Tag Archives: Detroit Wolverines

“So, Great Buck Ewing is Dead”

21 Aug

“So, great Buck Ewing is dead.”

That was Sam Thompson’s reaction when told by The Detroit News that Ewing had died at age 47.

Ewing was less than five months older than Thompson, who had come out of retirement to play in eight games for the Tigers just two months earlier.

“They’re slipping away, aren’t they, those fine old fellows who by their head work and lovable natures made the game what it is today! It was such men as Ewing, (Tim) Keefe, (Roger) Connor and a score of others who inspired me.”

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Ewing

Although roughly the same age, Ewing was in the major leagues for five seasons before Thompson made his debut:

“As a boy I used to read of the great Ewing, and I set him up as my ideal. He and Connor were always my idols.  Later, when I began to play in the big leagues and (later) went to Philadelphia, I roomed with Roger (in 1892), my acquaintance with—while it in no way lessened my regard for him—sort of pulled him from the pedestal. Ewing, however, I never became so closely attached to, and there was always the baseball idol worship about the man for me.”

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Thompson

Thompson said when he did interact with Ewing, it added “to this setting him higher as the ideal” of a baseball player:

“He was such a whole-souled, lovable chap. His wonderful work on the diamond in no way affected his disposition. He was always modest and retiring.”

And he said:

“There never lived a greater catcher or all -around ballplayer.

“Mike Kelly? Well, Kelly was a grand ballplayer all right, but he was the cunning player, the fellow with startling tricks. Ewing, on the other hand, was the thinker, the deep student of the game. His was the inside game. No player ever lived who could play the same kind of game that Kelly put up, but Ewing was of the different type. He was the more consistent thinker.”

Thompson said he believed Ewing was “the first catcher to get the infield signaling down t anything like a system,” and:

“He was the pioneer of present-day headwork behind the bat. He always had us hugging the bases. He devised tricks that are now common in baseball. They were figured out long before the game started. Kelly’s greatness, on the other hand, lay in his marvelous ability to grasp a situation quicker than lightning.”

He said when he played “with the old Detroit team we used to anxiously await who going to catch,” for the Giants:

“If it was (William ‘California’) Brown there was a sigh of relief. Not that we were belittling the work of Brown; it was simply that Ewing was so much better. He dazzled us. He had the infield under his control all the time. He had tricks of pulling us off the sacks that were new and we did not know what to do. That old Detroit bunch could win with Brown catching almost any day in the week, but with Ewing it was different.”

One man was responsible for New York’s success:

“It was Buck Ewing who won all those championships for the old Giants.

“Tim Keefe stood out as a wonderful pitcher. It was Keefe and Ewing. That old battery was the talk of the country.

“And yet Tim Keefe told me time and again, when they were at their best, that without Buck Ewing he would be no better than any other fairly good pitcher.

“’It’s all Buck,’ he would say, ‘he’s the boy who steadies me and gets the work done.”

Thompson’s first major league game—July 2, 1885–was against the Giants, with Keefe on the mound (although he misremembered Ewing being behind the plate that day—it was Pat Deasley):

“I don’t recall whether I did anything in the game (Thompson replaced Gene Moriarty in right field after the latter was in the 5th inning, he was 1 for 2 and scored a run) but I do remember we won. We beat the Giants 4 to 0.

“That victory did more for me among the players than any one thing. They called me their mascot. New York had been beating them right along.”

 

Thompson said when he left the Phillies in 1898, he nearly played for Ewing:

“I had left Philadelphia and had decided to give up the game. Ewing was then managing the Reds and wrote me asking if I would come to Cincinnati. He said he thought he could put through a deal whereby I could sign up all right.

“I was sorely tempted, as I had always wanted to play in Cincinnati. I had always been given a good reception there and had played some of my best games there.

“I didn’t accept, however. I thought that I might not do as well as I had, and I didn’t want to show poorly after all the good work I had done in that city.”

“Several Thousands of Dollars Were Staked”

19 Jun

After the first game of the 1887 post season series between the American Association champion Browns and the National League champion Detroit Wolverines—won by St. Louis 6 to 1–The St. Louis Post-Dispatch found that the various options to bet on game two and the series “at the local pool rooms” was “exciting, and some of it was quite humorous.

The paper said before game one the “betting was 100 to 65 that Detroit would win the series and now the betting s even.”

