Tag Archives: Comiskey Park

Lost Advertisements–“Play Ball!”

4 Apr

openingday19191

Opening Day at Comiskey Park, 1919, the first opener after the end of World War I:

The ad above appeared in Chicago Newspapers on May 1, 1919, and appealed to the patriotism of fans:

“Uncle Sam and his baseball teams march triumphantly home after 2 years in Europe.

“The Doughboy and his bat were inseparable.  Hardly a transport went across the seas without its full quota of baseball paraphernalia.  Uncle Sam knew his business.  Think of the thousands of men raised on baseball from their sandlot days up to Comiskey Park and then hammering out the ball over the meadows of England and France as part of their training.  Think of the renewed energy and vitality they plucked from the ball field to spend on the battlefield.  Baseball furnished the relaxation when they came back from the battle lines after days and nights of gruelling trench life.  Baseball was a big inspiration to the American Army.

“Today, in the largest and greatest ballpark in the world, the National Game opens up at home, where once again the magic words ‘Play Ball’ make you lose your cares and troubles and help you store up energy for bigger and better business.  Come out to the battlefield of baseball and fill your lungs with fresh air and put new life and vim into your blood and muscles.

“Remember the good old pre-war days when the teams were playing their best.  Today they are back again with the men in perfect condition.”

As for the “greatest ballpark in the world,” the ad said:

“Comiskey Park is the largest and most magnificent baseball park in the world.  With 35,000 comfortable seats, innumerable wide aisles and exits, it is a vast amphitheatre of concrete and steel, and is the acme of luxury and comfort.”

Patriotic fervor and “men in perfect condition” were no match for the weather, or perhaps as a metaphor for what was to come, dark clouds brought rain and postponed the game between the White Sox and the St. Louis Browns.

The 1919 White Sox

The 1919 White Sox

 

 

Cicotte’s Knuckleball

8 Feb

With the Chicago White Sox holding onto a slim lead in the American league race, John Brinsley Sheridan of The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said they were in first place because of the pitch he called “(T)he hobo of balldom, it’s course, even when under control, being entirely beyond the influence of the pitcher, so far as the break at the plate is concerned…It is a hobo!”

The “hobo” was the knuckleball of White Sox pitcher Ed Cicotte—never mind Toad Ramsey’s claim to the pitch, Sheridan said it was all Cicotte’s:

 

Ed Cicotte

Ed Cicotte

“It is a freak delivery; this knuckleball, Cicotte invented it, and is its greatest exponent.  Many other pitchers have tried it, some with more or less success.  Earl Hamilton did wonderful work with it in 1912.  Then he lost control of it.  Many others tried it. They use it now and then to this day, but Cicotte is the only pitcher who admits that the knuckleball is responsible for a greater part of his success.”

Cicotte talked to Sheridan about the pitch after he threw a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns earlier that season:

“I use it very frequently during a game, I vary pace on it, and very frequently I do not ask it to break at all.  I throw it with some rotation.  When I know a batter is going to hit—when I know and he knows that I must lay a strike over the plate—I pitch the ‘knuckle ball’ with as little rotation as possible, so that it may break as well as possible.  The different paces deceive the batter, and the break simply makes it impossible to hit safely save by the greatest fluke.

“The spitball has but one pace—fast.  The ‘fadeaway’ had but one pace—medium slow.  I can pitch the knuckleball at any pace from medium fast to dead slow.

Cicotte's grip

Cicotte’s grip

“I began using this ball when I was a kid.  It was always impossible to hit, but I found it very hard to obtain control of it. It was not until I joined Boston in 1908 that I began to get control of the ‘knuckle ball.’  Even then it evaded me for months at a time.  When I got it going right I was hard to beat.  Even now I often lose control of it.”

Cicotte, who would end 1917 with a league-leading 28 wins and 1.53 ERA, claimed his weight was a factor in his control of the pitch:

“I joined Chicago in 1912 and began to do better with the difficult delivery.  I had trouble, however, with my general control.  I had been a slim kid, but I was growing fat.  I weighed 135 when I had my first engagement with the Sault Ste. Marie team, way back in 1903.  I weighed 190 pounds in 1912.  Since that time I have tried to keep it down to 170 pounds, but I find it hard to do so.

“This year I made a special effort to reduce my weight.  I am down to 170 pounds, lighter than I have been in 10 seasons; I find that my control is better than it has ever been.  To this I attribute my early success this season.  You see, when I am fat I can’t get my arm to follow through with my pitch.  My upper arm hits my right breast and won’t go any farther.  Thus, I have been pitching with a short, jerky motion, which is not good for control.”

