Tag Archives: George Stallings

“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.”

Lost Advertisements–John McGraw for Coca-Cola

18 Mar

mcgrawcoke

“Haven’t you noticed that the men who do the biggest work for the longest time in baseball, both mentally and physically, are Coca-Cola enthusiasts?

John J. McGraw drinks Coca-Cola.”

After winning three straight pennants with the Giants from 1911-1913, McGraw was confident his team was heading for a fourth straight National League championship after his club took over first place on May 30.  In September, the surging Boston Braves–who were in eighth place when New York took over first– split a doubleheader with the Giants to remain tied for first place (The Braves were tied with the Giants for one day on August 25 and were in sole possession of first for one day earlier in the month).

That day, under the headline “Prophecies and sich!” Ralph Davis of The Pittsburgh Press presented a series of quotes he attributed to McGraw which nicely summed up the season’s pennant race:

“John McGraw said on June 1: ‘The big disappointment of the year has been the Boston Nationals.  I thought (George) Stallings would get his team into the first division at the start and keep it there.’

George Stallings

George Stallings

“John McGraw said on July 1: ‘Those poor old Bostonians are still at the bottom of the pile, where they seem to be anchored.  The team is surely the surprise of the season.’

“John McGraw said on Aug 1: ‘The Boston Braves have made a great showing during the past two weeks, and are now in fourth place.  They will probably slump again, but should not drop back into last place.’

“John McGraw said on Aug. 15: ‘Boston is now in second place, but we are not worried about that.  Their present spurt is merely a flash, and they will soon be headed the other way.’

“John McGraw said on Sept. 1: ‘As I predicted, the Braves did not stay with us.  They have dropped back to second place and have probably shot their bolt.  They will decline from this out.  Mark my words.’

“John McGraw said on Sept. 7: “Those Braves blankety blank, blank, etc…, ad infinitum!’

McGraw

McGraw

“Which being interpreted means Boston once more tied with the Giants for the lead, and shows no sign of breaking badly, as the eminent Mr. McGraw predicted.”

Davis’ prophecy that the Braves showed “no sign of breaking badly” was correct.  Boston beat the Giants 8 to 3 the following day, recapturing sole possession of first place.  They never looked back.  The Braves went 25-6  (with three ties) the rest of the season and cruised to the pennant, beating McGraw’s Giants by 10 1/2 games.

“Daily Chats with Famous Ballplayers”

18 Sep

In 1916, a series of two to three paragraph items called “Daily Chats with Famous Ballplayers” (some papers called the feature different names) appeared in several smaller West Coast and Midwest newspapers.

Some highlights:

Oscar “Ossie” Vitt, third baseman for the Detroit Tigers, who survived a beaning from Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators on August 10, 1915:

“The world stopped moving when the ball nicked my bean.  Johnson thought I was killed and I guess I thought so myself for awhile, so far as I was able to think at all.

Ossie Vitt

Ossie Vitt

“My head proved to be the goods alright and wasn’t worse for wear.  But it upset Johnson so much that he couldn’t locate the plate and we pounded him all over the lot (Vitt was hit leading off the first inning—Johnson gave up eight runs after that in six innings and lost 8 to 2 to Detroit).”

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Henry “Hi” Jasper on the superstition of teammate Harry “Slim” Sallee:

“Sal’s pet superstition is that it’s bad luck for him to warm up with any catcher but the one who is to work in the game with him.

“If the playing backstop has batted last and has to put on his shin guards and armour before warming up, Sal will never throw a ball to the plate to any man who may come out of the dugout with a mitt.  He will throw either to the first or third baseman.”

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Al Mamaux on a lesson learned during a loss to the Chicago Cubs in September of 1914:

“Smart old timers can always make it tough for youngsters just breaking in.  I remember one day when I was the goat for a trick pulled by Roger Bresnahan.”

Mamaux

Al Mamaux

Mamaux said Chicago had two runners on base and Bresnahan was coaching third.

