Tag Archives: Hal Chase

“The Most Graceful Player of All-Time”

25 Jun

Writing in The New York Herald Tribune in 1952, Grantland Rice, in his 51st year covering baseball, set out to choose his all-time “Most graceful” team.

The idea was borne out of a conversation with Charles Ambrose Hughes, who covered baseball for several Chicago and Detroit papers during a career that started one year after Rice’s–Hughes left the newspaper business to serve as secretary of the Detroit Athletic Club, he published the club’s magazine and led the group of investors who founded the National Hockey League Detroit Cougers in 1926–the team became the Red Wings in 1932 .

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Hughes

In an earlier column that year, Rice quoted Hughes on Napoleon Lajoie:

“Big Nap, or Larry, was the most graceful player of all time.  Every move he made was a poem in action.  He was even more graceful in the infield than Joe DiMaggio was in the outfield—and that means something.”

Rice agreed:

“I was another Lajoie admirer.  I never say Larry make a hard play.  Every play looked easy—just as it so often looked to DiMaggio, (Tris) Speaker, and Terry Moore.”

The comments apparently caused a spike in the volume of mail Rice received, and he said in a later column:

“Old timers in baseball still have the keener memories.  This thought developed in the number of letters received by admirers of Napoleon Lajoie, the Woonsocket cab driver…they were writing of baseball’s most graceful player. But almost as many modern fans stuck with Joe DiMaggio.”

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Rice

Rice said the issue caused him to think about “grace or rhythm” among players:

“(It) does not mean everything.  Honus Wagner looked like a huge land crab scooping up everything in sight.  He had a peculiar grace of his own, but it was hardly grace as we know it. Yet he was the game’s greatest shortstop”

Rice based his team on “the beauty of movement,” on the field:

Rice’s team:

Pitchers—Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Bugs Raymond

Catcher—Johnny Kling

First Base—Hal Chase

Second Base—Lajoie

Third Base—Jimmy Collins

Shortstop—Phil Rizzuto, Marty Marion

Outfield—Speaker, DiMaggio, Moore

Rice said:

“(T)his is the team we’d rather see play.  This doesn’t mean the greatest team in baseball…it leaves out many a star.

“But for beauty of action this team would be a standout…Looking back I can see now some of the plays Lajoie, Chase, DiMaggio, Speaker, Collins, Moore, Rizzuto, and Marion made without effort.”

Rice said Kling was not as good as Mickey Cochrane and Bill Dickey, “But he was a fine, smooth workman—smart and keen.”

He said he chose Raymond as one of the pitchers because of John McGraw:

“In an argument far away and long ago, I named Walter Johnson.  McGraw picked Raymond.

“’Raymond has the finest pitching motion I ever say,’ he said.  ‘It is perfect motion from start to finish—no wasted effort anywhere.”

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Bugs

Rice reiterated that the  “Woonsocket cab driver” was the most graceful of the graceful:

“The all-time top was Lajoie.  Here was the final word in grace, in the field or with a bat.  After Lajoie the next two selections belong to Hal Chase and Joe DiMaggio.  Speaker isn’t too far away.”

Rice concluded:

“Gracefulness does not mean greatness.  It means Jim Corbett in boxing, Hobey Baker in hockey, Bobby Jones in golf, Red Grange in football, Lajoie in baseball, (Paavo) Nurmi in running, It means (Eddie) Arcaro in the saddle. It means smoothness, ease, lack of effort where sensational plays are reduced to normal efforts.”

“There is a Heap about Baseball that I do not Know”

4 May

After Ted Sullivan blamed Joe Nealon’s father for his failure to secure the first baseman for the Reds, James C. Nealon was not going to let his accusations stand, and sent a letter in response to Sullivan’s letter to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“The public has always permitted, and will always permit a man who has lost the object he was seeking to compensate himself for the loss is excusing his failure by some worthy and absurd explanation, or by throwing the responsibility of the failure on someone else.”

Nealon said he was forced to respond because Sullivan “falsely placed myself and my son in an unenviable light.”

Nealon said he only cared about his son going to the club with “the best and most congenial associations,” and initially, many people he trusted told him Cincinnati was the best option.

He said Sullivan was the reason he and his son changed their minds.  Nealon said he checked train schedules and determined that Sullivan—who left Cincinnati on October 28—could have arrived in California no later than November 3, yet he did not hear from the Reds representative until after the contract was signed with Pittsburgh on November 6.

Nealon also said while he received a telegram from August Herrmann, Cincinnati Reds owner, with the offer of “a certain sum more than any other club,” he never shared that information with the Pirates Fred Clarke, and that the combination of being insulted by the Reds making their offer just about money and Sullivan not arriving in time made up his mind, and as a result:

 “I advised my son to sign a contract with any club he desired.”