The betting odds on game two were “10 to 9 on the Browns,” and said the paper “several thousands of dollars were staked.”

Most interesting, said the paper were the “peculiar bets” offered:

(Ten to win 30) that Bob Caruthers makes most hits in the game today

10—50 that Bill Gleason makes most hits

1-1 that Caruthers, Tip O’Neill, and Arlie Latham make more hits than Sam Thompson, Fred Dunlap, and Hardy Richardson

1—1 that O’Neill makes more hits than Thompson

4—1 that Thompson does not make the most hits

10—5 that Richardson does not make the most hits in game

10—5 that Dunlap does not make the most hits

10—5 that Latham does not

1—1 that Curt Welch, Charles Comiskey, and Latham steal at least one base

The paper also said the odds on that day’s game were “10—9 against Detroit.”

The Wolverines won game two, 5 to 3, and won the series 10 games to 5.

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The game two box score

As for the “peculiar bets” on game two: Detroit’s Charlie Bennett and Sam Thompson each led with three hits.  Latham, O’Neill, and Carruthers had four hits, Thompson, Dunlap, and Richardson had three.

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Sam Thompson

Thompson had three hits to O’Neill’s one, and while Comiskey and Latham each stole a base, Welch did not.

Kick Kelly’s Night out

20 Feb

After John “Kick” Kelly was fired as manager of the Louisville Colonels in June of 1888, he returned to the National League as an umpire.

When he missed the September 21 game between the New York Giants and Detroit Wolverines, most papers reported he was out sick.  The Detroit Free Press was more specific:

“Mr. Kelly’s white uniform did not make its appearance yesterday when the signal was given and after a painful pause it was concluded to on with the game minus his presence, and John War of the New York team, was selected to umpire…Kelly’s non-appearance is not hard to explain.  The man who has masqueraded as a star umpire has for some time past been attempting the difficult feat of rendering proper decisions on the ball field and at the same time maintain intimate relations with an extensive ‘jag.’ In this effort Mr. Kelly has proven a dire failure, much to the discomfiture of the players compelled to submit to the awful decisions resultant on the aforementioned ‘jag.’”

The paper said Ward acquitted himself well and that Kelly “was not missed to any great extent.”

There was more to the story.

The following day The Free Press said:

“Mr. Kelly was a guest at police headquarters…The cause of Mr. Kelly’s presence at the headquarters was a disagreement between himself and a person whom it would be superfluous to mention by name.”

Their competition, The Detroit Tribune, thought no details of Kelly’s arrest were superfluous:

“Kelly, the League umpire…occupied the “Dead man’s” cell in the Central Police Station about three hours today.  For the past three nights Kelly has been painting the town, and last night his hilarity broke out in a house of bad reputation.  He and a number of local characters started out in the early part of the evening and went to a house on Antoine Street.”

After drinking “several bottles of wine,” Kelly was said to have told his companions:

“I can lick anybody, an I will pound the first person who says a word.”

The party moved to a local brothel, where after more wine, an attempt was made to remove Kelly from the premises:

“He struck one of the inmates, Emma Gordon, on the head and knocked her down and kicked her.  He then struck one of the other inmates, and when the Gordon woman arose, he struck her in the mouth, cutting her lower lip and nocking two of her teeth out. After having asserted his manhood in this way Mr. Kelly was willing to leave and did leave.”

Kelly returned to his room at Detroit’s Hotel Cadillac, where, as he was sleeping, the police “roused him up gently, but forcibly, and led him” to jail.

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Kick Kelly

According to the paper “a large delegation from the ‘sporting fraternity’” of Detroit had Kelly quickly released.

Kelly paid the woman he assaulted $75.  He worked the September 22 game between New York and Detroit.

Despite paying the woman, Kelly told a reporter for The New York World that had done nothing wrong:

“I was so sick on Friday that I could I was unable to leave the hotel.  I was perfectly sober; in fact, I have never abstained from the use of intoxicants so completely as of late.  I committed no assault, as the fact of my almost immediate dismissal proved, nor did I receive any injury of any kind…My arrest was prompted by spite.  I went out the next day and umpired good ball.”

Kelly said he was the victim of “a thirst to grind the umpire,” and a “love for sensationalism.”

The Boston Post said the story from Detroit was nothing new:

“At Washington recently, Umpire Kelly was too intoxicated to discharge his duties properly.”

