Tag Archives: George Van Haltren

“Spalding Should Never Permit a Chicago Audience to be so Insulted Again”

20 Mar

George Van Haltren didn’t instantly live up to his billing.

The 21-year-old, then pitcher, had finally decided to leave California in June, after the death of his mother—he had refused to come East for more than a year while his mother was ill. His refusal to come to Chicago had resulted in threats of being blacklisted from White Stockings’ owner A. G. Spaulding.

The Oakland Tribune said Van Haltren’s current club, the Greenhood and Morans had offered him $300 a month to stay in California.

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Van Haltren

The impending arrival of Van Haltren was big new in the Chicago papers.  With the team struggling in fourth place, The Chicago Daily Journal said Van Haltren was “depended upon to help (John) Clarkson and (Mark) Baldwin boost the club.’ The paper left readers with high expectations:

“Two years ago he commenced playing ball as a catcher, but after a year at the receiving end of the battery, he decided it was better to give than to receive…In his first four games he struck out 55 men; in a game a little later he struck out three consecutive batters on nine pitched balls, and in another game he made a record of 19 strike outs in a nine inning game.”

Van Haltren’s arrival for his start, against Boston, was greeted with fanfare and received as much coverage in West Coast newspapers as in Chicago.  The scene, described by The Oakland Tribune:

“Eight thousand people witnessed the game.  The Chicagos marched on the diamond with Van Haltren and Captain Anson in the lead, then followed by the band and th other players of the club.  When they arrived at the home plate Anson and Van Haltren took off their caps, and the latter was loudly cheered.”

The Chicago Tribune said Van Haltren was sharp for four innings, striking out the first batter he faced:

“(He) retired Joe Hornung on strikes and the crowd manifested its pleasure.”

The Beaneaters scored two unearned runs in the first, but the White Stockings responded with five in the first and scored two more runs in the third.  Through four innings Van Haltren allowed just one hit.

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Van Haltren

The Boston Globe said what came next:

“Spalding’s wonder, the famous left-handed pitcher Van Haltren, the terror of the Pacific slope, made his debut as a league pitcher and for four innings he was a king with the crowd. After that he lost all control of the ball and all the Bostons had to do to get to first was to wait for five balls.”

Beginning in the fifth, Van Haltren “sent 14 men to first on balls, besides hitting four with the ball, and (Tom) Daly, who caught him for the first time, saved him about 10 wild pitches.”

The Chicago and California papers saw Van Haltren’s implosion differently—they blamed umpire Herm Doscher.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“Not only was his judgment on balls and strikes miserable, but he lacks a knowledge of the rules of the game.”

The Chicago Inter Ocean (which estimated the crowd at 7,000, not 8,000) said fans “witnessed the rankest case of robbery by an umpire that has ever taken place in the city. President Spalding should never permit a Chicago audience to be so insulted again.”

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Doescher

The Oakland Tribune called Doscher “Incredibly unfair and incorrect,” and The San Francisco Examiner claimed Doscher was confused by Van Haltern’s curve ball:

“Doescher’s [sic] decisions of balls were drawn from the direction of the ball when at least three feet away from the plate, losing all sight of the ultimate course of the curves at the vital spot.”

Even The Boston Post agreed that Doscher’s umpiring was “erratic” and that he participated in “bad discrimination against Van Haltren.”

Despite his meltdown—or Doscher’s incompetence—Van Haltren entered the ninth with the game tied at 11.

The Beaneaters scored six runs in the ninth after three walks—The Chicago Daily News said, “fully one-half the balls called on Van Haltren should have been strikes.”  Van Haltren was also rattled by second baseman Fred Pfeffer’s second error of the game and two hits—or as The Chicago Tribune put it:

“(Edward ‘Pop’) Tate got his base on balls after Van Haltren had struck him out fairly; (Michael ‘Kid’) Madden was hit by the ball and given his base; Pfeffer’s error gave (King) Kelly first and filled the bases.  Then (Bobby) Wheelock was given his base on balls after about six strikes.”

Having given up the lead, Van Haltren then gave up a triple to Boston’s Bill Nash, Nash scored on a single by Ezra Sutton and the Chicago went down in order in the ninth.

The phenom left-hander from California lost his first game 17-11, walked 16 and hit three batters.

The Oakland Tribune said:

“A correspondent saw Captain Anson and was informed the management of the White Stockings were perfectly satisfied with the new pitcher, who, considering all circumstances, made a good showing as a National League player.”

