Tag Archives: Cleveland Spiders

“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.”

 

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #9

18 Jun

The Business of Bats–1896

The Louisville Courier-Journal said in the spring of 1896 that their city “is now conceded to be the bat market of the world.”

That year, J. F. Hillerich & Son, a company that “was in practical obscurity three years ago,” had already “received orders to manufacture 75,000 bats this season.”

(Many sources, including the Louisville Slugger Museum, say the name change from Hillerich Job Turning to Hillerich and Son took place in 1897, but the names “& Son” and “& Son’s” were used in advertisements as early as 1895)

An advertisement for flag poles which appeared in Louisville papers on the eve of the 29th Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in September of 1895 shows the company name as J.F. Hillerich & Son's.

An advertisement for flag poles which appeared in Louisville papers on the eve of the 29th Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in September of 1895 shows the company name as J.F. Hillerich & Son’s.

“(Hillerich) is known to every ball player of any note in the United States.  A Courier-Journal reporter yesterday afternoon found orders from (Ed) Delehanty of the Philadelphias; (Hugh) Duffy of the Bostons, (Jesse) Burkett of the Clevelands and many other noted batsmen in the little factory at 216 First Street. Eight years ago (James Frederick) Jim Hillerich did not have money enough to buy a wagon load of ash, from which bats are made.  This season his business amounts to more than $50,000 which is done in ball bats alone.

“When a team arrives in the city the first thing the members do is to have a race for this bat factory to select some new ‘sticks.’”

The paper said the company’s output in 1895 had been twice that of 1894 and “The business this year amounts to four times as much as it did last year.”

The ash for Hillerich’s bats was grown in Indiana and Kentucky “and is felled and split by fifty men.  All the bats are hand-turned”

Washington’s Brief Craps Scandal–1891

In June of of 1891 The Washington Herald reported trouble in the ranks of the American Association’s ninth place Washington Statesmen.

The team was playing for their second manager (there would be a total of four that year), the first, Sam Trott had been let go after just 11 games.  The Herald said when Charles “Pop” Snyder was installed in place of Trott “the directors thought they had at last secured a pilot who would successfully carry them through the breakers.”

The team lost 16 of their first 19 games under Snyder and the paper said “steps are being taken to secure a new man to fill Snyder’s place.”

Chief among Snyder’s failing was:

“(W)hen a discovery was made at the grounds by some interested parties.  It was in the morning, and the men should have been practicing in order to better their playing, but instead were found, it is said, engaged in the seductive pursuit of playing ‘crap.'”

The only player the paper named was catcher James “Deacon” McGuire who, at one point during the game was ahead $56.  The Herald quoted an unnamed team official:

“‘We pay them good salaries, from $250 to $350 per month, and they ought to give us good ball.’ observed one director, after exhausting himself in giving expression to some very emphatic language regarding the crap incident.”

Deacon McGuire

Deacon McGuire

One week later the paper said:

The Herald cheerfully publishes this denial:  Manager Snyder makes a plain statement of the case, to the effect that one morning, the day of the extreme heat, while the men were in the shade, umpire (John) Kerins pulled out the ivories and the men in the spirit of fun went at the game.  It did not last ten minutes and it was the only time it occurred during the season.”

Snyder was replaced as manager a month later by Dan Shannon who fared no better (15-34); he was replaced by Tobias “Sandy” Griffin in October.

 The Reason for Baseball’s “Mania”–1869

The Milwaukee Semi-Weekly Wisconsin editorialized on the growing popularity of baseball in July of 1869:

“A few years ago the game of baseball which every male in the land, perhaps, had played from his youth up, was dignified by being elevated into a ‘national game,’ and set off with printed rules and regulations.  Forthwith the sport became the rage of young and middle-aged, and clubs were formed all over the land.  It was suddenly found that the game was just the thing to develop muscle and invigorate the frames of school boys and men of business, clerks and mechanics, sedentary men and farmers.”

