Tag Archives: Cleveland Spiders

“Who’s the Greatest Ballplayer that Ever Lived?”

13 Mar

In the 19th Century, conversations about baseball in hotel lobbies

The Chicago Daily News shared one such discussion in 1896:

“’Who’s the greatest ballplayer that ever lived?’ Demanded the old ball crank of the gathering at the hotel.  And there were, straightaway, almost as many opinions as there were gentlemen in the party.”

A man in town on business said:

“To my mind, Anson outranks them all.  When you consider the wonderful grip which Anse has retained on the sport for all these twenty-five tears, when you take into consideration his qualifications as a player and as a man, his work as a leader and a general, the great batting he has always done every little point that can be recalled about both uncle and the game, I can’t see where any other player, living or dead, ranks with Anson.”

anson

 Anson

The paper said there were murmurs, then the night clerk weighed in:

“Mike Kelly was his ideal.

“‘Poor old Mike,’ said he, ‘had baseball genius and brilliancy to an extent never paralleled.  He had the mind to originate, the ability to execute.  He was, in the hearts of the masses, what John L. Sullivan was to pugilism.  Remember the tricks he worked, the batting and the base running he did, and the way in which he filled every position—remember only his methods of play, if you will, and then see if any one can compare with poor dead King Kel!’

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 Kelly

The “theatrical man” in the group said:

“’Bill Lange is the best that ever came down the road.  Who is there who does not like to see Lange play ball? What other player in the league, taking batting, base running and fielding into account, is as of as much value as Lange? What club would not eagerly give him the best position and the best salary it could command?  Bill Lange is destined to leave a mark in baseball history as deep as that Mike Kelly made, and future generations will speak of him as they do of Kelly now.’”

Then the “Old baseball crank” spoke up:

“’To my mind gentlemen, the greatest player of them all was Charlie Ferguson of Philadelphia.  There was a man who never realized how good he was.  When it came to effective playing, in any position, Ferguson was the man who could step into the gap so well that the regular man would never be even missed.  He could kill the ball, he was fast on the bases, and we all know he could pitch.  And the head that Charlie Ferguson wore was as good a head as ever decorated any player’s shoulders.  I saw hundreds of great players before Ferguson came, I have seen hundreds since he died, but I never to my mind at least, have seen his equal.’”

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Ferguson

The assembled men said the paper, “remembered the time of Ferguson,” with “nods and mutterings of assent,” thinking of Ferguson’s four seasons in Philadelphia—he died just 12 days after his 25th birthday in 1888.

 “Jim Hart, who ought to be a good judge of players, thinks Ferguson the greatest that the world has ever known. A canvass of ball cranks would probably show sentiments about equally divided between Ferguson and Mike Kelly.”

The paper concluded that there were, and would be, “few such popular idols” as Kelly and Ferguson:

“The increased batting has, queer as it may seem, done away with hero worship.  In the old days hits were few and the man who could step up and kill the ball was a popular king.  Nowadays the fact that nearly everybody is apt to hit takes away the individuality and accompanying romance of the great isolated sluggers.”

The paper said Lange was one of the few contemporary players who “comes as near being the subject of hero worship,” as players in previous years and that there were only players who had that impact in their own cities:

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Lange

“(Jesse) Burkett might be worshipped in Cleveland for his grand batting, but is handicapped by morose, unsociable ways.

‘(Jimmy) McAleer’s fielding would make him an idol, but his batting is pitifully light.  Baltimore’s great hero is Hughey Jennings, and the cranks treat him as though he owned the town. Brooklyn has no heroes.  There is nobody on the Boston nine whom the crowd raves over, even Hugh Duffy having lost his grip.”

“Eddie Burke and Charlie (Dusty) Miller have great followings in Cincinnati.  Louisville dotes on (Charlie) Dexter and Fred Clarke.  New York is idolless.  Philadelphia gives ovations to the whole team as a matter of principle but singles out no player.  Pittsburgh is the same way.  There is nobody at St. Louis or Washington whom the crowds adore.”

“A Baseball Player is Unfitted as a Rule for Business”

8 Mar

When the Baltimore Orioles obtained pitcher John Clarkson from the Cleveland Spiders for pitcher Tony Mullane, Clarkson chose to go home to Bay City, Michigan and open a cigar business.

