Tag Archives: Hughie Jennings

“The Realization of Their Carelessness”

1 Jun

After the 1910 season, Hugh Fullerton, writing in “The American Magazine” said baseball had no universal language.

“Each team has its different system of coaching, its different language of signs, motions, cipher words, or phrases, and no one man can hope to learn them all.”

Fullerton said the “worst of trying to study” the signs of various clubs was trying to track when they changed:

“If Arlie Latham jumps into the air and screams ‘Hold your base!’ it may mean ‘Steal second,’ today and tomorrow it may mean ‘Hit and run.’ One never can tell what a sign means. Hughie Jennings hoists his right knee as high as his shoulder, pulls six blades of grass and Jim Delahanty bunts. You are certain that Jennings signaled him to sacrifice, so the next day when Ty Cobb is bat and Jennings goes through the same motions, you creep forward and Cobb hits the ball past you so fast you can’t see it.

“If Connie Mack tilts his hat over his eyes and Eddie Collins steals second as the next ball is pitched, naturally you watch the hat, and lo, Jack Barry plays hit and run. You hear Clark Griffith yelp ‘Watch his foot!’ and see two of his players start a double steal. The next time he yells ‘Watch his foot!’ you break your neck to cover the base, and both players stand still.”

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Arlie Latham 

Fullerton said most fans gave up trying to figure out signs but they “mustn’t do that. Someday right in the middle of a game, you’ll strike the key to the language and read through clear to the ninth inning.”

He compared that moment to getting “away one good drive,” in golf, “forever afterward you are a victim,” and can’t stop.

“Did you ever watch Hugh Jennings on the coaching line near first base during a hard-fought game? He doubles his fists, lifts one leg and shakes his foot, screams ‘E-yah’ in piercing tomes and stooping suddenly plucks at the grass, pecking at it like a hen. It looks foolish. I have heard spectators express wonder that a man of ability and nearing middle age could act so childishly. Yet hidden somewhere in the fantastic contortions and gestures of the Tigers’ leader there is a meaning, a code word, or signal that tells his warriors what he expects them to do.”

Jennings said of his signs:

“I change almost every day. I change every time I suspect there is a danger of the meanings being read. I am a believer in as few signals as possible and of giving them when they count, and I find that a lot of antics are effective in covering up the signals.”

Fullerton said Mack was “one of the most successful men” at “interpreting” opponents’ signs:

“Before the Chicago Cubs went into their disastrous series against the Athletics they were warned that if such a thing were possible Mack would have their signals. At the end of the game they called a meeting to revise signals, changing entirely, being certain the Athletics knew almost every kind of ball that was going to be pitched.”

Fullerton allowed that the Cubs instead might be tipping their pitches, because he was sitting with Ty Cobb during the series, and:

“(He) repeatedly called the turn on the ball that would be pitched before it was thrown, judging from the pitcher’s motion, and the Athletics may have been doing the same thing.”

Fullerton also said of the Cubs, that although they were “the cleverest baseball team in America, composed of smart men and a great manager, for years paid less attention to active coaching on the baselines,” than other teams.

“Possibly the reason was the confidence in their own judgment and their continued success, Frank Chance’s men made few blunders and the neglect was not noticeable, except to constant observers until 1908. Any player who happened to be idle went to the coaching lines and most of the time inexperienced substitutes did line duty. In 1908 during their fierce fight for the pennant, the realization of their carelessness was brought home to them and since then Chance has employed quick-thinking, clever men on the base lines, principally relying on (Ginger) Beaumont and (John) Kane.”

john kane

John Kane

Fullerton dated Chance’s new appreciation for competent coaching to July 17, 1908; that day the Cubs beat Christy Mathewson and the Giants 1 to 0 on an inside the park home run by Joe Tinker. Heinie Zimmerman was coaching third base for the Cubs.

The Chicago Inter Ocean described the play:

“Joe, the first man up in the fifth, hit one of Matty’s best as far as any ball could be hit in the grounds without going into the stands. Where the center field bleachers join the right field 25 cent seats is a V-shaped inclosure. Joe drove the ball away into this dent, and it took Cy Seymour some time to gather the elusive sphere. When Cy finally retrieved the ball, Tinker was rounding third.

