Tag Archives: Deacon McGuire

Grantland Rice’s “All-Time All-Star Round up”

10 Aug

In December of 1917, thirty-eight-year-old sportswriter Grantland Rice of The New York Tribune enlisted in the army–he spent fourteen months in Europe.  Before he left he laid out the case, over two weeks, for an all-time all-star team in the pages of the paper:

“As we expect to be held to a restricted output very shortly, due to the exigencies and demands of the artillery game, this seemed to be a fairly fitting period to unfold the results.”

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

Rice said the selections were “not solely from our own limited observation, extending over a period of some eighteen or twenty years,” but included input from players, managers and sportswriters, including  “such veterans” as Frank Bancroft and Clark Griffith, and baseball writers Joe Vila of The New York Sun, Bill Hanna of The New York Herald and Sam Crane, the former major league infielder turned sportswriter of The New York Journal.

Rice said only one of the nine selections “(S)eems to rest in doubt.  The others were almost unanimously backed.”

The selections:

Pitcher:  Christy Mathewson

A. G. Spalding, John (Montgomery) Ward, Larry Corcoran, Charley Radbourn, John Clarkson, (Thomas) Toad Ramsey, Tim Keefe, Bill Hoffer, Amos Rusie, (Mordecai) Miner Brown, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh–the array is almost endless.

“In the matter of physical stamina, Cy Young has outclassed the field.  Cy won more games than almost any others ever pitched.

“(But) For all the pitching mixtures and ingredients, stamina, steadiness, brilliancy, brains, control, speed, curves, coolness, courage, is generally agreed that no man has ever yet surpassed Christy Mathewson…there has never been another who had more brains or as fine control.”

 

[…]

“It might be argued that Radbourn or (Walter) Johnson or (Grover Cleveland) Alexander was a greater pitcher than Mathewson.

But we’ll string with Matty against the field.”

Radbourn was the second choice.  Bancroft said:

“Radbourn was more like Mathewson than any pitcher I ever saw.  I mean by that, that like Matty, he depended largely upon brains and courage and control, like Matty he had fine speed and the rest of it.  Radbourn was a great pitcher, the best of the old school beyond any doubt.”

Catcher:  William “Buck” Ewing

“Here we come to a long array—Frank (Silver) Flint, Charley Bennett, (Charles “Chief”) Zimmer, (James “Deacon”) McGuire, (Wilbert) Robinson, (Marty) Bergen(Johnny) Kling, (Roger) Bresnahan and various others.

“But the bulk of the votes went to Buck Ewing.”

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

[…]

“Wherein did Ewing excel?

“He was a great mechanical catcher.  He had a wonderful arm and no man was surer of the bat…he had a keen brain, uncanny judgment, and those who worked with him say that he had no rival at diagnosing the  weakness of opposing batsman, or at handling his pitchers with rare skill.”

Kling was the second choice:

“Kling was fairly close…a fine thrower, hard hitter, and brilliant strategist…But as brilliant as Kling was over a span of years, we found no one who placed him over the immortal Buck.”

1B Fred Tenney

First Base was the one position with “the greatest difference of opinion,” among Rice and the others:

“From Charlie Comiskey to George Sisler is a long gap—and in that gap it seems that no one man has ever risen to undisputed heights… There are logical arguments to be offered that Hal Chase or Frank Chance should displace Fred Tenney at first.

But in the way of batting and fielding records Tenney wins….Of the present array, George Sisler is the one who has the best chance of replacing Tenney.”

2B Eddie Collins

 “There was no great argument about second base.

“The vote was almost unanimous.

“From the days of Ross Barnes, a great hitter and a good second baseman on through 1917, the game has known many stars.  But for all-around ability the game has known but one Eddie Collins.”

Rice said the competition was between Collins, Napoleon Lajoie and Johnny Evers:

“Of these Lajoie was the greatest hitter and most graceful workman.

“Of these Evers was the greatest fighter and the more eternally mentally alert.

“But for batting and base running, fielding skill, speed and the entire combination, Collins was voted on top.”

 SS Honus Wagner

“Here, with possibly one exception, is the easiest pick of the lot.  The game has been replete with star shortstops with George Wright in 1875 to (Walter “Rabbit”) Maranville, (George “Buck”) Weaver…There were (Jack) Glasscock and (John Montgomery) Ward, (Hardy) Richards0n, (Hugh) Jennings, (Herman)Long, (Joe) Tinker and (Jack) Barry.

“But there has been only one Hans Wagner.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Jennings and Long were rated second and third,  “But, with the entire list  considered there is no question but that Wagner stands at the top.”

3B Jimmy Collins

Rice said:

“From the days of (Ned) Williamson(Jerry) Denny, and (Ezra) Sutton, over thirty years ago, great third basemen have only appeared at widely separated intervals.

“There have been fewer great third basemen in baseball than at any other position, for there have been periods when five or six years would pass without an undoubted star.”