After Sullivan arrived in San Francisco, Nealon said:

“He admitted to me that it was all his fault, yet he seeks in your paper to advise the public that it was the fault of my son and myself…I would rather (Joe) fail then to commit a dishonorable act, and I do not want the people of Cincinnati to believe his entry into the major league was associated in any manner with unfairness or unfair dealing.  Mr. Sullivan knows it was not.”

Joe Nealon wrote a letter to The Pittsburgh Post, and said he understood that when he joined the team in Hot Springs. Arkansas:

“There is a heap about baseball that I do not know.  I am eager to learn, however, and will gladly go under instructions.”

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Joe Nealon

Even after the beginning of the 1906 season, the stories about what influenced Nealon to sign with the Pirates would not go away.  In May is was reported that it was Jake Beckley, former first baseman for the Reds and Pirates who influenced Nealon to accept Clarke’s offer.  Nealon told The Pittsburgh Press that Beckley had nothing to do with his decision, and continued to blame Sullivan who he said did not “keep faith” with him and his father.

Nealon appeared in every game, hit the Pirates first home run of the 1906 season on May 5, tied Harry Steinfeldt for the league lead in RBI, and led all NL first basemen in total chances and putouts.

At the end of the season it was widely reported that Nealon would not return to the Pirates for the 1907 season.  After the team lost five straight games in September and slipped to third place, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss went on a tear to a wire service reporter—The Philadelphia Inquirer, under the headline “Barney Dreyfuss Lets Himself say Things” said:

“(Dreyfuss said) if his team doesn’t win second place for him he will keep their noses to the grindstone barnstorming for him until their contracts have run out (on October 16)”

Dreyfuss told the reporter:

“One of the things that ails our team is that there are too many capitalists on it.  The boys know that they do not have to play ball for a living, and sometimes that may affect their playing.  There is only one of the old players on the Pittsburgh team who is playing as a means of livelihood—that’s (Tommy) Leach.  The other could give up the game anytime.”

Nealon left the team immediately after the final game in Cincinnati and did not participate in the tour.  The San Francisco Call said he was done:

“Nealon, who became a great favorite in Pittsburgh and all over the league circuit, has had several grievances against Pittsburgh, and it was announced some time ago that the big San Francisco lad had declared himself in no unmeasured terms that he did not have to take the worst of it from anyone connected with the club, nor would he more than one season.”

The Call said Nealon became disenchanted in Pittsburgh when Dreyfuss attempted to trade him and “other Pittsburgh players” to the Brooklyn Superbas for Harry Lumley and Tim Jordan “although Captain Clarke had guaranteed him a full and free tryout for a year.”

Nealon returned to San Francisco to play winter ball, but he failed to make a trip to Stockton for the first game.  The San Jose Evening News said:

“Many San Joseans who took the trip to Stockton…were disappointed in not seeing Joe Nealon…the big first baseman, met with an accident Saturday evening.”

While racing to catch the train to Stockton, Nealon tripped and fell into a stone wall.  He broke two bones in his left hand.”

In December, the Pittsburgh papers reported that Nealon had declared himself “Completely healed,” in a letter to Barney Dreyfuss.

By February The Pittsburgh Press was assuring readers:

“Reports from the West have Joe Nealon in the best condition of his career.  Just keep your eyes on this big fellow this season; he is going to be a winner in every sense of the word.”

Despite the high expectations, Nealon was a disappointment to the pirates when he reported to  West Baden, Indiana in March.  The Press said:

“If the fans at home could see big Joe Nealon now they would not know him.  With his sweater on he looks like a three hundred pounder.”

Nealon actually weighed 216 pounds, roughly 20 pounds heavier than he was in 1906.

Additionally, The Pittsburgh Post said Nealon was experiencing stiffness in his left hand.

The Press announced that Nealon had gotten down to his playing weight and that his had had healed just in time for the opening of the season, but a knee injury sliding into second during the Pirates third game sidelined him for nearly two weeks, and according to The Post included a visit to John “Bonesetter” Reese, the Youngstown, Ohio doctor who treated many major leaguers.

Nealon was hitting just .217 in June when The Washington Post noted that two California Thoroughbreds—Nealon and Joe Nealon—both bred by friends of Nealon’s father, and both stakes race winners in 1907, were having decidedly better years than the first baseman.

