Tag Archives: Forbes Field

“But, no Freakish Balls”

20 Jun

After Smokey Joe Williams struck out 27 Kansas City Monarchs in a 12-inning one-hit shutout in Kansas City in August of 1930, Paul A.R. Kurtz of The Pittsburgh Press wrote about meeting Williams in the Grays dugout when the two teams played at Forbes Field two weeks earlier:

smokeyjoe

Smokey Joe Williams

“Personal experience recently revealed to me the superstition existing in baseball.

“I know big league players want bats scattered when they’re not hitting; others touch bases or gloves on the way to the bench during innings and do numerous other unusual things.  But my own failing for peanuts brought me an interesting interview.”

Kurtz said he bought peanuts from a vendor when he arrived at Forbes Field:

“While a few Grays were practicing, I wandered to the Homestead bench to be greeted by Smokey Joe Williams, the veteran Gray twirler, who noticed the hard-shelled peanuts.”

Williams asked:

“’Do you know peanuts are barred from our bench?’ Joe asked.  I inquired, ‘how come?’

“’I don’t like them around and have made my mates understand that.  They try to tease me by eating some once in awhile.  I always feel I’m losing when I hear the cracking of shells.”

Williams said:

“That’s my only superstitious feeling in baseball.”

Kurtz said he was concerned he contributed to Williams losing for the first time that season:

“Joe didn’t like peanuts. I had them in my hands.  Joe was starting pitcher.  He had won 23 games without a defeat until the Monarchs beat him with a rally that particular night.”

Williams, with the help of Grays shortstop Jake Stephens–who made three errors in the game, two of them in the ninth–blew a 4 to 3 lead in the ninth when the Monarchs scored five runs to beat the Grays 8 to 4 in the second night game ever played in Forbes Field:

“Was I the cause of Joe’s downfall? Those peanuts may have preyed on his mind and by mental telepathy Stephens foozled a few swats to help the monarchs halt Williams’ winning streak.”

Generally listed at 6’ 3” or 6’ 4” and 190 pounds, Williams told the the reporter he was 6’2” and weighed 224 pounds, but said he loses “nearly 30 pounds during a summer.”

Williams said:

“’I have no trouble keeping in shape. I take good care of myself, sleep long and eat carefully.  I tried to throw a spitball once, but it jerked my arm and so I cut it.  Control and plenty of motion are my bets.  I have practiced hard to master control to place the ball just where I want it on a batter.  Low knee fast pitches, inside and outside, are my favorites.  But, no freakish balls.  I am better with control than those who try an assortment of twisters.”

Williams told Kurtz about the biggest regrets of his career:

“Although Joe has marvelous control of his fast pitches, he talked regretfully of three boys who he hurt badly.  One lad in Texas became demented after being hit and another had all his teeth knocked out. In Coal City (Pennsylvania) Joe dented a player’s skull, leaving the imprint of the ball on his forehead.”

Williams told Kurtz that he had, for years, kept “a big scrapbook…It contained all accounts of his baseball life.”  The book, “which Williams prized highly,” was stolen:

“Since it disappeared Joe has not been as interested in recording his accomplishments. ‘How I’d like to get that book back,’ he said.”

He then went out and took his first loss of the 1930 season.

“Baseball After Dark Made its Initial Gesture in Pittsburgh”

18 Jun

With light standards set up just behind the first and third base coaching boxes, the Homestead Grays and the Kansas City Monarchs took the field for the first night game at Forbes Field on July 18, 1930.

duncanab

Frank Duncan at the plate, “Buck Ewing catching July 18, 1930

The night before, the Grays played under lights for the time.  A similar lighting system was deployed at the Akron, Ohio Central League ballpark, and Smokey Joe Williams shut out the Akron Guard, a local amateur club, 10 to 0, and held the Guard to two hits.

Ralph Davis, the sports editor of The Pittsburgh Press said:

“Baseball after dark made its initial gesture in Pittsburgh last night…More than 6,000 fans turned out through curiosity or other motives to see the spectacle, and the vast majority of them gave the night baseball plan their unqualified approval.”

