Tag Archives: Fort Worth Panthers

Lost Advertisements: Lil Stoner for Mail Pouch

21 Jun

stoner

A 1928 advertisement for Mail Pouch Tobacco featuring Detroit Tigers pitcher Ulysses Simpson Grant “Lil” Stoner:

“Mail Pouch can be chewed all day long without causing a sign of heartburn.”

The following season–Stoner’s final with the Tigers–The Detroit Free Press determined that the pitcher was “jinx” for certain teammates:

“It shall be the fate of those who room with Lil Stoner to trek back over the trail of the minors.”

The paper said “nothing can save,” the players fated to have roomed with Stoner during his time with Detroit:

“King ‘Jinx’ speaks and his word is law. To be a ‘roomie’ of Stoner voluntarily is the next thing to suicide.”

The Free Press said the most recent victim of the  “jinx” was Al “Red” Wingo, who was sold to the San Francisco Seals after rooming with Stoner in 1928:

“Before ‘Red’ were (Johnny) Bassler, (Josh) Billings, (Jess) Doyle, (Clyde) Barfoot, (Les) Burke, and Rufus Clark.”

Bassler was released and joined the Hollywood Stars in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) after rooming with Stoner in 1927. Billings was sent to Reading Keytones in the American Association while rooming with Stoner in 1927. Stoner and Doyle were also roommates in 1927 when the latter was sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the International League, Barfoot suffered the same fate in 1926–he was released by the Tigers while rooming with Stoner and joined the Mission Bells in the PCL; Stoner’s final roommate in 1926 was Burke, who was released after the season and went to Toronto.  Clark roomed with Stoner in 1924 before being released to the Birmingham Barons in the Southern Association.

The paper suggested:

“Were Babe Ruth a roommate of Stoner he would contrive some way to break his neck. The jinx is more certain than death and taxes, and the only way to stop it is to shoot Stoner or lose him in the desert.”

The solution, according to The Free Press was to room Stoner with coach George McBride for the 1929 season because “George is going to remain.”

It was Stoner who finally succumbed to the “jinx” in 1929, after posting a 3-3 record and 5.29 ERA and finished the season with the Fort Worth Panthers in the Texas League

“There were Absurd Errors, Collisions, Accidents, Spectacular Batting”

2 Mar

William Henry “Josh” Reilly had a memorable big league debut for the Chicago Colts in 1896.

Josh Reilly

Josh Reilly

Reilly filled in at shortstop for Bill Dahlen in a May 2 game against the St. Louis Browns.  The Chicago Tribune said Dahlen was “(E)ngaged at home in holding a hot water bag against a turbulent tooth.”

While the toothache story was reported in the Chicago papers, The Sporting Life was not sold on the reason for the hard-drinking Dahlen’s absence:

“Dahlen laid off—was sick, or—well, you know Dahlen.”

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen

The Chicago Inter Ocean called the game “Worse than cough medicine,” and said:

“Of all the untabulated, unscheduled, unexpected, terrible, heartrending, frayed-out exhibitions of something or another that must be classed under the head of baseball, yesterday’s game with St. Louis was the worst.”

The Tribune said:

 “There were absurd errors, collisions, accidents, spectacular batting.”

Reilly was responsible for three of those “absurd errors,” and some of the “spectacular batting,” going 2 for 6 in his debut; he was also responsible for what The Tribune called “The electrifying feature of the game.”

The Inter Ocean described what happened:

(Monte) Cross got to first because (Chicago first baseman) George Decker thought his arm was as long as the legs of a man who has to stand on a ladder to comb his hair.  His arm was short by about six feet.  Then (Tom) Parrott made a single to center… (Duff) Cooley knocked a hot liner, and everybody started to sprint.  Reilly was playing at short, and stuck his finger nail into a loose stitch just as the ball shot past him.  He slammed it to (Harry) Truby, where Cross should have been, but was not, and Truby in turn, tossed it over to Decker to fondle while Parrott endeavored to correct himself.”

