Tag Archives: Doggie Miller

“This Player has More Honor Than 99 Business men out of 100”

17 Sep

James Palmer O’Neill was the President of the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys—one of baseball’s worst teams of all-time.  With mass defections to the Pittsburgh Burghers of the Players League, the club won four of their first six games, then began a free-fall that ended with the team in eight place with 23-113 record.

O’Neill, who held an interest in the club, but bought controlling interest from Owner William Nimick before the 1891, kept the team afloat during that disastrous 1890 season, and according to The Pittsburgh Dispatch, never lost his faith in the prospects of National League baseball in the city right through the final road trip:

“(The team) landed at Jersey City, bound to play the last series of the disastrous season…They had great difficulty in raising the  money to pay ferryboat fares to Brooklyn and things were awfully blue.  It was raining hard when I met Mr. O’Neill later that morning at Spalding’s Broadway store, and the prospects of taking the $150 guarantee at the game in the afternoon were very slim…(reporters) asked Mr. O’Neill about his club and the outlook for the League.

‘”Never better!  Never Better! We shall come out on top sir, sure.  We’ve got the winning cards and we mean to play them.’”

The paper said O’Neill’s luck changed that day as “he wore his largest and most confident smile, and used the most rosy words in his vocabulary…such pluck compelled the fates to relent.”

The rain stopped and O’Neill was able to leave Brooklyn “with $2000 or more in his clothes,” to meet expenses.

Before the 1891 season, O’Neill told Tim Murnane of The Boston Globe, just how difficult it was to run a National League club during the year of the Brotherhood:

“I think I could write a very interesting book on my experience in baseball that would be worth reading.  How well I remember the opening game in Pittsburgh last spring, and how casually President Nimick was knocked out—and O’Neill laughed heartily at the thought of Nimick’s weakening

“After witnessing the immense crowd of nearly 10,000 people wending their way to the brotherhood grounds, Nimick and I went to the league park.  As we reached the grounds, Nimick walked up to the right field  fence and looked through a knot hole. ‘My God,’ said he, and he nearly fell in a heap at my feet,  ‘Can it be that I have spent my time for 10 years trying to build baseball up in this city and the public have gone entirely back on me?’”

oneillpix

O’Neill trying to catch a championship, 1891

O’Neill said:

“I looked and could see about two dozen people in the bleachers, and not many more in the grand stand (contemporary reports put the attendance at 1000).  Nimick and I then went inside the grounds, and when the bell rang to call play we started up the stairs to our box, carrying the balls to be used in the game.  When about half way up, the president staggered and handed me the balls.  I went up to throw one out for the game.  Nimick turned back, went home without seeing the game, and was not in humor to talk base ball for several weeks.”

O’Neill then told how he managed to keep the team going for the entire season while Nimick planned to fold the team:

“When he came around about four weeks later it was to disband the club, throw up the franchise and quit the business.  I talked him into giving me an option on the franchise for 30 days.  When the time was up I put Nimick off from time to time, and as I didn’t bother him for money he commenced to brace up a little.  I cut down expenses and pulled the club through the season, and now have the game on fair basis in Pittsburgh, with all the old interests pulling together.”

Despite the near collapse of the franchise—or maybe because the near collapse allowed him to get control of the team—O’Neill had good things to say about the players who formed the Brotherhood:

“I have great admiration for the boys who went with the Players’ League as a matter of principle, and will tell you one instance where I felt rather mad.  About the middle of the season, Captain Anson was in Pittsburgh and asked me if I couldn’t get some of my players to jump their contracts (to return to the National League).  “All we want,’ said Anson, ‘is someone to make the start, and then (Buck) Ewing, (King) Kelly, (Jimmy) Ryan, (Jim) Fogarty and other will follow.’

“I told Anson that I had not tried to get any of my old players back since the season started in, but that Jimmy Galvin was at home laid off without pay, and we might go over and see how he would take it.  The Pittsburgh PL team was away at the time.

“We went over to Allegheny  , where Galvin lived, and saw his wife and about eight children.  They said we could find him at the engine house a few blocks away, and we did.  Anson took him to one side and had a long talk, picturing the full downfall of the Players’ League and the duty he owed his family.  Galvin listened with such attention that it encouraged me.  So I said: ‘Now, Mr. Galvin, I am ready to give you $1000 in your hand and a three year contract to return and play with the League.  You are now being laid off without pay and can’t afford it.’

“Galvin answered that his arm would be all right in a few days, and that if (Ned) Hanlon would give him his release he might do business with me, but would do no business until he saw Manager Hanlon.  Do what we would, this ball player, about broke, and a big family to look out for, would not consent to go back on the brotherhood.”

galvin

Galvin

O’Neill said he told Anson after the two left Galvin:

“’I am ashamed of myself.  This player has more honor than 99 business men out of 100, and I don’t propose any more of this kind of business.’ I admire Galvin for his stand, and told Anson so, but the Chicago man was anxious to see some of the stars make a break so the anxious ones could follow.”

O’Neill, after he “lit a fresh cigar,” told how Murnane how he negotiated with his players:

“At the close of (the 1890) season (George “Doggie”) Miller came to me and wanted to sign for next year, as he had some use for advance money.  I asked him how much he thought he was worth, and he said $4000 would catch him.

‘”My goodness son, do you what you are talking about?’ said I, and handing him a good cigar asked him to do me a favor by going home, and while he smoked that cigar to think how much money was made in base ball last season by the Pittsburgh club.  I met Miller the next day at 3 o’clock by appointment, and he had knocked off $800, saying he thought the matter over and would sign for $3200.

“’Now you are getting down to business,’ said I.”

O’Neill sent Miller home two more times, and after he “smoked just for of my favorite brand,” Miller returned and signed a three year contract at $2100 a season.

O’Neill said:

“You see that it always pays to leave negotiations open until you have played your last card.”

Murnane concluded:

“For his good work for the league and always courteous treatment of the players’ league, Mr. O’Neill has the support of not only his league stockholders, but such men as Hanlon, John M. Ward, and the entire Pittsburgh press.  He has the confidence of A.G. Spalding, and is sure to give Pittsburgh baseball a superior quality next season.”

Reborn as the Pirates under O’Neill, the club improved slightly in 1891.  O’Neill, who according to The Pittsburgh Press, lost as much as $40,000 during the 1890-91 season “a blow from which he never recovered financially,”  left Pittsburgh to start the Chamberlain Cartridge Company in Cleveland; he returned to Pittsburgh and served as president of the Pittsburgh Athletic club—which operated the Pirates—from 1895-1898.

He died on January 6, 1908.  The Associated Press said in his obituary:

 “(He was) known from coast to coast as the man who saved the National League from downfall in 1890, ‘the brotherhood year.’”

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“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.