Tag Archives: Hugh Fullerton

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.

“The Greatest Heady Play I Ever Saw”

14 Aug

Jim Delahanty related the greatest play he ever saw on a baseball field to Hugh Fullerton in The Chicago Record-Herald in 1911:

“I have seen a lot of plays that were great, extraordinary; that were startling and set the crowds crazy.  It is usually hard to pick the greatest, but the one I recall was in a long-forgotten game in a little minor league.”

Jim Delahanty

Jim Delahanty

Delahanty said it happened during his first season in professional ball.  He was a member the Allentown Peanuts—his brothers Joe and Tom were teammates—in the Atlantic League.  Allentown was playing the Lancaster Maroons.

“The play was the headiest, the most surprising and altogether the most wonderful I ever witnessed and although it was made more than twelve years ago I never have forgotten one of the circumstances.”

[…]

Old Piggy (Frank) Ward, who had been famous before that, was playing second base for Lancaster, and (Oliver) Sprogell was pitching.  The game was a close one.  The score was 2 to 2 in the eleventh inning and the two teams were battling desperately for the victory.”

With runners on first and third and two out, (Orlin) Ollie Smith came to bat for Allentown.

“Sprogell was a slow-ball pitcher, and with two balls and two strikes called he floated up a slow teaser and Smith hit the ball as hard as ever a baseball was hit.  He had called the turn on the slow ball and took a run to meet it and hit it with all his might.  It went like a shot straight at Piggy Ward.  The ball was hit so hard that Piggy set himself and braced to break it down and throw out the runner, and just as he was setting himself his foot slipped and at the same instant the ball took a bad bound and jumped straight at his shining bald head.

“Ward had dropped his hands to save himself from falling when he lost his footing and it looked as if the accident had beaten his team.  But Piggy was game.  He saw the victory slipping away, saw that he would not be able to get his hands up in time to touch the ball, and shutting his eyes; he ducked that old shining bald head of his and butted that ball as hard as he could.

“Piggy sat down rather hard, dazed and stunned, and put his hand up to the spot the ball had hit.  The whole trademark was branded on the top of his head and there was a lump that was swelling like a balloon being filled with gas.  But the ball he butted bounded as straight and true as if it had been thrown straight into Sprogell’s hands, and Sprogell turned and threw Smith out at first.”

Piggy Ward

Piggy Ward

Delahanty said Lancaster won the game in the twelfth inning.

“In all my ball playing experience it was the greatest heady play I ever saw, and it was heady in a double sense, for old Piggy thought like a flash and when he saw he could not get the ball with his hands he went after it with his head.  I haven’t seen him for years, but I bet now if anyone can get him to take his hat off they’ll find Reach’s  trademark stamped on that bald spot.”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #15

17 Jun

Fullerton’s Prediction

Seven years before he watched the events of the 1919 World Series unfold from the press box, Hugh Fullerton warned readers of The Chicago Record-Herald:

“Baseball as a great national sport is in greater peril today than ever before.  Not until the present week did I realize this fact.  The gamblers, bookmakers and handbook men, who ruined horse racing…and who made fighting a noisome scandal, have attached themselves to baseball this year as never before”

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

“The King of them all for Superstitiousness”

In 1916, Napoleon Lajoie, then a member of the Philadelphia Athletics, told The Cleveland Press:

“I have known many a ballplayer who collected hairpins, held his breath if he saw a circus horse, but Bill Armour was the king of them all for superstitiousness.

Bill Armour

Bill Armour

“If you put a ladder in front of the door to his room Bill would have jumped out of the window sooner than have come under that ladder.  I think he would have stayed in there and starved to death rather than let the ‘jinx’ take him overboard because he went under a step-ladder.   Me?  No, I am not superstitious, it’s all nonsense.

“Going to fetch me a black cat?  Don’t bring it up here; we have enough bad luck as it is without any black cat hanging around the clubhouse.”

Napoleon Lajoie

Napoleon Lajoie

Black cat or not, Lajoie was correct about the Athletics “bad luck.”  The team finished in eighth place with a 36-117 record.  The forty-one-year-old Lajoie hit just .246; 92 points below his career average.  He retired at the end of the season.

