Tag Archives: Fred Mitchell

“A Good Plumber’s Helper but an Inferior Umpire”

21 Apr

Edward F. Ballinger of The Pittsburgh Post described Bill Byron thusly:

“(He) is looked upon among the players as the man who rendered more peculiar decisions than any other official in diamond history.”

Honus Wagner singled out Byron for rendering “the worst decision I ever saw.”

Wagner included the incident in his 1924 series of articles about his career for The North American Newspaper Alliance. He said he was stealing third in a game against the Giants:

“The catcher threw the ball into my feet making it impossible for Devlin—I think it was Devlin— [Note: It was Milt Stock] to pick it up. We both got in a tangle as I slid through a cloud of dust. The ball was bound under my arm where nobody could find it.”

Byron

While the Giants looked for the ball, Wagner headed towards the plate:

“About ten feet from home the ball dropped on the baseline. Now here’s where McGraw got in his fine work. He rushed up to umpire Byron, who had run down to third base to make the decision and told him I carried the ball to the bench in my hand.

“’If you don’t believe it, go to the bench and make them give it to you,’ he urged Byron.

“About this time McGraw’s attention was called to the ball lying on the base path.”

McGraw then told Byron, “That proves it. See! Wagner just rolled it out.”

Wagner said a confused Byron called him out for, “Carrying the ball to the bench with your hand.”

Wagner’s recollection was a bit faulty, in addition to forgetting who was playing third base. The incident happened on July 17, 1914, during the sixth inning of what would turn out to be a 21-inning 3 to 1 victory for the Giants. The game was, to that point, baseball’s longest game and both pitchers, Babe Adams and Rube Marquard pitched complete games.

As for the play, Wagner was not attempting to steal; he was advancing to third from first on a hit by Jim Viox and the throw came from center fielder Bob Bescher.

Contemporaneous accounts in The Pittsburgh Press, The Dispatch, and The Post all said that when the ball fell from Wagner’s uniform, it was immediately picked up by Marquard who threw to third trying to retire Viox who was called safe, rather than Wagner’s version where McGraw called Byron’s attention to the ball.

McGraw, said The Press, came out on the field at that point, “and told Byron Wagner was out.” The umpire agreed and also sent Viox back to second The Post said:

“The Pirates gathered around the umpire and raised a hubbub. (Fred) Clarke read the riot act and was motioned off the lot by umpire Byron.”

Pittsburgh protested the game, but Byron’s ruling was upheld.

Fred Mitchell, manager of the Cubs, was also not a Byron fan, and told Billy Evans in 1920:

“He hasn’t improved much since the summer (1917) he gave a decision that cost me $100 and the game. We were playing in St. Louis and big Mule (Milt) Watson was on the rubber. Art Wilson was at the plate. Watson, as he started to pitch, stubbed his toe and in trying to hold back on the ball threw it wildly and hit Wilson in the back of the neck. Byron would not let him take his base, saying it was a slow ball. I protested and consequently was chased and later fined $100.”

Mitchell’s details of the September 3 game were all correct, except for the outcome of the game. The Cubs beat the Cardinals and Watson 6 to 5. Mitchell had also, “had a mix-up” with Byron the previous day, according to The Chicago Tribune, when the umpire had initially called Tom Long of St. Louis out on a play at the plate, “then called him safe, although (catcher Rowdy) Elliott held the ball.”

Cardinals owner John C. Jones held the same opinion Mitchell did off Byron.  Earlier that same season, Byron made another questionable call on another play involving Tom Long. The Cardinals outfielder hit a ball off Eppa Rixey that appeared to be fair for a double. Byron, despite “the fact that a gap in the whitewash marked the spot,” where the ball hit called it foul.

Long was called out on strikes on the next pitch The Cardinals lost 3 to 2 to the Phillies.

So incensed was Jones at the umpire, whom The St. Louis Star called, “a good plumber’s helper but an inferior umpire,” that he wrote an open letter to fans that appeared in St. Louis papers. He told fans who were present, “The good of the game demands,” that they wire league president John Tener about “Byron’s judgment.”