The paper said that if the Detroit charges “are borne out by facts, he has disgraced himself and the league and should be discharged at once.”

The Detroit Tribune said of Kelly’s denials:

“Umpire Kelly is telling them in the East that he didn’t drink too much and didn’t abuse and beat a woman in Detroit, adding that the Detroit papers had a spite against him and tried to ‘do’ him.  Down in the East they take Kelly’s denial with a grain of salt.”

Kelly was never disciplined further by the authorities in Detroit or by the National League.  He and “Honest John” Gaffney were selected to umpire the post season series between the Giants and the American Association champion St. Louis Browns.

During that series, Kelly was accused of a charge that plagued him as frequently as the one about his drinking; his perceived favoritism of the Giants.  Browns owner Chris von der Ahe went so far as to charge that “Kelly had money on the New Yorks.”

Kelly responded in a letter that was printed in The Boston Globe:

“Chris von der Ahe is hot because the St. Louis men are being slaughtered by the New Yorks.…He lost his nerve and he wants to be revenged on the umpires.”

The Giants won the series six games to four.

Kelly then did what anyone trying dodge charges of a drinking problem would do; he and Mike “King” Kelly decided to open a bar.  The New York World said:

“Umpire John Kelly and $10000 Mike will begin operations in Shang Draper’s (a New York criminal and saloon keeper) old place, corner of thirty-first Street and Sixth Avenue.”

Kelly moved to the American Association the following season.

The business apparently did not operate for long either, the following spring The New York Herald asked:

“With Mike Kelly captain of the Bostons and John Kelly umpire in the American Association, what will become of the New York wine joint—Shang Draper’s old place?”

“The Boys Began to Cast Threatening Looks”

4 Feb

The effect of “hoodoos” were the frequent subject of baseball stories in the 19th Century—but rarely was one chronicled from beginning to end during a single game. On August 26, 1885, on an unseasonably cold day and in front of a crowd of just 1200, the first place Chicago White Stockings were hosting the last place Detroit Wolverines. The Chicago Tribune marked the moment when the “Hoodoo” arrived:

“When (The White Stockings’) players took their positions on the diamond with (Ned) Hanlon at the bat for the visitors; a half-starved, miserable-looking little dog with a coat of hair like that of a hyena and the air of a coyote, shambled out from among the carriage wheels and took up his position close to (George) Gore. The centerfielder evidently looked upon the wretched animal as a ‘Hoodoo,’ for he threw a clod of dirt at it, and the forsaken little brute weakly trotted off to the shelter of the brick wall.”

gore

Gore

The dog made its way to the Chicago bench, where:

“(Ned) Williamson and (John) Clarkson tried in vain to make friends with him, but he would have none of it, and trotted off to the grass plot near the grandstand railing, where seated on his haunches he watched the game.”

The White Stockings scored two runs in the first inning when Anson and Fred Pfeffer scored on a Williamson double, and, according to the paper “Anson whispered to Gore that the dog was a ‘mascot.’”

The dog remained near the Chicago bench and when the team failed to score through the sixth inning, and the score remained 2 to 0:

“(T)he boys began to cast threatening looks in the direction of the miserable-looking canine mutter something about a ‘hoodoo.”

Each team added a run in seventh. In the eighth, Chicago allowed a run when Hanlon was attempting to steal second and scored after a wild throw by catcher Silver Flint and a poor throw by Gore.

“Hanlon had crossed the home plate. The coyote uttered a plaintive howl a Hanlon scored, and deliberately trotted over to the Detroit players’ bench, where he took his seat.”

The dog having switched sides, “(Chicago) knew they could not make another run and they did not, but fortunately for the prospective pennant-winners, (Detroit’s Charlie) Bennett’s two-bagger in the ninth inning was productive of no good,” when Jim McCormick retired the next three Detroit batters to end the game.

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Jim McCormick

The Chicago Inter Ocean noted:

“The dog then left the field in disgust and saved the game for Chicago.”

The White Stockings went on to win the pennant by two games. The dog was not heard from again.

“I Never Felt More Sorry for a Fellow Player”

30 Nov

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said Hugh Daily, the pitcher who lost his left hand—the result of an accident with a gun—used a “mask” that protected his right hand when he batted.  The paper said he began the practice which was “a case of locking the door after the horse had been stolen” as a result of an incident that involved George “Stump” Weidman.

