Tag Archives: Grand Rapids Furniture Makers

Nick Altrock’s First Start

27 Jul

The Cincinnati Enquirer ran a small item about Nick Altrock in February of 1914.  The paper said of the left-handed pitcher and one of baseball’s greatest clowns:

“(E)xcellent control, combined with a stolid indifference to the surroundings and trimmings which go to make up the big league contests, were the stock and trade of Mr. Altrock and the principal asset which made him a great pitcher.”

Nick Altrock

Nick Altrock

Altrock is 31st all-time, and third among left-handed pitchers, having walked just 1.6169 batters per nine innings.

A month later a letter arrived at the paper.  The writer, Frank Torreyson, the man who discovered Altrock in Cincinnati, and signed him to his first professional contract with Grand Rapids in the Interstate League in 1898, told the paper that it was under his tutelage that Altrock got “the idea that control was everything almost in the pitching line.”

Torreyson said:

“During our exhibition season we had much rainy weather and had very few chances to play games and the championship season was upon us before we had much chance to secure any line on our players…Well, Altrock had not done any too well in his one exhibition game, although his work looked good to me and I saw that although he was somewhat green , that he had possibilities and he then was full of comedy, just as at present.”

Torreyson said he decided to leave Altrock behind in Grand Rapids when the club made their first road trip of the season:

“I took Altrock into the clubhouse and told him I was not going to take him along, and you should have seen his face.  His lip fell down and he says, ‘Are you going to can me?’ I told him I was going to leave him at home to see if he could get control during the week we were away, telling him that he had no control over his curveball.”

Torreyson said when Altrock learned he wasn’t going to be released, he “took heart and said he would work hard,” on his control:

“I had a friend who lived near the park and he told me when I came home that Altrock came out at 9 AM and never took his uniform off until 5 o’clock.  Then before supper, he would go down the street and watch to see what the boys did on the trip.”

Frank Torreyson

Frank Torreyson

Torreyson said his left-handed pitchers, Billy Campbell, War Sanders, Charles Hutton, pitched well on the road trip, and:

“Poor Nick told them all that he guessed it was back to Cincy for him.

“Well, when we came home for the opening game Nick didn’t know whether to put on a uniform or not.  I sent him to the grounds early while the other boys were on parade, and when practice came I told him I wanted to see if he could put a few of his curveballs over the plate, and you should have seen them coming over with speed—ins, outs and every ball he pitched right over the center. “

Torreyson said shortly before the game began he informed Altrock that he would be Grand Rapids’ starting pitcher:

“Well, that was the time you should have seen him open his eyes.  Then he went in and only gave up a couple of hits, struck out 12 and never gave anything like a base on balls.”

Torreyson got some of the details wrong.  Altrock did pitch the opener and went the distance in a 12-inning game that ended in a 3 to 3 tie; he struck out eight and walked two.

Altrock went 17-3 for Grand Rapids before the cash-strapped Torreyson sold him to the Louisville Colonels in July.

Torreyson said of Altrock:

“His work with us that season was of the most sensational character.  Besides his great work he was one of the easiest men to handle I have ever seen in the game; always ready and willing and never shirking.  Many a time have I seen him after pitching a winning game, keep his uniform on and play with the kids for an hour or two.  He was always a general favorite with the public and players and was a credit to the game.”

Altrock

Altrock

As for Altrock’s success, well, Torreyson was fairly sure who to credit for that:

“I feel confident that the week he was left at home to learn to get them over had much to do with his having such great control during his later career.”

“The Nomad of the Interstate League”

25 Jul

There have been several incarnations of the Interstate League, the first began in 1885 and the final one played its last game in 1952.  None was more precarious than the one that operated in the 1890s, which newspapers annually announced was on the verge of collapse.  One Interstate League franchise, in particular, was always a little closer to collapse than the rest.

Frank J. Torreyson became the owner of the Wheeling (WV) Nailers in 1897.  He had been part owner of the Dayton franchise but just as that partnership was disintegrating the Wheeling team went on strike because they hadn’t been paid.  The league solved two problems by awarding the Nailers to Torreyson.

