Tag Archives: Dick Johnston

“The only Great Game in the Country”

7 Aug

Smiling Mickey Welch spent his post-baseball years operating various businesses in Holyoke, Massachusetts, but visited Boston and New York often—until he eventually moved back to New York.

mickeywelch

Welch

In 1908, Welch, “one of the most famous pitchers of half a generation ago,” talked to Tim Murnane, the baseball writer for The Boston Globe, on a trip to visit his former teammate Tim Keefe in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

“’It certainly seems to me,’ said Welch a few days ago, ‘That the players of today have nothing over the stars of the past. I’m not at all prejudiced and I believe that I am at least fairly competent to judge, as I have kept right up with the many changes that have been made since I left the business.”

Murnane said of Welch:

“Mickey finished his career in the baseball world 15 years ago [sic, 16], but he still retains his deep interest in the great national game, and each season always plans to come to Boston or to go to New York to watch the work of the present-day players and compare them with those of his time, when by his superb work in the pitcher’s box he assisted in winning a couple of pennants and world championships for Gotham.”

Welch, who had just sold his salon in Holyoke, “to engage in the milk business with his oldest son, Frank,” asked Murnane:

welch.jpg

Welch, with wife Mary and seven of the couple’s nine children

“Where, for instance, is there today any greater baseball player than Buck Ewing was? Ah, he was the greatest of ‘em all—indeed the grandest that the game has ever known. Universally acknowledged by all followers of the sport as the king of catchers, he also shone in other departments, for he was a hard natural hitter, could run bases with the top-notchers and could play any of the infield or outfield positions as well as any of the regulars holding down those berths.”

Welch said he and Ewing—who died in October of 1906–were “the warmest of friends for years and that friendship dated from the days when as a member of the Troy team, I first became acquainted with him while he was with the Rochester club (in 1880).”

Welch said from the day Ewing joined Troy later that season and after they went to New York together when the Trojans disbanded after the 1882 season:

buck

Ewing

“Buck and I were chums and for all that time used to room together.”

Murnane said that Welch, who “always made it a point to take the very best care of himself,” was in “as splendid condition,” as he was when he pitched:

“One of his favorite hobbies is walking, and on every pleasant day in the fall and winter he and Jack Doyle, also a famous old-time ball tosser, may be seen setting from the Welch home to take a jaunt to Mt. Tom, which is between Holyoke and the neighboring town of Northampton.”

Some nights Murnane said the two went out in the evening and “they sit for hours and talk over the good old days when they were players of mark in the fastest company.”

After all of those talks with Doyle about their days in baseball, he maintained:

“I’m throwing no bouquets at myself but have there ever been any better pitchers than Tim Keefe, John Clarkson and Charlie Radbourn? I say ‘no’ emphatically. Then look at the rest. Dan Brouthers has never been excelled as a batsman and I don’t believe he ever will be. He could land a ball farther and with less apparent effort than any ballplayer that ever swung a bat. I faced him many a time and I could never discover that he had any weakness.

“(Cap) Anson was also a fine hitter, as were Deacon White, Hardy Richardson, Jim O’Rourke, Mike Tiernan, (Ed) Delahanty, and George Gore, to say nothing of a dozen more whom I might mention. Jerry Denny has never been excelled as a third baseman, and Johnny Ward is the headiest man that has ever played shortstop. ‘Dickie’ Johnston, pride of Boston for years, and Curt Welch of the old St. Louis Browns and (Jimmy) McAleer of the Clevelands were easily the most brilliant outfielders of the past.”

Welch also believed “the best club in the history of the game,’ were the 1888 and 1889 Giants—Welch was 26-19 1.93 in ’88 and 27-12 3.02 in 1889 for those New York teams.

“Buck Ewing was the captain, and a magnificent one he was too. Buck used to catch nearly all of the games.”

Welch said of the team:

“We won the pennant rather easily in the National League in ’88, and fully as easily beat out the St. Louis Browns for the world’s flag. But the next season of ’89, we had to go some right up to the very last notch to pull away from the Bostons in the National League, the championship not being decided until the final day of the season when we won in Indianapolis while the Bostons lost in Pittsburgh. Then we met the Brooklyns, champions of the American Association. In a series of nine games, we won five”

Welch got two details wrong; while 1889 was the first pennant decided on the season’s final day and Boston did lose to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, the Giants beat the Cleveland Spiders that day; also, in the series the Giants won six of the nine games with Brooklyn.

Welch vowed to Murnane, “I shall never lose my interest,” in “the only great game in the country.”

 

“If you say that Man was not out, you are a Liar”

24 Jun

At the height of Billy Sunday’s popularity as America’s most influential evangelist, his “gentlemanliness,” and ability, on the baseball field became more legend than fact.