After an injury-plagued season and 12-19 record in 1918, Cicotte was 50-17 during the regular season in 1919-‘20 before his banishment.   Just two months before his final professional game he shut down Babe Ruth (0-3 with a walk) in front of an overflow crowd of 45,000 in Comiskey Park on August 1.  The crowd said Sy Sanborn of The Chicago Tribune “Left Comiskey Park disappointed because Babe Ruth did not get a home run.”

One of Cicotte’s last great moments with his famous pitch was captured by a Chicago photographer; Ruth looking back at the ball in the catcher Ray Schalk’s mitt, after striking out in the second inning of that game.

Cicotte strikes out Ruth

Cicotte strikes out Ruth

Lost Advertisements–Ty Cobb, Lewis 66 Rye

11 Dec

cobblewis66

A 1912 advertisement for Lewis 66 Rye Whiskey from The Strauss, Pritz Company, a Cincinnati-based distiller:

“Away Above Everything”

Ty Cobb–‘The Georgia Peach’

“Baseball never saw Ty Cobb‘s equal.  The Chalmers Trophy Commission, appointed to name the most valuable American League player in 1911, unanimously gave every possible point to Cobb (he received all eight first-place votes–the commission consisted on one sportswriter from each league city).  In 1911, Cobb led his league in hits, runs, and stolen bases.  Hits 247; batting average .417; runs 149, stolen bases 85 [sic 248; .420; 147, 83].”

Cobb was presented with a Chalmers “36” at Shibe Park in Philadelphia on October 24, 1911, before game four of the World Series. Jack Ryder, covering the series for The Cincinnati Enquirer said of the presentation:

“President (John T.) Brush of the Giants declined to allow this ceremony at the Polo Grounds, so it was pulled off very quietly here this afternoon…The event took place 10 minutes before the game and was coldly ignored by the Giants though the Athletics took a keen interest in it and several of them had their pictures taken with Cobb. Ty now has three cars, but he says this one is much the best of the lot, and he expects to drive it to his home in Georgia as soon as the series is over.”

Cobb in his Chalmers at Shibe Park

Cobb in his Chalmers at Shibe Park

While Cobb was the unanimous choice of the eight-man commission, the second place finisher in the American League received a more valuable car.

The Chicago Inter Ocean said Chicago White Sox fans, unhappy that pitcher “Big Ed” Walsh finished second to Cobb, “Undertook to raise a fund to purchase an automobile,” for him.

But, said the paper, the fans:

“(F)ound themselves confronted with a dilemma–they had too much money in the fund to buy a duplicate of the Chalmers touring cars presented to Ty Cobb and (National League winner, Chicago Cubs outfielder) Frank Schulte.”

Two days before Cobb received his Chalmers in Philadelphia, Walsh was presented with his car before a charity game at Comiskey Park.

Ed Walsh

Ed Walsh

No Chicago newspaper reported the make and model.  The Daily News called it “A handsome automobile.”  The Inter Ocean said it was “A $4,000 automobile,” and The Tribune said simply that he had received an “(A)utomobile subscribed for by the fandom of the city.”  The Examiner also failed to mention the type of car Walsh received but said the Cubs’ Schulte “gave $25” to the fund.

According to The Tribune, Walsh promised to “‘(L)earn how to run it before spring,’ and the stands cheered loyally.”

“I mentioned Satchel and Josh and Cool Papa, I told Him he was Missing the boat”

18 May

After Heywood Broun’s remarks at the 1933 Baseball Writers Association dinner about integrating the game, The Pittsburgh Courier initiated a campaign to push the issue.  Despite some support inside baseball and from well-known newspapermen, the effort fell flat by opening day.

That summer, after the first East-West Game—won by the West All-Stars 11 to 7—at Comiskey Park, Henry L. Farrell of The Chicago Daily News suggested several “(M)ajor league club owners who are now on their knees might have their prayers answered,” by signing some the Negro League stars.

In the fall, The Chicago Defender briefly picked up the mantle from The Courier.  The paper asked their readers:

“How would you like to see the great baseball players of the Race performing in the major leagues? Wouldn’t you like to see Willie Foster, Satchel Paige and (Sam) Streeter pitch to Babe Ruth?”

If so:

“Sit down and write K.M. Landis commissioner of baseball, 333 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago.”

The following week, the paper reported that Landis’ office had refused to comment.  When baseball’s winter meetings commenced in Chicago in December, The Defender promised readers that the letters they had sent:

“(A)re not being passed on lightly as many suggested would be the case.  On the contrary, the club owners are downright concerned and from the inside word leaked out that some action would be taken.”

