Tag Archives: International Association

Tug Arundel

16 Nov

Twenty-one years before catcher Gabby Street caught a baseball dropped. From the Washington Monument, another catcher attempted it with less success.

When news of Street’s feat was reported in 1908, Oliver Romeo Johnson, who had been a sportswriter for The Indianapolis News in 1887, recalled the circumstances:

“On one of our eastern trips we followed the Chicagos in Washington, and while there the catching of a ball dropped from the monument was much talked of, because one of the Chicago players was said to have done it a few days before.  My impression is that it was (Cap) Anson himself, although it might have been Silver Flint.

“One of our team, John Thomas ‘Tug’ Arundel, a catcher, said it was ‘dead easy’ to catch a ball dropped from the monument, and a bet was made on it.  A crowd of us went out to see the attempt.  Arundel wore catcher’s gloves—which were not so thick as they now are—on both hands and put layers of cotton under them. He tried eight or ten times to catch the ball…but failed every time, and after he had battered up his hands so he could not play for some days he gave it up.”

Tug Arundel

Tug Arundel

Several days after Johnson’s recollection appeared in The News, Horace Fogel, who had been Arundel’s manager with the Hoosiers and dropped the balls from the monument, weighed in.  Fogel, then sports editor of The Philadelphia Telegraph, disputed the claim that Anson or Flint had caught a ball and said of his catcher’s attempt:

“Arundel, if I remember alright, only succeeded in getting his hands on one ball and it almost tore them off at the wrists. Tug explained afterward that he had not figured on ‘A ball weighing a ton coming from that distance.’ The other balls, a dozen or more, I tossed out to him, Arundel missed, some by fifty feet, he misjudged them that badly.”

Horace Fogel

Horace Fogel

Bad judgment was a staple of Arundel’s career which was marred by arrests for drinking and fighting.    He appeared in just 76 major league games over four seasons from 1882 to 1888 and played for at least 16 different professional clubs during his 10 seasons in professional ball, often quickly wearing out his welcome.

The Memphis Appeal said he was:

“(T)he handsomest player in the profession, who would sooner fight than eat.”

The Washington Critic summed up the opinion many had of Arundel when he was acquired by the Nationals in 1888:

“’Tug’ Arundel has been secured by the Washington management, as last week’s reports indicated he would be.  He is not popular here.  However, it is to be hoped that Manager (Ted) Sullivan can keep him muzzled.”

After his release, when it was rumored he might join the Detroit wolverines, The Detroit Free Press told readers:

“Detroit wouldn’t have Tug Arundel under any circumstances.”

After every incident, Arundel pledged to change his ways.

After an 1887 drunken melee in Indianapolis, which resulted in the arrests of Arundel along with teammates Jerry Denny and John (Patsy) Cahill, he told The Indianapolis News he took “a total abstinence pledge for six months.”

In the spring of 1889, he was arrested in his hometown, Auburn, New York twice. First for assaulting a police officer and then for a bar fight with another former major leaguer, and Auburn native, Mike MansellThe Auburn Bulletin said Arundel “Got the worst of it.” A month after the fight, The Sporting Life said Arundel “writes he is in fine shape and looking for an engagement.”

In 1890, the 28-year-old Arundel was nearing the end of the line.  He signed with the Saginaw-Bay City (Michigan) club in the International Association and told The Detroit Free Press that he was serious about sobriety this time:

“I lost splendid situations and almost ruined my reputation through liquor, but, sir, I realize the baneful effects of over-indulgence in intoxicating liquors and I have resolved never to touch another drop.  I have kept aloof from it for the past three months and am now in as good condition as I ever was in my life.”

It is unclear whether, or for how long, Arundel kept his last public pledge.  He appeared to have played fairly well behind the plate for Saginaw-Bay City.  Although he hit just .152, The Free Press, which three years earlier assured readers that Arundel was not wanted on the city’s National League club, was pleased when he signed with the Detroit Wolverines of the Northwestern League:

“(Arundel) has faced the greatest pitchers on the field and held them all.  Arundel is a good trainer for young ones, and did good work while with the Hyphens in 1890.”

Whether because of drinking or injuries (The Free Press and The Detroit News said he suffered from “Split fingers” several times throughout the season) Arundel was finished after the 1891 season, at age 29.

Arundel returned to Auburn and was eventually committed to the Willard State Hospital for the Chronic Insane in New York where he died in 1912.