Daily and Weidman had been teammates with the Rochester Hop Bitters in the National Association in 1880.

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Hugh Daily

According to the paper, Weidman told the story to a some fans “gathered around a table in his little sanctum at his place of business down State Street way,” in Rochester:

“I never felt more sorry for a fellow player than I did that day,  I was pitching for Detroit and Daily was in the box for Cleveland.  It was a tight game and when the ninth inning opened we were one run to the good.

“In the ninth though, Cleveland had a man on third and another on second, with two out.  Daily was at the bat.  I had two strikes on him .  I couldn’t afford to take a chance on even a one-armed batter…So I pitched as hard to Daily as I would have the heaviest sticker on the team.

“The next ball I gave him was aimed for the outside corner.  It was a fast ball with a sharp twist.  Daily evidently expected that kind of ball, for he reached forward a little.  It couldn’t be helped—I couldn’t warn him of what was almost sure to happen.  The ball struck him fairly on the fingers which were tightly grasped about the bat.  The bones of two fingers were broken.”

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Stump Weidman

Weidman said he and his teammates felt so bad they “took up a collection” and gave Daily $207.

Despite Daily’s reputation for having a volatile temper, Weidman said when he “told Daily I was sorry for the accident, he said that he knew it couldn’t be helped.”

Despite the injury, Daily appeared in 45 games and was 23-19 with a 2.42 ERA for the Cleveland Blues.

“The Things That Bring Good Luck to the Various Clubs”

26 Nov

In 1886, The St, Louis Post-Dispatch noted:

“Gamblers and old women are not the only ones who are given to superstitious observations of signs and to the carrying of luck tokens…Baseball players are more given to that sort of thing of late years than any other class of men.”

Under the Headline The Things That Bring Luck to the Various Clubs, the paper laid out the different “mascottic tastes” of the teams.

The paper said the success of the Cincinnati Red Stockings the previous season, was attributed in part to “Kid Baldwin’s pink jersey,” but the team’s fortunes turned in 1886 after:

“(A)fter a St. Louis laundry women’s daughter eloped in ‘Kid’s’ jersey and the club is now in last place.”

The Louisville Colonels had recently found a new “lucky hanger-on,” for a mascot; a calf born with a caul—the rare instance has long been the subject of superstition. The team took the calf ad proceeded to take five out of six games from the defending champion St. Louis Brown Stockings.

Pete Browning of the Colonels,“(C)arries a loaded die in the hip pocket of his knickerbockers for luck.  Before a recent game somebody took the die out of Pete’s pocket and he failed to make a hit that day,” ending a long hitting streak.

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Pete Browning

The paper said that Brown Stockings captain Charles Comiskey and third baseman Arlie Latham disagreed on the best mascot for the team:

“Comiskey argued in favor of a mule, for which he has a kindly fellow feeling, and he said he knew where he could get one cheap.  Latham held out for (a small white) mouse because he owned one and won the day, though Comiskey still believed in the efficacy of the mule, and had his heel spikes made out of a cast-off shoe from the foot of his favorite animal.”

The mouse died–suffocating when Latham, carrying the mouse, got in a fight with teammate Doc Bushong—right around the time Louisville acquired their calf and the Brown Stockings dropped those five games to Louisville,

The Post-Dispatch said New York Giants President John Day had recently had a prospect for a new mascot for the team:

“(He) tore his hair out the other day when he was informed that the youngster born with a full beard in Williamsburg had died. Day was sure that he would have in him one of the best mascots in the country.”

The paper noted the better known mascots, “Little Willie Hahn,” of the Chicago White Stockings and Charlie Gallagher of the Detroit Wolverines—who was said to have been born with a full set of teeth—and said of other National League clubs:

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Willie Hahn

“The Bostons never had a mascot because they haven’t luck enough to find one.  The Washington and Kansas City teams are unable to get a mascot to even look at them.”

And concluded:

“The strangest thing about a baseball mascot is that he is occasionally traitorous and transfers his services to the other side without the slightest warning.  He will never play with a cripples, badly-managed or broken-up team, and as soon as a club begins to go down hill it is a clear case of desertion by the mascot.”

 

 

Tug Arundel

16 Nov

Twenty-one years before catcher Gabby Street caught a baseball dropped. From the Washington Monument, another catcher attempted it with less success.

