Tag Archives: Gus Schmelz

Bed Check, 1887

31 May

In 1887, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch set out to find out “How managers watch their players on the road.”

 

schmelz

Gus Schmelz

 

The paper spoke to Gus Schmelz, manager of the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association; the previous season, Schmelz managed the National League St. Louis Maroons:

“He thinks, of course, that all good ball-players should retire early, and regards plenty of sleep as conducive to good condition.  Most managers agree with him on this head and some of them have difficult tasks in seeing that their men are under the cover at the proper hour. This is particularly true when the club is on the road and when the aggregation is anxious to have a good time with their friends in the city.”

The paper said Jim Mutrie of the New York Giants had what he thought was a great plan to ensure his players were in bed early:

“(H)e keeps a book which he leaves with the hotel clerk who checks off the players’ names with the hour of their application for the key and late comers may expect free lectures the morning following.  This plan is an excellent one, but it may be news to Mutrie to know that some of his pets return as early as 10 o’clock for their keys, are checked off in regular order and after ascending in the elevator to their rooms, as it were, return by the stairway when all is quiet, and come back in the small hours.”

As for John “Kick” Kelly, the new manager of the Louisville Colonels:

“Kelly says his plan is to wait up for the boys, and hammer at their doors until the whole club is housed, but even this plan is easily circumvented by the ingenious players who rack their brains for schemes to outwit their keepers.”

 

kickkelly

Kick Kelly

 

The only manager who had a plan that was working well, according to the paper, was:

“One of the most prominent and best-known managers in the country, whose name it is unnecessary to mention, has recently adopted a new plan for keeping track of his men, and from which there seems no loop-hole of escape. His orders to his men are that everyone should be asleep by 11 o’clock, thus giving them ample time for repose.  When traveling, this rigorous manager waits at the hotel desk until the hands of the clock point to 10:30, and then every key in the rack which opens his rooms is turned over to him.  These he carries with him to his own, and the tardy player must rouse him up and obtain his key or else stay away during the whole night.  In either case, the unfortunate man has a sure guarantee of a sound tongue-threshing, if not a comfortable fine.  The plan has operated with immense success thus far, but whether it will continue to do so remains to be seen.”

The Pursuit of Elmer Foster

9 Sep

Elmer Ellsworth Foster was the talk of the Northwestern League in 1887.

His career as a pitcher had lasted just one season; in 1884, while pitching for the St. Paul Apostles, he snapped a bone in his arm while throwing a pitch.

Elmer Foster, 1887

            Elmer Foster, 1887

After he recovered, he returned the following year as an outfielder and second baseman with Haverhill in the Eastern New England League and hit .309.

The following spring, The Sporting Life’s Haverhill correspondent said the New York Metropolitans “have taken Elmer Foster from us.”

Hitting just .184 and, as The Sporting Life put it “reckless at the bat,” Foster went back to Haverhill in August.

In 1887, he returned to Minnesota, this time as centerfielder for the Minneapolis Millers.  The club was owned by his brother Robert Owen Foster, a successful dealer of musical instruments, who with his partner J. E. Whitcomb, had taken over operations of the Millers in January.

The Northwestern League of 1887 was a hitter’s paradise owing mostly to the single-season experiments with the four-strike rule and walks counted as hits—nineteen players with at least 350 at-bats hit better than .350—and Foster led with a .415 average and 17 home runs.   While his performance with the bat was noted, he received an equal amount of publicity for his great fielding.

Throughout the season, Minnesota newspapers reported that Foster’s contract would be sold to a major league team—the Indianapolis Hoosiers were the most frequently mentioned—but the deal never materialized.

When the season ended, The Philadelphia Times said Foster was in high demand:

“During the past week agents from nearly every League and Association (club) have been to Minneapolis to secure (Foster) for next season.  (Horace) Phillips of Pittsburgh; (Gus) Schmelz of Cincinnati; Ted Sullivan, agent for Washington; (Emery “Moxie”) Hengel agent for Detroit; (Charlie Hazen) Morton, agent for (A.G.) Spalding, and agents for the Brooklyn, Metropolitan, and Baltimore Clubs have tried to get him.

(John) Day, of New York, sent him this message:  ‘Multrie on the way to Minneapolis.  Make no promise until you see him.’  Boston also wired him for his terms.  (Horace) Fogel of Indianapolis arrived one night and had Foster in tow all the next day.  The bidding of all these clubs has been going on briskly, until now he is offered exorbitant figures by all the clubs.”