The Associated Press gives with the utmost minuteness the score of every match game–no matter though it may have taken place in the obscurest village of the far east.  Across and up and down the continent these reports go side by side with the most important matters of state, of commerce, of international policy, often times taking up more space than news of the greatest moment.”

The paper asked “What has given this sudden impetus to the ‘national game?’ Is it the result of an increased desire for physical culture?  Is it because men feel more than ever the importance of exercise?  Not at all…There is another reason for the mania.”

That reason was gambling:

“We have nothing to say against baseball or any other sport when carried on simply as a recreation; we approve of them and think they ought to be encouraged; but the trouble is they degenerate into a machine for betting , and thus they become the means of corrupting the morals of the youth.  Americans seem to be rapidly acquiring an appetite for betting…This passion for outside  betting is increasing, and this is the reason why these match games are telegraphed over the country with such minuteness…Men bet on an election or a  baseball match who would not go into a gambling saloon for any consideration.”

The conclusion of the editorial was a foreshadowing of the role of gambling during baseball’s next five decades”

“It may be a comparatively small evil to make or lose five dollars upon some kind of match game, but this is only the beginning of an evil which too frequently grows into a magnitude which cannot always be computed.”

 

 

“The Contest is going to be the Hottest in the History of Baseball”

6 Jun

Just weeks into the 1892 season, National League president Nick Young declared the newly expanded league, which absorbed four franchises from the defunct American Association and included the only scheduled split-season in major league history, an unqualified success.

Nick Young

Nick Young

The schedule, which called for the first half to end on July 15, and the second in later October, necessitated starting league play two weeks earlier than 1891 resulting in a large number of early season games being played in inclement weather.

Young spoke to a reporter named Max Ihmsen, who usually covered politics for The Pittsburgh Dispatch, about the state of game

“(T)here is no doubt of the overwhelming success of the new deal.  Considering the wretched weather that prevailed everywhere during April the showing, both financially and as to skill displayed, has been remarkable.  Everyone is making money, and I look for the most successful season ever known in the history of the game.  The reconciliation of the clashing interests, a reconciliation effected during the past winter, has been the salvation of the sport…This year there is every prospect of each club quitting a big winner.  Never before have such games, as are now being put up, been seen.”

Young said an April 19 doubleheader in Chicago, which brought in $4,000 accounted for the league’s highest single-day gate receipts of the season so far.

As for the pennant race Young said:

“The contest is going to be the hottest in the history of baseball.  Everybody is ‘out for blood,’ and at the close of the season I anticipate seeing a tie for every place up to fourth or fifth.  A difference of 10 or 15 games between the highest and lowest clubs will reflect no discredit on the lowest club…All the clubs are in good shape and I expect quite a number of absolutely errorless games will be recorded before the season closes.”

Young got nearly everything wrong.

At the close of the season, Ernest J. “Ernie” Lanigan said in The Philadelphia Record that only two teams (Cleveland and Pittsburgh) operated in the black.  He said their profits were less than $20,000 combined while “ten clubs have lost in the neighborhood of $150,000.”

O.P. Caylor said in The New York Herald the league’s financial state was a “disaster more astonishing than any which have preceded it and knocks the hot air out of President Nick Young’s prosperity balloon, which went sailing up so grandly.”

At a June meeting in New York team owners agreed to cut rosters from 15 to 13, and the salaries for the remaining thirteen players were cut (as much as 40 percent).  At the same time, they increased to 12 ½ percent the 10 percent of gate receipts each club was assessed to pay off the debt incurred to buy out the American association franchises that were not absorbed into the league.

Caylor said salaries would continue to fall and “This is the year when the owners of huge blocks of baseball stock are not classed with the Vanderbilts, Goulds, Astors, and Rockefellers.  Every one of the holders has been ‘touched’ heavily, more or less, by the financial disappointments of the year.”

The Baltimore Sun put it more succinctly:

“The season has been a failure financially.”

The Boston Beaneaters won the first half (52-22) over the Brooklyn Grooms (51-26), after the June roster and salary reductions, the Cleveland Spiders (fifth place with a 40-33 record in the first half) won the second half (53-23) over the Beaneaters (50-26).

