Tag Archives: Hall of Fame

The Definitive Cobb Biography

11 May

Myths.  Baseball books are full of them.

Perhaps the most enduring myths are about Ty Cobb.  A prototype of a villain in spikes from central casting:  Dirty player– check, virulent racist—check, miserly and bitter in old age—check.

That is the Ty Cobb cemented into our consciousness.

So much so in fact, it is difficult to find a discussion on the internet regarding the merits of Pete Rose’s case for the Hall of Fame without a member of the pro-Rose faction, at some point, making the “Yeah, but Ty Cobb did (fill in the blank)” argument.

Or, as Charles Leerhsen puts it, in “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty” (which will be released tomorrow), “This Cobb was someone (fans) could shake their heads at, denounce, and feel superior to.”

cobb

 

The clues were there that Cobb might just be more than the sum of the single-dimensional parts previous biographies claimed to reveal.

Not long ago, I wrote about Cobb’s embrace of fellow Royston, Georgia native, and former Negro League player and newspaperman Fred Downer at Wrigley Field in 1953—the same day Cobb spoke glowingly to reporters about Dodgers’ catcher Roy Campanella.

No less an authority than Wendell Smith—the legendary reporter from The Pittsburgh Courier who by then had joined The Chicago Herald-American as the first black sportswriter at a white-owned paper—said after that day at Wrigley that reports of Cobb’s racism were always “merely a matter of hearsay,” and “He gives no indication today of intolerance.”

Yet, the hearsay has always outpaced the reality; until now.

Through exhaustive research and a compelling narrative, Leerhsen demonstrates that the one-dimensional Cobb of lore is, at best, a caricature.   The stories that have been told and retold for years about racially motivated physical attacks were poorly sourced and greatly exaggerated.  Statements like the one about Campanella and several that Leerhsen has compiled were ignored.

The author even manages to add context to the often told stories of the death of Cobb’s father and Cobb’s relationship with mascot Ulysses Harrison (bonus points here because unlike many of the versions of this story elsewhere he gets Harrison’s name correct).

Leehrsen’s three-dimensional Cobb is more interesting than the one presented previously.  This Cobb was quick to anger, perhaps overly sensitive, certainly no less flawed than many of his contemporaries, but more complex, more introspective and much more difficult to shake our heads at.

An excellent read, well worth your time.

Nick Maddox

9 Feb

Nicholas “Nick” Maddox burst on the National League scene in 1907. Born in Maryland on November 9, 1886, Maddox’ was born Nicholas Duffy, but adopted his stepfather’s name Maddox.

In 1906 the 19-year-old was given a trial in the spring with the providence Grays in the Eastern league.  He was released before the season began and signed with the Cumberland Rooters in the Pennsylvania-Ohio-Maryland League (POM).  Maddox had played in 1905 for the Piedmont team in the semi-pro Cumberland and Georges Creek League.

He was the best pitcher in the POM; The Sporting Life said Maddox was 22-3 for the Rooters who finished the season in fourth place with a 50-45 record, and was “the fastest pitcher in the league.”

Nick Maddox

Nick Maddox

Maddox spent most of 1907 with the Wheeling Stogies of the Central League.  He posted a 13-10 record and no-hit the Terre Haute Hottentots on August 22.  Maddox was purchased by the Pirates the following month and made his big league debut on against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cumberland Times noted that he faced a “double-jointed hoodoo of commencing his National League career on Friday, September the 13th.”

The Pittsburgh Press said:

“Nick was ‘on the job’ yesterday from start to finish, and acted more like a man with many years’ major league experience than like a minor leaguer who has been in the business but a few seasons.”

Maddox shut the Cardinals out on just five hits, struck out 11 and got his first hit, a single in his first at bat.

Eight days later Maddox threw the first no-hitter in Pirates’ history, beating the Brooklyn Superbas 2 to 1—Brooklyn scored on two fourth-inning errors.   Years later, Maddox said of his own throwing error that put Emil Batch on base:

 “They scored me with an error, but hell man, I threw it straight to the first baseman (Harry) Swacina.  Sure it went over his head but he should have jumped for it.”

Batch scored on an error by shortstop Honus Wagner.  Maddox said:

“I don’t hold that against Honus, he saved my no-hitter in the ninth.  A ball was hit right over my head and ‘pfft’ Wagner was over there to get it.  I don’t think he ever held the ball, he just swooped it over to first.”

The rookie started six games Pittsburgh, won his first four, and finished with a 5-1 record with a 0.83 ERA.

The Pittsburgh Leader said Pirates’ President Barney Dreyfuss claimed Maddox would be “the sensation” of 1908.  He wasn’t far off.

The 21-year-old was an impressive 23-8 with a 2.28 ERA with five shutouts.  Despite his success there was concern about control—he walked 90 batters while striking out just 70 in 260 innings, and hit 11 batters.

After three second and one third-place finish the four previous seasons, Pittsburgh, and Maddox, came into 1909 with high expectations.  The Pittsburgh Press said:

“Nick Maddox is facing a very successful summer, and with an even break and barring accidents he ought to push any other twirler in the National League for first honors.  He has everything a pitcher needs, and youth with it.”

The Press also said he would “start out with good control” based on his performance in March games in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

The Pirates lived up to expectations, taking over first place on May 5 and cruising to the pennant; Maddox did not.