The optimism was tempered later that week when their reporter was barred from covering a meeting where he was told “vital points were discussed.”  The Defender reporter was told no newspapermen would be admitted, but:

“That sinister moves were being made against your author’s admission became a certainty when a well-known writer from one of the downtown papers came along, gave the high sign and was admitted.”

When 1933 came to a close, integration was no closer to being a reality than it was 11 months earlier as Broun stood to deliver his remarks to the baseball writers.

Four years later, Sam Lacy from The Baltimore Afro-American met with Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith in an attempt to revive the subject:

“I mentioned Satchel and Josh and Cool Papa, I told him he was missing the boat.”

Sam Lacy

Sam Lacy

Griffith, he said, told him the timing was wrong, and that Southern-born players would not accept integration.

The next major effort came in 1939.

Political support had generally been limited to socialist and communist organizations—the Young Communist League spent the summer of ’39 gathering signatures to present to Commissioner Landis.  But, in July of that year, the Illinois House of Representatives adopted a resolution which read in part:

“Resolved, by the House of Representatives of the Sixty-first General Assembly.  That the owners of all professional baseball teams in the United States, both in the major and minor leagues be strongly urged to give baseball players of the colored race the same opportunity of becoming players on their respective teams as is accorded to such players of the white race.”

Another push came from Pittsburgh as well.

Wendell Smith, who was playing baseball at West Virginia State College when Broun made his speech in 1933, was now a reporter for The Courier. In July, he promised readers:

“The most exclusive, startling and revealing expose, of the attitude of the major league players and managers themselves, ever written.”

Wendell Smith

Wendell Smith

Over the course of several weeks Smith asked 40 players and eight managers as they passed through Pittsburgh, “Are Negro ballplayers good enough to ‘crash’ the majors?”

The Courier’s Chester Washington said in a column to introduce the series of articles:

“One of the major reasons why Mr. Smith’s discovery is so revolutionary is that the club owners, in trying to pass the buck, have blamed the ban on the players themselves.  They claimed that the injection of colored stars into the clubs would bring about friction and dissention… (Smith) practically disproves this contention.

“Fearlessly buttonholing the managers and outstanding players of all the National League clubs, Mr. Smith received scores of testimonials which should be a revelation to the owners.”

A sampling of the statements collected by Smith:

Ernie Lombardi, Cincinnati Reds:  “(Satchel) Paige is as good as (Dizzy) Dean.”

Johnny Vander Meer, Cincinnati Reds:  “I wouldn’t object.”

James “Doc” Prothro, Philadelphia Phillies: “If given permission I would jump at the opportunity to sign up a good Negro ballplayer.”

Leo Durocher, Brooklyn Dodgers:  “(Satchel) Paige, (Bill “Cy”) Perkins, (Mule) Suttles and (Josh) Gibson are good enough to be in the majors right now…I certainly would use a Negro ballplayer if the bosses said it was all right.”

Gabby Hartnett, Chicago Cubs:  “I am sure that if we were given permission to use them, there would be a mad scramble between managers to sign them.”

Gabby Hartnett

Gabby Hartnett

Dizzy Dean, Chicago Cubs: “If some of the colored players I’ve played against were given a chance to play in the majors they’d be stars as soon as they joined up.”

Pepper Martin, St. Louis Cardinals: “Some of the big league players would object, but on the whole I think they would be accepted.”

Pie Traynor, Pittsburgh Pirates: “believe me when I say I have seen countless numbers of Negro ball players who could have made the grade in the majors.  Only their color kept them out.  If given permission, I would certainly use a Negro player who had the ability.”

Honus Wagner, Pittsburgh Pirates:  “Yes, down through the years I have seen any number of Negro players who should have been in big league baseball.”

Over the next five years, Smith would interview more than 150 additional major leaguers, who would echo the sentiments of his original 40, keeping the pressure on professional baseball to desegregate.

“Walsh? Ed Walsh? Who’s he?”

16 Mar

On May 1, 1912, as a result of a contract dispute, press operators walked off or were locked-out, of their jobs at 10 Chicago newspapers.  The following day, drivers and newsboys walked out in sympathy, and ultimately three more unions joined.

The dispute, which at times became violent, lasted until November.

The New York Times said at one point during the strike’s first week, less than 50,000 copies of the city’s four morning newspapers—limited to just four pages each– were distributed to a metropolitan area with a population of nearly four million.

Every Chicago paper, with the exception of The Day Book, Edward Willis Scripps’ advertisement free, pro-labor publication, suffered decreases in circulation and were forced to publish smaller editions for the first weeks of the strike.

The strike also had a negative impact on two other Chicago institutions.

