Tag Archives: Columbus Senators

“The Nomad of the Interstate League”

25 Jul

There have been several incarnations of the Interstate League, the first began in 1885 and the final one played its last game in 1952.  None was more precarious than the one that operated in the 1890s, which newspapers annually announced was on the verge of collapse.  One Interstate League franchise, in particular, was always a little closer to collapse than the rest.

Frank J. Torreyson became the owner of the Wheeling (WV) Nailers in 1897.  He had been part owner of the Dayton franchise but just as that partnership was disintegrating the Wheeling team went on strike because they hadn’t been paid.  The league solved two problems by awarding the Nailers to Torreyson.

Torreyson had been a semi-pro player in Pennsylvania and managed teams in the Tri-State League. His first effort at team ownership involved starting a Pittsburgh franchise in the Pennsylvania State League in 1892.  By July He moved the team to Wilkes-Barre citing poor attendance.

His brother, Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson, was a 2nd baseman who had some excellent seasons in the Pennsylvania State and Atlantic Leagues; but by 1897 Thayer had literally grown into his nickname, and his best playing days were behind him.

Thayer joined Frank in the ownership of the team and continued to play and serve as captain.

In 1898, the Torreyson brothers moved the Wheeling franchise to Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Frank had necessitated the move when, immediately upon acquiring the franchise, he sold off the best players and alienated the Wheeling fans–he also played the two towns against each other.  While he was already aware he had worn out his welcome in Wheeling, he told The Grand Rapids Herald:

“I would very much like to have charge of an Interstate team here though Wheeling is a pretty good ball town.  We can’t play Sunday there, though, unless we get the grounds outside of the town which we expect to have if we stay there.”

He managed to get the city of Grand Rapids’ “West Side businessmen to bear half the expense “of readying two ballparks for the season—the team played most of their games at Recreation Park, but Sunday games were played at nearby Alger Park

The first home Sunday game was a harbinger of what was ahead for Torreyson in Grand Rapids.

Despite each person who “Patronized the grandstand” receiving “‘The Art Gallery of Prominent Baseball Players of America,” fans stayed away in droves.  Bad weather limited the crowd to “a few hundred,” and “stern luck was ‘agin’ the Cabinetmakers,”  Grand Rapids lost the game 6 to 5, and their record for the young season slipped to 2-5.

Things never really improved.

Throughout the 1898 season, Torreyson complained about the lack of support from the Grand Rapids community and threatened to move the team.

For their part, the citizens of Grand Rapids, while not actually coming out to games in great numbers, seemed to appreciate Torreyson’s effort.  In August, with the team in fourth place, The Herald announced that a benefit—whereby blocks of tickets would be purchased by the city’s leaders—would be organized to try to get the owner out of the red:

“Torreyson has given the city the best team it has ever had and this being a bad season f0r the game, there has been no money in it for him.”

There was no report of how much the August 19 benefit raised, but Torreyson, at least for the moment, expressed his gratitude in a letter to the people of the city he was desperately attempting to flee:

“The results show that Grand Rapids people appreciate honest endeavors for clean baseball.  Hoping to continue to please all, I am, respectfully yours, Frank W. Torreyson.”

Frank Torreyson

Frank Torreyson

Over the next twelve months, he visited a number of cities in Ohio and Indiana soliciting the best offer to relocate the team.  Attendance in Grand Rapids decreased further in 1899—while Torreyson’s club had hovered near .500 throughout the 1898 season, they were wire-to-wire doormats, mired in last place for all of 1899– and the already struggling Interstate League was in danger of having a team fold during the season.

In order to keep the eight-team league intact, an unusual trade was made.  The Columbus Buckeyes in the Western League would move to Grand Rapids and Torreyson would take his team to Columbus, Ohio.  The move would benefit both leagues by reducing travel costs.

In mid-July of 1899, the move was made official.  Fans, thrilled to be rid of the cellar-dwelling Interstate League club, filled the ballpark for the first home game of the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers of the Western League.  Newspapers estimated the crowd between 1600 and 2000; at least double the best crowd Torreyson’s team had ever drawn.