The final decision came down to “John McGraw vs. Jimmy Collins.”  McGraw was “a great hitter, a fine bunter and a star base runner,” while “Collins was a marvel and a marvel over a long stretch…he was good enough to carve out a .330 or a .340 clip (and) when it came to infield play at third he certainly had no superior…So taking his combined fielding and batting ability against that of McGraw and Collins wins the place.  McGraw was a trifle his superior on the attack. But as a fielder there was no great comparison, Collins leading by a number of strides.”

 

OF Ty Cobb

“The supply here is overwhelming…Yet the remarkable part is that when we offered our selection to a jury of old players, managers and veteran scribes there was hardly a dissenting vote.”

[…]

“Number one answers itself.  A man who can lead the league nine years in succession at bat.

“A man who can lead his league at bat in ten out of eleven seasons.

“A man who can run up the record for base hits and runs scored in a year—also runs driven in.

“Well, the name Ty Cobb answers the rest of it.”

OF Tris Speaker

 “The man who gives Cobb the hardest battle is Tris Speaker.  Veteran observers like Clark Griffith all say that Speaker is the greatest defensive outfielder baseball has ever exploited…Speaker can cover more ground before a ball is pitched than any man.  And if he guesses incorrectly, which he seldom does, he can go a mile to retrieve his error in judgment…And to this impressive defensive strength must be added the fact he is a powerful hitter, not only a normal .350 man, but one who can tear the hide off the ball for extra bases.”

Tris Speaker "hardest hit"

Tris Speaker 

OF “Wee Willie” Keeler

Mike Kelly and Joe KelleyJimmy Sheckard and Fred Clarke—the slugging (Ed) Delehanty—the rare Bill LangeBilly Hamilton.

“The remaining list is a great one, but how can Wee Willie Keeler be put aside?

“Ask Joe Kelley, or John McGraw, or others who played with Keeler and who remember his work.

“Keeler was one of the most scientific batsmen that ever chopped a timely single over third or first…And Keeler was also a great defensive outfielder, a fine ground coverer—a great thrower—a star in every department of play.

“Mike Kelly was a marvel, more of an all-around sensation, but those who watched the work of both figure Keeler on top.”

Rice said of the nine selections:

“The above is the verdict arrived at after discussions with managers, players and writers who have seen a big section of the long parade, and who are therefore able to compare the stars of today with the best men of forgotten years.

“Out of the thousands of fine players who have made up the roll call of the game since 1870 it would seem impossible to pick nine men and award them the olive wreath.  In several instances the margin among three or four is slight.

“But as far a s deductions, observations, records and opinions go, the cast named isn’t very far away from an all-time all-star round up, picked for ability, stamina, brains, aggressiveness and team value.

“If it doesn’t stick, just what name from above could you drop?”

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“It will be a Local Patriotic Game for Blood”

4 Aug

In 1902, John Montgomery Ward was asked to predict the future.  He wrote about what baseball would look like in 1922 in an article that appeared in a number of East Coast and Midwest newspapers:

“What will the game of baseball be two decades hence?  Frankly I don’t know.  But believe me if it has withstood what it has during the last few years it will still be here.  I believe it is going through the fire now, but it will come out whole in the end…No other game has the same hold on the public from a spectator point of view, and that is why I am confident that it will last.”

John Montgomery Ward

John Montgomery Ward

Ward envisioned a system in which all the players on each team would be natives of the area the teams represented:

“Two decades from now it may be no longer a mere exhibition—for that is all it is now—an exhibition of the ability of a clever manager, with more money and more tact in managerial council to get together the best players in the market—it will be a locally patriotic game for blood.

“The time is coming when the players instead of being bought to play in any team that calls them, irrespective of where they live and whence the team is located, will belong to the locality from which the team hails.

“There is a tendency in that direction already.

“The Brooklyn management is an instance of one that appreciates the value of a player who has a local following.  They have retained (Wee Willie) Keeler, though the offers of other clubs have forced them to pay him a very large salary.  But they have their reward in his great popularity with the Brooklyn patrons of the game.  He was born there.  The people know him, know his history and they feel that he is always doing his best for his town and their town.

"Wee Willie" Keeler

“Wee Willie” Keeler

“Not only is this state of affairs characteristic of this team, but it is to be seen in one or two other teams in both leagues.  The managers appreciate the money value of a ‘local attraction,’ as they call it, and they want more men of the same kind.  They can’t find them but that is due to the mistaken system of buying and selling players for their worth as players, which has killed the local end of the game and stunted the development of the town boy on the town lot.  As soon as the new system of localizing the players comes into vogue there will be a revival of general interest in the game among the ‘town boys’ and players will be made to meet the demand.

“This revitalization of the game must come, and come it will in the next twenty years because baseball as an exhibition has reached it height.  It can be developed no further, and something must be done to advance or there will be a deterioration.

“Of course, if this is done, there will be some work for the Rules Committee to do.  It will be necessary to have some sort of legislation to apportion the territory fairly among the teams.  New York being the largest city in the United States will have the advantage of a smaller city, like Boston or Baltimore, and to even up matters it would be necessary for the committee to give the smaller town enough territory to make all available population the same.  The details must be decided by the events of the future.  But I believe that something like that is about to come and will be a feature of the game of baseball in 1922.”