“(He was) talking real friendly like to me (then) hailed me suddenly as the ball was returned to me.  ‘Say Al, toss me that ball I want to look at it,’ said Roger.  I didn’t give it a second thought…tossed it towards him and I’ll be darned if he didn’t step to one side and yell to the runners to beat it home.  Each advanced a base and would have scored if Jimmy Viox hadn’t run his head off to recover the ball.  Believe me that one cured me.”

George Stallings, on suspensions and how badly the Boston Braves needed George Stallings:

“You don’t have to call an umpire all the names in the calendar to draw a suspension.  I got three days off for just remarking to (Charles “Cy”) Rigler that he ought to go to jail for umpiring a game like he did the other day.

George Stallings

George Stallings

“Nothing that I could say or do would make any difference.  What I can say though right now is that the action of (National League) President (John) Tener, coming as it does, with the race so close, appears peculiar to say the least (Tener said the suspension was for a series of altercations that Stallings and his players had with umpires during the two months before the August suspension was announced).

“Without any braggadocio I can say that my suspension will cripple my club considerably.  I know what my presence means to the club and so does President Tener.”

Boston won all three games during Stallings’ suspension and regained second place, but finished the season in third, five and half games behind the Brooklyn Robins.

“Babe Ruth has a Locker full of Charms”

13 May

Eddie Collins had spent 25 years in the major leagues as a player, coach and manager by 1930 when he spoke to a writer for “Every Week Magazine” about superstitions.

Eddie Collins

Eddie Collins

The article noted:

“Collins, by the way, has been credited with being one of the most superstitious players in the national game.  His habit of sticking a piece of chewing gum on the button of his cap has almost become a tradition.  If the pitcher had two strikes on him, Eddie would jerk off the cap, yank the gum from the bottom, stick it in his mouth and chew violently.”

But, Collins, a graduate of Columbia University, didn’t consider himself superstitious and told the magazine:

 “The average man playing professional baseball today is too well-educated actually to believe you can make home runs by picking up hairpins or adopting any of the other numerous superstitions which have come to be so much part of the game. “

As for the obvious superstitions he and many other players, educated or not, subscribed to, Collins said they were merely “eccentricities,” and that “Having them gives confidence.”

That said:

“The late George Stallings was one of the most sensible men baseball has produced.  He was the personification of common sense and one of the last persons in the world you would credit with being superstitious.  Nevertheless, a single scrap of paper tossed on the ground in front of the dugout meant all sorts of bad things to George. It upset him completely and his managerial skill seemed to fade.”

George Stallings

George Stallings

Joe Sewell of the Cleveland Indians was another “college man,” someone who “generally loses any belief in omens.”  But, Sewell “after his last crack at the bat during practice” insisted on running towards third and touching the bag before anyone else did.  One day in Cleveland, the too educated to be superstitious Sewell started towards third, only to see Collins, also too educated to believe in superstitions, had:

“(D)ashed out of the Athletics’ dugout and touched the sack ahead of Joe and Joe didn’t get a hit during the afternoon.”

Joe Sewell

Joe Sewell

Next was Urban Shocker, who insisted no one touched his glove during a game.  Despite being “too wise a man to believe” such a thing, Collins told how during a game against the Athletics, “Eddie Rommel spotted the glove and knowing Shocker’s eccentric regard for it, walked over and picked it up, examined it and then tossed it back on the turf.”  The “too wise” Shocker:

“(S)aw red.  He became visibly unsettled.  He blew up the next inning.”

As for the game’s biggest star:

Babe Ruth has a locker full of charms, fetishes and tokens; fastened to the door is a wooden horseshoe with a four-leaf clover carved on it, and on top stands a totem pole and other curious objects guaranteed by enthusiastic donors to bring luck.”

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

Collins said the previous season when the Athletics were on their way to Chicago for game 3 of the World Series with the Cubs:

“(T)here was a fan on the train with us  who had a great fondness for canned pineapple.  He insisted the players eat some the morning of the game predicting we’d win if we did.  Well, we did, and we won.”

Collins said he, and the rest of the Athletics, too smart for superstition:

“Had pineapple every morning the rest of the series.”

Humpy Badel

27 Apr

Fred Badel was the first player in professional baseball (and most likely the only one) who suffered from Kyphosis, the over-curvature of the upper back.  In less sensitive times, the first decade of the 20th Century, this led to his nickname: Humpy.

