Tag Archives: George Vanderbeck

“It was not only Disgraceful, but Cowardly”

8 Feb

“Tuesday saw the finish of Norman Elberfeld as a Western League baseball player for this season, at least, and there is no one to blame but himself.”

“Kid” Elberfeld had just punched himself out of the league, said The Detroit Free Press.

Kid Elberfeld

The shortstop for the Detroit Tigers in the Western league, “The Tabasco Kid” was popular with fans but frequently at odds with umpires. The final straw in Detroit was August 1, 1899.

In the first inning, Elberfeld argued with umpire Jack Haskell after Haskell called Ollie Pickering safe at first, He continued to argue after being ejected:

“Elberfeld made a quick move and planted both right and left on Haskell’s face…at a time when Haskell was not looking and entirely unprepared for such action. It was not only disgraceful, but cowardly in the extreme as well.”

Just over a month earlier, The Free Press had chided Elberfeld after he “nearly precipitated a riot,” after umpire Jack Sheridan did not allow him take first base on a hit by pitch in the ninth inning with two runners one. Elberfeld then grounded out to end the game.”

Sheridan was confronted by “a few wild-eyed fanatics made a run in the direction” of the umpire who was escorted from the field.

The Detroit Journal said that Tigers owner George Vanderbeck told manager George Stallings “the next time (Elberfeld) kicks himself out of a game it will cost him $25. The hazarding of games through dirty play and rowdyism will do longer me tolerated.”

Henry Chadwick opined in his syndicated “Chadwick Chat” column:

“The manager in question should have started the season with this rule, and then he would have had no difficulty.”

Then, a week later, The Free Press reported, Elberfeld boasted that he would make trouble for the official, knowing the rooters would take his part,” after another ejection.

The paper called him “a fine ball player, a valuable man’ and “one of the hardest workers that ever appeared on any field,” but said his act was getting old in Detroit. “Clean baseball is what the public was given in the days of major league baseball in this city, and clean baseball is what they want now.”

And, “while no one is blamed but Elberfeld for the cowardly act…(if he had) been compelled, by the management, to hold his tongue and keep away from umpires from the opening of the season, he would still be playing ball.”

Elberfeld returned home to Ohio.

Harry Weldon of The Cincinnati Enquirer said, “the Kid expressed regret,” and suggested that the Reds purchase his contract “providing the suspension can be raised.”

Three weeks after the incident, Elberfeld was sold to the Reds for $2500:

The Free Press complained that the Kid “has really profited by the punishment if he is allowed to jump into the game at once,”

Elberfeld’s purchase was too much for Henry Chadwick. The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune said “the aged baseball authority” wrote a letter to Reds President John T. Brush. Chadwick asked Brush to explain how he could acquire Elberfeld after the attack; he also questioned why Brush had acquired players like Jack Taylor and Bill Hill (Hill was traded for Taylor after the 1898 season) given “their reputations.” Chadwick was concerned about those players as well as Danny Friend and Bad Bill Eagan, both of whom had been arrested for violent crimes.

Henry Chadwick

Chadwick asked Brush if “the employment of players of this caliber benefitted the game?”

Brush responded:

“You state that ‘Pitcher Friend was suspended for cutting a man with a knife, that Bad Bill Egan [sic Eagan] is just out of prison for attempting to cut his wife to death, also that Elberfeld…You say Taylor, of the Cincinnati team, and Hill, of the Brooklyn team, offer more samples of the neglect of character in engaging players for league teams.”

Brush said he had “nothing whatever” to do with Friend and Eagan.

He said the purchase of Elberfeld had been completed “sometime before” the incident and ‘the fact that he was suspended, laid off without pay for several weeks, ad fined $100, would be evidence that in his case proper action had been taken.”

Brush claimed Elberfeld regretted his actions, was not “an evil-minded ballplayer,” and that there were “extenuating circumstances” but did not disclose what those might have been.

John T. Brush

As for the other two players mentioned by Chadwick—both of whom spent time with the Reds—Brush said:

“Bill Hill was with the Reds one season. We let him go. That ended the responsibility of the Cincinnati Club. He was the only player on the Cincinnati team who violated the rule of 1898. He was fined twice, $25 each time, for disputing the decision of the umpire… Taylor had a bad reputation…He promised, so far as promises go, absolute reformation.

“Taylor’s contract allowed the Reds to hold back $600 of his salary, which was to be forfeited to the club in case he violated Section 6 of the league contract. He broke his pledge, he forfeited the temperance clause of his contract, was suspended for a month, and was restored as an act of justice or mercy to his wife, who was not in fault.”

In closing Brush told Chadwick:

“If you could point out to me a way which seems better or easier to travel, I would be very glad to have you do so, I get wrong on many things, no doubt, but it is not from preference.”

Elberfeld was injured for much of his time in Cincinnati, hit .261 and was returned to Detroit before the 1900 season. He made it back to the major leagues as a member of the Tigers in 1901. He remained in the big leagues for 12 seasons.

Elberfeld never lost his contentious nature as a player, or later as a long-time minor league manager.

Bozeman Bulger of The New York World said:

“To this day Elberfeld is just as rabid in his enmity to umpires as when he fought them in the big leagues. He got into several difficulties last year.”

Bulger said “he happened to be present” when Elberfeld and John McGraw were discussing umpires.

“’Kid,’ said the Giants manager, ‘it took me a long time, but I’ve learned that nobody can get anything by continually fighting those umpires. Why don’t you lay off them? It’s the only way.’

“’Maybe it is,’ said the Kid with finality. ‘But, Mac, I intend to fight ‘em as long as I live.”