Davis declared the field “as bright as day,” and said:

“With 33 huge floodlights as illuminants, the play-field of the Pirates was turned from inky blackness into something approaching mid-afternoon brightness.

“The scene was a revelation to many doubting Thomases who went to scoff and left the field declaring that perhaps, after all, the national pastime, if it ever has to be saved, will find night performances its savior.

“Hardly a shadow was discernible as the rival teams fielded apparently as surely and as speedily as they would have done in broad daylight.  Balls hit high in the air were easy to follow in their flight, and long hits to the outfield could be traced without ‘losing’ the ball.”

Davis said the one exception in the field were ground balls “which skimmed along the ground.” Pitchers he said, appeared “to use just as much speed,” as during the day, and the lights seemed to not affect the catchers, and:

“Pitched balls, waist-high or higher, were easy picking for the eager batsmen, but it looked as if balls around the knees were harder to judge.”

The first pitch was not thrown until 9:15, because “the darker it was, the better the lighting system worked.”

As for the crowd, which Davis said “The color line was not drawn,” and the number of black and white fans were roughly equal:

“It was a typical baseball scene, with enthusiasm just as evident as any major league game.  Rooters went into a frenzy when the Grays tied the score after the Monarchs had gotten away in the lead, and almost tore down the stands when they finally won out.”

crowdforbes.jpg

“The color line was not drawn” in the crowd

The game went 12 innings, and ended, The Press said, “Precisely at midnight,” when George Scales scored the winning run on a hit by catcher William “Buck” Ewing.

Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss was “an interested spectator” who “Watched the play closely,” Davis asked him his opinion:

“It is interesting, and provides entertainment for many people who cannot get away from work for afternoon contests.  It is not as fast as daylight ball, and I imagine the infielders have some difficulty in judging hard-hit grounders but it is remarkable how well the men handle themselves.”

Dreyfuss summed up his feelings:

“I don’t think night baseball will ever replace the daylight brand in popularity.”

Smoky Joe Williams, who had pitched in the Grays’ first night game in Akron two days earlier, agreed with Dreyfuss when Davis asked his opinion of playing under the lights:

 “’Night baseball causes an eye strain,’ said he.  “’It is all right as long as you don’t look into one of those big lights.  If you do, you lose sight of the ball entirely.  I’ll take the daylight stuff for mine.”

The next night, Williams pitched in the second night game to played in Pittsburgh, he took a 4 to 3 lead into the ninth inning when Kansas City scored five runs and beat him 8 to 8.  Two weeks later, Williams struck out 27 Monarchs batters under the lights in Kansas City.

One Minute Talk: Art Wilson

19 Oct

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

Art Wilson

Art Wilson

Art Wilson of the Chicago Cubs talked about the least favorite ballpark of  fellow catcher and former New York Giants teammate, the 6′ 5″ 230 pound Larry McLean:

“The distance from the home plate to the backstop in Pittsburgh (Forbes Field) used to be a terrible strain on Larry in the hot weather.  Every time a wild pitch or a passed ball got by him Larry would cuss out the man who laid out the Pirate plant.

McLean

McLean

“One night (Pirates owner) Barney Dreyfuss was seated on the veranda of the hotel where the Giants were stopping.  Larry had chased eight balls that afternoon.  He approached Dreyfuss and tapped him on the shoulder.

“‘Barney,’ he said, ‘you’ve got a great ballpark but it’s lacking in one detail.  You should have taxicab service  at the home plate for catchers to help them chase wild pitches and passed balls.'”

President Taft “Not only Likes the Game, but Knows it”

5 Oct

taftbrown

President William Howard Taft,  above shaking hands with Cubs pitcher Mordecai Brown, attended the September 16, 1909 game at Chicago’s West Side Grounds.  Tickets for the game went quickly and scalpers who expected a windfall were foiled by Cubs’ management.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“Ticket scalpers who tried to dip their hands into the pockets of local baseball fans  through the opportunity offered to see President Taft at Thursday’s Cub-Giant game were foiled in a novel way by the Cub officials.  How thoroughly did not develop until (the morning after the game).”