Badel was born in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, March 6, 1881, although contemporary newspaper accounts implied he was much older.  He never learned to read or write, and despite his medical condition developed into a solid ballplayer.

The Altoona Tribune said:

“He is a little left-handed hitter, fast on his feet, and an excellent baserunner.”

The Tribune also said he was “(A) protegé of (Honus) Wagner.”

The Pittsburgh Press said he was:

“[E]xtremely fast on his feet, can hit like a fiend, and fields his position in a most finished manner.”

That description of Badel’s abilities appeared in an article about “The assertion…there are three classes of men who do not succeed in fast company in baseball, namely Hebrews, hunchbacks and Negroes,” the article failed to mention the concerted effort of organized baseball to keep at least two of those “classes” out of the game.)

Fred “Humpy” Badel

His professional career began in 1905 with Johnstown in the independent “outlaw” Tri-State League, although earlier he appears to have played for the Youngstown team in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League, and independent teams in Pennsylvania.

No statistics survive, but Badel appears to have played well.  He was described variously by Pennsylvania papers as a “picturesque character” and “odd,” but there seemed to be general agreement that he was destined for the big leagues.  He also had a reputation for playing dirty, The Williamsport Sun-Gazette said he had “a nasty trick of trying to spike basemen.”

At the close of the 1905 season, Badel was signed by the Buffalo Bisons in the Eastern League, managed by George Stallings.  Stallings, who had managed the Bisons since 1902, took the team south for spring training for the first time.

George Stallings

The trip was so successful that Stallings said he’d never again hold spring training in a northern climate—a regular practice at that time.

When the Bisons stopped in Cincinnati for an exhibition game with the Reds on April 10, Badel made an impression.

The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“Humpy Badel was the bright particular star of the game…Badel is humpback, but a great athlete, with great speed and a fine arm.  An outfielder who cuts into two double plays in one game is going some.  He also made a fine catch on (Jim) Delahanty‘s drive in the second, which would have gone on for three bags…Badel was the main Bison slugger, securing two of the four hits off (Orville) Overall and one of the three off (Leo) Hafford.  Toward the end of the game, the bleacherites were cheering him on with cries of ‘good work, Humpy,’ and applauding every move he made.”

The Enquirer reported that Stallings turned down a  $4000 offer from Cincinnati–it was later reported to be $5000– to purchase Badel’s contract; the paper said Reds Manager Ned Hanlon badly wanted Badel.

Within months everything changed.  He was with Buffalo until July, 6, when without notice he jumped the team and returned to Johnstown.

badel

A cartoon from The Harrisburg Telegraph featuring Badel.

 

The Buffalo Courier blasted Badel; under the headline “Humpy Badel is a Foolish Man” the newspaper detailed how well he had been treated in Buffalo.  While acknowledging that Badel “Has the makings of a great player in him,” the paper repeatedly mentioned his illiteracy, claimed he “Lacked common sense,” missed or ignored signs, refused Stallings’ attempts to help him,  and was the subject of ridicule from his teammates who considered him ignorant.

The Buffalo Times summed up their view in verse:

“There was an outfielder named Humpy.

Whose work was decidedly lumpy;

So one bright summer day

He asked George for his pay,

And went back to the farm rather grumpy.”

Badel’s hometown papers in Pittsburgh and Sporting Life were somewhat less harsh, but all said that Badel’s leaving Buffalo probably ended a sure chance at a major league career.  Rumors that he jumped because oil had been found on his Pennsylvania land and he no longer needed to play ball were quickly dismissed.

There is no record of Badel ever having been asked for an explanation for why he left Buffalo and effectively ended any chance he had to play in the major leagues.

Badel hit over .300 in Johnstown during the second half of 1906.  He did not play professional ball in 1907, some reports said he had been blacklisted, others claimed he was ill–The Washington Herald said he was “in the grip of consumption,” although that report was likely false.

He appeared briefly with Johnstown again in 1908, but it appears he was not the same player.  The Harrisburg Star-Independent said:

“‘Humpy’ Badel has degenerated.  The eccentric one is no longer the valuable player which he showed himself to be in 1906.”