Ned Hanlon did not give up on Clarkson returning to baseball; in fact, the Orioles’ manager was sure Clarkson would need the job in 1895.  He told The Baltimore American:

“I am confident John Clarkson will be on my staff of pitchers next year.  John is now running a store up in Michigan, but I hear he will have the same experience which befalls all players who embark in business.  I fitted up a hat store in New York in 1889 and did all I could to establish myself.”

clarkson.jpg

Hanlon failed and he assumed Clarkson would as well.

“‘Every man to his trade,’ is the best plan for getting through life.  A baseball player is unfitted as a rule for business.  I found that I could not get rid of a stock of out-of-style hats as easily as I did some of the back-number players who were drawing salaries from the Baltimore club when I took charge of it.”

Hanlon bragged of unloading “faded stars” like George Van Haltren and Tim O’Rourke who he traded in separate deals for Hughie Jennings and Joe Kelley.

“Yes, John will be back in the business next year and will help us to retain the championship.  He knows that we treat our players right.  John will get a new lease of life after this long rest and be all the better for it.”

Clarkson’s business–along with three subsequent ones he started were successful enough to keep him out of major league baseball for good.  Hanlon managed to win another pennant without him in 1895.

“That big Lopsided man can Pitch”

4 Mar

Leonard Washburne, who wrote for The Chicago Herald and The Inter Ocean was another influential early baseball writer who died young—he was just 25.

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Leonard Washburne

He was killed in October of 1891 while riding in the locomotive of a Chicago and Eastern Illinois train with two other members of The Inter Ocean staff.  The three newspapermen and one member of the train crew were the only four fatalities in the wreck which took place in south suburban Crete, thirty miles outside of Chicago.

The Chicago Daily News said the train “struck a misplaced switch and the locomotive plunged through an engine house.  The engineer and the fireman jumped and saved themselves, but the three newspaper men were killed.”

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Newspaper Rendering of the Crash

Washburne was sports editor at The Inter Ocean for less than a year, and left behind a small but colorful collection of observations:

When Harry Stovey was injured in a series in Chicago early in the 1891 season:

“Stovey dragged his six feet up to the plate like a man with one foot in the grave.”

On Amos Rusie:

“Rusie! He is not a handsome man.  His legs lack repose, his fists are too large for their age, his face is a clam-chowder dream, and his neck is so inextensive that he can not wear a collar without embarrassing his ears.

“But how that big lopsided man can pitch.”

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Amos Rusie

When the Philadelphia Phillies snapped an eight game Chicago Colts winning streak, shutting out the Colts 3 to 0 on May 23, 1891:

“Maharajah Anson, who for eight days has been looking toward the pennant without pause was jerked to a standstill yesterday with a noise like a hook and ladder truck striking a beer wagon.”

Jim “Tacks” Curtiss made his debut with the Cincinnati Reds in July of 1891–he only appeared in 56 major league games, 27 with the Reds and 29 with the Washington Statesmen in the American Association–but drew Washburne’s notice:

“Mr. Curtiss is a medium-sized man with a comic-opera mustache and a mouth so full of teeth that he looks like the keyboard of a piano.”

Of Patsy Tebeau’s fifth place Cleveland Spiders, dropped their third straight game to Chicago during an August 1891 series:

 “(His) men wandered through the contest like men who have no idea of winning but hope to last four rounds.”

On Cy Young:

“Young is a big, slack-twisted lob, who throws a ball like a man climbing a stake-and-rider fence, and who will retain that indefinable air of the farm about him as long as he lives.”

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Cy Young

Of Brooklyn fans:

“There is nothing else under the administration like a Brooklyn ball crowd.  A Boston assemblage may be mildly enthusiastic; a New York crowd insanely unfair; a Cleveland one a mob of hoarse-voiced wild-eyed fanatics; but the memory of them all, when one sees a Saturday afternoon Brooklyn crowd, withers and fades away like a flannel shirt. No team was playing at Eastern Park when the late Mr. Dante wrote his justly celebrated “Inferno.” Hence the omission If Dante could have dropped in at Mr. Byrne’s Brooklyn joint before he wrote that book it would have given his imagination a good deal of a boost.”

One year after Washburne’s death, a delegation of more than 500 boarded a Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad train to Clinton, Indiana, to dedicate a monument at his grave.

monumentwashburne.jpg

Washburne’s one-time colleague at The Inter Ocean, and best friend, future Congressman Victor Murdock said at the dedication:

“I do not believe that any here who knew him had a feeling that could be called respect and admiration only There was an element of strength in him that did not brook so short a stop.  It was not respect, not admiration.  It was love—deep, strong, everlasting love.”

