Tag Archives: Elmer Foster

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.

“He’s a Loafer and a Drinker”

3 Dec

Bill Lange and Elmer Foster were likely the two favorite subjects of sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, who continued to write about both long after their careers were over. Another favorite subject was Bill Dahlen, who spent eight of his 21 big league seasons in Chicago, and received numerous mentions in Fullerton’s columns.

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen

Fullerton claimed during the 1890s he worked for an editor who was “a wild baseball crank.” The editor had an assignment for Fullerton after watching Bill Dahlen play a particularly bad game for the Chicago Colts one day:

“(He) summoned me and said, sharply: ‘Go after that fellow, Dahlen, and drive him out of town. He’s a loafer and a drinker.’”

Fullerton said, “there wasn’t a chance to argue,” and he let his friend Dahlen know he would “pan the life out of him and drive him off the team, explaining the circumstances.” Dahlen, he said, “wished me success.”

Fullerton said after writing critically about Dahlen for two weeks, the two were together on a train as the Colts headed to the East Coast:

“Dahlen and I slipped away from (Cap) Anson’s ever watchful eye and sought the buffet car and liquid refreshment. While we were thus engaged the editor entered the car, addressed me, inquired whether the team was on the train and was introduced to Dahlen. I left them at 11 o’clock, the editor ordering more beer and talking baseball with Dahlen. The following morning the editor stopped at my berth.

“’I was much mistaken in that young man, Dahlen,’ he remarked. ‘He is a smart, intelligent and interesting young man. I believe these stories about his drinking have been exaggerated. I fear we have been misled by the talk of cranks. I wish you would write a story suggesting him as the logical successor of Captain Anson as manager of the team.’”

On several occasions Fullerton told another story about Dahlen, this one involving a run-in with umpire Hank O’Day; there were always slight variations in the dialogue:

“Billy Bull Head Dahlen perhaps has been driven to the the bench oftener than any player in the country. Dahlen is a nagger. He keeps right after an umpire from the time he gets displeased with a decision until the game ends, and then starts over again the next day.”

Hank O'Day

Hank O’Day

Fullerton said Dahlen approached O’Day before a game in New York:

“Say, Hank, if I run at you in the first inning and call you a blank, blank, blank and step on your toes with my spikes and push my glove into your face, what’ll you do?’

“‘Do?’ said Henry, getting roiled up. ‘Do? I’ll chase you off the lot faster than you can run.’

“‘All right,’ said Dahlen, calmly, ‘no hard feelings. I just want to get put out quick, so i can get to Harlem in time to get a bet down on the fourth race.’

“‘You can’t get put out of this game in a thousand years, not if you spike me in the face.’

“Nor could he, although he did everything he could think of O’Day made him play out the string, and the horse he wanted to bet on won the race at heavy odds.”

“Baseball is now Played by certain Mathematical rules and Regulations”

16 Jul

The Chicago Tribune’s Hugh Fullerton concluded in 1906 that base running had “in a sense, become a lost art.”

“Baseball is now played by certain mathematical rules and regulations, and there is no more of the brilliant individual feats of the old days.  Everyone who plays now knows just what stage the game is in, what to do in that stage, and if he does not the signals from the batter to show him his duty.  In the old days most of them ran unaided by bunt, ‘squeeze,’ hit and run, or blocking or feinting to bunt to draw the fielders out of position.

“Teams still run, hoping to demoralize the opposition, but not to the extent that they did in the early years of the game.”

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

According to Fullerton no team ran wilder than the Chicago White Stockings of the 1880s

 “Mike Kelly was perhaps the most daring of all base runners.  He never was extremely fast, and in his later years grew extremely slow—but he stole almost as many bases when slow as ever he did.  Indeed, the best base runners the game has known were men of medium speed in running, and few of the really fast sprinters ever were good base runners.  Kelly ran bases with his head instead of his feet.

