Tag Archives: Fred Clarke

“Who’s the Greatest Ballplayer that Ever Lived?”

13 Mar

In the 19th Century, conversations about baseball in hotel lobbies

The Chicago Daily News shared one such discussion in 1896:

“’Who’s the greatest ballplayer that ever lived?’ Demanded the old ball crank of the gathering at the hotel.  And there were, straightaway, almost as many opinions as there were gentlemen in the party.”

A man in town on business said:

“To my mind, Anson outranks them all.  When you consider the wonderful grip which Anse has retained on the sport for all these twenty-five tears, when you take into consideration his qualifications as a player and as a man, his work as a leader and a general, the great batting he has always done every little point that can be recalled about both uncle and the game, I can’t see where any other player, living or dead, ranks with Anson.”

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 Anson

The paper said there were murmurs, then the night clerk weighed in:

“Mike Kelly was his ideal.

“‘Poor old Mike,’ said he, ‘had baseball genius and brilliancy to an extent never paralleled.  He had the mind to originate, the ability to execute.  He was, in the hearts of the masses, what John L. Sullivan was to pugilism.  Remember the tricks he worked, the batting and the base running he did, and the way in which he filled every position—remember only his methods of play, if you will, and then see if any one can compare with poor dead King Kel!’

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 Kelly

The “theatrical man” in the group said:

“’Bill Lange is the best that ever came down the road.  Who is there who does not like to see Lange play ball? What other player in the league, taking batting, base running and fielding into account, is as of as much value as Lange? What club would not eagerly give him the best position and the best salary it could command?  Bill Lange is destined to leave a mark in baseball history as deep as that Mike Kelly made, and future generations will speak of him as they do of Kelly now.’”

Then the “Old baseball crank” spoke up:

“’To my mind gentlemen, the greatest player of them all was Charlie Ferguson of Philadelphia.  There was a man who never realized how good he was.  When it came to effective playing, in any position, Ferguson was the man who could step into the gap so well that the regular man would never be even missed.  He could kill the ball, he was fast on the bases, and we all know he could pitch.  And the head that Charlie Ferguson wore was as good a head as ever decorated any player’s shoulders.  I saw hundreds of great players before Ferguson came, I have seen hundreds since he died, but I never to my mind at least, have seen his equal.’”

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Ferguson

The assembled men said the paper, “remembered the time of Ferguson,” with “nods and mutterings of assent,” thinking of Ferguson’s four seasons in Philadelphia—he died just 12 days after his 25th birthday in 1888.

 “Jim Hart, who ought to be a good judge of players, thinks Ferguson the greatest that the world has ever known. A canvass of ball cranks would probably show sentiments about equally divided between Ferguson and Mike Kelly.”

The paper concluded that there were, and would be, “few such popular idols” as Kelly and Ferguson:

“The increased batting has, queer as it may seem, done away with hero worship.  In the old days hits were few and the man who could step up and kill the ball was a popular king.  Nowadays the fact that nearly everybody is apt to hit takes away the individuality and accompanying romance of the great isolated sluggers.”

The paper said Lange was one of the few contemporary players who “comes as near being the subject of hero worship,” as players in previous years and that there were only players who had that impact in their own cities:

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Lange

“(Jesse) Burkett might be worshipped in Cleveland for his grand batting, but is handicapped by morose, unsociable ways.

‘(Jimmy) McAleer’s fielding would make him an idol, but his batting is pitifully light.  Baltimore’s great hero is Hughey Jennings, and the cranks treat him as though he owned the town. Brooklyn has no heroes.  There is nobody on the Boston nine whom the crowd raves over, even Hugh Duffy having lost his grip.”

“Eddie Burke and Charlie (Dusty) Miller have great followings in Cincinnati.  Louisville dotes on (Charlie) Dexter and Fred Clarke.  New York is idolless.  Philadelphia gives ovations to the whole team as a matter of principle but singles out no player.  Pittsburgh is the same way.  There is nobody at St. Louis or Washington whom the crowds adore.”

“Doyle Made him Drink Bass Ale”

6 Mar

The Louisville Courier-Journal caught up with Colonels Captain John O’Brien “in a talkative mood” before the 1896 season, and the 29-year-old second baseman shared his philosophy on spring training:

“I don’t think all the men should be worked hard.  Some of them are down to weight already.  As for myself, I will work off about seven pounds and then I will be down to a good playing weight. I have looked over the players who have arrived in the city and find that most of them are already trained down.”