Nealon steadily improved his batting average but had already fallen out of favor with fans and in the papers.  Rumors persisted that the Pirates were trying to trade for Fred Tenney of the Boston Doves.  By September, The Press said:

 “There is suspicion among the Pittsburgh players that Tenney may be secured as first baseman…to succeed Joe Nealon whose work this season is said to have been below standard.”

When Harry Swacina was purchased by the Pirates from the Peoria Distillers in the Three-I League that same month, the Pittsburgh correspondent for The Sporting News said:

 “He is an improvement over Joe Nealon in every department of the game.”

The New York Sun summed up the consensus view:

“Joe Nealon came out of California with the reputation of being a better first baseman than Hal Chase was, but in making a big league reputation Chase simply lost his fellow Californian.”

Swacina hit just .200, but got most of the playing time at first base in September, Nealon finished with a .257 average.

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Nealon

The Press speculated in November about who would play first base for the Pirates in 1908:

“Most of the fans have eliminated Joe Nealon from the competition all together, for it is an open secret that both President (Barney) Dreyfuss and Manager (Fred) Clarke were displeased with the way the young Californian acted this year, and it is presumed that no further time will be wasted with him, but that he will either be traded or released outright.”

In December, Nealon ended any remaining speculation by announcing his retirement—two weeks before his 23rd birthday. The Post said:

“The big Californian has quit the professional diamond for all time and will become a partner in business with his millionaire father…But for the intercession of Fred Clarke, it is said he would have been asked to retire about mid season, alleged infractions of the club’s rules and his general attitude of indifference being criticized by the local management.”

Nealon went to Hawaii in December with a team of West Coast stars—including Bill Lange and Orval Overall— formed by Mique Fisher and told reporters he would play weekends in San Francisco in 1908.

After returning from Hawaii, Nealon made his retirement official in a letter to Dreyfuss.  The Press said:

Joe writes that he is helping his father  who has a contract to erect a large public building in California…he asks, however, that his name be kept on Pittsburgh’s reserve list and wishes his teammates the best of luck.”

Nealon went to work with his father and appeared in 62 games for the Sacramento Senators in the California State League in 1908—hitting .372; as late as July he was hitting .436.  Nearly every Pacific Coast League time tried to sign him that summer, but The Oakland Tribune said:

“(Nealon) declared positively to the writer yesterday that he would not play ball, except as he is doing now, and Joe said there was not enough money in any of the Coast League treasuries to make him change his mind.”

Despite his protestations, nearly every team on the West Coast sought to sign Nealon.  Charlie Graham, Owner of the Sacramento Sacts made an offer that The San Francisco Call said led Nealon to tell a friend he wasn’t sure he could refuse.  He eventually did refuse, and instead signed to play for the Oakland Commuters in the California State League. The Call said he was the highest paid player on the West Coast.

Nealon captained the Oakland club, and hit .274 in 138 games.  How Nealon differed from his teammates and most players was probably best illustrated during a bench clearing brawl between Oakland and the Stockton Millers in June.  The Oakland Tribune said:

“(E)very man on both teams, with the exception of Joe Nealon, was mixed up…Nealon simply walked about the field and sat on the bench while the trouble was going on, and if anyone should ask right quick what player showed the only good judgment on the field the answer would be Joe Nealon.”

Nealon announced his retirement again, a week after his 25th birthday.

Nealon’s father had just helped elect San Francisco’s new mayor, Patrick Henry McCarthy, The Tribune said Nealon was “slated for a fat political job.”

Nealon was appointed deputy in the San Francisco County Clerk’s office in January.

On March 28, The Tribune said:

“(Nealon) is lying on death’s door in his home in San Francisco, suffering from typhoid fever.  Several physicians have been at the bedside of the ill athlete almost constantly for the past few days, and although they hold out but slight hope for his recovery, they state that his splendid physique may enable him to pull through.”

Nealon died five days later.

 

Joe Nealon

2 May

There was a race to sign Joe Nealon in 1905.  The San Francisco Chronicle said he was “thought to be the equal of Hal Chase,” the fellow first baseman and Californian who made his major league debut that season.

By November, West Coast newspapers had reported that at least four teams were after Nealon—the New York Highlanders, Boston Americans, St. Louis Browns, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates were after Nealon.

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Joe Nealon

There likely would have been even more interest in Nealon if not for his background; as The Chronicle said after Nealon signed with the San Francisco Seals before the 1905 season:

“Parental objection had to be overcome, and this was accomplished through an understanding that the boy would remain in professional baseball not more than two or three seasons.”

Nealon was the son of the James C. Nealon, a wealthy real estate executive, elected official, owner of thoroughbreds, and one of the best known handball players on the West Coast who often played with boxer Jim Corbett.