Jones’ message resulted in bottles and other items being thrown at Byron the following day. Two fans were injured. Cardinal President Branch Rickey disavowed Jones’ comments:

“I strongly advised against it. In fact, both (manager) Miller Huggins and myself wired President Tener that the message did not officially express the club’s sentiments.”

Despite his comment that he did not support the club owners’ position, Rickey was more critical of the umpire in his telegram to Tener than Jones had been in his message to the fans:

“(His) attitude and manners generally were extremely antagonistic to the crowd…If Byron will keep his face to the filed and not parade about in front of the stands, he will have no trouble.”

The previous season, Byron “wrote” an article for The Pittsburgh Press. He said he became an umpire in 1896 only because he couldn’t find enough work in his “first love, steamfitting.” Over two decades he worked his way from the Michigan State League to the National League.

Before steamfitting and umpiring, Byron had briefly played minor league ball:

“As for myself, I am frank to admit that I was the worst ball player that ever broke into the Texas League. I managed to hold my job with the Dallas club for a while, but the race was too fast. It nearly ruined a good steamfitter. Afterward I played semi-professional ball occasionally in Michigan but gave up the game—and what was baseball’s loss was the plumbing trade’s game.”

After four seasons in the Michigan State League, he worked his way up to South Atlantic League, then the Virgina League, followed by International League and finally the Eastern League before his big-league career began.

He became well known—and versions of the story were told for the next two decades—for a call he made on August 31, 1909. In an Eastern League pitchers duel between the second place Newark Indians, with manager Joe McGinnity on the mound and Big Jeff Pfeffer pitching for the fourth place Toronto Maple Leafs.

The game was scoreless in the sixth inning with Newark batting:

The Detroit News said:

“Two were out and the batter (Joe Crisp) raised a high foul within the easy reach of both the Toronto catcher and third baseman.”

Toronto Third baseman Jimmy Frick and catcher Fred Mitchell both stopped when Newark “coacher” Benny Meyer yelled “I’ll take it.”

“The catcher backed away and the ball fell on the Dominion of Canada. Great glee broke out among the Newark contingent, who seemed apparently to conclude that the strategy of the coacher had won the batsman another chance to connect. But they reckoned without Mr. Byron.

“’Batter out!’ yelled the ump.”

McGinnity and “his entire team” came out on the field.:

Byron told the Newark manager:

“’He’s out on interference.’

“This set McGinnity fairly crazy and he frothed at the mouth, ‘But there wasn’t a man within 10 feet of Mitchell when he backed away,’ he screamed.

‘”He’s out on vocal interference; get into the field and finish the game.’ And Byron pulled his watch.”

Pfeffer and McGinnity both went the distance in a 13-inning game won by Toronto 1 to 0. McGinnity filed a protest with the league, but Byron’s decision was upheld.

Byron said the “secret of umpiring” was that “The umpire must keep his head and let the other man lose his.”

The umpire retired before the 1920 season saying he could make more money at his first love.  Evans said of his seven seasons in the National League:

“Like the rest of the umpires, he had his faults. No umpire is infallible, so Bill made mistakes like the rest of us, but they were always honest mistakes.”

He said Byron “always looked trouble in the eye,” and “no gamer fellow” ever wore a mask.

Despite his contentious relationship with McGraw, Evans told a story about a game in New York.  The previous day while making a ruling on a play involving fan interference, “the umpires were criticized” by reporters for their long deliberation. The following day:

“At an amusement park near the Polo Grounds, it was customary for an aviator to do a series of stunts. Usually the aviator paid the Polo Grounds a visit before landing. On this occasion, he flew unusually low over the grounds, so that it was easily possible to see him greet the big crowd with a wave of the hand. Evidently Bill Byron had given some thought of the criticism of the day previous unjustly heaped on the arbitrators for what was called a needless delay.

“Calling time and turning toward the New York bench, he addressed manager McGraw of the Giants thusly.

“If the ball hits the airplane, John, while it is flying over fair territory, it is good for two bases. If it lands in some part of the machine and stays there while flying over fait territory, the runners shall stop at the base last touched when such thing occurs. If the ball lands in some part of the machine while the machine is outside playing territory, it will be good for a home run. Play.”

