Tag Archives: Frank Bancroft

Grantland Rice’s “All-Time All-Star Round up”

10 Aug

In December of 1917, thirty-eight-year-old sportswriter Grantland Rice of The New York Tribune enlisted in the army–he spent fourteen months in Europe.  Before he left he laid out the case, over two weeks, for an all-time all-star team in the pages of the paper:

“As we expect to be held to a restricted output very shortly, due to the exigencies and demands of the artillery game, this seemed to be a fairly fitting period to unfold the results.”

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

Rice said the selections were “not solely from our own limited observation, extending over a period of some eighteen or twenty years,” but included input from players, managers and sportswriters, including  “such veterans” as Frank Bancroft and Clark Griffith, and baseball writers Joe Vila of The New York Sun, Bill Hanna of The New York Herald and Sam Crane, the former major league infielder turned sportswriter of The New York Journal.

Rice said only one of the nine selections “(S)eems to rest in doubt.  The others were almost unanimously backed.”

The selections:

Pitcher:  Christy Mathewson

A. G. Spalding, John (Montgomery) Ward, Larry Corcoran, Charley Radbourn, John Clarkson, (Thomas) Toad Ramsey, Tim Keefe, Bill Hoffer, Amos Rusie, (Mordecai) Miner Brown, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh–the array is almost endless.

“In the matter of physical stamina, Cy Young has outclassed the field.  Cy won more games than almost any others ever pitched.

“(But) For all the pitching mixtures and ingredients, stamina, steadiness, brilliancy, brains, control, speed, curves, coolness, courage, is generally agreed that no man has ever yet surpassed Christy Mathewson…there has never been another who had more brains or as fine control.”

 

[…]

“It might be argued that Radbourn or (Walter) Johnson or (Grover Cleveland) Alexander was a greater pitcher than Mathewson.

But we’ll string with Matty against the field.”

Radbourn was the second choice.  Bancroft said:

“Radbourn was more like Mathewson than any pitcher I ever saw.  I mean by that, that like Matty, he depended largely upon brains and courage and control, like Matty he had fine speed and the rest of it.  Radbourn was a great pitcher, the best of the old school beyond any doubt.”

Catcher:  William “Buck” Ewing

“Here we come to a long array—Frank (Silver) Flint, Charley Bennett, (Charles “Chief”) Zimmer, (James “Deacon”) McGuire, (Wilbert) Robinson, (Marty) Bergen(Johnny) Kling, (Roger) Bresnahan and various others.

“But the bulk of the votes went to Buck Ewing.”

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

[…]

“Wherein did Ewing excel?

“He was a great mechanical catcher.  He had a wonderful arm and no man was surer of the bat…he had a keen brain, uncanny judgment, and those who worked with him say that he had no rival at diagnosing the  weakness of opposing batsman, or at handling his pitchers with rare skill.”

Kling was the second choice:

“Kling was fairly close…a fine thrower, hard hitter, and brilliant strategist…But as brilliant as Kling was over a span of years, we found no one who placed him over the immortal Buck.”

1B Fred Tenney

First Base was the one position with “the greatest difference of opinion,” among Rice and the others:

“From Charlie Comiskey to George Sisler is a long gap—and in that gap it seems that no one man has ever risen to undisputed heights… There are logical arguments to be offered that Hal Chase or Frank Chance should displace Fred Tenney at first.

But in the way of batting and fielding records Tenney wins….Of the present array, George Sisler is the one who has the best chance of replacing Tenney.”

2B Eddie Collins

 “There was no great argument about second base.

“The vote was almost unanimous.

“From the days of Ross Barnes, a great hitter and a good second baseman on through 1917, the game has known many stars.  But for all-around ability the game has known but one Eddie Collins.”

Rice said the competition was between Collins, Napoleon Lajoie and Johnny Evers:

“Of these Lajoie was the greatest hitter and most graceful workman.

“Of these Evers was the greatest fighter and the more eternally mentally alert.

“But for batting and base running, fielding skill, speed and the entire combination, Collins was voted on top.”

 SS Honus Wagner

“Here, with possibly one exception, is the easiest pick of the lot.  The game has been replete with star shortstops with George Wright in 1875 to (Walter “Rabbit”) Maranville, (George “Buck”) Weaver…There were (Jack) Glasscock and (John Montgomery) Ward, (Hardy) Richards0n, (Hugh) Jennings, (Herman)Long, (Joe) Tinker and (Jack) Barry.

“But there has been only one Hans Wagner.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Jennings and Long were rated second and third,  “But, with the entire list  considered there is no question but that Wagner stands at the top.”