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John O’Brien

O’Brien said Fred Clarke, Tom Morrison, and Herm McFarland “don’t look like they need a bit of training.”

O’Brien cautioned against “too much training,” and cited the example of William “Yale” Murphy, the Ivy League graduate who spent the two previous seasons with the New York Giants:

”He was trained down until he was a mere shadow and was so weak he could not play good ball.”

O’Brien said when Jack Doyle took over as manager of the Giants in June of 1895, he tried to undo the damage to Murphy:

“Doyle made him drink Bass Ale, and that was wonderfully strengthening.  In fact, I think an occasional glass of beer after a hard day’s training helps a man wonderfully.  Don’t understand me to mean by that I believe in ‘lushing.’ A player who drinks whiskey or who drinks so much beer that he can feel the effects of it, is no man for a ball team.  I have tried a glass of beer after a game, when I was hot and worn out, and I tell you it did me good.”

Doyle’s plan appears to have not worked;  Murphy who hit .272 as a rookie in 1894, ended the 1895 season with a .202 average, and the remainder of his major league career consisted of just eight hitless at bats in 1897.

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Yale Murphy

O’Brien predicted big things for the Colonels:

“I believe we will have a winning team…I know there is good material in the team, not counting the new men.  The newly signed players all look like ‘top-notchers.’ My private opinion of the outfield (expected to be Clarke, McFarland, and Ducky Holmes) is that it will prove to be the best in the League.  There is no fear on that score.  The pitching department seems good, and I know the backstops are strong.”

O’Brien was mistaken, the ’96 Colonels were even worse than they were the previous season.  When O’Brien was traded to the Washington Senators on July 3, the team was 11-44, and finished the season 38-93.

O’Brien apparently got himself into shape, he was hitting .339 on the day of the trade, eight-five points above his career average; he hit just .267 after the trade.

“The Twenty Greatest Fever”

2 Oct

In November of 1911, an interviewer asked industrialist Andrew Carnegie to name the 20 greatest men of all time.  Within days, Carnegie’s list was parsed and picked apart, and led to what The Chicago Daily News called “The twenty greatest fever.”

Lists of the twenty greatest everything appeared in papers across the country for the next year.  Of course, the question was put to many baseball figures and led to a number of interesting lists and quotes.

One of the first to weigh in was Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, in The Daily News:

  • Buck Ewing
  • King Kelly
  • Cap Anson
  • Charlie Ferguson
  • Fred Pfeffer
  • Eddie Collins
  • Honus Wagner
  • Jack Glasscock
  • Harry Lord
  • Ty Cobb
  • Fred Clarke
  • Willie Keeler
  • Tom McCarthy
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Charles Radbourn
  • Bobby Caruthers
  • Christy Mathewson
  •  Clark Griffith
  • Ed Walsh
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Charles Comiskey

Comiskey said Eddie Collins, who would acquire for $50,000 three years later, was the best current player:

“He’s got it on all the others in the game today.  I don’t know that a good lawyer went to waste, but do know that a mighty good ballplayer was found when Eddie decided to give up the technicalities of Blackstone for the intricacies of baseball.   There isn’t much use saying anything about Connie Mack’s star, everybody knows he is a wonder as well as I do.”

Cy Young was asked by The Cleveland News to name his 20 greatest:

“I guess we’d have to make a place for old Amos Rusie, ‘Kid’ Nichols should be placed on the list too, ‘Kid’ forgot more baseball than 90 percent of us ever knew.  And there was Bill Hutchinson, just about one of the greatest that ever lived.  You can’t overlook Walter Johnson, and, by all means Ed Walsh must be there.  The same applies to Mathewson.  Then comes my old side partner, Bill Dinneen.  Bill never was given half enough credit.”

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Amos Rusie

Young rounded out the battery:

“I’d pick old Lou Criger first of all the catchers.  George Gibson of the Pittsburgh team, to my way of thinking, stands with the leaders.  Give the third place to Oscar Stanage of Detroit, and I feel safe in saying that I have chosen a really great catcher.”

Young said:

“Doping out the infields is comparatively easy.  Without hesitation I would name Hal Chase, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Hans Wagner, Bobby Wallace, Jimmy Collins, Herman Long, and Charlie Wagner.”

Young said of his infield choices:

“You can’t get away from Bobby Wallace for a general all round gentlemanly player, he has never had a superior at shortstop unless that man was Honus Wagner.  Maybe Johnny Evers is entitles to consideration, but I never say him play.”