Anson started Van Haltren in right field the following day and thought enough of him to use him in relief of John Clarkson in the seventh inning, The Chicago Daily News said of his second stint on the mound:

“(He) did remarkably well, staking out such batsmen as Hornung, Nash and Johnson.  The general opinion here is that when he becomes used to Eastern ways, he will prove the best pitcher of the year.”

Van Haltren did not prove to be “pitcher of the year,” he finished 11-7 with a 3.86 ERA, but walked just 50 batters in 152 innings after walking 16 in his first nine.

But he was treated like the “pitcher of the year” when he returned home.

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Van Haltren

The San Francisco Examiner said:

“George Van Haltren is, beyond all question entitles to rank as the premier pitcher of California, and the most invidious of our Eastern friends will not begrudge us the right to boast a little about the stalwart young fellow who has done so much in the East to puzzle the crack batsmen beyond the Rockies, and at the same time prove to the older but not more progressive East what kind of products we raise here in California…It is believed that The Examiner’s readers will agree that a finer specimen of young America, of Californian or any other growth, than George Van Haltren would be hard to find.”

Van Haltren never excelled as a pitcher but became one of the best leadoff men of the 19th Century.

“A Baseball Player is Unfitted as a Rule for Business”

8 Mar

When the Baltimore Orioles obtained pitcher John Clarkson from the Cleveland Spiders for pitcher Tony Mullane, Clarkson chose to go home to Bay City, Michigan and open a cigar business.

Ned Hanlon did not give up on Clarkson returning to baseball; in fact, the Orioles’ manager was sure Clarkson would need the job in 1895.  He told The Baltimore American:

“I am confident John Clarkson will be on my staff of pitchers next year.  John is now running a store up in Michigan, but I hear he will have the same experience which befalls all players who embark in business.  I fitted up a hat store in New York in 1889 and did all I could to establish myself.”

clarkson.jpg

Hanlon failed and he assumed Clarkson would as well.

“‘Every man to his trade,’ is the best plan for getting through life.  A baseball player is unfitted as a rule for business.  I found that I could not get rid of a stock of out-of-style hats as easily as I did some of the back-number players who were drawing salaries from the Baltimore club when I took charge of it.”

Hanlon bragged of unloading “faded stars” like George Van Haltren and Tim O’Rourke who he traded in separate deals for Hughie Jennings and Joe Kelley.

“Yes, John will be back in the business next year and will help us to retain the championship.  He knows that we treat our players right.  John will get a new lease of life after this long rest and be all the better for it.”

Clarkson’s business–along with three subsequent ones he started were successful enough to keep him out of major league baseball for good.  Hanlon managed to win another pennant without him in 1895.

Coast League Stories

5 Dec

Abe Kemp began working at newspapers in San Francisco in 1907, when he was 14 years old, and spent the next 62 years primarily at The San Francisco Examiner where he covered his two passions, baseball and horse racing.

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Abe Kemp

Over the years he collected a number of stories of baseball on the West Coast.

Catcher Tubby Spencer hit just .127 in 21 games for the San Francisco Seals in 1913. Contemporaneous reports said Spencer wore out his welcome with manager Del Howard in Portland. Years later, Kemp said the decision to let Spencer go was made during a team stopover in Sonoma County, and not by Howard. Kemp said he saw:

“Spencer staggering down the highway at Boyes Hot Springs one morning and President/Owner Cal Ewing yelling at him, ‘Hey, ‘Tub,’ where are you going?’

“’I’m going for a little air,’ yelled back Tub.

“’Then keep going,’ shouted Ewing, ‘because you will need it. You’re through.’”

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Tubby Spencer

Harry “Slim” Nelson was a mediocre left-handed pitcher and weak hitter who played a half a dozen years on the West Coast. Kemp told of witnessing him “hit a home run through the screen at Recreation Park” in San Francisco when Nelson was playing for the Oakland Oaks.

“(He) became so excited when he reached second base that he swallowed his cud of chewing tobacco. Later on the bench, Slim was asked how the home run felt and he replied ‘it would have felt a whole lot better if I could have cut it up into singles to last me the season.”

Kemp said when George Van Haltren made the switch from Oaks player to Pacific Coast League umpire in 1909 he told Kemp and umpire Jack McCarthy “umpiring would be easy…because he had so many friends,” throughout the league. Kemp said McCarty responded:

“You mean you had so many friends. You haven’t any now.”

