-Dispatch said he “Bolted from Browns headquarters,” but returned the same day to sign his contract.  The paper said:

“A baseball catastrophe was averted.”

sudhoffpix

Willie Sudhoff, 1903

By June, Sudhoff, struggling on his way to an 8-15 3.76 ERA season, was accused of underperforming to draw his release.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“This is the gossip of the bleachers, where the deep undercurrents of baseball diplomacy are as an open book.

“Sudhoff bears no more resemblance in his pitching this year to the Sudhoff of last year than a Parish League shortstop to Hans Wagner.  To all appearances, the little twirler is in excellent condition but he fails of delivery as to the goods nearly every time he goes into the box.”

The paper said, “Sudhoff indignantly denies that there is any truth to the story.”

The following season The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said the Browns had cut Sudhoff’s salary for 1905.  Team owner Robert Hedges remained hopeful about his pitcher’s future:

“Willie pitched good baseball at times last year, but he had so many misfortunes during the season that it discouraged him a bit.”

Hedges said two members of Sudhoff’s family had died and that he had also taken care of sick relatives.

And Sudhoff appeared to make Hedges look smart when he shut out the Cleveland Naps in his first start of the season.

He attributed his success to his new “Raising Jump Ball.”  He told The Post-Dispatch:

“It is different from the “raise ball” of Charley Nichols and the “jump ball” of Christy Mathewson but combines features of both.  It passes over the plate at a man’s shoulder and jumping rises, changing its course slightly as it passes him.”

The paper said Sudhoff believed his pitch “will revolutionize the theory of curve pitching.”

The pitch did not turn Sudhoff’s luck around; after winning his first two decisions he went 8-20 the rest of the season.

Beginning in July, it was rumored that Sudhoff would be sold to the Indianapolis Indians in the American Association, but Sudhoff managed to stay in St. Louis for the whole season.  In December he was traded to the Washington Senators for pitcher Beany Jacobson.

The Post-Dispatch said after the trade:

“Sudhoff does not like the stories being circulated about the alleged inefficiency of his arm.”

He told the paper:

“Why should I get out of the game so long as the public and the managers will stand for me?  I am still a young fellow…Watch me next year.”

One of the “stories” about Sudhoff’s arm was reported by The Washington Post:

“A St. Louis critic claims that Willie Sudhoff injured his pitching arm by indulging in too much bowling, which developed muscles that he had no use for in his work on the diamond.”

Sudhoff only lasted until July in Washington, in nine appearances he was 0-2 with a 9.15 ERA.

In 1907 and 1908 Sudhoff signed with American Association teams—the Kansas City Blues and Louisville Colonels—but never played in a regular season game for either.

Sudhoff appeared in one more professional game—he gave up four runs in three innings pitching for the Topeka White Sox in the Western Association in July 1908.

He returned to St. Louis where he sold suits and pitched in the city’s semi-pro Trolley league in 1909 and 1910.

Late in 1911, The St. Louis Star reported that Sudhoff was planning a professional comeback:

“He is working hard this winter to get in shape.  He believes he can regain his cunning.”

The comeback never materialized and Sudhoff took a job as an oiler at the St. Louis waterworks Chain of Rocks Plant until July of 1913.  The Post-Dispatch reported that he had been admitted to St. Louis’ City Hospital, diagnosed as “Violently insane.”

The paper said it took two patrolmen to subdue Sudhoff, who was placed in “a dark padded cell to prevent him from injuring himself.”

According to the report:

“Sudhoff continually calls to everyone who comes within sight, saying he was a professional ballplayer and he will give $5 if the stranger gets him out.”

Mrs. Sudhoff told police her husband “acted queerly” for the previous three months, and “Monday evening he put on his old baseball suit and:

“(C)avorted about the yard, talking continuously about playing with the Browns.”

Sudhoff was transferred to the St. Louis City Sanitarium the following week.

There was speculation about whether it was a beaning in 1905 or the train wreck that contributed to Sudhoff’s insanity.

The paper said:

“Physicians believe (the) old injury to his head is responsible for his condition.”