Years later, William A. Phelon, who was a 20-year-old reporter for The Chicago Daily News at the time of Washburne’s death, wrote in The Cincinnati Times Star that “every press-stand is full of keen-witted, clever boys who make their stuff entertaining and interesting ” as a result of Washburne’s influence.

“One of the Greatest Shortstops the Game has ever Known.”

26 Dec

Ed McKean had played 12 years in Cleveland before being part of the mass player transfer to the St. Louis Perfectos before the 1899 season.  The career .302 hitter was struggling, and according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer, he requested his release:

“Ed is very sensitive to criticism, and the papers have been roasting him lately, until he got into such a nervous state that he couldn’t play ball a little bit.”

Buck Ewing said he was “forced out of the game,” and “one of the greatest shortstops the game has ever known.”

McKean’s release opened the door for Hall of Famer Bobby Wallace’s switch to shortstop.

mckean

Edward [sic Edwin] J. McKean

McKean, like his former teammate Cupid Childs had a large build, and according to the St. Louis papers needed to shed a few pounds to get back into playing shape.

The St. Louis Republic said McKean intended to spend the next several months preparing to “play in Cleveland” the following season.

McKean, said The Buffalo Courier, had a “peculiar stand at the bat,” which “often balked” pitchers

“Instead of striking the conventional side or profile position in the batman’s box.  McKean gave the twirler a three-quarter view of his burly figure.”

The paper also said before becoming a ballplayer McKean had made a name for himself as a wrestler—contemporary news accounts occasionally referred to him as “Sandow,” because of his physique; a reference to Eugen Sandow the “father of modern bodybuilding”

McKean filled his time away from baseball by becoming a wrestling and boxing referee in Cleveland—if he was looking for a job that shielded him from criticism, he chose wrong.  McKean served as referee for at Cleveland’s Business Men’s Gym, between Art Simms and Tommy White in December on 1899.  The St. Louis Republic described the situation:

“Sandow Ed McKean, the burly grounder-copper, who secured a divorce from St. Louis on the ground of incompatibility of temperament, finds life as a referee of pugilistic encounters no less a bed of roses than playing short before a critical local crowd…Experts and common spectators asseverate that White was a winner by a mile, but Sandow fumbled the points of the game, let the strikes registered by White go over without calling them, and said it was a draw.  The people yelled for a rope, and McKean thought he was again staggering at short in League Park…It was not the hated yet harmless ‘Take him out!’ that was heard, but ‘Hang the robbing rascal.’”

McKean was accused of “being in cahoots” with Simms’ manager, who the paper said was a former Boston sportswriter who McKean knew from his playing days.

White hailed from Chicago, and one of his hometown papers The Inter Ocean was even harsher in their assessment of McKean.  The paper claimed:

“(White) took Mr. Art Simms in hand and administered probably the most terrific beating that had been handed out to a pretentious lightweight in recent years…(but) McKean, who used to be a fair sort of infielder, under Patsy Tebeau, called the bout a draw.”

The Chicago paper not only questioned McKean’s integrity but claimed that three of the four recent fights he had refereed “have been marked by decisions almost as ludicrous.”

Curiously, both papers failed to mention that Simms had participated in three of the four fights in question—coming away with a 2-0-1 record for the three bouts (Simms was 33-14-9 for his career and 5-0-1 in fights officiated by McKean.)

Throughout the 1900 season McKean’s imminent return was reported—usually bound for the Cleveland Lake Shores in the American League.  The Sporting News said in June:

“McKean is hard at work practicing to get into the game.  He goes to League Park every day, and the way that he works indicates that he is not out there for fun.”

Cleveland used six different shortstops during the 1900 season, but McKean was never signed.  Published reports that he would sign with the New York Giants never materialized either.

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McKean

His sitting out the entire season might have saved a life—while working at his bar The Short Stop Inn on St. Clair Avenue and Seneca (present day Third Street) in Cleveland in August of 1900, he, according to press reports, stop a potential lynching.

The Cleveland News said a news boy threw a rock at a black man, and when the man confronted the rock thrower:

“(Twenty) news boys took up the trouble. They followed the negro threatening him until he turned on them (near McKean’s saloon).”

Another confrontation took place in front of the saloon and “a volley of stones were fired at” the man who then ran into McKean’s business.

“Other newsies joined their companions until 150 boys were standing in front of the place.  Their noise attracted a crowd of men and all became excited when they explained that a negro had attacked them.