“The Phillies were Somewhat Crippled by the absence of Roy Thomas”

14 Sep

Charles “Chief” Zimmer was acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies to play for and manage the team in 1903; it was assumed he couldn’t do worse than Bill Shettsline who led the team to a 56-81 record the previous season.  He did.

Unlike nearly every other “Chief” in 19th Century baseball, Zimmer had no Native American blood and various stories have circulated as to the origin of the nickname.  His 1949 obituary said:

“In 1886 he joined Poughkeepsie as captain and manager…”since we were fleet of foot we were called Indians.  As I was the head man of the Indians somebody began to call me “Chief.”  It stuck.”

The Pittsburgh Press said in 1904:

“Zimmer received his sobriquet as ‘Chief’ because of his facial resemblance to an Indian, although he is a German.”

Zimmer was one of the best catchers in baseball for more than a decade.  He had brief trials in the National League with the Detroit Wolverines and American Association with the New York Metropolitans from 1884 and 1886, and was playing for the Rochester Maroons in the International Association in 1887 when his contract was purchased for $500 by the Cleveland Blues of the American Association.

zimmer

Chief Zimmer

Zimmer was the starting catcher for the Blues when the team moved to the National League and became the Cleveland Spiders in 1889, and remained in Cleveland until 1899.  In 1890, he caught 111 straight games; which was the Major League record for 19 years.

By January of 1903 the 43-year-old’s best days were behind when Philadelphia acquired him on waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates and named Zimmer manager.

After a 2-2 start, the Phillies never saw .500 again and Zimmer quickly lost control of his team.

The team went into June with an 11-26 record.  Things got worse that month in Cincinnati when Zimmer put the team’s captain,  centerfielder and leadoff man Roy Thomas into the lineup–Thomas was  a devout Christian who did not want to play on Sundays.  The Philadelphia Record said:

“Manager Zimmer had some trouble getting Roy Thomas to play in the Sunday game, he claiming that he had not contracted to play on Sunday, and that he had no desire to break the Sabbath.  In the end, however, Zimmer prevailed and Thomas went into the game.”

The Philadelphia Times said Zimmer talked to the team’s new owner, James Potter, who was reported to have said:

“So he won’t play today, eh?  Well, then place him on the bench today, tomorrow and for the remainder of the season, without pay.”

Thomas relented, but told reporters before the game::

“I’m playing under protest.  There’s nothing in my contract that exempts me from playing on Sunday, but when I signed it I had no idea that the Philadelphia Club would change hands and abandon old precepts.”

The following Sunday, with the Phillies in Chicago, The Associated Press (AP) said:

“Thomas made his protest doubly strong and backed it up by staying out of uniform that day.”

After Philadelphia’s 4 to 2 loss, The Chicago Tribune said:

“The Phillies were somewhat crippled by the absence of Roy Thomas who does not like the new ownership of the club, because it believes in Sunday games. which Roy does not.”

As a result The AP said,  other players on the slumping team suddenly found religion.

“Now several other members of the team declare that they are as much opposed to playing baseball on Sunday as is Thomas and that their religious scruples are just as strong as his.”

The article quoted an unnamed member of the Phillies:

“(I)f the club insists on showing partiality to Thomas the others who also object to playing on Sunday, but who are willing to help out the club, will insist on the same privileges.”

Zimmer faced a full-blown revolt as they prepared to embark on a 19 game road trip:

“All of which portends a pleasant trip in the West for Zimmer when he starts out again.”

The Philadelphia papers did not continue to pursue the story during the Phillies’ 4-15  road trip, but it seems that for the remainder of 1903 Thomas backed off of his demand as he appears in box scores for several Sunday games in the final three months of the season.

Roy Thomas

Roy Thomas

The Phillies limped to a 49-86 seventh place finish, seven less victories than the previous season under Shettsline.  Zimmer was dismissed at the end of the season and was replaced by Hugh Duffy.

Thomas’ Sunday request was granted the following season, with manager Duffy making most of his appearances as a player in 1904 on Sundays when his centerfielder took the day off.  There is no record of teammates complaining about Thomas’ Sunday schedule under Duffy’s management.

Regardless of the team’s new-found harmony, the Phillies under Duffy finished 52-100.  Potter sold the team after the 1904 season to Bill Shettsline.

A shorter version of this story was posted 12-18-2012.

 

Tragic Exits 2

5 May

Charles Rapp

Charles “Adonis” Rapp was a left-handed pitcher (he also played first base and outfield) who began his career with the Austin Senators in the Texas League in 1898.  For the next several years he played for a variety of Midwest based clubs (Fort Wayne, Saginaw, Grand Rapids) in the Interstate and Michigan State Leagues.