And while the paper said no one present at the train wreck “(D)o not believe he received a blow serious to cause a permanent injury,”  some of Sudhoff’s former teammates, and Browns owner Robert Hedges “(R)ecalled an eccentricity that developed shortly after the wreck.  From that time on in a Pullman car, he went to bed fully dressed.”

A 1908 article in The Detroit Free Press about the train crash said:

“Sudhoff was so frightened that he could not utter a word for ten minutes, and from that time until he quit the league, ‘Wee Willie’ always sat up all night on a train.  He would do anything to get out of railroad traveling.”

Sudhoff never made it out of the city sanitarium; he died there on the morning of May 25, 1917.

He was survived by his wife and his son, Emmet Wallace, named after Sudhoff’s teammates Emmet Heidrick and Bobby Wallace.

“A little thing like a Presidential Campaign…is Ridiculous to Contemplate”

3 Oct

Frederick R. Toombs wrote and edited books about hockey, wrestling, and the origins of “court games, and was also a novelist and spent the first decade of the 20th Century writing syndicated articles about sports and politics.

Less than a month before the 1908 presidential election, he wrote:

“When a wave of baseball frenzy sweeps over the United States, the most momentous affairs of life and state speedily are thrusted aside.  Nothing must stand in the way of the American citizen who hungers to hear the resounding crack of a home run hit.  A little thing like a presidential campaign in this greatest of all baseball years is ridiculous to contemplate.  Many a big league game in this record breaking year has been attended by upward of 35,000 people.  Who ever heard of a presidential candidate drawing such an audience?”

Toombs noted that on the day John W. Kern was selected as the Democratic nominee; the same day his running mate, William Jennings Bryan “delivered a much-heralded speech on trusts,” the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates,and New York Giants were locked in a three-team battle for the National League pennant:

“The big dailies spread the baseball story across the front page, and Mr. Kern and Mr. Bryan were pushed back among the advertisements.  Mr. (William Howard) Taft and Mr. (James S.) Sherman have suffered in much the same way.  Their lengthy communications in the public are frequently shoved back in juxtaposition to the ‘Help Wanted’ column, and in the choice spots of the papers appear stories relating (to every aspect of the baseball season.”

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

As for the election, he said:

“In fact, whoever is elected to the presidency the defeated man will be fully justified in laying his downfall to the nerve racking races in the National and American Leagues.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

“A season like that now drawing to a close has never occurred before.  The National League (three-team) race…and the American, with Detroit, Cleveland St. Louis and Chicago hacking at each other’s throat (Detroit won the pennant—Cleveland finished ½ game back, Chicago 1 ½, and St. Louis 6 ½) have carried the game to heights of popularity hitherto undreamed of.  The New York National team, for instance, will close the season with almost $500,000 in profits.”

1908 Detroit Tigers

1908 Detroit Tigers

Baseball, said Toombs, had become more than the nation’s most popular sport:

“When the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) said, ‘The Battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton,’ he conveyed an authoritative opinion of the tremendous influence which may be exerted on a nation, a hemisphere, or a world by a form of sport, a mere pastime.  Inferentially one may well say, that according to ‘The Iron Duke’,’ had it not been for the strength giving qualities of cricket, Napoleon would have won at Waterloo and become, without question the arbitrary dictator of all Europe. Baseball in America holds the position that cricket has in England, and the influence of the game on the American people is of even greater importance and significance than ever known of cricket in England…Not only is baseball the national game; it is the national craze.  It is the only and original, pure and undefiled, blown in the bottle brand of Dementia Americana.”

Toombs concluded:

“Campaign managers may fume and fret, but baseball is a necessity; politics is a luxury.”

The Cubs beat the Tigers four games to one in the World Series; Taft beat Bryan by more than a million votes on November 3.

1908 Chicago Cubs

1908 Chicago Cubs

Note:   The phrase “Dementia Americana” had entered the lexicon one year earlier during the trial of Harry Kendall Thaw, who in 1906 killed a man who was having an affair with his wife.  His defense attorney, Delphin Michael Delmas, said Thaw suffered from “Dementia Americana—the sort that makes Americans defend the sacredness of their homes and their wives and children. “ The 1907 trial–the first “trial of the Century”of the 20th Century–resulted in a hung jury. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1908.