3B Jimmy Collins

Rice said:

“From the days of (Ned) Williamson(Jerry) Denny, and (Ezra) Sutton, over thirty years ago, great third basemen have only appeared at widely separated intervals.

“There have been fewer great third basemen in baseball than at any other position, for there have been periods when five or six years would pass without an undoubted star.”

The final decision came down to “John McGraw vs. Jimmy Collins.”  McGraw was “a great hitter, a fine bunter and a star base runner,” while “Collins was a marvel and a marvel over a long stretch…he was good enough to carve out a .330 or a .340 clip (and) when it came to infield play at third he certainly had no superior…So taking his combined fielding and batting ability against that of McGraw and Collins wins the place.  McGraw was a trifle his superior on the attack. But as a fielder there was no great comparison, Collins leading by a number of strides.”

 

OF Ty Cobb

“The supply here is overwhelming…Yet the remarkable part is that when we offered our selection to a jury of old players, managers and veteran scribes there was hardly a dissenting vote.”

[…]

“Number one answers itself.  A man who can lead the league nine years in succession at bat.

“A man who can lead his league at bat in ten out of eleven seasons.

“A man who can run up the record for base hits and runs scored in a year—also runs driven in.

“Well, the name Ty Cobb answers the rest of it.”

OF Tris Speaker

 “The man who gives Cobb the hardest battle is Tris Speaker.  Veteran observers like Clark Griffith all say that Speaker is the greatest defensive outfielder baseball has ever exploited…Speaker can cover more ground before a ball is pitched than any man.  And if he guesses incorrectly, which he seldom does, he can go a mile to retrieve his error in judgment…And to this impressive defensive strength must be added the fact he is a powerful hitter, not only a normal .350 man, but one who can tear the hide off the ball for extra bases.”

Tris Speaker "hardest hit"

Tris Speaker 

OF “Wee Willie” Keeler

Mike Kelly and Joe KelleyJimmy Sheckard and Fred Clarke—the slugging (Ed) Delehanty—the rare Bill LangeBilly Hamilton.

“The remaining list is a great one, but how can Wee Willie Keeler be put aside?

“Ask Joe Kelley, or John McGraw, or others who played with Keeler and who remember his work.

“Keeler was one of the most scientific batsmen that ever chopped a timely single over third or first…And Keeler was also a great defensive outfielder, a fine ground coverer—a great thrower—a star in every department of play.

“Mike Kelly was a marvel, more of an all-around sensation, but those who watched the work of both figure Keeler on top.”

Rice said of the nine selections:

“The above is the verdict arrived at after discussions with managers, players and writers who have seen a big section of the long parade, and who are therefore able to compare the stars of today with the best men of forgotten years.

“Out of the thousands of fine players who have made up the roll call of the game since 1870 it would seem impossible to pick nine men and award them the olive wreath.  In several instances the margin among three or four is slight.

“But as far a s deductions, observations, records and opinions go, the cast named isn’t very far away from an all-time all-star round up, picked for ability, stamina, brains, aggressiveness and team value.

“If it doesn’t stick, just what name from above could you drop?”

“Sweeney was Drunk, but I didn’t Know it”

22 Aug

In 1884 Frank Bancroft’s Providence Grays won the National League pennant and defeated the American Association’s New York Metropolitans in the World Series—the first post-season exhibition to be called the World Series.  Late in 1896 he told a reporter for The Boston Post his version of the story of the turning point in that season:

Frank Bancroft

Frank Bancroft

 

“We were leading the championship race (the Grays were in 2nd place at the time of the game in question).  Both (Charles) Sweeney and (Charles “Old Hoss”) Radbourne were pitching in grand style.  In those days you couldn’t take a player out of the game and put another one in his place unless he was sick.  I wanted to save my pitchers all I could.  One day we were playing the Bostons (Bancroft was incorrect; the game was against the Philadelphia Quakers on July 22).  I had (Joseph) Cyclone Miller in right field and Sweeney in the box.  I told Joe Start, who was captain of the team that if we got far enough ahead in the game to take Sweeney out of the box and bring in Miller.  I did this to save Sweeney’s arm.  In the sixth inning we had a lead of 7 to 2 (the score was 6 to 2).  I told Start to make the change.  He asked Sweeney to go out in the field.  Sweeney was drunk, but I didn’t know it.  Start’s request made Sweeney mad.  He didn’t take it in the way it was meant.  He walked off the field.  I went after him, but couldn’t get him to come back.

“He called me a vile name.  The president of the club (J. Edward “Ned” Allen) went to him and asked him what he meant, and he called him everything vile on the calendar.  Sweeney was very drunk.  We had to finish the game with eight men, and the Bostons [sic] beat us out (Providence lost 10 to 6).  The directors of the club had a meeting that night, expelled Sweeney and came within an ace of breaking up.  In fact, they did vote to disband.”