Nealon attended St. Ignatius College (now the University of San Francisco) and had played in the California State League in 1903 and 1904.

Cincinnati and Boston appeared to be the most aggressive pursuer of Nealon; according to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“Everybody who has seen him work says that Nealon will fill the bill.  He is described as a second Bill Lange at the bat, and a new edition of Charley Comiskey on the bag.  Allowing for exaggeration he seems to be the real goods.”

The Reds dispatched Ted Sullivan to San Francisco. The Americans sent Dan Long.  They did not know that Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Fred Clarke was on his way West as well; Clarke arrived first. The Pirates manager won out.  The Pittsburgh Post said:

“It was against these two men that Clarke had to use his ingenuity in securing Nealon.  The player is a freelance and was at liberty to join a team of his own selection.  Being independently wealthy and playing baseball only for the sport he finds in it.  Nealon was not influenced by any financial proposition.”

Reds owner August Herrmann told The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“I had become very much interested in young Nealon and regret that we did not succeed in getting him, but there is no use mourning over his loss.”

While Herrmann might not have been mourning, others in Cincinnati were and blamed Sullivan.

Jack Ryder of The Enquirer said:

“Why was not Ted Sullivan on the ground earlier?  Ted left Cincinnati a week ago last Saturday (October 29) with instructions to make a bee line for Frisco.  Mr. Herrmann knew that there was keen competition for  the services of Nealon…If Sullivan had reached San Francisco on Tuesday or Wednesday, as he was expected to do he would have got in ahead of Fred Clarke, and the chances would have favored his securing the player.”

Ryder said he had a letter from James C. Nealon written to Herrmann promising “that his son would sign with Cincinnati, ‘other things being equal,’” Ryder noted that the Reds “offered the boy more salary than any other club including Pittsburgh.”

Ryder concluded:

“Fred Clarke, who was on the spot, while Ted Sullivan was not, was able to persuade (Nealon) that the Pirates are a far better aggregation than the Reds.”

Ted Sullivan was not about to blamed, and fired off a letter to The Enquirer:

“There is not a man in the city of Cincinnati that would feel as much hurt as myself to lose a good man for the Cincinnati club.  The two years that I have acted as agent for Mr. Herrmann he has treated me like a king, and has showed a disposition to back my judgment on the skill of a player.”

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Ted Sullivan

Sullivan said in the letter, he had discovered Nealon’s “hidden skill” in August:

“The skill I noticed in Nealon (I wrote Mr. Herrmann at the time) was skill hidden beneath a dross of inexperience and youth.”

While he conceded that some time in the major leagues would “make him a star,” he assured The Enquirer he was not of the caliber of Sullivan’s favorite first baseman:

“The greatest first baseman in the history of the game, Charles Comiskey, was my own selection and making (which I say without egotism), but the California fledgling, without disparaging him, is a pallbearer compared to the magnetism of the matchless Comiskey.”

Sullivan blamed his inability to sign Nealon on Nealon’s father.  He claimed to have offered $3,800 to the first baseman in August, and was told that money was not the critical consideration, but complained that Nealon Sr. had immediately “proclaimed throughout Frisco, with the aid of a flashlight, and had also the newspaper men transmit (the offer) to all of the papers in the East.”

As for arriving is San Francisco after Clarke, Sullivan blamed that on the railroads:

“(I) was blocked between Salt Lake and Sacramento, caused by the immense amount of trains”

But, said Sullivan, none of that mattered.  Nealon’s father had not dealt with the Reds in good faith:

“Mr. Nealon Sr., who claimed he was not out for the money, called Fred out on the porch of the house and showed him, in confidence, the offer from Cincinnati.”

The latest Cincinnati offer was $6500—with a clause that promised $1000 more than any other offer Nealon would receive–Sullivan said.  Clarke matched the $6500, he said, and signed Nealon.

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Fred Clarke

There was more said Sullivan:

“Now comes the most brazen effrontery of offended dignity that has more hypocritic brass in it than the Colossus of Rhodes.  With this standing offer of Mr. Herrmann’s in his hands for days before I arrived,  I asked Mr. Nealon Sr., why he did not close with Mr. Herrmann on such a grand offer.  ‘Why,’ says he, ‘I consider it an insult for any man to make me such an offer as that, as it would appear that I was playing one club against the other.”  Think of that insult—one man offers another man $1000 more than the highest bidder and he is insulted.”

Sullivan closed his letter by again questioning Nealon’s prospects of making an immediate impact, and said:

“I would rather go down to Millcreek bottoms and pick up some young fellow that wanted to make baseball a profession, than any young man in the United States who thinks that he is condescending to play ball for $7000.”