Foster called the fight for services a “circus;” it also turned into a controversy, with two teams claiming to have signed him.  The Saint Paul Globe said:

“The circus he speaks of is a curious one, but he is sublimely unmindful of the part he took in it.  The rules of the baseball covenant prohibit the signing of players until Oct. 20…Manager Fogel of Indianapolis approached Foster before that time and made a verbal contract with him, but Manager (Jim) Mutrie, of New York, took him out to Delano (Minnesota), and after midnight  (on the 20th) got his signature.”

Jim Mutrie

                       Jim Mutrie

Years later, Ted Sullivan, who was perusing Foster on behalf of his Washington Nationals, described Mutrie’s method to sign Foster as a kidnapping:

“Jim Mutrie of New York (Giants) grabbed the great fielder Foster on the streets of Minneapolis…bound and gagged him, threw him into a cab and brought him ten minutes out of the city, held him there and dined and wined him until midnight…then compelled him to take $1000 advance money and a contract of $4500 (various other sources put Foster’s salary at $2400, and $4000).”

Foster, it turned out, didn’t simply have a “verbal contract” with Fogel and Indianapolis when he disappeared with Mutrie, but had, as The Sporting News said, accepted “a draft for $100,” from Fogel at the time the two agreed to terms.  Fogel and Indianapolis owner John T. Brush told The Indianapolis News and The Indianapolis Times that there was “a written agreement” between Foster and the club.

Foster’s wife gave birth to a daughter during the height of the controversy.  He told The Globe:

“If she had been a boy I would have named him Mutrie Fogel, in memory of the baseball managers I have been having a circus with.”

In the end, Indianapolis acknowledged that the agreement with Foster, whether written or verbal, was entered into three days before the legal signing date of October 20 and National League President Nick Young awarded Foster to the Giants.

Foster never had success at the plate during his brief major league career; he hit just .187 in 386 at-bats over parts of five seasons.  But Mutrie called him “(O)ne of the best fielders in the country,” and Sullivan said of Foster’s time in the National League, “(H)e was a wonderful fielder in that league.”

Elmer Foster

      Elmer Foster

After he was released by the Giants, he played 31 games with the Chicago Colts in 1890 and ’91, but his brief stay with the club allowed his name to live on with fans long after his career ended.  One of the favorite subjects of Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, who called him “The rowdy of the rowdies,” Foster’s name was a staple of Fullerton’s stories for three decades after his career ended.

Lewis Henke

3 May

Lewis Henke played first base for the Atlanta Atlantas in the Southern League in 1885.  The Atlanta Constitution said:

“He was the swiftest and most baring baserunner on the Atlanta nine.”

And

“(A) favorite not only in Atlanta, but wherever he was known…perhaps the most popular player in the Southern League.”

On August 14 Atlanta was hosting the Nashville Americans, when according to The Macon Telegraph:

“In the fourth inning Henke, in making the first base, ran violently against the knee of (Charles “Lefty”) Marr, of the Nashvilles, the knee joint striking him apparently full in the stomach.  Henke showed immediately that he was badly hurt, and in a moment was lying stretched out almost on the base.  He was carried from the field to the dressing room…Although he had clearly made his base after heavy hit, no one of the players, no one of the great crowd looking on, knew that the infallible umpire above had decided differently, and called him out.”

Henke’s liver was ruptured in the collision and the Cincinnati native died of the injury the following day.

The New York Times blamed the death on “Bad feelings” between the two teams, which resulted in “much ugly work on the field, such as tripping each other, etc..”

Henry “Red” Bittman was Henke’s teammate, fellow Cincinnatian and best friend; they had come to Atlanta together in 1884 to play for the city’s entry in the Georgia State League.  He was at his friend’s bedside.

According to The Times:

“Henke observing his friend by his side this evening whispered to him: ‘Bitt, do not play today; I feel that I am dying.’ ‘What shall I tell your wife for you?’ Bittman inquired.  ‘Just tell her I got hurt in yesterday’s game and died from it,’ he replied as he again closed his eyes, and in three minutes he was dead.”

The Telegraph said that later that evening:

 “At half past ten the manager (Gus Schmelz) escorted the remains to the depot, and walked beside the undertaker’s team through the streets with barred (sic) heads.  The dead man’s comrades, rough and hard, were deeply afflicted, and some of the cried like children over the coffin…Henke, the dead baseballist, was carried west on the 10:40 train tonight on the Western and Atlantic to Cincinnati.”

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Lewis Henke, standing–Henry “Red” Bittman, seated

While some attributed Henke’s death to the “bad blood” and “ugly work on the field,” no one publicly singled out the popular “Lefty” Marr for blame.  Years later, Edward Cuba Bruffey, a long-time reporter and editor for The Atlanta Constitution said:

“The death of Henke completely prostrated Marr, and it was several days before he was able or willing to return to the game.  I am not certain now, but I think Marr was one of the men who accompanied the body to Cincinnati for the funeral.”