Contemporary newspaper reports say he was also a member of the South Bend Greens in the Central League, but he is not listed on any surviving rosters; he was also said to have been “tried out by Milwaukee, when that city was in the old Western League (1903).”

Rapp’s trail goes cold after the 1903 season until 1909.  Rapp was living in his hometown of South Bend, Indiana.  The Indianapolis News reported on May 17:

“Charles Rapp, former ball player, and well known throughout the city, killed his mother late Saturday and then committed suicide.  The weapons used were a hammer, a dull paring knife and a small pair of shears.  It is said that Rapp had a tendency towards insanity, that the tendency had been marked during the last few days and that he undoubtedly deranged when he attacked his mother.

“Rapp did not die until several hours after the double crime had been committed and after he had been removed from the Rapp home to the St. Joseph County Jail.  Before death came, and in reply to a query about the crime, Rapp said: ‘I tried to get the whole family.’

“The last person to see Mrs. Rapp alive and the first one to discover the body of the woman and the dying son was Charlotte Benz.  Mrs. Benz had spent the day at the Rapp home and left the house late in the afternoon…On her return she stopped at the Rapp place, entering by the rear door…and then suddenly a sickening sight met her gaze.  Lying in a pool of blood at one side of the sitting-room were Rapp and the body of the mother.  The heads were close together and as Mrs. Benz entered the young man cried out: ‘Get out of here, Lottie, get out of here.’  It was evidently his intention to kill the Benz woman, but Rapp was unable to move from loss of blood.”

The Associated Press said of the incident:

 “Until Rapp fell a victim to the liquor habit he was one of the most popular young men in the city.”

Henry Long

Henry Long was born in Chicago in 1870 or 1871 (cemetery and death records disagree), he was the younger brother of  Herman who had a 16-year big league career.

Herman Long

Herman Long

Little is known about Henry’s early life, or when exactly he began playing professional baseball.  Based on newspaper reports he appears to be the “Long” who played with the Battle Creek Adventists in the Michigan State League in 1895.

Before the 1896 season he was signed by the Lewiston team in the New England League.  The Lewiston Daily Sun said:

“Manager (Michael) Garrity has signed pitcher Henry Long of Chicago, a brother of Herman Long of the Bostons, and is said to be a good pitcher, a hard hitter and a good all-around man.”

Long didn’t last in Lewiston, he was 0-2 in just three games before he was released.  Long then appeared in one game for the Shamokin Actives in the Pennsylvania State League, and then joined the Hagerstown Lions in the Cumberland Valley League.

The right-handed pitcher started seven games for the Lions and was 4-3 with a 1.29 ERA.

On July 10 he missed the team’s train for a game in Hanover, Maryland.  The Philadelphia Times said he attempted to hop a freight train and fell; his right arm was crushed under the wheels.  His arm was amputated “but Long sank rapidly and died in the hospital” in Hagerstown.  While contemporary news reports said the body was to be shipped back to Chicago, where it would be “received by his brother Herman,” he was instead buried in Maryland

Matt Barry

In 1900 The Sporting Life said Matthew “Matt” Barry had been “the first player from Rhode Island to receive money for playing ball.”

Information on where he played is sketchy—he was the Rhode Islands in the New England League in 1877 and Springfield (MA) of the International Association in 1878–but beyond that, there are few references to where he played during his career.

The Providence News-Democrat called Barry, who was born in Providence in 1850, a “well-known ballplayer and one of the best-known members of the sporting fraternity in the state.”

Barry eventually returned to his hometown, Providence where he operated the Empire Saloon, on Empire Street.

After the turn of the century, Barry suffered a series of financial setbacks.   On August 30, 1907 The News Democrat said:

 “(Barry) attempted suicide by inhaling illuminating gas in his room in the Essex house, at 23 Burrill Street.”

Barry was discovered by the owner of the house:

 “The room was locked, but the door was forced, and then Barry was seen unconscious on the bed with gas streaming from an open unlighted jet…as Barry’s usual custom was to sleep with all the windows open , the fact that they were closed , indicated that he had prepared to take his life.”

He was taken to Rhode Island, where he died on September 2.

Barry’s friends disputed the story that he had taken his own life, claiming his “financial embarrassments” had been overstated and that he “was in better condition financially than he had been for years.”  His friends instead said Barry, who “had been troubled with insomnia” and took morphine to sleep, turning off the lights “at that time the morphine would begin to get in its work,” had accidentally turned on the gas when he meant to turn off the light “which was on the same chandelier.”

