Tag Archives: Cotton States League

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.

21 Straight

20 Sep

The Delta League only lasted two seasons, 1904 and ’05, but James Baxter Sparks made the first a memorable one.

The 21 year old Yazoo City Zoos southpaw set a professional baseball record by winning 21 consecutive games.  During one week he beat the Brookhaven team in three straight games, then after one day off shut out the Jackson Senators.  Sparks also threw a no-hitter against Clarksdale during the streak.

The Sporting Life said that Sparks appeared in 33 games during the season but there is no record of his overall record for the season.

Sparks spent the majority of his career in the low minor leagues, the only exception being 1906 with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association where he went 8-10.  From 1910-1912 he was 49-23 for Vicksburg in the Cotton States League.  His career ended with Meridian in the same league in 1913.

Sparks coached the University of Mississippi baseball team in 1917 and returned to the Cotton States League as a manager in 1923 and ’24 with the Clarksdale Cubs and Laurel Lumberjacks.  He died in Mississippi in 1956.

One more bit of trivia from the Delta League.  The 1904 season featured a scoreless 19 inning game between Jackson and Brookhaven on August 24—the longest scoreless game to end in a tie in professional baseball until the record was tied by the Dodgers and Reds in 1946.

Game Called on Account of Singing

6 Sep

During a Delta League game between Clarksdale and Hattiesburg on July 12, 1904, the Clarksdale teams, led by manager David Gaston were riding the umpire for a series of questionable calls.

The team began singing a song which according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal “Umpire Davis said reflected on him.” (Umpire Davis’ first name is lost to history)

After several warnings to quit singing, the umpire awarded the game to Hattiesburg.  Likely the only time in history a game has been forfeited over a song.

William David Gaston was long-time figure in southern baseball, spending time as a player and manager in the South Atlantic and Cotton States Leagues as well as the Southern Association.  Contemporaneous newspaper accounts mention him as   a member of the Chattanooga Lookouts in 1901 and 1902, although Baseball Reference does not list him on either roster.

Born January 18, 1879 (BR incorrectly lists his year of birth as 1882), in Chattanooga, TN, Gaston remained active in local baseball until his death in that same city in 1948.

Filling in the Blanks–Felts

27 Jul

A semi-regular feature providing more biographical information for a player who lacks a complete profile on Baseball Reference.

For the 1927 Hattiesburg and Meridian Mississippi teams in the Cotton States League, Baseball Reference lists a player simply as “Felts” as playing for both teams.

Every college football fan in America in 1931 knew that the Felts who played in the Cotton States League was All-American Tulane Fullback Nollie C. “Papa” Felts.  That time in the Cotton States ended his collegiate career.

Felts was in the midst of his 2nd career in college football in 1931.  Born February 7, 1905, he had captained the Southern Mississippi football team in 1923, also lettering in baseball and basketball.  Felts left Southern Mississippi to become a teacher and raise a family, and took time out in the summer of 1927 to play 20 games in the Cotton States League.

Nollie Felts

In 1930 Tulane offered Felts a scholarship to play football and attend medical school.  Felts became captain and earned All-American honors in 1931 leading Tulane to an 11-0 record in the regular season and losing 21-12 to National Champions USC in the Rose Bowl.

 Felts’ football career ended the next season.  He was forced to miss the Green Wave’s first game of 1932 with Texas A&M when the Southern Conference ruled him ineligible because of his 20 game career in professional baseball.  Felts claimed he had not been paid by either Hattiesburg or Meridian, an assertion that was confirmed by team and Cotton States League officials, and appealed the decision. The Southern Conference executive committee unanimously rejected Felts’ appeal and he was declared permanently ineligible.

Without Felts Tulane finished the 1932 season 6-2-1, including their first loss since 1926 to in state rival LSU.

Felts turned down several offers to play professional football, opting to finish medical school. He practiced medicine in Hattiesburg, Mississippi until death on November 1, 1974.