Columbus fans were less enthusiastic; 167 attended the first home game of the Columbus Senators of the Interstate League, a 4 to 1 loss to the first place New Castle Quakers.  The Herald said of Grand Rapids’ former club’s first game in their new town:

“That same old story comes from Torreyson’s team.”

The low attendance—they drew just 288 fans for their first Sunday home game– and  not very  friendly reception from the city of Columbus made Frank restless again.  Less than two weeks later, he relocated once more, this time to Springfield, Ohio, where his team was appropriately dubbed The Wanderers.  The team finished the season 49-91, 38 games out of first place.

 

In less than two years, Torreyson had incurred the wrath of the league and each member city.  The Fort Wayne News called for the league to take the franchise away from him. The Toledo Bee said Torreyson was “Ruining the Interstate.”  The Mansfield (OH) News said the transfer of the teams would have been better for the league “If Torreyson had been lost in the trade.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“The managers of the various other teams in the league say that Torreyson has done more to injure baseball in the Interstate League since he got into it than all other drawbacks combined.  The say that if Torreyson is permitted to wander about the country with a club in Columbus this week, in Kalamazoo next week, Erie the following week, Saginaw of Bay City the week after, and God only knows where after that, the league might as well disband.”

Early in 1900, a deal was struck to buy him out of the franchise.  The Youngstown Vindicator said the league had contributed to the purchase price in order to rid them of Torreyson, who they called “The Nomad of the Interstate League.”  Torreyson, The Vindicator said, “(M)ilked at least three towns as dry as tinder. But then the fan is the legitimate prey of the magnet.  Torreyson is now running a billiard hall in Braddock (PA).”

That wasn’t the end of Torreyson’s story.

He did, along with “Heavy,” open a billiard hall in Braddock—then two more in Homestead and McKeesport.  But Frank also became a successful thoroughbred owner and managed dozens of boxers out of a gym in Braddock.

Thayer "Heavy" Torreyson

Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson

Both made headlines one more time.

In October of 1911, The Pittsburgh Dispatch said Thayer was on his way to New York and, “He took with him $21,000.  He will wager this amount that the Philadelphia Athletics will defeat the New York Giants for the world’s championship.”

In 1912, The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said Frank paid passage for two boxers from Whales to come fight for him in Pennsylvania.   Leslie Williams and David John Bowen never made it to the United States; they went down with the Titanic on April 14.

Frank Torreyson died on April 10, 1918.

Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson continued to operate the billiard halls—and as The Pittsburgh Press said he was known to sell “horse race pools and (make) book on races.”  He also remained active in Pittsburgh area amateur baseball until his death on May 7, 1939.

A shorter version of this post appeared in September of 2012.

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Del Sayers

12 Oct

The line between professional and amateur athletes was often very blurry before the turn of the 20th Century.  Delbert Bancroft Sayers is a good example.

Born in Ohio in 1876, Sayers first made a name for himself as a pitcher with the Ohio Wesleyan University team in 1895 and ’96 and with semi-pro teams in Galion and Marion, Ohio in 1896–local papers referred to the Marion club as a “professional” team.  In 1897, he  signed with the Youngstown Puddlers of the Interstate League.

                                 Del Sayers

Despite being described by The Youngstown Vindicator as “(A) clever young pitcher with good curves and wonderful speed,” Sayers struggled with Youngstown (no statistics survive but in a May game against Mansfield he walked six batters before being pulled in the third inning).  In June, he was sent to the Guelph Maple Leafs in the Canadian League.  The paper said:

“(He) had difficulty in locating the plate and it is thought a little more practice in a minor league will aid him for Interstate work.  He leaves with the best wishes of all concerned.”

After the 1897 season, Sayers returned to college; this time at Ohio State University.

He played baseball and football at Ohio State and was at times a dominant pitcher.  After a game in 1900 The Marion Star said:

“Sayers, who formerly played with Marion’s professional team, is doing some phenomenal slab work for the O.S.U. team.

“In the Decoration Day (May 28) game against Centre College at Columbus, he shut out his opponents, allowing them but two hits…nineteen of them fanned out at his mysterious shoots and curves.”

