Tag Archives: Decatur Commodores

“If I was to Catch Again I’d Laugh at Shin Guards”

14 Apr

Harry Salsinger was the sports editor at The Detroit News from 1907 until his death in 1958. During spring training in 1928 he wrote:

“E.A. Krebs is deeply interested in the pictures of catchers that are sent from the southern training camps. He would like to know why the modern catcher is fitted out like one of the armored knights of King James’ court. His interest is legitimate. Mr. Krebs used to be a catcher himself.”

Edward Adam Krebs caught for teams in the Central Association, Iowa League of Professional Baseball Clubs, Three-I, and Cotton States Leagues from 1902 through 1909.

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Ed Krebs

Salsinger said Krebs:

“(B)elonged to what is now known as a the ‘old school’ and the men of his school have a habit of snickering at modern baseball. When their evidence is given full consideration there seems sound reason for their snickering.”

Krebs, in a letter to Salsinger, said:

“The only protection we had was the mask, and air-filled chest protector and a catcher’s mitt. But the air-filled chest protector was a real joke after the first month of the season. It wouldn’t hold air any longer, but we buckled it on just the same, for appearance sake, I guess. We might just as well had a piece of Brussels carpet hanging on us.”

He was also annoyed by the use of shin guards:

“We didn’t use them in those days. They weren’t used before my day, and they weren’t used long after my day.”

He said he had the scars to show for it:

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Krebs 1906

“No runner in my days could touch home plate unless he cut me up, for I had home plate completely blocked. I had both feet right on the line, between the runner and the plate. I have been cut from knee to toe many times.

“I have caught some of the fiercest outlaw pitchers the game has known. They were so wild that they could never reach the big leagues. Once in awhile I got a rap on the skin with a wild pitch, but not often, and a kid full of knots doesn’t mind a rap on the shin once in a while.”

Krebs said current pitchers threw no harder than when he played, nor was the ball “any harder,” so, “If I was to catch again (I am 48) I’d laugh at shin guards.”

A Wisconsin native, Krebs said he caught Addie Joss at Sacred Heart College in 1888, although he said he was primarily a shortstop, and the regular catcher was Red Kleinow, who played eight seasons in the major leagues between 1904 and 1911.

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Krebs, 2nd from right, center row, with Decatur, 1903.

During his first season in professional baseball, Krebs played for Fred Pfeffer during the former Chicago White Stockings’ only year as a minor league manager—with the Decatur Commodores in the three-I League in 1902:

“(Pfeffer) was the best second baseman who ever played around or anywhere the bag. I have seen Fred, while he was with us at Decatur and when he was 51 years old [sic 42], go high in the air, pull down a line drive and whip the ball to first for a double play. His throw was half done before he got back to the ground. Many times, I have seen him go deep, scoop up a grounder and slap the ball backhanded to the first baseman.”

Of Pfeffer on the base paths he said:

“I have seen Fred score from third when the catcher stood at the plate waiting for him, the ball in his hand. His body would be pointed straight at the grandstand and his toe would be touching home plate. He would be laying flat on the ground. When the catcher made a stab for Fred, he just wasn’t near the spot where the catcher thought he was.”

Krebs worked as a plumber and died in Burlington, Iowa in 1937.

Polchow and Starnagle

13 Aug

At the close of the 1902 Three-I League season two unlikely candidates for the big leagues were signed by Cleveland Bronchos Manager Bill Armour.

Pitcher Louis William “Polly” Polchow and catcher George Henry Starnagle (born Steurnagel) did not put up impressive numbers.   Neither the Reach or Spalding Guides included Polchow’s won-loss record, but both said the 22-year-old’s winning percentage was just .414 in 32 games for the Evansville River Rats.  Starnagle hit just .180 with 13 passed balls and eight errors in 93 games for the Terre Haute Hottentots.

Louis Polchow

Louis Polchow

The two joined the fifth place Bronchos in St. Louis on September 13.  The following day both made their major league debuts in the second game of a doubleheader against the second place Browns.

The St. Louis Republic said:

“Captain (Napoleon) Lajoie decided to try his new Three-Eye League battery, which reported to him yesterday.  Starnagle, the former Terre Haute catcher, was as steady as a veteran, but Polchow wobbled at the drop of the hat, and before he steadied himself the damage was done.

“Five runs in the first two innings gave the Browns a good lead, and it was well they made hay while the sun shone, for Polchow handed them six ciphers for dessert.”

Starnagle made an error in the seventh when he overthrew Lajoie on an attempted steal of second by Bobby Wallace—Wallace advanced to third on the error, but Polchow retired the side without a run.

George Starnagle

George Starnagle

In Cleveland’s half of the seventh Starnagle and Polchow had the opportunity to get them back in the game.  With two runs in, and a runner on first and one out Starnagle came to the plate.  The Republic said:

 “Starnagle tried to put on a Three-Eye League slugging scene.  He dislocated two ribs going after (Bill) Reidy’s slow ones and finally fanned.  Polchow forced (Jack) McCarthy.”

