Tag Archives: George Van Haltren

“He Threw his bat at the Contemptible Coward”

22 Jul

George Van Haltren was popular with the Chicago press during his three years with the White Stockings from 1887-1889; that changed when, after jumping to the Players League, he returned to Chicago with the Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders on July 28 of 1890.

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Van Haltren

In the opening game of a three-game series, Van Haltren, said The Chicago Tribune “got himself disliked in the seventh” inning:

“He was at the bat when a swift inshoot from Silver King landed clearly on his right shoulder (other papers said the pitch struck him in the ribs). Van Haltren glared at the pitcher for a moment and then deliberately threw the bat at him.”

The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“(H)e turned and threw the bat with all his force at King. A bat is an unwieldy thing to throw and it miscarried several yards.

“’Loafer!’ ‘Viper!’ ‘Sneak,’ yelled the crowd. ‘Put him out!’ ‘Put the loafer out.’

“Van Haltren was unmolested. He should have been fired out of the game so quickly that he would have suffered asphyxiation but umpire Pearce [sic, Grace Pierce] was meek and lowly. Such a tongue-lashing from a crowd, however, a man has not suffered in a long time.”

The Chicago Herald was most outraged:

“To Van Haltren: If you were punished as you have deserved to be punished you would be ruled out of professional baseball forever. You have broken the greatest and the best of baseball laws. Men like Van Haltren should limit themselves to huckstering, street cleaning, or sewer digging. In those vocations the thug element is properly restrained, and the labor is dignified.”

The Tribune dismissed Van Haltren’s claim that King had thrown at him on purpose as “ridiculous” because:

“To show that it was an accident King hit (Bill) Joyce in the back with the next ball pitched. Joyce didn’t throw the bat at King; he threw him a reproachful look and wandered off to the bag.”

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Silver King

Most New York newspapers ran the Chicago papers’ version of the story, but The Brooklyn Eagle would not let it pass that King hit Van Haltren by accident, or that the outfielder was in the wrong.

The paper said:

“The New York papers have not done justice to Van Haltren…In the sixth inning King apparently tried to hit (Dave) Orr with the ball, and Van Haltren on the coaching line called out, ‘Never mid that, Dave, it won’t hurt you.’ King turned to Van Haltren, and in the hearing of all, including the umpires, said, ‘I’ll knock your head off when you come to bat again.’

“Thinking to pass it off jokingly Van replied with a smile: ’Oh, no, Silver, you can’t hurt me; you haven’t speed enough.”

The Eagle said, King purposely threw both pitches at Van Haltren—the pitch that hit him being “a terrifically fast ball,” which:

“(C)aught poor Van in the ribs. It was too much for even his gentlemanly disposition, and almost crazed by pain he threw his bat at the contemptible coward.”

King took the mound again against Brooklyn in the final game of the series on July 30. Brooklyn scored three runs in the first inning.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“(T)he first ball pitched after Van Haltren had tripped up to the plate in the second inning struck the batsman on his right shin bone. Of course, everybody expected to see Van Haltren draw a knife on King, but he didn’t. He placed his bat gently on the grass and limped off to first base. He may have done some thinking, but he didn’t do it out loud.”

“I was in Sort of a Trembling Condition”

19 Jul

When George Van Haltren joined the Chicago White Stockings as a pitcher in June of 1887, California newspapers followed his progress closely.

After a disastrous first start on June 27, Van Haltren was used in relief and in right field until July 5, when he started for Chicago against the New York Giants.

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Van Haltren

The Chicago Tribune said that likely “not one of each hundred of the 7000” fans in attendance thought the White Stockings would win with the rookie on the mound:

“(T)here were many who feared that the Giants would ‘get into’ the young man and hammer out a victory.”

Van Haltren beat the Giants 15-3, allowing just one earned run in the ninth inning when he experienced a bout of the wildness that plagued his first start, and walked three batters.