The cause of death was never officially determined.

“To be Hissed and Hooted at in the East is too much”

20 Jun

In 1886  Thomas Jefferson “Tom” York retired after a fifteen-year career.   As a 20-year-old he joined the Troy Haymakers in the National Association in 1871, he was with the Hartford Dark Blues for the National League’s inaugural season in 1876, and finished with the Baltimore Orioles in the American Association; he also served two brief stints as a player/manager with the Providence Grays.

York, who suffered from rheumatism, had considered retiring before the 1894 season after the Cleveland Blues sold him to the Orioles, but The Baltimore American said he was induced to continue playing with a $5000 salary and “the scorecard and cushion (concession)” at Oriole Park.  After hitting just .233 in 1884, he was only able to play in 22 games the following season before calling it quits.

Tom York, middle row, far right, with the 1876 Hartford Dark Blues

Tom York, middle row, far right, with the 1876 Hartford Dark Blues

Just before the beginning of the 1886 season York was hired as an American Association umpire.  After the May 22 game in Baltimore which the Orioles lost 2-1 to the Louisville Colonels, The Baltimore Sun said:

“(York) received a dispatch yesterday ordering him to Brooklyn.  Instead of going he telegraphed his resignation.  His reason for doing so was the abuse he received from some of the spectators of Saturday’s game.  In fact, he was nearly equal to that of John Kelly, ‘the king of umpires.’  He declared (Pete) Browning’s hit near the foul line a fair hit.  He was in the best position to know, but, as it was made at a critical point, some of the audience objected, and York came in for pretty severe abuse.”

The paper said York also made a “questionable decision,” when he “evidently forgot that it was not necessary to touch a runner in a force,” and incorrectly called a runner safe at second:

“York became discouraged and the Association lost a good umpire.”

Within weeks York became a National League umpire; that didn’t last long either.

On June 30, the Kansas City Cowboys lost at home to the New York Giants 11-5, The Chicago Inter Ocean said York “was escorted from the grounds by the police on account of disapproval manifested over his umpiring.”

Less than a month later, after York was “roundly hissed” at the Polo Grounds after making “some very close decisions against the New Yorks,” in a July 22 game against the Philadelphia Quakers, he sent a telegram to National League President Nicholas Young resigning his position.  York told The New York Times:

“I have been badly treated in the West, but to be hissed and hooted at in the East is too much.  I have often heard that an umpire’s position was a thankless one, but I have never realized it before.  It’s bad enough to be hissed and called a thief, but in the West when the local club loses an umpire in fortunate if he escapes with his life.  Of all the cities in the league Kansas City is the worst.”

York said there was another incident Kansas City the day before he was escorted from the field by police:

“On June 29 when the New York men beat the Cowboys 3 to 2 (William “Mox”) McQuery hit a ball over the fence, but it was foul by 25 feet, and I declared it so.  After the game Vice President (Americus) McKim, of the Kansas City club wanted to know how much money I would get from the New Yorks fir That decision.  I remarked that I received my salary from the league and did not take a penny from the New Yorks or any other none.  Then he grew furious, and said he would end my days.  This in conjunction with other things incidental to the life of an umpire has made me tired of the business, and I intend to make room for some other victim.”

Despite quitting both leagues within two months, The Baltimore American said the American Association sent York a telegram in two months later “asking him if he wanted an appointment as umpire.”  The paper said “York replied no, emphatically, as his past experience was sufficient to justify his remaining at home.”

York remained at home for the rest of the season and the next, but while he never worked as an umpire again he returned to baseball in 1888 as manager of the Albany Governors in the International Association.  Over the next decade he was connected with several East Coast minor leagues, including the Connecticut State League, the New York State League and the Eastern Association, as a manager and executive.

York retired to New York where he became one of the many former players employed at the Polo Grounds at the behest of manager John McGraw.  In 1922 The New York Telegraph described his position:

“York has the pleasant post of trying to keep the actors, tonsorial artists and plumbers out of the press stand.  It is old tom who examines your pink paste board and decides whether you are eligible for a seat in the press cage.”

Tom York, 1922

Tom York, 1922

In February of 1936, as preparations were being made for York, along with James “Deacon” White, George Wright, Tommy Bond,  to be honored that summer at the  All-Star Game  as the last four surviving players from the National League’s first season, the former player, manager, executive and umpire died in New York.