That game was the only highlight in Reilly’s major league career.  He played a total of nine games in Chicago—the other 8 at second base—and made a total of 11 errors.  And, after going 2 for 6 in his debut, he was just 6 for 36 thereafter.   Then, in late May Reilly became ill—accounts varied regarding what the illness was, The Sporting News said it was typhoid fever, The Sporting Life, and The Chicago Daily News said pneumonia.

Reilly returned home to the West Coast.  By September, his debut heroics were long forgotten, The Tribune simply said:

“(Reilly) was a disappointment and he was released.”

Despite his brief and relatively inauspicious big league career, Reilly was a popular minor leaguer for more than a decade.

An often told story about him, alleged to have taken place the year before his short trial in Chicago, illustrates just how superstitious 19th Century players could be.

The earliest telling was in 1897 in The Tribune, and it appeared on several occasions, in several papers, over the next 15 years with various embellishments.  There was no byline on the original story, but it was likely written by Hugh Fullerton–who retold it himself several times.

Reilly spent the 1895 season in Texas, playing with the San Antonio Missionaries and the Fort Worth Panthers in the Texas-Southern League.  Reilly opened the season with the Missionaries, who got off to a horrible start; they won just three of their first 28 games:

“The team was discouraged and sore.  They held a meeting and were on the verge of firing their mascot or committing violence upon his person when Josh Reilly…came to the rescue with a new proposition.  The mascot was put into a full dress coat, with gray baseball trousers and a silk hat, and the bats, some half a score of them, were pulled upon his back.  Then the team formed in line and marched down to the hotel, where “The Divine Healer,” Schlatter was stopping.”

Francis Schlatter was, at that time, walking across the American Southwest gaining fame and followers.  Three years earlier he had come to believe he received a “directive from God” to heal the sick, and became a messianic figure for many during his brief time in the spotlight.

Francis Schlatter

Francis Schlatter, “The Divine Healer”

“The divine was brought forth and made to pronounce a blessing upon the bats…and through all the season those inspired bats continued to give out base hits., and the team went close to the top of the league.”

While Reilly never disputed the story–and seemed to tell it himself on occasion–Fullerton’s ending was pure fiction. San Antonio continued to struggle and blessed or not, the Missionaries’ bats were mostly silent all season–the team never left the cellar and was 21-72 in August when they disbanded.

Josh Reilly, 1930--he died in San Francisco in 1938.

Josh Reilly, 1930–he died in San Francisco in 1938.

In different versions of the story, it was claimed that Reilly still used one or more of the “blessed bats.”  In another, Reilly “Hit .344” with one of the bats “and after he broke that bat he hit .189 for the rest of the season.”

Fullerton had one more Reilly story that he told often–first appearing in 1906 but recycled frequently for two decades–this one about his fielding troubles during his brief stay in Chicago and the impact the ire of fans has on a struggling player:

“(Reilly) was pretty bad as a fielder, and getting no better rapidly.  the jeers, hisses and hoots of the crowd merely made him mad.  He wanted to fight back.  His Irish blood was boiling.  For a time it seemed as if he would win and prove himself a great ball player merely by his nerve in playing at all under such a constant shower of criticism.  But one day Josh got through.  I found him frothing at the mouth out at the club house.  He was done.  He never would play again–unless he got a chance to kill a certain man.  When he grew calm enough.  I discovered the cause of it.

“‘He was a big man sitting in the bleachers’ said Josh.  ‘While they were all yelling at me for booting a hot one, he sat still.  I saw him and  said to myself ‘there’s one friend of mine up there.’  He never said a word until the seventh inning.  Then he stood up, stretched himself, walked down two or three steps and yelled:  ‘Reilly, you’re a disgrace to the Irish!’  If I had him I’d killed him.'”