Torreyson had been a semi-pro player in Pennsylvania and managed teams in the Tri-State League. His first effort at team ownership involved starting a Pittsburgh franchise in the Pennsylvania State League in 1892.  By July He moved the team to Wilkes-Barre citing poor attendance.

His brother, Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson, was a 2nd baseman who had some excellent seasons in the Pennsylvania State and Atlantic Leagues; but by 1897 Thayer had literally grown into his nickname, and his best playing days were behind him.

Thayer joined Frank in the ownership of the team and continued to play and serve as captain.

In 1898, the Torreyson brothers moved the Wheeling franchise to Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Frank had necessitated the move when, immediately upon acquiring the franchise, he sold off the best players and alienated the Wheeling fans–he also played the two towns against each other.  While he was already aware he had worn out his welcome in Wheeling, he told The Grand Rapids Herald:

“I would very much like to have charge of an Interstate team here though Wheeling is a pretty good ball town.  We can’t play Sunday there, though, unless we get the grounds outside of the town which we expect to have if we stay there.”

He managed to get the city of Grand Rapids’ “West Side businessmen to bear half the expense “of readying two ballparks for the season—the team played most of their games at Recreation Park, but Sunday games were played at nearby Alger Park

The first home Sunday game was a harbinger of what was ahead for Torreyson in Grand Rapids.

Despite each person who “Patronized the grandstand” receiving “‘The Art Gallery of Prominent Baseball Players of America,” fans stayed away in droves.  Bad weather limited the crowd to “a few hundred,” and “stern luck was ‘agin’ the Cabinetmakers,”  Grand Rapids lost the game 6 to 5, and their record for the young season slipped to 2-5.

Things never really improved.

Throughout the 1898 season, Torreyson complained about the lack of support from the Grand Rapids community and threatened to move the team.

For their part, the citizens of Grand Rapids, while not actually coming out to games in great numbers, seemed to appreciate Torreyson’s effort.  In August, with the team in fourth place, The Herald announced that a benefit—whereby blocks of tickets would be purchased by the city’s leaders—would be organized to try to get the owner out of the red:

“Torreyson has given the city the best team it has ever had and this being a bad season f0r the game, there has been no money in it for him.”

There was no report of how much the August 19 benefit raised, but Torreyson, at least for the moment, expressed his gratitude in a letter to the people of the city he was desperately attempting to flee:

“The results show that Grand Rapids people appreciate honest endeavors for clean baseball.  Hoping to continue to please all, I am, respectfully yours, Frank W. Torreyson.”

Frank Torreyson

Frank Torreyson

Over the next twelve months, he visited a number of cities in Ohio and Indiana soliciting the best offer to relocate the team.  Attendance in Grand Rapids decreased further in 1899—while Torreyson’s club had hovered near .500 throughout the 1898 season, they were wire-to-wire doormats, mired in last place for all of 1899– and the already struggling Interstate League was in danger of having a team fold during the season.

In order to keep the eight-team league intact, an unusual trade was made.  The Columbus Buckeyes in the Western League would move to Grand Rapids and Torreyson would take his team to Columbus, Ohio.  The move would benefit both leagues by reducing travel costs.

In mid-July of 1899, the move was made official.  Fans, thrilled to be rid of the cellar-dwelling Interstate League club, filled the ballpark for the first home game of the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers of the Western League.  Newspapers estimated the crowd between 1600 and 2000; at least double the best crowd Torreyson’s team had ever drawn.

Columbus fans were less enthusiastic; 167 attended the first home game of the Columbus Senators of the Interstate League, a 4 to 1 loss to the first place New Castle Quakers.  The Herald said of Grand Rapids’ former club’s first game in their new town:

“That same old story comes from Torreyson’s team.”

The low attendance—they drew just 288 fans for their first Sunday home game– and  not very  friendly reception from the city of Columbus made Frank restless again.  Less than two weeks later, he relocated once more, this time to Springfield, Ohio, where his team was appropriately dubbed The Wanderers.  The team finished the season 49-91, 38 games out of first place.

