Tag Archives: Eastern Association

“We didn’t have any High-Faluting Baseball Paraphernalia”

15 Oct

The Seattle Star said of Dan Dugdale:

“No man in the Northwest can rival the experiences in baseball that Daniel E. Dugdale has had in the national game.”

In his 1934 obituary, The United Press called Dugdale “the father of organized baseball in Seattle.”

Dan Dugdale

Dan Dugdale

Primarily a catcher, Dugdale played professional ball for more than a decade; including two stints in the National League with the Kansas City Cowboys in 1886 and the Washington Senators in 1894.  He retired after the 1897 season and made what was intended to be a brief stop in Seattle on the way to Alaska for the Klondike Gold Rush.  He never made it to Alaska, and in Seattle, he organized most of the city’s early professional teams and built two ballparks.

Dan Dugdale 1894

Dan Dugdale 1894

Forty years after he began playing he shared his reminiscences about in the early 1880s in his hometown of Peoria, Illinois with Seattle reporter Leo Lassen:

“We didn’t have any high-faluting baseball paraphernalia for the deciding game of the Peoria, Illinois city championship in the summer of 1883.  I can remember that we used a piece of the curbstone for home plate.  Nobody except the catcher used glove, and he only had a fingerless glove of thin leather over both hands.

“Oh yes!  Of course my team, the Double Browns, won, or it wouldn’t start this story out right.  It was in that game that I got my start as a catcher.

“I had been playing shortstop, but the regular receiver split a finger and there wasn’t anyone else to catch, so I tried it.

“We stood back for the pitches except on the third strike, and except with men on bases, catching the ball on the first bounce when standing back.

Ted Kennedy, who later helped pitch one of Pop Anson’s Chicago teams into the championship, was hurling for our side that day, and baby but he could throw that ball with plenty of swift.

“’Don’t catch if you want to keep your health,’ Ted warned me before taking up my receiving duties…Kennedy was right.  The first time I stood up close to catch, the ball hit that curbstone plate and crashed into my mouth, knocking out teeth by the wholesale and putting me on queer street.

“But in those days no one considered quitting as long as it was possible to stand up and catch the ball.

“I finished the game and we won the championship, and I felt well repaid for it.

“That game started me on my baseball career as a catcher, after which I was to serve for 15 years as a receiver for clubs throughout the country.”

Kennedy wasn’t the only major leaguer Dugdale played with while in Peoria.  In 1885, he played with one of the claimants to the title of invention of the catcher’s mitt—Harry Decker—and Dugdale talked about some of the attempts his teammate made to protect his hands four years before Decker was awarded the patent for the Decker Safety Catcher’s Mitt:

“(Catchers) had no shin guards, masks or big gloves in those days, and a fellow had to be almost a martyr to go behind the plate with fellows like John Clarkson, Amos Rusie and those old stars doing the pitching.

“The big catcher’s pad now in use in baseball, is the same glove that Harry Decker, a teammate of mine on the Peoria team in 1885, invented.

“Harry had been troubled with split fingers and he kept tinkering around with leather trying to figure out how to protect his left hand, which does the big work for all catchers.

“He had a thin, fingerless glove to start with and one day he slipped a piece of raw beefsteak between the glove and his hand and that glove gave him his first idea.  He used this protection for almost a season, using a fresh piece of meat each day.

“Then he tried shot in the pocket of the glove and put a piece of leather on top of the shot, leaving it between the two pieces of leather.

“This gave him the idea of building the mitt up bigger and lacing fingers on the back of the glove.

“One day he hit upon the idea of stuffing the glove with rags in the mitt for protection, and finally got some good felt and used that.  It has been in use ever since.”

Decker Safety Catcher’s Mitt

Decker Safety Catcher’s Mitt

Dugdale remained the most prominent figure in Seattle baseball until he was hit by a truck and killed in 1934.

Accounts vary over how much Decker received from the sale of the mitt patent to A.G. Spalding.   He  is one of the enigmatic 19th Century players for whom there is no information on the date or location of his death.

After his career ended in 1891 he was convicted of numerous crimes—most involving forgery, but also including larceny and bigamy; several of his crimes involved other ballplayers.

Throughout his career Decker had a reputation as a womanizer; The Philadelphia Inquirer called him “The Don Juan of the Diamond,” but by 1890, perhaps exacerbated by his being hit in the head by a pitch, he went from lovable rogue to serial offender.  He racked up arrests and convictions in at least six states and an involuntary commitment to the Elgin State Hospital in Illinois over the next 25 years.

