Tag Archives: Dakota League

“There Ain’t any Good Umpires”

15 Mar

Perry Werden had a reputation as an umpire baiter during his more than 20 years a professional player

His penchant for hurling obscenities at umpires was so well know that in 1895 The St. Paul Globe, in noting that the Minneapolis Millers had issued free season tickets for all the town’s clergy members said:

“Perry Werden will give them food enough for sermons to last the rest of the summer.”

In 1899, he was thrown out of a game before it began because, The Globe said, “Perry threw the ball at (Jack) Sheridan, swiftly.” That was the culmination of a several-year struggle with Sheridan, who tossed him out of many Western League games. In 1895 The Milwaukee Journal said that during one game in which Sheridan ejected him:

“(T)he actions of Werden and others were so objectionable that 200 spectators left the grounds in a body and stated they would never patronize another game as long as base ball was so conducted in their city.”

On that occasion Werden was fined $50 and escorted from the grounds by two Milwaukee police officers.

While playing for the Memphis Egyptians in 1903, Werden and teammate Al Miller were fined $25 in a Birmingham police court for assaulting an umpire; he was escorted from the field by police on at least two other occasions that season.

Jack Brennan—born Gottlieb Doering—and Werden were teammates as rookies with the St. Louis Maroons in the Union Association in 1884 and remained friends. When Werden played for the Minneapolis Millers in the Western League and Brennan umpired in the circuit, The Globe said:

“They are great friends, but Brennan puts Perry out of the game whenever he gets a chance. When Perry hurt his knee…the umpire sent the following telegram of condolence to the big first baseman: ‘I hope that you will have to saw your leg off,” To this Werden replied” ‘I sincerely hope a foul takes your head off.”’

By 1906, well past his prime at 44, Werden joined the Vicksburg Hill Billies in the Cotton States League. He had played in the same league the previous season with the Hattiesburg Tar Heels and coached the Mississippi College baseball team in the spring.

He signed with Vicksburg–who were off to a 2-14 start under manager Billy Earle–along with Jeff Clarke, who had been the ace of his Mississippi College pitching staff as soon as the season ended on May 10.

Werden was immediately popular, as he had been in every city he played.

The Jackson Daily News said he, “has made many friends,” and was rumored to be in line to replace Earle and manager.

The Vicksburg Herald said:

“The old man has a good supply of ginger left and held down the initial sack in fine form. His coaching was calculated to put life into the youngsters, and he showed as much enthusiasm as a boy. There is no doubt that his presence on the team will add materially to its strength.”

The Vicksburg American reported that Werden and teammate Tom Toner “now have a bachelor’s quarters at the ballpark.” The two lived in a tent, where “Perry is cook and woodchopper and Tommie does other chores. Both are well pleased with the outing.”

And it took only four games for Werden to be “put out of the game and fined $5 for something said to the umpire.” He was tossed from at least two more games in next six weeks.

But, after hitting .328 in the same league the previous season, Werden, who injured a leg in June, hit just .141 in 49 games for Vicksburg.

Werden

On July 8, with the team 23-43, Earle resigned as manager and Werden was released. The American said:

“Perry today stands as one of the grand old ruins of what was once a gilt-edged celebrity, and with due respect to his age and feelings he certainly may be relegated to that realm called ‘has been.’”

The Vicksburg Evening Post was less kind, claiming Earle’s resignation was because “internal dissentions caused principally by Werden made it impossible for him to get good work out of his men.”

The Herald remained in Werden’s corner, saying the club’s directors:

“(F)or some occult reason, regarded him as a disturber. Just how these gentlemen arrived at that conclusion is a mystery. If the matter were left to the patrons of the game—the persons who make baseball a possibility—Werden would have been retained.”

For his part, The Herald said Werden was “grieved because the report circulated that his is a disorganizer…he says he has played ball for twenty-three years and the charge was never made before.”

Less than a week after his release, Joe O’Brien, president of the American Association asked him to become what he hated most: an umpire.

Werden accepted, but never said a good word about his new career despite immediately receiving positive reviews:

The Columbus (OH) Dispatch said after his first game there:

“Perry Werden is a good umpire. That’s the verdict that must be rendered on his first appearance at Neil Park. He permits no idle coaching and has good judgment on balls and strikes. Pitchers get the corner of the plate when they put them there. Fans liked his work.”

The Indianapolis Sun recounted some highlights from “genial jolly Perry’s” first weeks on the job:

“Werden’s tongue bids fair to be as cutting as that of the Hibernian Tim Hurst. He has umpired but a few games, but he has already won a reputation for being a wit and a master of repartee.”