“Any old Manager can run a Team of real Baseball Players”

Bill Dinneen pitched in the major leagues for 12 seasons, and a month after his playing career ended he began his 28-year tenure as an American League umpire

Bill Dinneen

Bill Dinneen

In 1910, he told Joseph Samuel “Joe” Jackson, sports editor of The Washington Post, how major league clubs should allocate money:

“’If I were a club owner, I would invest $15,000 in a scout and $5,00 in a manger  And old manager can run a team of real baseball players  But the best leader in the world can’t make bad material good  Every major league team needs a thoroughbred judge of raw material more than a teacher of baseball tricks’’’

Jackson said Dinneen’s observation confirmed what he thought while watching the Philadelphia Athletics beat the Chicago Cubs four games to one in that year’s World Series

“His remarks come merely to emphasize what the world’s series showed—that a club that is hitting the ball over the lot, and giving its pitchers support, will set at naught all schemes to beat it by carefully thought out plans that might be applicable if the other fellows would stop making so many base hits”

Fullerton on Drinking

6 May

At the beginning of the 1914 season, The Chicago Examiner’s Hugh Fullerton attempted to determine the impact of drinking on performance on the diamond.

“Boys, here is another temperance lecture in baseball averages.  It isn’t an argument or a statement of principles. Of course, we all know that a bottle of beer once in a while ‘ain’t never going to do no one no harm.’  I think during the last twenty years four or five hundred ballplayers have confided that information to me.  So it ought to be true.”

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

Fullerton said he had compiled a list of players who were drinkers.

 “I took an even twenty of these fellows. Then I took 14 players who to my certain knowledge do not drink at all.  I jotted down the batting and fielding averages of these men using no pitchers or catchers, for six years (1907-1913), and made a composite average.  Here are the figures:
drinkersnondrinkers

“Then it occurred to me perhaps there may be some dope to show how drink acts upon pitchers.  Here are the composite averages of then men, their percentage of victories for five years:

drinkersnondrinkerspitchers

“Possibly I have picked some pitchers lucky enough to be with winning clubs; and some drinkers unlucky enough to be with losers.  As a matter of fact, one fellow on the drink side has been with a winning team and he boosts the averages of his fellows.”

A photo of baseball's premier teetotaler Eddie Collins appeared with Fullerton's story.

A photo of baseball’s premier teetotaler Eddie Collins appeared with Fullerton’s story.

His conclusion:

“Maybe these figures prove that a bottle of beer once in awhile ‘ain’t goin’ to hurt no one.” Anyhow, there are the figures.  Either the wets or the drys may use them.”

Miller Huggins

27 Mar

Miller James Huggins was born on this date in 1879.  The Hall of Fame Manager of the New York Yankees played 13 seasons as a second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals.

Miller Huggins

Miller Huggins

In 1911, he told Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Record-Herald about “The greatest play,” he had seen during his career.

Huggins said it was a play made the previous season—July 30, 1910–by his teammate, shortstop Arnold “Stub” Hauser during a game between the Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs, and was described by Charles Dryden of The Chicago Examiner as “the only quadruple play ever made.”

“The play was wonderful, not only because of the situation and the manner in which it was accomplished, but because of the fact that Hauser kept his head all the time and thought as quickly as he acted.

“The situation was this:  we had the game won, but (Frank) Chance and his Crabs were fighting hard and hitting harder.  It took a lot of fielding and desperate work to hold the lead we had gained as they had men on the bases in almost every inning and kept threatening to pile up a bunch of runs almost any minute and beat us out. “

In the fifth inning, with Solly Hofman on first and Jimmy Sheckard on second, Chance hit John “Red” Corriden’s first pitch:

“Chance hit it like a streak of lightning almost over second base, perhaps two or three feet to the third base side of the bag and on a low line.  The ball was hit so hard that I hadn’t a chance to get near it, although I took a running jump in that direction.  It didn’t seem that Hauser, who was playing short, could make it touch his hands.  He came with a run, and as he saw the ball going past he dived for it, and made it hit his left hand while it was extended at full length.  He just stabbed at the ball, and although it hit his hand he, of course, could not hold it.  He was staggering, almost falling, and the ball popped up in the air perhaps a couple of feet, and as it started to fall to the ground Hauser, still falling, grabbed it with his hand and clung to it.  I had covered second, hoping he would be able to get the ball to me when I saw him hit it with his hands.  (Instead of throwing to Huggins) He staggered over second base (to retire Sheckard) and shot the ball to first (to retire Hofman).  As he touched second he spiked me so severely that I had to quit the game.  That is why Dryden called it a quadruple play, as it retired three Crabs and myself at the same time.  I’m proud now that I got spiked, as it gave me a part in the greatest play I ever saw on a ball field.”

___

Speaking of Huggins.  I receive a fairly steady stream of advance copies of books, and while I read most of them, I don’t recommend many. Too many rely heavily on recycled information from secondary and tertiary sources, often repeating faulty information and perpetuating myths.  A soon to be released book about Huggins is a pleasant exception.

colonelandhugcover

The Colonel and Hug: The Partnership That Transformed the New York Yankees, by Steve Steinberg and Lyle Spatz, will be released on May 1. In addition to being a thoroughly researched, well-written, definitive, biography of both Huggins and Yankee owner Jacob Rupert, the book does an excellent job of weaving the story of the Yankees in the broader context of the 1920s.

“Walsh? Ed Walsh? Who’s he?”

16 Mar

On May 1, 1912, as a result of a contract dispute, press operators walked off or were locked-out, of their jobs at 10 Chicago newspapers.  The following day, drivers and newsboys walked out in sympathy, and ultimately three more unions joined.

The dispute, which at times became violent, lasted until November.

The New York Times said at one point during the strike’s first week, less than 50,000 copies of the city’s four morning newspapers—limited to just four pages each– were distributed to a metropolitan area with a population of nearly four million.

Every Chicago paper, with the exception of The Day Book, Edward Willis Scripps’ advertisement free, pro-labor publication, suffered decreases in circulation and were forced to publish smaller editions for the first weeks of the strike.

The strike also had a negative impact on two other Chicago institutions.

The New York Tribune noted that during the first two weeks of May, while most of Chicago’s papers provided a minimum amount of baseball coverage, attendance at White Sox Park (renamed Comiskey Park the following season) and West Side Grounds “dropped off 30 percent.”

Writing in The Chicago Herald-Record after that paper had again begun publishing full-sizes editions in mid-May, sportswriter Hugh Fullerton was not surprised that less baseball news resulted in smaller crowds at the ballparks:

“Various major league club owners have, during their recent years of great prosperity, declared that baseball was independent of the newspapers.  Indeed such intellectual giants as C. Webb Murphy and Charles Ebbets have practically stated that the newspapers depended upon baseball for their circulation.  Of course, printing baseball news makes circulation for newspapers; else the newspapers would not print it.

“But during the last ten days Chicago has given the club owners and object lesson in the relative values.  There has been a strike of several trades allied with the newspaper printing business which resulted in crippling ten big dailies, restricting their circulation, besides cutting down the amount of baseball news and gossip printed.  The instantaneous result must have been a shock to the baseball magnates, who thought that the game was independent of the advertising.”

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

Fullerton, like the New York paper, said the attendance decline was “at least” 30 percent.

“I scouted around the city and discovered, rather to my amazement, that the lack of baseball news was received rather as a welcome relief from a necessary evil than as a bereavement.  A score of men told me they were glad they couldn’t get the news, that their employees could attend to business and that there was less waste of time…The town, which has been wild over the sensational race of the White Sox, cooled off in an instant.  I met fans who had been rooting wildly, who inquired whether or not the team was in town.”

Fullerton’s observations led him to the “startling proof that interest in baseball largely is manufactured by the papers.”

And, if the strike were to result in a further decrease in baseball news:

“I really believe that if the newspapers were to be suppressed for a couple of months, and one was to mention Walsh, people would say, ‘Walsh?  Ed Walsh?  Who’s he?’”