Sullivan was not the only representative of a club who had expressed interest in Nealon who now questioned the prospects ability.  In response to Frank Chance of the Chicago Cubs who said Nealon was “not of National League Caliber,” The Pittsburgh Press responded:

“Sour Grapes?”

The rest of the story on Friday.

“I Claim that that First Putout was a Record-Breaker”

9 Apr

When Fred Mitchell was in the process of leading the Cubs to the 1918 National league pennant, George Stallings told boxer turned sports columnist James Corbett that Mitchell was, “a genius as a leader of ball players.”

Corbett said:

“And if anyone should know the ‘what’s what’ concerning the chieftain of the Cubs it’s this same Stallings, who had Mitchell as a lieutenant for over eleven years.”

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Mitchell

Mitchell, however, had no problem pointing out the times he might not have been the fastest thinker on the field. He recounted one example to Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Herald and Examiner during that pennant winning season:

“The place was St. Louis and the time one season when Fred was a member of the Yankees (1910). The bases were brim full of Browns and the batter banged the ball to second base. Mitch, who was catching, stepped in front of the plate to take the throw, and as he set himself for the peg he heard a noise behind him. Thinking it was the runner scoring from third, he quickly threw the ball to Hal Chase at first to stop the batter. To Mitchell’s surprise, Hal came tearing in and winged the ball right back to him. Then a runner started for second and Mitch shot the pill down to Jack Knight. Jack did the same thing Chase had done; he ran in and banged the pellet right back to Mitch.”

Mitchell picked up the story:

“’By this time I figured that they must want me to keep the ball, so I held it. I looked around and discovered that there were four men on the three sacks, as the the runner had stayed at third, for some reason or other. So I touched the plate for a force out. The man at second had held the base because the runner ahead of him had not advanced and this left two men on first. So, I chased down there, shin guards, protector, big mitt and all, and ran one of the base runners towards second. That forced the man there towards third, so I rounded second after him. Just as I got to shortstop, the runner (who had been on second, rounded third and) made a dash for the plate. So I pegged home from short and Chase tagged the man for a double play.”

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Mitchell, 1910

Mitchell said he received:

“(A) good bawling out for running around the infield and leaving the plate unprotected.

“I claim that that first putout was a record-breaker, for it went from second to catcher, catcher to first, a first to catcher, catcher to short and short to catcher before I got wise to the fact that there was a force play at the plate.

“I later learned that the noise I thought was the runner scoring had been made by the next batter who picked up the bat near home plate so the runner could slide.”

“(He) Should Remain an Outcast Forever”

8 May

Thomas Stevens Rice was an attorney, a criminologist, and covered baseball for The Brooklyn Eagle for nearly 20 years.  In 1921, he related a story that he said showed:

“That the mills of the gods may grind rapidly, as well as grind exceedingly fine.”

 

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Thomas Stevens Rice

 

The story was told to him by George A. Putnam, the business manager of the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League.

“Outside of San Francisco in the small towns is the Mission League, composed of semi-pro clubs and containing many old professional ballplayers, who turn an honest penny on the side in the sport now that they have passed from the big show and are regularly engaged in their occupations.

“Among the towns in the Mission League is San Jose. And San Jose has a semi-pro park that would delight Ring Lardner.  Far out in center is an ambitious scoreboard, liberally decorated with the advertising sign of the town’s leading hardware merchant and a strong supporter of the team.

“About a month ago San Jose was playing at home and a ball was hit to center it was diligently pursued by two outfielders, both formerly in organized baseball, one of them a major leaguer in his day.  They chased the ball up to the scoreboard and tried to retrieve it before carried out of sight of the umpire, but failed.

“As the two veterans whipped around the corner of the board they surprised a man peeping at the game through the planking.  He was seedy in apparel, had a beard of several days growth, and a general air of utter forlornness. Both outfielders were at first indifferent to the stranger, but a second glance identified him.

“The utterly forlorn stranger was Hal Chase, who two years ago was a member of the New York Giants, at a salary that was probably beyond that which until war times was paid a United States Senator.  It was the same Hal Chase who had been tried by the National League on the charge of throwing games when a member of the Cincinnati Reds and acquitted for lack of definite evidence; the same Hal Chase who had been given another chance by the New York National League club; the same Hal Chase who had been fired by the New York National League club on charges which were never fully explained, but were clearly understood to be based upon alleged crookedness; it was the same Hal Chase who had left New York, returned to his home state of California, and had been barred from the ball parks of that state on the ground of being involved in betting.”