Known for his lack of control as a professional, he walked three and hit two batters during that game.

But he was better known as a football player.

Sayers, a tackle, was named captain in 1899, Ohio State’s first undefeated season.  The team went 9-0-1 giving up only five points all season, in a 5-5 tie with Case University.  In a 6-0 victory over Oberlin, Sayers returned a fumble 25 yards for the game’s only score.

                              1899 Ohio State Football team

By the middle of the decade, a college star’s former professional status would have been cause for controversy, but there was hardly a mention of Sayers’ minor league experience during his second college career.

After leaving Ohio State in 1900, Sayers considered offers from several teams in the Interstate League and eventually signed with the Columbus Senators.  He appears to have only pitched one game with Columbus and there are no mentions of his again until 1903 when The Sporting Life reported he had signed with the Terre Haute Hottentots in the Central League—he appears to have pitched in just two games for Terre Haute, both complete-game loses; 10-2 to the Wheeling Stogies (with Branch Rickey behind the plate) on June 19 and 10 to 1  to the South Bend Greens five days later.  The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“South Bend hit Sayers at will.”

In 1904, he returned to Ohio State to finish school.  After graduating Sayers was employed as chief engineer at the Stonega Coke and Coal Company in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, later returning to Ohio where, according to The Columbus Dispatch, as a civil engineer he “laid out” the town of Upper Arlington which had been founded and developed by his brothers in law.  Sayers died in Columbus’ University Hospital on December 4, 1949.

A shorter version of this post appeared on November 21, 2012.

Tragic Exits 3

23 Mar

Eddie Meade

Edward “Eddie” Meade appeared headed to the big leagues.  After beginning the 1926 season with the Kinston Eagles in the Virginia League, the 24-year-old left-hander was acquired at midseason by the St. Paul Saints of the American Association and posted a 12-7 record with a 3.40 ERA in 22 games.

Meade began the 1927 season with a 6-0 shutout of the Louisville Colonels on April 17.  The same week he recorded his first victory, The Associated Press said he was about to become a member of the defending American League champions:

“The Yankees talked of possible reinforcements in the shape of Eddie Meade, of St. Paul, called the best young pitcher in the American Association.”

Eddie Meade

Eddie Meade

During the same week, Meade became ill; although the nature of the illness was never disclosed.  Eight days later he started a game with the Columbus Senators but was pulled after giving up six runs in the fifth inning of 9 to 8 loss.  Five days later he pitched in relief against Louisville, but The Minneapolis Journal said he lasted less than an inning due to his “impaired physical condition.”

When the Saints left Minnesota for a series in Kansas City on May 16, Meade stayed behind.  The following evening Meade checked into St. Paul’s Boardman Hotel and shot himself to death.

The day after his suicide, The Journal said, “it was learned today that Meade was slated to go to the New York Yankees in the fall.”

St. Paul Manager Nick Allen told The Associated Press:

“He was one of the hardest working youngsters we ever had on the club and the outlook for his future was bright, as he had only two years in baseball.  The only motive he could have had for such action would be mental depression.  He was not married.  The nature of his illness was no cause for alarm, but he apparently believed it otherwise.”

Tommy Coates

Thomas A. “Tommy” Coates was born in Omro, Wisconsin on February 18, 1886 (Baseball Reference lists his middle initial as “O” but birth and death records  list it as “A”).

After starring, along with his older brother Hiram, on Omro High School’s undefeated baseball team in 1901—The Omro Herald called the team “possibly the best in the state”—Coates played industrial league and semi-pro ball in Central and Northern Wisconsin.

After playing in Rhinelander, Wisconsin in 1908, The Oshkosh Northwestern said:

“Coates had lots of confidence in himself, and during the winter months the Omro boy came to the city one day and sought out “Pink” Hawley. Hawley agreed to give him a trial.”

Emerson Pink Hawley, a Wisconsin native who pitched in the major leagues for a decade, was the manager of the Oshkosh Indians in the Wisconsin-Illinois League.