The 22-year-old struggled for the first half of the season.  The Leader said he was having “a hard time getting into condition,” and was wild as a March Hare.”  Maddox got on track in July pitching a 2-hit shout against the Cincinnati Reds on the 6th, and four-hit shutouts against the Brooklyn Superbas and Boston Doves on the 14th and 23rd.

He ended the season 13-8 with a 2.21 ERA—overshadowed by teammates Howie Camnitz (25-6), Vic Willis (22-11), Albert “Lefty” Leifield (19-8) and rookie Charles “Babe” Adams (13-3 as a reliever and spot starter).

Babe Adams

Babe Adams

Despite going into the World Series against the Detroit Tigers with such a strong pitching staff, Manager Fred Clarke opted for the rookie Adams in game one and he responded with a 4 to 1 victory.

The Tigers beat Camnitz 7 to 2 in game 2.

Three years later, Fred Clarke spoke to James Jerpe of The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times about his decision on a pitcher for game three:

“I was in an awful predicament.  Adams had been used up.  It was had been raining, and it was very cold.  The chilly drizzle was something frightful.  The ball would get wet and water-logged and the problem was to get a pitcher who could handle the wet ball.  I looked the gang over.  Adams was out of the question.  He had been used up.

“I was figuring on the others, and I asked ‘Who can go out there today and handle a wet ball and win?’  Poor Maddox, sitting in a corner of the bench all bundled up with sweaters and other stuff, shed his extra clothes and jumped up.  Grabbing a ball, he said: ‘Gimme a catcher till I warm up.  I’ll handle this wet ball and beat them or break a leg.’  His confidence gave me a hunch, and I acted on it.”

Ring Lardner said of the game:

“Detroit’s record crowd, 18,277, saw the Tigers beaten by the Pirates 8 to 6, today in one of the most exciting and most poorly played world’s series games in baseball history.”

The Pirates scored five runs in the first inning off Detroit’s Ed Summers, and Maddox shut the Tigers down for the first six innings.  Detroit scored four runs in the seventh, aided by two Pirate errors.  Clarke said:

“Maddox wouldn’t have been in so much trouble if we had played ball behind him.”

The Pirates took a 8 to 4 lead into the ninth–Detroit scored two more runs, helped by another error—but Maddox held on and picked up the win.

He did not appear in another game during the series.  The Pirates won in seven; with Adams picking up complete game wins in games five and seven.

09pirates

1909 World Series Champion Pirates, Maddox is ninth from left.

 

The defending champions got off to a quick start again, but Maddox again started slow.  By July, The Leader said:

“Nick Maddox should have rounded into form..He is big and strong this year, but does not seem able to pitch good ball for nine rounds.”

He never “rounded into form.”  Maddox struggled all season.  He started just seven games, pitched in relief in 13 others, and was 2-3 with 3.40 ERA.

By August, with the Pirates in second place, six games behind the Chicago Cubs, The Pittsburgh Gazette asked “what was the matter?” with Maddox and why the Pirates had not cut him loose.

He made his last appearance on September 12, giving up a run, a hit and walking two batters in two innings of relief during a 4-0 loss to the Reds.  He was sold to the Kansas City Blues in the American Association 10 days later.

Maddox won 22 games for the Blues the following season, but continued to be plagued by wildness and arm trouble.  His major league career was over, and he was finished professionally in July of 1914 at 27-years-old when he was released as manager and pitcher for the Wichita club in the Western League after posting a 3-13 record.

Fred Clarke was convinced Maddox’ career really came to an end on that rainy day in Detroit.  James Jerpe of The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said that in 1910 Dreyfuss asked Clarke to release Maddox long before he sold the pitcher to Kansas City:

“’Why don’t you let Maddox go? You aren’t pitching him.’

“’No,’ replied the Pirate Chief sadly.  “I’m not pitching him.  He ruined his arm helping Adams win the world’s series.’

“And Fred narrated (to Dreyfuss) more of Nick’s gameness on that bleak and drizzly October day in Detroit when he gave his arm for a championship.  Nick was carried for a whole year and the club has been interested in his welfare ever since.”

Fred Clarke

Fred Clarke

Maddox, who lived in Pittsburgh, and worked for the Fort Pitt Brewing Company, after his retirement, lived long enough to listen on the radio to the last two innings of the next no-hitter thrown by a Pirate pitcher—Cliff Chambers defeated the Boston Braves 3-0 on May 6, 1951.

Nick Maddox died in 1954 at age 68.

Cecil and Josh

21 Jan

Newspapers across the country saw it as a human interest story about baseball; the Black Press saw it very differently.  With his team in a slump, New York Giants Manager Bill Terry brought in 13-year-old Cecil Terry to “bring the Giants some badly needed luck.”

Cecil Haley

Cecil Haley

The Associated Press said of Haley’s first day on the job:

“Cecil, a Negro mascot, was given a Giant uniform yesterday, allowed to sit in the dugout for the first time and promised a trip West if he’d bring the Giants some badly-needed luck.  The net result of his work?  Pirates 4, Giants 3.”

Very different stories appeared in the Black press.  The Washington Afro-American said:

“(O)rganized big leagues will have colored mascots but steadfastly refuse to accept them as players.  The proud lad sits under the bat rack in the Giants’ dugout, but to date, something must be wrong, because the Giants are hopelessly battling for fifth place.”