As for his outfielders, Young said:

“Ty Cobb’s equal never lived, according to my way of thinking, and I doubt if we will ever have his superior.  Say what they will about Cobb, but one who is true to himself must acknowledge his right to rank above all other players.

“I chose Cobb, Fred Clarke of Pittsburgh, Tris Speaker of Boston and Bill Lange for the outfield, and regret that the limitations prevent me from choosing Jim McAleer.  McAleer was the best fielder I have ever seen.  I say that with all due respect to Cobb and other competitors.

“Tris Speaker is a marvel, and only because of his playing at the same time as Cobb is he deprived of the honor of being the greatest outfielder…Many fans of today probably don’t remember Bill Lange.  Take my word for it, he was a marvel.  He could field, bat, and run bases with wonderful skill.  No man ever had the fade-away slide better than Lange.”

The reporter from The News noticed that Young had, “chosen his twenty greatest players without mentioning his own great deeds,” and asked Young whether her felt he belonged on the list.  Young said:

“Oh, I’ve heard a whole lot of stuff about myself as a player, but I was but ordinary when compared to the men I name as the greatest in the game.”

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Cy Young

When Ty Cobb presented his list of the 20 greatest current American League players to The Detroit News, the paper noted his “Very becoming modesty” in leaving himself off of his list.  Cobb’s picks were:

  • Ed Walsh
  • Bill Donovan
  • Walter Johnson
  • Jack Coombs
  • Vean Gregg
  • George Mullin
  • Billy Sullivan
  • Oscar Stanage
  • Ira Thomas
  • Hal Chase
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Eddie Collins
  • Jack Berry
  • Owen Bush
  • Frank Baker
  • Harry Lord
  • Sam Crawford
  • Clyde Milan
  • Joe Jackson
  • Tris Speaker
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Ty Cobb

Cobb included Bobby Wallace, Russ Ford, and Heinie Wagner as honorable mentions.

More of the lists and quotes from “The twenty greatest fever,” on Thursday

“There is a Heap about Baseball that I do not Know”

4 May

After Ted Sullivan blamed Joe Nealon’s father for his failure to secure the first baseman for the Reds, James C. Nealon was not going to let his accusations stand, and sent a letter in response to Sullivan’s letter to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“The public has always permitted, and will always permit a man who has lost the object he was seeking to compensate himself for the loss is excusing his failure by some worthy and absurd explanation, or by throwing the responsibility of the failure on someone else.”

Nealon said he was forced to respond because Sullivan “falsely placed myself and my son in an unenviable light.”

Nealon said he only cared about his son going to the club with “the best and most congenial associations,” and initially, many people he trusted told him Cincinnati was the best option.

He said Sullivan was the reason he and his son changed their minds.  Nealon said he checked train schedules and determined that Sullivan—who left Cincinnati on October 28—could have arrived in California no later than November 3, yet he did not hear from the Reds representative until after the contract was signed with Pittsburgh on November 6.

Nealon also said while he received a telegram from August Herrmann, Cincinnati Reds owner, with the offer of “a certain sum more than any other club,” he never shared that information with the Pirates Fred Clarke, and that the combination of being insulted by the Reds making their offer just about money and Sullivan not arriving in time made up his mind, and as a result:

 “I advised my son to sign a contract with any club he desired.”

After Sullivan arrived in San Francisco, Nealon said:

“He admitted to me that it was all his fault, yet he seeks in your paper to advise the public that it was the fault of my son and myself…I would rather (Joe) fail then to commit a dishonorable act, and I do not want the people of Cincinnati to believe his entry into the major league was associated in any manner with unfairness or unfair dealing.  Mr. Sullivan knows it was not.”

Joe Nealon wrote a letter to The Pittsburgh Post, and said he understood that when he joined the team in Hot Springs. Arkansas:

“There is a heap about baseball that I do not know.  I am eager to learn, however, and will gladly go under instructions.”

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Joe Nealon

Even after the beginning of the 1906 season, the stories about what influenced Nealon to sign with the Pirates would not go away.  In May is was reported that it was Jake Beckley, former first baseman for the Reds and Pirates who influenced Nealon to accept Clarke’s offer.  Nealon told The Pittsburgh Press that Beckley had nothing to do with his decision, and continued to blame Sullivan who he said did not “keep faith” with him and his father.

Nealon appeared in every game, hit the Pirates first home run of the 1906 season on May 5, tied Harry Steinfeldt for the league lead in RBI, and led all NL first basemen in total chances and putouts.