 

Nap Lajoie “How I Win”

13 May

Napoleon Lajoie spoke to Joseph B. Bowles in 1910 for one of the syndicated journalist’s series of articles called “How I Win.”

Lajoie said:

“It is hard to tell how any man wins a ballgame, because winning depends so much upon other members of the team.  I think that the biggest factor in winning, in my case at least, is in having what I think is the baseball instinct.  Whether that instinct is natural or acquired, or merely the result of quickness of eye, or what I do not pretend to know.  But I believe that a great part of a ballplayer’s success both in batting and in fielding is the result rather of instinct than of anything else.  Many times players  do things almost without thinking that are exactly right, and many times when they think out a thing carefully they do exactly the wrong thing.”

Napoleon Lajoie

Napoleon Lajoie

But after saying he wasn’t sure how he won, Lajoie decided he did know:

 “As far as I am concerned, I win games by hitting.  It seems to me I always could hit, and in spite of the fact that some pitchers think otherwise, I hit almost any kind of ball equally hard.  I have often wondered why this was.  Perhaps it was natural.  I never want to know what a pitcher is going to pitch and would much rather figure out for myself what ball is coming than have a coacher or anyone else tell me.”

Lajoie said he had determined that his ability to hit was “a natural gift” which required practice to refine:

“Position at the bat is a big thing in hitting.  A batter should be firmly on his feet, with the balls of his feet holding the ground tightly, and he should not shift position while striking. ..I do not try to hit the ball as hard as possible, but rather to meet it squarely, and in this I think a quick and steady eye helps.”

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Lajoie’s eyes

Lajoie said he was “striving always” for an advantage at the plate:

“It is a guessing match between the pitcher and the batter at the best, and experience ought to show a batter just what a pitcher is likely to pitch to him on any given ball.  When runners are on bases batting becomes more of an art…I think my position at the bat and long, steady, sweeping stroke helps me very much in the hit-and-run game, for I am able to hit balls that other batters would miss entirely.  Even if I am certain of missing the ball I swing at it hard so as to cause the catcher to lose a step or a foot or two of ground in making his throw.”

Lajoie

Lajoie

In the end, the man in the midst of a season in which, at age 35, he led the American League in games, at-bats, hits, doubles, total bases, and batting average, said:

“Keen eyesight, close observation and attention to every detail is necessary to win ballgames.  Anyone who grows careless or indifferent ceases to be a winner.”

Addie Joss on Spring Training

21 Mar

From 1906 until his death in 1911, Cleveland Naps pitcher Addie Joss moonlighted as a sportswriter for The Toledo News-Bee and The Cleveland Press.

addiejoss

Joss at the typewriter

Shortly before departing for the Naps’ camp in Macon, Georgia in 1908, Joss gave readers an insider’s view of spring training:

“About the first thing players do when they receive orders to report at a certain place, is to dig up paraphernalia.  Shoes and gloves are saturated in oil or Vaseline to soften the leather and prepare them for the work in sight.”

After his “two or three days…flying southward” on a train, and one day “getting settled,” he said:

“If the weather permits (a player) witnesses his first practice.

“Usually, the first hour or two is spent in tossing the ball around to get limbered up.  Then the manager calls upon one of the twirlers, usually a youngster, to toss up a few slow ones.

“Half an hour’s batting and the men assume their positions on the field. “

Addie Joss

Joss

After a half hour of fielding practice:

“(T)he men hike back to the hotel.  This routine is observed for the first few days, or until arms and legs become accustomed to the unusual exercise. “

Joss said veteran players usually “take it easy” for the first week unless he needs to shed a few pounds:

“If a man is overweight he will rid himself of superfluous flesh by various means.  Some run around the park each morning and afternoon.  Others chase flies until they seem ready to drop from exhaustion.“

Joss said there was no better “means to get into shape” than fielding ground balls:

“It not only loosens and toughens the muscles but gives the individual fielding practice.

“A stranger to this sort of training will be surprised at the good accomplished.  It brings every muscle into play and puts a man into splendid condition in a couple of weeks.”