The New York Age said:

“Cecil Haley, New York Giants colored mascot, will know better when he grows older and tries to get a job playing for the same team.”

The same day that Haley appeared on the bench with the Giants, New York pitcher Carl Hubbell spoke with The Pittsburgh Courier about Josh Gibson:

“‘(H)e’s one of the greatest backstops in the history of baseball, I think…Boy–how he can throw!’ exclaimed Hubbell.

josh

“There seems to be nothing to it when he throws.  He just whips the ball down to second base like it had a string on it.  He’s great, I’m telling you.  Any team in the big leagues could use him right now.’

“But, with all that,’ said Hubbell, ‘the thing I like best about him is that he’s as fast as greased lightening.  You know, after a few years a catcher usually slows up considerably from bending down so much.  But that guy–why, he’s never slowed down.”

That summer, a new effort was underway to integrate baseball.  A petition drive led by the Young Communist League collected between 25,000 and 100,000 (reports varied) and delivered to National League President Ford Frick,  and Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis at the 1939 winter meeting in Cincinnati.

The Afro-American said Frick “avoided the issue by declaring that a ‘social problem’ was involved for which the big leagues were not responsible.”

There is no public record of the commissioner’s response.

Josh Gibson, with two-time Communist Vice-Presidential Candidate James W. Ford looking on, signs the 1939 petition to end racial discrimination in professional baseball.

I published a shorter version of this post on August 27, 2012.

“Throw Strikes. Home Plate Don’t Move.”

19 Jan

Satchel Paige told Dave Condon of The Chicago Tribune that early in 1965, with the help of his wife Lahoma, and 17-year-old daughter Pamela he “wrote letters to everyone in baseball just looking for a steady job.  Anything.”

After not one professional team responded, the spring and early summer were like most during his 40-year career as a pitcher—Paige traveled wherever there was a chance for a paycheck.

He had made appearances with the Harlem Globetrotters in the winter and spring and then hit the road; pitching for the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns and whoever else would call.  In May, The Chicago Defender said Abe Saperstein, who was managing Paige’s appearances, took out an ad in The Sporting News:

“(T)he man, who may have been the greatest pitcher of all time, is letting it be known that he has glove and is willing to travel.  All that is necessary to secure his services is to contact Saperstein.”

One night Paige would be at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, in a White Sox uniform, pitching for the Clowns in front of a large crowd, or across town in Wrigley Field where 30,000 fans came out; another night would find him in Hastings, Pennsylvania taking “the mound for the Hastings VFW club,” or Wheatfield, Indiana pitching “for the Band Boosters against the Wheatfield Young Farmers,” in front of a few hundred people.

Paige at Comiskey Park in 1965--Chicago Cubs outfielder George Altman is the catcher.

Paige at Comiskey Park in 1965–Chicago Cubs outfielder George Altman is the catcher.

Things began to look up in late July when the Cleveland Indians inducted Paige into the team’s Hall of Fame between games of a Sunday doubleheader with the Yankees; in front of the team’s largest crowd of the season:  56,634.  According to United Press International:

“Satch tossed examples of his blooper, drooper and hesitation pitches to (former Indians teammate) Jim Hegan, now a Yankee coach and explained his philosophy of pitching thus: ‘Just take the ball and throw it where you want to.  Throw strikes.  Home plate don’t move.”

In August, he accepted an offer to pitch for and manage a team in Anchorage, Alaska called the Earthquakers.  In reality, Paige simply went to Alaska for a short series of exhibition games, and had no intention of staying there—he was already booked to appear at the old-timers game scheduled in September to mark the first season of the Houston Astrodome.  But he did his best to sell it as a possible long-term move.  He told a reporter for The Associated Press:

“Lately, I’ve wanted to leave barnstorming baseball to settle down somewhat to help the sport.  Anchorage seems to be the place to do it.”

In addition to his appearance in a handful of games in Alaska, his arrival in the state also resulted in a chance meeting that was reported in the press.

As a crowd of local residents gathered at the Anchorage airport to greet Paige, another plane arrived for refueling.  It carried former Vice President Richard M. Nixon on his way to Tokyo.  Nixon walked into the terminal while the plane was refueled, and when he asked about the crowd he was told they were waiting for Paige’s arrival.  Nixon joined the line to greet the pitcher.  The man who would be the leader of the free world in a little more than three years told a reporter from The Associated Press:

“I always like to meet celebrities.”

Nixon and Paige meet in Alaska

Nixon and Paige meet in Alaska

His commitment in Alaska over, Paige made it to the Astrodome on September 6.  The two-inning game, featuring a team of “immortals” versus “Texas All-Stars,” was an incredible collection of legends—more than 50 former players participated; twelve were already members of the Hall of Fame.  The Houston Post said of the player introductions:

Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, got a deafening cheer.  So did Satchel Paige, peerless Negro hurler.”

The paper said the only others to receive a reception near that for Paige and DiMaggio were Dizzy Dean and native Texan Monty Stratton.

Paige in the Astrodome

Paige in the Astrodome

Perhaps it was the reception in Houston that caused one of the letters Paige, and his wife and daughter had written months earlier to finally be answered.