Tommy Coates

Tommy Coates

 “Coates came to this city from his home at Omro (for his tryout).  He donned baseball togs and he ‘made good’ from the start.”

Coates, who The Northwestern said  was “tall (and) built something like the great Ty Cobb,” became the Indians starting left fielder one week into the season and went on to lead  the team with a .299 batting average (he hit .002 better than his 19-year-old teammate Heinie Groh).

In September, The Sporting News reported that with just one season of professional experience, Coates “Looks good to Connie Mack,” and was drafted by the Philadelphia Athletics. He was the only member of the Indians drafted by a big league club in 1909.

At season’s end in September, Coates, with an invitation to train with Mack’s club in the spring, spent most of his time hunting.

On October 11 Coates was in a row-boat with a friend, hunting in a marsh near Omro.  The friend told The Omro Herald:

“Tom saw a mud hen rise up on the right hand side.  He turned about quickly and took hold of his gun which was at his left side and pulled it toward him…I turned about as soon as I heard the shot, and to my horror saw Tom lunge forward.”

Coates accidentally discharged his gun, shooting himself in the left eye.

Twelve days after the Oshkosh Indians received a $300 check from Connie Mack—his draft price—Coates was dead.

The Northwestern said:

“He was quiet and unassuming. After making a sensational play in the field or batting out the hit that won the game…the Oshkosh fans could not induce Coates to doff his hat.  He would return to the bench with face covered with blushes.”

[…]

“His more ardent admirers were confident he would make good in the American League, and one of their first thoughts upon hearing of the unfortunate accident, was the promising career he had before him.”

“Baseball will be in Utter Disrepute”

18 Sep

As common as contract jumping was during the first 30 years of organized baseball, there are very few cases in which the particular inducements that led to the player breaking his contract are available.  Such is the case with Charlie Babb.

Before the 1902 season, Babb, a 29-year-old journeyman infielder, signed to play with the Indianapolis Indians in the newly formed American Association (Indianapolis was a member of the Western Association in 1901).

The Sporting Life described  as “a base-hit killer,” but “anything but a graceful fielder.”  The St. Paul Dispatch said:

 “He covers all kinds of ground, and it is next to impossible to lay down a bunt and get away with it.”

Charlie Babb takes batting practice in Indianapolis in 1902.

Charlie Babb takes batting practice in Indianapolis in 1902.

Babb was installed at third base where The Indianapolis Times said he would be an improvement over previous third baseman Eddie Hickey who had committed 49 errors in 101 games in 1910; Babb told The Indianapolis News “he will try his best to make Indianapolis fans forget that there ever was a third-baseman by the name of Hickey.”

Babb quickly became a favorite with fans and the press.  When the Indians moved into second place in June The Times said Babb won games for the team with “his hands, feet and bat.” The News said:  “Babb can borrow a dollar from the left field bleacherites any time he wants to.”

Babb was hitting .308 in 182 at bats through June 22, and his popularity in the city was why a small item that appeared in several Midwest and Southern papers that day was largely ignored in Indianapolis.

Charlie Babb

Charlie Babb

It said that earlier in June, while the Indians were playing in Louisville, Babb was approached by Philip “Red” Ehret, a Louisville native who knew something about jumping, and currently played for the Memphis Egyptians in the Southern Association (some versions said it was a Southern Association umpire named Ed Cline who approached Babb).  The story said Ehret had “urged” Babb to jump and that “Babb turned him down.”

Disinterest over the story in Indianapolis turned to outrage two days later.  Babb had not turned Ehret and Memphis down; he jumped the Indians to join the Egyptians.

The News said:

“Babb, the deserter, was one of the most popular players ever in this city, and by his action it is doubtful he ever again will have such a place in the affections of any city.”

The Indianapolis papers provided precise details of just what was offered:  Babb would receive $45 more a month, a $300 bonus, $80 transportation expenses, and a winter job in Memphis.

The News said “Contract jumping is the greatest evil that afflicts baseball at present,” and warned that “baseball will be in utter disrepute,” if something wasn’t done to end the practice; Ignoring the “evil” of the reserve clause.