The Ross Barnes Case

2 May

Charles Roscoe “Ross” Barnes was one of the greatest players of his era, and largely forgotten today.

Barnes was a member Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stocking teams in the National Association from 1871-1875 and won the National League’s first batting title hitting .429 in 1876 as a member the Chicago White Stockings.

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes

Teammates and contemporaries had no doubt about how good he was.

“Orator Jim” O’Rourke called Barnes “the greatest second baseman the game ever saw.”  In 1896, A.G. Spalding “declared Ross Barnes to have been the greatest ballplayer in America,” and Tim Murnane said of Barnes:

“His left-handed stops of hard-hit balls to right field were the prettiest stops ever made on the Boston grounds. As a base-runner no man of the present day is his equal, and as a batsman he must be reckoned very high.”

1871 Red Stockings. Spalding, standing second from left, Barnes, standing far right, O'Rourke, seated far left.

1871 Red Stockings. Spalding, standing second from left, Barnes, standing far right, O’Rourke, seated far left.

Some of Barnes’ success was due to the rule at the time regarding  balls that rolled foul in the infield, The Sporting Life said:

“It was Barnes who was the first to master the fair-foul hit. He was able to drive the ball so that it would land fair and then swing in foul just outside of the reach of the third baseman.”

Barnes became ill in 1877, although he started the season with the White Stockings, The Chicago Inter Ocean said in early May “he is now, and has been all spring, very sick with few signs of improvement.”  After a slow start, Barnes was out for more than three months before returning in late August.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“Barnes made his reappearance with the Whites, and played his old position at second base,  but he showed evidence of physical weakness and lack of practice,”

Barnes appeared in only 22 games, hitting .272.

The second baseman,  who was earning $2500 for the season, and as was often the case in 19th Century baseball,  was not paid for the time he missed.  Early in 1878 Barnes filed a lawsuit against the White Stockings to collect more than $1,000 the team did not pay him while he was ill.

Cook County Judge Mason B. Loomis heard the case, which The Inter Ocean said:

“(I)s a new one in the experience of ball clubs, and the result is looked forward to with some interest  in sporting circles.”

The result was not favorable for ballplayers.  Judge Loomis ruled against Barnes, The Tribune said:

“This makes clear the point that players are not legally entitled to wages when laid off by sickness.”

While some owners did pay players during time missed due to illness and injury, teams had the right, after 15 days, to suspend any player without pay; and the legal precedent established in Barnes’ case remained until 1916 when the “injury clause” was rescinded.

Barnes attempted to return to the White Stockings in 1878, but The Tribune said he “has never fully recovered,” from the illness, and was released.

He played with and managed the London Tecumsehs in the International Association in 1878, then made two comeback attempts with the Cincinnati Reds in 1879, and the Boston Red Stockings in 1881, his career was over at age 31.

Barnes retired to Chicago and was working for Peoples Gas, Light and Coke Co. when he died in 1915 at age 65.

“Phil Powers Seems to be Dead to the World”

15 Apr

Phillip J. Powers again left the National League umpire staff at the close of the 1888 season.  In 1889 he returned to London, Ontario to manage the Tecumseh’s, quit in May to become an umpire in the International Association, and then resigned from that job to return to the National League as an umpire in July.

Phil Powers

Phil Powers

The Detroit Free Press said the former and current National League arbiter “would never be a success as an umpire.”

Within weeks he was again at the center of controversy.

After the Boston Beaneaters beat the Philadelphia Quakers on July 25, The Philadelphia Inquirer placed the blame for the home team’s loss squarely on the shoulders of one man:

“Anyone who saw Phil Powers umpire yesterday would set him down as incompetent or dishonest.  While he is neither of these he gave a combination of glaring decisions which robbed the Philadelphia club of the game…It was a hard game to lose and it was no wonder that nearly every one of the 6,7000 spectators joined in hooting at Powers.”

The Inquirer would continue to criticize Powers for the remainder of his career; a few sample quotes.

From 1890:

“Umpire Phil Powers seems to be dead to the world.”

From 1891:

“The rank work of umpire Powers.”

From 1892:

“Umpire Phil Powers has been unanimously elected a member of the Society for the Promotion of Riots.”

The Sporting Life joined the chorus and derided as a “decided detriment to the game,” his work in the Giants-White Stockings series in early August:

“Mr. Powers is not a competent umpire…He does not know the rules, and judging from his decisions on the bases his eyesight is certainly impaired.”

 The Chicago Daily News quoted “Cap” Anson saying Powers “ didn’t know his business.”