McCarthy appears to have been correct. Van Haltren was criticized throughout his short time as a Coast League umpire, and became a West Coast scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates the following two seasons. Van Haltren made one more attempt as an umpire, joining the Northwestern League staff in 1912; he was no more successful, lasting only one season after incurring the season-long wrath of Seattle Siwashes owner Dan Dugdale who demanded Van Haltren not be retained for the 1913 season.

George Van Haltren

Another player who had similar training habits to Tubby Spencer, according to Kemp, was Charles “Truck Eagan. Kemp said he was with Vernon Tigers manager Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray one day when Eagan played for the Tigers near the end of his career in 1909:

“Eagan, suffering from the effects of a bad night (told) manager Hap Hogan he was suffering from an attack of ptomaine poisoning.

‘”What did you eat’ the artful and suspicious Hogan asked.

“Eagan scratched his head a minute, then said guiltily, ‘It must have been the (bar) pretzels and herring, Hap.”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up Other Things #26

5 Nov

Val Haltren’s Off-Season

Despite having hit .331, .340, and .351 in the three seasons since the New York Giants bought him, The New York Telegraph said one of his teammates did not approve of George Van Haltern returning home to California to play winter ball:

“One of the members of the New York team said the other day if Van Haltren would stay one winter where the weather was cold enough to brace him up , it would do him more good than a spring trip to get him is condition.”

National League President Nick Young told the paper, no player should play winter ball:

“Ball players should have the benefit of six months’ rest in the year. The strain of the long championship games is a severe tax, though few players realize it. They ought to save enough money to last through the winter, and take things easy.”

Van Haltren hit .301 or better for the next five years, even though he spent each winter in California—until he broke his ankle sliding during a game in 1902 all but ended his career.

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George Van Haltren

The Color Line, 1932

When the New York Yankees swept the Cubs four games to none in the 1932 World Series, Dizzy Dismukes, writing in The Pittsburgh Courier, said the series reignited talk of baseball integration:

“With the World Series over in four straight wins, fans who think little of the playing abilities of race ballplayers are now prophesying as how the Grays, the Crawfords, Black Yankees, Black Sox and any number of race clubs would have made a better showing against the Yankees.”

Nope

When the New York Yankees lost their first game of the 1938 season, in the midst of Joe DiMaggio’s holdout—he did not return until the 13th game—a reporter from The Associated Press tracked him down at his restaurant, Joe DiMaggio’s Grotto, on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco:

“Joe ‘was sorry’ to hear that the Yankees lost…but covered the holdout situation in eight flowing words…

“Have you contacted (Yankees owner Jacob) Rupert? He was asked.

“’Nope,’ was the reply.

“Will you accept $25,000?

“’Nope.’

“Will you appeal to Judge Landis?

“’Nope.’

“Will you play for anybody?

“’Nope.’

“Has Rupert contacted you recently?

“’Nope.’

“Is any settlement looming?

“’Nope.’

“Are you doing anything about the situation?

“’Nope.’

With that, DiMaggio returned to “selling fish dinners.”

DiMaggio appeared in his first game for the 6-6 Yankees on April 30. They went 93-57 the rest of the way, he hit .324 with 32 home runs and 140 RBI.

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With Ed Barrow looking on, Joe DiMaggio ends his holdout and shakes hands with Jacob Rupert

Cobb’s Stolen Bats

A small item in The Detroit Times in December of 1915 said the home of Frank J. Brady, the “property man” of the Detroit Tigers had been robbed.

Among the haul:

“(T)wo of Ty Cobb’s favorite bats, Catcher (Oscar) Stanage and shortstop (Donie) Bush also lost equipment which they valued highly.”

Also stolen was “the glove worn by George Mullin” when he pitched his no hitter. There was no record of the items being recovered. The paper valued the loss at “several hundred dollars.”

“A Lajoie Bunt”

22 Jul

Francis “Red” Donahue was a teammate of Napoleon Lajoie in Philadelphia and Cleveland.  During a road trip in New York with the Indians in 1904 he told a story to Elmer Ellsworth Bates of The Cleveland News:

“I never come to New York without recalling the first time (Fred) Dutch Hartman of the old New York team ever saw Lajoie in a game.  Hartman had just began playing third base for the Giants and he had to be coached all the time by his teammates.