At the end of the season it was widely reported that Nealon would not return to the Pirates for the 1907 season.  After the team lost five straight games in September and slipped to third place, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss went on a tear to a wire service reporter—The Philadelphia Inquirer, under the headline “Barney Dreyfuss Lets Himself say Things” said:

“(Dreyfuss said) if his team doesn’t win second place for him he will keep their noses to the grindstone barnstorming for him until their contracts have run out (on October 16)”

Dreyfuss told the reporter:

“One of the things that ails our team is that there are too many capitalists on it.  The boys know that they do not have to play ball for a living, and sometimes that may affect their playing.  There is only one of the old players on the Pittsburgh team who is playing as a means of livelihood—that’s (Tommy) Leach.  The other could give up the game anytime.”

Nealon left the team immediately after the final game in Cincinnati and did not participate in the tour.  The San Francisco Call said he was done:

“Nealon, who became a great favorite in Pittsburgh and all over the league circuit, has had several grievances against Pittsburgh, and it was announced some time ago that the big San Francisco lad had declared himself in no unmeasured terms that he did not have to take the worst of it from anyone connected with the club, nor would he more than one season.”

The Call said Nealon became disenchanted in Pittsburgh when Dreyfuss attempted to trade him and “other Pittsburgh players” to the Brooklyn Superbas for Harry Lumley and Tim Jordan “although Captain Clarke had guaranteed him a full and free tryout for a year.”

Nealon returned to San Francisco to play winter ball, but he failed to make a trip to Stockton for the first game.  The San Jose Evening News said:

“Many San Joseans who took the trip to Stockton…were disappointed in not seeing Joe Nealon…the big first baseman, met with an accident Saturday evening.”

While racing to catch the train to Stockton, Nealon tripped and fell into a stone wall.  He broke two bones in his left hand.”

In December, the Pittsburgh papers reported that Nealon had declared himself “Completely healed,” in a letter to Barney Dreyfuss.

By February The Pittsburgh Press was assuring readers:

“Reports from the West have Joe Nealon in the best condition of his career.  Just keep your eyes on this big fellow this season; he is going to be a winner in every sense of the word.”

Despite the high expectations, Nealon was a disappointment to the pirates when he reported to  West Baden, Indiana in March.  The Press said:

“If the fans at home could see big Joe Nealon now they would not know him.  With his sweater on he looks like a three hundred pounder.”

Nealon actually weighed 216 pounds, roughly 20 pounds heavier than he was in 1906.

Additionally, The Pittsburgh Post said Nealon was experiencing stiffness in his left hand.

The Press announced that Nealon had gotten down to his playing weight and that his had had healed just in time for the opening of the season, but a knee injury sliding into second during the Pirates third game sidelined him for nearly two weeks, and according to The Post included a visit to John “Bonesetter” Reese, the Youngstown, Ohio doctor who treated many major leaguers.

Nealon was hitting just .217 in June when The Washington Post noted that two California Thoroughbreds—Nealon and Joe Nealon—both bred by friends of Nealon’s father, and both stakes race winners in 1907, were having decidedly better years than the first baseman.

Nealon steadily improved his batting average but had already fallen out of favor with fans and in the papers.  Rumors persisted that the Pirates were trying to trade for Fred Tenney of the Boston Doves.  By September, The Press said:

 “There is suspicion among the Pittsburgh players that Tenney may be secured as first baseman…to succeed Joe Nealon whose work this season is said to have been below standard.”

When Harry Swacina was purchased by the Pirates from the Peoria Distillers in the Three-I League that same month, the Pittsburgh correspondent for The Sporting News said:

 “He is an improvement over Joe Nealon in every department of the game.”

The New York Sun summed up the consensus view:

“Joe Nealon came out of California with the reputation of being a better first baseman than Hal Chase was, but in making a big league reputation Chase simply lost his fellow Californian.”

Swacina hit just .200, but got most of the playing time at first base in September, Nealon finished with a .257 average.

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Nealon

The Press speculated in November about who would play first base for the Pirates in 1908:

“Most of the fans have eliminated Joe Nealon from the competition all together, for it is an open secret that both President (Barney) Dreyfuss and Manager (Fred) Clarke were displeased with the way the young Californian acted this year, and it is presumed that no further time will be wasted with him, but that he will either be traded or released outright.”

In December, Nealon ended any remaining speculation by announcing his retirement—two weeks before his 23rd birthday. The Post said:

“The big Californian has quit the professional diamond for all time and will become a partner in business with his millionaire father…But for the intercession of Fred Clarke, it is said he would have been asked to retire about mid season, alleged infractions of the club’s rules and his general attitude of indifference being criticized by the local management.”