Powers did have one defender.  “Orator” Jim O’Rourke, of the New York Giants, wrote a long letter that was reprinted in The Sporting Life, and other papers, making the case for the “High opinion in which Mr. Powers is held by the majority of professionals”, and using the opportunity to heap scorn on Anson:

“No man ever filled the position to better advantage and with more honor and credit to himself.   Mr. Powers is conscientious, faithful and absolutely fearless in voicing his convictions; neither can there be any doubt of his intentions to discharge impartially the irksome duties which the office entail upon him.

“Anson’s hate of such a man is only limited by the capacity of his nature for hate. Now why is this so? Because this cross-grain brow-beater, with the swaggering air of a Mexican bandit, who is so susceptible to becoming red-headed In the presence of umpires and spectators, is forced by this honest referee to have the result of a game settled by the contesting clubs upon its merits and not by his disgusting methods, which have made him the laughing-stock of all players, not even excepting his own.”

Jim O'Rourke--Defender of Powers

Jim O’Rourke–Defender of Powers

Despite O’Rourke’s defense, the criticisms of Powers continued, but he managed to stay on the National League staff in 1890 and ’91.

The Sporting Life updated readers about the umpire through the 1891 season:

“(Powers) has been catching it along the Western line from spectators, players and reporters.”

“(The Pirates) ready to meet Anson’s team to the call of Umpire Phil Powers, who has never pleased Pittsburgh’s audiences”

“Western critics are unanimously of the opinion that Phil Powers argues too much with the players.”

“(Cleveland papers) roasted Phil Powers to their hearts’ content.”

In August of 1891 Powers was released as an umpire by the National League.  He died in New York City in 1914.

A postscript:

A story that has appeared in several books and articles (all citing previous secondary sources) claims Powers pulled a gun on enraged fans in either 1888 or ’89.  While similar stories have been attributed to other umpires (for example umpire Joe Ellick, in 1886, was escorted off the field in Philadelphia by police who drew their weapons to protect him from an angry mob) and there are numerous contemporaneous references to irate fans at games, some with Powers as umpire,  none mention the gun incident.

It is probably a conflation of stories such as Ellick’s and a wire service article that appeared in several newspapers in 1906, shortly after “Buck” Ewing’s death, and described another incident involving Powers and Ewing.

“It was in 1889 that one of the worst rows in the history of baseball was precipitated at Cleveland by “Buck” Ewing.  Phil Powers was umpiring and his weakness whenever a critical decision came up was so apparent that the crowd was on pins and needles as to which way the cat would jump.

“(Jimmy) McAleer hit for two bases.  After he had got (sic) to second, Ewing said something to Powers, and the umpire hesitated a moment and then declared McAleer out for not touching first base…(Powers) was not looking at first when McAleer passed, having turned his head as somebody yelled at him from the opposite side of the field.  This was plainly evident to the crowd, and the moment that the spectators understood why McAleer was out they bolted from the stands and made a rush for the umpire.

“(Powers) took one look at the approaching mob and fled to the players’ clubhouse.  The police cleared the field after a while and Powers was induced to come forth and finish the game, but with police protection on either side of him.”

According to the story (which makes no mention of a gun), Powers later admitted that he had no idea whether McAleer had touched first base and simply took “Ewing’s word for it.”

Jimmy McAleer, called out on Ewing's word

Jimmy McAleer, called out on Ewing’s word

“Leather-Fisted Phil”

12 Apr

“Leather –Fisted Phil” is what Phillip J. Powers was called in his 1914 Associated Press obituary which said:

“(Powers) was famous for his ability to stop the swiftest throws of the league’s star pitchers.”

He most likely earned the nickname in 1877 when, like many other catchers of the era, he began using a small, leather pad on his hand while with the London Tecumsehs of the International Association.

After the London team disbanded in August of 1878 Powers joined the Chicago White Stockings.  According to The Chicago Inter Ocean:

“He is a tall young fellow…He is described as a good catcher, but liable to get hurt, fair at the bat, and a genial man on the grounds.”

Powers would spend parts of seven seasons and 155 games in the National League and American Association with the Boston Red Stockings, Cleveland Blues, Cincinnati Red Stockings and Baltimore Orioles, hitting .180.  In between his engagements as a player Powers was an umpire.

It was as an umpire that he made a name for himself, but it probably wasn’t what he had in mind.  Few umpires, even in an era when members of the “profession” were poorly trained and underpaid, were the target of as much criticism as Powers.

