Tag Archives: George Stovall

“Baumgardner Ought to be one of the Greatest Pitchers in Baseball”

30 Jul

Two things were certain after George Baumgardner’s major league debut—a 4 to 1 victory over the Big Ed Walsh and the Chicago White Sox—he had talent, and he was a bit odd.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“He had a lot of speed.  The best thing he had was splendid control.  He seemed able to cut the ball across any portion of the plate except the middle, and he seldom gave the Sox a chance to belt a good one, yet he was getting them over for strikes.”

The Chicago Daily News said Baumgardner was told it was a big deal that he had beaten Walsh:

“’Who is this fellow Walsh?’ he asked.  He was told that Big Ed is considered by many the greatest pitcher in the game.  ‘If he’s so good why don’t some National League clubs draft him?’  Inquired Baumgardner innocently.  He has since been told that the American League, in which he promises to earn fame, is a major organization just like the National.”

baumg

Baumgardner, 1912

He was 37-47 with a 3.12 ERA in his first three seasons for Browns teams that lost 101, 90, and 88 games.

However, he was sent home by the Browns after appearing in just seven games in 1915—he was 0-2 with a 4.43 ERA.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, the pitcher “has hit the lonesome trail of the West Virginia pines…and has been advised to go home and get in shape.”

After the 1915 season, American League umpire Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column that, “Baumgardner…ought to be one of the greatest pitchers in baseball, but he is not, and thereby hangs a rather interesting tale.”

Evans said:

“Baumgardner has wonderful speed and a beautiful curve.  He is fleet of foot and a corking good fielder.  There are in the major leagues today any number of pitchers rated as stars who do not possess one-half the natural ability.”

Evans said in addition to his slow start, the Browns gave up on the pitcher so easily because of the financial stress the Federal League had caused American and National League clubs:

“Baumgardner’s salary was surely $4,000 or better, because George Stovall tried to sign him for the (Kansas City) Feds.  Stovall, having managed the Browns (Stovall jumped to Kansas City before the 1914 season) was familiar with Baumgardner’s ability. There are few players who would let such a salary slip away from the without making some effort to retain it.”

Evans claimed that after they sent him home, the Browns never heard from their pitcher, and “his whereabouts during the summer was unknown,’ to the team.

“The only news ever received from the eccentric pitcher came through a St. Louis traveling man, who made the small towns in the south.  He bumped into Baumgardner in a West Virginia hamlet pitching for one of the village clubs.  He watched him perform, said he never looked better; so good in fact he could have gotten a long without his outfield.”

Evans said the man asked the pitcher if he had been in touch with the Browns:

“’I am waiting to hear from them,’ was Baumgardner’s reply.  ‘I guess if they really thought they could use me they would have me rounded up.  I ain’t much on letter writing; they don’t need to expect any word from me.”

Evans said:

“It hardly seems possible that in times of war, when big salaries were almost possible fir the mere asking, a fellow would let it get away from him (but) nothing worries the big fellow, it is easy come, easy go with him.”

Baumgardner’s 1916 season was even more unusual than 1915.  He again reported to the Browns out of shape, and struggled.

In June, the Browns attempted to sell him to the Memphis Chickasaws in the Southern Association.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“George Baumgardner of Barboursville, WV, the heart of the Blue Ridge belt, is all puffed up like a pouter pigeon because he has signed a new contract with the Browns.  All of which proves how easy it is to get Baumgardner all puffed up.

“This contract, which Baumgardner considers and asset, according to his own statement, calls for $75 a month.”

The paper said Baumgardner would have earned $200 a month with the Chickasaws, but told manager Fielder Jones:

“Who’ll ever see me pitch in Memphis?”

Baumgardner lasted just one more month in St. Louis.  He appeared in four games for the Browns and posted a 7.88 ERA before being released on July 20.

The Sporting News said the Browns attempted send Baumgardner to the Little Rock Travelers, where he would have earned $250 a month and he again said he wasn’t interested:

“But even that ($75 a month) was too much, thought Fielder Jones, so one day last week he handed Baumgardner another release, his second or third in three months, and told him positively to get away and stay away.”

Baumgardner said his right arm had “gone back on him,” and that he was going to “go back to the mountains and practice with my left arm.”

After several days he joined the Travelers.

He only lasted a month in Little Rock.  Baumgardner was 2-1 in five appearances on August 21 when The Arkansas Democrat said he was heading back to West Virginia:

“(He) says he is going home this week and stay there until next season—maybe.  Or he may come back and help the Travelers in the last few days.”

Baumgardner promised the paper he would return and “not lose more than four games” in 1917.

baumgardner

Baumgardner, 1917

The Arkansas Gazette summed up his 1917 season:

“Every time “Bummie” goes out he gets a beating.”