Ed Walsh

Ed Walsh

While the strike continued through the entire season, circulation and baseball coverage increased in June, giving no one the opportunity to forget Chicago’s best pitcher.

Attendance at Chicago’s ballparks rebounded as well.  By season’s end, Walsh’s White Sox drew more than 600,000 fans, despite a 20-34 swoon in June and July and a fourth place finish; while 514,000 fans  came out for the third place Cubs.

“There were Absurd Errors, Collisions, Accidents, Spectacular Batting”

2 Mar

William Henry “Josh” Reilly had a memorable big league debut for the Chicago Colts in 1896.

Josh Reilly

Josh Reilly

Reilly filled in at shortstop for Bill Dahlen in a May 2 game against the St. Louis Browns.  The Chicago Tribune said Dahlen was “(E)ngaged at home in holding a hot water bag against a turbulent tooth.”

While the toothache story was reported in the Chicago papers, The Sporting Life was not sold on the reason for the hard-drinking Dahlen’s absence:

“Dahlen laid off—was sick, or—well, you know Dahlen.”

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen

The Chicago Inter Ocean called the game “Worse than cough medicine,” and said:

“Of all the untabulated, unscheduled, unexpected, terrible, heartrending, frayed-out exhibitions of something or another that must be classed under the head of baseball, yesterday’s game with St. Louis was the worst.”

The Tribune said:

 “There were absurd errors, collisions, accidents, spectacular batting.”

Reilly was responsible for three of those “absurd errors,” and some of the “spectacular batting,” going 2 for 6 in his debut; he was also responsible for what The Tribune called “The electrifying feature of the game.”

The Inter Ocean described what happened:

(Monte) Cross got to first because (Chicago first baseman) George Decker thought his arm was as long as the legs of a man who has to stand on a ladder to comb his hair.  His arm was short by about six feet.  Then (Tom) Parrott made a single to center… (Duff) Cooley knocked a hot liner, and everybody started to sprint.  Reilly was playing at short, and stuck his finger nail into a loose stitch just as the ball shot past him.  He slammed it to (Harry) Truby, where Cross should have been, but was not, and Truby in turn, tossed it over to Decker to fondle while Parrott endeavored to correct himself.”

That game was the only highlight in Reilly’s major league career.  He played a total of nine games in Chicago—the other 8 at second base—and made a total of 11 errors.  And, after going 2 for 6 in his debut, he was just 6 for 36 thereafter.   Then, in late May Reilly became ill—accounts varied regarding what the illness was, The Sporting News said it was typhoid fever, The Sporting Life, and The Chicago Daily News said pneumonia.

Reilly returned home to the West Coast.  By September, his debut heroics were long forgotten, The Tribune simply said:

“(Reilly) was a disappointment and he was released.”

Despite his brief and relatively inauspicious big league career, Reilly was a popular minor leaguer for more than a decade.

An often told story about him, alleged to have taken place the year before his short trial in Chicago, illustrates just how superstitious 19th Century players could be.

The earliest telling was in 1897 in The Tribune, and it appeared on several occasions, in several papers, over the next 15 years with various embellishments.  There was no byline on the original story, but it was likely written by Hugh Fullerton–who retold it himself several times.

Reilly spent the 1895 season in Texas, playing with the San Antonio Missionaries and the Fort Worth Panthers in the Texas-Southern League.  Reilly opened the season with the Missionaries, who got off to a horrible start; they won just three of their first 28 games:

“The team was discouraged and sore.  They held a meeting and were on the verge of firing their mascot or committing violence upon his person when Josh Reilly…came to the rescue with a new proposition.  The mascot was put into a full dress coat, with gray baseball trousers and a silk hat, and the bats, some half a score of them, were pulled upon his back.  Then the team formed in line and marched down to the hotel, where “The Divine Healer,” Schlatter was stopping.”

Francis Schlatter was, at that time, walking across the American Southwest gaining fame and followers.  Three years earlier he had come to believe he received a “directive from God” to heal the sick, and became a messianic figure for many during his brief time in the spotlight.