“One of the best trick that old team ever pulled off was against Boston in Chicago.  Kelly engineered the deal, although he was on first base, with a runner—(Tom) Burns, I think—on third.  One was out and the worst hitter on the team was up, with one run needed.  Kelly was standing on first, and as the pitcher prepared to deliver the ball Kel went dashing towards second, yelling at the top of his lungs.

“The pitcher took a glance to see if the runner had left third and saw him standing still, and to his astonishment saw Kelly still tearing towards second.  He hesitated, expecting Kel would stop or slow up—then threw, and threw high, while Kel, instead of sliding and reaching second in safety, merely touched the base and tore towards third at top speed, leaving the second baseman holding the ball in astonishment.  The runner at third had moved off ten feet as Kel came tearing towards him yelling commands, and catching the drift of the play, he sprinted for home.  The throw went to the plate ahead of him as he rushed homeward and seeing himself hopelessly out he slowed up a bit, and Kelly, coming on from third, slid around him, escaped the astonished catcher, who was tagging the other runner, and scored, evening up the game.”

Mike "King" Kelly

Mike “King” Kelly

Fullerton also wrote about the “Kelly Slide,” or “Kelly Spread,” the hook slide Kelly made famous, which also went by another name:

“Kelly invented the ‘Chicago Slide,’ which was one of the greatest tricks ever pulled off.  It was a combination slide, twist and dodge.  The runner went straight down the line at top speed and when nearing the base threw himself either inside or outside of the line, doubled the left leg under him—if sliding inside, or the right, if sliding outside—slid on the doubled up leg and the hip, hooked the foot on the other leg around the base, and pivoted on it, stopping on the opposite side of the base.

“Every player of the old Chicago team practiced and perfected that slide and got away with hundreds of stolen bases when really they should have been touched out easily  There are some modern players who make the slide something as it was done then, but Bill Dahlen of New York really is the only one in either big league who executes it regularly and perfectly.”

And, as with most Fullerton reminiscences there were stories about his personal favorite players; which may, or may not have actually happened on a baseball field somewhere, to someone.

Elmer Foster was a great base runner, after his style.  He ran regardless of consequences and perhaps no man that ever played in fast company ever took an extra base on a hit oftener as did Elmer.  He simply refused to stop at his legitimate destination, and kept right on.  When he got caught he always said:  ‘Why, I wasn’t a bit tired.  Why should I have stopped running?’

“On day Foster was turning third, trying to score from second on a short hit, when Billy Kuehne bumped him with his hip, threw him out into the grass, and forced him to stop.  Elmer was wild.  He kept yelling, ‘I’ll be around here again.’  The next time up he made a two base hit and he never stopped at second, but dashed on for third at top speed.  The second baseman, surprised, made a high throw to third and Kuehne stretched to get the ball just as Foster, leaping through the air, landed on his chest with both feet and kicked him half way to the grandstand.  Foster came home running backwards and yelping with delight at Kuehne—and then got sore because he was called out.”

Elmer Foster

Elmer Foster

“One of the funniest incidents in base stealing I ever saw happened in Chicago one of the yeas that Bill Lange led the league in base running.  It was a close race between Lange and (Billy) Hamilton for the honors and the season was drawing to a close.  The game was close, and Lange led off the eighth inning with a two bagger.  Anson went to bat and laid down a perfect bunt, intending to sacrifice.  He went out in a close finish at first, and looking up, discovered Lange still perched on second.  He was furious, but the condition was mild compared to what he experienced an instant later when Lange stole third—and took the lead fo the base running honors.”

 

“The life of a Baseball Player is Extremely Unsatisfactory”

30 Apr

After more than two decades covering baseball, Hugh Fullerton told fathers “Don’t send your boy into professional baseball.”  In response to a letter he said he received seeking his advice from a father who said his 19-year-old son wanted to play pro ball, Fullerton said in The Chicago Herald-Examiner  in 1915:

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

“The life of a baseball player is extremely unsatisfactory.  I have lived with them for more than 20 years and have found few good men in the profession who would not have been better off in any other.