 

In less than two years, Torreyson had incurred the wrath of the league and each member city.  The Fort Wayne News called for the league to take the franchise away from him. The Toledo Bee said Torreyson was “Ruining the Interstate.”  The Mansfield (OH) News said the transfer of the teams would have been better for the league “If Torreyson had been lost in the trade.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“The managers of the various other teams in the league say that Torreyson has done more to injure baseball in the Interstate League since he got into it than all other drawbacks combined.  The say that if Torreyson is permitted to wander about the country with a club in Columbus this week, in Kalamazoo next week, Erie the following week, Saginaw of Bay City the week after, and God only knows where after that, the league might as well disband.”

Early in 1900, a deal was struck to buy him out of the franchise.  The Youngstown Vindicator said the league had contributed to the purchase price in order to rid them of Torreyson, who they called “The Nomad of the Interstate League.”  Torreyson, The Vindicator said, “(M)ilked at least three towns as dry as tinder. But then the fan is the legitimate prey of the magnet.  Torreyson is now running a billiard hall in Braddock (PA).”

That wasn’t the end of Torreyson’s story.

He did, along with “Heavy,” open a billiard hall in Braddock—then two more in Homestead and McKeesport.  But Frank also became a successful thoroughbred owner and managed dozens of boxers out of a gym in Braddock.

Thayer "Heavy" Torreyson

Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson

Both made headlines one more time.

In October of 1911, The Pittsburgh Dispatch said Thayer was on his way to New York and, “He took with him $21,000.  He will wager this amount that the Philadelphia Athletics will defeat the New York Giants for the world’s championship.”

In 1912, The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said Frank paid passage for two boxers from Whales to come fight for him in Pennsylvania.   Leslie Williams and David John Bowen never made it to the United States; they went down with the Titanic on April 14.

Frank Torreyson died on April 10, 1918.

Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson continued to operate the billiard halls—and as The Pittsburgh Press said he was known to sell “horse race pools and (make) book on races.”  He also remained active in Pittsburgh area amateur baseball until his death on May 7, 1939.

A shorter version of this post appeared in September of 2012.

Tragic Exits: James McDonough

28 Jan

James Vincent McDonough was born in Chicago in 1888, his father and younger brother were both Chicago police officers.  Primarily a catcher, the 5’ 10” 180 pound right-handed hitter first made a name for himself in the Chicago City League with the Auburn Parks and the Rogers Parks.

McDonough, middle row, second from left with the Rogers Parks in 1910.

McDonough, middle row, second from left with the Rogers Parks in 1910.

In 1911 he joined the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers in the Central League; in July The Sporting Life said he was traded to the Terre Haute Miners.  He finished the season with the Traverse City Reporters in the Michigan State League, and then returned to Chicago.

In 1912 and ’13 McDonough was one of the more popular members of Chicago’s entries in the United States and Federal Leagues.  He also started the 1914 season as a member of Joe Tinker’s Whales in the Federal league, although The Chicago Tribune said he was “handicapped this spring with a sore arm,” he played in the club’s final exhibition game in Covington, Kentucky, collecting two hits but never appeared in a game during the regular season, and was released in May.

McDonough

McDonough

That same month McDonough returned to semi-pro ball in Chicago and married the Marion Delores Jordan.

He remained a popular enough figure in Chicago baseball circles that his wedding and the brief marital scandal that followed in 1916 was reported in the local press.  The Tribune said:

“A ‘poisoned phone’ almost brought about the complete separation of Jim McDonough, the former backstop of the Federal baseball team, and his wife a few days ago.  For the last two weeks girls called up Mrs. McDonough every night and told her that her beloved hubby was not the saint she thought him.

“’These naughty girls,’ said the young Mrs. McDonough, ‘said Jim was out drinking champagne with them.  It almost drove me to nervous prostration.  Jim always denied the stories, but by that time I had grown to suspect him.

“’Then I went home to mother’s.  Three days later I saw a lawyer and filed a bill for a divorce.  Then the most wonderful thing in the world happened.  Jim came to me and told me he had done nothing wrong and that he loved me more than ever.”

Marion McDonough

Marion McDonough

The couple reconciled.