Evans said McGraw “was shaking with laughter.

The press box was as well:

“Byron’s retort courteous to their slam had not gone over their heads.”

L. C. Davis of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of Byron’s retirement:

“It will always be a moot question whether Lord Byron was greater as a singer or an umpire. But whether singing or umpiring the fans agree that he displayed all the earmarks of a good plumber.”

More Byron, Friday.

Things I Learned on the way to Looking Up Other Things #24

1 Aug

Pitching to Ruth

According to the International News Service, during a discussion before a game in 1919, Frank Baker was talking to his Yankees teammates about “the days when batters demanded the sort of delivery they could hit best.”

ruth

Babe Ruth

The players agreed:

“If that rule were in force in the present day the outfielders would have to be mounted on motorcycles, and Muddy Ruel said that the playing field would have to be as big as the parade grounds at old Camp Pike, where he was at officers training camp.

Just imagine Babe Ruth coming up with the bases filled and a hit needed if he had the privilege of demanding a fastball waist high.  The question of how to pitch to him under such conditions was placed in open discussion.  Ping Bodie solved it.  ‘I’d get back on second base, throw the ball and then duck,’ said Ping.”

Negotiating with Murphy

When it was first rumored that Fred Mitchell would step down as president of the Chicago Cubs in the summer of 1919, there was speculation that Charles Webb Murphy might return to the club as president (Bill Veeck Sr. was ultimately given the position)

Hearing word of Murphy’s possible return, Johnny Evers told The Sporting News what it was like to negotiate a contract with Murphy after the team’s back to back World Series wins in 1907 and 1908:

charlesmurphy

Charles Webb Murphy

“We had made lots of money for the Cubs and certainly expected owner Murphy to give us a big boost in salary.  I received my contract, gave it the once over and returned it to C.W. with the curt reply that I thought I deserved more money for my labors.

“It was not a big salary,  In fact, the sum mentioned was so small that if I were to tell you the amount it would shock you.  Mr. Murphy was shrewd enough to get around my request for a raise.  His reply was to the effect that I might deserve more money, but should be satisfied to work for the amount he mentioned in view of the fact that I had such wonderful stars to help me as Frank Chance on my left and Joe Tinker on my right.

“Joe Tinker also protested against the figures mentioned in his contract that year and the crafty Mr. Murphy’s reply to him was that he should be satisfied to play for almost anything since he was teamed up with such stars as (Harry) Steinfeldt on his right, Evers on his left and Frank Chance at first base.  There was no way to get around an argument like that, and when the season opened Tinker and I were playing at the original figures offered by chubby Charley.”

Arguing with Browning

The Louisville Courier-Journal recalled in 1908 an incident “When Pete Browning played with the Louisville club.”

Browning, said the paper, was “no prize beauty…still he was sensitive regarding his un-Apollo like appearance and would get angry in a moment if any allusion was made to his lack of pulchritude.”

petebrowning

Pete Browning

During a game in Cincinnati, umpire John Gaffney called Browning out on strikes.

 “The big fellow rushed up the umpire roaring like a toreador stuck bull.  But John Gaffney was afraid of no living man, and he ruled the field with a rod of iron, but he was also a reasonable man and would explain his decisions.  However, Pete would listen to no explanations.  Finally, Gaffney became angry, and walking up to Browning, he shook his finger in his face and said:

“’I would like to have a photograph of your face, Browning.’

“’And for why,’ shot back Pete, who was taken wholly by surprise, and began to color up when allusion was made to his face.

“’Why, I have a chicken farm back home,’ said Gaffney, ‘and I would like to put your picture in the coop so as to frighten eggs out of the hens.’”

“I Claim that that First Putout was a Record-Breaker”

9 Apr

When Fred Mitchell was in the process of leading the Cubs to the 1918 National league pennant, George Stallings told boxer turned sports columnist James Corbett that Mitchell was, “a genius as a leader of ball players.”