Charlie Sweeney

Charlie Sweeney

With Sweeney gone, the team was left without their two top pitchers.  Bancroft had suspended Radbourn earlier in the month, and he was still sitting out at the time—Radbourne was unhappy sharing the pitching duties and was rumored to be heading to the St. Louis Maroons in the Union Association–The Providence Evening Press in describing Sweeney’s July 22 outburst said he had “caught Radbourn’s complaint.”

Picking up the story in The Post, Bancroft said:

“They said there was no use of going on with one pitcher.  I said to President Allen: ‘If you will give me authority to tell Radbourne that you will not reserve him at the end of the season, I can get him to pitch all the rest of the games this year.’  ‘All right,’ said Allen, ‘you have that authority.’  I found old Rad at his boarding house.  I told him about the proposition.  ‘It’s a go,’ said Rad.  ‘I’ll get rid of reservation if I lose my arm.  I’ll pitch all the other championship games this season.”

Radbourn did not pitch “all the other” games that season but did pitch 75—with 73 complete games, 678 2/3 innings.  Bancroft said of his pitcher:

“It was the greatest feat of endurance I ever witnessed.  Rad was in awful shape before it was all over…Why, (his arm) hurt him so bad when he would get up in the morning that he couldn’t get it up high enough to fasten his collar button.  He had to comb his hair with his left hand.  It used to make me shudder to look at him, but he was gritty.  He would go out in the afternoon before the game, and instead of loosening up by easy pitching, as pitchers do nowadays, he would go in the field and throw the ball just as far as he could.  He would throw for ten or fifteen minutes, until he got wound up, and then he would go in to pitch a winning game.”

"Old Hoss" Radbourn

“Old Hoss” Radbourn

Bancroft said the pitcher “could split the plate any time he wanted to,” and that during “morning practice, to show what he could do, Radbourn would set a pop bottle on the home plate and knock it down three out of four times.”

The release of Sweeney had an immediate positive effect on the Grays.  On the day of the incident, The Evening Press said: “The pennant is no doubt out of the reach of Providence this year.”

The following day, after Radbourn pitched the team to an 11 to 5 over the New York Gothams, the paper’s outlook brightened:

“The summary expulsion of Sweeney for crookedness seemed to have a salutary effect, on Wednesday, for the purging of the club of such a bad egg resulted in a better class of patrons on the grand stand than for many weeks.  The attendance throughout was better than the management had looked for after the airing of Sweeney’s revolt, about 700 being present. “(There were just 450 in the stands the day before for “Sweeney’s revolt”)

Sweeney had not yet left for St. Louis and the paper took the opportunity to take one final shot at the pitcher:

“Sweeney is still about town, and wherever he goes the women whom he escorted to the ball game on Tuesday are seen with him.  The conduct of this fellow is shameful, and he will regret it when he fully wakes up to its enormity.”

The twenty-one-year-old Sweeney pitched the Maroons to the Union Association championship with a 24-7 record and 1.83 ERA.  Whether his arm couldn’t handle the strain, or as a result of his off-field habits, he would only win 16 more games (losing 30), and was out of the major leagues at age 24.

He returned to his home in California and played for teams in the California, Central California Leagues, after his retirement he worked for a short time as a police officer and later worked in saloons around San Francisco.

By the time Bancroft shared his reminiscences of 1884 with The Post, Sweeney was incarcerated in California, and Radbourne was dying in Illinois.

In July of 1894, Sweeney shot a man named Cornelius McManus during an altercation in a bar.  The San Francisco Chronicle said when he was informed the following day that the victim was dead “he broke down and wept bitterly.”  Sweeney was convicted of manslaughter four months later and sentenced to eight years.

The Chronicle said he was released after serving “a little over three years of his sentence,” after which “his health broke down.”  Sweeney died of Tuberculosis in 1902—most sources say he died on April 4—The Call and The Chronicle both said he died on April 3.

Radbourn pitched 1311 innings in 1883 and ’84, and started and won all three games in the 1884 World Series.  Bancroft said that after the Grays won the championship:

“President Allen kept his word, and gave him his release; but Rad didn’t take it.  The club offered him just twice as much salary for the next year.”

Radbourn pitched seven more seasons and finished his career with a 309-194 record.  After being accidentally shot in a hunting accident, and suffering from a variety of ailments, he died in February of 1897.

Bancroft remained in baseball until January of 1921 when he retired a business manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He died two months later at age 74.