The Sacramento Daily Record-Union sent a reporter to Chicago who provided West Coast fans with the first interview of “The California Wonder” since he headed East:

“George Van Haltren, hot, tired, and dusty, but with a most excusable look of triumph on his face, walked into the White Stockings clubhouse at close of today’s ‘toying’ with the New York Giants and seated himself in a chair. The crowning test of his ability as a pitcher had come and been triumphantly met.”

The reporter asked “the well-tried young pitcher,” about to embark on his first road trip with the club, how he was being accepted in Chicago:

“I’ve been treated like a prince and feel sorry that we are going away even for three weeks. Talk about Southern hospitality, if it’s anything better than what I’ve experienced here, I want to go South.”

Van Haltren was asked to compare baseball on the West Coast to the National League:

“Oh, players are very much more finished, of course, and in some respects the game is almost a new one to me. There is fielding, for instance; why, if my old partners in San Francisco could see the way the ball comes into the diamond from the field in Chicago, it would make their hair stand on end.”

But, said Van Haltren, he wasn’t necessarily having a harder time in Chicago:

“On the contrary, I’ve been most agreeably surprised in that respect. You see, there I was almost expected to strike three out of every five men who faced me, and when I came here, of course, I expected that against famous sluggers of the National League I should have to get down to just so much harder playing. Shortly after my arrival here, however, Captain Anson told me that I was not expected to do anything of the sort. There are outfielders in the Chicago nine, he said, and it was part of their business to look after balls that were knocked into the field. All I was expected to do was play good ball, and if batsmen knocked me hard, men on the outside of the diamond were to attend to the rest.”

He said he was treated well by his teammates:

“I was a stranger, and they took me in and treated me in such a way that now I feel perfectly at home. They are gentlemen from way back, and I would not ask for better company.”

Anson then interjected:

“The satisfaction is mutual my boy, and don’t let it slip your memory.”

Van Haltren was then asked about his disastrous first start—after four strong innings, the rookie walked 14 batter and hit four, although most sources said umpire Herm Doescher did the pitcher no favors:

 “Well, that was a bitter dose. When I went on the ground that day my heart was in my throat and stayed there until I had struck out the first Boston batsman to face me (Joe Hornung), the it went down nearer its natural place, but all through the game I was in sort of a trembling condition. It might not have been so bad if Doescher had given me a fair show.”

He said by the end of the game:

“I wished that I had never come East of the Rocky Mountains. That was an awful roast.

‘”Should say it was,’ growled big Edward Williamson, the Chicago shortstop, who was gravely killing flies on the wall, smashing them with his baseball pants. ‘It is a wonder the colt didn’t break down entirely,’ and the speaker made a vicious lunge at an unusually big bluebottle fly.”

He said he had just one regret; he had been informed that day that Tom Daly would no longer be his catcher for his starts. The Tribune said of his performance during the game with the Giants that, “Daly’s work behind the bat was little short of phenomenal and was best ever seen on the grounds.”

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Daly

Van Haltren told the California reporter:

“I am only sorry I am going to lose Daly, who has been catching for me. He is the greatest man behind the bat I ever saw, and I think that he’s the only man can hold (Mark) Baldwin’s terrific delivery, and so I am to have (Dell) Darling. He of course is a first-class man, too, but Daly caught first for me and I am sorry to lose him.”

In closing he asked the reporter to:

“Be sure to tell my California friends that I am enjoying myself.”

Van Haltren was 11-7 with a 3.86 ERA as the White Stocking’s third starter; he also played 27 games in the outfield and hit .206 for the third place White Stockings.

“Radbourn Never Thought of Quitting”

10 Jun

In 1911, The International News Service published an article “written by” Hardy Richardson about “the gamest man who ever stepped in the box:” Old Hoss Radbourn.