Attempts were made, he said, to find new ways to keep players interested:

“Last spring, one trainer introduced an association football into camp, and the players found the diversion beneficial.  It produced generous perspiration and took the stiffness out of sore bodies. “

Next, a few “hotly contested” intersquad games between “regulars and colts,” are played, followed by:

“(T)hree games a week…played by the big league club with the organization from the town in which they are training.  This produces the teamwork so necessary.”

Off the field, Joss said it was critical that the team had a good “rubber:”

“An important factor is the trainer, and the team possessing a good handler finds the work much easier.  After 15 minutes in the hands of an expert rubber, a player whose arms and legs were so lame they could scarcely be lifted leaves the room feeling fine and fit.”

Finally, Joss, who was known as a well-mannered, family man—Ed Walsh, who pitched against him the day Joss threw his perfect game beating the Chicago White Sox 1 to 0 in 1908, told The Chicago Inter Ocean after his death that he was “One of the best men I ever met on or off the ball field–” assured readers that no one was misbehaving during the spring:

Walsh and "One of the best men he ever met..."

Walsh and “One of the best men” he ever met

“The players have little time to themselves off the field, and are usually so tired when night comes that they are willing to sit around the hotel until bedtime.”

“You got away with Something that time, Buck”

2 Mar

It will be reviewable by instant replay this season, but in 1914 the “Neighborhood Play” had no name, and its use by one American Leaguer was a big story.

The Chicago Daily News said:

“There is a story going around the circuit which undertakes to show how Buck Weaver, the White Sox shortstop, fooled all the umpires…Buck’s long suit was acting as pivot on a double play, taking the ball from the second baseman.”

buckweaver

Buck Weaver

The paper said when Weaver joined the Sox in 1912, he “noticed that he was often failing,” to turn double plays.

“He lay awaken nights figuring how he could increase his speed in pulling off (double plays), and finally decided that if he could not get the batter no one could, as he was the owner of as strong a whip as any shortstop in the land.

“The solution of the puzzle came to him by accident.  In dashing to second to take a throw from (Morrie) Rath he overstepped the bag and was a stride closer to first than usual when he got the ball.  Instead of stepping back and touching the sack, he made the throw to first base and, much to his surprise, the umpire called both men out.”

When Weaver returned to the dugout, Manager Jimmy “Nixey” Callahan said:

“’You got away with something that time, Buck.’”

Weaver told his manager:

“’I was a whole stride over second when I got the ball.  But say, I could away with it by accident, what’s the matter with trying to pull it off right along when the man at bat is fast and likely to beat me out if I wait for the throw? I can save a quarter of a second or so by going over the bag.’”

The paper said Callahan encouraged him to try it.

“And Buck did.  He worked the trick successfully against the Naps six or seven times, twice in one game with (George) Hildebrand umpiring the bases.

“’He worked it on us several times,’ said Jim McAleer, formerly of the Red Sox, while Clark Griffith admits that Washington suffered the same fate.

“Even Connie Mack was forced to murmur, and when Connie Mack kicks, something must be wrong, and possibly as a result of the protest of the manager of the world’s champions, the umpires will watch Mr. Weaver more carefully this year when he is acting as pivot man in the double play.”

After 1913, when he participated in a career-high 73 double plays, Weaver never played as many games at shortstop, so it’s unknown whether umpires, in fact, watched him “more carefully” when  he attempted the Neighborhood play.

“Probably the ‘Boniest’ Bonehead Play Ever”

22 Jun

While some of the details changed in subsequent tellings, this story stayed substantially the same from when it was first presented in a column by sports writer William A. in 1913, until the final published version in 1957 in The New Orleans Times-Picayune.  One version called it, “Probably the ‘boniest’ bonehead play ever”

The story was told by and told about lefty Evan “Rube” Evans.  Born on April 28, 1890, in Sebring, Ohio, Evans was a career minor league pitcher who, when the story first appeared, seemed to be headed to the big leagues. 

Rube Evans

Rube Evans

The tall–he was reported by various sources as anywhere from 6′ 2″ to 6′ 4″–began his professional career with the Dallas Giants in the Texas League in 1910; he was 15-12 for the pennant winners, but The Dallas Morning News said he didn’t “take baseball seriously” until the following year, when he was 18-16 for the Giants:

“Before that, it seemed, the big, husky flinger looked at playing baseball something in the light of a joke.  Last season, though he came back into the game with a different viewpoint. He seemed to realize that ball playing was a man-sized business.”