And he didn’t keep his word.  He lost five games in 1917, winning three, before being released by Little Rock on June 7.

After winning 37 games in his first three major league seasons, Baumgardner’s professional career was over six weeks before his 25th birthday.

Lost Advertisements–“Fireball” Johnson

30 Oct

walterjonsoncoke1915

“‘Fireball’  Johnson Drinks Coca-Cola–Says it’s the greatest drink ever for a hot, tired, and thirsty pitcher. All the stars in every  line of work star Coca-Cola–so will you.”

In 1913, The Washington Times presented Walter Johnson with a cup honoring him as “Greatest Pitcher in the World,” and published a special section including quotes from his contemporaries:

Cup presented to Johnson by The Washington Times

Cup presented to Johnson by The Washington Times

Napoleon Lajoie:

“I like to bat against Johnson.  There’s some satisfaction hitting against a hurler of such pronounced class.  When I make a hit off Johnson I know it’s well-earned, and the sound of a good, solid swat made off one of Walter’s curves is the most welcome music I hear during the season.”

George Stovall:

“I consider Walter Johnson the greatest pitcher in the game today and one of the finest fellows on and off the ball field.”

Nixey Callahan:

“You may say anything good for me regarding Walter Johnson that you care to. I consider him one of the greatest pitchers that the game has ever known and an ornament to the profession in every way.”

Russ Ford:

“He is the King Pin of them all, and yet remains just the same quiet, good fellow who broke in six years ago.”

Joe Birmingham

“May your curve always break and your speed never diminish.”

“Wallace’s Head is Abnormally Developed”

29 Dec

When Bobby Wallace was named manager of the St. Louis Browns in 1911, the local press, desperate for any ray of hope for a club that finished in eighth place with a 47-107 record, enlisted a “noted phrenologist” named Squeers from Hot Springs, Arkansas to examine the new manager.

Booby Wallace

Booby Wallace

Phrenology was a popular pseudoscience in the in the 19th and early 20th Century that claimed the structure of the skull determined a person’s mental ability and character.

The result of Wallace’s examination was reported in several newspapers:

“The eminent brain specialist pronounced the manager of the Browns one of the most normal-minded men he had ever examined.  He did not know his man when he made his diagnosis.

“Wallace’s head is abnormally developed on the left side.  This is as it should be, Dr. Squeers declares.  The left lobe of the brain governs the right side of the body…It is natural, asserts Dr, Squeers, that a man should be right handed, right-footed, right-eyed, that the right side (of the body) should be larger and stronger than the left.”

It was not enough to declare Wallace “normal minded,’ the “doctor” also “diagnosed” roughly 10 percent of the general population.  He said because “It is natural” to be right-handed, left-handers therefore, were “in many cases a bit abnormal.”

The litany of “abnormal” left-handers–Rube Waddell, Crazy Schmit, Nick Altrock, Slim Sallee, Lady Baldwin, etc…–were trotted out to demonstrate the “proof” of the assertion.

 “For whatsoever the reason may be, the man whose throwing arm is governed by the right lobe of his brain seems bound to be erratic.  Thus is Dr, Squeers, knows little of baseball, justified in pronouncing Wallace an ‘abnormally normal’ man.  Wallace is the farthest thing from erratic that any man could be.  He could not do a left-handed or wrong thing—could not act abnormally to save his soul.”

[…]

“Wallace has been the quietest, most regular, most normal human being in the world.  He is the perfection of moderation, of balance in all things.  He takes life quietly and is never disturbed or out of temper.  He has never made an enemy.  He is the favorite of everyone…It remains to be seen if normality means success when it is applied to the management of a baseball team.”

In this case it didn’t.

The Browns, awful in 1910, were awful again under Wallace in 1911; another eighth place finish with a 45-107 record.  After a 12-27 start in 1912, George Stovall replaced him as Browns manager.

Wallace managed one more time—he replaced Chuck Dressen as manager of the Cincinnati Reds in September of 1937.  The “most normal human being in the world” was 5-20.

 

Tragic Exits

28 Apr

George Frazee

George Donald Frazee, listed on Baseball Reference as “G. Frazee” with the Shreveport Sports in the Texas League in 1928, was a three-sport star at Texas Christian University.

Born November 21, 1904 in Fort Worth, Texas, Frazee played outfield for the baseball team, halfback and fullback with the football team, and was a guard on the basketball team from 1923-1925.  After graduation he played basketball with a team representing the Fort Worth, Texas YMCA which played throughout the Southwest and Mexico.

