Tag Archives: Del Howard

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.”

Lost Pictures: 1902 Oakland Clam Diggers

3 Dec

brick

A 1952 photo of 80-year-old Bill “Brick” Devereaux holding a picture of the 1902 Oakland Clamdiggers of the California League.

The Oakland Tribune said Devereaux was able to remember the first and last names of every player in the photo “but one, Cristall, a pitcher.”  Bill Cristall was briefly with Oakland, and spent most of the season in Los Angeles.

Devereaux said the other ten players, in addition to him and Cristall, were Jack “Ike” Walters, Lyle Gorton, Charles “Buck” Francks, Ernest “Kid” Mohler, Julius Streib, Bill Dunleavy, Pete Lohman, George “Hardy” Hodson, Walter “Judge” McCredie, Henry “Smilin'” Schmidt.

Devereaux who spent 1894 and ’95 primarily as a pitcher for teams in Lincoln, Nebraska and Troy, Kansas, told the paper after those two seasons he ‘refused to go east again,” and spent the next 17 seasons playing for California based clubs.  He only left the state to play for a team once, spending his final year in pro ball, 1914, in Calgary, Canada.

Devereaux was something of an eccentric during his playing day.  Del Howard told a story about Devereaux, late in his career, to The San Francisco Call in 1921:

“Brick swiped six bases during the battle (against the San Francisco Seals) and promptly claimed a world record.  ‘Not bad for an old man, eh?’ He chuckled.

“(Seals Manager) Danny Long, sitting on the Frisco bench shouted over ‘Record, where do you get that stuff?  When I was with the Baltimore Orioles I stole seven bases myself in one game.  Read it up.'”

Howard said Devereaux “grew red as a beet,” but didn’t respond.

“Next day, when he came up for the first time, Devereaux hit an easy grounder to short and was out at first base by 20 feet.  Instead of stopping, he turned first at full speed, dashed for the Frisco bench and slid feet foremost into the visitors’ pile of bats scattering them in all directions and throwing dust and cinders in Long’s face.

“Brick rose and carefully brushed off his uniform.

“Well, I’m the best base stealer in Alameda County, anyway, Danny.”

 

 

“Baseball is full of Authenticated instances of Woman’s Influence over it”

27 Jul

In 1905, The Washington Evening Star said:

“The unwritten history of baseball is full of authenticated instances of woman’s influence over it…Not infrequently a sweetheart’s or a wife’s objections to the game cause a star to forsake the diamond for work for which he is not fitted in the least degree, and at which he makes only a living at best.

Bill Lange is a case in point.  Up to (1899) he was one of the best ground coverers in the profession, and as a batsman had a high average.  From the day of his wedding, his wife kept at him to leave the game, urging him to take the step on the grounds of personal safety.  Bill reasoned with her and told her time and again that he knew of no other job for which he could make $4,500 in six months.  But Mrs. Lange was obdurate, and so, when his last season closed Bill ruefully announced to his manager that the diamond would never know him again.  And it has not, though he has annually been tempted by numerous flattering offers. ‘I have given my word to my wife,’ he says simply, ‘and so long as she feels as she does about the game I shall not take up the bat.’”

 

Bill Lange

Bill Lange

Lange never played another professional game

The Evening Star said that occasionally a wife would change her mind, and allow her husband to play professional ball; George “Del” Howard was one such player.

Howard—under his middle name Elmer—was a member of the Mattoon, Illinois team in the Indiana-Illinois League in 1899.

“Howard took as his wife the daughter of a prominent citizen of a central western town.  They had scarcely settled down after their honeymoon when Mrs. Howard began pleading with her husband to give up the game, naming as a reason that she had a strong dislike for it.  She was so insistent that finally Howard reluctantly severed connections with the game, and secured employment selling agricultural implements.

“But he did not give up all hope of returning to the diamond.  During the months that he was engaged in telling farmers of the merits of his particular make of wheat drills and mowers he spent his spare time endeavoring to get his wife interested in baseball. At first it was hard and slow work, and had to be accomplished diplomatically, but little by little he progressed to the point where Mrs. Howard would accompany him to games.  Then Howard explained every play made, told her about the players, introduced them to her, and made her acquainted with the woman folk of the players who were in the grandstand.