Nealon went to Hawaii in December with a team of West Coast stars—including Bill Lange and Orval Overall— formed by Mique Fisher and told reporters he would play weekends in San Francisco in 1908.

After returning from Hawaii, Nealon made his retirement official in a letter to Dreyfuss.  The Press said:

Joe writes that he is helping his father  who has a contract to erect a large public building in California…he asks, however, that his name be kept on Pittsburgh’s reserve list and wishes his teammates the best of luck.”

Nealon went to work with his father and appeared in 62 games for the Sacramento Senators in the California State League in 1908—hitting .372; as late as July he was hitting .436.  Nearly every Pacific Coast League time tried to sign him that summer, but The Oakland Tribune said:

“(Nealon) declared positively to the writer yesterday that he would not play ball, except as he is doing now, and Joe said there was not enough money in any of the Coast League treasuries to make him change his mind.”

Despite his protestations, nearly every team on the West Coast sought to sign Nealon.  Charlie Graham, Owner of the Sacramento Sacts made an offer that The San Francisco Call said led Nealon to tell a friend he wasn’t sure he could refuse.  He eventually did refuse, and instead signed to play for the Oakland Commuters in the California State League. The Call said he was the highest paid player on the West Coast.

Nealon captained the Oakland club, and hit .274 in 138 games.  How Nealon differed from his teammates and most players was probably best illustrated during a bench clearing brawl between Oakland and the Stockton Millers in June.  The Oakland Tribune said:

“(E)very man on both teams, with the exception of Joe Nealon, was mixed up…Nealon simply walked about the field and sat on the bench while the trouble was going on, and if anyone should ask right quick what player showed the only good judgment on the field the answer would be Joe Nealon.”

Nealon announced his retirement again, a week after his 25th birthday.

Nealon’s father had just helped elect San Francisco’s new mayor, Patrick Henry McCarthy, The Tribune said Nealon was “slated for a fat political job.”

Nealon was appointed deputy in the San Francisco County Clerk’s office in January.

On March 28, The Tribune said:

“(Nealon) is lying on death’s door in his home in San Francisco, suffering from typhoid fever.  Several physicians have been at the bedside of the ill athlete almost constantly for the past few days, and although they hold out but slight hope for his recovery, they state that his splendid physique may enable him to pull through.”

Nealon died five days later.

 

Joe Nealon

2 May

There was a race to sign Joe Nealon in 1905.  The San Francisco Chronicle said he was “thought to be the equal of Hal Chase,” the fellow first baseman and Californian who made his major league debut that season.

By November, West Coast newspapers had reported that at least four teams were after Nealon—the New York Highlanders, Boston Americans, St. Louis Browns, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates were after Nealon.

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Joe Nealon

There likely would have been even more interest in Nealon if not for his background; as The Chronicle said after Nealon signed with the San Francisco Seals before the 1905 season:

“Parental objection had to be overcome, and this was accomplished through an understanding that the boy would remain in professional baseball not more than two or three seasons.”

Nealon was the son of the James C. Nealon, a wealthy real estate executive, elected official, owner of thoroughbreds, and one of the best known handball players on the West Coast who often played with boxer Jim Corbett.

Nealon attended St. Ignatius College (now the University of San Francisco) and had played in the California State League in 1903 and 1904.

Cincinnati and Boston appeared to be the most aggressive pursuer of Nealon; according to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“Everybody who has seen him work says that Nealon will fill the bill.  He is described as a second Bill Lange at the bat, and a new edition of Charley Comiskey on the bag.  Allowing for exaggeration he seems to be the real goods.”

The Reds dispatched Ted Sullivan to San Francisco. The Americans sent Dan Long.  They did not know that Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Fred Clarke was on his way West as well; Clarke arrived first. The Pirates manager won out.  The Pittsburgh Post said:

“It was against these two men that Clarke had to use his ingenuity in securing Nealon.  The player is a freelance and was at liberty to join a team of his own selection.  Being independently wealthy and playing baseball only for the sport he finds in it.  Nealon was not influenced by any financial proposition.”

Reds owner August Herrmann told The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“I had become very much interested in young Nealon and regret that we did not succeed in getting him, but there is no use mourning over his loss.”

While Herrmann might not have been mourning, others in Cincinnati were and blamed Sullivan.

