Tag Archives: Indiana-Illinois League

“Baseball is full of Authenticated instances of Woman’s Influence over it”

27 Jul

In 1905, The Washington Evening Star said:

“The unwritten history of baseball is full of authenticated instances of woman’s influence over it…Not infrequently a sweetheart’s or a wife’s objections to the game cause a star to forsake the diamond for work for which he is not fitted in the least degree, and at which he makes only a living at best.

Bill Lange is a case in point.  Up to (1899) he was one of the best ground coverers in the profession, and as a batsman had a high average.  From the day of his wedding, his wife kept at him to leave the game, urging him to take the step on the grounds of personal safety.  Bill reasoned with her and told her time and again that he knew of no other job for which he could make $4,500 in six months.  But Mrs. Lange was obdurate, and so, when his last season closed Bill ruefully announced to his manager that the diamond would never know him again.  And it has not, though he has annually been tempted by numerous flattering offers. ‘I have given my word to my wife,’ he says simply, ‘and so long as she feels as she does about the game I shall not take up the bat.’”

 

Bill Lange

Bill Lange

Lange never played another professional game

The Evening Star said that occasionally a wife would change her mind, and allow her husband to play professional ball; George “Del” Howard was one such player.

Howard—under his middle name Elmer—was a member of the Mattoon, Illinois team in the Indiana-Illinois League in 1899.

“Howard took as his wife the daughter of a prominent citizen of a central western town.  They had scarcely settled down after their honeymoon when Mrs. Howard began pleading with her husband to give up the game, naming as a reason that she had a strong dislike for it.  She was so insistent that finally Howard reluctantly severed connections with the game, and secured employment selling agricultural implements.

“But he did not give up all hope of returning to the diamond.  During the months that he was engaged in telling farmers of the merits of his particular make of wheat drills and mowers he spent his spare time endeavoring to get his wife interested in baseball. At first it was hard and slow work, and had to be accomplished diplomatically, but little by little he progressed to the point where Mrs. Howard would accompany him to games.  Then Howard explained every play made, told her about the players, introduced them to her, and made her acquainted with the woman folk of the players who were in the grandstand.

“At the end of four tedious years his work of education bore fruit.  Mrs. Howard came to him one day, confessed that she had changed her mind about baseball, declared that she would rather have him on the diamond than an agent for farm implements, and further caused him great joy by appending that he couldn’t get their quickly enough to suit her.“

After a five-year absence from baseball, Howard signed with the Omaha Rangers in the Western League in 1904.  He hit .316 in 144 games (finishing second to William “Bunk” Congalton of the Colorado Springs Millionaires for the batting title) and was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies.

Del Howard

Del Howard

Traded to Pittsburgh for three players, the 27-year-old Howard made his major league debut for the Pirates on April 15, 1905, in Cincinnati with his wife Jessie in the stands.

Howard’s rookie season was his best; he hit .292 in 123 games with the Pirates.  He played in the major leagues for five seasons and was a member of the 1907 and ’08 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.

Howard played and managed in the minor leagues through 1922. His wife Jesse died in California in 1933.  He died on his 79th birthday on December 24, 1956.

Blame it on the Uniform

3 Jan

Justin Titus “Pug” Bennett could hit.  After playing baseball at tiny Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois, in 1895 and ’96, there’s no record of him again until 1899 when, at 25-years-old, he played with the Indiana-Illinois League franchise that began the season in Kokomo, Indiana and finished in Mattoon, Illinois.

Pug Bennett circa 1904

Pug Bennett circa 1904

Back-to-back .300 seasons with the Nashville Volunteers in the Southern Association and the Seattle Siwashes in the Pacific Coast League earned the 32-year-old his first shot in the Major leagues.  The Bennett hit .248 for two seasons with the Saint Louis Cardinals and returned to the minor leagues with Seattle, now in the Northwestern League.

Bennett returned to his old ways for two seasons, hitting .305 and a league leading .314 in 1908 and 1909.

1910 was not going well for Bennett, the perennial .300 hitter was hovering around .240 all season.

The Spokane-Spokesman Review provided an explanation late in the season:

“(Bennett) claims the white uniform worn by the umpires is the principal stumbling block in the way of batting averages this year.  Bennett says the light suits shade the white ball and make any pitcher with a crossfire or a sharp break much more effective.”

Bennett might have had a point.  There was not a single hitter in the Northwestern League with more than 50 at bats who hit .300;  Lou Nordyke led the league with a .290 average.

The following year the umpires’ uniforms were changed.  Ten players hit over .300 and Art Bues led the league with a .352 average.  The 37-year-old Bennett, with the Vancouver Beavers, rebounded with a .300 season.

Pug Bennet, t-206 card with Vancouver

Pug Bennet, t-206 card with Vancouver

Bennett continued playing in the Northwestern League until 1917.  He lived in Washington until his death in 1935.