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Hal Chase

Rice had no complaints about the “forlornness,” or fate, of Chase:

“Chase, who stands before the world bearing unrefuted charges of having crooked the game which brought him fame and fortune, and which is an institution of which his country has been vastly proud, should remain an outcast forever he would be no more than bearing part of the penalty he deserved.  If every man who had a hand in the crooking of the national game should die an outcast in the gutter, despised by the potter’s field men who bury him.  It would be no more than they deserved.”

Rice also said there were fans who deserved the same fate as Chase:

“The baseball fan who patronizes semi-pro or other games openly participated in by men who have brought the national sport into disrepute and cast a cloud over its honesty merits the fate of a Chase for helping to encourage crookedness.”

He said his statements were in no way exaggerating his position—one he said was critical to protect the integrity of the game:

“The effective penalty imposed upon (Bill) Craver, (George) Hill [sic Hall], (Jim) Devlin, and (Al) Nichols in the 1870s (all were banned for accepting money to lose games in 1877), was not their being dropped from baseball and forced to turn to other means of making a living.  It was the ostracism that followed them their graves and made them anathema even in the society of professional thieves.”

And, he said, all penalties related to gambling should remain in effect forever:

“To impose a definite penalty on baseball crooks and then have the public forgive and forget when it is worked out, would be nothing less than an incentive to a repetition of the crime.  Let the possible throwers of games and the pawns of gamblers know they will be sneered at on the street by every pickpocket and dog-stealer who recognizes them, and that a bartender at a black and tan speakeasy will refuse to serve them.”

“The Story of Slattery is the Story of a Jinx”

22 Aug

Joe Slattery believed he was jinxed by an entire city.

Joseph Patrick Slattery was born on March 15 in 1888 or 1889—his WWI and WWII draft registrations give the 1889 date, early census data and his death certificate say 1888—in St. Louis.

He played with semi-pro teams in Mount Vernon and Kewanee, Illinois before playing his first professional game with the Dallas Giants in the Texas League in 1908.  Described by The St. Louis Globe as an excellent fielding first basemen with a weak bat, he lived up to that label during his first two seasons as a pro—hitting .125 and .199 with Dallas, the Brockton Tigers in the New England League.

In 1910, he joined the Rock Island Islanders in the Three-I League and began to hit.  He was hitting .300 in June when The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said:

Joe Slattery, Rock Island, 1910

Joe Slattery, Rock Island, 1910

“(Slattery) may obtain a trial with the Browns.  Early this week, owner (Robert) Hedges dispatched Harry Howell, one of his scouts, to look over Slattery.  It is said that Howell made a favorable report.

“Hedges is not the only club owner who has been tipped off about Slattery.  The Pittsburgh Club has had a scout looking over Slattery while it is understood that the Brooklyn Club has made an offer for his release.”

Slattery immediately went into a slump and finished the season with a .216 average.  With Rock Island again in 1911, Slattery hit .280 and was sold to the Syracuse Stars in The New York State League (NYSL).  Slattery played for three teams in the NYSL from 1912 to 1915, hitting in the .290s.

Then he had his best season as a professional—one that has been incorrectly credited to another player with the same last name.

Slattery was sold to the Montreal Royals in the International League in 1916.  He hit .298 and led the league’s first basemen with a .991 fielding percentage, but most sources incorrectly credit those statistics to John Thomas “Jack” Slattery—who  actually played his last professional game in 1911.

Near the end of the 1916 season, The Washington Herald reported in October that Slattery’s contract was purchased by the Senators, but later the same day Clark Griffith told The Washington Times that the report was untrue.

Slattery hit .252 in 1917 for Montreal.  Before the 1918 season, he was sold to the Memphis Chickasaws the Southern Association and went to the city that “jinxed” him.

The (Memphis) Commercial-Appeal reported before the season opened that the Chickasaws would “have their new first sacker longer than expected.”  It had been expected that Slattery would be drafted before the season began, but the paper said his draft board in St. Louis now said he wouldn’t be entering the military until later in the summer.

All involved later wished the delay never happened.

Slattery with Memphis, 1918

Slattery with Memphis, 1918

as the season progressed, The Memphis News-Scimitar said:

“Slattery is the greatest fielding first baser in the Southern today and he made stops and throws that would have done credit to Hal Chase…But Joe can’t get started hitting.”

Slattery appeared in 59 games for Memphis.  He hit .197 in 208 at bats and quickly became the most unpopular man in town

As he struggled, the paper said he was “the target for all verbal bricks the lower end of the stands could hurl.”  His “hitting fell off almost to nothing,” but the paper said it was “due for the most part to the panning the bugs handed him.”