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Richardson

Richardson said he knew Radbourn “perhaps better than anyone who played with him or against him,” but still did not know him well:

 “Really I do not believe anyone had better opportunity to penetrate the reserve of this unassuming little fellow than myself. I spent one whole winter with him near Bloomington, Illinois. We were together almost continually, hunting or knocking about the open country. But I soon realized that the more I associated with him the less I knew him.”

Richardson told a story that he said exemplified Radbourn’s determination—although after more than 20 years, he got many of the facts wrong:

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Radbourn

“It was in 1890 during the Brotherhood days.”

Radbourn faced Ward’s Wonders in Brooklyn on May 5:

“It was one of Radbourn’s few poor days, and Brooklyn simply hit him here, there, and everywhere. The smothered Radbourn by the very disconcerting score of 27 to 6 (the actual score was 20 to 4). It was one of the real slaughters of the season. But Radbourn never thought of quitting. His teammates asked him to retire but Charlie stuck to his guns. The more they hit him the harder he gritted his teeth and the harder he tried. He took his medicine like a little gentleman, without a whimper. To the taunts of Brooklyn, he would simply grunt to his teammates: ‘Well, we’ll get then yet, see if we don’t.’”

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The Box Score

Here is where Richardson’s memory fails him:

“The next day Radbourn declared he was going to pitch again. His teammates laughed at him. When he went out to warm up they thought him a fit subject for an insane asylum…But there was no stopping Radbourn. And he got his revenge on Brooklyn all right. He shut out the team that had massacred him the day before, allowing only one Brooklynite to reach first.”

Richardson was correct that Radbourn refused to leave the game on May 5. The Brooklyn Eagle said he was “plucky and refused to retire,” despite the drubbing, being hit in the neck with a pitch by Brooklyn pitcher George Van Haltren, and later being struck in the leg by a Van Haltren base hit:

“The ball that Van Haltren hit struck him fair on the shin, making a report that sounded as if the leg was broken. So hard did the ball land that it bounced back from the pitcher’s box to foul ground.”

He was also correct that Radbourn insisted on pitching the following day. The Boston Globe said:

“Radbourn was going in to pitch today.  He said he was anxious to show the Brooklyn men they were in big luck when they hit so hard the first day. Rad was very sore on Umpire Gaffney, who he says would give him nothing over the plate in the first game unless he split it in two.”

That’s where Richardson’s imagination took over. Radbourn warmed up but the game on May 6 was rained out. Bill Daley pitched the next two days for Boston, beating Brooklyn 8 to 4, and 11 to 10; Radbourn did not appear again in the series.

The 35-year-old Radbourn finished the 1890 season with a 27-12 record and 3.31 ERA and led the Reds to the Players League’s only pennant; he would only pitch one more season. Thirty-five-year-old Richardson had his last great season in 1890, hitting .328 and led the league in home runs (16) and RBI (152).

Richardson summed up his late teammate:

 “Radbourn was a man who never despaired of a victory no matter how the tide of fortune flowed. He did not know the meaning of the word ‘quit.’”

Lost Pictures: Van Haltren

31 May

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Seventy-two-year-old George Van Haltren (center, with Bill Steen and Jack Kennedy) at the San Francisco Seals’ third annual old-timers game on August 5, 1934.

Van Haltren was the oldest player to participate in  the game; The Associated Press reported that Connie Bigelow, who played for various San Francisco based teams in the 1870s and Mike Fisher, who played for local teams in the 1880s, were the only two present who were older, although neither played.

Van Haltren provided the biggest highlight of the three inning game. Abe Kemp, who covered baseball for The San Francisco Examiner for more than 40 years, said:

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Van Haltren’s hit

“George Van Haltren singles to right.

“Forty years ago, New York baseball fans expected such a thing to happen because it happened frequently, but when a fellow is crawling along in the seventies, as Van is, it approximates quite a feat; yet that is what this grand old warrior did yesterday in his first and only trip to the plate.”

Van Haltren’s Haverly’s lost 6 to 4 to the Pioneers.

 

 

“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.”

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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.