After his 1911 performance, Evans’ contract was purchased by the New York Giants, and he joined the team for spring training in Marlin, Texas in 1912.  The Morning News said if he maintained his new found focus “and works as hard as he knows how to work he ought to stick.”

Evans quickly impressed the Giants with a pitch “takes a most freakish break,” according to The Washington Times:

“Rube Evans, the Giants left-handed recruit pitcher from Dallas, surprised bot Manager (John) McGraw and Coach Robby (Wilbert Robinson) by showing them a curve that is entirely new to the big league…The ball is delivered in exactly the same manner as the spitball, but he does not moisten it.”

The paper did not elaborate on how Evans’ “dry spitter” was different from versions reported on during previous seasons–including the one thrown by Christy Mathewson of the Giants–but according to The New York World, “McGraw says he will try and teach it to Rube Marquard.”

Despite his “dry spitter,” Evans failed to make the team and was returned to Dallas where he posted a 22-12 record for the Giants.

In 1913, he joined the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association but appeared to be headed to the Cleveland Naps before he threw a pitch in the regular season for the Pelicans.  In March, Evans shut down the Detroit Tigers 3 to 1 on five hits and followed that up with a four-hitter (and 3 to 1 victory) against the Naps.

The Cleveland Press said, “(Naps Manager Joe) Birmingham plans to cut down his squad considerably.  It is said recruits (Hugh) Peddy, (Pete) Shields and (Ward) McDowell will be left here in trade for one good pitcher, probably Southpaw Rube Evans.”

With Evans apparently on the verge of joining the Naps, the story of his “bonehead” play was told by Phelon, then repeated widely:

“(Evans) has one curious habit—a trait which has aroused much wonder on the part of every manager under whom the southpaw has been toiling.  When given an order by his manager or captain, Mr. Evans always stops, cocks his ears, and demands a repetition of the directions.  Naturally he is first taken for a simp, or bonehead, but when further acquaintance with him shows that he is a gentleman of intelligence and high mentality, the field leaders are muchly puzzled.

“’I always want my orders repeated,’ quoth Mr. Evans, ‘so that I will never again make such an error.”

(The 1913 version of the story, which quotes Evans,  places the incident in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, some later versions say it happened in 1913 with the Pelicans, still others say it was in Portland, Oregon; however, the original publication predates Evans’ time on the West Coast which did not begin until May of 1914).

Evans said he had pitched into the ninth inning when the opposing team put a runner on third with one out, when his manager told him if the other team attempted a squeeze play to “bean him.”  Evans said:

“’I knew no more what a squeeze play was than the man in the moon, but my orders rang in my ears as I started winding up.  Just as a swung up my arm, the fellow on third tore for the plate…I took careful aim at the oncoming runner, and pickled him with a fine shot to the back of the cranium.  Three seconds later the crowd was coming towards me with roars of fury, and I got over the back fence just in time.

“’Well how was I to know that I should have hit the batter and not the runner?  Ever since I have insisted on duplicate orders, so that I would know just what to do.’”

His acquisition by Cleveland never materialized and he had a disappointing 12-15 record in 1913, in a season split between New Orleans and the Birmingham Barons.

It is also in question whether Phelon’s characterization of Evans as a “gentleman of intelligence and high mentality,” was entirely accurate given his inability to stick with clubs who were impressed with physical abilities.  After his second chance to pitch in the majors didn’t materialize, the remainder his of career was marked by long stretches of mediocrity, charges of bad behavior and comparisons to another left-handed “Rube.”

In August of 1913, he was suspended for the remainder of the season by the Birmingham Barons for, according to The Birmingham Post-Herald, “Failure to keep in condition.”  The Sporting Life’s Chandler Richter called him “Erratic,” The Oakland Tribune said he was”Eccentric,” a wire service retelling of the “beanball” story from 1915 said he “earned a nationwide reputation as a ‘squirrel,” another called him “the real eccentric,” when compared to Rube Waddell.