Frank Bancroft

14 Jul

When Frank Carter Bancroft died in 1921 at age 74, “Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide” said:

“His executive ability and Knowledge of Base Ball, combined with the fact that he was for sport first and the show element of Base Ball secondarily, rendered him one of the most competent of men to handle the affairs of a professional team.”

Frank Bancroft

Frank Bancroft

While working in the front office of the Reds in 1892, Bancroft talked with Harry Weldon, sports editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer about some of the players who got their start with his teams.  He also didn’t seem to mind taking a swipe at a couple former players:

“Probably no man now before the public except Harry Wright or Adrian C. Anson have had a longer or more varied experience with the intricacies of the great National Game than Frank C. Bancroft.  He never wore the spangles, like a great many other managers, but he has been connected with the game in a managerial capacity since the early seventies.  ‘Bannie’ is one of the wittiest men in the profession and he has a fund of anecdotes about players and plays that are well worth hearing.  Many of the great baseball stars now before the public made their debut under Mr. Bancroft’s management.  Many of them who are now drawing $4,000 or $5,000 a season worked under Bannie for about one-tenth that amount and were glad to get it.  Bancroft was one of the leading lights in the original New England League, which graduated a great many of the stars of today.

“At the present time Mr. Bancroft is business manager of the Cincinnati Reds.  He has nothing whatever to do with the players. All of that part of the club’s affairs being under the supervision of Captain (Charlie) Comiskey.  All Bannie has to do is look after the gate, railroad rates and dates.  The other evening the veteran manager was in The Enquirer office and grew reminiscent.  His recital of the details of the debut of some of the stars is worth reproducing.

Harry Stovey, one of the greatest ballplayers today, began his professional career under Manager Bancroft.  He began his career in the pitcher’s box and graduated out of the ranks of a Philadelphia amateur team called the Defiance in 1877 (the Philadelphia Defiance were a professional team, part of the league Alliance).  Manager Bancroft heard of him, and in 1878 engaged him as a change pitcher for the New Bedfords.  G. Washington ‘Grin’ Bradley was the regular pitcher of the team, and as he was an every-day pitcher Stovey was never allowed an opportunity of displaying his pitching abilities on the New Bedford team.  He had to be content with warming the bench until fate was kind and he had a chance.

Stovey

Harry Stovey

“‘Stovey played his first game with our team at Baltimore,’ said Mr. Bancroft.  ‘we were making an exhibition tour when John Piggot, the first baseman, was taken ill, and as we only carried ten men, Stovey was called on to make an attempt to play first base.  His maiden effort was a brilliant one—so brilliant that it lost Piggott his job and made Stovey a fixture on first.  He had at least twenty putouts, no errors and several cracking hits to his credit that day.  He played the season with us, and his fame spread so that he was signed by the Worcester (Ruby Legs) League team and afterward with the Athletics Stovey’s salary the first season in New Bedford for $50 a month.  Now he is paid nearly that much a game.’

George Gore, the crack center-fieder of the New Yorks is another player who came into prominence with the New Bedfords that year.  Gore’s home was in Maine, at a little town called Saccarappa…Gore was about as green a specimen as ever stepped into the business.  He played a few games with the Fall Rivers, and then the New Bedfords got him.  He was a big, awkward country boy then, but he could run like a deer and hit the ball like a trip hammer.  Gore signed with the New Bedfords under Manager Bancroft for $50 a month, but he did not stay with them long.  His terrific batting attracted the attention of the whole baseball world, and soon the more prominent clubs were after him.  While the Chicagos were in Boston the late lamented (William) Hulbert, President of the National League, who was with them, ran up to New Bedford to have a talk with Gore.  Luck was with big George.  He had his eye with him, and made three home runs in the game.  That feat settled his fate.  Before Hulbert left New Bedford he had Gore’s name to a contract to play in Chicago in 1879 at $150 a month.  His career since that time is well known.  Today he is yet a great hitter, and reached first base as frequently as any player in the business, by either hits, errors or bases on balls.  His ability to reach first causes him to be selected to head the battery list of the New Yorks.

Arthur Irwin is another player whom Manager Bancroft put in the business. ‘He made a grand impression in his opening game with me,” said Manager Bancroft.  ‘I was then manager of the Worcester League team, and we were on the hog train for a while, owing to Charlie Bennett’s glass arm and Buck (William “Farmer”) Weaver’s faint heart.  Matters were so bad that a crisis was at hand.  A meeting of the stockholders of the club was called, and it was voted to place the team in my hands for one month, and if no improvement was shown at the end of that time I was to be given the chase.  It was a dying chance for me, and you could gamble that I had my eyes and ears open for a savior of some kind.  Arthur Irwin was then playing with an amateur team called the Aetnas, of South Boston, and I engaged him to play short with the Worcester.  (J. Lee) Richmond, the once famous left-handed pitcher, who played here with the Reds in 1886, was then with the Brown University team and he was telegraphed to come for a trial.  We played the Chicagos that day, and we shut them out, only one man getting first base.  Irwin made a great hit at short, and Richmond was a wizard.  Irwin was a fifty-dollar-a-month man, and that was the start of his professional career.  Richmond is now a physician at Geneva, Ohio.’”