“Calvo May Come Out But No One Cares”

5 Jun

Jacinto Calvo and San Francisco Seals owner Charlie Graham were unable to come to terms on a contract for 1918, and the local press quickly turned on the outfielder.

The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“(Calvo) is a simple-minded Cuban boy…When he is hitting he can go around the bases in nothing flat.  When he has a batting slump, he develops water on the knee and can hardly limp up to the plate.”

He remained in Cuba and served as a police officer in Havana.

It was rumored again in 1919 that Calvo might return to the Seals, but The Chronicle, under the headline “Calvo May Come Out But No One Cares,” made it clear that twelve months had not softened opinions about the holdout outfielder:

“Calvo has written friends that he wants to come back, but if he stays in that dear old Havana until Charlie Graham coaxes him back, he will grow whiskers a foot long.  Graham really tried to get Calvo last year, for he was in a bad way for lack of outfielders, but if there is any coaxing to be done this year, Calvo will do it.”

Calvo

Calvo

Terms were not reached for 1919, and Calvo remained in Havana for another year.

In February of 1920 The Chronicle said Calvo, “Who bobs up every year about this time,” had written Graham saying he wanted to return to the Seals, then in March the paper reported that “The Havana World” said that Calvo “has joined the Franklin, PA independent team together with (Manuel) Cueto.”

Neither report proved true; instead, Calvo was signed by Clark Griffith for a second tour of duty with the Washington Senators.  In 17 games he had only one hit, a triple, in 23 at-bats before being sent to the Little Rock Travelers in the Southern Association in July.

Calvo could not hit American League pitching, but no one questioned his throwing arm; except teammate Stanley “Bucky” Harris.  The future Hall of Famer wrote in 1925, in a series of articles he wrote for The North American Newspaper Alliance, that his doubts about Calvo’s arm almost cost him his career:

“I thought I could hurl a baseball farther than anyone on the club and entered into a contest with Jack Calvo, an outfielder.  The Cuban has a reputation for having a great arm.  I had won a long-distance throwing contest…while with the Buffalo club.  That convinced me I could hold my own.”

Despite being warned against taking on Calvo by teammate Clyde Milan, Harris went ahead with the contest, the two stood in the infield:

“(Calvo) cut loose.  He threw the ball over the right field bleacher wall.  I realized it was a truly wonderful peg.”

Harris said he was concerned about being caught by manager Clark Griffith and rushed his throw:

“My elbow cracked as the ball left my hand.  It sounded to me as if a board had been broken across a fence…The ball dropped yards inside the park.”

Harris said for three weeks he “wondered if I ever would be able to throw a ball again.”  By the time Harris returned to the lineup, Calvo was on his way to Little Rock where he hit .306.

From 1921 through 1926 Calvo spent his summers playing baseball in the states; most notably in Fort Worth, where he helped lead the Texas league Panthers to two Dixie Series victories over the Southern Association champions in 1923 and ’24.  His winters were spent working as a lieutenant in Havana’s Harbor police and playing baseball in the Cuban League.

Calvo’s career ended abruptly in September of 1926.  The San Antonio Light reported that the former Fort Worth outfielder, then with the Memphis Chickasaws in the Southern Association “must forego baseball…and return to his job, his leave of absence was about to expire, and he packed up and beat it for a boat.”

Calvo played briefly in Cuba that winter but never played professionally again.  He was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1948 and died in Miami in 1965.

Jim Lillie

28 May

The Sporting Life described Jim Lillie as “one of the most sensational of right fielders,” and “the rival of Mike (King) Kelly in the position.”  The New Haven Register said he earned his nickname “grasshopper”  as a result of his “agility in the outfield.”

His career was brief, and his short post-baseball life was tragic.

The 21-year-old Connecticut native was said to have been discovered by “Orator Jim” O’Rourke “on the lots and commons of New Haven.”  He played his first professional game on May 17, 1883 with the Buffalo Bisons in the National League.  Lillie appeared in 50 games, hitting .234. In November his hometown newspaper, The New Haven Register, got his position wrong (saying he was used primarily as a catcher—he caught in two games), but said “his record was highly credible,” and that he had already signed for the 1884 season.

