Tag Archives: George McQuillan

“You have to be Diplomatic Sir, you have to be Diplomatic”

29 Oct

“Wild Bill” Setley’s adventures did not all take place on US soil.  In 1911 Cincinnati Reds pitcher George McQuillan told William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star a story about Setley’s attempt to organize a barnstorming tour in Cuba two years earlier.

Bill Setley 1895

Bill Setley 

“Setley went over to Cuba early in the winter, and conceived the idea that fortunes were to be made in the island.  He wired to a number of ballplayers, urging them to come over, an telling them Cuba was just full of money.  Quite a number of the boys went over on spec, all paying their own fares, and in the near future they all went broke.  The Cubans wouldn’t come across with any money for salaries, some of the boys, being Southern-born, refused to play when they found the Cuban clubs were mostly (black players), and in two weeks Havana was overrun with hungry ballplayers.    They hunted Setley up and chided him for his statement that the island was full of money.  ‘It is,’ said Setley, ‘and I gave you no misinformation.  But I didn’t say anything about your taking any of that money away with you.  The island is fuller of money than before , for you fellows have spent all you brought with you, thus adding to the total.’

“After starving a few days, the boys all got over their race prejudices and caught on with various clubs.  And, a few days later they had the sublime delight of seeing Setley get his.  He was umpiring a big Sunday game at Havana, with an enormous audience in the stands.  His decisions were either fearfully bad, or else he had got the Spanish terms for ball, strike, safe, and out badly twisted when he tried to learn them.  Suddenly, when he called a man out after he had stamped both feet upon the plate, the audience uprose and came flooding towards Mr. Setley.

“Bill had a gun.  Always toted one.  But here came 5,000 Cubans with long knives and machetes, and Setley didn’t stop to make any gun plays.  Far from such.  Out through the gate he galloped, and straight down the Cuban road.  On and on he went, the mob shaking machetes in full cry behind him, and presently he became a speck upon the far horizon.  He had won.  Nobody could catch him.

“Next day I met him, and asked why he didn’t draw his gun and stand at bay.  ‘My boy,’ said he, ‘our relations with Cuba are strained enough as it is.  What would have been the result had I shot down half a dozen of those fellows?  You have to be diplomatic sir, you have to be diplomatic.”

There was no shortage of Setley stories.  Albert Francis “Red” Nelson, who pitched in the major leagues between 1910 and 1913, and played in a number of the minor leagues Setley worked as an umpire, told a few to The Memphis News-Scimitar in 1911.

Red Nelson

Red Nelson

Nelson said when he was playing in the Three-I league:

“A player named (Jim) Novacek was at bat (with the count 3 and 1).  Ball came along, on the outside, way wide.  ‘Strike,’ said Setley.  Novacek roared and howled, quite naturally.  Next ball was also wide .  ‘Four balls, take your base,,’ quoth Setley.  As Novacek started for first he exclaimed sneeringly, ‘That ball was in exactly the same place as the one you called a strike, just before.’  ‘In that case,’ said Setley, ‘I will do anything to oblige you.  Three strikes—you’re out!”

Nelson claimed that Setley had been involved in an incident he said took place in Rock Island, Illinois that included a few elements of the Cuba story;

“Setley is, in my opinion,  a funnier card among umpires than (Rube) Waddell ever was among eccentric ball tossers…On one occasion he was umpiring in some town—I think it was Rock Island—and a couple of his decisions turned the tide in the favor of the Peoria club.  The Rock Island fans promptly stormed into the field and took after Setley, who fled through the gate and down the street with the mob in mad pursuit.  And as Setley ran he threw up one arm in commanding fashion and shouted: “I hereby forfeit this game to Peoria, 9 to 0, you sons of monkeys.”

Nelson also told yet another version of the “mirror story,” which appeared in print in many different versions over the years.  Nelson’s version located the story “at Peoria,” but unlike most versions, failed to name any of the other participants.

It was not unheard of for Setley to simply create a new rule—in force for one game only—when the mood struck.  In one case, while working a Western Association game between the Muskogee Redskins and the Coffeyville White Sox he instituted a one-game only rule that would make him a hero with today’s advocates for shorter games.  The Muskogee Times-Democrat approved as well:

“Umpire Bill Setley yesterday set in force the rule annulling the privilege of the pitcher to throw to a baseman to warm up between innings, and the practice of throwing the ball around the infield, which takes up so much time.  The rule worked well, as the game, with nineteen runs, was finished in a minute over an hour and a half.”

Bill Setley

1 Oct

William Warren “Wild Bill” Setley was a career minor league player and umpire, and one of the most colorful figures in 19th and early 20th Century baseball.

He was born in New Jersey in 1871—Setley often claimed he was born in 1859; his grave marker and several sources still list this date, but there is a New Jersey birth certificate that confirms the 1871 date.

Bill Setley 1895

Bill Setley 1895

Setley spent the early part of his playing career in the Pennsylvania State League (PSL).  The Shenandoah Evening Herald said in 1893:

“(Setley) kept the home management on the anxious bench for many weeks last summer by his daring and acrobatic plays on the diamond and his eccentric whims between games.”

As a pitcher, Setley was credited with introducing the hidden potato play (made famous nearly a century later when Williamsport Bills Catcher Dave Bresnahan pulled a similar stunt), and he was known for turning routine plays in the outfield into spectacular circus catches.