Badel is listed on the rosters of several independent, C and D league teams between 1910 and 1914, including the “outlaw” United States League in 1912 and the Federal League in 1913.  As was the case throughout his career, there are few extant statistics for Badel during this period.

The last mention of Badel in the press was the report of  his release from Maysville in the Ohio State League in June of 1914.  According to census records and his World War I registration card, he lived in Cincinnati, then Akron and worked as a carpenter until 1919.

 After 1919, there are no records of Badel, a suitable, enigmatic end to the story of an enigmatic man.

A shorter version of this post was published on August 21, 2012

“Signals had a lot to do with our Winning the Championship”

16 Jan

George Stallings had been accused of being a sign stealer.  And, when he finally won his first and only championship with the miracle Boston Braves in 1914—the team was 35-43 and in eighth place on July 18—his shortstop, Walter “Rabbit” Maranville claimed sign stealing was a part of the team’s success.

Rabbit Maranville

Rabbit Maranville

The Boston Post quoted Maranville speaking to a group from Boston College during the winter after the team’s World Series victory:

“Signals had a lot to do with our winning the championship.  We had signals of our own, of course, and so far as I know they never were solved consistently.  We were able to get the meaning of the signals of the other team in nearly every other city of the league.  In St. Louis we knew almost every move that the other fellow was going to make, and that helped a lot.  Their signals were very easy.  Other teams had harder signals, but we managed to get most of them, while the other side was doing the guessing.”

Whether or not sign stealing played a part, the Braves were 9-1 (with one game ending in a tie) in their last 11 games against the St. Louis Cardinals and their “very easy” signals.

While Stallings never confirmed Maranville’s claim, he did tell The Boston Globe that winter that took great pains to ensure that their signs weren’t stolen in the World Series:

George Stallings

George Stallings

“Although we had a set of signals that I don’t think any ballclub in the world could have gotten on to we heard rumors that the (Philadelphia) Athletics had been tipped off to them.  We framed up an entire new set, and a coacher or base runner could have looked square into the catcher’s glove and never had gotten these.  (Connie) Mack’s men failed to get a sign of ours in the series so far as I know.”

“Stories of his Badness are told all over the League”

8 Oct

After “Bad Bill” Eagan finished the 1898 season with the Syracuse Stars –he hit just .227, his lowest recorded minor league season average—then returned to his native Camden, NJ–Eagan started his amateur baseball career in Camden as a pitcher, his catcher was another Camden native, William “Kid” Gleason.

Bad Bill Eagan

Bad Bill Eagan

The Harrisburg Telegraph—Eagan had spent two seasons playing in the Pennsylvania city—told the story:

“Bill Eagan the once great second baseman of the Harrisburg Club, in a fair example of what rum will do when it gets the upper hand of a man.  Eagan would have been one of the leading players of the profession if he had left strong drink alone.  He was a sure fielder, hard batter and quick baserunner and ought to be in his prime as a player by this time, but he has drained too many mugs and now winds up in a police court at his home in Camden, NJ, on a charge of attempted murder.

“Eagan was intoxicated yesterday and displaying a 48-caliber revolver, placed it to his temple and remarked: ‘I am going to kill my wife and blow my brains out.’ He paid Barber Riceman fifty cents which he owed him, and also paid a nearby saloon keeper $1 for drinks that he had bought.  Then he returned to the barber shop, said good-bye to his friends, and exclaiming; “Now I am free from debt and am ready to do the job,’ he started for his home and put the threat into execution.

When he arrived home Eagan fired two shots at—and missed–his wife, and then attempted to shoot one of the responding police officers, but because of “a quick blow from (another police officer’s) club the murderous weapon was knocked from the crazed man’s hand.”

The Chicago Tribune said:

“William Eagan, or, as he is known in the baseball profession, ‘Bad Bill’ Eagan, is a player of national reputation.  He is an ignorant man, and stories of his badness are told all over the league.  He was considered one of the best ball players in the profession.”

The Tribune said about Eagan’s brief stay with Pittsburgh earlier in 1898:

“He failed to behave himself, and drunkenness was the charge which let him out as a Pirate.”

