Tag Archives: Harry Howell

“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.

“That Short but Trite remark shaped my Career.”

24 Aug

In 1906, William George “Billy” Evans became the youngest umpire in major league history.  “The Boy Umpire” was just 22-years-old.

A decade later, in a syndicated newspaper article, he told the story of how he, by chance, he began his career as an umpire.  Somewhat altered versions of the story were told over the years, including a version in his obituary; however, this was his earliest, direct telling of the story:

Billy Evans

                                         Billy Evans

“It was one day in 1903 that I journeyed out to the ballpark to cover the game for the paper (The Youngstown Vindicator).  There was a delay when the time arrived to start to the contest.”

Evans said the umpire had become ill and while “a number of ex-players” were at the ballpark, the opposing managers could not agree.

“Finally, my name was suggested and proved acceptable to both managers.  I was informed of their decision but declined with thanks.

“The crowd was impatient.  It became noised about that I was the only man acceptable to both managers, and that since I refused to work the game would probably be called off.”

Evans was determined not to work the game, but said a voice from the stands changed his mind.

“Just when it seemed that I was to escape the ordeal a fan in the bleachers with a decidedly loud voice yelled: ‘What’s the matter—have you lost your nerve?’

“That short but trite remark shaped my career.”

Evans said one of the managers told him he’d earn $15 for the game—later versions said Youngstown Ohio Works Manager Marty Hogan told him what he’s be paid:

“Fifteen dollars for a couple of hours’ work—almost as much as I was getting for carrying the title of sporting editor for an entire week!  It made umpiring appeal to me.  Attired in the very best clothes I had, I took the field for my debut.”

Evans said that first game—a 1-0 victory in thirteen innings for the visiting team from Homestead, Pennsylvania—had “but few close decisions, and I got along famously.”

The regular umpire was still sick the following day.

“I gathered in $15 more.  My bankroll was so large that for the first time in my life I felt that a pocketbook was a necessity instead of a luxury.”

The following day, Evans accepted a permanent position “(A)lthough there were many times when I seriously doubted my wisdom in accepting the position.”

Three years later, Evans made his big league debut in New York.

“When I stepped on the field it seemed that wherever I looked I could see grinning faces.  I imagined that all of them were laughing at me when as a matter of fact I suppose there was scarcely a single person on the field who noticed me.”

Evans, who was harshly criticized early in his career, also wrote about his most dangerous incident on the field.

“I have dodged a million pop bottles…I have had them pass just above my head, between my legs, and, in fact, graze almost every part of my anatomy; but never have I been hit by a missile really intended for me.  I did stop a bottle that was intended for somebody else, and that stop almost resulted in the Great Umpire declaring me out.

“I was working a game at St. Louis, between the Detroit and the St. Louis clubs in the fall of 1907.”

The Tigers were locked in a three-team race  with the Philadelphia Athletics and Chicago White Sox—entering the series in second place, the Tigers fell to third after losing a doubleheader on September 14.

On September 15 the teams met for another doubleheader.  An overflow crowd filled an area of left field in front of a “swinging gate about six feet long out in the left field fence, about ten feet above the ground…used to facilitate the delivery of bottled goods into the park.”

With the game tied in the fifth inning, St. Louis pitcher Harry Howell was batting:

“(Howell) hit a ball into left field.  As I followed its course I was surprised to see the opening in the fence.  A few minutes before I had occasion to glance in that direction, and had observed nothing wrong.  I afterward learned that the gate had been opened only a few seconds before Howell hit the ball.

“It was my bad luck to have the ball pass squarely through the opening.  When Howell made the hit I had run toward third base in order to be able to follow the ball more closely.  When it passed through the opening I was about fifteen feet back of third base.  Howell paused at second base, and I motioned for him to continue home.”

[…]

“I was at once surrounded by a group of Tigers players all talking at the same time.  There is no fairer man in baseball that Hughey Jennings, the famous leader of the Detroit team, and I told that gentleman that the easiest way to settle the argument was to get rid of the players, and the two of us would thresh it out, which he proceeded to do.”

As Evans and Jennings wrapped up the argument, Evans suddenly slumped to the ground unconscious.

“The next thing I remember was when I came to in the hospital, and inquired what happened.”

What happened was a 17-year-old Browns fan named Hugo Dusenberg threw a pop bottle which struck Evans at the base of his skull.  As Evans lay unconscious on the field, fans attacked Dusenberg.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said:

“(Dusenberg) was saved from lynching by the quick action of the players who formed themselves into a guard and held back with bats a mob that swarmed.”

The St. Louis Republic said:

“Fifty policemen fought their way through the mob, rescued the assailant and with the greatest difficulty conducted him out of the grounds.”

Initial reports said Evans’ injury was serious—The Associated Press said his chance of recovery was “slim,” The Washington Post said he was “Probably fatally hurt.”  By the following day, it was reported that Evans would recover, but would likely miss the remainder of the season. Despite the grave predictions, Evans returned to work on October 5, the second to last day of the regular season; he worked the bases, with Jack Sheridan behind the plate, in a game between the Tigers and Brows in St. Louis.