When news of Street’s feat was reported in 1908, Oliver Romeo Johnson, who had been a sportswriter for The Indianapolis News in 1887, recalled the circumstances:

“On one of our eastern trips we followed the Chicagos in Washington, and while there the catching of a ball dropped from the monument was much talked of, because one of the Chicago players was said to have done it a few days before.  My impression is that it was (Cap) Anson himself, although it might have been Silver Flint.

“One of our team, John Thomas ‘Tug’ Arundel, a catcher, said it was ‘dead easy’ to catch a ball dropped from the monument, and a bet was made on it.  A crowd of us went out to see the attempt.  Arundel wore catcher’s gloves—which were not so thick as they now are—on both hands and put layers of cotton under them. He tried eight or ten times to catch the ball…but failed every time, and after he had battered up his hands so he could not play for some days he gave it up.”

Tug Arundel

Tug Arundel

Several days after Johnson’s recollection appeared in The News, Horace Fogel, who had been Arundel’s manager with the Hoosiers and dropped the balls from the monument, weighed in.  Fogel, then sports editor of The Philadelphia Telegraph, disputed the claim that Anson or Flint had caught a ball and said of his catcher’s attempt:

“Arundel, if I remember alright, only succeeded in getting his hands on one ball and it almost tore them off at the wrists. Tug explained afterward that he had not figured on ‘A ball weighing a ton coming from that distance.’ The other balls, a dozen or more, I tossed out to him, Arundel missed, some by fifty feet, he misjudged them that badly.”

Horace Fogel

Horace Fogel

Bad judgment was a staple of Arundel’s career which was marred by arrests for drinking and fighting.    He appeared in just 76 major league games over four seasons from 1882 to 1888 and played for at least 16 different professional clubs during his 10 seasons in professional ball, often quickly wearing out his welcome.

The Memphis Appeal said he was:

“(T)he handsomest player in the profession, who would sooner fight than eat.”

The Washington Critic summed up the opinion many had of Arundel when he was acquired by the Nationals in 1888:

“’Tug’ Arundel has been secured by the Washington management, as last week’s reports indicated he would be.  He is not popular here.  However, it is to be hoped that Manager (Ted) Sullivan can keep him muzzled.”

After his release, when it was rumored he might join the Detroit wolverines, The Detroit Free Press told readers:

“Detroit wouldn’t have Tug Arundel under any circumstances.”

After every incident, Arundel pledged to change his ways.

After an 1887 drunken melee in Indianapolis, which resulted in the arrests of Arundel along with teammates Jerry Denny and John (Patsy) Cahill, he told The Indianapolis News he took “a total abstinence pledge for six months.”

In the spring of 1889, he was arrested in his hometown, Auburn, New York twice. First for assaulting a police officer and then for a bar fight with another former major leaguer, and Auburn native, Mike MansellThe Auburn Bulletin said Arundel “Got the worst of it.” A month after the fight, The Sporting Life said Arundel “writes he is in fine shape and looking for an engagement.”

In 1890, the 28-year-old Arundel was nearing the end of the line.  He signed with the Saginaw-Bay City (Michigan) club in the International Association and told The Detroit Free Press that he was serious about sobriety this time:

“I lost splendid situations and almost ruined my reputation through liquor, but, sir, I realize the baneful effects of over-indulgence in intoxicating liquors and I have resolved never to touch another drop.  I have kept aloof from it for the past three months and am now in as good condition as I ever was in my life.”

It is unclear whether, or for how long, Arundel kept his last public pledge.  He appeared to have played fairly well behind the plate for Saginaw-Bay City.  Although he hit just .152, The Free Press, which three years earlier assured readers that Arundel was not wanted on the city’s National League club, was pleased when he signed with the Detroit Wolverines of the Northwestern League:

“(Arundel) has faced the greatest pitchers on the field and held them all.  Arundel is a good trainer for young ones, and did good work while with the Hyphens in 1890.”

Whether because of drinking or injuries (The Free Press and The Detroit News said he suffered from “Split fingers” several times throughout the season) Arundel was finished after the 1891 season, at age 29.

Arundel returned to Auburn and was eventually committed to the Willard State Hospital for the Chronic Insane in New York where he died in 1912.

“The Phillies were Somewhat Crippled by the absence of Roy Thomas”

14 Sep

Charles “Chief” Zimmer was acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies to play for and manage the team in 1903; it was assumed he couldn’t do worse than Bill Shettsline who led the team to a 56-81 record the previous season.  He did.

