Tag Archives: Eastern New England League

The Pursuit of Elmer Foster

9 Sep

Elmer Ellsworth Foster was the talk of the Northwestern League in 1887.

His career as a pitcher had lasted just one season; in 1884, while pitching for the St. Paul Apostles, he snapped a bone in his arm while throwing a pitch.

Elmer Foster, 1887

            Elmer Foster, 1887

After he recovered, he returned the following year as an outfielder and second baseman with Haverhill in the Eastern New England League and hit .309.

The following spring, The Sporting Life’s Haverhill correspondent said the New York Metropolitans “have taken Elmer Foster from us.”

Hitting just .184 and, as The Sporting Life put it “reckless at the bat,” Foster went back to Haverhill in August.

In 1887, he returned to Minnesota, this time as centerfielder for the Minneapolis Millers.  The club was owned by his brother Robert Owen Foster, a successful dealer of musical instruments, who with his partner J. E. Whitcomb, had taken over operations of the Millers in January.

The Northwestern League of 1887 was a hitter’s paradise owing mostly to the single-season experiments with the four-strike rule and walks counted as hits—nineteen players with at least 350 at-bats hit better than .350—and Foster led with a .415 average and 17 home runs.   While his performance with the bat was noted, he received an equal amount of publicity for his great fielding.

Throughout the season, Minnesota newspapers reported that Foster’s contract would be sold to a major league team—the Indianapolis Hoosiers were the most frequently mentioned—but the deal never materialized.

When the season ended, The Philadelphia Times said Foster was in high demand:

“During the past week agents from nearly every League and Association (club) have been to Minneapolis to secure (Foster) for next season.  (Horace) Phillips of Pittsburgh; (Gus) Schmelz of Cincinnati; Ted Sullivan, agent for Washington; (Emery “Moxie”) Hengel agent for Detroit; (Charlie Hazen) Morton, agent for (A.G.) Spalding, and agents for the Brooklyn, Metropolitan, and Baltimore Clubs have tried to get him.

(John) Day, of New York, sent him this message:  ‘Multrie on the way to Minneapolis.  Make no promise until you see him.’  Boston also wired him for his terms.  (Horace) Fogel of Indianapolis arrived one night and had Foster in tow all the next day.  The bidding of all these clubs has been going on briskly, until now he is offered exorbitant figures by all the clubs.”

Foster called the fight for services a “circus;” it also turned into a controversy, with two teams claiming to have signed him.  The Saint Paul Globe said:

“The circus he speaks of is a curious one, but he is sublimely unmindful of the part he took in it.  The rules of the baseball covenant prohibit the signing of players until Oct. 20…Manager Fogel of Indianapolis approached Foster before that time and made a verbal contract with him, but Manager (Jim) Mutrie, of New York, took him out to Delano (Minnesota), and after midnight  (on the 20th) got his signature.”

Jim Mutrie

                       Jim Mutrie

Years later, Ted Sullivan, who was perusing Foster on behalf of his Washington Nationals, described Mutrie’s method to sign Foster as a kidnapping:

“Jim Mutrie of New York (Giants) grabbed the great fielder Foster on the streets of Minneapolis…bound and gagged him, threw him into a cab and brought him ten minutes out of the city, held him there and dined and wined him until midnight…then compelled him to take $1000 advance money and a contract of $4500 (various other sources put Foster’s salary at $2400, and $4000).”

Foster, it turned out, didn’t simply have a “verbal contract” with Fogel and Indianapolis when he disappeared with Mutrie, but had, as The Sporting News said, accepted “a draft for $100,” from Fogel at the time the two agreed to terms.  Fogel and Indianapolis owner John T. Brush told The Indianapolis News and The Indianapolis Times that there was “a written agreement” between Foster and the club.

Foster’s wife gave birth to a daughter during the height of the controversy.  He told The Globe:

“If she had been a boy I would have named him Mutrie Fogel, in memory of the baseball managers I have been having a circus with.”

In the end, Indianapolis acknowledged that the agreement with Foster, whether written or verbal, was entered into three days before the legal signing date of October 20 and National League President Nick Young awarded Foster to the Giants.

