Tag Archives: Dan Dugdale

Coast League Stories

5 Dec

Abe Kemp began working at newspapers in San Francisco in 1907, when he was 14 years old, and spent the next 62 years primarily at The San Francisco Examiner where he covered his two passions, baseball and horse racing.

kemp

Abe Kemp

Over the years he collected a number of stories of baseball on the West Coast.

Catcher Tubby Spencer hit just .127 in 21 games for the San Francisco Seals in 1913. Contemporaneous reports said Spencer wore out his welcome with manager Del Howard in Portland. Years later, Kemp said the decision to let Spencer go was made during a team stopover in Sonoma County, and not by Howard. Kemp said he saw:

“Spencer staggering down the highway at Boyes Hot Springs one morning and President/Owner Cal Ewing yelling at him, ‘Hey, ‘Tub,’ where are you going?’

“’I’m going for a little air,’ yelled back Tub.

“’Then keep going,’ shouted Ewing, ‘because you will need it. You’re through.’”

tubbyspencer

Tubby Spencer

Harry “Slim” Nelson was a mediocre left-handed pitcher and weak hitter who played a half a dozen years on the West Coast. Kemp told of witnessing him “hit a home run through the screen at Recreation Park” in San Francisco when Nelson was playing for the Oakland Oaks.

“(He) became so excited when he reached second base that he swallowed his cud of chewing tobacco. Later on the bench, Slim was asked how the home run felt and he replied ‘it would have felt a whole lot better if I could have cut it up into singles to last me the season.”

Kemp said when George Van Haltren made the switch from Oaks player to Pacific Coast League umpire in 1909 he told Kemp and umpire Jack McCarthy “umpiring would be easy…because he had so many friends,” throughout the league. Kemp said McCarty responded:

“You mean you had so many friends. You haven’t any now.”

McCarthy appears to have been correct. Van Haltren was criticized throughout his short time as a Coast League umpire, and became a West Coast scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates the following two seasons. Van Haltren made one more attempt as an umpire, joining the Northwestern League staff in 1912; he was no more successful, lasting only one season after incurring the season-long wrath of Seattle Siwashes owner Dan Dugdale who demanded Van Haltren not be retained for the 1913 season.

George Van Haltren

Another player who had similar training habits to Tubby Spencer, according to Kemp, was Charles “Truck Eagan. Kemp said he was with Vernon Tigers manager Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray one day when Eagan played for the Tigers near the end of his career in 1909:

“Eagan, suffering from the effects of a bad night (told) manager Hap Hogan he was suffering from an attack of ptomaine poisoning.

‘”What did you eat’ the artful and suspicious Hogan asked.

“Eagan scratched his head a minute, then said guiltily, ‘It must have been the (bar) pretzels and herring, Hap.”

“We didn’t have any High-Faluting Baseball Paraphernalia”

15 Oct

The Seattle Star said of Dan Dugdale:

“No man in the Northwest can rival the experiences in baseball that Daniel E. Dugdale has had in the national game.”

In his 1934 obituary, The United Press called Dugdale “the father of organized baseball in Seattle.”

Dan Dugdale

Dan Dugdale

Primarily a catcher, Dugdale played professional ball for more than a decade; including two stints in the National League with the Kansas City Cowboys in 1886 and the Washington Senators in 1894.  He retired after the 1897 season and made what was intended to be a brief stop in Seattle on the way to Alaska for the Klondike Gold Rush.  He never made it to Alaska, and in Seattle, he organized most of the city’s early professional teams and built two ballparks.

Dan Dugdale 1894

Dan Dugdale 1894

Forty years after he began playing he shared his reminiscences about in the early 1880s in his hometown of Peoria, Illinois with Seattle reporter Leo Lassen:

“We didn’t have any high-faluting baseball paraphernalia for the deciding game of the Peoria, Illinois city championship in the summer of 1883.  I can remember that we used a piece of the curbstone for home plate.  Nobody except the catcher used glove, and he only had a fingerless glove of thin leather over both hands.

“Oh yes!  Of course my team, the Double Browns, won, or it wouldn’t start this story out right.  It was in that game that I got my start as a catcher.

“I had been playing shortstop, but the regular receiver split a finger and there wasn’t anyone else to catch, so I tried it.

“We stood back for the pitches except on the third strike, and except with men on bases, catching the ball on the first bounce when standing back.

Ted Kennedy, who later helped pitch one of Pop Anson’s Chicago teams into the championship, was hurling for our side that day, and baby but he could throw that ball with plenty of swift.

“’Don’t catch if you want to keep your health,’ Ted warned me before taking up my receiving duties…Kennedy was right.  The first time I stood up close to catch, the ball hit that curbstone plate and crashed into my mouth, knocking out teeth by the wholesale and putting me on queer street.

“But in those days no one considered quitting as long as it was possible to stand up and catch the ball.

“I finished the game and we won the championship, and I felt well repaid for it.

“That game started me on my baseball career as a catcher, after which I was to serve for 15 years as a receiver for clubs throughout the country.”