Slattery thought he was jinxed and the newspaper agreed:

“The story of Slattery is the story of a jinx that has been camping on the big fellow’s trail…one of the niftiest first basemen in the game; Slattery from the outset has been handicapped by his inability to hit the ball.”

Slattery blamed the city:

“It’s a fact that I am absolutely jinxed in Memphis, I can hit the ball anywhere else in the world but Memphis, it seems.”

After being drafted, Slattery played first base for the Tenth Training Battalion at Camp Pike in Arkansas.  He returned to Memphis in the spring of 1919 and immediately stopped hitting again during exhibition games.

He told The New-Scimitar:

“When I was in camp at Camp Pike I hit for an average well in the .300 class, and I was hitting against good pitching, too.  But in Memphis, I’m helpless with the stick.  I guess I am too anxious to hit…Last season the jinx was astride my neck all year…I couldn’t hit at all like I used to…the jinx came back and got with me, and I have not been able to hit at all.”

Sold to the Tulsa Oilers in the Western League, he hit.263.  In July, Slattery was playing well in Tulsa, and The News-Scimitar reminded fans that his “jinx” was their fault.  The paper said from July 13 through July 17 Slattery was 8 for 23:

“Which goes to show that in the proper environment when he is not being ridden by the bugs as he was here, Slattery is a good hitter.”

He finished his professional career in 1920 where he started it in 1908, with Dallas in the Texas League.

Never to return to Memphis, he headed west.

He played semi-pro ball for the next decade, primarily with Brigham City Peaches in Utah.

Slattery with the Brigham City Peaches, 1922

Slattery with the Brigham City Peaches, 1922

The once “jinxed” Slattery settled in Idaho where he died on June 14, 1970.

“You can’t Rattle Him”

1 Apr

luderuscoke

A 1916 advertisement for Coca-Cola featuring Fred Luderus:

“Here’s the First Baseman and Captain of the Champion Phillies in 1915–watch him this season.

“Fred Luderus drinks Coca-Cola.”

Christy Mathewson told Harold Dekalb “Speed” Johnson of The Chicago Record Herald a story about an attempt by Giants Manager John McGraw to rattle Luderus at the plate:

“‘I hear you can kid Luderus along,’ said the Little Napoleon to (catcher John) Chief Meyers.’

“‘Josh him a little when he comes to bat.’

“‘Ludie lumbered to the pan in the second round toting a heavy bludgeon and an innocent smile.  Meyers was ‘set’ for him.  He fixed his fingers in a fake signal and then addressed Ludie.’

“‘Look down into my glove,’ invited the noble redman.  ‘The best hitters steal the signs, you know.’

“‘Luderus didn’t answer.  The pitcher wound up and buzzed one over the outside corner.  Fred’s mace swung around with a crash and he meandered nonchalantly around the circuit for a homer.’

“‘I don’t need to steal the signs to hit that pitcher,’ he told Meyers as he crossed the plate.  ‘Besides, they pulled that gag on me in the bushes long ago.’

“‘I don’t want you to talk to that fellow anymore,’ ordered McGraw when the Chief finally got back to the bench.  ‘You can’t rattle him.”

Luderus

Luderus

Incidentally, in a case of plagiarism or great minds thinking alike, the lede of Johnson’s story read:

“He’s no Chase on the defense, nor a  Daubert in batting, nor a Merkle on the basepaths, but he’s the most underrated star in baseball today.”

Nearly a year earlier, John “J.C.” Kofoed of The Philadelphia Record wrote in “Baseball Magazine:”

“He is not a McInnes on the defense, nor a Daubert in batting, nor a Merkle on the basepaths…He is the most under-rated man in baseball today.”

 

Hal Chase, 1912

17 Feb

Hal Chase resigned as manager of the New York Highlanders after the 1911 season but remained with the club.  Before the 1912 season, he was the subject of the profile written by Homer Croy for the International Press Bureau.  Croy would later become a well-known novelist and screenwriter, best known for writing “They had to See Paris,” Will Rogers’ first sound film.

The feature also included a sketch of Chase by Oscar Cesare of The New York Evening Post.

chaseoscarcesare

Croy wrote:

“Hal Chase, the great billiard player, is also captain of the Yankees.  He would rather play billiards, after being out on a month’s camping trip with nothing to stay the inner man except canned calf’s tongue, pemmican and an uninterrupted view of the landscape, than have a plush-button, golden-backed chair in the dining room of the Waldorf with three waiters and a water boy to heed his beck.

“A three-cushion carom is as easy for him as a pick-up…He has such good shoulders and leaps so gracefully that he has to have a penknife operated by foot power to open his mashing notes.”