Ward, who engaged in, and encouraged contract jumping in order to establish the Players League just more than decade earlier, now, because of the changes in the economics of baseball, saw the practice as the greatest threat to the game:

“There will be no ‘contract jumping’ which has given the national pastime such a setback in the last two years.  And much depends upon the decision of the courts.  This contract jumping is a two-edged sword.  It will someday cut back at the American League when their players start to jump.

“Every successful game nowadays and in the future must have money invested in it. Look at the progress the game of baseball has made in the last twenty years and that will give you an idea of what we might expect.

“Twenty years ago each team had about $1,000 invested in it to put it on a working basis.  Some did not have even that much.  To-day, in Philadelphia, there is a plant which is values at about $350,000.  They own a lot in the residence section of the town and the ground is daily growing more valuable for building purposes.  In twenty years it will have tripled in value.  There is also a substantial brick wall around it and a valuable iron grand stand.

“Twenty years from now we may expect to find the conditions in Philadelphia existing all over the country, and there will be a hundred million dollars invested in the sport.  All this if the contract-jumping business is made impossible for the future.

“Take it as a fair business proposition.  Would any sane man invest his money in an enterprise which could be ruined at any moment by the failure of any outside party to fulfill his end of the contract?

“In baseball the ruin may come at any time, for if a man can ‘jump’ in March he can jump in May or June, just when his help is needed most, and there is no redress for the man who invests.  The courts, for the most part, claim that, if there is any damage done, the laws are open for redress and the manager can sue the player for damages.  But whom can he sue and from whom get redress?  Yhe contract-jumper has nothing and is generally irresponsible.  If a coal company contracts to deliver so many tons of coal to you in so many months, and you, in turn contract to deliver so many tons to other parties in so many months, and you are made to lose money because the coal company breaks the contract and fails to deliver the goods, you can get legal redress in an action for damages.  But not so with the baseball manager.

“If contract-jumping is allowed, the future of baseball is a future full of small things and a lack of progress.  But contract-jumping will not be heard of twenty years hence.  Already one state in the Union has declared against it legally—the state of Pennsylvania.  They have good lawyers down there, and they know what they are talking about.  And the crucial test and the future of baseball—a future full of big things as yet undreamed of, is now in the hands of the Circuit Court of the United States.

“If the Circuit Court of the United States falls in line with the Pennsylvania decision (Philadelphia Ball Club v. (Napoleon) Lajoie) there will be no more contract-jumping, and the manager, after signing his contracts with his players, can invest his whole fortune, safe in the belief that he will not risk it subject to loss at the whim of his players or through the wiles of a rival organization.

“Then the game will take on a luxury which has not heretofore been possible, and the game of twenty years from now will see as much improvement as it saw in the last twenty years.”

Ward predicted no major rule changes, saying they “seem to have reached perfection” but conceded “Still, there is a Rules Committee, created to make rules, and it naturally feels it must do something to earn its salary.”  Ward said he endorsed two major rule changes during the past decade; the rule to “move the catcher up under the bat,” (adopted in 1901 in the National League and ’02 in the American), and the 1893 change that increased the pitching distance to 60’ 6”.

“It gives the batter a better chance to fix his attention on hitting the ball, because he does not need to be afraid of an inshoot or know when he takes the bat in his hand that he is also taking his life in his hand.  I tell you it was a serious matter in those days to get hit by a ball from the strong arm of one of those fast pitchers, as my own experience can testify.”

As with every era of baseball, Ward said some of his contemporaries thought the game had already changed so much as to no longer resemble the game they played twenty years earlier:

“I was talking to one the other day in Philadelphia (Arthur Irwin).  He is of the old school you know (and said) ‘Oh, it’s not like the old days, when I played on the Philadelphia team for four years without men being changed.  All we had were (Jack) Clements and (Deacon) McGuire as catchers, (Charlie) Ferguson, (Charlie) Buffington and (Dan) Casey as pitchers, (Joe) Mulvey, (Charlie) Bastian, (Sid) Farrar and myself in the infield and (George) Wood and (Jim) Fogarty in the outfield.

Arthur Irwin

Arthur Irwin

“’We didn’t need to be nervous every time we made an error, and look to have one or more of a half dozen substitutes take our place.  And we played ball, we did, and no mistake, for we knew our jobs were safe.’”

Irwin’s recollection was fuzzy—the lineup as he described was only in place in 1887  (but even that season Barney McLaughlin played more games at second than Bastian) –but he insisted the lack of competition for a roster spot made players better:

“’We could give these boys who are playing now cards and spades on lots of things, inside work and out, and best them.  We had the hit and run, and we didn’t bunt as much as they do now.  I can’t see how runs can be made by so much bunting.  Oh, for the good old time back again when the swatting game was the thing.  I believe the public would rather see the boys slug the ball and run.  Shades of Roger Connor, ‘Buck’ Ewing and Jim O’Rourke!  What would they think of this bunting business?  It makes me sick to think of it.’”

