Tag Archives: Frank Torreyson

Nick Altrock’s First Start

27 Jul

The Cincinnati Enquirer ran a small item about Nick Altrock in February of 1914.  The paper said of the left-handed pitcher and one of baseball’s greatest clowns:

“(E)xcellent control, combined with a stolid indifference to the surroundings and trimmings which go to make up the big league contests, were the stock and trade of Mr. Altrock and the principal asset which made him a great pitcher.”

Nick Altrock

Nick Altrock

Altrock is 31st all-time, and third among left-handed pitchers, having walked just 1.6169 batters per nine innings.

A month later a letter arrived at the paper.  The writer, Frank Torreyson, the man who discovered Altrock in Cincinnati, and signed him to his first professional contract with Grand Rapids in the Interstate League in 1898, told the paper that it was under his tutelage that Altrock got “the idea that control was everything almost in the pitching line.”

Torreyson said:

“During our exhibition season we had much rainy weather and had very few chances to play games and the championship season was upon us before we had much chance to secure any line on our players…Well, Altrock had not done any too well in his one exhibition game, although his work looked good to me and I saw that although he was somewhat green , that he had possibilities and he then was full of comedy, just as at present.”

Torreyson said he decided to leave Altrock behind in Grand Rapids when the club made their first road trip of the season:

“I took Altrock into the clubhouse and told him I was not going to take him along, and you should have seen his face.  His lip fell down and he says, ‘Are you going to can me?’ I told him I was going to leave him at home to see if he could get control during the week we were away, telling him that he had no control over his curveball.”

Torreyson said when Altrock learned he wasn’t going to be released, he “took heart and said he would work hard,” on his control:

“I had a friend who lived near the park and he told me when I came home that Altrock came out at 9 AM and never took his uniform off until 5 o’clock.  Then before supper, he would go down the street and watch to see what the boys did on the trip.”

Frank Torreyson

Frank Torreyson

Torreyson said his left-handed pitchers, Billy Campbell, War Sanders, Charles Hutton, pitched well on the road trip, and:

“Poor Nick told them all that he guessed it was back to Cincy for him.

“Well, when we came home for the opening game Nick didn’t know whether to put on a uniform or not.  I sent him to the grounds early while the other boys were on parade, and when practice came I told him I wanted to see if he could put a few of his curveballs over the plate, and you should have seen them coming over with speed—ins, outs and every ball he pitched right over the center. “

Torreyson said shortly before the game began he informed Altrock that he would be Grand Rapids’ starting pitcher:

“Well, that was the time you should have seen him open his eyes.  Then he went in and only gave up a couple of hits, struck out 12 and never gave anything like a base on balls.”

Torreyson got some of the details wrong.  Altrock did pitch the opener and went the distance in a 12-inning game that ended in a 3 to 3 tie; he struck out eight and walked two.

Altrock went 17-3 for Grand Rapids before the cash-strapped Torreyson sold him to the Louisville Colonels in July.

Torreyson said of Altrock:

“His work with us that season was of the most sensational character.  Besides his great work he was one of the easiest men to handle I have ever seen in the game; always ready and willing and never shirking.  Many a time have I seen him after pitching a winning game, keep his uniform on and play with the kids for an hour or two.  He was always a general favorite with the public and players and was a credit to the game.”

Altrock

Altrock

As for Altrock’s success, well, Torreyson was fairly sure who to credit for that:

“I feel confident that the week he was left at home to learn to get them over had much to do with his having such great control during his later career.”

“The Nomad of the Interstate League”

25 Jul

There have been several incarnations of the Interstate League, the first began in 1885 and the final one played its last game in 1952.  None was more precarious than the one that operated in the 1890s, which newspapers annually announced was on the verge of collapse.  One Interstate League franchise, in particular, was always a little closer to collapse than the rest.

Frank J. Torreyson became the owner of the Wheeling (WV) Nailers in 1897.  He had been part owner of the Dayton franchise but just as that partnership was disintegrating the Wheeling team went on strike because they hadn’t been paid.  The league solved two problems by awarding the Nailers to Torreyson.

Torreyson had been a semi-pro player in Pennsylvania and managed teams in the Tri-State League. His first effort at team ownership involved starting a Pittsburgh franchise in the Pennsylvania State League in 1892.  By July He moved the team to Wilkes-Barre citing poor attendance.

His brother, Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson, was a 2nd baseman who had some excellent seasons in the Pennsylvania State and Atlantic Leagues; but by 1897 Thayer had literally grown into his nickname, and his best playing days were behind him.

Thayer joined Frank in the ownership of the team and continued to play and serve as captain.

