Tag Archives: Columbus Senators

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, an article appeared in The Baltimore Sun under the headline, “A Haunted Ballplayer:”

“(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.

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