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

Ward said Irwin was one of many “old-style players who feel the same way,” but he was more optimistic, but still managed to take a shot at current, and future,  players:

“I have great hopes for the future of the game, and I believe that all that has been done in the past to make it take the place it occupies to-day will not be a circumstance to what will be done in the next twenty years to make it take the place in the heart of the nation which has not been dreamed of heretofore.

“The players may not be as good as the players of the past, and this especially true of the local player idea becoming a fact, but the interest will be great, and after all, the interest in the game is the fountain source of its life.”

Kid Nichols

25 Jun

Add Hall of Famer Charles “Kid” Nichols to the list of those who were convinced that players from an earlier era were of better quality than those “of today,” even if the earlier era was less than a decade before.

Kid Nichols

Kid Nichols

While pitching for the Kansas City Blue Stockings in the Western League in 1903, the 33-year-old pitcher told a group which included a reporter for The Associated Press:

“I am not so sure that the ball players of today are much superior to those of ten years ago in general utility.  It seems to me there was more life and spirit in the games of a decade ago than in those of the present regime.  They weren’t so mercenary in those days and there was much more sportsmanlike spirit.  Nowadays the paramount question with the average player is salary.  He doesn’t care so much about the record of the team he plays with makes as opportunities offered him to make himself individually famous and thus increase the value of his services.  In many clubs teamwork is lacking on account of the intense desire of some of the men to make an impressive showing by individual work.  In the old days one didn’t hear so much of the individual as the playing of the team as a whole an in my opinion baseball would stand on much firmer foundation if the same spirit prevailed nowadays.”

Among the best:

“Take old (Tommy) McCarthy for instance.  As an outfielder none of them had him beaten, and in my opinion there is not an outfielder his equal now.  It was McCarthy who originated the trap ball which he worked so effectively.

“He was absolutely the headiest man in the outfield I ever saw.  You have seen outfielders throw men out at first on line drives, but you haven’t seen it done often.  I’ve seen McCarthy spoil many a legitimate one-base hit by that same play.  Another favorite play of his was this:  A man would be on first and second.  The man at bat would drive to left.  McCarthy would snap it up on a short bound and flip it to second as quick as a flash in time to catch the man who had run off first.  In turn the second baseman would throw the ball to third in time to head off the man who had started from second.  Thus a really legitimate one-base hit was turned into a double play.

“But, speaking of outfielders, Willie Keeler was about as good as any of them for all around ability.  He was like lightning on his feet and was no slouch at hitting.  He certainly did things to me one day in Baltimore.  He faced me four times and this is what he did:  Made four hits to four different parts of the field off of four different kinds of curves.  Keeler was the hardest man to fool I ever pitched to.”

Nichols said Herman “Germany” Long, his teammate for 12 years was:

“(O)ne of the greatest shortstops in the business.  He played with Boston while I was a Beaneater, and of course I had good opportunities to watch him work.  He could cover a world of territory and was a sure and accurate fielder.  You hear many people say that Hughie Jennings in his palmy days was the best infielder ever developed.  In my opinion Long could cover a foot more territory than Jennings.

“When it comes to catchers my preference is, and always has been, Charlie Bennett, whose legs were cut off in a railroad accident at Wellsville, Kansas.  Charlie was always consistent and knew what his brain was given to him for.  He was also an accurate, quick thrower…Martin Bergen was another good catcher.  He was the one who went crazy, you know, and murdered his wife and children.  Bergen always was ‘a little bit off of the top,’ but when he took a notion to do his best, his playing was beyond criticism.  Ed McFarland and (Billy) Sullivan are two right good men, and then there was reliable old Jim McGuire and Charles Zimmer, both of whom were cracker jack.”

bergen

Martin “Marty” Bergen–” always was ‘a little bit off of the top,’

Nichols said as a pitcher “I can hardly be considered a competent judge” of fellow “slabsters,” but continued:

“Personally, I admire the old war-horse, Cy Young, more than any of the others.  He is certainly a remarkable man.  Of the left-handers there a few better than (Frank “Noodles”) Hahn, of Cincinnati; (Christy) Mathewson and (Joe) McGinnity are undoubtedly valuable men.  Clark Griffith is, I think, the headiest pitcher that ever stepped on a rubber.  Among the other great ones are Jack Taylor, Joe Corbett, (Bill) Bernhard, of Cleveland and our own Jake Weimer.

Nichols was largely forgotten as one of baseball’s great pitchers by the time the Baseball Hall of Fame’s inaugural class was selected in 1936.  In the late 1940s, a push for his inclusion was led by sportswriter Grantland Rice.  Rice frequently mentioned the pitcher in his columns and in the summer of 1948 quoted two Hall of Famers regarding Nichols’ prowess:

“A few decades ago I asked Christy Mathewson to name the best pitcher he ever faced.  ‘That’s easy,’ Matty answered.  ‘His name is Charles Kid Nichols of Boston.  Nichols isn’t a good pitcher.  He is a great one.’

“I recalled this talk when the mail brought a letter from Ty Cobb at Menlo Park, California.