The New York Tribune noted that during the first two weeks of May, while most of Chicago’s papers provided a minimum amount of baseball coverage, attendance at White Sox Park (renamed Comiskey Park the following season) and West Side Grounds “dropped off 30 percent.”

Writing in The Chicago Herald-Record after that paper had again begun publishing full-sizes editions in mid-May, sportswriter Hugh Fullerton was not surprised that less baseball news resulted in smaller crowds at the ballparks:

“Various major league club owners have, during their recent years of great prosperity, declared that baseball was independent of the newspapers.  Indeed such intellectual giants as C. Webb Murphy and Charles Ebbets have practically stated that the newspapers depended upon baseball for their circulation.  Of course, printing baseball news makes circulation for newspapers; else the newspapers would not print it.

“But during the last ten days Chicago has given the club owners and object lesson in the relative values.  There has been a strike of several trades allied with the newspaper printing business which resulted in crippling ten big dailies, restricting their circulation, besides cutting down the amount of baseball news and gossip printed.  The instantaneous result must have been a shock to the baseball magnates, who thought that the game was independent of the advertising.”

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

Fullerton, like the New York paper, said the attendance decline was “at least” 30 percent.

“I scouted around the city and discovered, rather to my amazement, that the lack of baseball news was received rather as a welcome relief from a necessary evil than as a bereavement.  A score of men told me they were glad they couldn’t get the news, that their employees could attend to business and that there was less waste of time…The town, which has been wild over the sensational race of the White Sox, cooled off in an instant.  I met fans who had been rooting wildly, who inquired whether or not the team was in town.”

Fullerton’s observations led him to the “startling proof that interest in baseball largely is manufactured by the papers.”

And, if the strike were to result in a further decrease in baseball news:

“I really believe that if the newspapers were to be suppressed for a couple of months, and one was to mention Walsh, people would say, ‘Walsh?  Ed Walsh?  Who’s he?’”

Ed Walsh

Ed Walsh

While the strike continued through the entire season, circulation and baseball coverage increased in June, giving no one the opportunity to forget Chicago’s best pitcher.

Attendance at Chicago’s ballparks rebounded as well.  By season’s end, Walsh’s White Sox drew more than 600,000 fans, despite a 20-34 swoon in June and July and a fourth place finish; while 514,000 fans  came out for the third place Cubs.

“Throw Strikes. Home Plate Don’t Move.”

19 Jan

Satchel Paige told Dave Condon of The Chicago Tribune that early in 1965, with the help of his wife Lahoma, and 17-year-old daughter Pamela he “wrote letters to everyone in baseball just looking for a steady job.  Anything.”

After not one professional team responded, the spring and early summer were like most during his 40-year career as a pitcher—Paige traveled wherever there was a chance for a paycheck.

He had made appearances with the Harlem Globetrotters in the winter and spring and then hit the road; pitching for the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns and whoever else would call.  In May, The Chicago Defender said Abe Saperstein, who was managing Paige’s appearances, took out an ad in The Sporting News:

“(T)he man, who may have been the greatest pitcher of all time, is letting it be known that he has glove and is willing to travel.  All that is necessary to secure his services is to contact Saperstein.”

One night Paige would be at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, in a White Sox uniform, pitching for the Clowns in front of a large crowd, or across town in Wrigley Field where 30,000 fans came out; another night would find him in Hastings, Pennsylvania taking “the mound for the Hastings VFW club,” or Wheatfield, Indiana pitching “for the Band Boosters against the Wheatfield Young Farmers,” in front of a few hundred people.

Paige at Comiskey Park in 1965--Chicago Cubs outfielder George Altman is the catcher.

Paige at Comiskey Park in 1965–Chicago Cubs outfielder George Altman is the catcher.

Things began to look up in late July when the Cleveland Indians inducted Paige into the team’s Hall of Fame between games of a Sunday doubleheader with the Yankees; in front of the team’s largest crowd of the season:  56,634.  According to United Press International:

“Satch tossed examples of his blooper, drooper and hesitation pitches to (former Indians teammate) Jim Hegan, now a Yankee coach and explained his philosophy of pitching thus: ‘Just take the ball and throw it where you want to.  Throw strikes.  Home plate don’t move.”

In August, he accepted an offer to pitch for and manage a team in Anchorage, Alaska called the Earthquakers.  In reality, Paige simply went to Alaska for a short series of exhibition games, and had no intention of staying there—he was already booked to appear at the old-timers game scheduled in September to mark the first season of the Houston Astrodome.  But he did his best to sell it as a possible long-term move.  He told a reporter for The Associated Press:

“Lately, I’ve wanted to leave barnstorming baseball to settle down somewhat to help the sport.  Anchorage seems to be the place to do it.”