“Zimmerman grasped this as the psychological moment to perpetrate one of the most blockheaded plays ever pulled off. He ran out onto the line and seized Joe, trying to hold him on third, when the ball was just starting to the diamond from deep center field. Joe struggled to get away, as his judgment told him he could get home, but Heinie held on with a grip of death. Finally, Tink wriggled away and started for the plate.”

 

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Zimmerman

The paper said Tinker would have been thrown out had Al Bridwell’s throw to the plate been on target:

“Had Tinker been caught at the plate the 10,000 frenzied fans would have torn Zim limb from limb. Chance immediately sent Evers out to coach at third base and retired Zim to the dark confines of the Cubs’ bench.”

Thus, said Fullerton:

“Chance began to develop scientific coaching, and discovering its full value, took the lead in the matter, employing skilled coachers.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #42

11 May

Poker and Baseball

Tigers coach Jimmy Burke told The Detroit News in 1915:

“The good poker players on a ball club are generally the brainiest and best ball players.”

jimmyburke

Burke

Burke said he was opposed to gambling but nevertheless:

“The snap judgment, the taking of quick advantage of openings, and the continual head work required in the great indoor sport is the same type that makes a good ball player great on the diamond. There are a lot of good ball payers who do not play much poker, but the good poker players on a team usually are the smartest and most brilliant players.”

The News assured readers that poker games among the Detroit players all ended “at 11 PM and never exceed a five or 10 cent limit.”

Cobb on Dean

In 1937, Ty Cobb told Grantland Rice of The New York Herald Tribune that he was an “admirer” of Dizzy Dean:

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Dean

 

“I saw him work in an exhibition last fall. Dizzy was using a change of pace and a side-arm delivery. I asked him to show me a few overhands. The next inning, he used nothing but an overhand delivery, and he had plenty on it. He proved to me that he had about everything a good pitcher needs—including smartness and control.”

Cobb had one criticism of Dean:

“I still think Dizzy would be better off if he worked more in the general interest of the team, and his manager, Frank Frisch. You might call this color and like it—but baseball is supposed to be a team game, and the manager is supposed to be the boss. I know. I felt that way about Hughie Jennings when he ran the Tigers.”

Rickey’s Priorities

Nine games into the University of Michigan’s 1913 season, George Sisler was hitting .528 in 36 at bats and was the team’s top pitcher—in a late April game against Kentucky State University Sisler worked five innings, and according to The Associated Press (AP), “He struck out 14 batters, and caught a pop fly sent up by the fifteenth man.”

sisler

Sisler

On the same trip through the South, the wire service said Sisler was called in to pitch the final inning of a game when the club needed to catch a train and needed a quick finish:

“This he did by pitching nine balls, striking out the last three batters, who only heard the ball whizz past.”

Despite his success, The AP said that his coach Branch Rickey, “is worried about Sisler,” because his star player had other priorities.

“Rickey claims he has to all but kidnap Sisler to get him away from his books to practice…Sisler’s ambition is to shine in his class work and Rickey is afraid his studious disposition will ruin his ‘batting eye.’”

Ticket Scalping Tricks, 1897

28 Apr

The Beaneaters were just a half game ahead of the Orioles when they began a three game series in Baltimore on September 24 1897; Boston took two out three games and left town up a game and a half with just three to play, and held on to win the pennant.

Boston won the first and third games by scores of 6 to 4 and 19 to 10; the Orioles won the second game 6 to 3; The Baltimore Sun said:

“It has been a fair and square fight, and they have lost to the Bostons, not through luck, but because they have been outplayed. If Captain (Hugh) Duffy’s men win the pennant they will have won it fairly, squarely, and deservedly, and Baltimore will congratulate them on their great achievement in beating her own great Orioles.”

Hughie Jennings told The Baltimore American:

hughiejennings

Hughie Jennings

“A few more games like those with Boston in the last series at Baltimore would drive me to an asylum.”