The other left-handed Rube

The other left-handed Rube

His two-year tenure with the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) began when he wore out his welcome in New Orleans in May of 1914 and was sold to the Beavers.  It was particularly rocky.  The Spokane Daily Chronicle said Evans and Beavers manager Walter “Judge” McCredie “got along like a pair of strange bulldogs.” He was suspended at least once, again for the euphemistic “failure to be in proper condition,” and gave up a game-winning home run to Jack Ness of the Oakland Oaks when he accidently threw a pitch over the plate while attempting to intentionally walk Ness.  At the close of the 1915 season, Portland let him go for what The Portland Oregonian called “His inability to take care of himself.” Of his 9-22 record the paper said:

“Rube ran into gobs of adversity.”

After leaving Portland, Evans played parts of three seasons for the Salt Lake City Bees in the PCL–in 1917 he was 21-9, but when McCredie was named manager of the Bees in 1918, Evans time with the team was nearly over.  Before the season, The Oregonian said, “Evans did not take kindly to the idea of having to take orders” from his former manager and was threatening to jump the club.  He finally did jump in June after appearing in 14 games and posting a 3-8 record.

Evans went to Portland and finished the 1918 season in the semi-pro Shipyards League, The Oregon Daily Journal said upon his arrival:

“Rube Evans was through at Salt Lake and McCredie was probably saved the trouble of wearying his hand by writing out Rube’s release, when Rube left.”

In 1919, he played for the Rupert franchise in the semi-pro Southern Idaho League; while successful, his reliance on the emery ball for his success didn’t make him friends.  The Twin Falls Times said:

“When Rube Evans lugged the emery ball into the S.I.L. he failed to do anything beneficial to the league.  Rube will win a few more games for the Rupert club, but he has lowered the standard of sport in the league.”

Evans had one more season in professional baseball, posting a 10-7 record with the Regina Senators in the Western Canada League in 1920.  In an August 15 doubleheader against the Edmonton Eskimos Evans was ejected for arguing with the umpire while facing the second batter of the first game; he came back to lead the Senators to 5 to 3 victory in the second game, giving up two runs in 7 2/3 innings, and hitting a three-run home run in the sixth.

Rube Evans

Rube Evans

After the 1920 season, he returned to Ohio and spent the next decade playing semi-pro baseball there and in Western Pennsylvania.  His last headlines came in 1924 when he pitched six innings for the Sharon (PA) Elks team in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees.  The Elks lost 10-8, Babe Ruth went 2-4 with a double for the Yankees.

Evans’ playing days ended in Akron, Ohio.  He pitched for and managed the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company team, and stayed on with the company as a rubber worker.  He died on January 30, 1950.

A clue to some of Evans’  erratic behavior is contained in his death certificate.  The pitcher spent the last three and a half years of his life in Ohio’s Cambridge State Hospital; his cause of death was listed as “General Paresis,’ brought on by syphilis.

A shorter version of this post appeared on June 3, 2013

“Why not bring one of the Big League Teams to Phoenix for Spring Training?”

18 Feb

Grover Cleveland Land was a visionary.

In 1921 The Arizona Republican asked the question the former catcher had put to several major league clubs:

“Why not bring one of the big league teams to Phoenix for spring training?”

Land, a Kentucky native who spent the last 40 years of his life as a Phoenix resident,  was encouraged by a report that Connie Mack had announced that his Philadelphia Athletics would no longer train in Lake Charles, Louisiana;  according to The Associated Press Mack said “certain things happened at the Louisiana resort last March that handicapped” the team.

Grover Land

Grover Land

Land, the former catcher for the Cleveland Naps and the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, said:

“I have played ball in every section of the country, and I have yet to find a climate more suited for baseball training than I find right here in Phoenix…Major league managers have been sending their players to Texas and other southern states for many years and I can safely state that there is not one manager entirely satisfied with the present training camp sites.  Fully one-third of the training period is hampered by rain and storms and by the time the training season is ended the players are just beginning to round into shape.”

He said he understood that “local boosters” had made some effort to bring teams to Arizona in the past—the Chicago White Sox, Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates had played spring exhibition games in the state several times since 1909—but Land said he would “make an effort to induce one of my manager friends to come down here…I am certain that if one of the managers could be induced to come here for a few weeks Phoenix would have no difficulty getting on the sport pages.”