On April 22, 1918 McDonough made the papers for the final time.  The Chicago Examiner said:

“James McDonough, well-known as a catcher in the Chicago Federal League baseball team the first year of that organization’s existence, shot and killed his wife last night.  Then he killed himself with a bullet through his temple…Mrs. McDonough left the former ballplayer several months ago, charging that he failed to support her and their two children…McDonough was 29-years-old and subject to the draft. At the time of the separation Mrs. McDonough refused to sign exemption papers for him.  Several times since, it is said, he begged her to return to him or sign the exemption papers.”

The two had an altercation outside a drug store on Chicago’s South side.

“Noticing that they were attracting attention, the couple walked away.  At 4250 Vincennes Ave., McDonough pushed his wife into a hallway.  A moment later he shot her twice, once in the temple and once just below the heart. Then he sent a bullet into his own head.”

Both were taken to a nearby residence.  McDonough died after 10 minutes, his wife died 30 minutes later.

Although it appears he never played organized baseball after 1914, his Cook County, Illinois death certificate listed his profession as “Ballplayer.”

Tragic Exits 2

5 May

Charles Rapp

Charles “Adonis” Rapp was a left-handed pitcher (he also played first base and outfield) who began his career with the Austin Senators in the Texas League in 1898.  For the next several years he played for a variety of Midwest based clubs (Fort Wayne, Saginaw, Grand Rapids) in the Interstate and Michigan State Leagues.

Contemporary newspaper reports say he was also a member of the South Bend Greens in the Central League, but he is not listed on any surviving rosters; he was also said to have been “tried out by Milwaukee, when that city was in the old Western League (1903).”

Rapp’s trail goes cold after the 1903 season until 1909.  Rapp was living in his hometown of South Bend, Indiana.  The Indianapolis News reported on May 17:

“Charles Rapp, former ball player, and well known throughout the city, killed his mother late Saturday and then committed suicide.  The weapons used were a hammer, a dull paring knife and a small pair of shears.  It is said that Rapp had a tendency towards insanity, that the tendency had been marked during the last few days and that he undoubtedly deranged when he attacked his mother.

“Rapp did not die until several hours after the double crime had been committed and after he had been removed from the Rapp home to the St. Joseph County Jail.  Before death came, and in reply to a query about the crime, Rapp said: ‘I tried to get the whole family.’

“The last person to see Mrs. Rapp alive and the first one to discover the body of the woman and the dying son was Charlotte Benz.  Mrs. Benz had spent the day at the Rapp home and left the house late in the afternoon…On her return she stopped at the Rapp place, entering by the rear door…and then suddenly a sickening sight met her gaze.  Lying in a pool of blood at one side of the sitting-room were Rapp and the body of the mother.  The heads were close together and as Mrs. Benz entered the young man cried out: ‘Get out of here, Lottie, get out of here.’  It was evidently his intention to kill the Benz woman, but Rapp was unable to move from loss of blood.”

The Associated Press said of the incident:

 “Until Rapp fell a victim to the liquor habit he was one of the most popular young men in the city.”

Henry Long

Henry Long was born in Chicago in 1870 or 1871 (cemetery and death records disagree), he was the younger brother of  Herman who had a 16-year big league career.

Herman Long

Herman Long

Little is known about Henry’s early life, or when exactly he began playing professional baseball.  Based on newspaper reports he appears to be the “Long” who played with the Battle Creek Adventists in the Michigan State League in 1895.

Before the 1896 season he was signed by the Lewiston team in the New England League.  The Lewiston Daily Sun said:

“Manager (Michael) Garrity has signed pitcher Henry Long of Chicago, a brother of Herman Long of the Bostons, and is said to be a good pitcher, a hard hitter and a good all-around man.”

Long didn’t last in Lewiston, he was 0-2 in just three games before he was released.  Long then appeared in one game for the Shamokin Actives in the Pennsylvania State League, and then joined the Hagerstown Lions in the Cumberland Valley League.

The right-handed pitcher started seven games for the Lions and was 4-3 with a 1.29 ERA.