“‘I think everyone has overlooked one of the greatest pitchers of all time,’ Cobb Writes.  ‘His name is Kid Nichols.  Here are just a few of his records from 1890 to 1906:

“1.  Won three consecutive games on three consecutive days, all pitched in different cities.

“2.  Won 20 or more games for 10 consecutive years.  He won 360 and lost 202. (Nichols’ record was 361-208)

“3.  Won 28 or more games for eight consecutive seasons.  (Nichols won more than 28 games seven times, and not consecutively).”

Despite the inaccuracies in the letter, Cobb and Rice continued to campaign for Nichols and the push to honor him worked.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949.

Nichols, right, with Pie Traynor, left, and Branch Rickey at the Hall of Fame in 1949. Traynor was elected in 1948, but his plaque was not presented until 1949

Nichols, right, with Pie Traynor, left, and Branch Rickey at the Hall of Fame in 1949. Traynor was elected in 1948, but his plaque was not presented until 1949

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #9

18 Jun

The Business of Bats–1896

The Louisville Courier-Journal said in the spring of 1896 that their city “is now conceded to be the bat market of the world.”

That year, J. F. Hillerich & Son, a company that “was in practical obscurity three years ago,” had already “received orders to manufacture 75,000 bats this season.”

(Many sources, including the Louisville Slugger Museum, say the name change from Hillerich Job Turning to Hillerich and Son took place in 1897, but the names “& Son” and “& Son’s” were used in advertisements as early as 1895)

An advertisement for flag poles which appeared in Louisville papers on the eve of the 29th Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in September of 1895 shows the company name as J.F. Hillerich & Son's.

An advertisement for flag poles which appeared in Louisville papers on the eve of the 29th Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in September of 1895 shows the company name as J.F. Hillerich & Son’s.

“(Hillerich) is known to every ball player of any note in the United States.  A Courier-Journal reporter yesterday afternoon found orders from (Ed) Delehanty of the Philadelphias; (Hugh) Duffy of the Bostons, (Jesse) Burkett of the Clevelands and many other noted batsmen in the little factory at 216 First Street. Eight years ago (James Frederick) Jim Hillerich did not have money enough to buy a wagon load of ash, from which bats are made.  This season his business amounts to more than $50,000 which is done in ball bats alone.

“When a team arrives in the city the first thing the members do is to have a race for this bat factory to select some new ‘sticks.’”

The paper said the company’s output in 1895 had been twice that of 1894 and “The business this year amounts to four times as much as it did last year.”

The ash for Hillerich’s bats was grown in Indiana and Kentucky “and is felled and split by fifty men.  All the bats are hand-turned”

Washington’s Brief Craps Scandal–1891

In June of of 1891 The Washington Herald reported trouble in the ranks of the American Association’s ninth place Washington Statesmen.

The team was playing for their second manager (there would be a total of four that year), the first, Sam Trott had been let go after just 11 games.  The Herald said when Charles “Pop” Snyder was installed in place of Trott “the directors thought they had at last secured a pilot who would successfully carry them through the breakers.”

The team lost 16 of their first 19 games under Snyder and the paper said “steps are being taken to secure a new man to fill Snyder’s place.”

Chief among Snyder’s failing was:

“(W)hen a discovery was made at the grounds by some interested parties.  It was in the morning, and the men should have been practicing in order to better their playing, but instead were found, it is said, engaged in the seductive pursuit of playing ‘crap.'”

The only player the paper named was catcher James “Deacon” McGuire who, at one point during the game was ahead $56.  The Herald quoted an unnamed team official:

“‘We pay them good salaries, from $250 to $350 per month, and they ought to give us good ball.’ observed one director, after exhausting himself in giving expression to some very emphatic language regarding the crap incident.”

Deacon McGuire

Deacon McGuire

One week later the paper said:

The Herald cheerfully publishes this denial:  Manager Snyder makes a plain statement of the case, to the effect that one morning, the day of the extreme heat, while the men were in the shade, umpire (John) Kerins pulled out the ivories and the men in the spirit of fun went at the game.  It did not last ten minutes and it was the only time it occurred during the season.”

Snyder was replaced as manager a month later by Dan Shannon who fared no better (15-34); he was replaced by Tobias “Sandy” Griffin in October.

 The Reason for Baseball’s “Mania”–1869

The Milwaukee Semi-Weekly Wisconsin editorialized on the growing popularity of baseball in July of 1869:

“A few years ago the game of baseball which every male in the land, perhaps, had played from his youth up, was dignified by being elevated into a ‘national game,’ and set off with printed rules and regulations.  Forthwith the sport became the rage of young and middle-aged, and clubs were formed all over the land.  It was suddenly found that the game was just the thing to develop muscle and invigorate the frames of school boys and men of business, clerks and mechanics, sedentary men and farmers.”

The Associated Press gives with the utmost minuteness the score of every match game–no matter though it may have taken place in the obscurest village of the far east.  Across and up and down the continent these reports go side by side with the most important matters of state, of commerce, of international policy, often times taking up more space than news of the greatest moment.”