“At the end of four tedious years his work of education bore fruit.  Mrs. Howard came to him one day, confessed that she had changed her mind about baseball, declared that she would rather have him on the diamond than an agent for farm implements, and further caused him great joy by appending that he couldn’t get their quickly enough to suit her.“

After a five-year absence from baseball, Howard signed with the Omaha Rangers in the Western League in 1904.  He hit .316 in 144 games (finishing second to William “Bunk” Congalton of the Colorado Springs Millionaires for the batting title) and was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies.

Del Howard

Del Howard

Traded to Pittsburgh for three players, the 27-year-old Howard made his major league debut for the Pirates on April 15, 1905, in Cincinnati with his wife Jessie in the stands.

Howard’s rookie season was his best; he hit .292 in 123 games with the Pirates.  He played in the major leagues for five seasons and was a member of the 1907 and ’08 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.

Howard played and managed in the minor leagues through 1922. His wife Jesse died in California in 1933.  He died on his 79th birthday on December 24, 1956.

“A Pork Jinx on the Club”

4 Mar

To mark the Oakland Oaks 1916 home opener, J. Cal Ewing, generally known as “The Godfather of the Pacific Coast League” presented Oakland Manager Harold “Rowdy” Elliott with a gift:  The Oakland Tribune said:

“Ewing gave to the Oaks a mascot in the shape of a real ‘rooter,’ a yearling pig, which was kept on the players’ bench throughout the game.”

The Oaks cruised to a 10-2 victory over the Portland Beavers in front 15,000 enthusiastic Oakland fans, and the superstitious among the ball club and their fans attributed the win to “Margaret,” the new mascot.

The Oaks played well in April, and were in first place until the end of the month, but by mid May they were 16-21, fifth place in the six-team league—and it was noticed that no one had seen “Margaret” for some time.

Rowdy Elliott with Margaret

Rowdy Elliott with Margaret

The Tribune was convinced the disappearance of the pig was responsible for the team’s decline:

“Suffering Pigs!  A Pork Jinx on the club!…The wrathful shade of a female porker is responsible for the Oaks’ slump.  Maggie the Pig was compelled to shuffle all her porcine coil to the accompaniment of roast apples and cranberry sauce, which is no nice way to treat an emblem of Good Fortune.”

The paper also noted that the club’s secretary also worked as a cook, and Ewing should have “had sense enough” to take that into account before presenting the team with a pig.

And, the paper composed a poem:

O Maggie, dear, and did ye hear

   The news that’s goin’ round?

The Oaks are losing day by day

   And soon they won’t be found.

They’ve ingestion badly.

   And they’re looking for the hook

They can’t play ball at all, at all

   Since you went to the cook.

It became a bit of a scandal.

The Oaks quickly denied that the pig had been eaten:

“They say the trouble is that they haven’t eaten her pigship.  Margaret was given to the ground keeper to preserve, and that personage refuses to produce the pig.”

Rowdy Elliott was quick to tell The Tribune the reason for the club’s slump had nothing to do with the team mascot.  He said the blame was clearly the result of another team’s mascot:

“Elliott says the Oaks’ slump can be attributed to no less a personage than Erasmus Pinckney Johnson.”

Johnson was the mascot for Frank Chance’s Los Angeles Angels—The Los Angeles Times said the young African American boy had been found, on Chance’s orders, in late April in order to break a week-long losing streak. The Times routinely described “the good luck charm” in the most racist terms.

Part of the “luck” Johnson brought was derived from rubbing the young mascot’s head.  Elliott claimed during the Oaks’ last series in Los Angeles he had rubbed the Johnson’s head “the wrong way.”

“Since that moment Rowdy has had little luck, winning only two games out of the last fourteen played.  Erasmus hasn’t been doing much for the Angles of late, for Chance’s crew has been in a slump, but he has at least succeeded in wrecking the Oakland club.”

Frank Chance

Frank Chance

So desperate were the Oakland fans for answers that The Tribune enlisted two prominent fans, an Alameda County Circuit Court judge and a local doctor to do a “psychological study of the team.”

“Judge Wells…has come to the conclusion that the team has worked itself into a jinx, and needs the aid of the pig mascot they had in the opening game to pull them through.  Dr. Halsey agrees that hits, pitching fielding and psychology and all may have something to do with it, but the real reason, according to the doctor, is that the boys are suffering from a nervous breakdown that followed shortly after seeing such an enormous crowd at the opening game.”

Things quickly got worse for the Oaks. Elliott was suspended for several days for throwing a ball at umpire Jack Doyle, and the team continued to lose in June, and then for the rest of the season.