The Sun said there was so much interest in the series that:

“Never perhaps in the history of baseball was there such a vast amount of telegraphic matter sent out from Union Park (during the first game of the series) Fifteen skilled operators were required to send off the great mass of written matter.”

Both The American and The Sun estimated that nearly 65,000 fans attended the series, which made it a boon to the local ticket scalpers, who had to think creatively

The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“The Baltimore ticket scalpers played a very neat trick at the downtown headquarters, where tickets were on sale during the closing series between the Bostons and Orioles. While a long line of purchasers were in line at the counter, half a dozen fashionably dressed ladies came in and the crowd courteously gave way to them. It was later learned that the women were in the employ of speculators.”

“If the Other Fellow got cut you were Glad”

24 Apr

The Detroit News recorded an off season “fanning bee” between Browns manager Jimmy McAleer and Tigers manager Hughie Jennings in 1907:

“’Those were the days when we really hated each other, said Jimmy. ‘Weren’t they Hughie? There was no sitting on the home bench when you went into a town, and there was no handshaking. If the other fellow got cut you were glad, and if you got cut you vowed vengeance. They kind of thought more about winning and less about pay then, didn’t they? Seems that way anyway.’”

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Jimmy McAleer

McAleer then moved on to Jennings’ days with the Baltimore Orioles in the 1890s:

“I can remember you fellows to this day coming into the park. And what the crowd used to call you, Chesty? Why, there never lived a crowd more swelled on themselves; you and (John) McGraw and (Willie) Keeler and that bunch. We would give our eye teeth to give you a beating and take the enthusiasm out of you.”

Back to how the game had changed, McAleer talked about Jesse Burkett’s reaction when he joined the Browns after 12 seasons in the National League:

“He sat on the bench beside me. Suddenly he began growling and kicking the dirt.

‘”What in the thunder’s the matter with you?’ I asked

“’Look at ‘um, look at ‘um, he kept saying, ‘handshaking league. Handshaking, look at ‘um.

“He was wild with rage because some of the boys were shaking hands with the visitors.”

Jennings never said a word.

Borrowed Uniforms

20 Apr

Ernest Lanigan, writing in The Cleveland Leader in 1918 said:

“One way a team could be assured a victory in every stop on a trip, would be to lose its uniforms.”

Lanigan said it happened twice in the last four seasons:

“Last season, on their way East, the Saint Louis Cardinals lost their baggage and had to meet the Superbas in clothing for which Charles Hercules Ebbets had paid. The result was a 9 to 2 victory for Jack (manager Jack) Hendrick’s team.”

The Brooklyn Citizen described the June 1, 1918 game:

“The schedule called for a game between the Saint Louis Cardinals and the Robins. But if the fans were just going by the uniforms the players wore, then it was a combat between the HOME and the TRAVELING uniforms of the Brooklyn Baseball Club, for the Cardinals were arrayed in the traveling unies of the Robins.”

Fourteen trunks belonging to the Cardinals failed to make it from Pittsburgh with the team.  The paper said the Cardinals did have to purchase shoes for the team from a local store:

“(Hendricks) had to order 15 pairs of new ones, which will set the club back $210.”

In a borrowed uniform and in new shoes, Red Ames allowed 10 hits, but just two runs, and the Cardinals chased Rube Marquard in the fifth inning—scoring six runs off the Brooklyn starter.

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Red Ames

Lanigan said the previous time a team played in their opponents’ uniforms was 1915:

“The Saint Louis Browns reached Detroit minus uniforms and attired in Tiger togs they defeated the Junglemen, 1 to 0.”

Edward A. Batchelor of The Detroit Free Press said of the June 20th game:

“You see it was this way. The St. Louis club’s baggage went astray somewhere between Boston and Detroit and when the Browns arrived, they possessed nothing in the way of baseball equipment except the usual number of arms and legs. Some of them had heads, though this is not considered a requisite in big league ball anymore. They didn’t even have a manager, as Branch Rickey refused to come along. He won’t even look at Sunday ball.