Victims of his crimes included Dugdale, and Al Reach, both of whose names appeared on forged checks in separate cases, and Jack Horner and Pat Pettee, teammates of Decker’s in 1891 during his brief stay with the New Haven Nutmegs in the Eastern Association.  Decker was convicted of stealing property worth $150 from Horner and $55 from Pettee after the two had allowed him to stay in the apartment they shared.

Decker’s trail goes cold after he was released from California’s San Quentin Prison in 1915.

Leo Lassen, the reporter Dugdale spoke to, went on to become the radio voice of the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League from 1931 through the 1961 season.  Some surviving audio can be found here.

“The Ty Cobb of Trapshooters”

15 Jul

Lester Stanley “Les” German broke into professional baseball with a bang in 1890.  The 21-year-old played for Billy Barnie’s Baltimore Orioles, a team that had dropped out of the American Association and after the 1889 season and joined the Atlantic Association, a minor league.

German was 35-9 in August when the American Association’s Brooklyn Gladiators folded in August, the Orioles returned to the association, and German returned to Earth; posting a 5-11 record for the big league Orioles.

German was a minor league workhorse for the next two and a half seasons.  He was 35-11 for the Eastern Association champion Buffalo Bisons in 1891; he appeared in 77 games and pitched 655 innings for the Oakland Colonels in the California League in 1892, and was 22-11 for the Augusta Electricians in the Southern Association in July of 1893 when his contract was purchased by the New York Giants.

Les German, 1894

Les German, 1894

German would never win in double figures again; In five seasons in the National League he was 29-52, including a 2-20 mark with the 1896 Washington Senators.

It was German’s next career that earned him the most notoriety.  A crack shot, German became one of the most famous trapshooters in the country for the next thirty years.  He won numerous championships and was often featured in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show with Annie Oakley.

A National Sports Syndicate article in 1918 said “Lester German is the Ty Cobb of trapshooters.”  The article said that beginning in 1908, when official records were first kept, German had maintained a “remarkable average,” shooting a t a better percentage than any other professional marksman.

Les German, 1918

Les German, 1918

As German’s reputation as a shooter grew, his legacy as a pitcher became inflated.

A mention of his baseball career in a 1916 issue of “The Sportsmen’s Review”, credited German, and his 9-8 record,  with “leading the Giants,” to their 1894 Temple Cup series victory over the Baltimore Orioles, there was no mention of Amos Rusie’s two shutouts .  A 1915 article in The Idaho Statesman inexplicably said German “headed the National League in both pitching and fielding” in 1895—German was 7-11 with a 5.54 ERA and committed 2 errors in 45 chances on the mound; he also made eight errors in 11 games he filled in for the injured George Davis at third base.

German operated a gun shop and continued to organize and participate in shooting tournaments until his death in Maryland in 1934.

“To be Hissed and Hooted at in the East is too much”

20 Jun

In 1886  Thomas Jefferson “Tom” York retired after a fifteen-year career.   As a 20-year-old he joined the Troy Haymakers in the National Association in 1871, he was with the Hartford Dark Blues for the National League’s inaugural season in 1876, and finished with the Baltimore Orioles in the American Association; he also served two brief stints as a player/manager with the Providence Grays.

York, who suffered from rheumatism, had considered retiring before the 1894 season after the Cleveland Blues sold him to the Orioles, but The Baltimore American said he was induced to continue playing with a $5000 salary and “the scorecard and cushion (concession)” at Oriole Park.  After hitting just .233 in 1884, he was only able to play in 22 games the following season before calling it quits.

Tom York, middle row, far right, with the 1876 Hartford Dark Blues

Tom York, middle row, far right, with the 1876 Hartford Dark Blues

Just before the beginning of the 1886 season York was hired as an American Association umpire.  After the May 22 game in Baltimore which the Orioles lost 2-1 to the Louisville Colonels, The Baltimore Sun said:

“(York) received a dispatch yesterday ordering him to Brooklyn.  Instead of going he telegraphed his resignation.  His reason for doing so was the abuse he received from some of the spectators of Saturday’s game.  In fact, he was nearly equal to that of John Kelly, ‘the king of umpires.’  He declared (Pete) Browning’s hit near the foul line a fair hit.  He was in the best position to know, but, as it was made at a critical point, some of the audience objected, and York came in for pretty severe abuse.”

The paper said York also made a “questionable decision,” when he “evidently forgot that it was not necessary to touch a runner in a force,” and incorrectly called a runner safe at second:

“York became discouraged and the Association lost a good umpire.”