“Your boy is at the age when the majority come into the upper leagues.  Usually they are swell headed because they have been applauded and cheered as the best in their own class.  Among the veteran ballplayers they are looked upon with scorn, chiefly through this tendency to freshness.  If they are sensitive or lack determination they are broken in spirit and courage right at the start.

“I made a list a few years ago of nearly 1000 players—and about 98 out of each 100 failed on the first trial to make good.  The great majority are doomed to failure.  Those who succeed finally are destined to temporary failure.  I have seen thousands broken in spirit, ruined entirely by this.

“The life is full of temptations, chief of which are women and drink.  Swarms of fans urge them to drink, seek to buy them wine when they succeed, and if they fail they are apt to drink as a solace.

"Why Ballplayers Fail" The illustration that accompanied Fullerton's column

“Why Ballplayers Fail”
The illustration that accompanied Fullerton’s column

“Financially, about one in 40 succeeds moderately and one in a thousand gets rich.  The average earnings of 500 players for a ten-year period will not exceed $1000 a year.  The average playing life of a man is about seven years.

“Even the high-priced players complain of the difficulty of saving.  The constant drain of expenses is much higher than one would think.  A semi-public man must spend more than a private individual.

“A 3,000-a-year man has a hard time saving $500 a year.  I know men who have had salaries of from $3,500 to $7,500 for seven or eight years who have only a few thousand laid by.

“The worst feature, however, is that your boy, starting at 19, probably would be done when he was 32 or 33—done and out of employment, with expensive tastes, expensive acquaintances, no knowledge of any trade or business and really just where he is now.  He probably would be worth $20 a week.

“His one chance is that he has, during his baseball career, formed the friendship with some wealthy or prominent man who can place him in a ‘soft’ job.  To me this seems undesirable.”

Within days Fullerton was again writing columns about the joys of the drunken exploits of players like Elmer Foster.

“You are mostly Fakes, and yet I love you all!”

19 Mar

Elmer Foster became better known after his career had ended than he ever had been as a player because of sportswriter Hugh Fullerton who included stories he said were about Foster in his columns for more than twenty years.

Elmer Foster

Elmer Foster

The first story appeared in 1897, shortly after Fullerton arrived at The Chicago Tribune:

“The long-lost is found.  A few days ago a traveling man who is a baseball fan climbed on the train with the Colts and engaged Jimmy Ryan in Conversation.

“’Who do you think I saw the other day?’ he queried…I was up in Minnehaha, the village at the falls of St. Paul.  About 10 o’clock at night I was preparing to go to bed, when suddenly there came a series of war whoops up the street.  A man came tearing down on horseback, whipping the animal to dead run and whooping like a Comanche Just as he got to where we were standing he pulled two revolvers and, still whooping, emptied them into the air.  I was scared to death, but no one else paid any attention.  When the danger was over I crawled out from under a cellar door and said ‘Who is that?  ‘Oh, that’s nothing,’ said one of the gang.  ‘It’s only Elmer Foster going home.’”

The 1897 article also told a more accurate version of the incident in Pittsburgh that led to Foster’s release than Fullerton told in later years–it mentioned that he was with Pat Luby (incorrectly identified as “Harry” Luby), and Fullerton, in this version, did not claim to be present.

With that the legend was born.

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

By the turn of the century the legend grew.  Fullerton said:

“Foster was a great baserunner…He ran regardless of consequences, and perhaps no man that ever played in fast company ever took an extra base on a hit oftener than did Elmer.  He simply refused to stop at his legitimate destination, and kept right on.  When he got caught he always said: ‘Why, I wasn’t a bit tired.  Why should I have stopped running?’”

By 1903 Fullerton said of Foster:

“No man who was interested in baseball during the early ‘90s can certainly have forgotten the name of the man who was perhaps the best center fielder who ever wore a Chicago uniform.”

