Tag Archives: Cleveland Spiders

Crazy Schmit in Cleveland

10 May

Crazy Schmit pitched for the Cleveland Spiders in 1899; compiling a 2-17 with a 5.86 ERA for the 20-134 last place team (in Schmit’s defense the 1899 Spiders were one of the worst teams in history, losing 24 straight at one point, and Schmit’s ERA was a half of a run better than the team ERA).

The pitcher had grown tired of his nickname “Crazy,” and of references to his behavior as “tacky.”  After being called both by The Cincinnati Enquirer in August, he responded:

“I have stood this sort of thing just about long enough.  I am neither tacky nor crazy, and without wanting to throw any flowers at myself, I will make the statement that there is not another left-handed pitcher in the business who used as good judgment when pitching as I do.

“Furthermore, I am the only left-hander in the business who has an effective slow ball.  Some of these ten-thousand-dollar beauties and phenoms look like thirty cents to me.  I can also swell up and say that I threw the Phillies down this year.  I beat that hard-hitting gang by a score of 6 to 2.”

1899 Cleveland Spiders--finished 20-134

1899 Cleveland Spiders–finished 20-134

Within weeks Schmit was let go by Cleveland;  The Baltimore American reported on the release of the former and future Oriole:

“Pitcher Schmit, that queer and original baseball character, was yesterday given his ten days’ notice of release by the Cleveland club management and afterward notified that he had been fined for insubordination.”

The American quoted Schmit:

“I was released I suppose because it had been reported that I was not doing my best to win and because the owners were displeased with me for several accidents that happened to me.  I missed the train in Chicago, and while I was riding into Cincinnati from one of the suburbs with a young lady who may one day be Mrs. Schmit, lightning struck the trolley wire and I missed the train again.  I guess that is why I was fined.  They wished to make an example of me.  I do not mind the release, as I can easily get another and better position, but I hate that $50 fine, because my salary is not quite as high as that of some bank presidents.”

Despite his release and his record, Schmit still considered himself a great pitcher, blamed his career statistics on the teams he played with, and the more he spoke the more valuable he became as a player:

“I have in my career pitched for fourteen tail-end clubs and I am done with them.  Unless I can pitch for some club that can win a game occasionally I will stop pitching ball.  The longer I pitch the more stuck I am on myself as a pitcher.  I have pitched good ball for Cleveland, but who could win with six and eight errors behind him, and misplays that are far worse than errors and that go as hit.

“I am the most popular player on the circuit and the only man who knows how to coach as a science.  If some of these managers knew something of the theatrical business they would wire on and advertise I am to pitch a certain game.  When it is known I am to pitch I have often brought enough into the box office in a single game to pay my whole salary for the season several times over.  We played before 14,000 people in Chicago and of that number fully 5,000 came to see me.”

Schmitt did not “easily get another or better position” in 1899 or 1900—he sat out the remainder of 1899 and spent 1900 in the Interstate and New York State Leagues.  Schmit opened the season at 2-3 in five games with the Columbus Senators before being released; there are no surviving records for his New York State League games with the team that split the season between Elmira and Oswego.  The next season John McGraw would give him a chance to pitch in the American League.

More Crazy Schmit next week.

Chief and Cy

19 Dec

Charles “Chief” Zimmer caught Denton True “Cy” Young’s first Major League game; an 8-1 victory for the Cleveland Spiders over Cap Anson’s Chicago Colts.

Years later, Davis Hawley, a Cleveland banker and hotel magnate who also owned a minority share of the Spiders and served as the team’s secretary, related a story about Young’s debut:

“The night of Young’s first National League game, he complained to me that although he had let Anson’s team down with a few hits, he had not had his usual speed.”

Hawley who had watched him pitch in the Tri-State League asked why he felt that way.

“Well, down in Canton the catchers could not hold me I was so fast, but this man Zimmer didn’t have any trouble at all, so I guess I didn’t have much speed.”

Zimmer would go on to catch 247 of Young’s starts through 1898, including 19 shutouts; second in both categories to Lou Criger, who played with Young in Cleveland, St. Louis and Boston.

Zimmer would catch Young a few more times after 1898.

In 1921 the 54-year-old Young pitched two shutout innings, with the 60-year-old Zimmer catching, in a game between Cleveland Major League legends and amateur stars staged as part of Cleveland’s 135th anniversary celebration.  In addition to Young and Zimmer, Nap Lajoie, Earl Moore, Bill Bradley, Charlie Hickman, Nig Cuppy and Elmer Flick were among the participants.

Earl Moore, Cy Young, Bill Bradley, Charlie Hickman, Nap Lajoie and Chief Zimmer at the 1923 game.