Fred "Dutch" Hartman

Fred “Dutch” Hartman

“The Phillies came over here and when Larry came to bat Hartman appealed to his fellow players for instructions.

“‘Play in for this fellow,’ was the tip.  ‘He’s liable to bunt.’

“Hartman went in about 30 feet and pushing his cap back on his head waited for the bunt.  The pitcher swung up a nice one and Larry smashed it.  The ball went away at awful speed.  It brushed the top of Hartman’s head, struck squarely in the middle of his cap and carried that piece of headgear with it clear out against the left field fence.  The other 17 players roared, but Hartman couldn’t see the joke.

Napoleon Lajoie

Napoleon Lajoie

“‘I thought you said he would bunt,’ said he.

”That was a Lajoie bunt’ said (Giants center fielder George) Van Haltren.  Wait and see him hit one with no cap to interfere with the ball.”

 

“Either they think that Everybody is Gullible, or else they are Weak Mentally themselves”

19 Nov

Until a broken ankle in 1902 slowed him, George Van Haltren was one of baseball’s best leadoff hitters; a .316 hitter with 2544 hits during his 17 seasons.   After a disappointing 1903–.257 in  84 games—his major league career was over, and he went home to the West Coast where he spent six seasons in the Pacific Coast League (PCL).

George Van Haltren

George Van Haltren

A member of the Seattle Siwashes during his first year in the PCL, Van Haltren was asked by The Oakland Tribune—the paper called him “an ultra-scientific batsman,” to share his expertise:

“Every ball player occasionally meets other players who call themselves ‘place hitters.’  The assertions of the majority of these players are such that either they think that everybody is gullible, or else they are weak mentally themselves.  They tell you they ‘can put the ball where they please,’ and that ‘it is easy when you know how.’

“Never take any stock in such twaddle.  These place-hitters would be just the men to have around when the ‘fans’ are calling on the home team to ‘hit ‘em where the fielders ain’t!’  But when it comes to delivering the goods, I have noticed, they are generally short.

“As a matter of fact, the batter often tries to hit to a certain field, and sometimes he is successful, but no man can give a guarantee when he goes up that the ball he hits will take any special direction.  If place-hitting could be carried out to the fine point that some players say they have it, they would be able to hit safely every time they came up.

“To the young player I would say: Don’t get in the habit of planting your feet on the ground and not moving them until you have swung at the ball.  Get a stride and advance a little toward the ball as you hit.  Do not step too far and accustom your eyes and hands to the change such a step makes.  Learn to hit squarely every ball that passes over any part of the plate between the knee and shoulder, and devote the most practice to what you are weakest on.

“Learn to think and act quickly and to keep your head at all times.  In a contest do not always do the same thing under the same circumstances.  Give your opponents a surprise whenever you possibly can.”

By the time he arrived on the West Coast, Van Haltren was no longer able to give his opponents “a surprise” as often as he could before the ankle injury; he hit .270 for Seattle in 1904, he played five seasons with the Oakland Oaks, hitting .255 before retiring in 1909.

Van Haltren died in 1945 without ever drawing serious Hall of Fame consideration.  A good argument for his enshrinement can be found here.

Giants Versus Phillies in Verse

30 May

When the New York Giants met the Philadelphia Phillies on May 1, 1895 The New York Evening Sun provided a novel recap—the entire game was presented in verse:

 

The weather did its level best

To fire with joy the rooter’s breast,

And old Sol sent his brightest rays

To make up for past wet days

He shone with full and festive strength

Upon the Polo Grounds at length.

The balmy breezes of May Time

Resembled some fair eastern clime.

With ground so dry, yet without dust,

What player could but do or bust?

Both teams had somewhat rusty grown

By inactivity o’erthrown.

The Slowtown people were the first

To warm up with a practice burst.

The pitchers limbered up their arms,

And batters tried to work their charms

Upon the curves they volleyed in

By practice with their batting pin.

The twirlers seemed a trifle wild,

But pitcher Weyhing only smiled

And nodded like a coony fox

When told to take the pitcher’s box.

Gus Weyhing started for Philadelphia.

Gus Weyhing started for Philadelphia.

And when the players pranced about

Their frozen legs thawed quickly out.

The Phillies practicing today

Were much like Boston in their play.

The old men on the team were not

In practice quite up to the spot.

All balls that sizzled down their way

They let proceed and did not stay.