William A. Phelon said Setley was “crazier than Rube Waddell ever thought of being,” and described an incident “when the pennant hung on the final game,”  with the winning runs on base in the ninth inning:

“Out came a fly to Setley.  Instead of catching it squarely in both hands he deliberately turned his back, reached out behind and made a dazzling circus catch—almost an impossibility.”

Years later, another Pennsylvania paper, The Mount Carmel Item described him as:

“(O)ne of the most erratic players in his day and while here a dozen years ago he was in his prime, but for a pack of cigarettes or a drink of whiskey he was liable to throw a game.”

George McQuillan who played in several leagues Setley worked as an umpire said:

“He is one of the real wonders of the game, and it’s too bad the big league fans have never had the chance to see him in action.”

There were many versions of the most often told story about Setley, and  Clarence “Pants” Rowland told the version that most often appeared in print:

Pants Rowland

Pants Rowland

“’I was managing Dubuque in the Three-I League at the time,’ says Rowland.  ‘The game was being handled by Wild Bill Setley, who was quite the character in those days.

“’I was coaching at third base and we got a runner to first during the early innings.  The next batter made a single and our runner started on the dead run from first, rounded second and bore down on third.  Right at his heels was Bill Setley.

“The ball was quickly recovered and beat the runner to third by a couple of steps.  Setley waved him out, and I had nothing to say.  But you should have heard me yell when, on turning, he also called my other man out at second, although he was standing on the base.  The third sacker had whipped the ball down to the second sacker, trying to complete a double play on our man who was trying for the base.

“’Where do you get that way? I demanded.  You had your back turned on the play how could you call him out?’

“’Setley grinned, came over to me, and showed me a small mirror he had concealed in his hand.  ‘I had my eye on the play all the time,’ he said, ‘and you know he was out.’  I was stopped all right, had nothing further to say.’”

Setley, on a few occasions, told a different version of the story.  This one placed the event in Pennsylvania and substituted Jack Tighe for Rowland.

In this rendition, Setley claimed that on the way to the ballpark he received “an advertising mirror” as a present for his daughter.  During the game, Tighe scored from second base on an infield hit, but Setley said:

“(I) knew he couldn’t have reached there if he had gone within 50 feet of the third bag.  The crowd kept yelling ‘Throw the ball to third,’ and when the first baseman did so I called Tighe out.  ‘What’s that?  Out! What do you mean?’ He yelled, chasing out on the diamond like a wild man.  ‘You are out for cutting third.’  ‘Well, if I did you didn’t see me’…’Be reasonable, Jack’ I replied, pulling out the mirror and holding it up in the palm of my hand before my face.  ‘When I was running over to first I had this glass up this way watching you.’  That wilted Tighe and he walked back to the bench as meek as a lamb.”

The Texas League was one of the many minor leagues Setley worked as an umpire.  On September 5, 1910, a triple-header (the first two games were five innings each) was scheduled between the Houston Buffaloes and the Galveston Sand Crabs on the season’s final day, with Setley working as the umpire in all three games.  After the teams split the first two games, The Houston Post said:

“The last game of the Texas League race progressed nicely here until the second inning when (with Galveston at bat) (Gus) Dundon singled to left and (Joe) Kipp had walked.  Then (Houston pitcher  Roy) Mitchell and umpire Setley, while (Bert) James was at the bat, had some words.  Suddenly Mitchell turned on the umpire and knocked him down.  Setley arose and ran towards short position, when Mitchell threw the ball at him, striking him in the back of the head rendering him unconscious.  Immediately the crowd surged into the field.”

The Associated Press added a few details, including that Mitchell “ran up and cuffed (Setley) several times,” after hitting him with the ball, and:

“(S)everal thousand fans had swarmed into the field, all of them apparently in sympathy with Mitchell.

“Setley remained motionless on the ground and the rumor spread like wild-fire over the field that his neck was broken.  Six men picked him up, shouldered him and carried him to the club house, where a physician examined him only to discover that his pulse was perfectly normal and that he was uninjured.  It suddenly dawned on the physician that someone was playing possum.

“’Come out of it Setley,’ said the physician, ‘no one is going to hurt you.’

“Setley ‘came back’ with a grin and said nothing but his feelings had been hurt.”

During the “riot” on the field, the Galveston club left the ballpark in a wagon “and returned to town.”  The game was awarded to Houston as a forfeit.

Mitchell was arrested but quickly released on bond.  Five days later he made his big league debut for the St. Louis Browns, beating the Chicago White Sox 7 to 2.

Roy Mitchell

Roy Mitchell

Somehow the Texas League and the National Commission failed to take any action against Mitchell for more than a month.  The Sporting News said:

“It was a matter of surprise that Mitchell was allowed to come direct to St. Louis and continue play, as if nothing had happened.”

He was fined $50, and while it was announced he was also suspended indefinitely, he was allowed to begin the 1911 season with the Browns.

Setley was let go by the Texas League in November.  The Fort Worth Star-Telegram said:

“(He) will always remember his short sojourn in this league as an umpire, as it probably was one of the most strenuous periods of his existence.  His first appearance was in Fort Worth, where he narrowly avoided a serious conflict with a spectator, and he precipitated wrangles at nearly every point he officiated, with the climax coming in the memorable last day’s game at Houston.”

More Setley stories later this month.