Jack Ryder of The Enquirer said:

“Why was not Ted Sullivan on the ground earlier?  Ted left Cincinnati a week ago last Saturday (October 29) with instructions to make a bee line for Frisco.  Mr. Herrmann knew that there was keen competition for  the services of Nealon…If Sullivan had reached San Francisco on Tuesday or Wednesday, as he was expected to do he would have got in ahead of Fred Clarke, and the chances would have favored his securing the player.”

Ryder said he had a letter from James C. Nealon written to Herrmann promising “that his son would sign with Cincinnati, ‘other things being equal,’” Ryder noted that the Reds “offered the boy more salary than any other club including Pittsburgh.”

Ryder concluded:

“Fred Clarke, who was on the spot, while Ted Sullivan was not, was able to persuade (Nealon) that the Pirates are a far better aggregation than the Reds.”

Ted Sullivan was not about to blamed, and fired off a letter to The Enquirer:

“There is not a man in the city of Cincinnati that would feel as much hurt as myself to lose a good man for the Cincinnati club.  The two years that I have acted as agent for Mr. Herrmann he has treated me like a king, and has showed a disposition to back my judgment on the skill of a player.”

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Ted Sullivan

Sullivan said in the letter, he had discovered Nealon’s “hidden skill” in August:

“The skill I noticed in Nealon (I wrote Mr. Herrmann at the time) was skill hidden beneath a dross of inexperience and youth.”

While he conceded that some time in the major leagues would “make him a star,” he assured The Enquirer he was not of the caliber of Sullivan’s favorite first baseman:

“The greatest first baseman in the history of the game, Charles Comiskey, was my own selection and making (which I say without egotism), but the California fledgling, without disparaging him, is a pallbearer compared to the magnetism of the matchless Comiskey.”

Sullivan blamed his inability to sign Nealon on Nealon’s father.  He claimed to have offered $3,800 to the first baseman in August, and was told that money was not the critical consideration, but complained that Nealon Sr. had immediately “proclaimed throughout Frisco, with the aid of a flashlight, and had also the newspaper men transmit (the offer) to all of the papers in the East.”

As for arriving is San Francisco after Clarke, Sullivan blamed that on the railroads:

“(I) was blocked between Salt Lake and Sacramento, caused by the immense amount of trains”

But, said Sullivan, none of that mattered.  Nealon’s father had not dealt with the Reds in good faith:

“Mr. Nealon Sr., who claimed he was not out for the money, called Fred out on the porch of the house and showed him, in confidence, the offer from Cincinnati.”

The latest Cincinnati offer was $6500—with a clause that promised $1000 more than any other offer Nealon would receive–Sullivan said.  Clarke matched the $6500, he said, and signed Nealon.

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Fred Clarke

There was more said Sullivan:

“Now comes the most brazen effrontery of offended dignity that has more hypocritic brass in it than the Colossus of Rhodes.  With this standing offer of Mr. Herrmann’s in his hands for days before I arrived,  I asked Mr. Nealon Sr., why he did not close with Mr. Herrmann on such a grand offer.  ‘Why,’ says he, ‘I consider it an insult for any man to make me such an offer as that, as it would appear that I was playing one club against the other.”  Think of that insult—one man offers another man $1000 more than the highest bidder and he is insulted.”

Sullivan closed his letter by again questioning Nealon’s prospects of making an immediate impact, and said:

“I would rather go down to Millcreek bottoms and pick up some young fellow that wanted to make baseball a profession, than any young man in the United States who thinks that he is condescending to play ball for $7000.”

Sullivan was not the only representative of a club who had expressed interest in Nealon who now questioned the prospects ability.  In response to Frank Chance of the Chicago Cubs who said Nealon was “not of National League Caliber,” The Pittsburgh Press responded:

“Sour Grapes?”

The rest of the story on Friday.

“When I first tried the sunfield I looked like a big boob”

12 Sep

Harold “Speed” Johnson of The Chicago Herald asked:

“Does playing the sun field effect a ballplayer’s batting eye?

“’Yes,’ comes the answer in chorus!

Speed Johnson

Speed Johnson

“Diamond greats who have played the sunfield year after year…say the fellows who must go and get ‘em while looking Old Sol squarely in the face are bound to be handicapped in batting.

“The players who stand in the sun pasture then have to go to the plate immediately are especially handicapped gauging pitched balls.

“Sunfielders who hit .265 would clout 25 points higher each year if assigned to other fields, veterans declare…“The American League’s most difficult sunfields are in the parks at Chicago, Boston, St. Louis, Detroit and Philadelphia.  How Sam Crawford, playing the garden in Detroit for ages, has managed to keep above the .300 mark is one of the wonders of the national pastime.”