In 1898, the Torreyson brothers moved the Wheeling franchise to Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Frank had necessitated the move when, immediately upon acquiring the franchise, he sold off the best players and alienated the Wheeling fans–he also played the two towns against each other.  While he was already aware he had worn out his welcome in Wheeling, he told The Grand Rapids Herald:

“I would very much like to have charge of an Interstate team here though Wheeling is a pretty good ball town.  We can’t play Sunday there, though, unless we get the grounds outside of the town which we expect to have if we stay there.”

He managed to get the city of Grand Rapids’ “West Side businessmen to bear half the expense “of readying two ballparks for the season—the team played most of their games at Recreation Park, but Sunday games were played at nearby Alger Park

The first home Sunday game was a harbinger of what was ahead for Torreyson in Grand Rapids.

Despite each person who “Patronized the grandstand” receiving “‘The Art Gallery of Prominent Baseball Players of America,” fans stayed away in droves.  Bad weather limited the crowd to “a few hundred,” and “stern luck was ‘agin’ the Cabinetmakers,”  Grand Rapids lost the game 6 to 5, and their record for the young season slipped to 2-5.

Things never really improved.

Throughout the 1898 season, Torreyson complained about the lack of support from the Grand Rapids community and threatened to move the team.

For their part, the citizens of Grand Rapids, while not actually coming out to games in great numbers, seemed to appreciate Torreyson’s effort.  In August, with the team in fourth place, The Herald announced that a benefit—whereby blocks of tickets would be purchased by the city’s leaders—would be organized to try to get the owner out of the red:

“Torreyson has given the city the best team it has ever had and this being a bad season f0r the game, there has been no money in it for him.”

There was no report of how much the August 19 benefit raised, but Torreyson, at least for the moment, expressed his gratitude in a letter to the people of the city he was desperately attempting to flee:

“The results show that Grand Rapids people appreciate honest endeavors for clean baseball.  Hoping to continue to please all, I am, respectfully yours, Frank W. Torreyson.”

Frank Torreyson

Frank Torreyson

Over the next twelve months, he visited a number of cities in Ohio and Indiana soliciting the best offer to relocate the team.  Attendance in Grand Rapids decreased further in 1899—while Torreyson’s club had hovered near .500 throughout the 1898 season, they were wire-to-wire doormats, mired in last place for all of 1899– and the already struggling Interstate League was in danger of having a team fold during the season.

In order to keep the eight-team league intact, an unusual trade was made.  The Columbus Buckeyes in the Western League would move to Grand Rapids and Torreyson would take his team to Columbus, Ohio.  The move would benefit both leagues by reducing travel costs.

In mid-July of 1899, the move was made official.  Fans, thrilled to be rid of the cellar-dwelling Interstate League club, filled the ballpark for the first home game of the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers of the Western League.  Newspapers estimated the crowd between 1600 and 2000; at least double the best crowd Torreyson’s team had ever drawn.

Columbus fans were less enthusiastic; 167 attended the first home game of the Columbus Senators of the Interstate League, a 4 to 1 loss to the first place New Castle Quakers.  The Herald said of Grand Rapids’ former club’s first game in their new town:

“That same old story comes from Torreyson’s team.”

The low attendance—they drew just 288 fans for their first Sunday home game– and  not very  friendly reception from the city of Columbus made Frank restless again.  Less than two weeks later, he relocated once more, this time to Springfield, Ohio, where his team was appropriately dubbed The Wanderers.  The team finished the season 49-91, 38 games out of first place.

 

In less than two years, Torreyson had incurred the wrath of the league and each member city.  The Fort Wayne News called for the league to take the franchise away from him. The Toledo Bee said Torreyson was “Ruining the Interstate.”  The Mansfield (OH) News said the transfer of the teams would have been better for the league “If Torreyson had been lost in the trade.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“The managers of the various other teams in the league say that Torreyson has done more to injure baseball in the Interstate League since he got into it than all other drawbacks combined.  The say that if Torreyson is permitted to wander about the country with a club in Columbus this week, in Kalamazoo next week, Erie the following week, Saginaw of Bay City the week after, and God only knows where after that, the league might as well disband.”

Early in 1900, a deal was struck to buy him out of the franchise.  The Youngstown Vindicator said the league had contributed to the purchase price in order to rid them of Torreyson, who they called “The Nomad of the Interstate League.”  Torreyson, The Vindicator said, “(M)ilked at least three towns as dry as tinder. But then the fan is the legitimate prey of the magnet.  Torreyson is now running a billiard hall in Braddock (PA).”

That wasn’t the end of Torreyson’s story.