“With true hospitality the Tigers took pity on the forlorn crew and outfitted them completely in the Detroit Road uniforms. They also loaned them gloves and shoes and otherwise contributed to their comfort and convenience.”

Dressed in Detroit uniforms, Batchelor said the Browns “forgot they are tail-enders and imagined they were really the Jungaleers.”

Carl Weilman pitched a four-hit shutout for the seventh place Browns.

weilman

Carl Weilman

Lanigan said one had to go back to 1912 to find a team losing in borrowed uniforms:

“A game which a visiting team did not win when it was compelled to play in the home club’s regalia because of the non-arrival of its baggage took place at the hilltop, in New York on August 12 [sic, August 13]. The Tigers and their baggage parted company in Syracuse and Jennings’ men played in the Yanks’ road uniforms, being beaten 3 to 2.”

Batchelor said in The Free Press:

“A most peculiar combination of circumstances thwarted the well laid plans of Hughie Jennings and kept the fiery siren dumb on the bench in civilian clothes. Detroit’s baggage was misplaced somewhere in Syracuse where an exhibition game was played yesterday. Only the artful hospitality of manager (Harry) Wolverton saved the Jungaleers from forfeit. Wolverton lent the visitors his road uniforms. But had no shoes of guaranteed fit.

“Consequently, the entire invading squad had to go out and purchase new kicks. Winning ballgames in unbroken brogans is no nice business.”

wolverton

Harry Wolverton

Batchelor said the bats loaned to the Tigers were “so full of holes that Jennings’ heavy artillery were able to collect a measly bundle of three hits”

The Tigers scored two runs in the first inning of New York starter Ray Fisher, who was ejected along with Wolverton for arguing a call at first base.  Jack Warhop pitched 8 ½ innings in relief, giving up just two hits in the 3 to 2 victory.

“It Does not take a Brainy man to to run a Ball Team”

27 Mar

Cy Young managed the first six games for the 1907 Boston Americans; guiding the team to a 3-3 record after manager Chick Stahl’s suicide during spring training.

In 1910, The Cleveland News said, while “The grand old man” could have continued as a player-manager, “he did not feel like combining the two trades.”

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Cy Young

The paper asked Young what qualities were needed to manage a team:

“It does not take a brainy man to to run a ball team. You’ll hear a lot of stuff handed out about the inside baseball knowledge that such and such a manager is supposed to possess. But baseball is not such a complicated game that the ordinary manager doesn’t understand pretty nearly all the wrinkles.”

Young said intelligence was overrated:

“You’ve often heard someone suggest the name of a certain ballplayer as one likely to make a clever and successful manager, but the chances are that the man mentioned might prove an utter failure. Some of the brainiest players in the game might make the worst fizzles in attempting to direct the fortunes of a big-league club. It isn’t baseball brains that count in managing. It’s the ability to lead and make the men under you fight.”

He described the perfect manager.

“You take the manager that can keep after his men. I don’t mean the bulldozer, but one who knows just what there is in each man, and who is capable of bringing it all out. Such a man is (Hughie) Jennings, who never lets up, no matter how gloomy the outlook may be.

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Cy’s ideal, Hughie Jennings

“A fighting manager with a fighting team will win three times as many games as a brainy outfit with a brainy manager. Give me the fighter every time. That’s how Detroit has won so often. Jennings is the sort of a manager that does things—and wins, too.”

“The one man in Baseball who did not Want to Rise”

15 Apr

William Malcolm Bingay of The Detroit News found a player he could not figure out:

“Somewhere in the big state of Pennsylvania there is a lean, wiry lad with a big under jaw and a crop of wire hair, who is eking out an existence tinning roofs. He escaped an awful fate, so he is happy. He might have been a major league ball player. His name is Johnson and he is on the Tiger reserve list, but he will not be taken South this spring.”

Charlie “Home Run” Johnson was an enigma—he was said to have a huge ego; The Trenton Times once said of him:

“If Home-Run Johnson gets his chest out much further he will crack his wish bone or else curve his spine so that it will never regain its normal shape.”