Earl Moore, Cy Young, Bill Bradley, Charlie Hickman, Nap Lajoie and Chief Zimmer at the 1923 game.

The game was such a success that for the next four years it became an annual event at League Park (called Dunn Field during the 1920s); Young pitched the first two innings of each game with Zimmer catching. The event benefited the Cleveland Amateur Baseball Association medical fund.

Young always shared credit for his success with his catchers.  In the 1945 book “My Greatest Day in Baseball As told to John P. Carmichael and Other Noted Sportswriters,” he said:

“Every great pitcher usually has a great catcher, like Mathewson had Roger Bresnahan and Miner Brown had Johnny Kling. Well, in my time I had two. First, there was Chief Zimmer, when I was with Cleveland in the National League, and then there was Lou Criger, who caught me at Boston and handled my perfect game.”

A little more “Chief” tomorrow.

Elton Chamberlain

17 Dec

Elton Chamberlain (for the last thirty years always referred to by the nickname “Icebox,” but that name was not in common use for him contemporaneously) was primarily known for two things:  A righthander, he pitched ambidextrously in at least one game, and on May 30, 1894 he gave up four home runs and a single to Bobby “Link” Lowe—17 total bases, a record which stood for 60 years.

He was also embroiled in one of the early controversies over gambling while playing for the Cincinnati Reds in 1893 when he was accused by his manager, Charles Comiskey, of throwing the first game of a July 4 doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“Pitcher Elton Chamberlain of the Cincinnatis (sic) is accused of throwing the game to the Philadelphias (sic) yesterday morning.  He is charged with being in league with Joe Brill, a local gambler.”

The story said Comiskey, notified of the allegation:

“(D)ecided to investigate (and) after a consultation with a club official, put Chamberlain in for three innings to watch him. Chamberlain’s pitching was very bad and be was taken out of the game in the third inning.”

Chamberlain’s teammates Jim Canavan and Silver King quickly came to his defense.  King said he thought he would be the starting pitcher, not Chamberlain, until just before the game started; therefore Brill and Chamberlain could not have conspired.

Chamberlain said of the story:

“It was cruel and cowardly to try to ruin a man like that.”

The Sporting Life ripped The Enquirer and Comiskey:

“This is not the first time The Enquirer has accused ball players of dishonesty, and once it got into and lost a libel suit with Tony Mullane for accusing him of crookedness. Comiskey in his time has also made similar charges and Insinuations against guiltless players.”

The New York Herald said “The whole affair was so silly,” and seemed to have Comiskey in mind with this statement:

“The club official who suspends a player on the charge of dishonesty should be made to prove his charges or himself be forever barred from further connection with any club.”

The Herald also recommended that steps be taken to officially clear Chamberlain and punish those who accused him:

“The National Board should at once take up pitcher Chamberlain’s case and investigate it beyond the limit of doubt and when they reach the facts, whatever the facts; someone should be made to suffer.”

Cincinnati’s management, Comiskey included, quickly repudiated the charges that appeared in The Enquirer, although from all indications they were directly responsible for the charges being reported in the first place.

Elton Chamberlain

Elton Chamberlain

The headlines of July faded by August; there was no official investigation and no one was “made to suffer.”

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

Chamberlain finished the season with a 16-12 record and his 3.73 ERA led the Reds’ pitching staff.  The following year was his last full season in the Major Leagues.

In 1895 he played for the Warren (PA) franchise in the Iron and Oil League.  The team won the pennant behind the pitching of Chamberlain and another former Major Leaguer, Tom Vickery.

They also had a 21-year-old shortstop named Honus Wagner.

No statistics survive for that season, but forty years later Wagner, writing for The Pittsburgh Press, said Chamberlain “Seldom lost a ballgame for us,” and that Chamberlain and Vickery “gave out plenty of their knowledge to us youngsters.”

Chamberlain bounced around minor and semi-pro leagues after one last Major League trial with the Cleveland Spiders in 1896.  In 1898 he accepted, then rejected, an offer to serve as a National League umpire.  After turning down the umpire job Chamberlain, a Buffalo native, said he would become a professional boxer and challenged a local middleweight named Jack Baty to a fight that would include a $500 side bet.  Baty’s fight record indicates the bout did not take place.

Chamberlain attempted to resume his baseball career with the Buffalo Bisons in the Western League in 1899—by July he was released and The Sporting Life reported that Chamberlain, a rabid horse player “is once more following the races.”

Chamberlain Died in Baltimore in 1929.

Chamberlain and Comiskey as teammates with the St. Louis Browns.  Chamberlain is 5, Comiskey 8.