Initially, Boston owner Arthur Soden said his team would not meet Cleveland in a post-season series as a result of charges in Boston that his team tanked the second half.  He told Caylor:

“You cannot make a large number of our patrons believe that the Boston club has not purposely lost the last championship for the sake of making money out of a series of finals.  That belief has hurt us to the extent of thousands of dollars during the last half of the season, and unless it be removed will hurt us equally as much next season.  The only way we can remove the wrong impression is by refusing to play.”

Caylor said at the October owners meeting “the rest of the league took up the case and literally forced the Boston club to play…Boston’s refusal to play would do more harm to the interests of the League at large than the Bostons could possibly suffer by the playing of the games.”

The nine-game championship series began with an 11-inning pitching duel between Boston’s Jack Stivetts and Cleveland’s Cy Young that ended in a 0-0 tie.  Boston swept the next five games.

The Boston Beaneaters

The Boston Beaneaters

The split schedule and the resulting longer season were dropped for 1893.

Max Ihmsen, the reporter Nick Young spoke with, became city editor of The New York Journal, a William Randolph Hearst paper, in 1895.  Ihmsen went on to manage Hearst’s unsuccessful campaigns for mayor of New York City and governor of New York; he was also the Hearst-backed candidate for Sheriff  of New York County in 1907, a race he lost to the Tammany Hall-backed candidate.

Ihmsen later became the managing editor of another Hearst paper, The Los Angeles Examiner.  He died in 1921.

“Why don’t you make Latham keep still?”

2 May

After winning the first three games of the 1894 season, the Cincinnati Reds dropped six of their next seven.  The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Harry Weldon said most of the players weren’t “fighters.”

“To be a ‘fighter’ in the sense that this term is applied in baseball does not necessarily mean that you must be a leg breaker, a rib crusher or indulge in billingsgate or profanity to your opponent.  It simply means that your mind must be on the game every minute and every second while it is in progress.  It means that you must watch every movement and point and be alert for any opening, however small.

“The Reds are as gentlemanly a team as there is in the league, and it is to their credit that they are so; but there is such a thing as carrying the matter too far.  There is an old adage about ‘fighting the devil with fire’ that some of our local players would do well to follow.  This advice is apparent.  There are times when ‘Excuse me please,’ and ‘I beg your pardon,’ won’t do.  The men to whom they are addressed don’t know what that sort of language means.  In other words, when you are in Rome do as Romans do.”

Weldon said some players were critical of the behavior of Reds third baseman Arlie Latham.  Latham was a Weldon favorite; the two had been friends since Weldon served as secretary for St. Browns President Chris Von der Ahe while Latham played there:

Arlie Latham

Arlie Latham

“There are a few growlers and soreheads who find fault with Latham for talking too much.  I cannot sympathize with such criticism.  Latham does not coach because he likes it or to be ‘funny’ and ‘work the grand stand,’ as many of his detractors would have people believe it.  I once heard one of the soreheads say to Captain (Charlie) Comiskey: ‘Why don’t you make Latham keep still?’

“’Do you want me to put him out of the game?’ replied the Reds’ captain.

“’No, I only want you to make him stop talking.’

“’Well, if I did that, he might as well be out of the game, for he would lose his interest.’

“Every word of this is true.  Latham is too much interested to keep still.  Hardly a ball is pitched in the game by the Reds’ pitchers that Latham from third base doesn’t have something to say.  Scarcely a movement is made at the bat, on the bases or the coaching lines that Latham doesn’t deliver some wordy instructions.

“He is in the game from start to finish.  He couldn’t be funny ‘to order’ to save his life.  The ludicrous and witty sallies he makes from the coaching lines just bubble out of him.  He doesn’t ‘day dream’ or ‘build air castles’ while a play is in progress as some players do.