Francis Schlatter

Francis Schlatter, “The Divine Healer”

“The divine was brought forth and made to pronounce a blessing upon the bats…and through all the season those inspired bats continued to give out base hits., and the team went close to the top of the league.”

While Reilly never disputed the story–and seemed to tell it himself on occasion–Fullerton’s ending was pure fiction. San Antonio continued to struggle and blessed or not, the Missionaries’ bats were mostly silent all season–the team never left the cellar and was 21-72 in August when they disbanded.

Josh Reilly, 1930--he died in San Francisco in 1938.

Josh Reilly, 1930–he died in San Francisco in 1938.

In different versions of the story, it was claimed that Reilly still used one or more of the “blessed bats.”  In another, Reilly “Hit .344” with one of the bats “and after he broke that bat he hit .189 for the rest of the season.”

Fullerton had one more Reilly story that he told often–first appearing in 1906 but recycled frequently for two decades–this one about his fielding troubles during his brief stay in Chicago and the impact the ire of fans has on a struggling player:

“(Reilly) was pretty bad as a fielder, and getting no better rapidly.  the jeers, hisses and hoots of the crowd merely made him mad.  He wanted to fight back.  His Irish blood was boiling.  For a time it seemed as if he would win and prove himself a great ball player merely by his nerve in playing at all under such a constant shower of criticism.  But one day Josh got through.  I found him frothing at the mouth out at the club house.  He was done.  He never would play again–unless he got a chance to kill a certain man.  When he grew calm enough.  I discovered the cause of it.

“‘He was a big man sitting in the bleachers’ said Josh.  ‘While they were all yelling at me for booting a hot one, he sat still.  I saw him and  said to myself ‘there’s one friend of mine up there.’  He never said a word until the seventh inning.  Then he stood up, stretched himself, walked down two or three steps and yelled:  ‘Reilly, you’re a disgrace to the Irish!’  If I had him I’d killed him.'”

“He’s a Loafer and a Drinker”

3 Dec

Bill Lange and Elmer Foster were likely the two favorite subjects of sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, who continued to write about both long after their careers were over. Another favorite subject was Bill Dahlen, who spent eight of his 21 big league seasons in Chicago, and received numerous mentions in Fullerton’s columns.

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen

Fullerton claimed during the 1890s he worked for an editor who was “a wild baseball crank.” The editor had an assignment for Fullerton after watching Bill Dahlen play a particularly bad game for the Chicago Colts one day:

“(He) summoned me and said, sharply: ‘Go after that fellow, Dahlen, and drive him out of town. He’s a loafer and a drinker.’”

Fullerton said, “there wasn’t a chance to argue,” and he let his friend Dahlen know he would “pan the life out of him and drive him off the team, explaining the circumstances.” Dahlen, he said, “wished me success.”

Fullerton said after writing critically about Dahlen for two weeks, the two were together on a train as the Colts headed to the East Coast:

“Dahlen and I slipped away from (Cap) Anson’s ever watchful eye and sought the buffet car and liquid refreshment. While we were thus engaged the editor entered the car, addressed me, inquired whether the team was on the train and was introduced to Dahlen. I left them at 11 o’clock, the editor ordering more beer and talking baseball with Dahlen. The following morning the editor stopped at my berth.

“’I was much mistaken in that young man, Dahlen,’ he remarked. ‘He is a smart, intelligent and interesting young man. I believe these stories about his drinking have been exaggerated. I fear we have been misled by the talk of cranks. I wish you would write a story suggesting him as the logical successor of Captain Anson as manager of the team.’”

On several occasions Fullerton told another story about Dahlen, this one involving a run-in with umpire Hank O’Day; there were always slight variations in the dialogue:

“Billy Bull Head Dahlen perhaps has been driven to the the bench oftener than any player in the country. Dahlen is a nagger. He keeps right after an umpire from the time he gets displeased with a decision until the game ends, and then starts over again the next day.”

Hank O'Day

Hank O’Day

Fullerton said Dahlen approached O’Day before a game in New York:

“Say, Hank, if I run at you in the first inning and call you a blank, blank, blank and step on your toes with my spikes and push my glove into your face, what’ll you do?’