Orville “Sam” Woodruff replaced Babb at third base.  Within days, The News, which less than a month earlier had called Babb “the best third baseman” to ever play in Indianapolis; said Woodruff had played so well that “Indianapolis fans don’t care if he never comes back.”  The Times said “Babb has nothing on Orville Woodruff in the field or at the bat.”

Orville "Sam" Woodruff

Orville “Sam” Woodruff

Babb was not the only jumper to join Memphis is June.  Bill Evans, a Louisville native and friend of Ehret left the American Association’s Columbus Senators to join the Egyptians and Jim St. Vrain, after being released by the Chicago Orphans, signed with Memphis despite being the property of the Tacoma Tigers in the Pacific Northwest League.

Tomorrow: the fallout from Babb, Evans and St. Vrain signing with Memphis.

A Thousand Words–Joe Tinker

1 Jul

Quick hits Monday through Friday this week for the holiday–regular items will return next week.

joetinkerkids

Joe Tinker, manager of the Chicago Cubs shows boys from the Chicago Schools Baseball League the finer of points of hitting before a July 1916 game with the Boston Braves.

Tinker returned to the Cubs in 1916 after having managed the Chicago Whales to the Federal League pennant the year before.  Whales owner Charles Weeghman purchased the Cubs after the Federal League folded and installed Tinker as manager.  Chicago fans had high expectation for Tinker’s team, because in addition to the manager, Weeghman brought most of the key players from the Federal champions to the Cubs.  But after a 9-17 record in July.  Rumors began to swirl that Weeghman would replace Tinker as manager after the Cubs owner traded for catcher Art Wilson on July 29; Wilson had been a Weeghman favorite when he caught for the Whales.

In August, Tinker blamed the Cubs disappointing season on third baseman Heinie  Zimmerman, telling The Chicago Daily News:

“Zimmerman is no good to the ball team.  he does not take any interest in his work and does not care whether the club wins or loses.  He did not report for practice yesterday and on other days is always the last one out for work.  Most of the players feel he does not belong on the team.  He is killing the harmony we had and that is why I would prefer to dispose of him.  He won’t play ball and does not use any judgment and with a man like that a flag cannot be won.”

Tinker survived the season, Zimmerman did not.  He was traded to the New York Giants on July 28.

The Cubs finished in 5th place, 67-86.  Tinker was let go after the season, he was not replaced by Wilson, as rumored, but instead by Fred Mitchell, who after a fifth place in 1917 led the Cubs to the National League pennant in 1918.

Tinker managed, and was a part owner, of  the Columbus Senators in the American Association in 1917 and ’18.

Gus Dorner’s Spitball

7 Jun

dorner1 dorner2

Augustus “Gus” Dorner suddenly became a successful pitcher in 1904.  He had brief trials with Cleveland in the American League in 1902 and ’03, he was 6-6 and control was a problem; on May 23, 1903, walked 11 batters in a game against the Philadelphia Athletics.  He finished the 1903 season with the Columbus Senators in the American Association posting a 7-7 record.

The next two seasons in Columbus Dorner was 18-10, and 29-8.  The Fort Wayne Daily News said:

“The big German attributes his success to condition, control, study of the batsman and mastery of the spitball.”

Dorner said, “I use the spitball a great deal.”  As a result of his new pitch he said:

“(I) have not had the slightest trouble with my arm this year.  I have worked hard to get control and perfect the spit ball.”

The magic was short-lived.  Dorner earned a return to the big leagues in 1906 but was a combined 8-26 with the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Beaneaters.  Overall he was 29-62 in parts of four seasons with Boston.

Gus Dorner

Gus Dorner

He didn’t fare much better in the minor leagues, going 25-29 his last three seasons as a professional.  After his release from Boston in May of 1909, he finished the season with the American Association’s Kansas City Blues with a 9-18 record.  The last two years of his career were spent with the Wilkes-Barre Barons in the New York State League and the Harrisburg Senators in the Tri-State League.

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.