Within weeks York became a National League umpire; that didn’t last long either.

On June 30, the Kansas City Cowboys lost at home to the New York Giants 11-5, The Chicago Inter Ocean said York “was escorted from the grounds by the police on account of disapproval manifested over his umpiring.”

Less than a month later, after York was “roundly hissed” at the Polo Grounds after making “some very close decisions against the New Yorks,” in a July 22 game against the Philadelphia Quakers, he sent a telegram to National League President Nicholas Young resigning his position.  York told The New York Times:

“I have been badly treated in the West, but to be hissed and hooted at in the East is too much.  I have often heard that an umpire’s position was a thankless one, but I have never realized it before.  It’s bad enough to be hissed and called a thief, but in the West when the local club loses an umpire in fortunate if he escapes with his life.  Of all the cities in the league Kansas City is the worst.”

York said there was another incident Kansas City the day before he was escorted from the field by police:

“On June 29 when the New York men beat the Cowboys 3 to 2 (William “Mox”) McQuery hit a ball over the fence, but it was foul by 25 feet, and I declared it so.  After the game Vice President (Americus) McKim, of the Kansas City club wanted to know how much money I would get from the New Yorks fir That decision.  I remarked that I received my salary from the league and did not take a penny from the New Yorks or any other none.  Then he grew furious, and said he would end my days.  This in conjunction with other things incidental to the life of an umpire has made me tired of the business, and I intend to make room for some other victim.”

Despite quitting both leagues within two months, The Baltimore American said the American Association sent York a telegram in two months later “asking him if he wanted an appointment as umpire.”  The paper said “York replied no, emphatically, as his past experience was sufficient to justify his remaining at home.”

York remained at home for the rest of the season and the next, but while he never worked as an umpire again he returned to baseball in 1888 as manager of the Albany Governors in the International Association.  Over the next decade he was connected with several East Coast minor leagues, including the Connecticut State League, the New York State League and the Eastern Association, as a manager and executive.

York retired to New York where he became one of the many former players employed at the Polo Grounds at the behest of manager John McGraw.  In 1922 The New York Telegraph described his position:

“York has the pleasant post of trying to keep the actors, tonsorial artists and plumbers out of the press stand.  It is old tom who examines your pink paste board and decides whether you are eligible for a seat in the press cage.”

Tom York, 1922

Tom York, 1922

In February of 1936, as preparations were being made for York, along with James “Deacon” White, George Wright, Tommy Bond,  to be honored that summer at the  All-Star Game  as the last four surviving players from the National League’s first season, the former player, manager, executive and umpire died in New York.

The Two Cent Release

23 Jan

A small item in The Sporting Life in June of 1906 said John “Jock” Somerlott had been released by Jack Hardy, manager of the Fort Wayne franchise in the Interstate Association.

Four years later, when Somerlott was purchased by the Washington Senators the The Associated Press told the story of his release:

“Salary day at Fort Wayne was an event.  It rolled around regularly, but there was seldom money enough in the treasury to pay the players… (Hardy) didn’t like Somerlott, and Somerlott didn’t just exactly hanker after his manager, and the friction grew as money became scarce.”

Jock Somerlott

Jock Somerlott

Jack Hardy

Jack Hardy

Somerlott said he was tired of not getting paid and playing in front of sparse crowds so he approached Hardy one morning in June with an offer:

“Tell you what I’ll do Jack, I’ll give you every cent I’ve got for my release.”

After Hardy accepted the offer:

“(Somerlott) searched his clothing and allowed the manager to do the same, and the total output was two pennies.  He handed the cash to Hardy and got his release.”

Somerlott signed with the Winnipeg Maroons in the Northern-Copper Country League for the remainder of 1906.  After two years in the Southern Michigan League, he went to the Terre Haute Hottentots in the Central League.  After hitting .282 and .292 in 1909 and 1910, the Washington Senators purchased his contract in August.

Somerlott’s Major League career was brief; he appeared in 29 games for the Senators in 1910 and 1911 hitting .204. He returned to the minor leagues for five seasons after his release from Washington, finishing his career with the Pittsfield Electrics in the Eastern Association in 1914.

Somerlott returned home to Indiana and for many years managed the Angola team in the semi-pro Indiana-Ohio League; among his players was Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer.

Somerlott is a member of the Fort Wayne Baseball and the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Halls of Fame.  He died in Butler, Indiana in 1965.