The paper asked “What has given this sudden impetus to the ‘national game?’ Is it the result of an increased desire for physical culture?  Is it because men feel more than ever the importance of exercise?  Not at all…There is another reason for the mania.”

That reason was gambling:

“We have nothing to say against baseball or any other sport when carried on simply as a recreation; we approve of them and think they ought to be encouraged; but the trouble is they degenerate into a machine for betting , and thus they become the means of corrupting the morals of the youth.  Americans seem to be rapidly acquiring an appetite for betting…This passion for outside  betting is increasing, and this is the reason why these match games are telegraphed over the country with such minuteness…Men bet on an election or a  baseball match who would not go into a gambling saloon for any consideration.”

The conclusion of the editorial was a foreshadowing of the role of gambling during baseball’s next five decades”

“It may be a comparatively small evil to make or lose five dollars upon some kind of match game, but this is only the beginning of an evil which too frequently grows into a magnitude which cannot always be computed.”

 

 

Baseball’s “Fountain of Youth”

16 Apr

John Brinsley “J.B.” Sheridan wrote for several St. Louis newspapers and The Sporting News from 1888-1929.

In 1917 he asked in The St. Louis Globe-Democrat:

“How is it that two young chaps come up together, one lasts a year or two, the other keeps on playing until he meets his sons and the sons of his pals coming up?”

Sheridan noted that Bobby Wallace was 43-year-old and in his twenty-fourth season–albeit as a reserve who appeared in just eight games for the Cardinals–while contemporaries like Jimmy Collins were out of the game for nearly a decade.  (Sheridan failed to mention or notice that Wallace was three years younger and started his professional career at age 20 while Collins began his at 23):

“Wallace has had a great career in baseball.  Only one man, A. C. (Cap) Anson has played longer than Wallace in the major leagues (Sheridan didn’t mention Deacon McGuire who also had Wallace beaten in years of service with 26—but he only played a total of 20 games in his final eight “seasons”) Anson did twenty-seven seasons, but had he not been his own manager he would not have done so many.  The old man could hit to the end, but for the last ten years of his major league career Anson was so slow and stiff that it is doubtful if any manager, other than himself would have employed him.”

Booby Wallace

Booby Wallace

Sheridan neglected to mention that “slow and stiff” Cap Anson managed to play in more than 1100 games in those last ten seasons when no manager “other than himself would have employed him,” and hit better than .330 in five of them–and would contradict himself on the “slow and stiff” part later in the same article.

He said, “Jack O’Connor did twenty-two years in the majors and was useful to the end.” (O’Connor only hit better .250 twice in his last ten seasons, never appearing in more than 84 games during that period)”

Despite the many misstatements, Sheridan’s article included interesting character sketches of several 19th and early 20th Century players (the veracity of those sketches can be judged with the above misstatements in mind).

“O’Connor was a really wonderful man.  He always retrained his diet during the playing season, but gave it full rein during the off season.  O’Connor had some appetite, too.  Usually he put on 20 pounds of extra weight every winter and regularly took it off every spring.  O’Connor must have taken off 500 pounds of flesh in the twenty-two years of his baseball playing.  He ate and drank like Gargantua during the winter, but denied himself like a monk in the spring, summer and fall.

(Napoleon) Lajoie, who did his 20 years [sic 21] in the majors, was like Wallace and (Jake) Beckley, an iron man.  (Lajoie) came from Breton peasant stock…The Bretons lived off the rocks and fishing grounds of Brittany, beaten by Atlantic spray long before the dawn of history.  No wonder then, that Lajoie is a hardy man (who) needed no conditioning in his youth.  He threw a couple, hit a couple and was ready for the fray.”

Sheridan said O’Connor’s former battery-mate Cy Young was “another physical wonder” despite being “rather soft and inclined to obesity later in life.”

“Cy never cared much for beer, the beverage of the old-time ballplayer, but he did not mind a little ‘red eye’ now and then In fact, the old boys say the farmer could pack more whiskey about him than any man they had ever known.”

As an example of Young’s prowess Sheridan said O’Connor told him a story about a night out in Boston:

“I drank beer while Cy drank whiskey. Drink for drink with me, but the last thing I remembered that night was that Cy put me to bed.

“I got up the next morning looking for sedlitz powder and something cooling.  I got the powder and I went into the breakfast room to get a grapefruit.  Then I saw Young behind a big plate of beefsteak with onions.  I turned and ran for the fresh air…Cy ate the entire steak, all the onions, a lot of bread and butter, stuck a strong cigar in his mouth and joined me on the sidewalk.

“What made you quit so early last night, Jack?  I was just getting’ goin’ good, when you said ‘Let’s go home I’m sleepy.’”

Jack O'Connor

Jack O’Connor

Sheridan compared Young’s career to that of Bill Dinneen:

“Dinneen came into the game seven [sic–nine] years after Young, was Cy’s teammate for four years [sic–five and part of a sixth] then dropped out (Dinneen played three more seasons with the St. Louis Browns, but his career was over after 12 seasons at age 33)

“Dinneen ate too well, and what ballplayers call the ‘old uric acid’ got him in the arm.  Yet Dinneen was one of the finest physical specimens that ever played ball.