In addition to his appearance in a handful of games in Alaska, his arrival in the state also resulted in a chance meeting that was reported in the press.

As a crowd of local residents gathered at the Anchorage airport to greet Paige, another plane arrived for refueling.  It carried former Vice President Richard M. Nixon on his way to Tokyo.  Nixon walked into the terminal while the plane was refueled, and when he asked about the crowd he was told they were waiting for Paige’s arrival.  Nixon joined the line to greet the pitcher.  The man who would be the leader of the free world in a little more than three years told a reporter from The Associated Press:

“I always like to meet celebrities.”

Nixon and Paige meet in Alaska

Nixon and Paige meet in Alaska

His commitment in Alaska over, Paige made it to the Astrodome on September 6.  The two-inning game, featuring a team of “immortals” versus “Texas All-Stars,” was an incredible collection of legends—more than 50 former players participated; twelve were already members of the Hall of Fame.  The Houston Post said of the player introductions:

Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, got a deafening cheer.  So did Satchel Paige, peerless Negro hurler.”

The paper said the only others to receive a reception near that for Paige and DiMaggio were Dizzy Dean and native Texan Monty Stratton.

Paige in the Astrodome

Paige in the Astrodome

Perhaps it was the reception in Houston that caused one of the letters Paige, and his wife and daughter had written months earlier to finally be answered.

Charles Oscar Finley, who made his fortune in the insurance business and bought controlling interest of the Kansas City A’s before the 1961 season, was the one who finally responded.

That the signing of Paige appears to have been a spur of the moment decision for Finley after reading about the reception in Houston, is supported by the fact that it was announced by the marketing savvy Finley at what The Kansas City Times described as a “hastily called news conference,” which Finley, who was in Chicago, did not attend.

He appeared with General Manager Hank Peters and told reporters “I thought they were kidding” when Finley called and offered him a contract.

He said he was ready to pitch and brushed aside questions about his age:

“I think I can still pitch and help this club.  So what difference does it make what my age is if I can?”

Bill Veeck, who had signed Paige with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and the St. Louis Browns in 1951, told The Times he hoped it wasn’t just a publicity stunt by Finley:

“I am hopeful he will be used as he should be—as a pitcher. Leroy should surprise a few people as he has for a long time.”

Veeck and Paige

Veeck and Paige

The controversial Veeck, more than a decade away from his return to the game, told The Kansas City Star he blamed himself for the pitcher’s  long absence:

“When I left Cleveland the first thing the new owners did was get rid of Satch.  When I sold the St. Louis Browns (and the team relocated to Baltimore), the same thing happened.  That’s nothing more than guilt by association.”

The signing of the 59-year-old Paige, who joined a team that included five 19 and 20-year-old pitchers who appeared in at least one game that year—Jim “Catfish” Hunter, John “Blue Moon” Odom, Ron Tompkins, Tom Harrison and Don Buschorn—inspired a short poem published in The Star:

“They’re either too

Young or too old,

When Charlie puts ‘em

In A’s Green and Gold.”

Papers across the country carried a photograph of Paige, seated on a chair, with one of Finley’s young pitchers, Catfish Hunter, on his knee.  While the photo was straight from Finley’s marketing plan, the impact of one future Hall of Famer on another, forty years his junior, seems to have been real.

Paige and Hunter

Paige and Hunter

The Star spoke to Paige about his pitching philosophy one afternoon as Hunter stood nearby.  The paper said:

“Hunter listened intently as Satchel expounded his pitching theories.”

Paige was equally impressed with the 19-year-old, telling The Star:

“This young man has shown me a lot of poise.  He has a great future in this game.”

The next two weeks were filled with pictures of, and stories about, Paige in a rocking chair, a nurse seated nearby, watching the A’s play, and while a “Satchel Paige Night” was scheduled, there appeared little chance the pitcher would be used as anything but a prop for publicity.  Then Finley announced that his new pitcher would start on his night, September 25 against the Boston Red Sox.

What took place on the mound on September 25 has been written about many times. With his six children and wife Lahoma—pregnant with number seven—sitting in the owner’s box with Finley, Paige pitched three shutout innings, allowing just one hit—a Carl Yastrzemski double.

The only disappointment was the anemic crowd—just 9,289 Kansas City fans turned out to see a legend, the second largest crowd during that six-game home stand was 2,874.

As Paige took the mound in the fourth inning, A’s Manager Haywood Sullivan, who was not consulted before Paige’s signing or before Finley announced he would pitch that night, came to the mound to remove Paige.  The pitcher walked off to a standing ovation.

Paige walks off the field with Manager Haywood Sullivan while Diego Segui warms up.