Actually, it Probably Wasn’t the Superstition

5 Dec

As with George Treadway, a story can get repeated throughout the decades while a large, key portion is lost in the process; such is the case with Billy Earle.

His career ended because of the superstitions of other players who thought he was “creepy,” as David Nemec described him in his excellent book “The Beer and Whiskey League.”  In “The New Bill James Historical Abstract,” James credulously quotes the assertion from sportscaster Bill Stern‘s 1949 book “Favorite Baseball Stories” that Earle was:

“(F)orced out of baseball, because of nothing more than superstition, the belief that he was a hypnotist with the power of ‘the evil eye.’”

For awhile even Earle tried to use it as an excuse.

But actually, it was probably the morphine.

William Moffat Earle was at times a great player, but more often impetuous and prone to jumping contracts.

He earned his nickname “The Little Globetrotter” after being part of the 1888 world tour organized by Albert Spalding.  Earle said of the trip:

“We played everywhere from the catacombs of Rome to Cheops of Egypt, under the shadow of the pyramids and out through India and the Islands of Ceylon.”

Billy Earle and the other members of the world tour

Billy Earle and the other members of the world tour at the Great Sphinx of Giza

After returning from the tour Earle joined the Cincinnati Red Stockings in the American Association.  He bounced back and forth from Major League to minor league teams for the next six years.  During that time, there were a number of humorous references to Earle’s interest in hypnotism, but none claimed it was an impediment to his career; however, in 1897, upon being released after one game with the Columbus Senators of the Western League the legend began.

In September of 1897 a fairly long article appeared in The Baltimore Sun under the headline “A Haunted Ballplayer,” and then ran in papers around the country. The story said:

“(Earle) cannot get a position on any ball team in the country, not even the small minor league teams.”

Earle told a sad story of teammates avoiding him and fearing the “hoodoo.”  He even blamed his being released by Pittsburgh  after the 1893 season on it, ignoring the fact that he was only signed because of injuries to the three other Pirate catchers, Connie Mack, Joe Sugden and Doggie Miller—and emergency catcher Jake Stenzel.

That 1897 story became the story of Billy Earle.

It also said:

 “He is, moreover, a pleasant, intelligent, strictly temperate man.”

The first two might very well have been true.  The last was not.

The rest of the story about Billy Earle has been lost, forgotten, or just ignored.

In August of 1898, The Cincinnati Enquirer told the real story of why Billy Earle had been out of baseball.  The “strictly temperate” Earle was addicted to morphine.

His friend John McGraw helped get him treatment in a Baltimore hospital; his former Cincinnati teammates took up a collection to buy Earle a ticket to Philadelphia to stay with his parents after treatment.

He kicked the habit, and then for three seasons managed and played for an independent team in Richmond, Indiana; he also coached teams in Havana, Cuba during the winters of 1900 and 1902-1904. And he returned to professional baseball; hardly the profile of a blacklisted man.

Earle signed as a player/manager with the 1903 Vicksburg Hill Billies in the Cotton States League.  He continued his playing career through 1906, and either managed or worked as an umpire in Midwest-based leagues through 1911.

Billy Earle, player/manager Columbia Gamecocks 1905.

Billy Earle, player/manager Columbia Gamecocks 1905.

Billy Earle died in Omaha, Nebraska in 1946.

Were there some players in the superstitious world of 19th Century baseball who were uncomfortable playing with or against Earle? Probably.  If he had hit .320 and not had a drug problem would he have had a 10-year or more major league career regardless of superstitions? Probably.

Alonzo Hedges and the Hunting Dog

31 Oct

In 1903 Alonzo Hedges briefly became a baseball sensation.

“Pongo” Joe Cantillon, manager of the pitching strapped Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association acquired fellow Kentuckian Hedges in August from the Paducah Chiefs in the Kitty League (no roster exists for the team, but Hedges is listed in multiple box scores in Kentucky newspapers).

Said to be a 19-year-old, Hedges started his first game for Milwaukee the day after his arrival and shut down the Columbus Senators–he took a no-hitter into the ninth inning, giving up a single with two outs.

After another shutout in his second game, Hedges, “The Boy Pitcher of Milwaukee,” appeared headed for stardom.  He wasn’t.