“’It’s nothing but a boys fight,’ said McKean, trying to quiet the crowd.  But he did not succeed.  Men and boys collected stones and clubs, and the situation was becoming dangerous when McKean took the negro out the back way while employees guarded the front entrance.  McKean boosted the man over the back fence and he made his escape through Noble Street.”

McKean spent all of 1901 managing his bar, working as a referee—without any further charges of crookedness—and training wrestlers; Although The Cleveland Leader reported in the spring that McKean was again working out at League Park and had “many offers from the American League.”

He finally returned to baseball in 1902, signing to manage and play first base for the Rochester Bronchos in the Eastern League.

McKean hit .314 but the club struggled all season and The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said McKean had for some time “wanted to be released from the team” to attend to his bar.  His wish was granted on August 18—with the team in sixth place with a 42-53 record, he was replaced by Hal O’Hagan—the team went 15-21 under O’Hagan.

McKean returned to his bar, managing wrestlers, and umpiring amateur games in 1903 and 1904, all the while, promising another comeback.  Several newspapers reported he was either considering, or on the verge of joining various minor league clubs as manager.

He returned again in 1905.  McKean signed to manage and play shortstop for the Colorado Springs Millionaires in the Western League. He struggled at the plate—hitting .191 in 22 games–and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said his arm was gone and he was “slated for the junk pile.”  Released by Colorado Springs in June, McKean appeared with seven more teams through the 1908 season: the 44-year-old called it quits for at the end of the 1908 season.

McKean refereed the occasional fight, organized semi-pro teams around Cleveland, and maintained his bar, which was the meeting place for baseball, boxing, and wrestling fans.  At some point he appears to have closed his bar and gone to work for Cleveland boxing promoter

When he died in 1919, The New York Sun noted that McKean was:

“(O)ne of four big league shortstops who had a life’s average batting .300 or better.  Jack Glasscock, Hughie Jennings, and Honus Wagner were the others, and it might be added that this quartet were classed as the greatest shortstops in the game.”

“Cuppy’s Coolness”

13 Jun

Chief Zimmer said:

“It would be interesting to know how many games Nig Cuppy ever won for Cleveland by sheer coolness.”

He told The Cleveland Press in 1904:

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Chief Zimmer

“I have caught him in many an important game, but I never saw him give the slightest indication of nervousness, no matter how critical the situation.”

To illustrate Cuppy’s “coolness,” Zimmer told a likely apocryphal story from an 1895 game—the details don’t match any game from that season:

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George “Nig” Cuppy

“At Baltimore one day we had the Orioles beaten 2 to 1 in the first half of the 11th inning.  In their half the Baltimores got three men on bases with two out.  Then came up Hughey Jennings, who generally managed to get hit with a pitched ball about every other time at bat (Jennings led the National League in HBP from 1894-1898 and holds the all-time record, 287).

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Hughie Jennings

“Two strikes were called and then three balls, the crowd meanwhile going into a delirium of delight.  Then Cuppy beckoned to me and I started in to meet him.  Naturally, I thought he wanted to discuss the kind of a ball to serve Hughey net, but all he said was:

‘”Give me a chew of tobacco, and be —– quick about it.’

“’I handed him a big handful of fine cut then went back to my position.  Jennings was fairly bending over the plate, hoping to be hit with the ball and force in the tying run.  Cuppy, cool and collected, looked up for my signal, and I called for a waist-high ball straight across.

“The smack of the ball in my glove was simultaneous with Umpire Tim Hurst’s incisive ‘three strikes,’ and the game was over.

“’That’s fine tobacco, Chief, said Nig as he came in.  Where do you buy it?’”

“Robison Laughs at Pitcher George Cuppy’s Threat”

8 Jun

George “Nig” Cuppy staged an unusual holdout before the 1897 season. He sent a letter to a friend in Cleveland which was published by The Cleveland Press:

“Before leaving the country I thought it best to write briefly in the way of explanation. You will not see my name in any score card this summer—possibly never again. I intend to enlist with a party of friends in the Cuban army. I expect to leave Logansport (Indiana) for Cuba December 26.”

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Cuppy

Cuppy said he would join the Cuban rebels—who had just lost their highest ranking officer Lt. General Jose Antonio Maceo y Grajales–fighting for their independence from Spain.  Cuppy, whose middle name was Maceo, was often referred to by sportswriters as “The Cuban Warrior,” or “The Cuban Hero,” because of his famous namesake.