Of Chase’s brief stay at Santa Clara College, Croy said:

“He went one year to college, making a major of second base, a minor of handball and a bluff at calculus.  The faculty couldn’t see him with a microscope and full lights on, sighing with relief when he climbed in the chair car homeward bound.”

Croy said besides billiards, hunting and horseback riding were Chase’s favorite activities, “When he gets out of his baseball togs his favorite outdoor diversion is keeping his heels in, his elbows stiff and his thumbs pointing up.  He can give a riding master the lag.”

By the end of the decade, Chase’s name would be synonymous with gambling and game-fixing, but in the spring of 1912, to Croy, he was:

“The greatest first baseman between the Canadian Pacific and the Gulf Stream.”

Ray Schalk on “Baseball Brains”

1 Feb

After the Chicago White Sox defeated the New York Giants in the 1917 World Series, Sox catcher Ray “Cracker” Schalk took to the pages of “Baseball Magazine” with his opinion of statistics:

Ray Schalk

Ray Schalk

“Offhand I would say that fielding averages are pretty bad, pitchers’ averages rather punk, batting averages merely fair.  But the worst of all are catchers’ averages.

“How are you going to tell a good catcher?  By his batting average?  By his fielding average?  By the runs he scores?  Of course all these things are important.  But they haven’t any direct connection with good, bad or indifferent catching as such.  A catcher may or may not be a good batter or base runner.  And whatever his hitting or run getting ability he may be a great or mediocre catcher.”

Schalk said it was “easy…from the records” to determine an outfielder or shortstop’s ability:

“But a man might be the best catcher the world ever saw or the worst, and there would be no way under heaven to gain that information from the season’s statistics.

“First of all, a catcher must have baseball brains.  It isn’t enough to say brains; you must add the adjective ‘baseball’ to describe what you mean.”

Schalk noted that many of his contemporaries were educated:

“I admit this is the day of the college player in baseball.  I admit that the better education a man has, other things being equal, the better ball player he will be.  But he might know a lot of philosophy or Greek literature and be a frost on foul flies.  Ty Cobb has the ideal baseball brains.  But Ty isn’t a college man.  On the other hand I used to play in the minors with a graduate of a well-known university who was a brilliant scholar and a good natural athlete.  But he was positively the limit in playing baseball.  He would do the most incomprehensible things.  In fact, he was impossible.

Hans Wagner and Nap Lajoie are not college men, have not enjoyed as liberal an education, perhaps, as most of the rest of us.  But if any medical laboratory wants a sample of a real baseball brain, let him open negotiations with the Dutchman or the Frenchman for the use of his skull when he is thru with it.

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

“I believe there are fellows with a natural born instinct to play baseball.  They invariably do the right thing at the right time.  That is what I mean by baseball brains.  Furthermore, such a brain must above all act quickly.  There are many thousands of people, even in the stands, who understand good baseball and could dope out the proper thing for a fielder or a batter to do under given conditions.  But that isn’t enough.  The man with a baseball brain must not only do the right thing but he must do it instantly.  It is quickness of thought quite as much as correctness which marks the star player.  Hal Chase and Ty Cobb are scintillating examples of quick thought on the diamond.”

And, said Schalk, “quick thought” was most important behind the plate:

“Now the catcher, above all men, must have a good baseball brain.  Most of his work, the most important part of his work, is hidden from the spectators’ eye.  The man in the stands can seldom follow what is going on in the catcher’s brain.  But the catcher, much more than the pitcher, holds the game in the hollow of his hand.  The catcher, much more than the pitcher, is the keystone of the baseball arch.”

The man who thought statistics didn’t have “any direct connection” to a catcher’s value made it into the Hall of Fame in 1955.  He has the lowest career average (.253) among enshrined catchers.

“Out of the Game”

2 Nov

ripley

A September 1920 cartoon in The New York Globe, “Cleaning Up” by Robert Ripley–later famous for “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” which he began drawing two years earlier–calling on organized baseball to banish  Hal Chase, Heinie Zimmerman, and six members of the Chicago White Sox: Swede Risberg, Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Buck Weaver. Happy Felsh [sic, Felsch] and Lefty Williams–Ripley left out Chick Gandil and Fred McMullin.

Ripley continued to draw baseball cartoons as “Believe it or Not” gained popularity, including the one below from 1921 winter meetings featuring Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Ban Johnson, Kid Gleason, Hooks Wiltse, Charles Ebbets, John McGraw, and Wilbert Robinson.  After The Globe folded in 1923, Ripley moved to The New York Evening News.

ripley2