Tag Archives: Horace Phillips

The Pursuit of Elmer Foster

9 Sep

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

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

Elmer Foster, 1887

            Elmer Foster, 1887

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Mutrie

                       Jim Mutrie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elmer Foster

      Elmer Foster

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

“Each Club has its own Particular Omens”

29 Jan

James Aristotle “Jim” Hart gave one of the earliest interviews on the superstitions of ballplayers.

Hart sold his interest in the Louisville Colonels of the American Association before the 1887 season—he was an original investor in the team in 1882 and managed the club in 1885 and ’86—and bought controlling interest in the Milwaukee Cream Cities in the Northwestern League.

James Hart, 1886

James Hart, 1886

 

Before he left the Colonels, Hart accompanied the team on a tour of the  West Coast in December of 1886, and talked to a reporter from The San Francisco Chronicle:

“Why my dear fellow you have no idea to what ridiculous extremes most ball players allow their superstitious inclinations to carry them.  It’s a wonder to me that none of you newspaper men have ever written them up.”

Hart said “Each club has its own particular omens, you know there are four or five favorite beliefs which are held in general esteem by all.  In the East the boys always go to the grounds on the day of the game in hacks, and if they should win they go next time in the same carriages if they can get them, but anyway by the same route, around the same corners and along the same streets.  Should fortune prove averse and defeat be their lot another route is chosen next time and different carriages selected.  To meet a funeral procession on the way to the ball grounds it is also considered good luck, but should their driver be so rash as to cross the road and break through the line of mourners’ carriages I verily believe the boys would murder him.  It is considered such a bad omen that the boys would remain on one side of street all day rather than cross the line.”

“To meet a cross-eyed person is the worst kind of luck.  The only antidote for it is to turn around immediately and spit over your left shoulder before you speak.  It’s kind of amusing sometimes to see half a dozen or so fellows suddenly whirl around altogether like pivot machines and spit over their shoulders while walking quietly along the street, and without saying a word, too.  It was done here on Market Street a few days ago by some of my boys, and I guess the people must have thought then either drunk or crazy.  Another good mascot is to have a dog run across the diamond either just before or during a game.   The Pittsburgh team carried a dog around with it all last season that had run across the field early in the summer.  It didn’t matter that the poor brute had no tail, and was all over sores and all that, he was a mascot just the same and the boys were proud of him.  I reckon there has never been a dog so handsomely treated as that one was.”

“One of the greatest jonahs we have is to commence packing up the bats before the game is finished.  No matter how the score stands at the time, your luck is sure to flop right over and give the victory to the other side.  To illustrate it to you more clearly, I will relate an incident that occurred to our nine early last season at home (the game was actually played August 16, 1885).  We were playing a match game with the Pittsburgh team.  Luck went clear against us all day, and at the beginning of the ninth inning the Pittsburghs (Alleghenys) had ten runs to our five.  It seemed an utter impossibility to catch up that difference in one inning, and I can tell you we felt pretty blue.  Victory looked so sure for the Pittsburghs that Pete Meegan, an extra man belonging to that team, who was sitting on the bench, begin packing up the bats when the last inning was commenced.  You may not believe it, but it’s an actual fact and a matter of record; our luck changed from that instant (Louisville won 11-10).  Manager (Horace) Phillips of the Pittsburghs was crazy with rage, but he didn’t blame any of his players.  He could have murdered Meegan though for bringing on a jonah by packing up those bats before the game had finished. I don’t remember very clearly, but I think Meegan got let out subsequently.  At any rate he was fined heavily for his offense (Meegan never played in the major leagues after 1885; whether he was “let out” by Phillips because of this incident or his 14-20 record in two American Association seasons is unknown).

Pittsburgh Alleghenys Manager Horace Phillips

Pittsburgh Alleghenys Manager Horace Phillips

Another funny idea we’ve got is to pick out a saloon we think to be lucky, and drink a glass of beer there on the day of the game and have the glass set on one side for us.  If we win, then we go to that saloon every day after and drink out beer out of the same glass.  Of course if our luck should change then we try another saloon.  This don’t apply to every nine, because some of them are not allowed to drink at all during the season, under penalty of a heavy fine.  In addition to these things, some clubs belonging to the league are called jonah clubs.  That is, there are some clubs against which it is useless for us to attempt to play.  It doesn’t make any difference whether we consider our own the best team or not, they are jonahs and we can’t beat them.  Loss of confidence has a great deal to do with it, I suppose.”

“The Chicagos’ mascot for the past three seasons has been a little boy in short clothes named Willie Hahn.  The tiny fellow is just able to talk and always sits on the bench during the game.  The Chicagos have the greatest confidence in him as a promoter of success and make a great fuss over him.  Two seasons ago, when the Chicagos won the championship of the league, they hired an open landau upon their return home, put Master Willies in it, bedecked him with flowers and wreaths and hauled him all over the city by hand.  It was a regular triumphal march, you bet. “

Willie Hahn, Chicago White Stockings mascot with Ned Williamson

Willie Hahn, Chicago White Stockings mascot with Ned Williamson

Hart said Willie Hahn, who was white, was unusual.  Most of the teams had black mascots and the players rubbed their heads before batting:

“Sometimes the black boy is kept in a closed hack during the game to prevent contamination from other hands.  The kid then has to duck his head out of the carriage window when the boys want to rub it.”

Hart said the Pittsburgh Alleghenys kept a seat in the stands open for an old black woman “Just before the game commenced the boys would invariably look up to see if old aunty was in her place, and if by chance, she was not there they would lose heart, say the game was ‘jonahed,’ and in all probability, lose it.”  He said the Alleghenys also had two sets of uniform pants “one pair white and the other blue.  One color would be worn so long as the club was successful.”

More from Hart on Friday.