But Johnson refused to play far from Pennsylvania—he lived just outside Philadelphia in Chester. When he spent the spring of 1907 with the Tigers, but when he was assigned to the Montreal Royals, The News said:

“The heavy hitting outfielder…is averse to playing in Montreal.”

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Home Run Johnson

Johnson instead played for the Johnstown Johnnies in the Tri-State League.

Bingay said:

“Johnson was the one man in baseball who did not want to rise.”

Johnson told Bingay

“’I don’t want to ply in the American League. I don’t want to play in any big league. I want to play around home.”

When he joined the Tigers on the trip south, Bingay said Johnson “had a strange idea of the power of baseball law,” thinking he had to come.

“’What did you come South for, then?’ ‘I was drafted.’ He said that in the voice of some Russian prisoner explaining why he was sent to Siberia.”

According to Bingay, Johnson, who picked up the additional nickname,“Little Ban” after American League President Ban Johnson, not only wanted nothing to do with major league baseball, he barely had anything to do with his teammates:

“Johnson never spoke to anybody on the team unless spoken to. He spent his nights in his rooms with a massive book about the size of a family dictionary. It was entitled ‘Tales of the Seven Murderers” and described life in the ‘Wild and wicked West.’ He was often so deeply interested in the doings of his bloodthirsty heroes that he would take the book to the dinner table with him.”

On his way the his “forced” spring service with the Tigers, Johnson’s trunk apparently went missing, forcing him, according to Bingay to use borrowed clothes on and off the field:

“Johnson on the ball field was a sight never to be forgotten. If you had never seen Little Ban in his makeup, (vaudeville actor) Eddie Foy would appear as an imitation. He had a pair of Sam Crawford’s pants, once white; George Mullin’s shirt and (Germany) Schaefer’s cap; which completely covered his ears.”

Bingay said Johnson played that spring with a pair of congress gaiters in the place of his lost baseball shoes, and:

“Once, during a heated scrub game he lost his shoe running from first to second, and they tagged him out because he stopped to sweat at (first baseman Claude) Rossman, who had kicked it into right field.”

Johnson apparently managed to annoy his manager as well:

“He used to keep Jennings up night after night until almost dawn, knocking at his door to find out ‘just how he could get his trunk.’”

Johnson went home to Chester and stayed there. Throughout May it was rumored he was joining the York White Roses in the Tri-State League; that fell through and he played for a semi-pro team in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At the end of July, he joined the Johnstown Johnnies in the Tri-State.

He hit .262 in 1907 and returned to Johnstown the following season; hitting, hitting .296 and leading the Tri-State with nine home runs.

On September 1, Johnson was drafted by a major league team agreeable to him—one 18 miles away from his home in Chester–the Philadelphia Phillies.

Johnson made his major league debut on September 21, pinch hitting in the first game of a double header; he started the second game in left field. The local boy’s arrival to the big leagues was barely noticed by the local press, The Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“(Sherry) Magee started the first game in left field but gave way to young Johnson in the second battle…Johnson failed to get a hit during five times up but managed to take care of everything which came his way in the field.”

Johnson appeared in six games for the Phillies, he was 4 for 16 with two RBI,

By the end of the season, The Philadelphia Press predicted:

“Johnson, the Johnstown pickup, undoubtedly will get a thorough trial with the Phillies next spring. He is a natural batsman and hits the ball with terrible force.”

After the 1908 season, the Detroit Tigers filed a claim against the $750 draft price paid by the Phillies for Johnson’s contract, claiming they still held his rights. The Tigers were eventually awarded half.

The prediction that Johnson would return to the Phillies was wrong, shortly before the team when South in the spring of 1909, The Press reported that 31-year-old journeyman Pep Deininger and minor leaguer Charlie Hanford would instead be given the opportunity to be the Phillies extra outfielder; Deininger made the club. Johnson returned to Johnstown.

Johnson never went to camp with another major league club, but stayed a star, near home, with the New York State and Tri-State League clubs. The biggest highlight of his career was his league-leading .403 average for the Trenton Tigers in 1912—he also hit 14 home runs.