Starnagle was lifted in the ninth for a pinch hitter.  Cleveland lost 5-3.  Polchow gave up nine hits and walked four, striking out two, and was 0 for 4 at the plate.  Starnagle was 0 for 3, with one error behind the plate.  Neither would ever appear in another big league game.

The Box Score

The Box Score

Starnagle was 28-years-old, and had only played two seasons of pro ball before his game with Cleveland—he was semi-pro player with teams in Danville and Sterling, Illinois for nearly a decade before he joined Terre Haute in 1901.  He was considered a solid defensive catcher, but during 10 minor league seasons he only hit better than .230 three times.  When he played with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Royals in 1909 The Montreal Gazette said:

“Starnagle has been drafted every year by big league clubs, all of whom have been pretty well supplied with seasoned catchers; hence his failure to be kept.”

Polchow was just 22 when he pitched his only big league game.  Plagued by wildness, he spent three mediocre seasons with teams in the Southern Association and South Atlantic League (he was 36-45 for the Montgomery Senators, Macon Highlanders and Augusta Tourists), then pitched five seasons in the New York State League.

In 1906 he helped lead the Scranton Miners to the New York State League championship (the team’s leading hitter was Archibald “Moonlight” Graham), although The Scranton Republican said his first start with the team was nearly his last.  Polchow lost 12 to 2 to the Utica Pent-Ups, walking 10 and giving up 10 hits.  After the game Polchow accused catcher “Wilkie Clark of throwing the game.  A fight followed and Clark and Polchow never worked together after that.   Andy Roth was Polchow’s battery partner during the remainder of the season.”

Starnagle retired after the 1910 season.  He returned to Danville, Illinois where he died in 1946; he was 72.

Polchow played through the 1911 season, and then became ill.  He died of Bright’s Disease at 32-years-old in August of 1912

In addition to Polchow and Starnagle, the Bronchos signed two other Three-I League players in September of 1902—both had somewhat more success.

Rock Island Islanders catcher George “Peaches” Graham made his debut the same day as Polchow and Starnagle, during the first game of the doubleheader; he struck out as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning of a 3 to 1 loss. He spent parts of seven seasons in the major leagues, and hit .265.  Decatur Commodores pitcher Augustus “Gus” Dorner made his debut three days later beating the Chicago White Sox 7 to 6.  He pitched for parts of six big league seasons, compiling a 35-69 record.

 

Brief Bios

7 Apr

Finley Yardley

Identified as “Findley” on Baseball Reference, Finley A. Yardley was born in Ben Arnold, Texas on March 21, 1895.

“Fin” Yardley was a good hitter, but his intelligence was questioned more than once during his career.

After a spring trial with the St. Louis Browns in 1917, he was released to the Little Rock Travelers in the Southern Association for 57 games, but according to The Arkansas Gazette, “Forgetting is what chased him out” and he was sent to the Spokane Indians in the Northwestern League.

Yardley hit well in Spokane (.339 in 115 at bats), but despite his success The Gazette noted that:

“His think tank still slips now and then.  Recently he hit a drive good for three bases but forgot to touch first.”

Fin Yardley was no rocket scientist—his son John Finley Yardley was.

John Yardley was an aeronautical engineer whose team from McDonnell Aircraft Corporation designed the Friendship 7 capsule in which John Glenn orbited the Earth in 1962—Glenn called him “one of the real pioneers of the space program.”  Yardley was also involved with the Gemini, Skylab and Space Shuttle Programs.

After his playing career, Finley Yardley settled in St. Louis where he worked as a sales manager at a car dealership.  He died in Tucson, Arizona on March 1, 1963.

Charles Gurtz

Charles Joseph Gurtz was born in DePauw, Indiana in 1890.  He served in the United States Army, where he was a member of the 22nd Infantry and played for the unit’s baseball team in the El Paso, Texas city league.  He then played in a number of leagues throughout the Southwest not recognized by the National Agreement, including stops with teams in the “copper circuit;” loosely connected teams and leagues in mining towns in New Mexico and Arizona

Gurtz was let out of his contract in Silver City, New Mexico in order to join the Bloomington Bloomers in the Three-I League in 1914.  He hit .333, finishing second to Howard Wakefield for the league batting title.

Shortly after the 1914 season ended, Gurtz broke his leg during a semi-pro game in Odell, Illinois and returned home to Indiana.

In February of 1915, The Associated Press reported that he was “suffering from mental trouble, due to excessive religious zeal (and) has been declared insane. “  He was committed to Indiana’s state hospital at Madison, where “Physician’s say that he should respond to treatment and become normal again if his mind can be kept off religion.”

A month later Gurtz was released from the state hospital, The Associated Press said the hospital’s “superintendent expressed the opinion that Gurtz would be able to play ball.”

Gurtz played, but not well.

He hit just .193 for Bloomington in 1915.  The following year he was released by Bloomington just before the season began, but was signed by the Oklahoma City Senators in the Western Association in May.  He split the 1916 season between the Senators and the Muskogee Mets in the same league, hitting just .210.  (Baseball Reference identifies the player with Oklahoma City and Muskogee in 1916 as “William Gurtz,” but contemporary references in The Oklahoma City Times confirm that it was Charles Gurtz)

Gurtz returned to his native Indiana after the 1916 season and died on November 9, 1989, three weeks short of his 100th birthday.