Like Bill Lange, another player he helped make famous long after his career was over, Fullerton’s most often repeated story about Foster was a dubious one involving a catch—a story that was repeated over the years as having happened three years after Foster’s big league career was over:

“Back in ’94 one of the Eastern teams was playing Chicago on the West Side, with Foster in center field.  The man at bat made a terrific swipe at the ball and hit it.  The shadow was deep over the infield and Foster could not see the ball.  He started to run out into far center, so as to be prepared.

“As a matter of fact the ball was only a bunt.  The shortstop caught it and threw the batter out at first.  But Foster kept on running—running like mad….Foster ran at the top of his speed almost to the center field fence.  Then he jumped high up into the air, threw up his left hand, and came down to the ground with—an English sparrow tightly clenched in his fist.”

In addition to Fullerton repeating the story over the years,  “Gentleman” Jim Corbett retold it in his syndicated sports column in 1919 and Al Spink, writing for The Chicago Evening Post in 1920 quoted former Chicago White Sox Manager Jimmy “Nixey” Callahan telling the story in 1920—like the original, both Corbett’s version and Spink’s via Callahan say the “catch’ happened three years after Foster left Chicago.  The story survived until at least 1925 when it appeared in several paper as park of a King Features syndicated column of short baseball stories.

Fullerton’s Foster stories—including several regarding drunken pranks Foster was alleged to have played on Cap Anson—became so ubiquitous that William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star  said in 1912:

“It is now an accepted tradition that Elmer Foster, the famous fielder, led the Chicago team on a glorious, care-free, drunk through a whole wild merry season in 1891.  That is believed by everybody—yet the records show that Foster played just a few games with Chicago in 1890, and was released in April [sic] of 1891, before the season was even one week old!  Oh, you legends!  Oh, you deceiving old stories!  You are mostly fakes, and yet I love you all!”

“Foster you are Released”

17 Mar

Elmer Ellsworth Foster’s career as a pitcher ended on August 26, 1884.  He had been out for three weeks with “an injury to the tendon in his right arm,” when he took the mound for the St. Paul Apostles in a Northwestern League game against the Milwaukee Brewers.  The 22-year-old was 17-19 with 1.18 ERA when he took the mound at St. Paul’s West Seventh Street Grounds.

The St. Paul Daily Globe said:

“When the popular favorite took his position in the box in the last half of the first inning the audience received him with an ovation of cheers, to which he responded by raising his cap.  A moment later he pitched the first ball, a sharp crack was heard distinctly all over the ground and the sphere went spinning ten feet to the right of the batter.  Foster turned pale, but stood in his position until the players in the vicinity reached him.”

He had “snapped the bone of the right arm just above the elbow,” and after Foster left the field a collection was taken up among the fans “A few minutes later it was announced that $172 had been collected.”

He made it to the major leagues two years later as an outfielder with the New York Metropolitans in the American Association, and played parts of five seasons in the American Association and National League.  A consistent .300 hitter in the minors, Foster hit just .187 in 386 big league at bats.

According to The Sporting Life, his manager with the New York Giants in 1888 and ‘89, Jim Mutrie considered him “one of the best fielders in the country, and the only reason New York ever let him go was because he didn’t show up well with the stick in fast company.”

Elmer Foster

Elmer Foster

Sportswriter Hugh Fullerton said he excelled at other things as well:

“The rowdy of the rowdies was Elmer Foster.  Handsome, well bred, clean cut and with it all, well educated and something of an actor.  Foster was in baseball for the fun of it.”

From the time Fullerton joined The Chicago Tribune in 1897 until he left Chicago for New York in 1919 Bill Lange was probably the only 19th Century player he wrote about more often Foster.

Foster’s  best season was 1890 (.248 in 105 at bats and 5 home runs) with Cap Anson’s second place Chicago Colts after being acquired in late August.

Foster started the season with his hometown Minneapolis Millers in the Western Association (he hit .388 in his first twelve games), but fell out of favor with Manager Sam Morton after he and a teammate named Henry O’Day were arrested and fined in Milwaukee for public intoxication in May.