Jim Lillie

Jim Lillie

Lillie spent two more seasons in Buffalo; leading the team in games played both seasons.  In 1884 he led National League outfielders with 41 assists; his 40 errors also led the league.  He committed 33 errors the following season; he hit .223 and .249 for the Bisons.  When the team disbanded after the 1885 season, his contract was assigned by the National League to the Kansas City Cowboys, who had been admitted to the league on a trial basis.

He had, for him, a typical season in the field: 30 errors (third in league), 30 assists (second) and 199 putouts (third).  He also had one of the all-time worst performances at the plate; hitting .175 in 426 at bats, with only nine extra base hits (all doubles), he finished the season with 82 total bases—for identical .197 on base and slugging percentages.

The 30-91 Cowboys were dissolved in February of 1887, with the players being sold to the league.

Lillie remained in Kansas City, and had the best season of his career with the Cowboys, now in the Western League.  He also met an 18-year-old woman named Nellie O’Shea, the daughter of a wealthy Kansas City contractor and said The Kansas City Star, “a young lady highly spoken of.”

Lillie, playing primarily in left field, hit .369; a hitter’s haven, the Western League leader, Jimmy Macullar hit .464, and Lillie’s average was good for 34th best in the league.

On December 29, 1887 Lillie married Nellie O’Shea.

He joined the Fort Worth Panthers in the Texas League around June 1 of 1888, but left the team in less than two weeks.  The Dallas Morning News said he was released, The New Haven Register said he left Texas to be with his wife and go to work for his father-in-law, “(Lillie) promised her to settle down,” and planned on returning to baseball for the 1889 season.

He never had the chance to return to the game.  On September 10, 1888, the Lillie’s child was stillborn.  Two days later, a fire broke out in their home.  The Associated Press said:

“(Nellie) was making preparations for supper when the accident occurred…She had moved the gasoline stove too near the cooking stove and in filling the reservoir with gasoline some of it became ignited.  The flames at once enveloped her…(Lillie) entered at that moment or (she) would have been burned to death…Lillie did not notice his own condition until after he had summoned  a physician.”

Mrs. Lillie lingered for nearly three weeks before dying of her injuries on October 4.  Lillie, who had attempted to remove his wife’s burning clothes, had his hands burned “down to the bone,” and initial reports said he’d have to have some of his fingers amputated.  There’s no record of how well his hands recovered, but he never played baseball again.

He stayed in Kansas City and according to The Kansas City Star “managed (Nellie’s) estate.”  Within two years he would contract typhoid fever, and he died November 9, 1890.  The Star said his last words were to a friend at his bedside:

“I am afraid, Charlie, it is three strikes and out.”

The 1888 Texas Southern League

17 Jan

The Texas Southern League was in existence for half of one season; the reason for its creation was that the Dallas Hams were just too good a team in 1888.

In the winter of 1887 the Texas League was formed with six teams: the Dallas Hams, Austin Senators, Fort Worth Panthers, Galveston Giants, Houston Babies and San Antonio Missionaries.  Representatives from the Memphis Grays and New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern League, which was struggling to replace teams that had folded, also attended the meeting and lobbied for the league to be expanded to eight teams, but the six Texas-based teams voted not to include them;   New Orleans and Memphis joined the 4-team (down from 7) incarnation of the Southern League, which also included the Birmingham Maroons and Charleston Sea Gulls.

Charlie Levis, who had played Major League ball in The Union Association and American Association in 1884 and ’85 was named manager and played 1st base for Dallas.  Levis, a St. Louis native, brought in several Missourians including some who had spent time in the Major Leagues and built a strong team.

The Sporting News said Levis:

“Signed a team of professionals for Dallas that would do credit to almost any league in the country…They are all splendid fielders and batsmen and fair base runners.”