Alonzo Hedges

First, The Chicago Tribune revealed in mid August that “The ‘boy pitcher’, whom a number of clubs are after, is really 23-years-old.”   Then Hedges faltered.  While posting a 5-4 record he was hit hard in last 11 games with Milwaukee, after being nearly unhittable in the first two.

Back in the Kitty League with the Springfield Hustlers in 1904, Hedges was effective and helped lead the team to the league championship (again, no statistics survive), but he was no longer mentioned seriously as prospect.

Newspaper accounts indicate he was the “Hedges” who appeared in four games for the Webb City Goldbugs in the Missouri Valley League in 1905—although an arm injury ended his career early in the season.   Hedges signed with the Springfield Senators of the Three-I League in 1906, but it appears that he never played for the team.

How Hedges ended up with Springfield after his brief time in Milwaukee is the real story.

One of the stories that has been told and retold about the colorful Joe Cantillon is that in 1915, while part owner and manager of the Minneapolis Millers, he traded a player, “outfielder Bruce Hopper,” to the Chicago Cubs for a hunting dog.

There are two problems with the oft-repeated story:  “outfielder Bruce Hopper”  is actually pitcher Bill “Bird Dog” Hopper, and contemporaneous accounts mentioning that Hopper was once traded for a dog provide no details of the transaction and predate Hopper’s tenure playing for Cantillon.

Joe Cantillon

However, such a trade might have taken place, but it happened more than ten years earlier and the player traded was Alonzo Hedges.

A 1910 article in The Milwaukee Sentinel mentions that Milwaukee Brewers owner Charles Sheldon Havenor kept a photo of Cantillon on his desk, along with a letter.  The letter read:

“The mother of the dog in the picture is the one I received in exchange for Alonzo Hedges, the pitcher.”

The story went on to tell the story of the trade:

“Cantillon went to Springfield, IL, to see a friend of his who owned the Springfield club and ran a cafe on the side.  During the course of the afternoon the friend showed Joe a couple of dandy setter puppies.”

Later in the discussion when the Springfield owner mentioned his need for pitching, Cantillon offered to sell him Hedges, and Cantillon said “I’ll let you have the fellow for one of those dogs.”

The Sentinel concluded:

“Mr. Hedges may not have been much of a bear cat as a pitcher, but he probably has the distinction of being the only ball player in captivity ever traded for a dog.”

One more note on Hedges.  The Chicago Tribune might have been wrong, the 23-year-old “Boy Pitcher,” might have actually been 26-years-old.  While Hedges grave lists his birth date as 1880, all extant records, including Hedges’ death certificate and census data, indicate he was born on 1877.

Hedges passed away January 12, 1928 in Paducah, Kentucky.

The Sad Story of Alan Hill

31 Aug

Alan J. Hill seemed destined for the major leagues.

Nicknamed “Mooney,” he had a mediocre first season as a 20-year-old with the Richmond Colts in the Virginia League (Thirty-five year-old teammate Chief Bender went 29-2 with a 1.06 ERA for the Colts that season).  Hill followed that up with three excellent seasons with the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association.

As a reserve outfielder in 1920 he hit .366.  In 1921, playing in the same outfield as Jim Thorpe, Hill hit .318 in 137 games, and hit .296 in 152 games in 1922 for a terrible Mud Hens team that went 65-101.

Hill moved to the Columbus Senators in 1923 and was the starting centerfielder.  A month into the season he was struggling, hitting .204 through 23 games when he suffered a nervous breakdown.

Nothing is known about the cause of his illness or what his prognosis might have been.  Hill was committed to the Woodville State Hospital in Collier Township, Pennsylvania.

On February 25, 1924 Hill wandered away while working on the grounds with other residents.  The next morning his body was found on the train tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  He was 25.

Hill was most likely buried among the nearly 700 graves marked only with numbers on the grounds of the hospital, which was closed in 1992.

Update:  As noted in the comments, a relative of Alan Hill informed me that he is buried at McKeesport and Versailles Cemetery in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.