The following day, The Cleveland Plain Dealer talked to Cleveland Spiders owner Frank Dehass Robison about Cuppy’s plans:

“President Robison laughs at pitcher George Cuppy’s threat to join the Cuban army.  He doesn’t for an instant entertain the idea that Cuppy is serious in his announced determination to go to the rescue of Maceo’s followers.”

Robison said:

“I am at a loss to know how we can fill his place. You see, Cuppy has for a long time been working on a big enterprise.  He proposes to build a hotel and has a great scheme to save on the ground lease.  He intends to have only one room on a floor and to build the hotel 126 stories high.”

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Robison

Robison said Cuppy’s building would include 125 elevators so “guests will be saved the annoyance of stopping,” and said that his pitcher had attempted to get him to invest in the plan:

“’It seems he was unsuccessful, for this is what I hear from him,’ and Mr. Robison handed out a telegram, under a Logansport date which read as follows:

“’I’m off for Cuba.  Will sell my hotel scheme to (General Valeriano) Welyer (Spanish Governor of Cuba) for Spanish hospital.  Cup.”

Robison might not have taken Cuppy seriously, but others did.  His hometown paper, The Logansport Journal said:

“(Cuppy’s) friend turned the letter over to a newspaper correspondent, who telegraphed he news far and wide…And now George’s troubles have fairly begun.  He received letters by the dozen yesterday from fellows who want to join his party.”

Cuppy might have preferred Cuba.  After winning 120 games in his first five seasons, Cuppy hurt his arm in 1897 and won just 42 games in his final five seasons.

“In Chicago, the Baseball Slump is what the Crank would call Disgusting”

8 Jun

Oliver Perry (OP) Caylor of The New York Herald came to a conclusion in August of 1892 that many have shared before and since:  baseball‘s best days were behind it.

O.P. Caylor

O.P. Caylor

Earlier,  National League President Nick Young had declared 1892—featuring an expanded twelve team circuit after the collapse of the American Association and just weeks into the only scheduled split-season in major league history—an unqualified success.

But now, into what Caylor called “A Dog Days Depression,” reality had set in.

“Much has been said since the League’s second championship season opened (the second half began July 15) about the renewed interest which was alleged to have sprung up and was keeping pace with the new season.  It has taken no more than a month to prove that this so-called revival was an illusion.”

Caylor noted that there was brief uptick in attendance in games played in Eastern cities during the first three weeks of the second half:

“(B)ut before the teams started west the same old rut of passing indifference seemed to be struck.  And nowhere in the west thus far has there been a sign of a promising revival.”

Caylor pointed to two cities as evidence of baseball’s bleak state;

“In Chicago, the baseball slump is what the crank would call disgusting.  People of that progressive center have use for nothing but the best, and Uncle (Cap) Anson this year has not succeeded in giving them such an article in baseball.  The great general has done the best possible, handicapped as he was in the beginning of the season by the poor allotment of players from the Indianapolis (Hoosiers, the defunct American Association franchise) consolidation pool.”

Cap Anson, 50 errors in 1876

Cap Anson

Caylor blamed most of Anson’s problems on a weak middle infield:

“(Jimmy) Cooney, his shortstop, turned out a sudden complete failure and he has never been able to successfully fill (Fred) Pfeffer’s vacant shoes on the nine.  Any team which is weak at short field and second base is bound to be weak all over, and that is the condition of the Chicagos.

“The old man has been experimenting on new material with more or less success and less success than more.  But by the time he gets his men into what he is pleased to consider championship form, the season will be so far spent that he will have no chance to arouse the chilled pride of the army of Chicago baseball ‘rooters.’”

Caylor said Anson had some optimism for “next season.”

“Maybe the Chicago club can well afford to waste this year whipping together a winning team for 1893.  For next year, the World’s Fair (The World Columbian Exhibition) should be bring a small fortune to the treasury of the Chicago club if they can get a winning team together by that time.  Yet there are those who will argue that the World’s Fair is bound to be a financial injury than a benefit to the Chicago club under any circumstance, and the argument is based upon baseball experience in Philadelphia during the year of the Centennial (1876).”

World's Colombian Exhibition

World’s Colombian Exhibition

 

Caylor said even, A. G. Spalding, former White Stockings president, felt the fair “will be a financial burden” on the team.

Spalding believed:

“(T)hat for every visiting stranger who will be attracted to the ball grounds three resident patrons will be kept away by the unusual demand upon their time by excessive business.”

But Caylor said, his former home was in even more distress than Chicago:

 “Cincinnati, the best-paying city of the circuit during the first half of the year, has become financially alarming.”