Paige walks off the field with Manager Haywood Sullivan while Diego Segui warms up.

Paige returned to the clubhouse.  The Star said:

“In the clubhouse he was down to his long underwear, and talking about helping the A‘s out of the basement when someone rushed in a and screamed, ‘Satch, they want you back on the field.’

“The lights were out.  More than 9,000 matches flickered in the darkness, and on ‘Salute to Satchel Paige Night,’ they sang ‘Rockin’ Chair,’ ‘Darling I am Growing Old,’ and “The Old Gray Mare.”

After returning to the clubhouse, Paige was greeted by Finley, who called him “a real credit to the game.”  Paige “shook the owner’s hand” and said “I want to thank you for bringing me here.”

Whether he truly believed it or not, Paige told reporters he planned to pitch again in 1965.

“Everybody doubted me on the ballclub.  They’ll have more confidence in me now.”

He did not appear in another game but stayed with the club for the remainder of the season.  Two days after his three-inning performance, he was with the team in Baltimore.

A discouraging word had not been uttered by Paige during his time with the A’s.  Perhaps being in Baltimore—where his big league career effectively ended after Veeck sold the Browns—or maybe just the realization that a man capable of throwing three shutout innings at age 59 was not given an opportunity by a major league club the previous 12 seasons, changed that.

Lou Hatter wrote in The Baltimore Sun:

“Satchel Paige, the slender pitching ancient signed 2 ½ weeks ago by Kansas City, bared a deep-rooted wound here last night for the first time.”

Paige said to Hatter:

“You can put it this way.  You can say I resent being overlooked by organized baseball all these years while I threw away most of my best years pitching for a barnstorming club…All they ask me, though, is how old am I.  But nobody asks me why I stayed out of the major leagues for 15 [sic 12] years.  That’s a long time isn’t it?  That’s a lifetime for most professional players.

“Let me ask another question. When Baltimore bought the St. Louis ballclub, why did they turn me loose?

“When I went to the Miami club (again pitching for Bill Veeck with the International League Marlins) and was a top pitcher for three years (11, 10 and 10 win seasons with ERAs of 1.86, 2.42 and 2.95), how come nobody picked me up?…I know the answer, but I won’t tell that neither—like I won’t tell my age.”

Despite Finley telling reporters throughout September that Paige would return to the A’s in 1966, if not as a player, then as a coach, he was released in September. The next time he appeared on the mound at Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium, it was again as a member of the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns.

Paige back in Kansas City as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns in 1966.

Paige back in Kansas City as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns in 1966.

Sam Barkley and the Mobster

29 Oct

Samuel W. Barkley’s brief career on the diamond was highlighted by two legal disputes over his services; his life off the field was more complicated and interesting.

Barkley rose from amateur and semi-pro teams around Wheeling, West Virginia, to a solid season (.306, league-leading 39 doubles) as a 26-year-old rookie with the Toledo Blue Stockings in the American Association in 1884.  Among his teammates in Toledo were Fleetwood and Welday Walker.

Toledo was only a major league franchise in 1884—The Toledo Blade said the team had lost “nearly $10,000–and disbanded, selling five players, including Barkley, to the St. Louis Browns—the sale included pitcher Tony Mullane, who attempted to sign with Cincinnati after agreeing to sign with St. Louis, leading to his year-long suspension.  By the time all the legal wrangling was done, only Barkley and Curt Welch reported to the Browns.

After a .268 season in St. Louis, owner Chris Von der Ahe sold him to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, but Barkley had already signed a contract with the Baltimore Orioles.  The American Association suspended and fined Barkley; Barkley sued.  The dispute was settled with Barkley being reinstated and Pittsburgh paying the fine on his behalf.

Sam Barkley

Sam Barkley

After two years in Pittsburgh, he was purchased by the Kansas City Cowboys, and that’s when his life got more interesting.

In Chicago, he met an 18-year-old woman named Dora Feldman, who followed him to Kansas City, where as The Toledo News-Bee said, “most of his money was thrown at the feet of the young woman.”

Barkley later told The Chicago Inter Ocean that the day before he married Dora “she went to her room in a Kansas City hotel and took poison, fearing he would not marry her.”

He hit just .216 in 1888 but was hitting .284 the following season when he was sold to the Toledo Black Pirates in the International League.  After just 50 games there his career was over.  At some point during the 1888 season he suffered a knee injury he said ended his career:

“I knocked a safe one to left field, and was dancing around between first and second bags when (Mike) Mattimore, the Philadelphia (Athletics) pitcher attempted to catch me napping.  He ran to the base line, and as I attempted to slide back to the first bag he unintentionally gave me the ‘knee’ and it injured severely the knee cap on my left leg.”