The Cubs limited the number of tickets to three for each purchase, but “A flock of scalpers and their agents obtained a couple hundred seats in blocks of three,” but the paper said they were unable to sell most of them.

Taft attended a make-up game, necessitated by a June 9 postponement.

“(Cubs management) had no set of reserved and box seat tickets for (the make-up date).  Instead the regular set printed for the game of June 9, which was postponed, was revised for president’s day…when (scalpers) tried to hawk and dispose of them around the ‘L’ stations and elsewhere prospective buyers were seeing the date ‘June 9,’ became suspicious and would not buy.  Consequently, practically all the seats the scalpers purchased were left in their hands.”

taftcartoon

A syndicated cartoon that appeared the day before the game.

In addition to shutting down the scalpers, the paper said the Cubs went to great lengths to ensure that the game would be incident free:

“Few of those who thronged the park knew of the preparations made to insure safety not only of the nation’s chief but of every person present, nor how ‘carefully the seat reserved for President Taft was guarded from danger that might arise from the presence of any crank.

“On the day before the game the entire plant was inspected by the police and building departments.  Wednesday night three watchmen spent the night in the park.  From early morning two Pinkerton men remained beneath the section of the stand in which the president’s seat was located, and from noon until the president left the grounds there were twelve detectives and secret service men directly beneath that section of the stand.

“The actual number of guardians of the president was close to 500 aside from his own immediate bodyguard.”

The paper said the security force included 50 Secret Service agents, 60 Chicago police detectives and nearly 400 uniformed officers.

The overflow crowd 0f nearly 30,000 watched the Giants behind Christy Mathewson further dash the Cubs pennant hopes with a 2 to 1 victory–over Mordecai Brown–dropping the Cubs six and a half games behind the Pittsburg Pirates.

tafttenney

President Taft meets Giants first baseman Fred Tenney after the game.

The visit by Taft–and his interest in baseball in general–was, important for the game according to The Chicago Daily News:

“The prestige which baseball gains by numbering among its admirers a President of the United States who has graced three major league diamonds during the current season is inestimable.”

Taft attended games at Washington’s American League Park and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh in addition to his Chicago trip.  His presence sent a message to the public that:

“(I)t’s leading citizen, blessed with a clear mind and a great one, approves of its favorite pastime.”

The paper said that while at the game in Chicago, “Taft for an hour and 30 minutes…ate popcorn and drank lemonade as simply as a big boy enjoying a long-expected holiday.”

And, the paper said, his interest in the game was real:

“President Taft is not a baseball fan because it is the popular pastime, but because he is one and because he not only likes the game, but knows it.  That was manifest by the closeness with which he followed each play, scarcely ever taking his eyes off the ball while it was in action.  A leading constituent might be confiding an important party secret to the presidential left eat while another citizen whose name appears often in headlines might be offering congratulations on the outcome of the battle for revision downward to the right auricle, but while both ears were absorbing messages from friends both presidential eyes were steadily watching Christy Mathewson and the Giants revise downward the standing of the Cubs.”

Taft attended games at major league ballparks 10 more times during his presidency.

Lost Advertisements–“Spark plug of Huggins’ Machine”

17 Apr

cozydolanA 1915 Coca-Cola ad featuring Albert “Cozy” Dolan of the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Like chooses like–no wonder the ‘spark plug of (Manager Miller) Huggins‘ machine’  likes this live wire beverage.”

Dolan, a 32-year-old utility infielder and outfielder who had never appeared in more than 100 games in a season before 1914, was an unlikely spokesman, given that most Coca-Cola ads of the period featured the game’s biggest stars.

He stole 42 bases for the Cardinals in 1914, but he hit just .240. In 1915, he hit .280 and stole 17 bases in 111 games.