“His mind is right on the business on hand.  He is a fighter all over.  There are others on the Cincinnati team who would do well to follow his example.  The Pittsburghs and Clevelands are examples of what fighters can do.  Every member of those teams was in the game all the way through when they were here.  Not a play occurred that they were not on their feet hustling and shouting.  The Reds should fall in beside (Latham) from now on and back him up with spirit and noise.

“Nothing pleases a crowd of local enthusiasts more than a scrappy game.  If you have got to go down, boys, do it with all your banners flying.  Fight it to the last-ditch, and then if you are whipped you’ll know how it occurred.”

Harry Weldon

Harry Weldon

The Reds never started fighting in 1894, and finished in tenth place with a 55-75 record; it was Comiskey’s final season as a major league manager, and his least successful.  The following year he purchased the Sioux City franchise in the Western league, and moved the team to St. Paul.

Latham, who hit .313 in 1894, had his final productive season the following year, hitting .313 for an improved Reds club (66-64) managed by William “Buck” Ewing.

Weldon was sports editor of The Enquirer until he suffered a stroke in February of 1900 at age 45, he died two years later.  Ren Mulford Jr., who succeeded Weldon as editor said:

“No more forceful writer on sports topics ever played upon the keys of a typewriter.”

Alternate Realities

26 Feb

Philip “Leather Fisted Phil” Powers went from respected major league catcher to one of the National League’s most controversial and disliked umpires.

Phil Powers

Phil Powers

One of his most explosive episodes of his umpiring career involved a run in with Reds pitcher Tony Mullane in Cincinnati. The incident took place at the end of a 7 to 4 loss to the Chicago White Stockings on April 30, 1891; Mullane walked ten batters.

The Cincinnati Enquirer saw it this way:

 “Phil Powers’ Very Yellow Umpiring “

The Chicago Tribune:

“Mullane’s Cowardly Assault”

The Tribune said Cincinnati had turned on a local hero:

“That either baseball cranks are devoid of memory or that gratitude does not enter into their composition was amply demonstrated today at the Cincinnati ball park.  Back in 1882 a sallow-complexioned youth wore a Queen City uniform, and by his clever work behind the bat aided in no small way to bringing the only championship banner that ever waved over the Queen City.  That youth was Phil Powers.  Today that same man, grown gray in active service on the ball field in various capacities, was assaulted by Tony Mullane on the ball field after the game and 700 brutes in the stands urged the curly-headed twirler on in his dastardly work, and all because of fancied wrongs at Powers’ hand in today’s game.”

The Enquirer said Mullane was the aggrieved party:

“Phil Powers’ umpiring was something awful.  Mistakes were not the exception; they were the rule.  He gave Tony Mullane a terrible roast.  His miserable work was enough to rob any pitcher of his nerve, but it did not rattle Tony.  He stood up like a hero under Powers’ Jesse James tactics, and pitched ball that would have been a winner under ordinary circumstances.  The Chicagos owe their victory to Mr. Powers, not their own efforts.”

Tony Mullane

Tony Mullane

The papers couldn’t even agree on how much Mullane was fined during the game The Tribune said $75, The Enquirer said $150; the  altercation after was also given a local spin.

The Tribune version:

“After the game was over Powers started across the field with Mullane at his heels pouring out a tirade of abuse which made the air in the vicinity assume a sulfurous odor.  Powers with an expression of scorn on his face walked on towards the clubhouse.

“Mullane, like a tiger lashing itself into a fury, grew more and more angry, until finally he lost all self-control, and drawing back struck Powers in the face with a clenched fist.  The latter immediately increased Mullane’s fine to $250…The scene attracted the attention of the crowd, which, be it said to the shame of Cincinnati, encouraged Mullane’s ruffianly conduct.”

The Enquirer saw it differently:

“Tony Mullane and Umpire Powers had some trouble near the clubhouse.  Powers was to blame for the controversy.  He gave Mullane an awful deal while the game was in progress and then soaked him $150 in fines simply because Tony grumbled and asked him to come closer to the bat and pay more attention to his delivery.  On the way down to the clubhouse Powers said to Mullane in a sort of apologetic manner:  “I couldn’t rob the Chicagos to please you.’