Jimmy Duchalsky

James Louis “Jimmy” “the Duke” Duchalsky was discovered in Hawaii between the 1922 and ’23 seasons when Herb Hunter’s touring big leaguers visited the island during their barnstorming trip which also included stops in Japan, Korea, China and the Philippines.

The International News Service, which called the 5’ 9” 150 lb. Duchalsky the “hardest hitting pitcher in Hawaiian baseball circles,” said he caught the eye of New York Yankee pitcher “Bullet” Joe Bush.  Bush “was so impressed with the youngster’s work in a game he pitched against the big leaguers that he recommended him highly to Duffy Lewis manager of the Salt Lake City Bees in the Pacific Coast League).”

Joe Bush, front, second from right

Joe Bush, front, second from right  photographed during the tour.

Bush said the only thing he lacked was “a change of pace and that can be developed under the instruction of a good coach and manager.”

Duchalsky was 24-years-old (the Bees claimed he was just 21), but not as polished as Bush thought and struggled through 15 appearances, most in relief, for Salt Lake.  He posted a 1-3 record and 7.59 ERA in 51 innings—he did have 8 hits in 20 at bats, with one home run.   In May, he and teammate Tony Lazzeri were sent to the Peoria Tractors in the Three-I League; Duchalsky was 13-8 in 28 appearances.

The following season Duchalsky rejoined the Bees but pitched just one-third of an inning, allowing two runs and two hits in an 18-17 loss to the Oakland Oaks on April 10.  He was released later that week and returned to the Three-I League, this time as a member of the Decatur Commodores; he was 11-9 with a 4.13 ERA for the last-place (58-78) Commodores.

Jimmy Duchalsky 1923

Jimmy Duchalsky 1923

At the end of October he returned to Honolulu to play winter ball.

On December 7, 1924 Duchalsky was involved in an altercation with a cab driver. The Decatur Review said:

“Jim Duchalsky, known to all Three Eye League baseball fans as “The Duke,” has pitched his last game of ball… (he was) shot to death in his native city last evening after a street argument…It will be hard to convince Decatur baseball fans who have come in contact with Jim that he was the aggressor in any brawl that might have taken place for he was the most quiet player both on and off the field to ever appear here… Despite his quiet manners and the fact that he was not a mixer, many fans in both Decatur and Peoria will mourn his loss.  Duchalsky was admired by fans in every city where he played for his sportsmanlike conduct on the ball field and in all his games pitched at Staley Field was never seen disputing an umpire’s decision, even on balls and strikes.  He pitched his game and left the arguments out of his assortment.”

The Associated Press said, “The encounter was believed to have started in jealousy over a woman.”  The cab driver, John Emmeluth, claimed self-defense, but several witnesses said he approached and shot the pitcher with no warning.  He was sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison.  Duchalsky was buried in Honolulu.

Assumed Names II

9 Oct

Players using assumed names were common enough during professional baseball’s first four decades that some players still exist in the record books as separate individuals.

John Berkel is one such case.  He has four separate listing on Baseball Reference.

The “official” record for John H. Berkel begins in 1910 with the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association and ends in 1914 with the Fort Forth Panthers of the Texas League.

That was the second half of his career.

Under the name John Bierkotte he started playing pro ball with the Mattoon-Charleston Canaries in the Kitty League when he was 20 years old.

A slick fielding, weak hitting shortstop and third baseman, Berkel, as John Bierkotte, played with the Jacksonville Jays and Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic League from 1907-1910 (further complicating the trail of Berkel-Bierkotte is that Baseball reference lists him as “Bierkortte” on the Jays’ 1909 roster with a unique player listing).

John Bierkotte with the Augusta Tourists, 1909

On June 30, 1910 John Bierkotte was acquired by Atlanta from Augusta.

John Bierkotte made his debut with the Crackers on August 1.  On August 2 the Atlanta Constitution said:

“John Berkel.  You fans will have to learn to call our new shortstop by that name, for that is really his name…When he first broke into baseball he was trifle afraid he might not make good and rather than cause the laugh to be thrown on him, he decided to change his name.  This he did, and he chose Bierkotte, a weird name, as the one.”

John Berkel 1910

Berkel received high marks for his fielding but struggled at the plate and hit only .207 for Atlanta.  At the end of the 1910 season he was sold to Albany in the South Atlantic League.  From there he went to the Scranton Miners in the New York Penn League in 1912.  The “official” listing for Berkel only adds 10 games with Fort Worth in 1914.

The rest of his career is under the listing “Berkel.”

Berkel spent 1914 on the West Coast, playing for the Fresno Packers of the California State League.  After those 10 games in Fort Worth he played for the Decatur Commodores in the Three-I League, and then was sold to the Peoria Distillers in the same league.  Berkel was offered a contract by Peoria for 1915, but chose to retire and move to the west coast.

The Berkel trail runs cold until 1926 when he turns up as a 40-year-old infielder for the Spokane Eagles in the semi-pro Idaho-Washington League.

Berkel continued to live in Spokane until his death in 1975.  There is no record of why he chose the name Bierkotte.