The Southern League owners pledged to play benefit games to raise money for Henke’s wife and child.

Tickets for the Atlanta benefit went on sale the final week of August.  The Constitution said:

 “Henke’s wife and child are destitute.  There is not one of the thousands who have seen him play and applauded him his pluck and skill who could not afford to buy tickets to the benefit…every dollar taken in will go to his family.”

The benefit became a bit of a scandal in Atlanta; and it’s unclear whether games were played throughout the league as promised.

The Atlanta game raised $159.85 for the widow, but it took more than six months for the money to get to her.  Ownership of the Atlanta franchise changed hands after the 1885 season and the former management of the club never gave the money raised from the game to Henke’s family.

In February of 1886 The Macon Telegraph said the new chairman of the Atlanta Baseball Association, Steve Ryan had advanced the money to the widow and “received a guarantee that he will be reimbursed” by the former owners.  According to The Telegraph:

“(Ryan) saved the old directorship from a very ugly legal squabble.  With the remittance Mr. Ryan forwarded to Mrs. Henke a spicy and sympathetic letter…It would be rich and rewarding reading as it touches up the old directorship interestingly. “

Henke’s best friend Henry Bittman played five more seasons in the minor leagues; including 87 games as “Lefty” Marr’s teammate with the Nashville Americans in 1886. In 1889 he appeared in four games with the Kansas City Cowboys in the American Association.  He died in Cincinnati in 1929 at the age of 67.

Charles "Lefty" Marr

Charles “Lefty” Marr

Marr played professional ball until 1898, including parts of four seasons in the American association and National League.  His best seasons were with the Columbus Solons in 1889 and the Cincinnati Reds in 1890.  The left-handed thrower played 129 games at third base and 29 at shortstop in the big leagues. He died in Connecticut in 1912.

Brother Joe’s Holdout

29 Nov

Joseph Aloysius “Brother Joe” Corbett got his nickname because lived in the shadow of his older sibling—“Gentleman Jim” Corbett, World Heavyweight Champion.

Baseball was Jim’s first love, and he aspired to pro career, but his time in professional baseball was limited to about three dozen games for a variety of minor league teams from 1897-1900 when his boxing fame made him a drawing card.

Jim was very protective of Joe, and contemporaneous newspaper accounts indicate that he served as something of an agent for his younger brother.

Joe, at 19-years-old and with limited experience in college and two California-based minor leagues, was given a trial with the Washington Senators in 1895—said to be a result of Jim’s friendship with Senators manager Gus Schmelz.  Joe went 0-2 for Washington and was released.

After pitching for the Norfolk Braves in the Virginia League and Scranton Miners in the Eastern League in 1896, Corbett earned another trip to the Big Leagues with Ned Hanlon’s great Baltimore Orioles team, the O’s were 90-39, 9.5 games ahead of the second place Cleveland Spiders.

Joe Corbett

Corbett was 3-0, and won two games against Cleveland in the Temple Cup, the National League post season 7-game series between the first and second place teams.

At the close of the Temple Cup series, while Jim was in New York, Hanlon got Joe to sign a $1400 contract in Baltimore for the 1897 season.

The 1897 Orioles finished in second place, but Corbett established himself as a rising star, posting a 24-8 record.  The Orioles sent Joe a contract for $2100.  Joe returned it unsigned and demanded $3000, and according to some reports, $300 in travel expenses.

The Orioles offered to split the difference.  Joe refused.

Ultimately the parties ended up either $100 apart, or with the Orioles relenting (depending on the source).  Joe still refused, and sat out the entire season.

Some sources, like the book “Baseball Hall of Shame 4,” claim Corbett’s holdout was over Hanlon’s failure to keep a promise to buy Joe a suit for winning 20 games.  The articles from that period and the quotes from the principles would make the suit story appear apocryphal and of later vintage.

Jim Corbett blamed the dispute on Hanlon, who he felt took advantage of his brother with the $1400 contract for 1897. “Gentleman Jim” said:

“Hanlon, as you know, is the cheapest magnate in baseball…he knows very well that I would not allow Joe to sign for such a measly salary and he took advantage of my absence. “

Jim said he told his brother to “Quit Hanlon for all time.”

Joe sat out 1898.  Before the 1899 season Joe told reporters:

“I have gone out of the baseball business for good.”

Like his brother, who retired from the ring on numerous occasions, Joe would be back.

More tomorrow.

Gentleman Jim