Johnson hit better than .300 for two more seasons in the Tri-State League but battled injuries and returned home to Chester after the 1914 season. He worked for the rest of his life in a clothing factory—for the American Viscose Company—in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. He and his wife had eight children.

He died of a heart attack at the factory at age 55. His obituary in The Delaware County Daily Times mentioned that he was a local baseball legend but said he had only had a “try-out with the Phillies,” and did mention his two weeks as a major leaguer.

“Probably the Best Known bad man”

10 Apr

In 1908, Malcolm Wallace Bingay, the long-time writer for The Detroit News told of the “nervy ballplayers,” who were tough on the field but afraid of a “personal encounter,” while, ”There are some quiet ball players who play an ordinary game on the field who, when occasion demands, can show gamesmanship tom a degree that would surprise the average follower of the fighting business.”

Bingay named the current toughest man in baseball:

“Big John Anderson, now with Comiskey’s White Sox, as handsome a figure as there is in baseball, could, if he but cared, hold his own with most of the wrestlers in America. Not only this, but the big Swede, although naturally quiet, when thoroughly aroused, can put up a terrific battle. Among ball players he is probably the most respected man in the league when it comes to a personal mix-up. Anderson is a clever boxer, has a wicked punch in either hand and doesn’t seem to know what pain is when angry.

“Anderson is a physical culture crank. He is probably the most ideally built man in baseball. The grace with which he carries himself on the diamond is only brought out more clearly when he is boxing. And John doesn’t stop with the gloves. He is as wicked a rough-and-tumble fighter as one would care to run across.”

johnanderson

John Anderson

George Moriarty—then with the New York Highlanders—was, according to Bingay, “another bad man to bother.” Bingay said in 1907 in Chicago:

“(A) big fellow came from the bleachers. He hit the Yankee on the jaw and sent him staggering against the fence.

“’Moriarty seemed to come back like a piece of rubber,’ says (New York catcher) Ira Thomas, who saw the battle. ‘The fellow was far bigger than he, but Moriarty didn’t seem to care. Before the mob could get to him he had the man from the bleachers helpless.”

moriarty

George Moriarty

Thomas said the New York players were concerned about getting Moriarty out of the ballpark past the large throng of White Sox fans, until the fans realized it was a Chicago native involved in the fight:

“’Going from the grounds there was fear of a riot, and about 200 big men were lined up near the gates as we passed out.’

‘”Is George Moriarty there/’ the leader yelled to me.’

“’He is,’ I said, ‘expecting a fight.’

“’Well, tell him that we’re from the South Side and don’t go back on the boys who come from here. Tell him we’ll fight for him if he needs help.’”

But, said Bingay:

“Probably the best-known bad man, when he wants to ne, in baseball is Bill (Kid) Gleason.”

Gleason was just 5’ 8” and weighed 160 pounds, but Bingay said he was “the biggest little man that ever stood in shoe leather.”

Kid_Gleason

Kid Gleason

Despite his size:

“He has the strength of a giant and is as agile as a wild cat. Bill was the man who kept Kid Elberfeld playing good ball around Detroit. When the Kid wouldn’t behave himself, Bill would take him out back of the clubhouse and give him a thrashing.”

Jimmy Williams, the St. Louis Browns infielder, was, according to Bingay, “as quiet as any of them and yet he is as wicked a man when crossed as there is.”

Tigers pitcher Bill Donovan told Bingay a story about Williams when the two played together on the “all-American” team that barnstormed the West Coast during the off-season.  There was a fan in one town who “was a giant in strength, always in an ugly mood, and always hunting for trouble.”

Donovan said:

“’Now Jimmy wasn’t hunting for trouble, understand. He was minding his own business when this chap got gay. Williams knew of his reputation but never hesitated. He gave the big duffer such a whipping that he begged for mercy. After that anybody in town could chase the bully up an alley. The citizens warmly thanked Jimmy for what he had done.’”