Werden was quick to return questioned call with insults—during one game in Toledo, Fred Odwell, just sent to the Toledo Mud Hens from the Cincinnati Reds suggested Werden “open his eyes,” after a call, the umpire responded:

“What are you trying to do? Kick yourself back into the big league?”

He ordered Toledo’s Otto Knabe back to his position during an argument before Toledo manager Ed Grillo, “gets next to what a four-flusher you are.”

When Mud Hens third baseman Otto Krueger objected to a call, Werden chastised him for an earlier misplay:

“No, you are a nice bone head. Anybody that don’t know how many men are out and stands like a dummy with the ball at third base while a man runs down to first, has got no business to talk to me. Skidoo.”

When Indianapolis Indians catcher Ducky Holmes questioned a call, Werden responded:

“Little boy, every ball I call you say is a strike, and every strike you say is a ball. Shut up or I’ll have an amateur catching in your place.”

Dick Padden, whose major league career had ended the previous season, and was player-manager of the St. Paul Saints had his value to his club dismissed by Werden during an argument:

“Padden, you can kick all you want to. You dead ones don’t count. When I chase a man, I’ll put out someone who can weaken the team. Stick in Dick. I know you’re tired, but I am not going to put you out.”

Having served well for a few weeks, Werden parodied his well-known umpire hatred when he told The Sun:

“There ain’t any good umpires. There never was an umpire in the history of baseball that knew anything about the rules…there never was an umpire that could tell whether a curve broke over the plate or not…All that an umpire is out there for is to make a bluff at giving the decisions.”

After his many years as a player, Werden said he was “taking the rest cure,” as an umpire:

“The rottener you are the better you get by.”

And he endeared himself to every fan who swore they could see a play better than the umpire on the field:

“I’ve often wondered how the loud-faced fellow, in the stands, at 100 yards off from the play, can see exactly what comes off, But it’s so; he can. He never makes a mistake. I’ll admit sometimes it’s pretty hard for the umpire to see when he’s right on the spot. Where the runner and the ball and the baseman are. That’s the difference between the umpire and the fan. The umpire is always rotten and a dud, while the fan is always wise, just, and correct.”

At the close of his first half season, The Minneapolis Journal said of the new umpire:

“Perry as an umpire is getting away with it in great shape. He is a popular idol around the circuit and gets along well with the players.”

The reluctant umpire was hired back for the 1907 season.

Werden, top left, with the 1907 Western League umpire staff. Standing front l to, r. S.J. Kane and Gerald Hayes tope row, Werden, W.J. Sullivan, Jack Kerwin, and John Egan.

Early in in 1907 season, The Indianapolis News, likened Werden to a mythical wise king, and asked “the Nestor of the umpires,” about his newly chosen career: among the questions and answers:

“What is the future of umpiring? Was asked.

“A fool or a martyr is born every minute.”

“Can you recommend it to the American youth?

“Has he not a friend?”

“Would you advise umpiring as a profession?

“It is more exciting that the South American revolutions and the climate is better.”

“How did you come to be an umpire?”

“I was sent up for life, but the governor changed the sentence.”

Werden’s transformation from umpire attacker to umpire came full circle during a June 11, 1907 game in Louisville, after what The Courier-Journal called a “raw mistake” by the umpire calling a runner safe at second–a call Colonels pitcher Jim “Bull” Durham objected to. The Times said:

“Werden was forced to stand abusive language and as a climax Durham struck Werden with his glove.”

Durham was suspended for a week for the attack.

Late in his second season, Werden told The Minneapolis Journal he couldn’t “get used to umpiring,” Hugh Edmund (Hek) Keough responded in The Chicago Tribune:

Possibly it is because umpiring can’t get used to him.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune summed up Werden’s tenure:

“The big fellow makes his mistakes, but he is honest and fair, and this is all the fans want.”

William Henry Watkins, owner of the Indianapolis Indians, rescued Werden from umpiring after it was reported that he had already signed to move from the American Association to the Western League.

The Minneapolis Journal said:

“Werden will go to Indianapolis to act as assistant manager, coach, and advisor general of the Indianapolis baseball club.”

The Indianapolis News called him “The official coacher and trainer” of the club.

Caricature of Werden as Indianapolis “Coach”

Werden was ejected for the first time as Indians’ “coacher,” during the season’s eighth game by Stephen Kane—his frequent umpiring partner the previous season.

The Indians won their first pennant since 1902 and the coach received much of the credit in the Indianapolis press and was brought back for a second season.

Werden didn’t return in 1910, though he was apparently asked back. He went home to Minneapolis to organized a semi-pro team; Werden’s All-Stars that played for several seasons in Minneapolis’ City League..

He returned to umpiring in the Northern League in 1913—he was the league’s chief umpire– and the Dakota League in 1920 and 21.