Eagan was held in the Camden jail from October of 1898 until March of 1899; it is unclear what he was formally charged with, and he was never tried.

In spite of his reputation, baseball wasn’t done with “Bad Bill” yet.  Shortly after his release from jail, Syracuse sold Eagan’s contract to the Western League’s Detroit Tigers.  His statistics for the season don’t survive, but Eagan seems to have gone back to his old habits.  After he sat out both games of a double-header with the Kansas City Blues in July, The Kansas City Journal said:

“’Bad Bill’ Eagan acquired a jag yesterday and succeeded in making a holy show of himself.  Such creatures and ‘Bad Bill’ should be out of the game.”

Eagan was also seriously injured the same month when, according to The Associated Press, during a game with the Columbus Buckeyes, while trying to stretch a double into a triple:

“Eagan threw himself, feet foremost toward the bag.  His spike caught in the base sack and his right leg was given a terrible wrench.  ‘Bad Bill’ screamed with pain and in an instant was surrounded by members of both teams… (He) had thrown out his kneecap.  (A doctor) pushed the cap back and then the injured player was carried to the bench.”

Whether the injury contributed or not is unknown, but by August The Sporting Life reported that he had again worn out his welcome:

“Bad Bill” Eagan has worn a Detroit uniform for the last time. Eagan has not behaved at all and (George) Stallings has got through for good and all with him.”

George Stallings

George Stallings

One more team was willing to take a chance on Eagan; he was signed for 1900 by the Youngstown Little Giants in the Interstate League.  After appearing in just 26 games The Sporting Life reported that:

“Eagan has been playing ball in Youngstown, OH, but he said he needed a rest.  He came to Detroit for that purpose Saturday morning, and he paid $5 in the police court this morning for the first installment. “Bad Bill” said he was so glad to get back and he met so many friends that he rather lost track of the proceedings. He had fallen Into a Rip Van Winkle sleep when the policeman picked him up. “Bad Bill” paid his fine and went out for the “rest.” Bill doesn’t think much of Youngstown, he says. “

The Youngstown Vindicator said Eagan was released by the Little Giants before he left for Detroit

In either case, he had finally run out of chances, and never played another professional game.

The Indianapolis News said, in late August of 1900, that Eagan was:

 “(P)icked up on the streets of Detroit) insane.  He was removed to the emergency hospital, where he became violent and it took a number of men to overpower him and take him to the station and confine him in a padded cell.  Drink caused Eagan’s downfall. Sober he was a hard working ambitious ball player; if a drink or two were given to him he became a dangerous maniac.”

He was released after several days, and the the many premature rumors of his death began at that point, while Eagan continued to tend bar in Detroit. In April of 1904 w he became ill and was sent to a tuberculosis sanitarium in Denver.  Ten months later “Bad Bill” was dead at age 35.

Despite having played just six games with Chicago in 1893 Eagan made such an William A. Phelon that more than 20 years later he wrote in “Baseball Magazine:”

 “Although the poor fellow had few chances given him in the big league, I always thought there never yet was a second baseman who mixed and mingled in the furtherance of infield plays like Bad Bill Eagan. Possibly I can best symbolize Eagan’s style of second-basing, for the present generation, by stating that he played second just about as (Fred) Tenney played first. (Eddie) Collins doesn’t go so far from second as Eagan did, nor does he carry out nearly so many plays—but it’s quite likely he could if he had to—if he didn’t have, through the past few years, the marvelous (Jack) Barry cutting in and taking his half of the proceedings.

Eagan, though, was almost uncanny at times. I saw him working with (Cap) Anson on first and (Bill) Dahlen at short. It might be taken for granted that Eagan would have to move round considerably on the side toward first, with the ponderous and fast-aging Anson on station one, but Dahlen was then in the flush of his youth and a moving streak at short—when he wanted to be. Yet I saw Eagan bewildering Dahlen as well as Anson by the phantom-like rapidity of his movements, and the way in which he suddenly appeared at the spot where the play should be kept going, arriving on the ground before Dahlen could even draw back his arm to throw.”

