Tag Archives: Doc Bushong

“Baseball is a lot Faster now”

18 Oct

Bill Gleason was the shortstop for three of the four straight American Association champion St. Louis Browns team—he was with the 1885-1887 teams—and, apparently, very superstitious.  After his baseball career ended in 1891, the St. Louis native returned home and became a fire fighter.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he didn’t spend his later years complaining about how the game wasn’t as good as when he played.

In 1926, the captain of the city’s Engine Company Number 38, sat in the Sportsman’s Park press box for game three of the World Series, and spoke to a reporter from The Post-Dispatch:

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Bill Gleason Fire Captain

“’It’s a fast team, a fast team,’ Gleason repeated again and again as the Cardinals infield worked.  ‘And baseball is a lot faster now than it was when we played it back in the old days.’”

And Gleason was aware of how most of his contemporaries felt:

“’I’m not one of these old codgers who’d tell you there are no times like the old times.  These boys out there are faster than we were, I think, and the game’s gone a long way ahead.  And I wouldn’t like to say we had any players quite up to the big fellow out there,’ waving a hand toward ‘Babe’ Ruth who was emerging from the Yankee dugout.”

Gleason noted that while his three Browns teams “were champions of the world,” he said they were not as great as the current Cardinals:

“’This man (Jesse) Haines who pitched today is a wonder.  He had everything, speed, curves, and absolute control (Haines shut the Yankees out on five hits in a game delayed by rain for 30 minutes during the fourth inning)…Sometimes it seems to me that we don’t have the pitching now that we used to, but Haines certainly furnished it for us today.  He puts me in mind of old Tim Keefe of the New York team.  He was a great pitcher in my day.”

But Gleason was even more impressed with the Cardinals infield:

“’Then there’s that double play combination.  (Tommy) Thevenow to (Rogers) Hornsby to (Jim) Bottomley.  Thevenow is lightening fast, Hornsby’s play is as smooth as silk, and Bottomley is just a beauty.”

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Gleason, 1886

Gleason said Hornsby’s play at second reminded him of his Browns teammate Yank Robinson:

“’(He) handled himself a lot like Hornsby.  You didn’t realize how fast he was moving. He worked so easily.’”

Gleason said the Cardinals had better hitting than his Browns and said of outfielder Billy Southworth:

“’He’s like Curt Welch, the center fielder of the Browns.  Goes back on a fly ball and gets set for it just like old Curt did.  And (catcher Bob) O’Farrell is a lot like Doc Bushong of the Browns—steady and dependable.’”

Gleason also talked about how the 1926 incarnation of Sportsman’s Park differed from the first version which hosted the 1886 world’s championship against the Chicago White Stockings:

“’In those days,’ he said, ‘the grounds were laid out so that we batted from Grand Avenue, and what is now home plate was then left field. “

Gleason said the following season, when the Browns again played the White Stockings in a post series, that the decision to make the series a “winner take all” for the gate money was Albert G. Spalding’s idea:

“’(Browns owner) Chris von der Ahe (wanted to) split the gate.  (Spalding) said he would play only on the basis of winner take all and we played on that agreement.  The Browns won the series four games to two.  We won the last three games here, and I think it’s likely the Cardinals will do the same thing.”

His prognostication was off—the Cardinals dropped the next two games to the Yankees, but did come back to win the final two to take the World Series in seven games.

Gleason remained with the St. Louis fire department until his death at age 73 in 1932—there was general confusion about Gleason’s age at the time of his death, The Post-Dispatch said “Records vary to his age but he was about 70,” The St. Louis Star and Times and The Associated Press said he was 66.

The Post-Dispatch said he was recovering from an infection he got from stepping on a nail at a fire, when “he insisted on going down to the corner drug store.  On the way home he collapsed from the heat and never left his bed again.”

“Perhaps the most Superstitious Class of People”

31 Jan

In 1886 The San Francisco Chronicle said of contemporary baseball players:

“With all the enlightenment of civilization superstition still holds potent sway.  Perhaps the most superstitious class of people to be met today in the United States, aside from gamblers and actors, are baseball players and worshipers of the game, whose faith in “mascots” and jonahs” as influences for good or bad luck is almost if not fully as strong as their belief in religion itself.”

Jim Hart, in San Francisco with his Louisville Colonels, told the paper about some of the specific superstitions which influenced the 19th Century ballplayer:

“The St. Louis Browns have their club house at home just off from right field, and whenever the bell rings for the practice preceding each game the whole nine form into line in front of their house and then walk abreast to first base, where they disperse and take their positions.  This is invariably done under the belief that it insures good luck.  Bill Gleason too, the famous shortstop, always walks astride of the foul chalk line to third base before going to his place on the diamond.  He has never once failed to do it in the whole five years he has been playing baseball.”