Corbett said:

“And if anyone should know the ‘what’s what’ concerning the chieftain of the Cubs it’s this same Stallings, who had Mitchell as a lieutenant for over eleven years.”

fredmitchell2

Mitchell

Mitchell, however, had no problem pointing out the times he might not have been the fastest thinker on the field. He recounted one example to Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Herald and Examiner during that pennant winning season:

“The place was St. Louis and the time one season when Fred was a member of the Yankees (1910). The bases were brim full of Browns and the batter banged the ball to second base. Mitch, who was catching, stepped in front of the plate to take the throw, and as he set himself for the peg he heard a noise behind him. Thinking it was the runner scoring from third, he quickly threw the ball to Hal Chase at first to stop the batter. To Mitchell’s surprise, Hal came tearing in and winged the ball right back to him. Then a runner started for second and Mitch shot the pill down to Jack Knight. Jack did the same thing Chase had done; he ran in and banged the pellet right back to Mitch.”

Mitchell picked up the story:

“’By this time I figured that they must want me to keep the ball, so I held it. I looked around and discovered that there were four men on the three sacks, as the the runner had stayed at third, for some reason or other. So I touched the plate for a force out. The man at second had held the base because the runner ahead of him had not advanced and this left two men on first. So, I chased down there, shin guards, protector, big mitt and all, and ran one of the base runners towards second. That forced the man there towards third, so I rounded second after him. Just as I got to shortstop, the runner (who had been on second, rounded third and) made a dash for the plate. So I pegged home from short and Chase tagged the man for a double play.”

fredmitchell3

Mitchell, 1910

Mitchell said he received:

“(A) good bawling out for running around the infield and leaving the plate unprotected.

“I claim that that first putout was a record-breaker, for it went from second to catcher, catcher to first, a first to catcher, catcher to short and short to catcher before I got wise to the fact that there was a force play at the plate.

“I later learned that the noise I thought was the runner scoring had been made by the next batter who picked up the bat near home plate so the runner could slide.”

“Baseball is far behind Golf in its Self-analysis”

1 Jun

During the Chicago Cubs disappointing fifth place finish, with a 67-89 record in 1916, the team hit just .239.

When Manager Joe Tinker was replaced by Fred Mitchell, team owner Charles Weeghman announced that golfer Charles “Chick” Evans, who in 1916 became the first to win the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open in the same year, would be accompanying the team on their spring training trip to Pasadena, California.

Chick Evans

Chick Evans

Weeghman told The Chicago Day Book’s Mark Shields that Evans would teach the hitters “a golf follow through” intended “to increase the batting of the regulars.  Shields said Weeghman “Points to (Frank) Schulte, (Heine) Zimmerman and (Tris) Speaker as strong hitters who use a golf style.”

Weeghman told The Associated Press (AP):

“There is form in the driving of a golf ball, but there is none in driving a baseball.  Applying the form of golf to baseball was responsible for the wonderful driving power of Frank Schulte and Heine Zimmerman.”

The Cubs’ owner allowed that Schulte knew nothing about golf, but said “(H)e unconsciously used the same swing.”

Frank Schulte's swing

Frank Schulte’s swing

Weeghman said the golfer would not be paid for services in order to maintain his amateur standing.

Evans told The Chicago Daily News that “the batsmen don’t have the knowledge of stance, grip and manner of swinging that the more successful golfers possess. “

He told The International News Service that he had considered a career in baseball:

“Chick says that he might have become a baseball player after having pitched a no-hit game for his high school (Evanston Academy).”

Evans claimed “a torn ligament at the shoulder” derailed his plans.

The response to the Cubs’ plan was immediate.

The Daily News said:

“Chick Evans is going to teach the Cubs how to bat, thereby accomplishing something no one else even considered possible.”

Rabbit Maranville told The AP the story was “a funny one,” and that he was sure that the decision to bring in Evans was strictly Weeghman’s, and likely not endorsed by the Cubs’ new manager:

“Doesn’t seem to me as if (Fred) Mitchell is responsible for that stunt.  I guess it’s being wished on him.