While hardly great numbers, Dolan’s time in St. Louis was a huge success when compared with his disastrous 35-game tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Dolan was traded to the Pirates by the Philadelphia Phillies for third baseman Bobby Byrne and pitcher Howie Camnitz in August of 1913 and became the team’s starting third baseman but hit .203, had a fielding percentage of .937 and became the target of angry fans.

Cozy Dolan

Cozy Dolan

Richard Guy of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described his time with the Pirates:

“He looked bad and he was object of revile by those who criticize, and he failed.”

Joe Kelly of The Pittsburgh Chronicle said:

“No player ever was ridden harder by players and fans than was the former International League speed boy when he performed at Forbes Field.  Perhaps few who held down a berth regularly ever deserved more criticism, for his performances were on the awful order.  But it’s a hard job to make good when hoots and howls follow every poor play, and the few successful ones are greeted with ironical applause.  Dolan got off wrong at Forbes Field and he seemed to be sensitive, too sensitive, to the crowd’s attitude.  There comes to mind a scene last summer when the Pirates were leaving their club house.  They came out in twos and threes, laughing and joking, but among the first was Dolan, all alone.  His face was strained and drawn and worried.  He had failed that day, and he knew it…The fans poured their criticism on his head, and he sat tight and took it without a whimper.  There is something in a guy like that, or the major league managers wouldn’t keep him sticking around.”

Dolan stopped “sticking around” after 1915.  Huggins released his “spark plug” at the end of the season.  He returned to the minor leagues, playing three seasons in the American Association, then became a coach for the New York Giants in 1922.

In 1924, received a lifetime ban from Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis for his role in an attempt to fix a game.

 

“King of the Sandlots”

13 Aug

Not every baseball legend had a long professional career.

“King of the Sandlots” and “Pittsburgh’s Satchel Paige” is what they called Ralph “Felix” Mellix when the former Negro League and barnstorming pitcher announced his retirement from the Semi-pro 18th Ward Team in Pittsburgh’s South Hills League.  Mellix retired every year for a decade only to return again the next season until he was 60.

Ralph “Felix” Mellix

 Almost all of the statistics compiled by Mellix are lost to history, “officially” Mellix appeared in two professional games in his late 30s, one for the Newark Dodgers in 1934 and another the following season for the Homestead Grays, posting an undistinguished ERA of 12.54. Mellix was said to have spent short stints with the Chicago American Giants in 1915 and the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the early 30s, where he was said to be Paige’s roommate, but no records exist of his time with either team.  He pitched for the Crawfords a few times in the 40s in exhibition games, including one against the Chicago Brown Bombers in Milwaukee in 1944.

Like many African American players who began their careers during the first two decades of the twentieth century, Mellix barnstormed and played semi-pro ball for most of his career.  Mellix toured with Jesse Owens when the Olympic Heroes’ was barnstorming with his Toledo Crawfords in 1939.

Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1896, Mellix began playing for his father’s Mellix A.C. Stars semi-pro team at 12 years old.  Mellix began his career as a pitcher in 1915 and spent the next 40 years pitching in an estimated 1500 games, winning more than 600 according to James A. Riley in his book The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro League Baseball Leagues.

Mellix starred for the powerful Brown’s Colored Stars team in Youngstown Ohio during the mid-20s, sharing mound duties with George Brannigan and Admiral Walker, who also had short professional careers in Negro League baseball.

Brown’s Colored Stars 1924

At the close of his semi-pro career in Pittsburgh, Mellix continued to barnstorm, billing himself as “Baseball’s Oldest Pitcher,” including an appearance with Paige at Forbes Field in 1965 when Paige was traveling with the New York Stars.

Mellix will never haves a bust in Cooperstown, but the Hall of Fame does include his papers and mementos, including a 1946 contract offer from the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers, Joe Hall’s Hillsdale Club transplanted to Brooklyn at the behest of Branch Rickey.  Mellix, employed by the city of Pittsburgh, said he didn’t want to jeopardize his pension to play pro ball at 49 years of age.

Mellix remained a legend in Pittsburgh until his death on March 23, 1985.