Tag Archives: Dick Higham

“Offered him $1,000 to Throw the Game”

21 Aug

Pitcher George “Charmer” Zettlein began his professional career with the Chicago White Stockings in 1871 when his friend, manager Jimmy Wood convinced him to leave the Brooklyn Atlantics.  He followed Wood to the Troy Haymakers, Brooklyn Eckfords and Philadelphia Whites, and they returned to Chicago together in 1874.

1875 would be the end of their professional association.

It’s unclear where the trouble began.  When Wood’s “private” conversation with a reporter from The St. Louis Democrat was printed verbatim in the newspaper, Zettlein was the only Chicago player he said anything negative about—referring to his friend “as a poor batter and runner.”   Whether the comment contributed is unclear, but shortly after the season began, and the team started struggling, The Chicago Tribune said there was undisclosed “trouble” between the pitcher and manager.

George Zettlein

George Zettlein

Rumors of tension between the two heated up when allegations of throwing games were leveled at team captain Dick Higham; Zettlein also became a target of rumors, including second-hand reports that Wood accused him of “laying down.”  The Tribune said the day after Higham was replaced as team captain:

“It is known that the name of Zettlein was brought before the meeting (of the White Stockings directors) in connection with hints before made that affected his honesty.  It is due to Mr. Zettlein to say that no charges were made against him…the conviction is generally expressed that the White Stockings pitcher works hard to win.”

After the White Stockings and Zettlein lost 15-3 to the Mutuals in New York on July, 31 Wood and his pitcher were finished.  Zettlein sent a letter to club President William Hulbert accusing Wood of “arbitrary and unjust” treatment, and demanded his release.

The Tribune said:

“(Zettlein) will play ball in Chicago no more, except as the member of some visiting club.  He has asked to be relieved from the contract which binds him to the Chicago management.  His request has been granted, and he will not return here with the club…Zettlein states that Wood’s conduct towards him during their Eastern trip has been unbearable.”

Part of Zettlein’s dissatisfaction was that Wood played him at first base in three games; although he had played at least one game in the field every season except 1874, seemingly with no complaints.

The Tribune said Zettlein claimed Wood “has systematically imposed upon him to such an extent that he cannot remain.”

Already on the East Coast, Zettlein immediately signed with the Philadelphia Whites.  His troubles weren’t over.

After less than a month with the Whites, the vague rumors in Chicago turned into direct allegations from his new teammates.  The Philadelphia Times said on August 31, after an 11-3 Athletics loss:

“After the game between the Philadelphia and Hartford (Dark Blues) clubs yesterday, while the (Athletics) players were undressing an exciting discussion took place to the cause of the severe defeat.  (Third baseman/manager Mike) McGeary was angry and he charged (outfielder Fred) Treacy with being in collusion with the gamblers and selling the game, and pointing to Zettlein, said, ‘And there’s another one who’s in it.’”

Zettlein and Treacy had been teammates, with Wood, on the 1871 White Stockings.  Both players denied the charge, and both were immediately suspended by the team pending an investigation.  At the same time the two suspended players charged that McGeary was the gambler, and said a Hartford player, well-known for his integrity could back up their allegations.  The Times said:

“Zettlein and Treacy had a talk with (Jack) Burdock, of the Hartfords…a meeting of the Philadelphia club was held, at which the subject was brought up.  Zettlein and Treacy were present, and made statements to the effect that Burdock (intended to show) that prior to the game McGeary had approached him and told him he had a large amount of money bet on the success of the Philadelphias and offered him $1,000 to throw the game so that the Philadelphias should win, and that he refused to have anything to do with such an arrangement.”

Burdock was also said to have additional information, including a charge that “McGeary approached him with (other) offers, saying they could make plenty of money,” but there is no record of Burdock ever discussing McGeary, or the allegations publicly.  The Times said “there was an exciting discussion over these astounding charges, “and that a committee was appointed to conduct an investigation.