Harry Hooper of the Red Sox agreed, and told Johnson:

“’When I first tried the sunfield in 1909 I looked like a big boob.  I missed the first fly ball batted my way by 20 feet.  Fred Lake, our manager, decided I wouldn’t do and put me in left field.’

“’Later, I mastered the sunfield job, but about four years ago my eyes troubled me.  An oculist said I had strained both eyes by looking into the sun…I wore glasses for a year…My eyes haven’t troubled me, however, since I adopted the sunglasses invented by Fred Clarke.  Before I donned them I had to ‘take’ the first ball pitched whether I wanted to or not, after stepping directly from the outfield to the plate.’”

Hooper

Hooper

Hooper continued playing for the next decade for two clubs, the Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, with two of the most “difficult sunfields” in the American League.  He hit .300 or better four times and ended his career with a .281 average;  by Johnson’s estimation, the Hall of Famer would have hit around .306 if he spent his career in left field.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things–Lost Quotes

30 Jun

The Detroit Free Press had no love for Cap Anson of the Chicago White Stockings, and observed in 1888:

“The majority of the Chicago players are courteous, gentlemanly fellows, and as Anson naturally finds no pleasure in their companionship he is generally rather lonesome.”

Cap Anson

Cap Anson

The Cincinnati Enquirer had a similarly low view of the entire White Stockings team in 1879:

“The Boston Herald says the greatest trouble with the new Chicago nine will be able to tell whether it will try to win.  We think its greatest problem will be whether or not it will keep sober.”

Charles Webb Murphy was often asked after giving up his interest in the Chicago Cubs if he regretted leaving baseball for much less glamorous businesses.  In 1914, Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner said Murphy answered the question by telling people:

 Charles Webb Murphy

Charles Webb Murphy

“Well, not one of my gravel pits has jumped to the Federal League.”

Arthur Irwin was one of the best-known scouts of his time, but by 1912, he declared that most of the good players were gone:

Arthur Irwin

Arthur Irwin

“Scouting isn’t like it used to be.  There was a time when a man could go through the bushes and pick up all kinds of men; but times have changed since then.  The scout who is lucky to pick up one really good ballplayer in a season can congratulate himself and feel satisfied he has earned his salary.”

Fred Clarke gave a toast on Honus Wagner’s 42nd birthday.  The Pittsburgh Press quoted him:

“During all the years we played together I never knew him to make a wrong play.”

Wagner

Honus Wagner

The previous year’s celebration of Wagner’s birthday included this quote in a letter from Johnny Evers:

“You hear about ‘second’ Cobbs, ’another’ Lajoie, but you never hear about ‘second’ Wagner’s. Why?  Simply because there never will be a second Wagner.”

“In Baseball Words, ‘I Wised up’”

17 Jun

Charles “Babe” Adams was on his way to an 18-9 season with a 2.24 ERA (on the heels of 12-3, 1.11) in his second full season in the major leagues.  The 28-year-old was asked by Chicago journalist Joseph B. Bowles to tell readers “How I Win,” for a series of syndicated articles.

Babe Adams

Babe Adams

Adams was initially reluctant:

“I have been asked to tell how I win, and it may sound immodest for a new man to try to tell such things.  You say it is for the benefit of young players, so I’ll tell some of the things I learned after coming to Pittsburgh.  The first thing I found out was that (Fred) Clarke was boss, and that he knew more about the game than I ever thought was in it. After a few bumpings, I learned that (catcher George) Gibson knew a lot more about what to pitch to batters than I did.  I think I began to improve as soon as I found out these things.  The next was that I had to have confidence in the team to make them have confidence in me.  In baseball words, ‘I wised up.’”

George Gibson

George Gibson

Adams’ view of what made a good pitcher was the same in 1910 as it would be nearly a decade later after he had been released by the Pirates and worked his way back to the team and reestablishing himself as an effective pitcher in his late 30s:

“Now a pitcher can have all the speed and curves and control in the world and still not be a good pitcher until he gets wise.  This Pittsburgh crowd plays the game to win, and it is because they work together, hit together, and because each man relies on the others, that they win.  At first, I thought Gibson made some mistakes in telling me what to pitch.  In fact, I was wrong most of the time.  He taught me what to do with a curve ball, and when my control was good enough to pitch where he wanted the ball pitched, things went right.   Sometimes I laughed at myself remembering the mistakes I used to make—some of them I still make…The pitcher must remember that the chances are the batter is as smart and experienced as he is, and keep thinking all the time;  trying to guess what the batter is thinking, and then pitching something else.”