“Some big fellows look strong but prove to be soft and unenduring.  Jack Chesbro was one of these.  Chesbro had three great years as a pitcher, and then broke down.  Jack was a soft-boned boy, with bad ankles and could not stick the route.

“Some men hold out in arm, legs and bone, but lose the keenness of vision essential to good batting, Willie Keeler, was one of these.  Keeler’s legs were good to the end and his arm worked all right, but his eyes went back on him and he had to quit…(Art) Devlin was one of the three great third basemen of his time.  He was a star, but endured only a few years.  Bad Digestion stopped him when he was at the height of his fame, and when he should have been good for many more years.”

Sheridan claimed to know the secret of a ballplayer’s longevity: the waters of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

“Each January 1 for twenty-two years saw (Young) at Hot Springs…O’Connor and (Jake) Beckley were always at Hot Springs, too.  These three men never missed a season at the Arkansas resort, while they were playing ball…Fred Clarke, too, was a great advocate of Hot Springs as a training resort, and the Pirates always fitted in there when Clarke was manager.  That took (Honus) Wagner, another long liver, there too.

“Anson always took a season at Hot Springs.  It is pretty well established that the Arkansas resort is the location of Ponce de Leon’s famous “Fountain of Youth.”  It may or may not be a coincidence, but the fact remains that Young, O’Connor, Beckley, Anson, Clarke, Wallace and Wagner, men who played from seventeen to twenty-two years of major league baseball, have all been frequenters of or habitues of Hot Springs.”

Cy Young, third from left, with Bill Carrigan, Jake Stahl and Fred Anderson at Hot Springs in 1912

 Cy Young, third from left, with Bill Carrigan, Jake Stahl and Fred Anderson at Hot Springs in 1912

The St. Louis sportswriter was certain the springs were a magic “Fountain of Youth, “and said he was only aware of one exception to his rule:

“Every iron man of baseball, except Lajoie, has been a yearly visitant.”

“Three or four Men who looked like Wonders in the Big Leagues Disappeared”

13 Jan

In 1912 The Cincinnati Times- Star‘s Sports Editor William A. Phelon questioned why professional baseball had not become integrated:

“The prejudice against the Negro ballplayer is a strange and a deep-rooted thing in baseball circles, and all through the country, little leagues and big, from Maine to Mexico, the prejudice holds sway.  The African is barred from the places where the Indian is royally welcome and the athlete of negro blood must not presume to mingle in white baseball society.

“Strange to say, the white ball players, even the haughty southerners like (Ty) Cobb and (George) Suggs will gladly play games against Cuban clubs, composed mostly of black men.  They will play exhibition games against Negro teams, treating the black men with the utmost cordiality and fairness, but will not tolerate Negros in their own crowds or in the white clubs of the same circuits.”

Phelon said Moses Fleetwood “Fleet” Walker’s short stay with the Toledo Blue Stockings demonstrated that even the most bigoted of teammates could manage to work with a good player—even if they treated him unreasonably:

 “Formerly there were a few clever Negro ball players in the big leagues, one of the best being Walker, a black catcher who was as good behind the bat as any white man of his time.  It was said of Walker that when he was catching Tony Mullane, the latter refused to stand for a Negro giving him battery signs.  Walker then agreed to work without a battery sign of any kind, and the battery of Mullane and Walker proved one of the most successful of the season.”

Walker and James “Deacon” McGuire were the team’s two primary catchers, each playing 41 games behind the plate.  Mullane was 36-26 in 67 games (the team was 10-32 in games Mullane did not figure in the decision).

Moses Fleetwood Walker

Moses Fleetwood Walker

Thirty-five years later Mullane told The New York Age that Walker was the “best catcher I ever worked with.” He said:

“I disliked a Negro and whenever I had to pitch to him I used to pitch anything I wanted without looking at his signals.  One day he signaled me for a curve and I shot a fast ball at him.  He caught it and walked down to me.

“’Mr. Mullane,’ he said, ‘I’ll catch you without signals, but I won’t catch you if you are going to cross me when I give you signal.’

“And all the rest of that season he caught me and caught anything I pitched without knowing what was coming.”

tonymullane

Tony Mullane

Phelon also suggested that more than one player since Walker had managed to pass for a short period of time before being found out:

 “Now and then a Negro man has slipped over the bars, passing himself off as a suntanned white man or Indian, but sooner or later he has been unmasked and quietly vanished from the game, doubtless to turn up under some different name, with one of the strong Negro teams that tour the country.

“Three or four men who, for a little while, looked like wonders in the big leagues disappeared in that way and to this day fans marvel why such clever athletes should have quit and left no word behind.  Some of these players were so near white that they fooled the Northern athletes completely, but almost every ball club now contains two or three sons of Dixie, and you can barely deceive them on a Negro.”

Phelon also told the story of a first baseman who “broke into one of the major clubs, and he was a corker.  He could hit and run and field like a demon.”  He claimed that during a game in Washington a Virginia congressman recognized the player as a “black scoundrel” trying to pass as white, thus ending his career.