Young Turner, who was hurt last week,

Again was forced the bench to seek.

His strength gave way while in left field,

And homeward to the plate he reeled.

His captain gave him some more grace,

And Delehanty took his place.

The Giants showed up very well.

Their work was shop and clear’s the bell.

When time was called this first of May,

Four thousand people saw them play.

No umpire came to judge the game,

It had to go on just the same:

So German had to take the job,

With Reilly for his pal, be gob.

The Game:

First Inning.

Now with a last tug at his hat

Big Delehanty came to bat.

He got first on four bad balls

And down to second safely crawls,

When Hallman hit a daisy one

That Stafford stopped, but on the run.

Hamilton’s small infield fly

Was caught by Staff—Good eye! Good eye!

Clements hit to center field

And Delehanty homeward spieled.

Meanwhile Hallmann took a brace

And stood triumphant on third base.

Cross hit to Fuller, who threw to Staff,

Who dropped it, to the rooters’ wrath.

Hallman scored, and Clements out

By force at third produced a shout.

Then Sullivan to Stafford hit

He threw to Doyle and Sully quit.

Two runs.

Hot buns!

Now Fuller drew four measly shoots

And went to first by easy scoots.

Val Haltren got four balls also

And straightway down to first did go,

Advancing Fuller by this feat

To second where he took a seat.

Davis down to Hallman hit,

And Van was forced because of it.

Doyle knew a trick worth two of that—

His single hit the fence, that’s flat.

Fuller scored and David stirred\His stumps and landed safe on third.

Tiernan’s hit scored Davis too.

Staff went to first on balls, hurroo!

Burke struck thrice at the spinning sphere,

And Burkeville sadly moaned, ‘Oh, dear!’

A pretty single Farrell sent,

And skipping down to first he went.

‘Twas pretty work, and what is more,

Enabled Doyle and Mike to score.

Then Farrell climbed the second stair.

‘Twas no use.  Rusie fanned the air.

Amos Rusie started for New York

Amos Rusie started for New York

Four runs.

Great guns!

Second Inning.

Boyle sent an easy one to Staff,

He didn’t fail to do his half.

But promptly threw him out to Doyle,

Who didn’t let the good thing spoil.

Then Weyhing also fanned the air.

Thus Rusie evened things for fair.

The Delehanty followed suit

And made the third man out to boot.

No run,

Not one.

Here Clements found he was too fat,

And Buckley went behind the bat.

Fuller’s smash in center fails;

Van Haltren gets his base on balls.

In this respect Cap Davis vied.

The bases were all occupied.

Doyle force the Cap at second base,

Where Hallman calmly holds his face,

But in the turmoil that ensued

Short Fuller struck an attitude,

Then down the last course took a skate

And like a rabbit crossed the plate.

Mike singled to the right field loam,

Van Haltren also scampered home.

Then Stafford missed the fatal strike.

At second Hallman caught our Mike.

Score two—

That’s true!

Third Inning.

Then Hallman sent a liner hot,

Which Rusie let go like a shot.

The batter ambled to first base,

And Amos hid his blushing face.

Then Hamilton to Davis hit,

And Hallman took bag 2 on it.

On Buckley’s sacrifice to Doyle,

Hallman went to avis’ soil.

Then Cross lined one to Fuller’s ground,

He neatly grabbed it on the bound

And slung the pellet down to Doyle,

Who gently plucked it from the soil,

Touched first bad with his Trilby boot.

‘My,’ yelled the crowd, but you’re a beaut!’

No score.

For us Burke hit to center field,

A single the resultant yield.

Then all Burkeville with one acclaim

Rose up and cheered their hero’s name.

eddieburke

Eddie Burke–“Then all Burkeville with one acclaim–Rose up and cheered their hero’s name”

Next Farrell, seeing Fuller’s hit,

Got up and duplicated it.

The Burke took second, Eddie third,

When Delehanty sadly erred.

Then Cross, who’s never known to scowl,

Froze tight to Rusie’s little foul,

But Filler once more four balls drew

And quickly down to first base flew.

Four bad ones, too, Van Haltren got,

Which forced Ed Burke home on the spot.

Duke tried to score on Davis’ crack,

But Buckley tapped him on the back.

Doyle smashed a single out to right.

Two runs came in –‘twas out o’ sight!