Kennedy wasn’t the only major leaguer Dugdale played with while in Peoria.  In 1885, he played with one of the claimants to the title of invention of the catcher’s mitt—Harry Decker—and Dugdale talked about some of the attempts his teammate made to protect his hands four years before Decker was awarded the patent for the Decker Safety Catcher’s Mitt:

“(Catchers) had no shin guards, masks or big gloves in those days, and a fellow had to be almost a martyr to go behind the plate with fellows like John Clarkson, Amos Rusie and those old stars doing the pitching.

“The big catcher’s pad now in use in baseball, is the same glove that Harry Decker, a teammate of mine on the Peoria team in 1885, invented.

“Harry had been troubled with split fingers and he kept tinkering around with leather trying to figure out how to protect his left hand, which does the big work for all catchers.

“He had a thin, fingerless glove to start with and one day he slipped a piece of raw beefsteak between the glove and his hand and that glove gave him his first idea.  He used this protection for almost a season, using a fresh piece of meat each day.

“Then he tried shot in the pocket of the glove and put a piece of leather on top of the shot, leaving it between the two pieces of leather.

“This gave him the idea of building the mitt up bigger and lacing fingers on the back of the glove.

“One day he hit upon the idea of stuffing the glove with rags in the mitt for protection, and finally got some good felt and used that.  It has been in use ever since.”

Decker Safety Catcher’s Mitt

Decker Safety Catcher’s Mitt

Dugdale remained the most prominent figure in Seattle baseball until he was hit by a truck and killed in 1934.

Accounts vary over how much Decker received from the sale of the mitt patent to A.G. Spalding.   He  is one of the enigmatic 19th Century players for whom there is no information on the date or location of his death.

After his career ended in 1891 he was convicted of numerous crimes—most involving forgery, but also including larceny and bigamy; several of his crimes involved other ballplayers.

Throughout his career Decker had a reputation as a womanizer; The Philadelphia Inquirer called him “The Don Juan of the Diamond,” but by 1890, perhaps exacerbated by his being hit in the head by a pitch, he went from lovable rogue to serial offender.  He racked up arrests and convictions in at least six states and an involuntary commitment to the Elgin State Hospital in Illinois over the next 25 years.

Victims of his crimes included Dugdale, and Al Reach, both of whose names appeared on forged checks in separate cases, and Jack Horner and Pat Pettee, teammates of Decker’s in 1891 during his brief stay with the New Haven Nutmegs in the Eastern Association.  Decker was convicted of stealing property worth $150 from Horner and $55 from Pettee after the two had allowed him to stay in the apartment they shared.

Decker’s trail goes cold after he was released from California’s San Quentin Prison in 1915.

Leo Lassen, the reporter Dugdale spoke to, went on to become the radio voice of the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League from 1931 through the 1961 season.  Some surviving audio can be found here.

“Mr. Borchers has Merely made Excuses.”

12 Feb

After two arrests and a season-long suspension in 1889, and another arrest and stints with four teams in 1890, George Borchers seemed to have settled down.

The San Francisco Chronicle said in January of 1891 that he was “taking excellent care of himself and will be ready to play winning ball.”

George Borchers

George Borchers

From 1891 through 1893 he pitched in the Pacific Northwest and California League’s and seems to have stayed sober and out of jail.

He was essentially a .500 pitcher, with less than average control; when he was with the Los Angeles Angels in 1893 he walked 210 batters, hit 24 and had 17 wild pitches.

The Los Angeles Herald regularly noted Borchers’ wildness.  In his first appearance for the Angels in April of ’93 he walked six and hit two batters in the first inning, yielding four runs, and was removed in the second after another walk and two more hit batsmen.  After a 21-12 May victory against Stockton the paper said:  “Borchers did himself proud, allowing 13 men to walk to first base, 12 for base on balls and one for being hit.  How the Angels managed to win with him in the box is a marvel.”

From 1894 through the 1896 season he was a baseball nomad, playing for nine teams in six leagues, including a single, disastrous final major league appearance with the Louisville Colonels in May of 1895—he started a game against the Brooklyn Grooms, lasting just two-thirds of an inning, giving up a hit, three walks, a wild pitch and two runs—earning the loss as the Colonels went down 11 to 0.

Caricature of Borchers from The San Francisco Call

Caricature of Borchers from The San Francisco Call

Borchers was out of organized baseball in 1897 and it’s unclear what he was doing and where he was doing it, but he resurfaced the in 1898 as a minor league team owner.  The Pacific Northwest League, which folded after the 1896 season, was resurrected as a four-team circuit organized by Dan Dugdale and William Works.  Dugdale took the Seattle franchise; Works took Tacoma, a Spokane “newspaperman” named Hutchinson took that town’s team, and George Borchers was awarded the Portland club.

The league struggled, and Borchers was stripped of his franchise in early July.  The Tacoma Daily News explained the problem:

“George Borchers is beginning to look upon matters of baseball in a new light.  The (league) is holding an inquest on his official corpse this afternoon, sitting in Portland.  The chief is not to figure any longer as manager of the Portland baseball team…The trouble has all arisen over Borchers’ treatment of his men.  He has not distributed cash since the opening of the season and as he is still short on the amount due the league will be displaced…Mr. Borchers has merely made excuses.”