With his playing days behind him, Barkley, who was reported to have made as much as $1,800 a season with the Alleghenys, returned to Pittsburgh with a young wife who had aspirations to be an actress and opened a cigar store.  It didn’t end well.

It didn’t end well.

After just more than a year in business, The Pittsburgh Press said Barkley’s store on Smithfield Street closed by order of the sheriff, due to “claims aggregating $3,600.”

The couple moved to Chicago.  Things initially went better there.

Barkley opened a tavern at 292 West Madison Street, and he and Dora had a son who was born around 1895.

Shortly after they returned to Chicago Dora met Chicago’s first crime boss Michael Cassius “Mike” McDonald.  Richard Henry Little of The Chicago Tribune said McDonald “never held office but ruled the city with an iron hand.”  McDonald built a gambling and protection syndicate, controlled the Garfield Park racetrack, and solidified his control of the city as leader of the local Democratic Party.  He was also heavily involved in legitimate businesses—he owned The Chicago Globe newspaper and financed the building of Chicago’s first elevated rail line.

Mike McDonald

Mike McDonald

Years later Barkley told The Inter Ocean about his wife’s first meeting with McDonald:

“She was introduced to him at a box party in McVicker’s Theater shortly after the close of the big fair (World’s Columbia Exposition), in 1893…I remember the night distinctly.  Dora came home to our place at 319 Washington Boulevard and told me that she had met a very fascinating old man (McDonald was 44), who reputed to have a lot of money.

“’Watch me get a piece of that money,’ Dora said to me, jestingly, and fool that I was I laughed at the supposed joke.”

Dora Feldman Barkley McDonald

Dora Feldman Barkley McDonald

There are several versions of what happened next.  One involves an elaborate (seemingly too elaborate) story that suggested Barkley was lured by a friend of McDonald into a compromising position involving women and drugs—only to be “caught” by his wife.  The more likely version was that he was simply paid off—The Inter Ocean said he received $30,000 to divorce Dora.

Barkley never acknowledged receiving the money and only said:

“(Dora and McDonald) had planned between them to oust me, and no matter what I might have done, it would have been all the same in the long run.  With his money and his influence, McDonald could put it over me any time he wanted.”

Dora eventually became McDonald’s second wife in 1898, (his first wife, who once shot a police officer—she was acquitted—had eloped to Europe with a priest).

By 1897, Barkley had opened a new tavern at 15 North Clark Street, which was frequently in the news.

Sam Barkley

Sam Barkley

The Chicago Tribune called it a “notorious saloon,” and The Chicago Daily News reported on several occasions that the saloon had its license revoked temporarily for various criminal activities and violations; in 1900 The Inter Ocean said a grand jury report was “almost an indictment of the city administration for its toleration of the dives, all-night saloons, and resorts for thieves and the depraved.”  Of Barkley’s location the grand jury said:

“Men and women drinking, swearing and carousing, with music; open after midnight in the past.  Several murders have been committed in front of this door.”

As with all such “clean-up” drives during that era in Chicago, nothing came of the grand jury report.

Dora again made headlines in 1907—and as a result so did her ex-husband.

The Inter Ocean said:

‘Mike ‘ M’Donald’s Wife Kills Artist in His Studio

“Dora McDonald, wife of Michael C. McDonald, millionaire, politician, traction man, and ex-gambler, shot and killed Webster S. Guerin, an artist, behind the locked doors of his studio in the Omaha Building, LaSalle and Van Buren Streets yesterday.”

Barkley was quickly contacted by reporters and told his sad story of how Dora had left him.  The paper said:

“The story that Sam Barkley slowly grieved his life away over the loss of his pretty wife is disproved by the discovery of Sam Barkley alive and prosperous in Chicago today.”

Dora McDonald was eventually acquitted, but Mike McDonald did not live to see it, he died during her trial.

Barkley fell on hard times in Chicago soon after the killing.  In August of 1908 a six-inning benefit baseball game was played at Comiskey Park between two Chicago City League teams–“Nixey” Callahan‘s Logan Squares and the Rogers Parks–“to raise enough money to start him in the cigar business.”  The Chicago Examiner said, “A fair-sized crowd turned out.”

Fred Pfeffer played first base for the Rogers Parks and “was the hero of the game with two hits besides fielding in grand style,” another former big leaguer, Emil Gross, served as umpire.

Shortly after that Barkley was operating a cigar store in his hometown, Wheeling, West Virginia.

There was one last chapter in the Barkley story.  Soon after he returned to West Virginia he was living in poverty and became ill, and died on April 20, 1912.  The Chicago Daily News said several days before his death a former baseball acquaintance was summoned to his side:

Billy Sunday called on him.  He talked baseball for a while and then religion.  At the end Sam liked both equally well.”