“’Oh, get out,’ said Mullane.  ‘No one asked you to rob them.  I only wanted what belonged to me, and you robbed me bald-headed.’

“Powers said something in return and Mullane replied angrily.  Then Powers put on another fine of $100.  This so incensed Mullane that he drew back as if to assault Powers.  The latter in a most exasperating way put his face right up against Tony and said: ‘I dare you to strike me.’  It was a cowardly act on the part of Powers, for he well knew that if Mullane hit him it would mean disgrace…Mullane almost forgot himself.  It was all he could do to restrain himself.  He simply pushed Powers’ face away.  Then other players separated them.”

The papers did agree on the final total of Mullane’s fines: $250.  Mullane beat the Cleveland Spiders 7 to 4 two days later with Powers as umpire.  The game went off without incident.

Burns “Put the Punishment on Phyle”

20 Nov

After holding out over a temperance clause the Chicago Orphans added to his contract, Bill Phyle finally signed in late March of 1899.  He reported to spring training in New Mexico anywhere from 10 to 30 pounds overweight (depending on the source) and struggled all season to regain the form he showed the previous season.

On April 17 he was beaten 8-0 by the Louisville Colonels in first start.

On April 25 he lost 3-2 to the St. Louis Perfectos.  The Chicago Tribune said “Phyle gave away the game by distributing bases on balls in just the spots where timely hits followed and transformed the favors into tallies that gave the victory.”

William Phelon, The Chicago Daily News baseball writer, disagreed.  He said Phyle’s “work was of sterling quality.”

Regardless, Chicago Manager Tom Burns didn’t give Phyle another opportunity to pitch for more than a month.

Phelon said it was a mistake for Burns to not use Phyle.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said after the team lost seven of nine games in May “it is passing strange that young Phyle is not given a chance.  On last year’s form Phyle is as good as, if not better than (Jack) Taylor.  The paper called Phyle’s performance in the St. Louis game “gilt-edged” and blamed the loss on “comrades that gave the victory to the enemy.”

Finally, on May 28 Phyle pitched again.   He lost 4 to 3 to the Washington Senators; he gave up three runs on five straight hits with two outs in the ninth.

He lost again on June 1, 7-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies.  Phelon’s opinion of the pitcher was unchanged, and said the losses were simply bad luck:

“Phyle has now lost four straight games.  It is Phyle’s luck to be stuck in whenever the other pitchers have won about three straight, and the team is just about unavoidably due to lose.”

On June 5 Phyle did his best pitching of the season–a victory he is not credited with in the record books.

With the Orphans trailing the Baltimore Orioles 3 to 2 in the third inning, pitcher Clark Griffith was ejected for arguing a called ball.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“It was a queer game.  Phyle pitched after Griffith had been benched…holding the Orioles helpless.”

Chicago won 9 to 4.  And while the Chicago newspapers credited the victory to Phyle, the record books do not.

Box score for June 5 game.  Phyle relieved Clark Griffith in the 3rd inning.

Box score for June 5 game. Phyle relieved Clark Griffith in the 3rd inning.

Phyle became ill later the same week, (some sources said it was recurring malaria), a week later he fell off a bicycle and missed two more weeks.  When he returned to the team on June 22, the Boston Beaneaters beat him 5 to 1.

He was credited with his first “official” win on July 1—a game The Inter Ocean called “a comedy of errors,” and a “depressing exhibition.”   He beat the New York Giants 10 to 9, allowing 10 hits and giving up seven runs in the first two innings.  Each team committed seven errors.

Box score of Bill Phyle's only "official" victory of 1899.

Box score of Bill Phyle’s only “official” victory of 1899.

Chicago went into a slump that would last for the rest of the season; after Phyle’s July 1 win the team was 38-24, in third place, and went 37-49 the rest of the way finishing eighth.