Dusenberg, an American citizen who worked as a clerk at the German consulate in St. Louis, was charged with assault with the intent to kill Evans.  The Republic said in the days following the incident that “Sentiment is for the prosecution to the limit.”

Two months later Dusenberg was released after paying a $100 fine.

“I Believe that a Pitcher of a Slow Ball could make Monkeys out of Opposing Batsmen”

21 May

After the success of William Arthur “Candy” Cummings’ decades-long campaign to be recognized as the inventor of the curveball—his claim was supported by influential voices like A.G. Spalding, Cap Anson,  and Tim Murnane—culminated with his 1908 “Baseball Magazine” article “How I Pitched the First Curve,” Cummings was often sought out by the press for his opinions on pitching.

Candy Cummings

Candy Cummings

In 1910, an article “By Arthur Cummings, Discoverer of the Curve,” appeared in several newspapers, including The Boston Post.  Cummings took current pitchers to task for throwing too hard:

“Speed, speed, speed seems to be the cry of the pitcher today.  The more steam a fellow has, the more valuable he appears in the eyes of the managers.  It’s only once or twice in a game that a twirler will let loose his slow ball, and then he doesn’t put a whole lot of faith in it.  Of course there are some exceptions, like Mathewson, but I am talking about the general run.  To my mind, the speed craze is an obsession and many a pitcher would meet with greater success if he’d only revert to the old style of pitching and try slow ones oftener.  Players and managers of today think that the only way to win a ballgame is to have a pitcher who can throw a ball with such force that it will go through a six-inch plank, and if the fellow hasn’t got that amount of speed he is no good.

“If some managers would go back to the old-time style of pitching and send men in the box who would serve up slow balls there wouldn’t be as much base running as there is now, but the ball would be batted more and there would be better exhibitions of fielding.  Players of today can’t hit a slow ball with any degree of safety, they having become used to the swift article.  That’s why I believe that a pitcher of a slow ball could make monkeys out of opposing batsmen.

“Of course, there is a difference in the national sport, as now exemplified, when you compare it with the game when I was in it some thirty years ago.  The pitcher’s box now is further away from the home plate than it was when I used to pitch.  At that time it was forty-five feet from the home plate; now it is more than sixty, and it takes some speed to get over the plate.  I don’t know as I could go in a pitcher’s box, such as it is used today, and get a ball over the home plate, but if they moved it up to forty-five feet I could get my slow overshoots over the pan and I’ll bet a cigar the batsman wouldn’t hit it; he’d hit at it, though, and swing for all he’s worth.

“But even though the plate is further back, the pitchers have the curve worked down to such a science that they can make their ‘floaters’ break more sharply than we old timers could, and consequently they would much more easily fool the hitters.  Once in a while a genuine slow ball pitcher pops up and gets along but little confidence is placed in him; his victories are attributed to luck, and he is not used very regularly.

“Fans laugh these days when a pitcher takes it into his head to serve up a slow ball, which scorers call a change of pace, and see a heavy hitter almost break his back trying to kill the ball.  When he misses, it pleases the bugs immensely, but let me tell you, that the slower a ball is the harder it is for the batsman to connect with.  The hitting column wouldn’t have as big averages as it does now, and a man who could bat for .300 would be a wonder indeed, if slow balls were used by pitchers.

“But it seems as if the day of the slow ball has gone by.  A scout will not sign a pitcher unless he has got something good in the way of speed or a peculiarly curving swift ball, like Harry Howell’s or Eddie Cicotte’s knuckle ball.  It seems as if when we old timers dropped out of the game and the present generations took it up where we left off, they thought they would introduce new features to the game, and selected speed as the proper thing.  Of course, the invention of the mask, protector and heavy mitts had something to do with slow pitching passing out of existence, but it was the ideas of the young pitchers more than anything else that developed the desire of captains and managers for pitchers with great speed.

Ed Cicotte's knuckleball grip

Eddie  Cicotte’s knuckleball grip

“Perhaps you notice that these pitchers of today who have such great speed and assortment of curves do not work very regularly.  Well, when I played ball I was in the box one day and in the field the next and in that way I kept my arm in good shape and my batting eye keen, just because I was at the game all the time.  I never used much speed; therefore my arm was in condition to work.  Perhaps some manager will come along yet and decide that there was better pitching in the old days and give a slabbist with a slow curve ball a chance to work in the box.

“When that day arrives the fans will see some fun, for the long-distance hitters will find it hard to connect with the ball very often.”

In 1921 Cummings, then 72-years-old was sitting in the press box of Ebbetts Field, a guest of The Brooklyn Eagle, for a game between the Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies.  Cummings told The Eagle’s Sports Editor Abe Yager:

“I think I could out-guess   Babe Ruth if I were pitching right now.  I had to pitch against Dan Brouthers, Cap Anson and other sluggers of bygone fame and believe me it was some feat to fool them.  We did it often, but of course, they hit ‘em out just as often.  Ruth can be fooled by an outcurve, a high one in close or a drop the same as the sluggers of old, but of course, he will connect once in every three times by the law of averages.”