“The Experiment Was a Failure, But the Crowd Laughed”

27 Nov

In July of 1890 the Hartford franchise in the Atlantic Association–occasionally but not officially dubbed the “Nutmeggers” by the local press—were struggling financially.  So much so that the public was called upon to help raise enough money to meet payroll and get the team through the season.

The Sporting Life said a “meeting for the revivification” of the team was held on July 21, and a fundraising picnic was planned for August.  But the team’s best hope to raise enough money was  July 24: a game by electric light.

The first nighttime game was played a decade earlier, but the novelty of two professional teams playing under lights was enough that 4000 fans attended the exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles at Ward Street Grounds.

The consensus opinion of the contest was summed up in The New York World headline:

The Experiment Was a Failure, But the Crowd Laughed

The paper said the game was lighted using “nine arc lamps in different sections of the field,” but the “light was dim and the players could hardly be distinguished…The game was a farce, but everybody was good-natured and the enterprise proved a first-class benefit for the home club.”

Only four innings were played.  The final score is in dispute.  Most recent accounts say Hartford won 20-19.  Most contemporary accounts, including The World and The Sporting Life said the score was 26-19.

The Baltimore Sun said Hartford’s net profit of $300 from the game enabled “management of the club to pay the players in full to July 15.” However, The Sun said there was a cost, Hartford catcher George Stallings was injured and “unable to play today as a result of last night’s so-called ballgame.”

George Stallings

George Stallings, injured in “so-called ballgame”

The proceeds from the night game and public contributions were not enough.

On August 14 Hartford was unable to come up with the $75 guarantee for the visiting Wilmington Blue Hens, and the game was cancelled.  Two days later, despite what The Sporting Life called “the club’s gallant fight,”  Hartford disbanded.

“Johnson can Hit the Ball as far as Anybody”

14 Oct

After Hal Chase replaced George Stallings as manager of the New York Highlanders, Otis “Ote” Johnson was given another opportunity to play for the team.

Highlanders’ second baseman Frank LaPorte and third baseman Jimmy Austin were traded to the St. Louis Browns for third baseman Roy Hartzell.  Chase said he’d move shortstop John Knight to second and playing Johnson at shortstop.

The Sporting Life quoted Chase saying he planned to play Johnson at short “for his batting,” but noted that Johnson “only batted .223 in the fast Eastern League last season.”

Otis "Ote" Johnson

Otis “Ote” Johnson

New York scout Arthur Irwin agreed with Chase that the team needed Johnson’s bat in the lineup, and told The New York Globe:

“Johnson can hit the ball as far as anybody, and what is more he can hit often.”

The New York Herald said:

“Johnson is a beautiful fielder as well as a good hitter, and it is Chase’s intention to have him take the shortstop job.”

That’s where Johnson was on Opening Day, a 2 to 1 victory over the defending World Champion Philadelphia Athletics; Johnson batted seventh, went 0 for two with a walk and a sacrifice, and scored a run.

After sweeping Philadelphia in three games, New York split a four game series with the Washington Senators.

The Washington Herald said New York’s new shortstop “sure looked good, he fielded his position in fine shape,” and “keeps the infield alive with his funny remarks.”

A month after the season began The Indianapolis News said Johnson was “called home (to Muncie, Indiana) by the serious illness of his mother.”  Three days later the paper said he returned to New York “his mother’s condition having considerably improved.”  Within a week of his return the New York papers reported that Johnson had filed for divorce from his wife.

Less than two weeks later Johnson lost his starting job; Knight moved to short and Earle Gardner played second base.

Ote Johnson

Ote Johnson 1911

The San Francisco Chronicle said of the former Pacific Coast League star:

“Ote Johnson has been benched for his weak hitting.  He put up a star game in the field…but Ote did not respond with the hitting which featured his work when he was with Portland.”

Three days after he was benched Johnson left the team again to finalize his divorce.  After returning Johnson became New York’s primary utility infielder until he fell out of favor with Hal Chase.  The manager had been criticised as the team slumped for, as The Globe said “utterly lacking in the qualities for successful management.”

By August the team was fourteen games out of first place and The Herald said:

“Hal Chase, who has been very lenient with his players, is drawing the string tighter.”