Borchers returned to California and appeared in games for three Pacific Coast League teams during the remainder of the season: Santa Cruz, Stockton and Watsonville.

Borchers would continue, on and off, as a player until 1903—including a season as player/manager with the California League’s San Jose Brewers in 1899.  But in 1901 he made headlines when he became embroiled in a scandal.

 

Borchers was pitching for the Oakland Commuters in the California League, and failed to show up for a game he was scheduled to pitch on May 1.  The San Francisco Call said:

“George Borchers, the star pitcher of the Oakland baseball nine, has disappeared…None of the missing player’s close friends in baseball circles can explain why he decamped so suddenly nor where the absent ballplayer has gone.”

“Some of the Oakland players are injecting a bit of romance into the story, the names of some of the fair enthusiasts of Golden Gate being introduced as the possible cause for the handsome pitcher’s sudden leave taking.  But none seem to be able to tell with certainty the story that he has fallen victim to the charms of some fair one.”

The plot thickened the following day when Oakland owner J. Cal Ewing hired a private detective to track the missing pitcher, and an angry father went public.

J. Cal Ewing

J. Cal Ewing

While Ewing’s investigator hunted, an Oakland real estate developer named Don Miller told The San Jose Evening News his daughter Grace had disappeared:

“(Miller) is convinced that she has gone with the ballplayer.  Neither Borchers, who has a wife in Portland, not Miss Miller has been seen since last Monday, when they boarded an eastward-bound train.”

Miller told the paper:

“I am endeavoring to locate them now, and if I ever find the man who has broken up my home he’ll need nothing but a coffin.  I’ll find them yet.”

After a week, he turned up in Ogden, Utah, pitching for that town’s club in the Inter-Mountain League.  The Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel said:

“He says he left simply to better his position and justifies his action on the ground that the California League takes players who skip out on other leagues and the local players are in competition with them all the time.  He thinks he had the right to skip out likewise and better his position.  He claims the reason he left secretly was because he feared Ewing would cause him trouble.

“He was worried over the account that he had left with Miss Grace Miller, but denied it.”

The paper noted that while Borchers wife remained in Portland, he had received two train tickets from the Ogden club.

Eventually, the truth came out.  Borchers returned to California to secure a divorce from his wife and married the former Miss Miller.  He spent 1902 playing and managing for a team in Salt Lake City, and managing a bowling alley there.

The second Mrs. Borchers became ill in November of 1902 and died two weeks later from peritonitis.

His last scandal behind him, Borchers married again and operated a large dairy in Sacramento until his death in 1938.

 

 

Ernest Nichols

6 Jun

Ernest Nichols seemed destined for stardom.  He was the subject of a bidding war before he ever pitched in a professional game.  The San Francisco Chronicle said that his hometown San Francisco Seals wanted to sign him, but had a lot of competition:

Parke Wilson wanted him for the Pacific Coast League in Seattle (the Siwashes), Matt Stanley recommended him to (Dan) Dugdale for the opposition team in Seattle (the Chinooks of the Pacific National League), and Spokane came along with a contract calling for a large figure and took Nichols away from the other bidders.”

Ernest Nichols

Ernest Nichols

The 21-year-old, six-foot, 190 pound right-hander was in high demand after pitching for the amateur Reliance Athletic Club team of Oakland in Northern California’s Mid-Winter League, and an independent team in Vancouver in 1902.  The Chronicle said:

“Speed and control were Nichols’ strong suit, and he had the remarkable record of thirty-five strikeouts in two consecutive games (with Vancouver).”

Upon joining the Spokane Indians Nichols immediately lived up to the hype.  By mid July he had started 24 games, winning 20.  During a one week stretch in June he beat the Tacoma Tigers four times.  The Chronicle said Nichols, who supported his mother and sisters had his salary “raised voluntarily by the Indians.”

On July 20 Nichols and two teammates went swimming at the pool in Natatorium Park, park of the amusement park that also included the Indians’ ballpark.   After swimming, the three began to watch a ballgame between two local teams.  The Spokane Spokesman-Review said:

“(Nichols) complained of cramps.  The three started to walk to catch a car.  When a car arrived he was lifted aboard and speeded to Dr. Kimball’s office.  The doctor saw that he was dead.”

He died of septic endocarditis.  Two days later The Spokesman-Review said:

“The last sad rites were rendered to the remains of pitcher Ernest Nichols yesterday afternoon by his friends and associates who knew him intimately and by a great mass of the public who knew him only through his baseball fame. “

Nichols’ body was returned to San Francisco and plans were quickly made to play a benefit game in his honor in Spokane.  The game between the Indians and the Butte Miners raised $1025.

In October of 1903 The Chronicle said:

“In all the league averages no box man is found with a record approaching that of the late Ernest Nichols, the San Francisco boy who won 20 out of a possible 24 games before death called him.”