On July 10 he missed the team’s train for a game in Hanover, Maryland.  The Philadelphia Times said he attempted to hop a freight train and fell; his right arm was crushed under the wheels.  His arm was amputated “but Long sank rapidly and died in the hospital” in Hagerstown.  While contemporary news reports said the body was to be shipped back to Chicago, where it would be “received by his brother Herman,” he was instead buried in Maryland

Matt Barry

In 1900 The Sporting Life said Matthew “Matt” Barry had been “the first player from Rhode Island to receive money for playing ball.”

Information on where he played is sketchy—he was the Rhode Islands in the New England League in 1877 and Springfield (MA) of the International Association in 1878–but beyond that, there are few references to where he played during his career.

The Providence News-Democrat called Barry, who was born in Providence in 1850, a “well-known ballplayer and one of the best-known members of the sporting fraternity in the state.”

Barry eventually returned to his hometown, Providence where he operated the Empire Saloon, on Empire Street.

After the turn of the century, Barry suffered a series of financial setbacks.   On August 30, 1907 The News Democrat said:

 “(Barry) attempted suicide by inhaling illuminating gas in his room in the Essex house, at 23 Burrill Street.”

Barry was discovered by the owner of the house:

 “The room was locked, but the door was forced, and then Barry was seen unconscious on the bed with gas streaming from an open unlighted jet…as Barry’s usual custom was to sleep with all the windows open , the fact that they were closed , indicated that he had prepared to take his life.”

He was taken to Rhode Island, where he died on September 2.

Barry’s friends disputed the story that he had taken his own life, claiming his “financial embarrassments” had been overstated and that he “was in better condition financially than he had been for years.”  His friends instead said Barry, who “had been troubled with insomnia” and took morphine to sleep, turning off the lights “at that time the morphine would begin to get in its work,” had accidentally turned on the gas when he meant to turn off the light “which was on the same chandelier.”

The cause of death was never officially determined.

“Fear of the Black List has Stopped Many a Crooked Player from Jumping”

9 Sep

For a brief period in the mid1890s, George Jouett Meekin was considered among the top pitchers in the game; he might never have had the opportunity, but for what The Sporting Life called “The disastrous effects of Chairman Young’s somersault.”

Jouett Meekin

Jouett Meekin

 John Montgomery Ward, Meekin’s manager with the New York Giants, said he was, along with Amos Rusie, Tim Keefe, John Clarkson and Kid Nichols, the “most marvelous pitchers as ever lived.”

Charles “Duke” Farrell, who caught Meekin and Rusie with the Giants, said:

“Sometime, it seemed to me that (Meekin) was actually faster…Rusie’s speed struck the glove with a bruising deadening, heavy shock, and Meekin’s fastest gave a sharp, sudden sting.”

But in 1891 Meekin was a 24-year-old pitcher in his third season with the St. Paul Apostles in the Western Association. The New Albany, Indiana native became a well-known amateur player across the Ohio River in Louisville before signing his first professional contract with the Apostles in 1889.  His sub .500 winning percentage was not enough to keep the American Association’s eighth place Louisville Colonels, from inducing Meekin to jump his contract with St. Paul.

In June Meekin jumped; at the same time third baseman Harry Raymond jumped to Colonels from the Western League’s Lincoln Rustlers.

The National Board of Control, created after the 1890 season as part of the “peace agreement” between the National League and The American Association after the collapse of the Players League, to arbitrate contract disputes, acted quickly.  Board Chairman (and National League President) Nick Young announced that Meekin and Raymond would be “forever ineligible to play with or against a National Agreement club.”  The statement, signed by Young, also said:

“This order or any other that may hereafter be made for the same cause, will never be modified or revoked during the existence of the present board, whose term of office will not expire for five years.”

The move was applauded by the press and no less a figure than “the father of baseball,” Henry Chadwick, who called Raymond and Meekin part of a “venal cabal” of jumping players.

Despite the promise that the order would “never be modified or revoked,” Young did just that.  Within weeks of issuing the order, both players were reinstated.