He did, along with “Heavy,” open a billiard hall in Braddock—then two more in Homestead and McKeesport.  But Frank also became a successful thoroughbred owner and managed dozens of boxers out of a gym in Braddock.

Thayer "Heavy" Torreyson

Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson

Both made headlines one more time.

In October of 1911, The Pittsburgh Dispatch said Thayer was on his way to New York and, “He took with him $21,000.  He will wager this amount that the Philadelphia Athletics will defeat the New York Giants for the world’s championship.”

In 1912, The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said Frank paid passage for two boxers from Whales to come fight for him in Pennsylvania.   Leslie Williams and David John Bowen never made it to the United States; they went down with the Titanic on April 14.

Frank Torreyson died on April 10, 1918.

Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson continued to operate the billiard halls—and as The Pittsburgh Press said he was known to sell “horse race pools and (make) book on races.”  He also remained active in Pittsburgh area amateur baseball until his death on May 7, 1939.

A shorter version of this post appeared in September of 2012.

“A Gilded Youth”

10 Jul

Byron D. J. McKeown was born to wealth in 1872 or ’73 (census records say he was born in july of 1872, his death records list his birth year as 1873).  His father, John, immigrated to Western Pennsylvania from Ireland and struck it rich in the oil business.  By the time he died in 1891 he owned oil wells throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and more than 40,000 acres of land in Mississippi; depending on the source he was worth from $2-$10 million.

Byron, one of five brothers, inherited a large portion of his father’s fortune, although there was a legal battle over the estate for more than 20 years—John’s Irish relatives said they were his proper heirs because they claimed John and his wife were never married.

In 1896, the wealthy 23-year-old, who had been playing amateur baseball and formerly played at Washington and Jefferson College, decided to become a professional baseball player and bought his own team.  The Warren (PA) Evening Democrat said:

“There are but few men of wealth among baseballists, and in all the world there is but one millionaire player.”

McKeown organized a team in the Interstate League in his hometown called the Washington (PA) Little Senators (Some sources incorrectly place the team in Washington D.C.).  His college teammate, David Curran, was the team captain.

The Sporting Life called McKeown “A gilded youth who follows the game for pastime.”  McKeown said:

“I am just playing for the sport of it; I have nothing else to do.  I have a leaning towards baseball and thought I would cultivate it”

There are no statistics for McKeown, but the few surviving assessments of his ability as a player are positive.  Toledo Mud Hens manager Frank Torreyson said:

“McKeown can hit the ball…sometimes he is liable to drive it out of sight.”

The Washington (PA) Observer said:

“McKeown is making quite a record as a first baseman.”

While he appears to have played well, things didn’t go smoothly for McKeown’s team.

While Washington, Pennsylvania, with a population of just more than 7000 was, by far, the smallest town in the Interstate League, initially, there was excitement for the club.  The Observer said that the Western Pennsylvania Agricultural Association was providing a home field for the team at the Washington County Fairgrounds.

The Sporting Life said McKeown was “Sure to receive strong financial support from Washington enthusiasts.”

He didn’t.

Professional baseball was not a hit in the small Pennsylvania town.  By the end of July The Sporting Life said the team had lost more than $4000 dollars and had recently played a home game that had only brought in $3.50 in total receipts.

By September McKeown had lost more than $8000 and decided to disband the team before the end of the season. The Observer said that at one August game there was not a single paid attendee.

Over the next several months, McKeown attempted to buy another Interstate league franchise, the Saginaw Lumbermen.  He told a reporter from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he had “every one of last season’s players reserved,” and would “put a strong team on the field.”

The bid to buy the Lumbermen fell through and after a brief stint as first baseman for an Elks Club team, McKeown seems to have lost interest in playing professionally or owning a team.

Two years later McKeown joined the 10th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, “The Fighting 10th” and served in the Spanish-American War.  The Pittsburgh Daily Post said:

“Western Pennsylvania is sending one of her millionaires  to the front to fight for Cuban Independence…Mr. McKeown has been in sympathy with Cuba in their fight against their mother country.”

Curran, his college and minor league teammate, joined him.

McKeown also fought in the Philippine Insurrection and played first base with his regiment’s baseball team in Manila (Curran played second).

He returned to his business interests in Pennsylvania, and after his 25-year-old wife Nellie died of peritonitis in March of 1902, he began to drink heavily, and his death on November 24,  1904, was attributed to alcoholism.(Several Pennsylvania newspapers said he died on November 23; his death certificate says November 24).

The man responsible for Washington, Pennsylvania’s only professional baseball team, was buried in the Washington Cemetery.

This is an update of a post that originally appeared on December 26, 2012.