At the end of July Elliott was sold to the Chicago Cubs, George “Del” Howard, who had purchased the club during the season, replaced him as the Oaks’ manager.

Oakland finished 1916 in last place with a 73-136 record.  Chance’s Angels overcame their May slump and easily won the championship with a 119-79 record.

Margaret the pig was never heard from again.

Life on the Road, 1914

6 Feb

In 1914, before beginning his second season as manager of the San Francisco Seals, George “Del” Howard gave the readers of The San Francisco Call a rare look behind the scenes of a baseball team.

Del Howard

Del Howard

“One of the many difficulties which beset a ballplayer is ‘killing’ time while playing away from home…Del Howard was telling only yesterday how the various members of the Seal squad act while on the road.  All the boys are quartered at the same hotel and they usually pass the time in each other’s company.  Card playing for the most part is the favorite pastime, with theater-going running a close second..  There are a few of the San Francisco players who like to hide behind a book, others frequent billiard parlors for a game with the cue, but the majority sit around a table and do their best to deal out pairs.”

Howard even shared the team’s rules for road trips:

“Don’t stay out later than midnight.

Don’t fail to answer 8 A.M. call.

Don’t fail to be down to breakfast by 8:15.

Don’t run around to dances

Don’t play ‘craps’ at any time.

Don’t go over 25 cent limit at cards.

Don’t drink to excess.

Otherwise the players are free to do as they please.”

He said of his “don’ts”:

“We haven’t many rules but the ones we have must be observed.  We don’t tell a player he mustn’t drink nor smoke but we do take action when the privileges are abused.  A player knows best what is good for him and free rein is given him.  A player is allowed to remain up until midnight, if he is in good company, and he is required to be up at 8 in the morning.   There is nothing to do but it is healthy for him to be out of bed.  We breakfast at 8:15.  Very few players eat any lunch and at 6 we go to dinner.  Then there is a long evening to be faced and t is certainly a problem putting in time.”

Howard then described how some of the Seals’ most popular players were “putting in time:”

Howard Mundorff is the life of the club.  ‘Mundy’ is full of fun and the players gather around him and listen for hours while he tells stories and amuses them.  Howard is also one of the card sharks.

Mundorff

Howard Mundorff

Jimmy Johnston is an enthusiastic pool player and he usually can be found at night trying for the 15-ball in the side pocket.  Pete Standridge is also handy with the cue.

Walter Schmidt is quiet and keeps to himself a deal of the time.  He delights in taking strolls and Walter Cartwright, another quiet chap, occasionally accompanies him.

(Jay) Nig Clarke seems to lose himself on every trip and Manager Howard declares that for the life of him he cannot tell just how Nig passes the time.

(Roy) Corhan plays cards pretty regularly, but he spends a lot of his time writing, for he keeps up a continuous line of communication with his better half, when he is on the road, writing consistently every day.

Roy Corhan

Roy Corhan

Charlie Fanning is a bug with the camera and takes pretty good pictures of all the places of interest.  “Skeeter” also knows when to lay down two pair.

“(Albert “Lefty”) Leifield is a very interesting talker and he was a running-mate with Mundorff in amusing the gang.”

Howard said shortstop Harry McArdle was the “most popular player he ever encountered.  Mac has admirers in every town and was kept pretty busy keeping engagements.”

Harry McArdle (sliding)

Harry McArdle (sliding)

As for his time on the road, Howard said, “I walk around and look over things.  I was fortunate in having a well-behaved club last season and did not have any trouble keeping them in line…A busher has the time of his life in a strange town, but a veteran only figures to do something to keep busy.”

After a 104-104 fourth-place finish in 1913, Howard’s Seals—minus Johnston, who drafted by the Chicago Cubs and McArdle, who was traded to the Venice Tigers–behaved themselves well enough to finish third with a 115-96 record in 1914.  The following season he was replaced by Harry Wolverton who led the seals to a 188-89 season, and the Pacific Coast League championship.

Ovie, Oh, Ovie

17 Jan

Arm trouble ended Orval Overall’s career early.  When he left baseball for the first time after the 1910 season he had a 104-66 record, won 20 games twice, and went to the World Series four times with the Chicago Cubs (3-1 in eight appearances).

orvie

Orval Overall

After a visit to John D. “Bonesetter” Reese, a self-trained Youngstown, Ohio-based practitioner of alternative medicine, who while popular among many of the era’s major stars, was condemned by medical professionals.  Despite being “healed,” Overall was unable to come to terms with the Cubs and sat out the 1911 season.