Foster never had success at the plate during his brief major league career; he hit just .187 in 386 at-bats over parts of five seasons.  But Mutrie called him “(O)ne of the best fielders in the country,” and Sullivan said of Foster’s time in the National League, “(H)e was a wonderful fielder in that league.”

Elmer Foster

      Elmer Foster

After he was released by the Giants, he played 31 games with the Chicago Colts in 1890 and ’91, but his brief stay with the club allowed his name to live on with fans long after his career ended.  One of the favorite subjects of Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, who called him “The rowdy of the rowdies,” Foster’s name was a staple of Fullerton’s stories for three decades after his career ended.

“I was Large and McCarthy was Quick Tempered”

16 May

In 1912, Pennsylvania Governor and former major league pitcher John Tener, told William Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star about how a minor league team made a payroll during his playing days.

John Tener

John Tener

 “Such a thing as one day’s pay wouldn’t exactly break or worry me, that is wouldn’t worry me know, and it has been some years since I have had occasion to fret about losing one day’s wages.  Yet believe me there was once a time when I was robbed of one day’s salary, and that one day’s salary seemed to John K. Tener, as big as the First National Bank to the average young clerk at the present time.  And—just to show what strange things happen in this world—the man who took away John K. Tener’s poor little one day’s pay was in the after years Justice (William Henry) Moody, of the (United States) supreme court bench—that’s how life really happens in this republic of ours, and, I’m sure, the one day’s pay he saved on me looked as big to him right then as half a million did a few years subsequently.

“It was long, long ago when the world was very young, and I was a pitcher for the Haverhill team (1885) Tommy McCarthy, who afterwards grew so renowned as one of the headiest players of the champion Bostons, was one of the Haverhill outfielders, and Justice Moody was one of the chief officials of the Haverhill club.  The season was drawing to a close, the Haverhill team was losing money, and it seemed doubtful whether the exchequer could be so replenished that everybody would get what was coming to him at the final settlement.

Tommy McCarthy

Tommy McCarthy

“The days ran along and finally but one more day remained.  That night the stockholders of the club held a meeting, inspected the books, and did some great figuring as to ways and means.  Towards 11 o’clock, they found that they would lack only a few dollars of enough to settle up—but where were they going to find those few dollars?  That was the question, and they were debating on passing the hat when a great thought struck Mr. Moody.  ‘Gentlemen,’ he said, ‘I have it!  Upstairs, in the hotel, our two highest salaried players, Tener and McCarthy, are now asleep.  If we could save one day out of their wages we would have just enough to see us through.  Let’s release them and save tomorrow’s salaries.

“The stockholders carried the suggestion by acclamation, and releases were duly carried out.  Then a glance at the clock showed it was 11:30.  In half an hour or more it would be too late—a new day would begin, and we would have to have our full day’s pay.  Mr. Moody was deputed to bring us the news—which was considered a ticklish task, as I was large and McCarthy was quick tempered.  Somewhat bashfully, he came upstairs, woke us up, and gracefully handed us our releases.  Then he fled before Tom and I could get our heads clear and realize the situation.

“And, believe me, in those days I was so short of money that it just about broke my heart to lose that one day’s pay.  But I had to lose it, just the same, and Mr. Moody was the winner.  Did I ever get it back?  Not the money I didn’t—but I have often made Justice Moody buy enough good wine to pay for that several times over.”

Tener served in the United States House of Representatives, was Governor of Pennsylvania and President of the National League, but his short career as a player remained important to him.  A story made the rounds in many newspapers (although at least a decade after he left office) that when signing a bill into law while governor, a legislator said:

“Governor Tener, I think that’s one of the best things you ever did.”

Tener was said to have replied:

“You’ve got it all wrong–I once shut out the Giants.”

On his 81st birthday, July 25, 1944, The Associated Press asked about the “move to get Tener’s name added to the roll of immortals in Baseball’s Hall of Fame.”  Tener, and another former National League President, John Heydler had been an early and ardent supporter of the establishment of the Hall of Fame.

“(Tener) laughs that off.  ‘I don’t belong there.'”