Charles Oscar Finley, who made his fortune in the insurance business and bought controlling interest of the Kansas City A’s before the 1961 season, was the one who finally responded.

That the signing of Paige appears to have been a spur of the moment decision for Finley after reading about the reception in Houston, is supported by the fact that it was announced by the marketing savvy Finley at what The Kansas City Times described as a “hastily called news conference,” which Finley, who was in Chicago, did not attend.

He appeared with General Manager Hank Peters and told reporters “I thought they were kidding” when Finley called and offered him a contract.

He said he was ready to pitch and brushed aside questions about his age:

“I think I can still pitch and help this club.  So what difference does it make what my age is if I can?”

Bill Veeck, who had signed Paige with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and the St. Louis Browns in 1951, told The Times he hoped it wasn’t just a publicity stunt by Finley:

“I am hopeful he will be used as he should be—as a pitcher. Leroy should surprise a few people as he has for a long time.”

Veeck and Paige

Veeck and Paige

The controversial Veeck, more than a decade away from his return to the game, told The Kansas City Star he blamed himself for the pitcher’s  long absence:

“When I left Cleveland the first thing the new owners did was get rid of Satch.  When I sold the St. Louis Browns (and the team relocated to Baltimore), the same thing happened.  That’s nothing more than guilt by association.”

The signing of the 59-year-old Paige, who joined a team that included five 19 and 20-year-old pitchers who appeared in at least one game that year—Jim “Catfish” Hunter, John “Blue Moon” Odom, Ron Tompkins, Tom Harrison and Don Buschorn—inspired a short poem published in The Star:

“They’re either too

Young or too old,

When Charlie puts ‘em

In A’s Green and Gold.”

Papers across the country carried a photograph of Paige, seated on a chair, with one of Finley’s young pitchers, Catfish Hunter, on his knee.  While the photo was straight from Finley’s marketing plan, the impact of one future Hall of Famer on another, forty years his junior, seems to have been real.

Paige and Hunter

Paige and Hunter

The Star spoke to Paige about his pitching philosophy one afternoon as Hunter stood nearby.  The paper said:

“Hunter listened intently as Satchel expounded his pitching theories.”

Paige was equally impressed with the 19-year-old, telling The Star:

“This young man has shown me a lot of poise.  He has a great future in this game.”

The next two weeks were filled with pictures of, and stories about, Paige in a rocking chair, a nurse seated nearby, watching the A’s play, and while a “Satchel Paige Night” was scheduled, there appeared little chance the pitcher would be used as anything but a prop for publicity.  Then Finley announced that his new pitcher would start on his night, September 25 against the Boston Red Sox.

What took place on the mound on September 25 has been written about many times. With his six children and wife Lahoma—pregnant with number seven—sitting in the owner’s box with Finley, Paige pitched three shutout innings, allowing just one hit—a Carl Yastrzemski double.

The only disappointment was the anemic crowd—just 9,289 Kansas City fans turned out to see a legend, the second largest crowd during that six-game home stand was 2,874.

As Paige took the mound in the fourth inning, A’s Manager Haywood Sullivan, who was not consulted before Paige’s signing or before Finley announced he would pitch that night, came to the mound to remove Paige.  The pitcher walked off to a standing ovation.

Paige walks off the field with Manager Haywood Sullivan while Diego Segui warms up.

Paige walks off the field with Manager Haywood Sullivan while Diego Segui warms up.

Paige returned to the clubhouse.  The Star said:

“In the clubhouse he was down to his long underwear, and talking about helping the A‘s out of the basement when someone rushed in a and screamed, ‘Satch, they want you back on the field.’

“The lights were out.  More than 9,000 matches flickered in the darkness, and on ‘Salute to Satchel Paige Night,’ they sang ‘Rockin’ Chair,’ ‘Darling I am Growing Old,’ and “The Old Gray Mare.”

After returning to the clubhouse, Paige was greeted by Finley, who called him “a real credit to the game.”  Paige “shook the owner’s hand” and said “I want to thank you for bringing me here.”

Whether he truly believed it or not, Paige told reporters he planned to pitch again in 1965.

“Everybody doubted me on the ballclub.  They’ll have more confidence in me now.”

He did not appear in another game but stayed with the club for the remainder of the season.  Two days after his three-inning performance, he was with the team in Baltimore.

A discouraging word had not been uttered by Paige during his time with the A’s.  Perhaps being in Baltimore—where his big league career effectively ended after Veeck sold the Browns—or maybe just the realization that a man capable of throwing three shutout innings at age 59 was not given an opportunity by a major league club the previous 12 seasons, changed that.

Lou Hatter wrote in The Baltimore Sun:

“Satchel Paige, the slender pitching ancient signed 2 ½ weeks ago by Kansas City, bared a deep-rooted wound here last night for the first time.”

Paige said to Hatter:

“You can put it this way.  You can say I resent being overlooked by organized baseball all these years while I threw away most of my best years pitching for a barnstorming club…All they ask me, though, is how old am I.  But nobody asks me why I stayed out of the major leagues for 15 [sic 12] years.  That’s a long time isn’t it?  That’s a lifetime for most professional players.

“Let me ask another question. When Baltimore bought the St. Louis ballclub, why did they turn me loose?