Chamberlain and Comiskey were also teammates with the St. Louis Browns. Chamberlain is 5, Comiskey 8.

Brother Joe’s Holdout

29 Nov

Joseph Aloysius “Brother Joe” Corbett got his nickname because lived in the shadow of his older sibling—“Gentleman Jim” Corbett, World Heavyweight Champion.

Baseball was Jim’s first love, and he aspired to pro career, but his time in professional baseball was limited to about three dozen games for a variety of minor league teams from 1897-1900 when his boxing fame made him a drawing card.

Jim was very protective of Joe, and contemporaneous newspaper accounts indicate that he served as something of an agent for his younger brother.

Joe, at 19-years-old and with limited experience in college and two California-based minor leagues, was given a trial with the Washington Senators in 1895—said to be a result of Jim’s friendship with Senators manager Gus Schmelz.  Joe went 0-2 for Washington and was released.

After pitching for the Norfolk Braves in the Virginia League and Scranton Miners in the Eastern League in 1896, Corbett earned another trip to the Big Leagues with Ned Hanlon’s great Baltimore Orioles team, the O’s were 90-39, 9.5 games ahead of the second place Cleveland Spiders.

Joe Corbett

Corbett was 3-0, and won two games against Cleveland in the Temple Cup, the National League post season 7-game series between the first and second place teams.

At the close of the Temple Cup series, while Jim was in New York, Hanlon got Joe to sign a $1400 contract in Baltimore for the 1897 season.

The 1897 Orioles finished in second place, but Corbett established himself as a rising star, posting a 24-8 record.  The Orioles sent Joe a contract for $2100.  Joe returned it unsigned and demanded $3000, and according to some reports, $300 in travel expenses.

The Orioles offered to split the difference.  Joe refused.

Ultimately the parties ended up either $100 apart, or with the Orioles relenting (depending on the source).  Joe still refused, and sat out the entire season.

Some sources, like the book “Baseball Hall of Shame 4,” claim Corbett’s holdout was over Hanlon’s failure to keep a promise to buy Joe a suit for winning 20 games.  The articles from that period and the quotes from the principles would make the suit story appear apocryphal and of later vintage.

Jim Corbett blamed the dispute on Hanlon, who he felt took advantage of his brother with the $1400 contract for 1897. “Gentleman Jim” said:

“Hanlon, as you know, is the cheapest magnate in baseball…he knows very well that I would not allow Joe to sign for such a measly salary and he took advantage of my absence. “

Jim said he told his brother to “Quit Hanlon for all time.”

Joe sat out 1898.  Before the 1899 season Joe told reporters:

“I have gone out of the baseball business for good.”

Like his brother, who retired from the ring on numerous occasions, Joe would be back.

More tomorrow.

Gentleman Jim

The Human Rain Delay

7 Nov

 “Baseball stars may come and they may go, but the name of Nig Cuppy will live forever.  There will be greater pitchers than Cuppy—but no slower ones.”—The Pittsburgh Press, 1910.

George Joseph “Nig” Cuppy (born Koppe) lived in the shadow of teammate Cy Young—Cuppy won 150 games for the Cleveland Spiders and St. Louis Perfectos from 1892-1899, Young won 231.

While Cuppy was successful, he was best known for being the slowest working pitcher of his era.

How Slow?  “Painfully slow,” according to The Toledo News-Bee; other contemporary accounts mention crowds counting in unison as they timed Cuppy between each pitch.  It was not unusual for a Cuppy pitched game to last more than two hours during an era when shorter games were the rule.

George “Nig” Cuppy

Almost all mentions of Cuppy attribute his success to his slow work.  Jake Morse’s Baseball Magazine described the effect he had on batters:

“(Cuppy) stood holding the ball, and holding it, and holding it some more. The maddened batsmen fumed and fretted and smote the plate with their sticks; the umpires barked and threatened; the fans counted and counted, often up to 56 or 59—and then Cuppy let go of the ball. By this time the batter, if at all nervous or excitable, was so sore that he slammed wildly at the pitch, and seldom hit it.”

While Cuppy remained a very good pitcher throughout the 1890s, he never quite matched his rookie numbers (28-13, 2.51 in 1892), and suffered from the 1893 elimination of the pitcher’s box.

Cuppy’s numbers dropped off dramatically after 1896, and his career came to an end with his release from the Boston Americans in August of 1901.  He rejected several minor league offers and returned home Elkhart, Indiana.

Cuppy and his former catcher and fellow Elkhart native, Lou Criger opened a pool hall called The Lucky Horseshoe.  Cuppy operated that business and a cigar store until his death in 1922.