Billy Sunday, evangelist

Billy Sunday, evangelist

John Brinsley Sheridan of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch attempted to dispel some of the legends in 1917:

“Sunday tells young men now ‘to play the game’ uprightly.  This is how Sunday played it in 1885:

“The Browns and Chicago were playing for the world’s championship before 10,000 persons, who paid from 25 to 75 cents to see the game…The Browns kicked on the decisions of Umpire (David F. “Dave”) Sullivan and refused to play unless he retired from the game.  They could not do that sort of thing on the lots nowadays.  When Sullivan retired, (Cap) Anson and (Charles) Comiskey, the leaders of the teams, agreed that William Medart, a pulley manufacturer of St. Louis, should umpire.  Medart was a spectator at the games.  He put on a mask and a protector and proceeded to umpire. “

William Medart

William Medart

In the ninth inning of game four, with Chicago trailing 3 to 2, White Stockings pitcher Jim McCormick reached first on an error by Comiskey.  A contemporary account in The Chicago Tribune said:

“(McCormick) was standing with one foot on the bag when Comiskey made a motion to throw the ball.  He never moved, but by force of habit Comiskey touched him and laughed.  The umpire, who was not appealed to at all, electrified the spectators and players by calling McCormick out.”

Sheridan said, “This is how a baseball reporter of the day (from The Post-Dispatch) described what happened next:

“Sunday, fists clenched, eyes blazing, ran at Medart and cried, ‘Robber, robber.  That man is not out.’  Medart advanced to meet Sunday with firm step and beetling brow and aid, ‘If you say that man was not out you are a liar.’  ‘Who says that I am liar?’ Cried Sunday. ‘I do,’ said Medart, assuming a posture of defense.  ‘I’ll make you pay for that,’ cried Sunday, advancing on Medart.  ‘You can collect now,’ replied Medart, boldly.”

McCormick also attempted to attack Medart, but Mike “King” Kelly “(S)topped McCormick and then forced Sunday to sit down.”

But the future evangelist could not be calmed down:

“Sunday’s eyes were blazing and his teeth were set.  When he sat down he continued to abuse Medart, who said, “Shut up your mouth, there Sunday, or I’ll put you off the field.’ Sunday shut up his mouth, but continued to glare at Medart.”

Medart, before his death in 1913, described the scene to Sheridan:

“Billy was a cocky guy in those days and was not disposed to back down for any man.  Rather fancied himself.  I was somewhat of an athlete, gymnast and boxer.  I fancied myself, too.  I am sure that Sunday and I would have collided had it not been for Mike Kelly.

“Sunday was livid with rage.  I was mad myself.  I did not seek the job of umpiring.  I only took it to ensure the progress of the game.  I was there as a mere spectator.  Probably I was the only responsible man in the stand that was known to the managers of both teams, and, therefore, acceptable to them.  I did the best I could, but I have no doubt my work was bad.  I had not umpired ten games in my life.  I was just an amateur with a taste for ball games(Medart had umpired National League games in 1876-77 and worked at least one more St. Louis game in 1887).”

Sheridan said the man responsible for keeping Sunday and Medart from coming to blows, was also the first, and a somewhat unlikely, supporter when Sunday was “saved.”.

“Most of the baseball players of the day were men who lived lightly.  Among the gayest and lightest of the lot was Mike Kelly, the famous $10,000 beauty, by many said to have been the greatest of all baseball players.  Kelly had been reared in the Roman Catholic faith, but the “king” of the ballplayers was not overburdened with religion.  Ballplayers all speak well of Kelly.  He is their idol.  He was wild and wooly, he lived life and died at 35 [sic, 36], but he was sweet to all men.  Most of the ballplayers of Sunday’s day were wont to ridicule him for his conversion at first.  All but Kelly, the wildest of the wild.”

Mike "King" Kelly

Mike “King” Kelly

According to Sunday:

“Kelly was the first man to meet me after the news of the conversion became public.  He shook me by the hand and said, ‘Bill, I am not much on religion myself, but I am strong for a man who honestly believes.

“After that, the boys all were for me.  Whatever Kelly said was law with them.”

As for Sunday’s ability as a player, Sheridan said:

“Many people say Sunday is a great evangelist.  He was not a great baseball player.  One of his many biographers says that Sunday always tried to hit the baseball where it would hurt his opponents most and help his friends most.  The fact of the matter is that Sunday was lucky to hit the ball at all…(I)t is certain that, not at any time, was Sunday’s bat feared by opposing pitchers or players.

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday

“Nor was the evangelist-to-be a great fielder or runner.  He was very fast on his feet.  That helped him a lot (and) in fact was his best asset as a ballplayer…He could outrun such men as Curt Welch and Dickey Johnston 3 yards to 2 yards, but Welch and Johnston could outfield Sunday, for they got quicker starts on batted balls than Sunday.  When it came to baserunning much slower men could beat Sunday because they knew when to run and how to get a good start on the pitcher.  Sunday never learned these little niceties of baseball.  As a matter of fact, hey are not really learned.  They are like Sunday’s gift for preaching, something given a man, his genius.”