“When I went to the Miami club (again pitching for Bill Veeck with the International League Marlins) and was a top pitcher for three years (11, 10 and 10 win seasons with ERAs of 1.86, 2.42 and 2.95), how come nobody picked me up?…I know the answer, but I won’t tell that neither—like I won’t tell my age.”

Despite Finley telling reporters throughout September that Paige would return to the A’s in 1966, if not as a player, then as a coach, he was released in September. The next time he appeared on the mound at Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium, it was again as a member of the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns.

Paige back in Kansas City as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns in 1966.

Paige back in Kansas City as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns in 1966.

“Wallace’s Head is Abnormally Developed”

29 Dec

When Bobby Wallace was named manager of the St. Louis Browns in 1911, the local press, desperate for any ray of hope for a club that finished in eighth place with a 47-107 record, enlisted a “noted phrenologist” named Squeers from Hot Springs, Arkansas to examine the new manager.

Booby Wallace

Booby Wallace

Phrenology was a popular pseudoscience in the in the 19th and early 20th Century that claimed the structure of the skull determined a person’s mental ability and character.

The result of Wallace’s examination was reported in several newspapers:

“The eminent brain specialist pronounced the manager of the Browns one of the most normal-minded men he had ever examined.  He did not know his man when he made his diagnosis.

“Wallace’s head is abnormally developed on the left side.  This is as it should be, Dr. Squeers declares.  The left lobe of the brain governs the right side of the body…It is natural, asserts Dr, Squeers, that a man should be right handed, right-footed, right-eyed, that the right side (of the body) should be larger and stronger than the left.”

It was not enough to declare Wallace “normal minded,’ the “doctor” also “diagnosed” roughly 10 percent of the general population.  He said because “It is natural” to be right-handed, left-handers therefore, were “in many cases a bit abnormal.”

The litany of “abnormal” left-handers–Rube Waddell, Crazy Schmit, Nick Altrock, Slim Sallee, Lady Baldwin, etc…–were trotted out to demonstrate the “proof” of the assertion.

 “For whatsoever the reason may be, the man whose throwing arm is governed by the right lobe of his brain seems bound to be erratic.  Thus is Dr, Squeers, knows little of baseball, justified in pronouncing Wallace an ‘abnormally normal’ man.  Wallace is the farthest thing from erratic that any man could be.  He could not do a left-handed or wrong thing—could not act abnormally to save his soul.”

[…]

“Wallace has been the quietest, most regular, most normal human being in the world.  He is the perfection of moderation, of balance in all things.  He takes life quietly and is never disturbed or out of temper.  He has never made an enemy.  He is the favorite of everyone…It remains to be seen if normality means success when it is applied to the management of a baseball team.”

In this case it didn’t.

The Browns, awful in 1910, were awful again under Wallace in 1911; another eighth place finish with a 45-107 record.  After a 12-27 start in 1912, George Stovall replaced him as Browns manager.

Wallace managed one more time—he replaced Chuck Dressen as manager of the Cincinnati Reds in September of 1937.  The “most normal human being in the world” was 5-20.

 

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #13

22 Dec

Chief Meyers on the Plight of the Native American, 1913

John W. McConaughy, the former sports editor of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was no longer writing about baseball regularly as the New York Giants prepared to face the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1913 World Series.  McConaughy, who was the Washington correspondent for The New York Journal, was enlisted by the paper to write about some of the key figures of the series.

The result was, in the case of John “Chief” Meyers, a profile that went beyond a typical baseball story:

Chief Meyers

Chief Meyers

“Meyers is one of the coolest, shrewdest and quickest thinking catchers that ever came to the big leagues.  He has both gray matter and gumption, and the one is useless without the other in baseball as elsewhere.  He has a fund of general information that runs from national politics to the philosophy of Plato, and a delicately adjusted sense of humor, and these two combine to give him a good perspective of the national game.”

[…]

He is ready to fight any time for justice and fair play and he is so good-natured that he isn’t seriously annoyed when the fans perpetrate that bum war-whoop every time he comes to bat.

[…]

“One day in Cincinnati he asked the writer to go out to the art museum with him.  We came upon a bronze—an Indian turning to shoot an arrow at his pursuers.

“’There’s the idea.’ He said, pointing to the warrior.  ‘They never learned how to fight.  They had nothing but the willingness.  If Tecumseh had been as big a man as Napoleon he would have killed off the medicine men as his first official act, learned the white man’s style of warfare—and there would have been an Indian nation here today.

“’I don’t mean that the white man would not have been here, too.  But with a few leaders—real big men—our fathers would have come to see that the white man’s type of civilization was the highest, just as the (Japanese) have done.  We would have had great states and communities in the union, and we would have been useful, progressive citizens.

“’As it is the Indian is robbed by agents and shifted from reservation to reservation whenever anyone happens to want their land.  Tribe after tribe is scattered, and in another hundred years my people will have gone the way of the Aztecs.’

“Still, there will always probably be a few fans who will think it bright to pull the war-whoop when the Chief comes to bat.”

Tom Lynch Cracks Down, 1910

In June of 1910, The Associated Press said that after a 5 to 4 New York Giants victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, umpires Jim Johnstone and August Moran “stood in front of the press box and made remarks about the baseball writers.”

