Tag Archives: Doggie Miller

“There will be Cliques”

30 Jun

William Ingraham “W.I.” Harris was one of the most important baseball writers of the 19th Century, but like Charles Emmett Van Loan three decades later, he died young and is mostly forgotten today.

He was sports editor for The New York Press, which was billed as “The aggressive Republican newspaper of New York,” and The New York Star.  The Sporting Life said of Harris:

“He feels strongly in any given direction and talks earnestly. One cannot be long in his presence without being convinced of his unswerving honesty and sincerity.”

He was, along with Ren Mulford Jr. of The Cincinnati Times-Star, an outspoken critic of the Players League, and said he agreed with Mulford’s assessment that the appearance of the Brotherhood, and the resulting “baseball war” was “a campaign for the preservation of baseball law on one side and its destruction on the other.”

William Ingraham Harris

William Ingraham Harris

Harris was also considered the best prognosticators among contemporary baseball writers, and before the 1890 season began he said:

 “For the past two years I have had the satisfaction of naming the champions of both major associations before a championship game had been played…and last season (in the National league), with the exception of Pittsburgh and Cleveland, I located the exact position at the finish.”

He said he would not attempt to handicap the results of the three leagues in 1890:

“The writer who ventures to make predictions as to the results of the championship fight in any one of the many leagues at this stage of affairs takes an enormous risk on masticating a pretty tough crow later on.”

But, said Harris, he was “willing to take my chances on giving one tip,” before the beginning of the season.  The “tip” went against the conventional wisdom, in fact, it went against what the entire baseball world considered a certainty; the fate of the club The Chicago Tribune called “The greatest team ever organized.

“(I) shall not undertake to pick any winners this year until the season has been well started.  I propose, however, to nominate one team that will not win a pennant, and that is the Chicago Brotherhood team.  In making this assertion I am bucking against general sentiment, or rather general belief.  The consensus of opinion is the other way.  There is no doubt that on paper the Chicago Brotherhood team is in many respects one of the greatest aggregations of baseball stars ever got together, but there are some potent reasons against its success.“

Harris was critical of the team’s catchers and pitchers:

(Conrad “Dell”) Darling never was a first class catcher and never will be.  (Charles “Duke”) Farrell is a strong hitter, and at times a most brilliant catcher, but he is not a steady or remarkably heady catcher.  Boyle is a good one, but he isn’t in it with such good men as (William “Buck”) Ewing, (Jack) Clements, (Charlie) Bennett, (Charlie) Ganzel, (George “Doggie’) Miller, (Connie) Mack, (Michael “King”) Kelly, (John “Jocko”) Milligan, (Paul) Cook and (Cornelius “Con”) Daily.  On catchers the team is all right on quantity, but short in quality.

“As to pitchers, (Mark) Baldwin, in 1887 and 1889, was a star In 1888 he was not to be depended on.  Baldwin doesn’t take care of himself as he should in the winter time.  As a pitcher he ranks among those who may be great at any time, but who keep you guessing on the dates.

(Charles “Silver”) King, in condition, is a ‘tip topper.’  He was a failure in the League once before, and in the world’s Series against New York didn’t astonish people to any extent.”

He dismissed the other two pitchers, Frank Dwyer and Charlie Bartson as a “medium man” and “unknown quantity,” and said “Unless strengthened in the battery department, and probably not then, this team will not land first.”

He conceded that “The outfield and infield are well-nigh perfect.”  But, there was a bigger problem than the weak pitching and catching; Harris predicted tension between second baseman Fred Pfeffer, who had raised $20,000 for the creation of the Players League, recruited most of his Chicago White Stockings teammates to jump to the Brotherhood, and was one of the club’s directors, and team captain and first baseman Charles Comiskey:

“(T)he Comiskey-Pfeffer or the Pfeffer-Comiskey combination.  By the way, which is it?  The answer to this will have quite a bearing on the general result…There will be cliques.  Germany and Ireland will be at war in less than a month.  The public may not know, but the lack of harmony will be there and will have its effect.  Comiskey is a great baseball captain.  At least he was in the American Association.  His methods are well-known.  He was supreme at St. Louis.  Everything went.  The men had no respect for (owner Chris) von der Ahe.  They feared Comiskey.  At Chicago Comiskey will find some men who have just escaped from the rule of a greater captain than himself, perhaps a harder task master.  They have reveled all winter over the prospect of freedom from that restraint, proper and effective though it was.  They are stockholders—yes magnates—now.  Will they swallow Comiskey’s manners on the field and in the dressing room?  As Charlie Reed sings, ‘Well, I guess not.’ (Reed was a famous minstrel performer in the 1880s and 18890s)

“Comiskey must change his methods.  He will have to gag himself; he will have to, figuratively, kiss the baseball blarney stone; he will have to be cheerful, under protest; and, above all, if harmony be his objective point he will have to please Director Pfeffer.  He may not try to do these things; he probably won’t.  Comiskey will have his way.  He always has had it.  He can only rule by practically despotic methods.”