He said the local chamber of commerce was getting behind the push, and that he had “already written to one of the major league managers and I have been corresponding with several sports writers in the east,’ to make the case for Phoenix.

“If the local fans get behind the move and convince Connie Mack that they want his team here next spring I have every confidence that the Philadelphia Athletics will do their 1922 training in Phoenix.”

Land was a bit overconfident in regard to Philadelphia; Mack chose to take the Athletics to Eagle Pass, Texas in the spring of 1922.

No team would train in Arizona until 1929—the Detroit Tigers came to the state for one season—but chose California the following year.

The Detroit Tigers in Arizona, 1929

The Detroit Tigers in Arizona, 1929

But Land, who died in 1958, lived long enough to see his adopted home become the spring training location for four clubs.

“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.

“The Annual Spring Typhoon has Blown up Again”

10 Nov

In 1906, despite being, on paper, the best team in the American League, the Cleveland Naps finished in third place, five games behind the Chicago White Sox.  The club had three twenty game winners—Addie Joss, Bob Rhoads, and Otto Hess—and four regulars who  hit better than .300—Napoleon Lajoie, William “Bunk” Congalton, Elmer Flick and Claude Rossman,

As the 1907 season approached, Grantland Rice, of The Cleveland News said the team was now a victim of the success of individual players:

“The annual spring typhoon has blown up again—only a bit worse than ever.  In nearly every big league camp well-known athletes are breaking into loud roars over the pay question, and there promises to be quite a batch of trouble before the storm is cleared away.  In this respect Cleveland heads the list, although Napland owners have one of the highest salary lists in the game.  Up to date Joss, Rhoads, (Terry) Turner and Congalton have balked, while neither Flick nor Hess have returned a signed contract.”

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

Rice said the club’s negotiations with Joss and Rhoads were at an impasse, and “just how it will end is a matter of uncertainty.”  The news of the team’s trouble signing their stars led Rice to a discussion of “just how much a major leaguer is supposed to receive for his work each season.”

“When a youngster breaks in he is never given less, or at least rarely so, than he received in his minor league berth.  His pay is boosted the greater part of the time, so the average debutante’s pay roll ranges closely around $1,800 providing he is recognized as a first class man.

“If he delivers the goods his first year out he can figure on about $2,000 or $2,200 for his next season, and then if he becomes established as a regular, his income should be somewhere in the immediate vicinity of $2,500.

“From this point upward it all depends on their rankings as stars.  You hear considerable about $5,000 contracts and better, but as a matter of cold, clammy fact, but few athletes draw over $3,000 or $3,500 at best.

“In the epoch of war salaries $3,500 or $4,000 was a fairly common figure—but no more.

“A high grade slabman along the order of Joss, Rhoads (Nick) Altrock, etc…will rake in about $3,000 now.  In his weekly letter in a Toledo paper (The News-Bee), Joss stated that he was offered $3,000 for his season’s work, but that he demanded more—just how much he didn’t say.

“George Stone drew $3,000 or there abouts last season and now that he has fought his way to the premiership in the School of Slugs he demands $5,000, at which figure Mr. (Jimmy) McAleer balks strenuously.  (Johnny) Kling also asks for $5,000, which sum Charley Murphy says he will not receive.

“From this list we jump to the drawing cards of the game such as Lajoie, (Honus) Wagner, (Wee Willie) Keeler, (Christy) Mathewson, etc…

“Lajoie’s figures range somewhere above $8,000 and something shy of the $9,000 mark.

“Wagner is supposed to draw $5,000 for his work.

“If reports sent out from New York are true, Keeler’s yearly ante is close to $6,000, while Mathewson draws in about the same.

Hal Chase won’t miss $3,500 very far.

“But the high-priced teams are not pennant winners by a jug full.

(Charles) Comiskey and (Connie) Mack hew closer to the line than any others in Ban Johnson’s circle, and yet these two have won more pennants than all the rest put together.  In fact, they’ve gotten away with all but the two which Boston nailed.