Mike McGeary

Mike McGeary

Like most of the “investigations” into allegations of gambling in the National Association there appears to have been little real investigation of any of what was happening with the Philadelphia Whites.  Within a week the team announced that the “charges were not sustained.”  The only fallout from the scandal was that Bob Addy replaced McGeary as manager for the final seven regular season games.

In October when the Whites met the Athletics in a 10-game Philadelphia series, Zettlein walked off the mound during the sixth inning of the tenth game with his team behind 7 to 3.  The Philadelphia Inquirer said “Zettlein left the field, giving as an excuse that some of his men were trying to lose the game.”

Zettlein, (7), Wood (8), Treacey (9), as teammates with the 1871 Chicago White Stockings.

Zettlein, (7), Wood (8), Treacey (9), as teammates with the 1871 Chicago White Stockings.

Jimmy Wood never managed again after 1875.

After poor seasons during the National League’s inaugural year in 1876, Zettlein (4-20 for the Athletics) and Treacy (.214 and 39 errors for the New York Mutuals), two of the principals in the 1875 scandal were out of baseball.  McGeary, who joined the St. Louis Brown Stockings in 1876, would become a major figure in the 1877 game fixing scandal of 1877.  As with the charges 1875, nothing was proven and after sitting out the 1878 season McGeary returned to the National League and played until 1882.

“He must either admit that he sold yesterday’s game or acknowledge that he cannot play ball”

20 Aug

Heading into the 1875 season Chicago White Stockings manager Jimmy Wood was confident about his team’s chances.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“(Wood) says the men are strictly temperate, are all first-class ball players, and will enter the field without any of the petty jealousies and ill-feelings that weakened the nine last year.”

The St. Louis Democrat also printed “private” comments Wood made maligning the abilities of the Brown Stockings in comparison to his team.

Jimmy Wood

Jimmy Wood

Unfortunately for Wood the decline of the White Stockings began even before opening day.

The first blow to the team was what became known as “the Davy Force” case.  Force signed a contract to return to the White Stockings for the 1875 season on September 18, 1874; unfortunately for Chicago he also signed a contract to play for the Philadelphia athletics on December 5.  The Sporting News described the adjudication of the Force case:

“(In December) the matter was brought up and the judiciary committee (of the National Association) awarded Force to the Chicago club…At the spring meeting of the Association, held in Philadelphia, the Athletic club got in its political work.  Mr.(Charles) Sperling, of Philadelphia, was elected president of the Association, and he appointed a new judiciary committee which reversed the ruling of the old committee.”

The arbitrary nature of the new ruling—that Chicago did not have the right to sign Force for 1875 before the end of the 1874 season—enraged White Stocking President William Hulbert, and was one of the many complaints about how the National Association operated that led to the organization of the National League the following season.

With Force gone, Wood chose Dick Higham to be the team captain.  The 23-year-old Higham had played for the Baltimore Canaries and New York Mutuals, and Wood described him as “one of the surest and heaviest batters in the country, has experience and is a first-class base-runner. “  That perception of Higham quickly changed in Chicago.

Dick Higham

Dick Higham

Despite starting the season with an 11-2 record, the White Stockings were never going to catch the first place Boston Red Stockings, who won their first 26 games, and as the losing began team morale suffered.

As the team struggled, blame fell to Higham from fans, the press, and management.  The Tribune went so far as to question his integrity:

“It is not a pleasant thing to say of any ballplayer that his being left out of a nine increase interest of a game, but this is true of Higham; and yet he is one of the best players in the country when he wants to be…It may be Higham’s fault, or his misfortune, that he is suspected of purposely losing games.”

By the end of June Scott Hastings had replaced Higham as catcher (he was moved to second base) and he was stripped of his captaincy, which was given to outfielder John Glenn.