National League President Thomas Lynch, who had announced his intention to “break this habit of having players call the arbitrators bad names” said in response:

“I also will not stand for umpires talking back to spectators or taking it upon themselves to criticize newspaper men.”

National League President Thomas Lynch

National League President Thomas Lynch

He fined Johnstone and Moran $25 and $15 respectively for the incident.

In that era of newspapermen as frustrated poets, George E. Phair, then of The Milwaukee Sentinel, was one of the most prolific, often including a poem in his articles.  He dedicated the following verse to the National League President:

Old Thomas Lynch, who runs a league,

     Would propagate urbanity;

In fact, Sir Thomas would intrigue

     To curb the umps’ profanity.

He warns his umpires while within

     The baseball scribes vicinity

To speak no words that reek of sin,

     But emulate divinity.

He tells them not to harm the scribes,

     Nor flout at their ability;

Nor pester them with jokes or jibes;

     Nor laugh at their senility.

He plasters fines upon his umps

     For showing their ferocity

And calling scribblers ‘mutts’ and ‘chumps’

      With Teddy-like verbosity.

The veteran Sir Thomas is

     Most generous and affable,

But we’re inclined to think that his

     Solicitude is laughable.

The ump may blunder now and then

     And break into profanity;

The scribbler jabs him with his pen

     And drives him to urbanity.

Comiskey Tells a Tommy McCarthy Story, 1899

George Erskine Stackhouse, the baseball editor of the editor of The New York Tribune, spoke to Charles Comiskey in 1899 and found him in a “somewhat reminiscent mood.”  Comiskey told a story Tommy McCarthy when the two were with the St. Louis Browns:

Tommy McCarthy

Tommy McCarthy

“I heard in Chicago the other day that tom is in Boston, as fat as a Tammany alderman, and making money out of a big bowling alley.  (Hugh) Duffy owned an interest in it, but they say Tom bought him out.  I had Tom with me in St. Louis.  And say, St. Louis is the best town on earth for a winner.  They used to distribute among the players every season watches and rings and studs and pins enough to stock a jewelry store.  There was a diamond medal offered one year for the best base runner on the Browns.

“Tom McCarthy was quite a boy to steal bases, and after the medal was offered he wouldn’t run out his hits.  If he made a two-bagger, he would stop at first, and if he slammed the ball for a triple, he would manage to bring up at second, so as to get a chance to steal a base.  Of course, after a bit, I got on to him, and I had to warn him that if he didn’t stretch those hits I would have to lay him off altogether.  That helped some, but he was always hanging back when he thought he could get away with it.  I remember once that he had a chance to go down to second on a wild throw to first, and what does he do but toss his head and drop off his cap, so that he could stop and come back after it and stick at first.  He won that medal.”

“He Looked like an Animated Bean Pole”

21 Nov

Hall of Fame Pitcher Addie Joss was discovered, according to his first professional manager, by a man who made a living playing pool with his nose.

Addie Joss

Addie Joss

 

Bob Gilks was Joss’ first manager with the Toledo Mud Hens in the Interstate League.  In 1910 he told the story of the pitcher’s discovery to a reporter for The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader:

“’About ten years ago,’ says Gilks.  ‘I was running the Toledo team in the Interstate League for Charlie Strobel.“

Gilks said he was approached by “Professor Lewis.”  Professor Henry Lewis was the stage name of a man named Herman Cohn, who preformed billiards exhibitions using his fingers, nose and other body parts; Cohn/Lewis also considered himself a good judge of baseball talent:

“(Lewis said) ‘Gilks, I’ve found a pitcher who is a wonder.  He’s playing…in the wilds of Wisconsin, and if you get him and he makes good all I want is $25.  His name is Joss.

“I went after Joss and signed him.  When he showed up at Toledo he looked like an animated bean pole.  He seemed about six and half feet tall and weighed more than 75 pounds, but not much more.

“Joss was a weakling then.  He would go into a game and pitch all kinds of curves and benders for three innings.  Then he’d get tired and I‘d have to take him out.  He complained of pains and I took him to a doctor who decided that Addie had growing pains.

Joss went along this way all year, and next season he showed up sick again.    The doctor gave him some pills and cured him, and Addie grew strong.  He filled out and began to pitch like a whirl wind.”

Wilks’ contention that he was often required to “take him out” is belied by the statistics—Joss had 33 complete games in 34 starts in 1900.

“Joss did so well the next year (25-18) I knew some big league club would grab him, so I told Strobel, and he decided to go to Addie’s home, invite him to spend a few weeks in Toledo and keep him under cover so no one would find him.

“This was just before Easter and Addie didn’t want to leave home until after that day.  He persuaded Strobel to return to Toledo, promising to follow later.  And a couple of days afterward Bill Armour slipped into Juneau (Wisconsin) with Charlie Somers’ bankroll and signed Joss.”

Joss was 17-13 for Cleveland in 1902.

According to The Times-Leader, Gilks and Strobel failed to pay the pool player his $25 despite the tip which led to Joss’ signing.

A Ripley's Believe it or Not Drawing about one of "Professor Lewis'" billiard feats.

A Ripley’s Believe it or Not Drawing about one of “Professor Lewis'” billiard feats.