Foster was benched, but the team refused to release him, and by mid-July he was ready to take the Millers to court.  The St. Paul Daily Globe said:

“(Foster) threatens to bring suit against the management to compel its members to give him his release.  His claim will be that they are unjustly preventing him from earning a livelihood.  There is a possibility that the threat may be only a bluff, but should such a trial be put on, it will be of much interest in Western baseball circles, as it will be the first of its kind in this section.”

The Millers finally chose to release Foster rather than fight a lawsuit.  Foster was rumored to be headed to several different teams, but finally signed with the Colts on August 27.

After his strong September in 1890 Foster began the ’91 season as the Colts center fielder, but it didn’t last.

Fullerton said Foster sealed his fate with Anson during the opening series:

“We were going to Pittsburgh, and just before we arrived in town on the unearthly jump from Chicago to Pittsburgh, via Cleveland, Anson came along and sat facing us.

“’Foster,’ He said ‘The next time you take a drink, or anyone on the club takes a drink with you, I’ll release you.’

“’All right, Cap,’ said Foster, cheerfully.

“We arrived in Pittsburgh, and while Anson was registering the club at the desk Foster said: ‘Let’s go have a cocktail.’

“’Better be careful, Elmer, the old man is sore,’ I remarked.

“But we went.  The mixologist had just strained the cocktails into the glasses when Foster, looking into the mirror, spied Anson in the doorway.  He turned and, bowing low, said sweetly “Captain anson, will you join us for a drink?’

“’No,’ thundered Anson.  “Foster you are released.

“And now that I am released, Captain Anson,’ said Foster, ‘will you join us in a drink?”

Unlike many of Fullerton’s story, the basic facts (if not the part where he included himself in the story) are confirmed by contemporaneous accounts.  The Chicago Tribune said on April 26 after the Colts four-game series with the Pirates:

“Elmer Foster is not with the club and he has probably played his last game with it.  He and (Pat) Luby last night at Pittsburgh were drinking and Anson fined each $25 and ordered them to go to bed.  They paid no attention to the order and the fine was increased to $50.  This morning when the team was ready to go to Cincinnati Anson gave foster a ticket to Chicago and sent him home.”

Luby was not sent home and lost to the Reds 1 to 0 the following day.  He was fined several times for drinking during the 1891 season, and after a promising 20-9 rookie season in 1890 he slipped to 8-11, and followed it up with an 11-16 season in 1892 before Chicago let him go.

Foster was suspended without pay and finally released on May 11.  He was immediately signed by the Kansas City Blues.

Foster played well in Kansas City, hitting .300 in 70 games for the second place Blues, but was released in August.  The Kansas City Star said:

“One of the sensations of today is the unconditional release of Elmer Foster whose behavior on the present trip has been disgraceful”

The paper said Manager Jim Manning was forced to make the move, not just because of Foster’s drinking, but because he “has been largely instrumental in leading other members of the team astray.”

His replacement, Joseph Katz, acquired from the Grand Rapids Shamrocks in the Northwestern league hit just .225 in the final 25 games.

In December of 1891 The Minneapolis Times said:

“Elmer Foster, the ballplayer, yesterday secured $25,000 through the will of his dead mother, and today announced his permanent retirement from the diamond. “

With the exception of one game in 1895 (he went 1 for 2) with the Millers, Foster was true to his word and quit baseball at the age of 29.

Foster retired to Minneapolis where he operated a piano and organ store with his brother, did some acting and occasionally said he was considering running for the Minneapolis City Council or the Minnesota State Legislature, although there is no record of his ever officially filing to run for office.  He also worked as a scout for the Pittsburgh, and signed Ralph Capron out of the University of Minnesota for the Pirates.

After Fullerton moved to New York and stopped writing about Foster the “The rowdy of the rowdies” faded into comfortable obscurity in Minnesota.  He died in 1946 at age 84.

Some of Fullerton’s less reliable stories about Foster on Wednesday.