Werden was also responsible for one rule change as an umpire. The Toledo Blade told the story:

“One day last summer a couple of fans shied some cushions at the venerable pate of Perry Werden. Perry immediately hied himself to the office of President Joe (O’Brien) and reported that he had been hanged, strangled, and flayed by the Milwaukee bugs.

“O’Brien was required to obey the rule and a $100 penalty was plastered on to Harry Clark, the supposition being that Clark was field captain of the Brewers. Clark denied that he was the leader of the team, and as he produced an affidavit swearing to his statement, O’Brien was powerless to collect the fine. He allowed the matter to drop but was thoughtful enough to bring it up at the annual meeting. Under the new rule the club and not the captain will be liable.”

“King of the Natural Hitters”

25 Jan

Percival Wheritt “Perry” “Moose” Werden began his baseball career as a pitcher for the semi-professional team of his employer; the Ira Perry Pie Company in Saint Louis.  He was discovered by the St. Louis Browns who offered him a contract but ultimately signed with the Saint Louis Maroons in the Union Association.

(An oft-repeated story that Werden’s discovery involved him leaving a pie wagon unattended to join a game, resulting in the wagon being destroyed is almost certainly apocryphal, although it has been repeated as fact with little or no support by several writers)

In 1884 the 22-year-old was 12-1 with a 1.97 for the Maroons who at 94-19 won the Union Association pennant by 21 games; despite the strong start, Werden would never pitch in the Major Leagues again.

The Maroons joined the National League the following season and Werden ended up with the Memphis Reds in the Southern League.  He was primarily a catcher a first baseman, and his career as a pitcher pretty much ended; he appeared on the mound in only three games that season and had only 14 more minor league appearances over the next 10 years because of arm trouble.

Perry Werden, 1908

Perry Werden, 1908

From 1886-88, Werden played with five minor league teams and played three games in the National League with Washington in 1888.  In 1889, Werden joined the Toledo Black Pirates in the International League, where he became a great hitter.

Werden hit .394 for Toledo; in 424 at-bats, he had 167 hits, which was the hit record for the franchise for nearly 100 years, finally broken by Greg “Boomer” Wells in 1982 (Wells had 182 hits in 541 at-bats).

Toledo became a Major League franchise the following season, joining the American Association as the Maumees, Werden was the their starting first baseman, hit .295 and led the team in hits, runs, triples, and RBIs.  The Maumees finished 68-64 in their only season.

Werden was sold by Toledo to the Baltimore Orioles in 1891 and had another solid season, leading the team in hits, triples and RBI’s.  The following season he was signed by the Saint Louis Browns to replace Charles Comiskey at first base; Comiskey had jumped the Browns to join the Cincinnati Reds.

Werden hit .256 and .290 in two seasons with the Browns.  In 1894, he returned to the minor leagues with the Minneapolis Minnies in the Western League.  That’s where he became a legend.

In 1894, Werden exploded.  He hit .417 with 43 home runs.  In 1895, he improved to .428 with 45 home runs.

The Western League was no doubt a hitter’s league; eight players with at least 100 at-bats hit .400 or better in 1894 and 11 did so in 1895.  And the Minnies home field, Athletic Park, where Werden hit most of his home runs, was by all estimates a hitter’s paradise with a short (some sources say 250 feet) fence.

Regardless, 45 home runs would remain a professional baseball record until 1920. The Duluth News-Tribune said several years later that Werden hit seven home runs in a double-header in 1895; under the headline “Perry Werden was King of the Natural Hitters:”

“It was one of the greatest batting feats ever seen on a baseball lot anywhere.”

Werden had one last season in the Major Leagues.  At 35-years-old in 1897, he hit .301 for the Louisville Colonels, then returned to the minor leagues where he continued to hit well; .330 for his minor league career.

Werden became an umpire in the American Association in 1907, and became a baseball pioneer in 1908 when he joined the Indianapolis Indians in the same league; he was one of the first full-time coaches in professional baseball.  The Associated Press said:

“Perry Werden will go to Indianapolis to act as assistant manager, coach and advisor in general of the Indianapolis baseball club this year.”

In October The Indianapolis News declared Werden a success in the new role:

“Werden was one of the biggest factors in bringing Indianapolis her first pennant since 1902.  Without his services it’s highly probable the flag would have flown elsewhere”

The Indianapolis Star predicted that Werden’s “novel position,” would become the norm with the Indians, and throughout baseball.

Werden eventually returned to umpiring, working in the western, Dakota, South Dakota and Northern leagues.

His 43 home run season became news again in 1920 as Babe Ruth was closing in on Werden’s professional record.  Werden said there was one player in his era who was Ruth’s equal as a hitter.  Who was it?

Read about it on Monday.