“Either they think that Everybody is Gullible, or else they are Weak Mentally themselves”

19 Nov

Until a broken ankle in 1902 slowed him, George Van Haltren was one of baseball’s best leadoff hitters; a .316 hitter with 2544 hits during his 17 seasons.   After a disappointing 1903–.257 in  84 games—his major league career was over, and he went home to the West Coast where he spent six seasons in the Pacific Coast League (PCL).

George Van Haltren

George Van Haltren

A member of the Seattle Siwashes during his first year in the PCL, Van Haltren was asked by The Oakland Tribune—the paper called him “an ultra-scientific batsman,” to share his expertise:

“Every ball player occasionally meets other players who call themselves ‘place hitters.’  The assertions of the majority of these players are such that either they think that everybody is gullible, or else they are weak mentally themselves.  They tell you they ‘can put the ball where they please,’ and that ‘it is easy when you know how.’

“Never take any stock in such twaddle.  These place-hitters would be just the men to have around when the ‘fans’ are calling on the home team to ‘hit ‘em where the fielders ain’t!’  But when it comes to delivering the goods, I have noticed, they are generally short.

“As a matter of fact, the batter often tries to hit to a certain field, and sometimes he is successful, but no man can give a guarantee when he goes up that the ball he hits will take any special direction.  If place-hitting could be carried out to the fine point that some players say they have it, they would be able to hit safely every time they came up.

“To the young player I would say: Don’t get in the habit of planting your feet on the ground and not moving them until you have swung at the ball.  Get a stride and advance a little toward the ball as you hit.  Do not step too far and accustom your eyes and hands to the change such a step makes.  Learn to hit squarely every ball that passes over any part of the plate between the knee and shoulder, and devote the most practice to what you are weakest on.

“Learn to think and act quickly and to keep your head at all times.  In a contest do not always do the same thing under the same circumstances.  Give your opponents a surprise whenever you possibly can.”

By the time he arrived on the West Coast, Van Haltren was no longer able to give his opponents “a surprise” as often as he could before the ankle injury; he hit .270 for Seattle in 1904, he played five seasons with the Oakland Oaks, hitting .255 before retiring in 1909.

Van Haltren died in 1945 without ever drawing serious Hall of Fame consideration.  A good argument for his enshrinement can be found here.

“The Dream of an Ardent Baseball Fan and Admirer brought to Realization”

8 Sep

The Associated Press (AP) reported the same day that Hall of Famer Joe McGinnity was released by the New York Giants that he, along with a partner had purchased an Eastern League franchise, the Newark Indians, for $50,000—more than $1.3 million in current dollars.

Joe McGinnity

Joe McGinnity

The following month, The AP told how McGinnity and his co-owner, Chicago businessman Henry Clay Smith, came to be partners:

“There is an interesting story connected with the deal whereby Joe McGinnity and H.C. Smith of Chicago purchased the Newark club of the Eastern League, which reveals the identity of Mr. Smith and portrays the rise of a penniless man to a millionaire, who remained true to his first love in the baseball world.

“H.C. Smith is now a leading member of a Chicago manufacturing company, was station agent for the Chicago & Alton Railroad at Auburn, a little town south of Springfield, IL., working on a modest salary, with nothing better in view, 12 years ago…it was in those days that he learned to admire McGinnity as a ballplayer.

“That was the time when McGinnity earned the sobriquet of ‘Iron Man.’ He would work six days a week, pitching for country teams all over central Illinois, and on Sunday he would go to Springfield and play with the Springfield team.”

One of McGinnity’s teammates on that semi-pro team in Springfield was Dick Kinsella, who would become a minor league magnate and confidant of John McGraw:

“(Kinsella) remembers the connection between H.C. Smith and Joe McGinnity in the olden days.

“Smith was one of Joe’s staunchest and most consistent admirers, and from the time he first knew him until the present day, his admiration has not abated.  In 1895 Smith left Auburn and went to Chicago, where he became engaged in the brokerage business, at which he prospered.  Later he became connected with his present company, gradually working his way to the top, until he was a man of wealth.

“Learning that the New York Giants were going to release McGinnity, Smith at once arranged with Joe to get hold of some team, for which Smith would furnish the money.  The result was the purchase of the Newark club, the dream of an ardent baseball fan and admirer brought to realization, and a home assured the famous Joe McGinnity, all through the regard, which a station agent in a country town felt for a ballplayer whom he considered the best he had ever known.”

McGinnity

McGinnity

The 38-year-old McGinnity started 46 games and posted a 29-16 record with a 1.66 ERA for the 2nd place Indians during his first season as co-owner and team president.

Harry Wolverton, who had been hired as manager by the previous ownership was retained by McGinnity and Smith.

Harry Wolverton

Harry Wolverton

 

There are several versions of the story of how McGinnity came to replace Wolverton as manager late in the season—some say Wolverton was let go for trying to remove McGinnity from a game, others say Wolverton took another position.  The real story, based on contemporaneous accounts in The Newark Evening News, was simply that Wolverton was injured before the team’s final road trip, and McGinnity took over.  In the winter of 1909 Wolverton purchased his release and McGinnity became the team’s full-time manager.

McGinnity and Smith owned the Newark Tigers through the 1912 season.  McGinnity managed the team to a second place finish in 1910 and a seventh place finish in 1911.  The team joined the International League in 1912 and finished third.

McGinnity won 87 games and lost 64 in 151 starts during his four seasons in Newark.