In 1881 he began the season as a National League umpire.  By July he had become a target in several cities,

The Detroit News said:

“Phil Powers has acquired reputation enough in the last two weeks to last him a lifetime.  The erroneous umpiring he did here, people were inclined to regard as errors of judgment, but to say the least his ‘mistakes’ have become so numerous that his utter unfitness for the position he holds is unquestioned.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer took the criticism even further:

“Powers is said to have been offered $150 to play ball (for the Detroit Wolverines) for one month, but refused it.  As an umpire he cannot, if square, earn more than $15 or $20 a week and expenses; and must take the chance at that of being chosen an umpire.  He preferred to be an umpire.  Several of his decisions on Saturday were grossly unfair, and, what is worse, they bore heavily on Cleveland.  They were so one-sided that many of the spectators believed he deliberately purposed to give the game to Troy.”

Despite the ill feelings in Cleveland, Powers joined the Blues in August and caught five games for the team after Michael “Doc” Kennedy was injured and John Clapp was “called away by an illness in his family.”   He finished the season with the New York Metropolitans in the Eastern Championship Association.

Powers again became a full-time player from 1882-1885, and was part of the Red Stockings American Association championship team in 1882.  He was released by Cincinnati in July of 1885, signed with the Baltimore Orioles and was again released the following month.

1882reds

1882 Cincinnati Red Stockings, Phil Powers standing 2nd from left

Powers was signed by the St. Louis Browns in the spring of 1886, but released before the beginning of the season, and was added to the National League umpiring staff in August.  He again worked as an umpire through the 1887 season, left to return to London, Ontario to manage the Tecumsehs in the International Association, but again returned to the National League as an umpire in August of 1888.   He came back just in time to find himself in the middle of a controversy involving two Hall of Famers.

New York Giants catcher/captain William “Buck” Ewing was hit on the wrist by a ball during a game with the White Stockings in Chicago.  In 1888 the opposing team’s captain had to agree that an injury was serious to necessitate a substitution; Chicago’s “Cap” Anson said he did not agree to a substitution when backup catcher “Big Bill” Brown entered the game in the 6th inning.  Anson appealed to the umpire, and according to The Chicago Inter Ocean, “(Powers) said that Captain Ewing was not so badly hurt that he could not play.”

After a heated argument, during which The Inter Ocean said Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner,” Powers declared the game “forfeited to Chicago by a score of 9 to 0.”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Powers had been involved in a similar situation in 1886, refusing to allow Philadelphia Quakers catcher “Deacon” McGuire to leave a game after an injury.  The Chicago Tribune said Quakers captain Arthur Irwin “told McGuire to catch ‘away back’ (from the plate).” The Tribune said Irwin’s actions created a “scene” and “pandemonium reigned,” until Anson agreed to allow Philadelphia to replace McGuire.  White Stockings President A.G. Spalding “preferred charges against umpire Powers” for losing control of the game.

The substitution rule was changed in 1891, putting an end to controversies regarding the replacement of injured players.

But controversies involving Powers continued.  More on Monday.

Fall from Grace

24 Oct

Grayson S. “Gracie” Pierce played parts of three seasons in the major leagues and was a National League umpire selected to preside over the final game of the 1886 championship series.  It went downhill from there.

Pierce was born in New York City in 1860.  Nearly every contemporaneous newspaper account referred to him as “Grace,” not “Gracie.”

Grayson Pierce

Pierce hit .186 playing for five different teams in the American Association and National League during his brief big league career; he was only slightly more successful during his single minor league season playing with the Hartford Babies and Binghamton Bingoes in 1885.

During his playing career there are references to Pierce occasionally serving as an umpire in college and professional games, and according to The Cincinnati Commercial he worked as a longshoreman in New Orleans each winter; he became a National League umpire in 1886,

In October of 1886, The Chicago White Stockings of the National League met the St. Louis Browns in the 1886 World Series.  Pierce was selected to serve as umpire in game 5, but according to The St. Louis Globe- Democrat, “(H)e was not on the grounds, as a long search revealed.”

Pierce got his chance the following day—with St. Louis leading the series 3-2, he was again selected to serve as umpire.  It didn’t go well for the White Stockings or Pierce.

Chicago blew a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning and lost the game in the tenth.  Pierce’s performance was universally panned.  The Globe-Democrat said:

 “For Umpire Grace Pierce of the League staff had been selected.  His judgment was weak and his decisions throughout the game gave rather poor satisfaction.”