“‘Do?’ said Henry, getting roiled up. ‘Do? I’ll chase you off the lot faster than you can run.’

“‘All right,’ said Dahlen, calmly, ‘no hard feelings. I just want to get put out quick, so i can get to Harlem in time to get a bet down on the fourth race.’

“‘You can’t get put out of this game in a thousand years, not if you spike me in the face.’

“Nor could he, although he did everything he could think of O’Day made him play out the string, and the horse he wanted to bet on won the race at heavy odds.”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #12

3 Nov

The Cost of Superstitions, 1913

John Phalen “Stuffy” McInnis his .324 and drove in 90 runs for the 1913 Philadelphia Athletics, but the first baseman hit just .118—2 for 17—during the World Series.

Stuffy McInnis

Stuffy McInnis

The Washington Post told how one superstition among the athletics players might have contributed to McInnis’ slump:

“Those boys believe that they can change the luck at a crucial moment by hurling their bats in the air and letting them fall where they will.  Probably you fans have often seen them do it.  They also believe that they can keep up their good luck by continuing this practice.

“During the first game, in which (Frank “Home Run”) Baker hit a home run, the Athletics started tossing their bats the minute the ball was hit.  As the bats came down Stuffy McGinnis couldn’t get out of the way in time and one of them struck him in the ankle, causing a painful bruise.  He limped to first base and for a while (Connie) Mack was afraid he couldn’t go on with the game.”

Despite McInnis’ slump, the Athletics beat the Giants four games to one.

The Case against the Spitball, 1905

Baseball’s greatest pitcher hated the games most controversial pitch.  In 1905 Denton True “Cy” Young was quoted in The Sporting Life saying it wouldn’t be long before the pitch disappeared entirely:

“I don’t think the ‘spit ball’ is going to cut a much a figure as was thought early in the season.  Many of the pitchers that were using it at the start of the campaign have cut it now, and from now on the twirlers that use it will be dropping it one by one.  I used it against Philadelphia and Washington and had it working nicely, but it hurt my arm and I have cut it altogether.  An old pitcher like myself has no business using it at all.”

Cy Young

Cy Young

Young said the pitch injured his forearm and said he was not alone.  He claimed Jack Chesbro, George Mullin, (Guy) “Doc” White all received similar injuries.   And Washington’s Case Patten, who a year earlier so loved the pitch The St. Louis Republic said he was often “giving the ball a shower bath preparatory to flinging,” was now saying the pitch “lamed his arm.”

Young said even for those who weren’t injured, the spitter would ultimately lead to pitchers losing “control of his curve ball and his fast ones.”

While Chesbro disagreed with Young’s claim that his arm problems were the result of throwing spitballs, his effectiveness diminished greatly after the injury.

Young’s prediction of the demise of the pitch was premature.  At the time of his statement, Chicago White Sox pitcher “Big Ed” Walsh was perfecting the pitch, which he learned from teammate Elmer Stricklett—who had also been instrumental in Chesbro’s use of the spitter.   Walsh started throwing the spitball regularly in 1906.

Ed Walsh circa

Ed Walsh circa

A month before his death, on his 78th birthday and bed-ridden, Walsh remained an advocate for the pitch Cy Young detested.  He told a reporter for The Associated Press:

“I admire the pitchers today who throw the pitch.  Some people call ‘em cheaters.  They’re not.  They’re just guys doing everything they can to win.”

Wahoo Sam’s Scouting Report, 1914

Coming off of the New York Giants off-season world tour with the Chicago White Sox, the consensus opinion seemed to be that Giants Manager John McGraw did not make a mistake in signing Jim Thorpe, the world’s greatest all-around athlete, to a three-year contract worth–depending on the source—from $5,000 to $6,500 per season.  Many doubted Thorpe’s prospects after he hit just .143 in 19 games for the Giants in 1913.

Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe

But, not to worry, said McGraw:

“All Thorpe needed was every day action, instead of idleness, although of course sitting on the bench all summer gave him a chance to learn lots of things that will stand him in good stead later on.”