It’s unclear where Frazee played baseball in 1926 and ’27, but in 1928 he started the season with the San Angelo Red Snappers in the West Texas League, there are no surviving statistics for his time there, but after being transferred to Shreveport he hit .301 in 32 games. Frazee signed with Shreveport for the following season.

On January 24, 1929 Frazee was flying from Ft. Worth with World War I flyer Willoughby Alvous “Al” Henley and another Fort Worth man, to attend the opening celebration for San Angelo’s new airport.  The United Press wire story said:

 “Tragedy marred the formal opening of the municipal airport today, claiming the life of Al Henley…one of the nation’s most skilled pilots.  Henley, Donald Frazee, professional baseball player, and W.E. Shytles…were killed when their cabin monoplane crashed in an attempted landing.”

The Brownsville Herald said:

 “He was an outfielder, fast, big and aggressive.  Shreveport lost an outfielder who was certain to make good this year.”

 

Chief Wano

William “Chief” Wano was born on Oklahoma’s Pottawatomie reservation on May 12, 1896.  He played semi-pro ball in Oklahoma City and in the army while serving with the 79th Infantry, 15th Division at Camp Logan, Texas.  After his discharge in early 1919 the twenty-three-year-old began his professional career with the Tulsa Oilers in the Western League.

Wano struggled during his first season, hitting just .195, but joined the Little Rock Travelers in the Southern Association the following season—and along with fellow Oklahoman, and former classmate and teammate at the Chilocco Indian School– Moses “Chief” Yellow Horse; he helped lead Little Rock to the pennant.

William Wano,

William Wano, back, fourth from right, at Chilocco Indian School

Wano was a consistent hitter throughout the 1920s (.317 in 11 seasons in class-A leagues), but was an erratic fielder and never made it to the major leagues.

After hitting .331 for the St. Joseph Saints in the Western League in 1930 Wano left organized baseball, first playing semi-pro then he accepted a position managing Ben Harjo’s All-Indian Baseball Club—Harjo was a millionaire and full-blooded Creek.   The team, based in Harjo’s hometown Holdenville, Oklahoma, barnstormed the Midwest and Southwest, and with Wano as player-manager won the Denver Post Tournament in July 1932.

Chief Wano

Chief Wano

Wano quit two months later after a dispute over two players Wano signed.  Harjo hired Jim Thorpe to manage the club the following season.

Wano moved to Dallas after his career.  According to The United Press he spent World War II working at the North American Aircraft plant in Dallas, and living at the home of Kal Hill Segrist Sr., his former Dallas Steers teammate (and father of Kal Segrist, who played with the New York Yankees in 1952 and the Baltimore Orioles in 1955).

On July 30, 1945 Wano was in the Dallas City Jail (reports varied on why he was there), when according to The Dallas Times-Herald another prisoner “slugged Wano on the chin, Wano fell, striking his head on the concrete floor.”  Other reports said Wano was trying to break up a fight when he was hit.

William “Chief” Wano died that night in Dallas’ Parkland Hospital.  A month later a grand jury chose not to indict the man who threw the punch.

 

Gene Gaffney

Eugene “Gene” Gaffney was one of the better hitters in the Florida State League during his brief career (1920-23), he was also a manager’s nightmare.

Gaffney hit .335 in 60 games for the league champion Orlando Tigers in 1921, but was suspended for several days in July by Manager Joe Tinker.

The following season he joined the Jacksonville Indians, managed by former major leaguer George Stovall.  The team struggled, and Gaffney, had his only sub .300 season, hitting just .277.  And, according to The St. Petersburg Evening Independent, a car caused a major riff between the outfielder and his manager:

“Has a baseball player a right to ride to and from the park in his own automobile?  George Stovall says no.  He suspended Gene Gaffney because Gaffney had bought an automobile and insisted on being his own bus.

“Stovall insisted he should parade to the park in the team bus.  Gaffney told Stovall to go jump; that if the team would win enough games so that he wouldn’t be ashamed to wear the uniform on parade it might be different.  At last accounts Gaffney was off the ballclub, but riding his automobile to his own intents and purposes, while Stovall still was trying to get the rest of the Jacksonville team somewhere on the field.”

Gaffney played just one more season; he hit .357 for the Daytona Beach Islanders in 1923.

After baseball, Gaffney tended bar in Orlando until August 12, 1937—The Associated Press said:

“Gene Gaffney, about 43, local bartender who once led the old Florida State League in batting, was believed today to have been the victim of foul play.

“His automobile, its windshield shattered and other windows broken, was found mired in mud on the shores of an almost inaccessible lake just across the Orange County line in Seminole County, with evidence of a struggle having taken place.

“His eye glasses were found in the mud about 20 feet from the car.”

Gaffney’s body was found the following day.  His death was ruled a homicide.