The paper said Johnson “has been suspended without pay for violating the club’s rule of discipline.”  It was never revealed what rule was violated, but Johnson was suspended for about a week.  Johnson also hurt his throwing arm in August, further limiting his playing time.

Many in the New York press questioned Chase’s ability as a manager; Wilton Simpson Farnsworth of The New York Evening Journal was the exception.  Farnsworth said of Chase, when the team was 13 games back in August:

“Hal Chase, the game’s greatest first baseman, has made good as manager of the new York Yankees…Knockers claim that poor management is keeping the Yanks down, but forget it! A bad break in luck plus innumerable injuries is the cause.”

Hal Chase

Hal Chase

Regardless of the reasons, 1910’s second place team was limping to a sixth place finish. Chase resigned as manager in November.  Johnson hit just .234 and committed 31 errors in just 65 games.  He was released to the Rochester Hustlers in the International league in December.

Johnson spent just one season in Rochester; he hit .268 and got married; after the season his contract was sold to the Binghamton Bingoes in the New York State League (NYSL).  Johnson protested the pay cut his Binghamton contract called for, and initially threatened to jump to the PCL, he eventually signed a contract and became popular with fans.  He hit the Bingoes first home run of the 1913 season and was awarded with a free daily shave from a local barber and fan named Billy McCann.

He played most of the next three seasons in the NYSL—with the exception of 45-games with the St. Paul Apostles in the American Association at the beginning of the 1914 season.

After playing for the Elmira Colonels in 1915 Johnson recommended two players to his friend Walter “Judge” McCredie on the Portland Beavers—his teammate, pitcher Frank Caporal, and Syracuse Stars first baseman Owen Quinn—and it appeared the 31-year-old Johnson might be heading back to Portland where he remained very popular.

On November 9 Johnson went hunting with friend in Binghamton.  The (Portland) Oregonian said:

“Ote Johnson, famous ‘Home Run’ Ote of the Portland Pacific Coast team of 1907, 1908 and 1909, is dead…It seems Johnson, in company with a party of friends, went forth in search of game and while chasing a wounded fox stumbled and fell, both barrels of the shotgun he was carrying discharged into his abdomen.

“To the older generation of Portland fans Johnson will be remembered for his prowess in poling out long bingles.  He was one of the longest hitters that ever wore the livery of a Coast League club.  Some are prone to argue that he eclipsed the performances of (Frank) Ping Bodie and Harry Heilman, who are now the long-swat stars of the circuit.  Johnson also had a peculiar throw from third that will be remembered–He had a perfect underhand throw and was a wonder at handling bunts.”

He was buried in Johnson City, New York–his pallbearers included several players: Mike Roach, Charles Hartman, Mike Konnick, and William Fischer,

“The Longest Hit in the World”

10 Oct

Walter “Judge” McCredie, longtime Portland Beavers player, manager and president said the longest home run he ever saw was hit by Otis L. “Ote” Johnson when Johnson played for him:

“The drive of Ote Johnson’s at Los Angeles (in 1909) was the longest clout I have ever witnessed.  Out in center field they had a pavilion 150 feet long.  Hits at Chutes Park in Los Angeles had never come within fifty feet of the pavilion…Johnson put the ball clean over the pavilion and the ball bounced into the bandstand for what I call the longest hit in the world.”

By the time he hit that ball in Portland he had already been called “Home run” Johnson for at least five years, a name earned in the Texas League when he hit 22 home runs in two seasons for the Dallas Giants—he finished third with 12 in 1903 and led the league with 10 in 1904.

Otis "Ote" Johnson

Otis “Ote” Johnson

Johnson was born in Fowler, Indiana in 1882, and grew up in Muncie.  The Dallas Morning News said fellow Indianan Claude Berry recommended Johnson to Dallas.  Primarily a shortstop, Johnson also played first, third and outfield, and appeared in more than 30 games as a pitcher during his professional career.

Johnson was sold to the Little Rock Travelers near the end of the 1904 season; he remained with Little Rock through 1906 but hit just .210 against “A” class Southern Association pitching.  He was sold to the Charleston Sea Gulls in the class “C” South Atlantic League before the 1907 season and hit .263, leading the team in doubles (27), triples (13) and home runs (10).