Cap Davis, graceful as a bird,

Flew round the course and perched on third,

But Tienan hit to Sully’s place

And perished tamely at first base.

Score Three.

That’s we!

Fourth Inning.

Thompson four balls got, and Sully’s bunt

Let him to first—the little runt!

Boyle’s liner went to Stafford’s spot,

Who held it, though he said ‘twas hot,

And laced it onto Fuller’s paws,

Who touched bag 2 midst much applause.

Big Thompson, who should have been there,

Was caught far off his base for fair.

Now Stafford added glory won

By nabbing Weyhing’s hit.  No run.

Now Weyhing thought he had enough,

And Smith tried pitching—that’s the stuff.

When Stafford stepped up to the plate,

The crowd arose and cheered him great,

Whereas poor Staff was struck with awe

And fanned out, much against the law.

Then Hallman gathered in the sphere,

And though the thing was very near

He plugged it down to first with vim.

Burke found the ball ahead of him.

Farrell fanned the ozone thrice

And took a back seat calm and nice.

No score once more.

Fifth Inning.

When Delehanty went to bat,

He didn’t know where he was at.

He sent one down to Davis’ ground,

Who plucked it neatly on the bound

And passed it on to Jack Doyle’s place,

Who took it in with airy grace.

Hallman out, short to first,

And Hamilton was likewise curst.

No score.

Now roar!

Rusie’s out caused quite a howl,

And Buckley gobbled Fuller’s foul.

Hallman fumbled big Van’s hit;

The latter safe on first did sit.

He didn’t tarry but a minute,

But stole bag two—

Gosh, Van was in ir!

But Davis stopped all hope of fun

By going out at first.  No run.

Sixth Inning.

Buckley went out, Davis to Doyle,

Van Haltren kept Cross’ fly off soil.

Davis took Thompson foul on the run,

And the Phillies retired without a run.

Doyle sent one down to second base

And on the bench resumed his place.

Tiernan bunted mid a shout

And beat the ball two feet about.

Hamilton took in Stafford’s fly,

And Burke went out as slick as pie.

No runs.

Good fun.

Seventh Inning.

Sully’s slow bunt along the ground

Ahead of him at first he found.

Boyle died at first in style as slick.

‘Twas Fuller this time who did the trick.

Rusie attended to Smith’s weak hit.

The Quakers were certainly not in it.

No Score.

Hurrah!

Farrell out at Hallman’s door,

And Rusie fanned the air once more.

Fuller got four nasty ones,

Then down to second quickly runs.

Smith struck out lengthy Van,

Who batted like a pygmy man.

No more.

Oh, pshaw!

Eighth Inning.

For Slowtown Delly made a hit,

And Hallman duplicated it.

Fuller muffed the ball in thrown,

And Delehanty ran clear home.

Hallman safe to second crawls,

And Hamilton to first on balls.

Buckley out at first by tag.

And Hamilton off second bag.

Hallman to third on this play

And scored on Cross’ hit—hooray!

Thompson singled to center field,

And Cross to third base quickly spieled.

Sully smashed along the ground.

The ball at first ahead he found.

Score two.

That’s you.

Davis, Hallman to Boyle,

And Hamilton took care of Doyle.

Tiernan first on balls, and Staff

Forced him at second—made him laugh.

No run

By gun!

Ninth Inning.

Fuller caught Boyle’s fly like glue,

And Smith’s strike out made No. 2

Delehanty out at first.

The crowd yelled a triumphant burst.

To sum it up, the game was great.

The rooters left the grounds elate.

Then round the town they took a turn,

For every one had cash to burn.

The Box Score

The Box Score

Hence his Careless, Indifferent air when he goes to the Plate to Bat.”

18 Nov

In 1911 Reds manager Clark Griffith told The Cincinnati Times-Star that pitchers no longer hit like they did when he played:

“Give me pitchers who can hit the ball instead of fanning out weakly, I wish there were a few more pitchers available like the top notchers of twenty years ago.  In those days a pitcher believed that he was hired to soak the ball as well as curve it, and he always did his best to get a hit.

(Tim) Keefe (career .187), (Mickey) Welch (.224), (Thomas “Toad”) Ramsey (.204), and (James “Pud”) Galvin  (.201) were among the old-time pitchers who could not bat, but they tried all the time, and if one of them got a hit he was as proud as a kid just breaking into the big league.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

The problem, said Griffith, was that “The pitcher seems to think that when he is delivering the goods in the box nothing more is required of him.  Hence his careless, indifferent air when he goes to the plate to bat.”