Unfortunately, Phelon left no clues about the players he claimed briefly “slipped over the bars” and there’s no way to verify whether his claims were legitimate or simply apocrypha indented to make a point.

The idea of players “passing” has intrigued historians.  Claims have been made about several players, including George Treadway and George Herman “Babe” Ruth.  None have been verified.

A Thousand Words—Deacon McGuire’s Left Hand

14 Jun

mcguirehand

 

James “Deacon” McGuire caught more than 1600 games in a career that spanned parts of 26 seasons between 1884 and 1912.  He broke every finger on both hands and suffered thirty-six separate injuries to his left hand.  In 1906, his x-ray was acquired by the New York papers after yet another injury.

The New York World said doctors were “amazed to see the knots, like gnarled places on an old oak tree, around the joints, and numerous spots showing old breaks.”

Deacon McGuire

Deacon McGuire

“Leather-Fisted Phil”

12 Apr

“Leather –Fisted Phil” is what Phillip J. Powers was called in his 1914 Associated Press obituary which said:

“(Powers) was famous for his ability to stop the swiftest throws of the league’s star pitchers.”

He most likely earned the nickname in 1877 when, like many other catchers of the era, he began using a small, leather pad on his hand while with the London Tecumsehs of the International Association.

After the London team disbanded in August of 1878 Powers joined the Chicago White Stockings.  According to The Chicago Inter Ocean:

“He is a tall young fellow…He is described as a good catcher, but liable to get hurt, fair at the bat, and a genial man on the grounds.”

Powers would spend parts of seven seasons and 155 games in the National League and American Association with the Boston Red Stockings, Cleveland Blues, Cincinnati Red Stockings and Baltimore Orioles, hitting .180.  In between his engagements as a player Powers was an umpire.

It was as an umpire that he made a name for himself, but it probably wasn’t what he had in mind.  Few umpires, even in an era when members of the “profession” were poorly trained and underpaid, were the target of as much criticism as Powers.

In 1881 he began the season as a National League umpire.  By July he had become a target in several cities,

The Detroit News said:

“Phil Powers has acquired reputation enough in the last two weeks to last him a lifetime.  The erroneous umpiring he did here, people were inclined to regard as errors of judgment, but to say the least his ‘mistakes’ have become so numerous that his utter unfitness for the position he holds is unquestioned.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer took the criticism even further:

“Powers is said to have been offered $150 to play ball (for the Detroit Wolverines) for one month, but refused it.  As an umpire he cannot, if square, earn more than $15 or $20 a week and expenses; and must take the chance at that of being chosen an umpire.  He preferred to be an umpire.  Several of his decisions on Saturday were grossly unfair, and, what is worse, they bore heavily on Cleveland.  They were so one-sided that many of the spectators believed he deliberately purposed to give the game to Troy.”

Despite the ill feelings in Cleveland, Powers joined the Blues in August and caught five games for the team after Michael “Doc” Kennedy was injured and John Clapp was “called away by an illness in his family.”   He finished the season with the New York Metropolitans in the Eastern Championship Association.

Powers again became a full-time player from 1882-1885, and was part of the Red Stockings American Association championship team in 1882.  He was released by Cincinnati in July of 1885, signed with the Baltimore Orioles and was again released the following month.

1882reds

1882 Cincinnati Red Stockings, Phil Powers standing 2nd from left

Powers was signed by the St. Louis Browns in the spring of 1886, but released before the beginning of the season, and was added to the National League umpiring staff in August.  He again worked as an umpire through the 1887 season, left to return to London, Ontario to manage the Tecumsehs in the International Association, but again returned to the National League as an umpire in August of 1888.   He came back just in time to find himself in the middle of a controversy involving two Hall of Famers.

New York Giants catcher/captain William “Buck” Ewing was hit on the wrist by a ball during a game with the White Stockings in Chicago.  In 1888 the opposing team’s captain had to agree that an injury was serious to necessitate a substitution; Chicago’s “Cap” Anson said he did not agree to a substitution when backup catcher “Big Bill” Brown entered the game in the 6th inning.  Anson appealed to the umpire, and according to The Chicago Inter Ocean, “(Powers) said that Captain Ewing was not so badly hurt that he could not play.”

After a heated argument, during which The Inter Ocean said Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner,” Powers declared the game “forfeited to Chicago by a score of 9 to 0.”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Powers had been involved in a similar situation in 1886, refusing to allow Philadelphia Quakers catcher “Deacon” McGuire to leave a game after an injury.  The Chicago Tribune said Quakers captain Arthur Irwin “told McGuire to catch ‘away back’ (from the plate).” The Tribune said Irwin’s actions created a “scene” and “pandemonium reigned,” until Anson agreed to allow Philadelphia to replace McGuire.  White Stockings President A.G. Spalding “preferred charges against umpire Powers” for losing control of the game.

The substitution rule was changed in 1891, putting an end to controversies regarding the replacement of injured players.

But controversies involving Powers continued.  More on Monday.