“In baseball the batter needs courage.  He does not know when the pitcher is going to slip a notch in his control…Courage is the big asset in batting, and with all the respect in the world to golf, where is there any great courage needed in driving the golf ball?”

While John Brinsley “J.B.”  Sheridan, the sports editor of The St. Louis Globe-Democrat, said ballplayers may derive some benefit from a golfer’s advice:

“Baseball is far behind golf in its self-analysis.  The keen minds of many generations of Scotch students have been devoted to the science of golf.  So far, no keen analytical mind has been given to baseball.  Men who do know the game are usually inarticulate and cannot tell what they know.”

Sheridan outlined how golf in general, and Evans in particular, could help:

“Drawing back the club or the bat slowly is most important.  If the striking implement is drawn back too quickly or with a jerk, the player is thrown off balance and his eye is put out of focus.

“It is notable that the great hitters, Speaker, Joe Jackson, Eddie Collins and others carry their bats well behind them and do not draw back quickly.”

Additionally, Sheridan said other “golf maxims will help” hitters, including:

“Hit off the (front) foot.  Keep your eye on the ball.  Do not hit too hard.  Follow through.”

Weeghman’s plan was finally shelved shortly before the team departed for the West Coast.  The Daily News said the United States Golf Association (USGA) could strip Evans of his amateur standing:

“If Evans uses his ability as a golfer to aid him in attempting to instruct ballplayers how to swing their bats, it appears that he will take a long chance.”

Charles Weeghman

Charles Weeghman

Evans was in California at the same time as the Cubs in March, and although newspapers had announced he would accompany the team “over the Sante Fe” railroad on the trip, it is unclear whether he actually traveled with the team.  The AP said he “stayed far away” from the Cubs’ practices in order to not run afoul of the USGA, but one paragraph in The  Chicago Tribune the day after the club’s first practice in Pasadena was rained out, likely exposed the Cubs’ owner’s real intention for wanting Evans in California:

“(The rain) did not keep Prexy Weeghman from tackling Chick Evans in a golf match.  They had played only twelve of the eighteen holes when the mist became so active it stopped the contest.  At the finish, the score stood $11 to $1 in favor of the national amateur champion.”

The Cubs posted a slightly improved 74-80 record, but once again finished in fifth place.  Whether the lack of instruction from Chick Evans was a factor or not, the team’s batting average was .239; identical to their 1916 average.

A Thousand Words–Joe Tinker

1 Jul

Quick hits Monday through Friday this week for the holiday–regular items will return next week.

joetinkerkids

Joe Tinker, manager of the Chicago Cubs shows boys from the Chicago Schools Baseball League the finer of points of hitting before a July 1916 game with the Boston Braves.

Tinker returned to the Cubs in 1916 after having managed the Chicago Whales to the Federal League pennant the year before.  Whales owner Charles Weeghman purchased the Cubs after the Federal League folded and installed Tinker as manager.  Chicago fans had high expectation for Tinker’s team, because in addition to the manager, Weeghman brought most of the key players from the Federal champions to the Cubs.  But after a 9-17 record in July.  Rumors began to swirl that Weeghman would replace Tinker as manager after the Cubs owner traded for catcher Art Wilson on July 29; Wilson had been a Weeghman favorite when he caught for the Whales.

In August, Tinker blamed the Cubs disappointing season on third baseman Heinie  Zimmerman, telling The Chicago Daily News:

“Zimmerman is no good to the ball team.  he does not take any interest in his work and does not care whether the club wins or loses.  He did not report for practice yesterday and on other days is always the last one out for work.  Most of the players feel he does not belong on the team.  He is killing the harmony we had and that is why I would prefer to dispose of him.  He won’t play ball and does not use any judgment and with a man like that a flag cannot be won.”

Tinker survived the season, Zimmerman did not.  He was traded to the New York Giants on July 28.

The Cubs finished in 5th place, 67-86.  Tinker was let go after the season, he was not replaced by Wilson, as rumored, but instead by Fred Mitchell, who after a fifth place in 1917 led the Cubs to the National League pennant in 1918.

Tinker managed, and was a part owner, of  the Columbus Senators in the American Association in 1917 and ’18.