The backlash was swift.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer called the reversal “nauseating.”  The Cincinnati Times-Star said it was “one of the greatest mistakes ever made.”  The Milwaukee Evening Wisconsin said Young and the board chose to “toss the National Agreement into the fire.”

nickyoungpix

Nick Young

James Edward Sullivan, founder of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) said the reinstatement of the “arch-culprits” Meekin and Raymond “was the worst in the history.”  He predicted dire consequences as a result:

“Heretofore the fear of the black list has stopped many a crooked player from jumping or doing dishonest work.  But from now on it will be different.  A precedent has been formed.”

Raymond jumped back to Lincoln, taking Colonels’ pitcher Phillip “Red” Ehret with him to the Rustlers.  Meekin remained with Louisville and moved to the National League with the Colonels the following season.

Meekin had a 10-year big league career as a result of Young’s reversal.

From 1891-93, Meekin was 29-51 with Louisville and the Washington Senators and was traded to the Giants (along with Duke Farrell) before the 1894 season.  He was 33-9, and fellow Indiana native Amos Rusie was 36-13, for the 2nd place Giants.  Meekin had two complete game victories in the Giants four game sweep of the first-place Baltimore Orioles in the Temple Cup series (Rusie won the other two games).

The New York Evening Journal called Meekin “Old Reliable,” and said, “He can push ‘em up to the plate in any old style, and is factor with the stick.”  The pitcher hit .276 with 29 RBI in 183 at bats in 1894 (including hitting 3 triples in a game on July 4) and was a career .243 hitter.

Meekin won 102 more games (including 26, and 20 win seasons in 1896 and ’97), but as O. P. Caylor said in The New York Herald he suffered from “a lack of control.”  Meekin walked 1056 batters and struck out only 901 in more than 2600 innings, he also hit 89 batters; in 1898, he broke Hughie Jennings nose with a pitch.

After posting a 16-18 record for the seventh place Giants in 1898, Meekin, along with Rusie, and second baseman William “Kid” Gleason, were blamed by New York owner Andrew Freeman for the team’s disappointing finish.  Freeman told reporters:

“Meekin, Rusie and Gleason will be either sold or traded.  We do not want them.  I’m going to break up cliques in the team even if I have to get rid of every man.  There must be harmony.  Without it we can’t win games.  We have too many men who are simply playing for their salaries and do not seem to care whether they win or not.”

Rusie had injured his arm late in the season and sat out the next two years.  Meekin and Gleason, despite Freedman’s promise, returned to the Giants for the 1899 season.  The team finished in tenth place, and Meekin struggled with a 5-11 record.

He was sold to the Boston Beaneaters in August for a reported $5000, although it was commonly assumed that the Giants received much less, or simply “loaned” Meekin to Boston for the stretch run; a charge made by Brooklyn Superbas manager Ned Hanlon.  Although Hanlon’s charges have become “fact” in countless books and articles over the years, several newspapers, including The Pittsburgh Press refuted Hanlon’s story:

“All that talk and fuss about Freedman giving Jouett Meekin to Boston in order to help that team win the pennant and thus get even with Brooklyn is nonsense.  The truth of the matter is that Freedman thought Meekin’s days as a pitcher were over, and he offered him to the Pittsburgh club, but President (William) Kerr thought the same way and did not take him.  At the time Boston’s pitching corps was in bad shape and manager (Frank) Selee took a chance on the big fellow.  There was no underhand dealing in the matter at all.”

Meekin was 7-6 with a 2.83 ERA for Boston, but the team finished second to Brooklyn.  He was released by Boston before the 1900 season and pitched just two games with the Pittsburgh Pirates before being released again in July.  He finished the season with the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers in the Western Association and spent 1902 in the Southern Association with the Memphis Egyptians.

Meekin returned home to New Albany, Indiana, where, in 1910, according to The Trenton True American “his earnings from baseball are well invested in real estate.”

Meekin slipped into relative obscurity by the time he died in 1944.

The original picture that appeared with this post–now below–was misidentified as Jouett Meekin in this blog and by The Louisville courier-Journal in 1897.  According to Mark Fimoff co-chair SABR Pictorial History Committee, the picture was actually Lave Cross.  

Lave Cross--picture earlier misidentified as Jouett Meekin.

Lave Cross–picture earlier misidentified as Jouett Meekin.