“Mack had one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest team in the American League through 1905, the last year he copped the pennant.  Comiskey’s world champions of 1906 were far below Cleveland, New York or even Boston, from the salary standpoint.

“It looks funny to figure the cellar champions of a league paid more than the holders of the world’s title, but if all the figures were given out, the White Sox payroll would loom up under Boston’s to a certainty.

“The full salary cost of running a big league club varies from $40,000 to $50,000, or maybe $55,000 a year.

“A set of figures somewhere between $45,000 and $50,000 would probably hit at the higher average.

“There was a time when Boston’s payroll was close to $70,000 and (Clark) Griffith’s was only a notch below—but this golden era for the ballplayer has passed.”

According to The Washington Post, Joss had earned $3,2000 in 1906 ($2,700 and a $500 bonus), the biography, “Addie Joss:  King of Pitchers,” said he was paid $4,000 in 1907—Joss, who was 21-9 with a 1.72 ERA in 1906, followed that up with a league leading 27 wins (against 11 loses, with a 1.83 ERA) in 1907.

Addie Joss

Addie Joss

Fellow twenty game winners Rhoads and Hess both saw their production slip (15-14, 6-6), and only two regulars—Flick .302 and Lajoie .301—hit better than .300, and the team’s batting average slipped 28 points from the previous seasons.

The Naps finished fourth in 1907.

“The Fans there Like me. I Think so Anyway.”

31 Oct

In 1909 the Cleveland Naps traded pitchers Charlie Chech, Jack Ryan and $12,500 to the Boston Red Sox for Cy Young;  Young would turn 42-years-old before the beginning of the season.

Young was happy with the trade and told The Cleveland News:

“I’m glad to get back to the city where I started my career in 1890.  The fans there like me.  I think so anyway.  I believed they pulled for me there when I pitched against their own team.  I will give (Napoleon) Lajoie all I have and I think I’m good for several years.”

Cy Young

Cy Young

Addie Joss, the Naps ace, was also happy about the trade:

“Not only has Cleveland secured one of the best pitchers in the game today, but at the same time has added to the club a man who has done much for the good of baseball, and who is honored and respected everywhere he has ever played.  I have always contended, and always will, that Cy is the greatest pitcher the game has ever produced.”

Elmer Ellsworth Bates, the sports editor of The Cleveland Press, told some stories about the Indians new pitcher.

Ellsworth said a visitor to Young’s farm in Paoli, Pennsylvania asked the pitcher which of his then 478 victories did he “recall with the most satisfaction.”

“’The first game I ever pitched for Cleveland, back in 1890 (an 8 to 1 victory August 6),’ replied Old Cy, unhesitatingly.  ‘I doubt if a base ball crowd ever looked on a more typical rube than I appeared to be that day in a makeshift uniform six or seven sizes too small.  I didn’t have much money then, but I would not have lost that game to Chicago for the prettiest $1,000 bill ever printed.”

Bates said Young was “probably the most modest ‘big man’” in the game:

“At the Colonial (Hotel in Cleveland) one day last summer a young man took a chair next to the great pitcher and began paying him fulsome praise.

“’You are the swiftest pitcher I ever saw,’ he said.

“’Then,’ said Old Cy.  ‘I guess you never saw Amos Rusie.  My fastball looks like a slow freight trying to keep up with the Twentieth Century Limited Express compared to Rusie’s.’

“’But your slow ball is a peach.’

“’Young man,’ remarked Old Cy, gravely.  ‘If I could pitch the slow ball Eddie Beatin, the old Cleveland twirler, used to hand up to the batters I’d let them knock $1,000 a year off my salary.”

Bates also said it was “a matter of record” that Young was unaware he had pitched a perfect game against Connie Mack’s  Philadelphia Athletics on May 5, 1904:

“’I knew Connie’s boys hadn’t made a hit,’ said Old Cy the next day, but I couldn’t understand why the crowd was making such a demonstration.’

“’Well you’ve done it,’ said (manager and third baseman) Jimmy Collins, as we started for the dressing room after the crowd had let me go.’

“’Done what, Jimmy?’ I asked.  ‘Pitched a no-hit game?’

“’Better than that; not a man reached first.’

“’Then I knew what the racket was about.’”