Fred Pfeffer

Fred Pfeffer

Harris correctly concluded that Brooklyn, New York, and probably Boston (the eventual champions) would finish ahead of Chicago.  At season’s end, The Chicago Times summed up how prescient Harris had been about the fourth place team in the Players League:

“The outside world cannot fully realize the bitter disappointment felt here over the poor showing made by Comiskey’s team during the season just closed.  Surely it was strongest aggregation of players ever collected in one club, but its lack of success was mainly from two causes—lack of discipline and the miserable condition of certain members of the club.

“There has been absolutely no discipline in the team, and some of the men paid as much attention to Comiskey’s orders as they would to a call from some church congregation.  An order to sacrifice was met with a smile of scorn, and the ball was hammered down to an infielder, who made an easy double play.”

Harris died the following summer on July 7, at age 33, of tuberculosis.  The Boston Globe, the first paper he worked for, said:

“Being of a most observing nature, a ready thinker and as it were, a lightening calculator, he managed to foretell many of the leading baseball events of the year weeks ahead…Mr. Harris was without exaggeration, one of the brightest of his class, a ready and graceful writer and a hard worker.”

W.I. Harris (#5), as a member of the New York Reporters Baseball Club at the Polo Ground in 1889.

W.I. Harris (#5), as a member of the New York Reporters Baseball Club at the Polo Ground in 1889.

Actually, it Probably Wasn’t the Superstition

5 Dec

As with George Treadway, a story can get repeated throughout the decades while a large, key portion is lost in the process; such is the case with Billy Earle.

His career ended because of the superstitions of other players who thought he was “creepy,” as David Nemec described him in his excellent book “The Beer and Whiskey League.”  In “The New Bill James Historical Abstract,” James credulously quotes the assertion from sportscaster Bill Stern‘s 1949 book “Favorite Baseball Stories” that Earle was:

“(F)orced out of baseball, because of nothing more than superstition, the belief that he was a hypnotist with the power of ‘the evil eye.’”

For awhile even Earle tried to use it as an excuse.

But actually, it was probably the morphine.

William Moffat Earle was at times a great player, but more often impetuous and prone to jumping contracts.

He earned his nickname “The Little Globetrotter” after being part of the 1888 world tour organized by Albert Spalding.  Earle said of the trip:

“We played everywhere from the catacombs of Rome to Cheops of Egypt, under the shadow of the pyramids and out through India and the Islands of Ceylon.”

Billy Earle and the other members of the world tour

Billy Earle and the other members of the world tour at the Great Sphinx of Giza

After returning from the tour Earle joined the Cincinnati Red Stockings in the American Association.  He bounced back and forth from Major League to minor league teams for the next six years.  During that time, there were a number of humorous references to Earle’s interest in hypnotism, but none claimed it was an impediment to his career; however, in 1897, upon being released after one game with the Columbus Senators of the Western League the legend began.

In September of 1897 a fairly long article appeared in The Baltimore Sun under the headline “A Haunted Ballplayer,” and then ran in papers around the country. The story said:

“(Earle) cannot get a position on any ball team in the country, not even the small minor league teams.”

Earle told a sad story of teammates avoiding him and fearing the “hoodoo.”  He even blamed his being released by Pittsburgh  after the 1893 season on it, ignoring the fact that he was only signed because of injuries to the three other Pirate catchers, Connie Mack, Joe Sugden and Doggie Miller—and emergency catcher Jake Stenzel.

That 1897 story became the story of Billy Earle.

It also said:

 “He is, moreover, a pleasant, intelligent, strictly temperate man.”

The first two might very well have been true.  The last was not.

The rest of the story about Billy Earle has been lost, forgotten, or just ignored.

In August of 1898, The Cincinnati Enquirer told the real story of why Billy Earle had been out of baseball.  The “strictly temperate” Earle was addicted to morphine.

His friend John McGraw helped get him treatment in a Baltimore hospital; his former Cincinnati teammates took up a collection to buy Earle a ticket to Philadelphia to stay with his parents after treatment.

He kicked the habit, and then for three seasons managed and played for an independent team in Richmond, Indiana; he also coached teams in Havana, Cuba during the winters of 1900 and 1902-1904. And he returned to professional baseball; hardly the profile of a blacklisted man.

Earle signed as a player/manager with the 1903 Vicksburg Hill Billies in the Cotton States League.  He continued his playing career through 1906, and either managed or worked as an umpire in Midwest-based leagues through 1911.

Billy Earle, player/manager Columbia Gamecocks 1905.

Billy Earle, player/manager Columbia Gamecocks 1905.

Billy Earle died in Omaha, Nebraska in 1946.

Were there some players in the superstitious world of 19th Century baseball who were uncomfortable playing with or against Earle? Probably.  If he had hit .320 and not had a drug problem would he have had a 10-year or more major league career regardless of superstitions? Probably.