Bingay said the manager of the Tigers, was the opposite of the quiet players on the field who had no problem throwing a few punches:

“No man ever displayed more nerve on the ball field than Hughie Jennings, who for years was a league sensation. Yet, Jennings never had a fight in his life. He’s as peaceful as a Quaker off the field.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #32

8 Apr

“He Runs Bases Like a cow”

John Irwin began 1891, his eighth and final major league season playing for the Boston Reds, managed by his brother Arthur.

After a June game with The Colonels, The Louisville Courier-Journal said the connection was not an accident:

“John Irwin, who is a ball player because his brother is a baseball manager, was in a part of yesterday’s game. He runs bases like a cow and was caught off first yesterday in the easiest manner possible. He foolishly ran out between the bases and then waited until (catcher Jack) Ryan had thrown the ball to get him out. He is very gay and is never happier or more fatal to Boston’s chances then when he is coaching. His dangerous advice got one man out yesterday.”

irwin.jpg

John Irwin

The paper said when Irwin entered the game, at least one of his teammates, right fielder, Hugh Duffy was not pleased:

“Duffy was seen to remonstrate yesterday, when Irwin took (Paul) Radford’s place. It was like leaving the short field without a man. Irwin would be cheaper to the Boston club were he paid five times as much as he is now, with the proviso that he did not in the field—except to bring a bat.”

Irwin was released by the Boston Reds on July 16, and immediately signed by the Louisville Colonels.

“He Fairly Flew at me”

Roger Connor jumped the New York Giants and signed with the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association in November of 1891. Before he left New York, he sought out Sam Crane, former major leaguer and reporter for The New York Press, to settle a score in “an uptown saloon.”

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Connor

Crane told the story in the pages of The Press:

“I know Roger fully believes what he says. I had a short séance with him recently and was unfortunate enough to strike Roger in a very unamiable mood. Talk about the effect of a red flag on a mad bill.”

According to Crane, when Connor approached him in the bar:

“He fairly flew at me and threatened to knock seven kinds of daylight out of me, or any other baseball reporter that ever lived, in as many minutes.”

The New York Herald said Connor had also threatened George Erskine Stackhouse of The New York Tribune and Charles Mathison of The New York Sun.

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Crane

Crane continued the story:

“His big form loomed over me and his brawny fist made belligerent hieroglyphics before my face a very vivid recollection came to me of what an effect that same fist on the features of (his former New York teammate) Ed Caskin several years ago. I would bet even money just at that stage of the game that he could lick John L. Sullivan in a punch, and I decided to forego, for some time at least, all further thought of making any arguments with him.”

Crane suggested that those who called him “a gentleman” and congratulated him on staying above the fray and not getting in a fight with Connor were not considering Connor’s point of view:

“Roger laid great stress on the fact that I once said, ‘he hadn’t a heart as big as a pea.’”

Connor was assigned to the Philadelphia Phillies after the American Association folded.

“He Never Gave the Game Enough”

The Detroit News said during the spring of 1912, Hughie Jennings told young players as the Tigers trained in Louisiana that to be successful a player “must breathe baseball, eat baseball, play baseball, and sleep baseball.”

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Hugh Jennings

Jennings said four of his players—Ty Cobb, Donie Bush. Sam Crawford, and Del Gainer—“devote their entire time and attention” to baseball.

“The man who is successful is the man who trains himself to his work and keeps his mind on it.”

Jennings then mentioned his only exception to that rule:

“In my career in the game I have known but one really good player who could place baseball second to other things. That man is Bill Dahlen, now manager of the Brooklyn team. Dahlen played the ponies and indulged in other outside affairs. He never practiced. He never gave the game enough when off the field, and he always reached the clubhouse two or three minutes before starting time. Sometimes the game had to wait till Bill took his position at short.”

Jennings, who was Dahlen’s teammate in 1899-1900 in Brooklyn said:

“If Dahlen had devoted his entire time to baseball he would have been the greatest infielder of all time. He could take a grounder on either side of him while in motion and throw without hesitating a moment. He could smash the ball to any part of the lot and bunt perfectly. He was a great baserunner. There was no more brilliant fielder.”