Unlike nearly every other “Chief” in 19th Century baseball, Zimmer had no Native American blood and various stories have circulated as to the origin of the nickname.  His 1949 obituary said:

“In 1886 he joined Poughkeepsie as captain and manager…”since we were fleet of foot we were called Indians.  As I was the head man of the Indians somebody began to call me “Chief.”  It stuck.”

The Pittsburgh Press said in 1904:

“Zimmer received his sobriquet as ‘Chief’ because of his facial resemblance to an Indian, although he is a German.”

Zimmer was one of the best catchers in baseball for more than a decade.  He had brief trials in the National League with the Detroit Wolverines and American Association with the New York Metropolitans from 1884 and 1886, and was playing for the Rochester Maroons in the International Association in 1887 when his contract was purchased for $500 by the Cleveland Blues of the American Association.

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Chief Zimmer

Zimmer was the starting catcher for the Blues when the team moved to the National League and became the Cleveland Spiders in 1889, and remained in Cleveland until 1899.  In 1890, he caught 111 straight games; which was the Major League record for 19 years.

By January of 1903 the 43-year-old’s best days were behind when Philadelphia acquired him on waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates and named Zimmer manager.

After a 2-2 start, the Phillies never saw .500 again and Zimmer quickly lost control of his team.

The team went into June with an 11-26 record.  Things got worse that month in Cincinnati when Zimmer put the team’s captain,  centerfielder and leadoff man Roy Thomas into the lineup–Thomas was  a devout Christian who did not want to play on Sundays.  The Philadelphia Record said:

“Manager Zimmer had some trouble getting Roy Thomas to play in the Sunday game, he claiming that he had not contracted to play on Sunday, and that he had no desire to break the Sabbath.  In the end, however, Zimmer prevailed and Thomas went into the game.”

The Philadelphia Times said Zimmer talked to the team’s new owner, James Potter, who was reported to have said:

“So he won’t play today, eh?  Well, then place him on the bench today, tomorrow and for the remainder of the season, without pay.”

Thomas relented, but told reporters before the game::

“I’m playing under protest.  There’s nothing in my contract that exempts me from playing on Sunday, but when I signed it I had no idea that the Philadelphia Club would change hands and abandon old precepts.”

The following Sunday, with the Phillies in Chicago, The Associated Press (AP) said:

“Thomas made his protest doubly strong and backed it up by staying out of uniform that day.”

After Philadelphia’s 4 to 2 loss, The Chicago Tribune said:

“The Phillies were somewhat crippled by the absence of Roy Thomas who does not like the new ownership of the club, because it believes in Sunday games. which Roy does not.”

As a result The AP said,  other players on the slumping team suddenly found religion.

“Now several other members of the team declare that they are as much opposed to playing baseball on Sunday as is Thomas and that their religious scruples are just as strong as his.”

The article quoted an unnamed member of the Phillies:

“(I)f the club insists on showing partiality to Thomas the others who also object to playing on Sunday, but who are willing to help out the club, will insist on the same privileges.”

Zimmer faced a full-blown revolt as they prepared to embark on a 19 game road trip:

“All of which portends a pleasant trip in the West for Zimmer when he starts out again.”

The Philadelphia papers did not continue to pursue the story during the Phillies’ 4-15  road trip, but it seems that for the remainder of 1903 Thomas backed off of his demand as he appears in box scores for several Sunday games in the final three months of the season.

Roy Thomas

Roy Thomas

The Phillies limped to a 49-86 seventh place finish, seven less victories than the previous season under Shettsline.  Zimmer was dismissed at the end of the season and was replaced by Hugh Duffy.

Thomas’ Sunday request was granted the following season, with manager Duffy making most of his appearances as a player in 1904 on Sundays when his centerfielder took the day off.  There is no record of teammates complaining about Thomas’ Sunday schedule under Duffy’s management.

Regardless of the team’s new-found harmony, the Phillies under Duffy finished 52-100.  Potter sold the team after the 1904 season to Bill Shettsline.

A shorter version of this story was posted 12-18-2012.

 

The Pursuit of Elmer Foster

9 Sep

Elmer Ellsworth Foster was the talk of the Northwestern League in 1887.

His career as a pitcher had lasted just one season; in 1884, while pitching for the St. Paul Apostles, he snapped a bone in his arm while throwing a pitch.