Cincinnati had suffered as a result of the National League’s cost cutting measure agreed upon in late June, which resulted in rosters being reduced from 15 to 13 players and across-the-board pay cuts of 30-40 percent for all players.  The Reds best pitcher, Tony Mullane, quit as a result of the cuts.

Tony Mullane

Tony Mullane

“The sorry slump in baseball interest at Cincinnati is another exemplification of that old moral taught by the fable of the ‘Hen Which Laid the Golden Egg.’ I know it is modern usage to speak of the golden egg producer as a goose, but my Latin book called it a hen.  As applied to the Cincinnati case it makes little difference whether we call it a hen or a goose…The Cincinnati club’s hen was laying golden eggs regularly through the first season.  The newspapers put the club down as a sure winner financially.  Then came the greed mentioned in the fable.  The officials thought they saw a way to squeeze  the old hen into more active and valuable work, and on the squeezing they killed her.”

As a result of the pay cuts:

“Cincinnati patrons became disgusted.  For the sake of saving a few thousand dollars in salaries while working at a profit, this club had thrown away its chances to win the second championship.  Nobody who understands human nature need wonder the result.”

Cleveland, home of the second half champion Spiders, was the only town where Caylor said the “national game is appreciated.”   But even that, he said was temporary and favorable financial conditions were “a question of considerable doubt.”

The 1892 season was a disaster for Chicago—on and off the field—they finished 70-76, in seventh place, and attendance dropped by more than 72,000 from the previous season.

While Cincinnati led the National League in attendance, the club lost money.

But, contrary to Caylor’s gloomy outlook, the league—after dropping the spilt-season format—bounced back well in 1893.

In Chicago, where Anson put an even worse product on the field—the Colts were 56-71—predictions that the Columbian Exhibition would destroy attendance were wrong.  Aided by the opening of a new ballpark in May, the club drew the fourth-largest attendance in the league—223,500—more than doubling their 1892 numbers.

Cincinnati’s attendance dropped by just 2200 fans despite a disappointing season where the team hovered near .500 all year and finished sixth.

National league attendance increased by nearly half a million from 1892 to 1893.

While baseball was not on a long-term decline, Tony Mullane was.

He returned to the Reds in 1893, but the 34-year-old was never the same–259-187 with a career ERA below 3.00 before his departure, he was 25-33 with a 5.74 ERA after.

The Decline of Baseball, 1899

8 Jan

Late in the 1899 season, The Chicago Tribune editorialized on the state of the game.  The paper was convinced that baseball’s best days were behind it:

“Once upon a time this city put on mourning when its ball club lost a game and when the club returned from a victorious tour it had a Dewey welcome.  Men left stores and offices to go to the ball field.  They knew the players on the home team and exulted in their powers.  There is no more of that.  There is no longer any civic pride in the local team.  Business men no longer attend the games.  In this city and in other cities baseball has ceased to be a high-class sport.  It has become a low-grade pastime.  It is patronized by the class of people who are interested in bicycle races, long-distance pedestrian contests, gamblers, horse races and poolrooms.  Baseball, once the sport of men and women of taste, is now the diversion of hoodlums.”

As for why the game was no longer of interest to “men and women of taste,” The Tribune said:

“There is no room for doubt as to what has pulled it down from its former high state.  Commercialism in part has done it.  The players have become chattels.  Teams are bought and sold and are transferred from city to city as if they were livestock.  The men who are playing in Chicago this year may be playing in Cleveland or New York the next.  That cuts up all sense of local pride in a club…There have been teams which really belonged to Chicago.  Of late years, there have simply been organizations of hirelings whose owners instructed them to hail from here.

“Professional baseball is in the hands of a few men whose sole object is to make all they can out of a sport they have ruined.  There is no competition among them.  That championship, in the winning of which cities took so much pride once, has become a farce.”

The actions of Frank DeHass and Martin Stanford “Stanley” Robison was a particular source of the paper’s ire. The Robison brothers, owners of the Cleveland Spiders, purchased the bankrupt St. Louis Browns and transferred Cleveland’s best players, including Cy Young, Nig Cuppy, and Jesse Burkett to the St. Louis club, now called the Perfectos.  What was left of the Spiders finished with a 20-134 record.

 “Sometimes one man owns two clubs and makes draft on one to help out the other. If it becomes evident that Cleveland must be at the tail of the procession, its best men are shifted over to the St. Louis organization, both being under one ownership.  Requisitions are made on Baltimore for the benefit of Brooklyn and on New York for that of Boston.  No city can have any feeling of city proprietorship in a club under such circumstances.”