The Chicago Inter-Ocean had defended Higham in July declaring that there was “no tangible evidence” for the “charges…bandied about the streets,” but that would change by August after an 8 to 4 loss to the Athletics during which Higham “let balls go by him without attempting to stop them” and made two throwing errors:

“Higham’s play in yesterday’s game has caused some very ugly rumors to be circulated, in which he predominates as the leading character.  His play in the eighth inning was something extraordinary, and it was quite evident he did not want to save the Chicagos from defeat.  Many are fearless in asserting that he sold the game, and base their accusation on a circumstance that seems very plausible.  Probably Higham can explain what he was doing with a Chicago character at Pratt’s billiard hall waiting for the pool selling, and when he found out there was none what point he gave his companion when they both went to Foley’s and there bought pools on the Athletics.  Many persons, who claim to know, boldly assert that Higham was in partnership in the investments. ..He must either admit that he sold yesterday’s game or acknowledge that he cannot play ball.  In either case the Chicago management can easily do without him. “

The Tribune said the directors of the White Stockings had offered a $500 reward for evidence that any player had been “tampered with,” in any way:

“This offer is meant to cover proof that a player has received money to sell a game, or has promised to help lose a game with a view to profit.  The directors will not insist on absolute proof, such as the law would require, but will pay the reward named for evidence that will convince any fair man of the guilt of the accused party.”

It was never reported whether the reward was given to anyone, or if anyone made an effort to claim it.

On August 20 the White Stockings released Higham; as a result The Inter-Ocean said, “(T)he patrons of the game have begun to think more favorably of the nine, and generally remark that now they can witness an honest game.”

Higham finished the season with the New York Mutuals.  His unpleasant months in Chicago were not the first or last time his integrity was questioned.  While with the Mutuals in 1874 there were allegations that he had been involved in throwing a game against Chicago, and In 1882, Higham, while serving as a National League umpire, was dismissed for what The New York Times called, “’crookedness’ in his decisions in games between the Detroit and other clubs.”

During the drama over Higham, The Inter-Ocean also reported that utility infielder Joe Miller, who was slated to replace Higham at second base “had some misunderstanding,” with Wood and his “connection with the Chicago nine was severed.”

With the team mired in sixth place, and the former team captain chased out-of-town under a cloud of suspicion, it wasn’t surprising when the local papers started to predict the end of the line for the manager.

The Inter-Ocean not only said that the White Stockings would likely relieve Wood of his duties at the end of the year “attributable to his leniency to the players, which is truly a part of bad management,” but correctly speculated  “(Boston Red Stockings pitcher Albert)  Spalding will be the manager,” in 1876.

There’s one more chapter in the story of the 1875 White Stockings—tomorrow.

No Such Thing as “Off the Record”–Even in 1875

19 Aug

James Leon “Jimmy” Wood was a baseball pioneer.  The second baseman began his playing career as a 17-year-old in Brooklyn with the Eckfords in 1860.  After spending a decade as one of the best-known players on the East Coast Wood went to Chicago where he became the first manager of the newly formed White Stockings.

Wood is sometimes credited with being the man who invented spring training (a claim first advanced by Al Spink of The Sporting News) because in 1870 he took the Chicago team to New Orleans for a series of games with local teams, the Robert E. Lee’s, the Lone Stars, the Pelicans and the Southerns—most of those sources fail to mention that Harry Wright’s Red Stockings were in New Orleans at the same time.  (Wood’s reminiscences about the early days of the White Stockings coming up later this week).

Jimmy Wood, 1871

Jimmy Wood, 1871

Wood also managed the team the following season, when the White Stockings became one of the charter members of the National Association.  They finished second in 1871  but disbanded as a result of the great Chicago Fire in October.

Wood next played for and managed two teams that wouldn’t survive the year; the Troy Haymakers went bankrupt in July and the Brooklyn Eckfords who folded at the conclusion of a 3-26 1872 season.

After leading the Philadelphia Whites to a second place finish in 1873, Wood returned to Chicago and the newly re-formed White Stockings.

Wood was slated to play second and serve as captain, but would never play a game for the White Stockings or any other team.  After falling at his home during the spring of 1873, he developed an abscess on his leg, which kept him out of the lineup as the infection got worse.