Lost Team Photos–1903 New York Highlanders

3 Jan

1903NY

Five members of the first New York Highlanders team and a New York sportswriter photographed at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park in March of 1903. The financially failing Baltimore Orioles franchise was transferred to New York for the 1903 season.

From left: William “Wee Willie” Keeler (RF), James “Gym” Bagley of The New York Evening Mail, Harry Howell (P), William “Wid” Conroy (3B), Monte Beville (C), and John Ganzel (1B).

Atlanta Was thrilled to host the team.  The Atlanta Constitution said on the morning the team was due to arrive:

“The hearts of the local fans will be made glad today by the arrival of the New York American baseball team, for this afternoon on there will be something doing at the park.

“Manager Clark Griffith will have charge of the team, and will bring them in with him this afternoon on the Southern’s No. 27 from Washington, which is due in the city at 3:55 o’clock.

“The aggregation is nothing less than a bunch of stars.”

Large crowds came out to Piedmont Park for the team’s morning and afternoon practices and for the Highlanders first spring game on March 26 against the Atlanta Crackers.

advertisement for the 1903 New York Highlanders spring games with the Atlanta Crackers

Advertisement for the 1903 New York Highlanders spring games with the Atlanta Crackers

 

Griffith’s team finished fourth in the American League with a record of 72-62.

“Death to Flying Things”

3 Apr

The nickname “Death to Flying Things,” is likely the only thing most baseball fans would know of John Curtis “Jack” Chapman, and even that is a morass of different and often questionable research.  He shares the nickname with one-time Brooklyn Atlantics teammate Bob Ferguson, and competing versions of the story disagree about whether first baseman/outfielder Chapman or infielder Ferguson is the one most commonly referred to by the nickname—and never with contemporaneous citations to back up the assertions.

Regardless, Chapman was an important figure during the advent of the game.

He was a well-known amateur player in the 1860s with the Brooklyn Atlantics (as opposed to the National Association team of the same name he and Ferguson played for in 1874) and the Quaker City’s of Philadelphia. Beginning at age 30 he played a total of 113 in the National Association, with Brooklyn and St. Louis, and during the National League’s inaugural season in 1876 he played and managed the Louisville Grays.

Jack Chapman, far right, with 1868 Brooklyn Atlantics

Jack Chapman, far right, with 1868 Brooklyn Atlantics

After the 1876 season, the career.246 hitter retired as a player.  Over the next 22 years he managed parts of ten seasons in the National League and American Association; including an 88-44 finish and American Association championship with the Louisville Colonels in 1890.  He also managed for 11 seasons in the minor leagues, retiring from baseball after the 1899 season.

When his managerial career ended Chapman was often asked to discuss the current state of baseball; carrying on a tradition as old as the game, and one that will never end, Chapman was adamant that the game as it was currently being played did not measure up the game during his prime.  In a column that appeared in several newspapers in 1900 he said:

“Our great national game is today in bad shape both financially and in other ways.  Whether this situation is caused by the rowdyism of the players I cannot say, but it seems to me that if the rules were strictly lived up to and the chief of umpires and his staff did their duty the game would soon climb back to the high plane it once occupied.

“The players of 10 and 15 years ago were just as fast, tricky and well up in the game as those of today…Years ago the ball used to have two and one-half ounces of rubber in it, whereas now there is only one ounce.  This reduction has made the sphere less lively and consequently easier to field…The men are now harnessed almost like football players, with gloves, pads masks and other paraphernalia.  We hadn’t these accessories in the old days, yet I don’t think the fielding is much improved.”

But mostly Chapman seemed to be concerned with his legacy as a manager:

“Probably no other man has brought out so many players as I have, mainly because I always have made it a point to be on the lookout for new blood by means of which I could improve my team…I think I may claim without anyone gainsaying my assertion, that I have turned out and sold to the National and other leagues more players who have proved to be crackerjacks than any other man living.

Robert Winchester and Mickey Welch, two old timers were ‘finds’ of mine, while Hugh Jennings, Roger Connor, Jimmy Collins, (Bill) Hoffer, (Harry) Howell and many others too numerous to mention in the major and minor leagues were developed by myself.”

Jack Chapman 1900

Jack Chapman 1900

Unfortunately, he said little and provided no details about the most significant incident of his career: as manager of the Louisville Grays in 1877 his team was the first to be involved in a gambling scandal:

“I had four men of my own team—(George) Hall, (Bill) Craver, (Al) Nichols and (Jim) Devlin—put out by the league because they were caught throwing a game.  That was the first time such a thing had ever happened, and it caused a great sensation at the time.”

“Death to Flying Things” died in 1916 in Brooklyn at age 73.