Elmer Foster, 1887

            Elmer Foster, 1887

After he recovered, he returned the following year as an outfielder and second baseman with Haverhill in the Eastern New England League and hit .309.

The following spring, The Sporting Life’s Haverhill correspondent said the New York Metropolitans “have taken Elmer Foster from us.”

Hitting just .184 and, as The Sporting Life put it “reckless at the bat,” Foster went back to Haverhill in August.

In 1887, he returned to Minnesota, this time as centerfielder for the Minneapolis Millers.  The club was owned by his brother Robert Owen Foster, a successful dealer of musical instruments, who with his partner J. E. Whitcomb, had taken over operations of the Millers in January.

The Northwestern League of 1887 was a hitter’s paradise owing mostly to the single-season experiments with the four-strike rule and walks counted as hits—nineteen players with at least 350 at-bats hit better than .350—and Foster led with a .415 average and 17 home runs.   While his performance with the bat was noted, he received an equal amount of publicity for his great fielding.

Throughout the season, Minnesota newspapers reported that Foster’s contract would be sold to a major league team—the Indianapolis Hoosiers were the most frequently mentioned—but the deal never materialized.

When the season ended, The Philadelphia Times said Foster was in high demand:

“During the past week agents from nearly every League and Association (club) have been to Minneapolis to secure (Foster) for next season.  (Horace) Phillips of Pittsburgh; (Gus) Schmelz of Cincinnati; Ted Sullivan, agent for Washington; (Emery “Moxie”) Hengel agent for Detroit; (Charlie Hazen) Morton, agent for (A.G.) Spalding, and agents for the Brooklyn, Metropolitan, and Baltimore Clubs have tried to get him.

(John) Day, of New York, sent him this message:  ‘Multrie on the way to Minneapolis.  Make no promise until you see him.’  Boston also wired him for his terms.  (Horace) Fogel of Indianapolis arrived one night and had Foster in tow all the next day.  The bidding of all these clubs has been going on briskly, until now he is offered exorbitant figures by all the clubs.”

Foster called the fight for services a “circus;” it also turned into a controversy, with two teams claiming to have signed him.  The Saint Paul Globe said:

“The circus he speaks of is a curious one, but he is sublimely unmindful of the part he took in it.  The rules of the baseball covenant prohibit the signing of players until Oct. 20…Manager Fogel of Indianapolis approached Foster before that time and made a verbal contract with him, but Manager (Jim) Mutrie, of New York, took him out to Delano (Minnesota), and after midnight  (on the 20th) got his signature.”

Jim Mutrie

                       Jim Mutrie

Years later, Ted Sullivan, who was perusing Foster on behalf of his Washington Nationals, described Mutrie’s method to sign Foster as a kidnapping:

“Jim Mutrie of New York (Giants) grabbed the great fielder Foster on the streets of Minneapolis…bound and gagged him, threw him into a cab and brought him ten minutes out of the city, held him there and dined and wined him until midnight…then compelled him to take $1000 advance money and a contract of $4500 (various other sources put Foster’s salary at $2400, and $4000).”

Foster, it turned out, didn’t simply have a “verbal contract” with Fogel and Indianapolis when he disappeared with Mutrie, but had, as The Sporting News said, accepted “a draft for $100,” from Fogel at the time the two agreed to terms.  Fogel and Indianapolis owner John T. Brush told The Indianapolis News and The Indianapolis Times that there was “a written agreement” between Foster and the club.

Foster’s wife gave birth to a daughter during the height of the controversy.  He told The Globe:

“If she had been a boy I would have named him Mutrie Fogel, in memory of the baseball managers I have been having a circus with.”

In the end, Indianapolis acknowledged that the agreement with Foster, whether written or verbal, was entered into three days before the legal signing date of October 20 and National League President Nick Young awarded Foster to the Giants.

Foster never had success at the plate during his brief major league career; he hit just .187 in 386 at-bats over parts of five seasons.  But Mutrie called him “(O)ne of the best fielders in the country,” and Sullivan said of Foster’s time in the National League, “(H)e was a wonderful fielder in that league.”

Elmer Foster

      Elmer Foster

After he was released by the Giants, he played 31 games with the Chicago Colts in 1890 and ’91, but his brief stay with the club allowed his name to live on with fans long after his career ended.  One of the favorite subjects of Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, who called him “The rowdy of the rowdies,” Foster’s name was a staple of Fullerton’s stories for three decades after his career ended.