Remaining in his native California, Overall worked at the gold mine he owned with Cubs teammate Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown in Three Rivers and pitched for Stockton team in the “outlaw” California League.  His success in California during the fall of 1911 gave the Chicago press hope he would return to the Cubs in 1912.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“Orval Overall’s arm seems to get better every time he pitches a game.  Last week the former Cub whom Manager (Frank) Chance is trying to persuade to return to the West Side team struck out seventeen men twirling against the All-Sacramento team for Cy Moreing’s Stockton outlaws.”

Later in the fall Overall hurt his arm again.  He returned to “Bonesetter” Reese in December and told The Youngstown Vindicator he was finished with organized baseball, and would “Confine himself to his mining business and with occasional independent ball.”

Overall pitched a few games for a semi-pro team in Visalia; thirty minutes from his mine.

Orville Overall

Orville Overall

In February of 1913, he petitioned the National Commission to reinstate him and declare him a free agent because the Cubs “omitted to send him a contract” in 1912.  The commission granted his reinstatement but returned him to the Cubs.

Overall pitched in just 11 games, with a 4-5 record and .3.31 ERA; he was released to the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in early August.

Overall’s return to the West Coast was an event, and Seals fans even attempted to tell the club when the popular pitcher should make his first start.  The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“Orval Overall, the famous California pitcher, who built up such a reputation with the Chicago Cubs, will pitch for San Francisco today against Venice (Tigers).  A petition signed by sixty Seal fans was sent to (Manager) Del Howard yesterday, with the request that Overall’s first appearance be billed for Sunday afternoon.”

Howard chose to start Overall the day before the fans requested, nevertheless, the game drew a crowd of nearly 10,000 and The Chronicle said: “they gave him a reception long to be remembered.”

Overall gave up five runs, and was lifted in the ninth inning for a pinch hitter.  The Seals lost 8-5 in 11 innings.  He ended the season 8-9 with a 2.14 ERA.

At the end of the 1913 season, Overall announced his retirement.  San Francisco fans were not convinced and said The Chronicle said he “was being counted upon to be one of the mainstays in the box.” But chose to take a job with Maier Brewing Company “in the South” (Venice, CA—still a separate city from Los Angeles at the time.  The Maier family also owned the PCL’s Venice Tigers).  San Francisco fans were not convinced, and there was speculation for the next four months that Overall would return.

Reporter L. W. Nelson, The San Francisco Call’s resident poet composed a verse to try to coax the pitcher back:

Ovie, Oh, Ovie

Ovie, oh, Ovie, come home to us now,

For the season is soon to begin,

And we need you, yes, badly, to show the folks how

The Seals, when they have you, can win!

Ovie, oh, Ovie, sign up with us quick,

Put your name on the contract from Cal,

For we know you can make all others looks sick,

If you pitch for our Seal crew, old pal!

Ovie, we know it is your fondest dream

To work down in Venice for Maier,

Midst the Milwaukee water, the lager and steam—

We know you would like it down there!

Ovie, oh, Ovie, sign up to play ball,

And don’t try your beer selling skill,

For the job in the brew’ry won’t help us at all,

But your pitching most certainly will!

(“Cal” was Seals owner James Calvin Ewing)

As late as March 1914 Overall hinted that he might return, but the pleas and the poem did not sway him.

He left the beer business after a year to manage his family’s large lemon and orange growing operation near Visalia, which would make him quite wealthy.  He became a banker and dabbled in politics and competitive trap shooting.  He died in 1947.

Overall (center) was president of the California-Nevada Trap Shooters Association (1918)

Overall (center) was president of the California-Nevada Trap Shooters Association (1918)

“Bill Abstein Denies he is a Bonehead”

20 Feb

Pittsburgh Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss and manager Fred Clarke felt all they needed to win a World Series was a first baseman.  Since winning the National League Pennant with Kitty Bransfield in 1903, only one Pirate first baseman hit better than .260 (Del Howard .292 in 1905).

In 1908 the Pirates finished second with four different first basemen, Harry Swacina, Alan Storke, Jim Kane and Warren Gill; none played more than 50 games, none hit better than .258 and they combined for 29 errors.

The man who took over in 1909, and was with the Pirates for their World Series victory, might have preferred to have never been given the job.

Bill Abstein had played eight games at second base and in the outfield for the Pirates in 1906, before returning to minors.