The 1899 St. Louis Perfectos

The 1899 St. Louis Perfectos

The behavior of fans was of equal concern:

“Rowdyism has come in along with commercialism and has finished what interest was left in the game. Quiet, decent people can no longer go to baseball games because of the vulgarity and ruffianism displayed there.”

The Tribune felt current players were of lower moral character than those of the previous generation:

The morals of the players have deteriorated.  They used to try to behave like sportsmen.  They act now like foul-tongued bullies.  When a question comes up for the umpire to settle, the players surround him and blackguard and threaten him.  He is fortunate if he escapes without bruises.  Fair decisions cannot be expected from a man in danger of being mobbed.  Occasionally the contending players come to blows and the spectators, who went to see a game of ball, have to witness a game of slugging, garnished with profanity.”

How low had the game gone?

“Baseball has fallen so low that gamblers do not think it is worth paying any attention to.  They have not dropped it because they fancy it is not ‘on the square,’ but because it has become an uninteresting, second-class sport.  It does not interest them now any more than a race between professional bicyclists does.  Baseball has become a recreation of the people whom commercialism, vulgarity, and Rowdyism do not displease.”

The Tribune continued their crusade against the “uninteresting” sport a month later, with an “account of the more disgraceful of the many rows witnessed by spectators of baseball games.”

“The Phillies were Somewhat Crippled by the absence of Roy Thomas”

14 Sep

Charles “Chief” Zimmer was acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies to play for and manage the team in 1903; it was assumed he couldn’t do worse than Bill Shettsline who led the team to a 56-81 record the previous season.  He did.

Unlike nearly every other “Chief” in 19th Century baseball, Zimmer had no Native American blood and various stories have circulated as to the origin of the nickname.  His 1949 obituary said:

“In 1886 he joined Poughkeepsie as captain and manager…”since we were fleet of foot we were called Indians.  As I was the head man of the Indians somebody began to call me “Chief.”  It stuck.”

The Pittsburgh Press said in 1904:

“Zimmer received his sobriquet as ‘Chief’ because of his facial resemblance to an Indian, although he is a German.”

Zimmer was one of the best catchers in baseball for more than a decade.  He had brief trials in the National League with the Detroit Wolverines and American Association with the New York Metropolitans from 1884 and 1886, and was playing for the Rochester Maroons in the International Association in 1887 when his contract was purchased for $500 by the Cleveland Blues of the American Association.

zimmer

Chief Zimmer

Zimmer was the starting catcher for the Blues when the team moved to the National League and became the Cleveland Spiders in 1889, and remained in Cleveland until 1899.  In 1890, he caught 111 straight games; which was the Major League record for 19 years.

By January of 1903 the 43-year-old’s best days were behind when Philadelphia acquired him on waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates and named Zimmer manager.

After a 2-2 start, the Phillies never saw .500 again and Zimmer quickly lost control of his team.

The team went into June with an 11-26 record.  Things got worse that month in Cincinnati when Zimmer put the team’s captain,  centerfielder and leadoff man Roy Thomas into the lineup–Thomas was  a devout Christian who did not want to play on Sundays.  The Philadelphia Record said:

“Manager Zimmer had some trouble getting Roy Thomas to play in the Sunday game, he claiming that he had not contracted to play on Sunday, and that he had no desire to break the Sabbath.  In the end, however, Zimmer prevailed and Thomas went into the game.”

The Philadelphia Times said Zimmer talked to the team’s new owner, James Potter, who was reported to have said:

“So he won’t play today, eh?  Well, then place him on the bench today, tomorrow and for the remainder of the season, without pay.”

Thomas relented, but told reporters before the game::

“I’m playing under protest.  There’s nothing in my contract that exempts me from playing on Sunday, but when I signed it I had no idea that the Philadelphia Club would change hands and abandon old precepts.”

The following Sunday, with the Phillies in Chicago, The Associated Press (AP) said:

“Thomas made his protest doubly strong and backed it up by staying out of uniform that day.”

After Philadelphia’s 4 to 2 loss, The Chicago Tribune said:

“The Phillies were somewhat crippled by the absence of Roy Thomas who does not like the new ownership of the club, because it believes in Sunday games. which Roy does not.”

As a result The AP said,  other players on the slumping team suddenly found religion.

“Now several other members of the team declare that they are as much opposed to playing baseball on Sunday as is Thomas and that their religious scruples are just as strong as his.”