He and Smith sold their shares in the club after the 1913 season.

“It’s Strange how these Stars of Balldom have such Beliefs”

27 Aug

Throughout his career as an American League umpire, Billy Evans, who had covered baseball for The Youngstown Vindicator continued to write syndicated newspaper articles.  He was fascinated by the superstitions that controlled the actions of so many players.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

He followed a 1907 article about the subject, with more stories the following year:

“Of all professions, that of baseball player is the most superstitious…Of course, there are many superstitions in common, yet most of the players have pet ideas of their own on which they place much reliance.  The data of origin of many of the superstitions is a deep, dark mystery.”

Evans said:

“There is certainly nothing out of the ordinary to be seen in a load of hay, yet most players welcome the sight of one during the playing season.  In the dictionary of baseball a load of hay signifies two hits that afternoon for the discoverer, and history tells us there is nothing dearer to a player’s heart than base hits…While its supposed strange magic often fails, still the players retain faith in it.  On the other hand, the sight of a load of empty barrels is always dreaded, for some it means a shutout, to others merely defeat.”

Of one popular superstition of the time, Evans said there was “no greater believer in shaking up the bats when a rally is on” than Cleveland Naps pitcher Charles “Heinie” Berger:

“Ordinarily a team keeps its bats lined up in front of the bench in a fairly tidy manner.  According to Heinie’s code that is all well and good when everything is moving along smoothly, but when a rally appears to be in the air, the proper way to encourage it, according to Berger, is to scatter the bats in every direction.”

Heinie Berger

Heinie Berger

Evans told the story of the Naps’ August 21, 1908, game, although some of the details regarding the scoring wrong, he got most of the facts correct:

“One day last summer during an important game at Philadelphia, the Athletics got away with a seven-run lead in the first two innings.  When they added another in the third, it certainly looked as if things were all off so far as Cleveland was concerned.  Until the seventh inning the Naps bench was not unlike a funeral.  Two runs in the seventh stirred up a little hope, and caused Heinie to heave a few big sticks in different directions.  His actions caused Umpire Jack Sheridan (Sheridan and Evans both worked the game, Sheridan was behind the plate) was to offer a mild rebuke and incidentally warn Heinie that he wanted nothing but silence during the rest of the afternoon.”

Cleveland scored two runs the following inning, and had the tying run on base:

“Heinie proceeded to scatter the two dozen or more bats in all directions.  That was too much for the veteran Sheridan, and after he had made Berger replace all the bats back in a straight line, he tied a can on the Teuton and chased him from the lot.

“Berger viewed the remainder of the game from the bleachers, failing to carry out completely the edict of the umpire.  When the Naps scored the two men on the sacks and tied up the game he was happy.  Heinie was confident that the bat superstition had aided in the victory that he was sure would result, now that the score was tied.  When the Athletics scored a run in the eighth that proved to be the winner his confidence in the theory was not shaken in the least. He blamed the defeat on Sheridan, claiming that as soon as the umpire ejected him from the game the spell was broken.”

Evans also wrote about his favorite superstitious player, “Wild Bill” Donovan, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers.  Evans had previously mentioned Donovan’s fear of throwing a shutout during his first start of each season, and his actions in one game in particular, but now gave a more detailed account:

“It all seems rather foolish, yet I have worked back of Donovan on two such occasions and have every reason to believe that Bill makes it possible for his opponents to score.  In one of the games Detroit had the affair clinched 8 to 0 in the eighth.  With one down and a man on second Charley Hickman stepped to the plate.  A straight fast one is the most delicious kind of dessert for Charley, although he likes almost any old thing in the shape of curves and slants.

“There is no more strategic pitcher in the league than Donovan, yet he started off the reel to hand them up to Hick’s liking.  After fouling off three, Hick met a fast one on the nose and was blowing hard at third by the time the ball was relayed back to the infield.  He scored a moment later, but Detroit too the game easily, 8 to 2.  Bill had escaped the much despised shutout.  By the way that year was the most successful of Donovan’s career, and, of course, merely served to strengthen his belief.”

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan

Again, Evans got nearly all the details correct—except the final score was 9 to 2.  The May 24, 1907, game was Donovan’s first start of his best season in baseball (25-4, 2.19 ERA for the American League Pennant winners), and he did lose a shutout to Washington in the eighth inning on a Hickman triple.

Evans said a superstition often attributed to Cy Young, was not a superstition at all:

“The veteran Cy Young, the grand old man of them all, is one of the few players who doesn’t take much stock in omens of good or bad luck.  Cy, however, has one big hobby.  He always prefers to pitch on dark days…The dark day idea is no superstition with Cy.  No one except the batters perhaps realizes how hard it is to hit his fast ball when the light is dim.  It is really a pleasure for him to work out of turn on such days, for he knows what a big handicap he has over his opponents.”

Evans said another Hall of Fame pitcher had a bizarre habit, that while perhaps not a superstition, bears mentioning:

Jack Chesbro, the famous spitter, is always of the opinion that someone is slipping a doctored ball over on him, and quite often asks for a new one when the cover doesn’t taste just right.”

The umpire concluded:

“It’s strange how these stars of balldom have such beliefs and stick to them, but they do.  The ball player lives in a world of his own, more than any other profession with the possible exception of the actors.”