Griffith said Cap Anson, “wouldn’t hire a pitcher who couldn’t hit,” and said former Chicago pitchers Pat Luby (.235), Ad Gumbert (.274),  Walter Thornton (.312) and  George Van Haltren (.316, but was primarily an outfielder appearing in 93 games as a pitcher over a 17-year career), “were bear cats with the stick.”

Griffith said of his ability with the bat:

“The old guide-book will show that even your humble servant hit over .300 for Anson.”

Griffith hit .319 for Anson in 1895, and .233 for his career.

The 1911 Reds had only one starting pitcher who hit better than .214, (George Suggs. 256).  He was also the only starter with a winning record (15-13) for Griffith’s sixth place Reds.

George Suggs

George Suggs

“California Wonder”

30 Apr

Two West Coast ballplayers dubbed “California Wonder” by the press made their Major League debuts less than a week apart in 1887.  One went on to be one of the best leadoff hitters of his era; the other remains almost completely unknown.

George Van Haltren was a 21-year-old left-handed pitcher, outfielder and first baseman who had played two seasons with the Oakland franchise in the California and California State Leagues.

James McMullin, birth date unknown, had pitched for Mike Finn’s San Francisco Pioneers in 1886.

Mike Finn, manager, San Francisco Pioneers

Mike Finn, manager, San Francisco Pioneers

Van Haltren’s rights were acquired by the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, but because of his mother’s illness he said he would instead play for the San Francisco Haverlys.  The Chicago White Stockings traded for Van Haltren in April, but he still refused.  The Sporting Life said “the California Wonder will not come east,” quoted him saying:

“No, I will not play with Chicago this season; but if my left arm holds out and my parents are blessed with good health I will be open to Eastern engagements next season.”

The White Stockings threatened to have him blacklisted for not reporting but Van Haltren dug his heels in; only changing his mind after his mother passed away in May.

The Chicago Inter Ocean announced that he had arrived in town on June 25 and would be making his debut for the White Stockings on the two days later:

“(Van Haltren) at one time retired the Pioneer Club of San Francisco with a hit, and struck out seventeen men.  If he can continue this record here the Chicagos will come out of the race this season with another set of figures to put on the big flag at the park.”

Van Haltren’s debut was not good.  He walked 16 Boston Beaneaters and lost 17 to 11.  He finished the season 11-7, and would spend one more season as a full-time pitcher; going 13-13 in 1888 (he was 15-10, splitting time between the mound and outfield with the Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders in the Players league in 1890).  Van Haltren would distinguish himself as one of the game’s best leadoff men, hitting better than .300 every year from 1889-1901, except for 1892 when he hit .293.

Van Haltren ended his career in 1903 with 2544 hits.

George Van Haltren

George Van Haltren

McMullin’s debut was no better than Van Haltren’s.

He began the 1887 season with the Pioneers, but was acquired in June by the new York Mutuals of the American Association.

When McMullin joined the club The Sporting Life said:

“The Mets have got their new California pitcher and like him well in practice.  He has plenty of speed.”

McMullin made his debut on July 2 against the Cincinnati Red Stockings.  The New York Times said of his performance, under the headline, “A ‘Wonder’ Exploded.  The Mets’ California Pitcher A Failure:”

“The debut of McMullen, the ‘California Wonder,’ was made (in Cincinnati) today in the presence of nearly 7,000 people, who went into hysterics from laughing at the awful exhibition given by the Wonder and his support.  He was utterly unable to get the ball over the plate and was miserably supported in the field.  After the third inning he retired to right field and there made a couple of errors.”

He gave up eight runs, made four errors and had two wild pitches in a 21-7 drubbing.

The box score from McMullin's debut.

The box score from McMullin’s debut.

McMullin only made two more appearances for the Metropolitans, and while he was credited with wins in both games his performance was no better; in his eight-day, three-game career he pitched 21 innings, gave up  25 runs (18 earned),  25 hits, walked 19, and struck out 2.  He made a total of five errors, and had one hit in 12 at bats.  The Mets released him on July 10.

And with that McMullin disappeared—there is no record of him having pitched anywhere after he left New York, there’s no record of whether he  threw and batted left-handed or right-handed, no pictures survive, and no record of when or where he died.  Another enigmatic figure of professional baseball’s early years.