The article quoted an unnamed member of the Phillies:

“(I)f the club insists on showing partiality to Thomas the others who also object to playing on Sunday, but who are willing to help out the club, will insist on the same privileges.”

Zimmer faced a full-blown revolt as they prepared to embark on a 19 game road trip:

“All of which portends a pleasant trip in the West for Zimmer when he starts out again.”

The Philadelphia papers did not continue to pursue the story during the Phillies’ 4-15  road trip, but it seems that for the remainder of 1903 Thomas backed off of his demand as he appears in box scores for several Sunday games in the final three months of the season.

Roy Thomas

Roy Thomas

The Phillies limped to a 49-86 seventh place finish, seven less victories than the previous season under Shettsline.  Zimmer was dismissed at the end of the season and was replaced by Hugh Duffy.

Thomas’ Sunday request was granted the following season, with manager Duffy making most of his appearances as a player in 1904 on Sundays when his centerfielder took the day off.  There is no record of teammates complaining about Thomas’ Sunday schedule under Duffy’s management.

Regardless of the team’s new-found harmony, the Phillies under Duffy finished 52-100.  Potter sold the team after the 1904 season to Bill Shettsline.

A shorter version of this story was posted 12-18-2012.

 

11,297,424

12 Sep

The Chicago Tribune baseball writer Hugh Fullerton was fond of saying:

“Once upon a time there was a baseball bug down in Cincinnati who figured out there were 11,297,424 possible plays in baseball.  This, of course, was counting only straight and combination plays and taking no account of the different kinds of fly hits and grounders, which all are different.  He proved it conclusively and the next day the team made one that wasn’t on the list.

“Every play, every throw, every hit is different.  That is why baseball is the national game, and there are freaks in the game that make even the case hardened regular sit up and yelp with surprise and joy.”

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

Fullerton made a career of telling stories about those plays; some might have even been true.

A few more of them:

“Philadelphia lost a hard luck game to Cleveland in the old twelve club league.  The score was close, Philadelphia had two men on base, and Ed Delehanty was at bat.

“He cracked a long drive across the left field fence—a sure home run.  The ball was going over the fence high in the air, when suddenly it changed its course, dropped straight down, hit the top of the fence and bounded back into the lot.

Ed Delahanty

Ed Delahanty

“The crowd, which had given up in despair, was astonished.  The Cleveland left fielder got the ball and, by a quick throw, cut down the runner at the plate and Delehanty was held at second.  The next men went out and Philadelphia was beaten.

“Investigation after the game proved that the ball had struck a telephone wire reading to a factory just outside the grounds.”

Tom Corcoran had one of the oddest baseball experiences in the history of the National League at the old Eastern Park grounds in Brooklyn years ago, in a game against Boston.  The game was played on the morning of Labor Day, and there had been a hard rain the night before.  In the early part of the game Corcoran, going after a ground ball, felt his foot slip and his ankle turn, and, half falling, he stopped the ball and then fell.  He turned to pick up the ball to throw out his man, and saw no ball—although there was a hole six inches across, into which his foot had plunged.  The runner, reaching first, stopped and saw Corcoran with his arm plunged to the elbow in the ground, and after hesitating a moment, he ran on down to second.

Tom Corcoran

Tom Corcoran

“Corcoran, meantime, had been thinking.  His fingers were clutched around the ball, and yet he waited, pretending to be groping for the ball.  The runner started on, and as he passed, Corcoran dragged the ball out and touched him out.”

“One of the funniest plays I ever witnessed was pulled off on the old Baltimore grounds along in 1896, and it was good-natured, happy Wilbert Robinson who made the blunder that resulted in the defeat of the Orioles when they might have won the game.

Wilbert robinson

Wilbert Robinson

“The struggle was between Chicago and Baltimore and it went into extra innings.  In the eleventh, with a Chicagoan on second Doctor Jimmy McJames made a wild pitch, the ball shooting crooked and bounding around back of the visitors bench with Robby in close pursuit.  The ball rolled back of the water cask and disappeared.  Robby made one frantic grab back of the cask, and then, straightening up, hurled a sponge full of water at McJames, who was covering the plate.  The Doctor grabbed it, and as the water flew all over him he tagged Jimmy Ryan…In spite of the fact that the play beat Baltimore, the crowd yelled with delight over it, and Robby, who had made the sponge throw as a joke when he found he could not get the ball in time, appeared as much pleased as if he had won the game.”