Phyle lost again on July 9 and July 24, and rumors began to circulate that he would be released or traded back to Charlie Comiskey’s St. Paul Saints.

On August 6 Phyle lost 10 to 9 to the Cleveland Spiders.  One week later while the team was on the road, The Inter Ocean reported that he “was sent home by manager Burns.”

The Tribune called Phyle “the scapegoat” and said he and three unnamed teammates  “celebrated after beating a horse race at Washington and Manager Burns, to call a halt, put the punishment on Phyle.

Phelon wrote in The Daily News:

“When the club started for Philadelphia he was told to go home ‘You are through young man, go back to Chicago,’ said Burns, and Phyle went back.  He went back in a rage too, and says he will tell (team president) Jim Hart a lot of things. He says that he has been held up to public derision as a drunkard, all season, and that Burns plays favorites, allowing his friends to jag up as much as they wish and turning all the trouble on others.”

Phelon remained supportive of the pitcher in The Daily News, but in The Sporting Life he reported that Phyle, a former boxer, had deserted the team in early August to go to “St. Louis to see a prize fight, and was not on hand when sorely needed.”

While the relationship between Hart and Burns was strained, and Burns would be replaced at season’s end, Phyle’s complaints went nowhere with the team president and he was suspended without pay.

Ten days after Phyle was suspended Phelon reported that the Baltimore Orioles had offered to trade for or buy Phyle,” (John) McGraw has taken quite a fancy to the young pitcher.”  Hart refused to make a deal.

Phyle never pitched for Chicago again, he is credited with a 1-8 record and 4.20 ERA.

The last Bill Phyle chapter—tomorrow.

“Who told you you were a Ladies’ man, Mr. Viau?’

3 Oct

Leon A. “Lee” Viau (pronounced vee-o) was the first player from Dartmouth College to make it to the major leagues.

Listed at only 5’ 4” and 160 pounds Viau was 83-77 in five big league seasons.  The Cleveland Leader said of his time pitching for the Spiders:

“(Viau) with comparatively little speed but with curves well mixed with gray matter, got out of lots of tight places where an ordinary twirler would have been knocked out of the box.”

In addition to having attended an Ivy League school, he was best known for his looks, and for being one of the best-dressed players in baseball.

The Philadelphia Inquirer called him “The Adonis of the diamond.”  When he played for the Patterson Silk Weavers in the Atlantic League The Patterson Weekly Press called him “the Beau Brummell of the club.”

Lee Viau

Lee Viau

A story, perhaps apocryphal, made the rounds in several newspapers during the first decade of the 20th Century about how “the grandstand was filled with ladies…when the handsome Viau was in the box.”

On this particular occasion, as recounted in The Kansas City Star, Viau was pitching for the Spiders against “Cap” Anson and his Chicago Colts in Cleveland:

“The score stood 4 to 2 in the last half of the ninth inning, and in Cleveland’s favor.  There was a Chicago man on second and one on third, while Anson was at the bat.

“He was madly anxious to bring in those runs, and he swung viciously at the first ball pitched. ‘Strike one!’ yelled umpire (Thomas) Lynch.

“Anson gritted his teeth and waited for the next one.  Lee sent up one of those slow, deceptive drop balls for which he was noted, and again Anson swung wildly.  ‘Strike two!’ cried Lynch.

“At this there was a veritable uproar among the female occupants of the grandstand.

“’Strike him out Lee! Oh, do strike him out!’ they shrieked in chorus.

“Hearing these cries, the grim old Anson, with a sneer on his face, sardonically inquired: ‘Who told you you were a ladies’ man, Mr. Viau?’

“Lee maintained a haughty silence, wound his arm slowly about his head and then, taking a wide swing, shot the ball up to the plate, and Anson took the third swipe at it and missed.

“’Now’ remarked Lee, as he advanced toward Anson, ‘I will answer your question.  The same person who told you you could bat.’”

Lee Viau, front row third from right, with 1892 Cleveland Spiders

Lee Viau, front row third from right, with 1892 Cleveland Spiders