“He fell off the Face of the Earth”

28 Aug

Charles Hazen Morton could run.  When he was playing shortstop and managing the Akron Independents in 1881 The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“Morton, shortstop with the Akrons, can run like a deer.  It is probably that no one in the country can beat him for fifty yards.”

Morton’s major league career in the National League and American Association was unspectacular; he hit less than .200 with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys and St. Louis Brown Stockings in 1882, and the Toledo Blue Stockings and Detroit Wolverines in 1884 and ’85, he also managed Toledo and Detroit–Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Welday Wilberforce Walker played for Morton with the Blue Stockings  He also managed the 1890 Toledo Maumees; Toledo’s only other season as a major league city.

Morton continued to manage minor league and independent teams through 1899.

After five years away from baseball he was the driving force in organizing several independent teams in Ohio and Pennsylvania into the eight-team Ohio-Pennsylvania League.  He was named president.

For two seasons, the league ran smoothly.  So smoothly that, according to The Akron Beacon Journal he was being aggressively pursued by owners in the Central League to assume the presidency of that league during the summer of 1906.  Morton chose to stay put.

As smoothly as things ran for two seasons, the tide turned badly in 1907.  Attendance was down all season and several franchises were on the verge of bankruptcy, and four teams wanted to leave the league entirely.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer said:

“Four O and P League clubs want a new league; four do not.  Four assert they will retire from baseball rather than be associated with the other four.  The league is deadlocked.  Neither side will give in.”

The Youngstown Vindicator said, “There seems to be no question that President Charles H. Morton will have strong opposition.”  Despite efforts to unseat Morton, he was narrowly reelected president of the league.

Ultimately, four teams did leave to form the Ohio State League.  But Morton told The Sporting Life at the beginning of 1908 that he had managed to bring in four new clubs and was confident for the future of the O and P despite rumors that the league was in financial disarray:

“No, I do not think this is going t0 be a disastrous campaign.  The money stringency may hurt the crowds to a certain extent, yet people in this section of Ohio differ little from their brothers in other parts of the country. The germ of baseball Is not sporadic.”

He predicted that attendance would increase.

It didn’t, and things never got better for Morton.  After the 1908 season, it appeared all but certain he would be removed as president.

In December, two days before the league meeting was to begin in Pittsburgh, Morton abruptly canceled it.  A new meeting was scheduled for January in Cleveland and Morton’s fate seemed to be sealed.

On January 12 he traveled to Cleveland with representatives from the Canton Watchmakers and Akron Champs, likely his last two supporters.  But when the meeting was called to order Morton was nowhere to be found.  Samuel Wright, who had managed the Youngstown Champs the previous season, was elected president.

The Youngstown Vindicator said:

“He fell off the face of the earth so far as anybody knows.”

Charles Hazen Morton

Charles Hazen Morton

Some speculated he had run.

He disappeared with $2500 of the league’s money.  As days dragged into weeks there was no sign of Morton.

The Chicago Tribune said his friends were concerned that he had “done away with himself,” despondent over his pending removal as president.

The Marion Star said, “It is feared he has been thugged.”

The Pittsburgh Press advanced a conspiracy theory.  Under the headline “See Deep Plot in Morton’s Absence.”  The paper claimed  the Canton and Akron clubs realizing that he would be ousted had conspired with the president to have him disappear so, “Wright while really elected is far from president (of the league).”

But there was no conspiracy, Morton had really disappeared and remained missing for more than two months.

On March 16 he resurfaced.  Morton was found “wandering aimlessly” on Wabash Avenue in Chicago, near his brother’s home.  The Akron Beacon Journal said he was diagnosed with “Acute dementia (and) his mind is now a blank.”

The only clues where Morton had been for more than two months, were papers in his pockets which indicated he had been in Mexico and Texas and, The Beacon Journal said, “He mutters incoherently about Corpus Christi.”

He recovered enough to return to Akron by August of 1909.  His brother reimbursed the league $1500 that was not recovered after he was found.

Morton faded into obscurity after his return to Akron.  There was no follow-up to his story.  None of the many questions about his disappearance were ever answered.  And whatever happened in Corpus Christi died with him in 1921.

This is a longer version of a post from 12-14-2012.