The game Bancroft referred to was an exhibition between Worcester (a member of the National Association) and the National League’s Chicago White Stockings played on June 2 in Worcester. Richmond walked the first batter, Abner Dalrymple, and then retired the next twenty-one before the game was called after seven innings.  The Chicago Tribune said Richmond struck out 8.  Worcester tagged Frank Hankinson for 12 hits and 11 runs (Chicago also committed 11 errors).  Bancroft was correct that Richmond became a physician, but by 1892, he was no longer practicing and was working as a teacher in Toledo, Ohio.

J. Lee Richmond

J. Lee Richmond

“Big Roger Connor of last season’s New Yorks, but now of Philadelphia, received his professional introduction under Manager Bancroft.  ‘It sounds queer to say that such a cracking hitter as Roger Connor was ever released for poor batting, but such was the case’ said Manager Bancroft

“’I had him with the New Bedfords in 1878, but he was hitting so poorly that I released him.  He afterward signed with the New Havens the same season, but the disbanded.  Roger left New Haven and went to Waterbury, his home, where he joined an amateur team in that city called the Monitors.  Up to that time he had batted right-handed, but he decided to turn around and try it left-handed.  The change saved his life.  He blossomed out as a great slugger, and his reputation has been growing ever since.

“Connor, like Stovey, began his professional career at $50 a month, and has since climbed to the top rung of high salaried players.  Many young players of today should look upon these as examples for honest and temperate habits have enabled them to remain at the head of the profession, while the path is strewn with a multitude of others who might have been where they are if they had not thought this world was a continuous round of gaiety and fun and discovered their mistake when it was too late.”

 

Miah Murray

7 May

Jeremiah “Miah” Murray appeared in only 34 major league games, with four teams between 1884 and 1891.  In 31 games a catcher, he made 29 errors and was charged with 28 passed balls.

During that short career, he also became the subject of two stories which highlighted his shortcomings behind the plate.  Both stories appeared after the fact, so are subject to the usual caveats of 19th-century baseball stories.

Jeremiah "Miah" Murray

Jeremiah “Miah” Murray

In 1894 The New York Sun wrote about the most embarrassing episode Murray’s career—said to have taken place during his rookie season, 1884:

“(Murray) tells about a game he once caught in at Buffalo when he was a member of the Providence team.  There were three men on bases and he threw to (Jerry) Denny to catch a man napping, but the ball never got there.  It hit Jim O’Rourke, who was the batsman, on the side of the head and bounded into the grandstand, three men scoring and winning the game for Buffalo.  Jim staggered and cried out with pain, but the crowd simply cried with glee, O’Rourke’s hurt being entirely lost sight of in the enthusiasm.”

Murray’s manager during that 1884 season was Frank Bancroft who led Providence to the National League championship and a three games to zero victory over the New York Metropolitans of the American Association earning for the first time the title “World Champions” from The Sporting Life.

Frank Bancroft

Frank Bancroft

Bancroft compiled a 375-333 record over parts of nine seasons as a big league manager, before becoming an executive with the Cincinnati Reds.

It was while serving as the Reds’ Business Manager that Bancroft related another story about Murray’s brief time with Bancroft’s championship team.  The story first appeared in The New York  American in 1915:

“’Take it from me,’ said Frank Bancroft, while some of the fans were discussing famous bonehead plays, ‘the old timers pulled some bones that had all you youngsters blocked off the map.  Best I recollect, right now, was sprung by Miah Murray when he was catching for me…With a runner on first Miah steamed back to the stand a made a magnificent catch of a foul fly.  The crowd broke into roars of applause; Murray, leaning against the stand, took off his cap and bowed right and left—and the runner, sizing up the situation, lit out from first, kept right on going, and came all the way around while Miah kept bowing and the rest of the team were screeching and raving, all in vain.”

Murray later became a National League and college umpire; he was also a prominent boxing promoter and matchmaker in Boston where he operated the Lincoln Athletic Club of Chelsea, and later the Armory Athletic Club.  He died in Boston in 1922 at age 57.

Bancroft retired as business manager of the Reds in January of 1921; he died two months later at age 74.