The team was so strong according to The Dallas Morning News that:

“So good was the Dallas team that club after club dropped out after repeated drubbings at its hands.  Dallas won so many consecutive victories that the other cities lost their appetite for baseball and withdrew.”

By late June, Dallas led the league with a winning percentage above .800; Austin and Fort Worth had dropped out and all the remaining teams were losing money with players often going several weeks between paydays.  At the same time, the Southern League was collapsing.  In early July, a deal was struck to create the five-team Texas Southern League with New Orleans joining Dallas, Galveston, Houston and San Antonio.

The 1888 Dallas Hams--Identifiable players: Front right Bill Goodenough, front left, Pat Whitaker, seated left, Ducky Hemp, standing left Charlie Levis, standing right John Fogerty,

The 1888 Dallas Hams–Identifiable players:
Front right Bill Goodenough, front left Ducky Hemp, seated left Pat Whitaker, standing left Charlie Levis, standing right John Fogarty,

While New Orleans provided some much-needed competition for Dallas the Texas Southern League half-season was not much different from the Texas League half-season.  Dallas finished with a winning percentage of .826, New Orleans finished second followed by San Antonio, Galveston and Houston.  The Morning News said on the final day of the season:

“The league is dead, and the Dallas club carries off the glory, waves high the pennant, and stands the champion club not only of the league but of all the South.”

The following season Austin and Fort Worth rejoined and the Waco Babies replaced the San Antonio Missionaries to again form a six-team Texas league; New Orleans returned to the Southern League, and the Texas Southern League was finished.

The story of one member of the 1888 Dallas Hams tomorrow.

Assumed Names II

9 Oct

Players using assumed names were common enough during professional baseball’s first four decades that some players still exist in the record books as separate individuals.

John Berkel is one such case.  He has four separate listing on Baseball Reference.

The “official” record for John H. Berkel begins in 1910 with the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association and ends in 1914 with the Fort Forth Panthers of the Texas League.

That was the second half of his career.

Under the name John Bierkotte he started playing pro ball with the Mattoon-Charleston Canaries in the Kitty League when he was 20 years old.

A slick fielding, weak hitting shortstop and third baseman, Berkel, as John Bierkotte, played with the Jacksonville Jays and Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic League from 1907-1910 (further complicating the trail of Berkel-Bierkotte is that Baseball reference lists him as “Bierkortte” on the Jays’ 1909 roster with a unique player listing).

John Bierkotte with the Augusta Tourists, 1909

On June 30, 1910 John Bierkotte was acquired by Atlanta from Augusta.

John Bierkotte made his debut with the Crackers on August 1.  On August 2 the Atlanta Constitution said:

“John Berkel.  You fans will have to learn to call our new shortstop by that name, for that is really his name…When he first broke into baseball he was trifle afraid he might not make good and rather than cause the laugh to be thrown on him, he decided to change his name.  This he did, and he chose Bierkotte, a weird name, as the one.”

John Berkel 1910

Berkel received high marks for his fielding but struggled at the plate and hit only .207 for Atlanta.  At the end of the 1910 season he was sold to Albany in the South Atlantic League.  From there he went to the Scranton Miners in the New York Penn League in 1912.  The “official” listing for Berkel only adds 10 games with Fort Worth in 1914.

The rest of his career is under the listing “Berkel.”

Berkel spent 1914 on the West Coast, playing for the Fresno Packers of the California State League.  After those 10 games in Fort Worth he played for the Decatur Commodores in the Three-I League, and then was sold to the Peoria Distillers in the same league.  Berkel was offered a contract by Peoria for 1915, but chose to retire and move to the west coast.

The Berkel trail runs cold until 1926 when he turns up as a 40-year-old infielder for the Spokane Eagles in the semi-pro Idaho-Washington League.

Berkel continued to live in Spokane until his death in 1975.  There is no record of why he chose the name Bierkotte.