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday

Dora McDonald was contacted for a comment:

“It is a closed incident—it’s so long ago that I knew him.  But I’m sorry.”

She eventually married a doctor, moved to California and died in 1930.

Lost Advertisements–“Zim Says It’s a Hit”

8 May

zimmermansaftyrazor

A 1912 advertisement for Ever-Ready Safety Razor featuring Chicago Cubs star Henry “Heinie” Zimmerman.

“Ever-Ready is my motto.  My bat is ever-ready and I use “Ever-Ready” Safety Razor because it is always ready, sharp, cuts clean, works in a jiffy.  It makes a bit hit with me.  Try it boys.”

The 1917 World Series, which the White Sox won 4 games to 2, was the low point of Zimmerman’s career.  Now playing for the Giants, the former Cub had once said: “I’d rather play in hell than in Comiskey Park.”  White Sox fans did not let him forget it.  Called “The sassiest and most ill-tempered player in the game,” by a wire service article before the series which also said, “Can you imagine what he will endure when the W.S. takes place?”

He did endure a lot.  Zimmerman was jeered by Sox fans throughout the series.  He hit .120, committed three errors, and was undeservedly blamed for a botched rundown when Rube Benton and Walter Holke failed to cover the plate, and the Sox’ fleet second baseman Eddie Collins beat the slower Zimmerman in a footrace home, scoring the winning run in game 6.

A Thousand Words–Satchel Paige, Chicago White Sox

6 Feb

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What if?  Satchel Paige in a White Sox uniform.  From 1938-1947 the Sox never finished better than 3rd, add Satchel Paige to those teams, which already had some good pitching including Ted Lyons, Eddie LopatThornton Lee, Monty Stratton and Orval Grove, and Sox fans might have had something to cheer about.  But of course, by the time Paige had a chance to play in the Major Leagues he was at least 42-years-old.  Paige would have helped at the box office as well.  For example, on July 18, 1942 the Sox drew slightly better than 24,000 for a doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers, across town at Wrigley Field a nearly identical amount came out to watch Paige pitch the first five innings for the Memphis Red Sox against the New York Cuban Stars.

Instead, all White Sox fans have is this rare photo taken in 1965 when Paige appeared with the Indianapolis Clowns at Comiskey Park (Chicago Cubs outfielder George Altman is the catcher in the picture).

——-

in 1935, Gene Coughlin, a sports writer for The Los Angeles Evening Post-Record wrote a column that went largely ignored, calling on organized baseball to break the color barrier which “not only makes (baseball) look ridiculous but is at the same time passing up increased business.”  Coughlin predicted that if a Pacific Coast League team were to sign Paige, it “would be good for an extra 10.000 in attendance every time he goes to the mound.  And he became good despite the inane prejudice that drives the colored baseball player to the sandlots and keeps him there.”

Coughlin’s column concluded:

“When you come right down to it, that baseball doesn’t give a darn whether it is pitched or caught by a white hand or a black one.  It is a symbol of game, a sport, and not a symbol of class distinction or color.”

Twelve years later organized baseball finally agreed.

Dero Austin

10 Jan

 

dero

Dero Austin Jr. was one of the few Negro League “players” who was born too late; he was added to the Indianapolis Clowns in 1964 to try to recreate the fame of one of his predecessors, Spec Bebop, who had top billing with the team well into the 1950s.

Spec Bebop, circa 1952

Spec Bebop, circa 1952

Austin quickly joined  James “Nature Boy” Williams as one of the most popular members of the barnstorming team, but the Clowns were well past their heyday when they filled ballparks across the country.  Occasionally they still drew well, in Austin’s first season, 1964, 15,797 fans saw the Clowns in Chicago’s Comiskey Park on July 10; across town 13,556 fans watched the Cubs play the San Francisco Giants.

Austin would usually bat first in each game, replicating Eddie Gaedel’s appearance for Bill Veeck’s Saint Louis Browns in 1951–occasionally Satchel Paige would pitch to Austin.  While he appeared in publicity photo’s playing the field, he never appeared in the field during a game.

Satchel Paige pitching, Dero Austin at the plate.  Comiskey Park 1966

Satchel Paige pitching, Dero Austin at the plate. Comiskey Park 1966

Austin never became as popular as Bebop, and the Clowns continued playing to smaller crowds in smaller towns until they disbanded in the 1980s.

dero

Austin stayed with the Clowns well into the 70s and by 1974 was billed as the team’s manager.  The 31-inch tall Grandfield, Oklahoma native died in July of 1987 at age 39.