Adams

Adams

Adams continued to credit his teammates for his success:

“It is a big help tp a pitcher to look around in a tight situation and see where Clarke, or (Tommy) Leach, or (Honus) Wagner are playing.  A fellow can learn a lot and get a lot of help by taking his cue from them and pitching the ball where they seem to want it pitched.  It gives a man confidence, too, to know he can make that batter hit the ball, and that back of him are a crowd of men who will come to the rescue and save him when he needs it.

“I think Gibson did more to make me a winner than anyone else.  He is a great catcher, and he rather inspires a pitcher, and makes him do better.”

Adams credited Gibson with his success in the 1909 World Series—when he won three games:

“In the World Series against Detroit, I made a lot of bad breaks in the first game.  Gibson steadied me up and coached me all the way.  He had a theory the Detroit team would not hit low curves , and after we began to study them and see how they hit, we fed them low curves , fast and slow, just inside the outside of the plate, but always low, and we beat them with that kind of pitching.”

Adams also shared a view of strikeouts that would be repeated by Hall of Famer Addie Joss during Joss’ final interview, two days before his death in 1911:

“I found out striking out batters is not the way to win, and that a pitcher must depend rather on making them hit bad balls or balls where the batter does not expect them to be, than in pitching himself out early in a game trying to strike out hitter.”

Addie Joss

Addie Joss

Adams, who won 194 games (losing 140) with a career 2.76 ERA, struck out  just 1036 batters in 2995.1 innings over 19 seasons.

Honus Wagner, “How I Win”

14 Dec

As part of a series of syndicated articles which asked some of baseball’s biggest stars to talk about “How I Win,” Joseph B. Bowles, a Chicago journalist, interviewed Honus Wagner before the 1910 season.

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Wagner said it was simple:

“The secret of winning at baseball is to be found in the first order given to a new ballplayer.  it is ‘Keep your eye on the ball.’  I believe there is such a thing as the instinct for playing the game, but the greatest success comes from quick eyesight and from never taking the eye off the ball for a moment, whether batting fielding or running bases.”

But, he admitted he hadn’t given the subject much thought:

“I never have written anything about baseball, and never have thought much about why a team wins or why a player is a winning player (until now).  It is hard for a player to explain how he wins than it is to win.  I think, however after thinking it over, that the eyesight has more to do with it than anything else.  It is the quick eye and the steady one that makes a man a winner.”

Wagner said this was especially true at bat:

“The batter who faces a clever pitcher is certain to be outguessed by him the majority of times. There is no way to overcome the pitcher’s advantage except to have an eye quick enough to see either from the way the pitcher wings or from the way the ball comes, what is pitched, and then have an eye quick enough to enable him to follow the course of the ball.”

As for his approach at the plate:

“In batting a player should stand firmly on both feet.  It does not matter what his position at bat is, and he ought to take his most natural position, but he must stand on the balls of both feet to get the force of his body, arms and shoulders into the swing of the bat.  Every batter has a different style, but the good ones swing with a steady drive, backed up by the whole body.  I think there is a lot in the way a man holds his bat.  It is impossible to tell a young player how to hold his bat.  He must use his own motion and grip.  He can, however, learnt o shift his feet in hitting.”

On defense, Wagner said:

“(T)he quick eye saves many hits…Perhaps one in five ground balls hit to an infielder bound crooked or shoot in unexpected directions, and a quick eye and a good pair of hands will save the team.”

Wagner was also quick to credit his teammates:

“I think the big reason for Pittsburgh’s success has been first that we’ve played together a long time and know each other and second, and greater, that every man is there to win for the team, no matter what he may do himself.  Last year (George) Gibson caught the greatest ball of any catcher living, and he enabled all the rest of us to play team ball all the time because he was in the team work every minute.  Besides (Fred) Clarke is the greatest manager in the business and a great leader.  No one knows how good Clarke is until he has played with him.”

Bowles spoke with one other Pirate player for his series.   Second baseman John “Dots” Miller was the 22-year-old rookie second baseman who played alongside Wagner on the 1909 World Champions.  His answer to “How I Win:”

“I win by watching Wagner.

“When asked to tell how I won I was going to refuse because it does sound ‘swelled’ for a young fellow to tell such things or claim to win until I remembered how it was.

Dots Miller

Dots Miller

“I win because Honus Wagner taught me the game, showed me how to play it something after his own style, so in telling how I win I am only praising the teacher and the man I think is the greatest ballplayer of them all.”

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?”