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Bill Dahlen

Jennings acknowledged that his former teammate was not the “greatest of all time,” but:

“He should have been.”

“Who’s the Greatest Ballplayer that Ever Lived?”

13 Mar

In the 19th Century, conversations about baseball in hotel lobbies

The Chicago Daily News shared one such discussion in 1896:

“’Who’s the greatest ballplayer that ever lived?’ Demanded the old ball crank of the gathering at the hotel.  And there were, straightaway, almost as many opinions as there were gentlemen in the party.”

A man in town on business said:

“To my mind, Anson outranks them all.  When you consider the wonderful grip which Anse has retained on the sport for all these twenty-five tears, when you take into consideration his qualifications as a player and as a man, his work as a leader and a general, the great batting he has always done every little point that can be recalled about both uncle and the game, I can’t see where any other player, living or dead, ranks with Anson.”

anson

 Anson

The paper said there were murmurs, then the night clerk weighed in:

“Mike Kelly was his ideal.

“‘Poor old Mike,’ said he, ‘had baseball genius and brilliancy to an extent never paralleled.  He had the mind to originate, the ability to execute.  He was, in the hearts of the masses, what John L. Sullivan was to pugilism.  Remember the tricks he worked, the batting and the base running he did, and the way in which he filled every position—remember only his methods of play, if you will, and then see if any one can compare with poor dead King Kel!’

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 Kelly

The “theatrical man” in the group said:

“’Bill Lange is the best that ever came down the road.  Who is there who does not like to see Lange play ball? What other player in the league, taking batting, base running and fielding into account, is as of as much value as Lange? What club would not eagerly give him the best position and the best salary it could command?  Bill Lange is destined to leave a mark in baseball history as deep as that Mike Kelly made, and future generations will speak of him as they do of Kelly now.’”

Then the “Old baseball crank” spoke up:

“’To my mind gentlemen, the greatest player of them all was Charlie Ferguson of Philadelphia.  There was a man who never realized how good he was.  When it came to effective playing, in any position, Ferguson was the man who could step into the gap so well that the regular man would never be even missed.  He could kill the ball, he was fast on the bases, and we all know he could pitch.  And the head that Charlie Ferguson wore was as good a head as ever decorated any player’s shoulders.  I saw hundreds of great players before Ferguson came, I have seen hundreds since he died, but I never to my mind at least, have seen his equal.’”

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Ferguson

The assembled men said the paper, “remembered the time of Ferguson,” with “nods and mutterings of assent,” thinking of Ferguson’s four seasons in Philadelphia—he died just 12 days after his 25th birthday in 1888.

 “Jim Hart, who ought to be a good judge of players, thinks Ferguson the greatest that the world has ever known. A canvass of ball cranks would probably show sentiments about equally divided between Ferguson and Mike Kelly.”

The paper concluded that there were, and would be, “few such popular idols” as Kelly and Ferguson:

“The increased batting has, queer as it may seem, done away with hero worship.  In the old days hits were few and the man who could step up and kill the ball was a popular king.  Nowadays the fact that nearly everybody is apt to hit takes away the individuality and accompanying romance of the great isolated sluggers.”

The paper said Lange was one of the few contemporary players who “comes as near being the subject of hero worship,” as players in previous years and that there were only players who had that impact in their own cities:

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Lange

“(Jesse) Burkett might be worshipped in Cleveland for his grand batting, but is handicapped by morose, unsociable ways.

‘(Jimmy) McAleer’s fielding would make him an idol, but his batting is pitifully light.  Baltimore’s great hero is Hughey Jennings, and the cranks treat him as though he owned the town. Brooklyn has no heroes.  There is nobody on the Boston nine whom the crowd raves over, even Hugh Duffy having lost his grip.”

“Eddie Burke and Charlie (Dusty) Miller have great followings in Cincinnati.  Louisville dotes on (Charlie) Dexter and Fred Clarke.  New York is idolless.  Philadelphia gives ovations to the whole team as a matter of principle but singles out no player.  Pittsburgh is the same way.  There is nobody at St. Louis or Washington whom the crowds adore.”