-Abstein had put up respectable, but by no means spectacular, numbers with the Shreveport Pirates in the Southern Association and Providence Grays in the Eastern League from 1906 to 1908—but as early as August of 1908 The Pittsburgh Press said he was the answer to the Pirates problem at first base:

“Fred Clarke is very eager to secure Bill Abstein from Providence.  Bill is rated the best first baseman in the Eastern League, and he would no doubt strengthen the Pirates where they are weak.”

When Abstein joined the Pirates before the 1909 season The Press said:

“The acquisition of bill Abstein has rounded our infield nicely.  He’s the best first baseman we have had in years and he certainly fits in nicely.”

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Abstein, Providence 1908

In a letter sent to Dreyfuss with his contract, Abstein told the Pirate owner:

“Fred Clarke will not have to worry about a first baseman after he sees this big German hustling around the bag.”

In keeping with his career performance, Abstein had a respectable season for the pirates.  He hit .260 and drove in 70 runs.  His 27 errors were only a slight improvement over 1908’s first baseman by committee.

The Pirates won 110 games and won the National League Pennant by six and half games over the Chicago Cubs and met the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.  The series would be the beginning of the end of Abstein’s Major League career.

09pirates

1909 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, Abstein 11th from left.

Abstein struggled at the plate (6 for 29 with nine strikeouts) and in the field (5 errors total, 2 each in games 3 and 4).  The Pirates won the series in seven games, but despite the victory, Abstein quickly became the subject of ridicule in Pittsburgh.

An Associated Press article after the series said:

“During the games with Detroit Abstein appeared to forget all that he knew about base ball.  He ran the bases foolishly, made a number of costly errors, failed to hit and disobeyed orders.  In fact, his playing was worse than that of any other man on either team.  The other Pirates, seeing that Abstein was the ‘goat’ for the combination, kept up the cry against him…Before the series was ended many of the Pirates shunned Abstein and it was reported he would be traded.”

The Pittsburgh Press was less generous:

“Bill Abstein denies he is a bonehead and says baseball is largely a case of ‘if-you-can-get-away-with-it,’ well it’s a cinch that Bill couldn’t in the National League.”

The Pirates were unable to trade Abstein and finally put him on waivers.  He was claimed by his hometown St. Louis Browns.

Even though the Pirates had actually won the Worlds Series and even though Abstein was gone, that didn’t mean the Pirates, and The Pittsburgh Press, wouldn’t continue to pile on.

Barney Dreyfuss told The Associated Press shortly after Abstein was claimed by St. Louis:

“We have discarded the weakest offensive player we had—Abstein—and hope to improve the team by doing so.”

Dreyfuss also claimed:

“Fred (Clarke) told me as early as last June that we should get someone else for Abstein’s place in 1910, as Bill mixed up the team’s plays too frequently.”

The Pittsburgh Leader said:

“(Abstein) had deplorable batting weaknesses which the opposing pitchers were certain to fathom in time.”

The Pittsburgh Press was even less generous:

“Bill Abstein is reported to be making a hit with the Browns by his work in the spring practice.  Just wait about three months friends, before declaring Bonehead Bill a wonder.”

When the Pirates sold pitcher Vic Willis the St. Louis Cardinals in February of 1910, newspapers reported that Willis and Abstein had “engaged in a bitter fight,” during the series.

Abstein quickly wore out his welcome in his own hometown of St. Louis.  Abstein made 11 errors in 23 games at first base and hit .149; he was released on June 2, 1910.  It appears Abstein was no more popular with Browns Manager Jack O’Connor than he was in Pittsburgh.  O’Connor was quoted in The St. Louis Times in May:

“How did Abstein get away with it last year?  How could he make plays like he has been making for me and get away with it all year for Pittsburgh?  I never dreamed that some of the plays made by him were even possible.”

His Major League career over, Abstein returned to the minor leagues for seven seasons.  He had one above average year with the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League in 1914; in 202 games he hit .308, with 234 hits and 40 doubles.

Abstein moved on, Pittsburgh apparently did not.  For years, Pittsburgh newspapers took every opportunity to take a shot at the first baseman.  In 1915 The Pittsburgh Press, in an article about the revolving door the Pirates still had at first base–in the five post-Abstein seasons, the Pirates had four different starting first baseman–(emphasis theirs):

“No one will ever forget the way Bill did NOT play the bag in the Worlds Series.  In fact, Bill did NOT play the bag all the time he was stationed there.”

Pittsburgh finally seemed to move on by the time they won their next world Championship in 1925.  Abstein died in St. Louis in 1940.