In July The Chicago Tribune said:

“The well-known base ball player and former captain of the Chicago nine Jas. Wood, has had his leg amputated.  He has been unable to play this summer, owing to a disease of the bones, and has been under medical care for some months.  He was a most conscientious player, and has the esteem of all with whom he was connected.”

On August 20 The Chicago Inter-Ocean said Wood was named “manager of the club for the remainder of the present season and for the season of 1875.”  While he “officially” served as manager for the last 23 games of the season, both The Inter-Ocean and The Tribune said Wood was “unable to assume active duties,” and would be led on the field by team president William Hulbert (called “Hurlburt” by The Inter-Ocean).

By the spring of 1875, Wood had returned full-time to the management of the White Stockings, with plans to take the team for “two weeks of practice,” in April.

The Chicago manager had an off the record conversation with a reporter for The St. Louis Democrat in which he unfavorably compared the newly formed St. Louis Brown Stockings to his own team.  The paper printed the manager’s comments verbatim; even including his assertion that the comments were “private:”

“Now, said he, let us compare the players individually.  ‘For catcher there is (Tom) Miller and Higham; the former is inexperienced, poor runner, fair batter, and the only catcher you have, while Dick Higham is one of the surest and heaviest batters in the country, has experience and is a first-class base-runner.  (George) Bradley and (George) Zettlein—Zett is a poor batter and runner, to be sure, but on a pitch you ought to know as much as I can tell you.  I do not know anything about Bradley, but, if (Jim) Devlin pitches, I think we have the best of it, as he was second on our batting list last season.  First base, (Herman) Dehlman and (John) Glenn,  the former may play the base the best, but in batting, base running and general playing, Glenn can discount him.  Second base, (John) Peters and (Joe) Battin.  Well, I won’t compare notes with them, as anyone ought to know that Peters is head and shoulders above Battin in every respect.  (Davy) Force and (Dickey) Pearce, shortstop.  There is no better player in the country than Force, he being one of the very best batters.  Pearce has been one of the best, but, I think his race is run.  This is private, remember(Frank) Fleet and Warren White, third base.  Why just think of it; there is as much difference in them as in Battin and Peters.  White is first-class at the bat, and led the score on the Baltimore team last season, and is a fine base-runner in the bargain, while Fleet is not as good, by a jug full.  (Ned) Cuthbert and (Paul) Hines, left field.  The latter took balls away out in Cuthey’s field last season (Hines had played left field, with Cuthbert in center for the White Stockings the previous season).  Hines stands better at the bat—Cuthey is a fast baserunner.  (Lip) Pike and (Oscar) Bielaski center field.  Pike is the hardest batter, but no surer than Bielaski, while both are about the same in the field, they being the fastest runners in the country.  (Jack “Death to Flying Things”) Chapman and (Winfield Scott) Hastings right field.  The former won’t begin to show up with Hastings, as he is one if the finest batters and catchers in the business.

“’Take us all in all we are much stronger at the bat.  While St. Louis has but Pike and Cuthbert for base runners, we have but one poor base-runner in Zett; all the others are first class.  We have change pitchers and catchers—St. Louis has not.  If we don’t beat St. Louis eight out of ten games, we deserve to be thrown into the lake.’”

Dickey Pearce, "his race is run," according to Wood

Dickey Pearce, “his race is run,” according to Wood

A few of the players Wood referred to in early March ended up playing different positions, or like Davy Force, of whom Wood said “There is no better player in the country,” didn’t play for the White Stockings at all.

Regardless, he underestimated the ability of most of the St. Louis’ roster, while wildly inflating his club’s prospects; Wood’s team would underperform all season, finishing 30-37 in sixth place, behind the fourth place (39-29) Brown Stockings.

Wood wildly overestimated the quality of his team and presided over a season of dysfunction and scandal.  More on the 1875 White Stockings tomorrow.