His performance in Charleston earned him another shot in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) when his contract was sold to Portland.  After a slow start at the tail-end of the 1907 season, Johnson regained his form, hitting .280 with 10 home runs in 1908 and .293 with 13 home runs (including his “longest hit in the world”) in 1909.

McCredie said the day Johnson hit his home run against Los Angeles scouts from the New York Highlanders was in the stands:

“(A)fter the battle they asked me to put a price on Ote.  I did, and a few days later the deal was consummated.”

The price was $4,000.

As Johnson prepared to join the Highlanders and manager George Stallings for spring training in Georgia, the New York press was excited about the team’s new prospect who was spending the winter in Muncie working and playing goalie Muncie’s professional roller polo team.  The New York Globe said:

“There is a ‘terrible Swede’ coming to New York next season.  He is a glass blower and makes from $6 to $7 a day in a factory at Muncie, Ind., and in the summertime he makes his living at swinging a large club and gathering bad and good bounders on the baseball field…The boy we’re harping about is Ote Johnson, who will be a member of the New York Americans. (In the PCL) he is known as ‘Home Run’ Johnson.  They say he has driven many a pitcher to the bench.”

George Stallings

George Stallings

Phil Cooney, a New Yorker, who played with Johnson in Portland, told The Globe:

“They seem to think that this boy Johnson can’t hit a curve ball, but Stallings will find out that he can hit any kind.”

On March 23 Stallings told The New York American that Johnson, who was playing third base and shortstop, “couldn’t hit.” Two days later The American said:

“Ote Johnson this afternoon gave an apt illustration of a home run and for the first time since he reported to Stallings the Portland demon found his batting eye.  But for the most daring burglaries on the part of (William) Birdie Cree, the big third sacker would have hit for 1.000 during the afternoon.  As it was he had a single and a homer in three times at bat.  His single might have been a homer had not (2nd baseman) Earle Gardner sprang into the air and retarded its progress by a blind stab.  But the four-base smash was beyond reach.

“Johnson got to one of (Dick) Carroll’s choicest curves and knocked the ball further than any had ever before traveled in Georgia.  Birdie Cree was playing deep for the big fellow.  The ball went so far that Cree had not gotten to it by the time Johnson crossed the home plate, and he only jogged from second.  The ball rolled to the fence, which is fully 300 yards from the plate.”

As late as April 1 it looked like Johnson might stick with New York.  The Trenton Evening Times said:

“The latest ‘phenom’ to be discovered is Otis Johnson, the New York Americans’ third sacker.  This recruit has been playing sensational games around the last station since he joined the club…Johnson is also quite a slugologist.  In the last few games the youngster has been batting like a Tyrus Cobb.  In a recent game at Athens, Ga., he made four hits in as many times at bat.  Among them was a home run.  Manager Stallings says he thinks Johnson will make a great name for himself this season.”

Despite the build up, and the reports of his prowess at the plate, Johnson did make Stallings’ club.  His contract was sold to the Jersey City Skeeters in the Eastern League.

The (Portland) Oregonian said New York “farmed out” the former Beaver star despite the fact that:

“New York critics credit Ote, nevertheless, with having more promise than some of the players retained by Stallings.”

Johnson hit just .223 with 9 home runs (second in the league) with Jersey City, but would benefit from unrest in the New York clubhouse.  Manager George Stallings accused his star first baseman, Hal Chase, of trying to throw a game in St. Louis (the first of what would become many accusations against Chase). Stallings said he would resign if Chase wasn’t let go; Highlander owner Frank Farrell sided with Chase and forced Stallings out in September; Chase was named manager.

Hal Chase

Hal Chase

After the season ended the New York papers said Johnson would on Chase’s club the following season, either at third base in place of Jimmy Austin (who was rumored to be on the market, and eventually traded to the St. Louis Browns), or to play shortstop in place of John Knight  who would be moved to second base to replace Frank LaPorte (also on the market, and also eventually traded to St. Louis with Austin).

More Otis Johnson on Monday.