The baseball world generally agreed with McGraw’s assessment.

Hugh Fullerton predicted Thorpe would be “the most sensational baseball player of 1914.”

Damon Runyon declared Thorpe was “now a star.”

Gustave (G.W.) Axelson, Sports Editor of The Chicago Record-Herald, who traveled with the teams, said of Thorpe’s development during the trip:

“The fans in the United States will see an entirely different kind of player when Thorpe Lines up for the season. “

White Sox pitcher Joe Benz, who played against Thorpe on the tour, agreed saying Thorpe “improved greatly” and would be of “great assistance to the Giants,” in 1914.

But, “Wahoo” Sam Crawford, the Detroit Tigers outfielder who traveled with the tour as a member of the White Sox disagreed with all the glowing accounts of Thorpe’s progress.  The Detroit Times said:

“Thorpe’s speed is all that commends him, according to Sam.  He is not a particularly good fielder, and he cannot hit.  He is not a natural hitter at all, but he gives the bat a little upward chop as he swings at the ball in a way that Crawford never saw any man do before.

“Furthermore Thorpe doesn’t seem to have that baseball instinct that is so necessary for a big league player, say Crawford.  He is a very chesty fellow for a man who has yet to prove that he is of big league caliber, is the assertion made by Wahoo Sam.”

Sam Crawford

Sam Crawford

Crawford’s assessment was the most accurate.  Despite the fanfare that accompanied Thorpe’s return from the tour, Thorpe was never better than a mediocre outfielder (career .951 fielding percentage) and he hit just .252 over parts of nine major league seasons.

Jim Delahanty’s Idea

10 Oct

Before the 1911 season, Hugh Fullerton, in The Chicago Examiner, told the story about Jim Delahanty’s plan to improve his hitting.  The Detroit Tigers second baseman was having a conversation with teammates:

Jim Delahanty

Jim Delahanty

“’I think,’ said Delahanty, ‘that if someone would kick me between the eyes real hard, I’d lead the league in hitting.’

“’What’s the angle of that remark?’ Asked Sam Crawford.

“’If I were you,’ said Davy Jones, ‘I’d hire a mule to kick me three of four times, and maybe I’d hit 1000 per cent.

“’I’ll tell you what I mean,’ said Del.  ‘When I went to the Atlantic League I was just a fair hitter—fair, bordering on rotten.  If I hit .225 I felt pretty good, and if I fell below that I wasn’t much surprised.

‘”Well, I had been going along fairly well for a few weeks, when one day I started stealing second.  I intended at first to slide behind the bag, but the baseman changed position, and I tried to switch and slide in front.’

“’The result was I slid awkwardly, and as he touched me out and blocked me his knee hit me bang between the eyes.  I saw forty million stars, and got up dizzy and feeling funny.’

“’Everything seemed changed, and I seemed to be looking through a veil all the time.  Everything on mu right side looked uphill and everything on the left downhill.  For about ten days I was the worst hitter in the world, not excepting Jack Pfiester.  It worried me.’

Jack Pfiester

Jack Pfiester

“’I think in three weeks I got two base hits, and what seemed funny to me was that I made both these hits off curve balls that fooled me.  The fact is my eyes had been banged out of gear and I was swinging about four inches below where the ball really was, and the only times I hit it was when it fooled me.’

“I was all upset and ready to quit when one day I drew a base on balls and tried to steal.  The shortstop was coming to cover the bag, and as I slid his knee caught me right between the eyes and knocked me cold.

“’When I batted the next time I saw the ball perfectly, or thought I did, and up I went into the .250 class.  A year later I got another crack between the eyes—and immediately improved still further in hitting.  Now I’m waiting for the kick that will put me in the .350 class.’

“Crawford was silent for some time.  Then he said:

‘”Say, did (Napoleon) Lajoie ever mention being hit between the eyes with a pile driver?’”

A .283 lifetime hitter, Delahanty had his best season at the plate in 1911, with career bests in nearly every offensive category, including average (.339) and RBI (94).

There is no record of him having received the desired blow to the head before the season began.

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