Bill Gleason

Bill Gleason

“Why there’s (Albert “Doc”) Bushong, the catcher of the St. Louis Browns.  He’s got a pair of gloves that are so dilapidated that even the patches are patched.  He wouldn’t part with those gloves, though, for a ten-acre lot.  He thinks as mascots they are infallible.  (Walter Henry) Porter, the pitcher of the Brooklyns , also has a red sleeveless jacket  or shirt which he has worn regularly for more than two years.  It doesn’t match the uniform of the club, but he wears it anyhow, for he sincerely believes that if he laid the shirt aside the game would be lost.

“(Pete) Browning, our center fielder and the crack batter in the league, is the greatest fanatic on mascots, I reckon, of anybody in the business.  He did not come out with us this time.  He got out of whack during the summer and I sent him to the springs to recuperate.  He returned home before we came out here, but I thought it best to leave him behind.  Well, Browning has a practice of always walking over and touching one foot on third bag when going from field to bat, or vice versa.  A stack of twenties as high as that house wouldn’t be inducement enough for Browning to refrain from carrying out this program every time he plays, he’s got so much faith in it, you know.  To show you how earnest he is in this respect, I’ll relate a short anecdote about him which occurred last summer.  It may amuse you.  Browning has a pretty good idea of himself as a ballplayer, and it rather hurt him to be sent off from us, even if it was to the springs” (Browning was in such poor physical condition in July of 1886—The Cincinnati Enquirer said “it is doubtful if he appears on the diamond again.”– that he was sent to the springs in French Lick, Indiana for a month).

Hart said the rest of the Louisville team let Browning know they did just fine without him in the lineup, including their best road trip of the season, when they won 8 of 12 games:

“The rest of the boys naturally joshed him a good deal about it, and gleefully referred to their splendid record while he was away. ’Yes,’ replied Browning, driven to desperation, ‘but I was touching third bag every day, or you couldn’t have done it.’  It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?  It’s true, nevertheless, for I found out afterwards that he had marked out a diamond just back of the hotel at the springs, and on the days that we were booked to play he would go out to his field and soberly go through his regular ceremony of touching third bag.”

Pete Browning

Pete Browning

Hart claimed he was an exception, “I’m not very superstitious,” he said, but he conceded “I hear and see so much of these things that hang me if I don’t almost believe in them myself sometimes.”   As an example, he told the story of arriving at the ballpark during a losing streak:

“I went into the club-room with a new white plug hat on my head.  Everybody jumped up at once and shouted, ‘A mascot! A mascot! Our luck will change now, sure.’ We did meet with rather better success after that, and the hat naturally got the credit for it.  Four or five weeks later I exchanged my white hat for a black mackinaw, and, my Lord! You should have heard those fellows kick.  They said I was a jonah and we’d lose the next game, and by thunder, we did, too.”

Joe Gunson’s Mitt

6 Nov

The photo above was taken in 1939.  Former Major League catcher Joe Gunson was donating the mitt he created in May of 1888 to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Gunson caught for the Kansas City Blues in the Western League and made the mitt after a foul tip split his finger.  He told the Associated Press:

“We had a doubleheader scheduled the next day and Charlie Reynolds, who shared the catching with me, had sustained a similar injury…I got the idea to fashion some kind of glove to protect my hand.”

According to the United Press:

“(Gunson) improvised the mitt from a piece of leather, the belt from a Norfolk jacket, a bit of wire, sheepskin padding, and a buckskin covering.”

When Gunson died three years later the Associated Press and United Press called him the originator of the catcher’s mitt.

Over the years, other newspaper articles credited Albert John “Doc” Bushong with developing the catcher’s mitt.  In 1915, The New York Times said:

“(Bushong) wore the largest glove he could find, an added pads until it looked like a pillow…Out of bushings idea grew the idea of the mitt.”

Bushong’s glove was also mentioned in The Brooklyn Eagle in October of 1887, seven months before Gunson said he made his.

Bushong died in 1908, Gunson lived until 1942—longevity gave him a decided advantage in the number of times he was given credit for the mitt in newspaper articles during the first half of the 20th Century.

Currently, baseball historians remain split over which catcher should get the credit.

The Gunson Mitt

The debate may never be resolved. The most likely answer is that catchers in the 19th Century, who like Gunson, according to The Sporting Life, “has hands which for knots and gnarls rival the famous battered-up paws of Silver Flint,” might well have independently and nearly simultaneously developed equipment to protect their livelihood.