The Globe-Democrat’s assessment was echoed elsewhere as well.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said that among the crowd:

“There was much loud talking and opinions of Pierce were quite freely expressed.”

Pierce was not a member of the National League staff the following year and instead worked in the International Association.  In September, a variety of charges were made against Pierce by the owner of the Syracuse Stars.  The complaint, filed with the league, said Pierce was drunk at games in Syracuse and Newark, and also claimed as reported by The Rochester Post-Express:

 “(Pierce) had forced Con. Murphy (Cornelius Murphy) to drink against the latter’s will and that he took (Tom) Lynch out of bed at 10 o’clock at night and started out ‘to do the town’  both returning in the morning ‘boiling drunk.’”

Pierce denied the charges saying Murphy concocted the story after Pierce had ejected him from a game and fined him $3 in Newark.  The Post-Express sided with Pierce and said:

“Grace is not a total abstainer, but in his long career on the ball field he has never been charged with drunkenness.  So far as Con. Murphy is concerned it has never been known before that he would have to be forced to take a drink.”

As for the charges regarding the drinking binge with Lynch, Pierce said:

“I was going home I found Lynch drunk in the street, I took him home and put him to bed.”

There is no record of what became of the charges, but Pierce did continue working as an umpire on the East Coast through the 1891 season.

The Sporting Life reported that Pierce did not have a position with a league for the 1892 season.

He disappeared for two years and  was not heard from again until July of 1894 when The New York Times reported:

“(Pierce) formerly a baseball player and umpire, was arraigned before Justice Burke in the Harlem Police Court yesterday morning charged by Barney Brogan a liquor saloon keeper…with stealing $35 from his cash drawer after the saloon was closed.”

Pierce, who The Brooklyn Daily Eagle described as being “in a half-dazed condition” in court,   denied the charges but was unable to post the $1000 bond.  He was sent to Blackwell’s Island (the prison located on what is now Roosevelt Island). He became ill and died at City Hospital on Blackwell’s Island six weeks after his arrest.

City Hospital, Blackwell’s Island

Rooney Sweeney

18 Oct

John “Rooney” Sweeney was better known for his unpredictability and for making  good copy for the 19th Century press than for anything he did on the baseball field.  He remains one of the few Major League players for which a date of death is unknown.

Born in New York City in 1858, Sweeney’s first professional experience was in 1881 in the Eastern Championship Association, a league which only lasted one season.  Like many of the short-lived leagues of baseball’s first 30 years, the ECA had no fixed schedules and no control over player movement making it impossible to keep full rosters.  Sweeney played with four teams in the league: The Brooklyn Atlantics, New York Mets, New York Quick Steps and New York New Yorks.

There’s no record of where Sweeney played the following season, but in 1883 he played for Camden Merritts in the Interstate Association and made his Major League debut with the Baltimore Orioles in the American Association.

Although there is no other source for the claim, a 1910 article on the origin of catcher’s equipment in The Freeman claims that Sweeney was playing on the West Coast in Oakland for part of 1883 and was one of the first catchers to wear a mask, “The day he placed it on his head and went up behind the bat he was ‘Booed’ until he took it off in disgust.  Later the fans began to see the benefits of the wire covering.”

John “Rooney” Sweeney”

Sweeney then played with the Baltimore Monumentals in the Union Association in 1884.  He appeared in three games for the St. Louis Maroons in the National League in 1885 before being released.

According to The Sporting Life:

“When Rooney Sweeney was recently released by (Maroons owner Henry) Lucas he had quite a roll. So before leaving St. Louis, just to blow in a dollar or two, Rooney… hired a fine team of grays and a park wagon from a livery stable.  This was at ten o’clock Thursday morning.  At three o’clock Friday morning, eleven hours behind time, a messenger boy drove the team into the stable. Both the grays looked ready for the bone-yard and the owner at that moment would have sold them for a song. Their whole appearance showed that they had been driven nearly to death.

“Several men in the stable armed themselves with clubs and horsewhips and started out in search of Rooney. He must have been told of their coming, however, for before daybreak he took a train. It was lucky for him that the train started out before the livery men caught him.”

Rooney’s never again appeared in the Majors, but was said to have joined a team in Troy, New York after leaving St. Louis.  In 1887 and ’88 he played in the New England League, and then dropped out of sight, and apparently out of baseball, again.

In 1890, Sweeney signed with the London Tecumsehs in the International Association.

Official records indicate that he only appeared in one game—The Chicago Tribune, on May 12 reported on his debut:

 “Rooney Sweeney’s return to the diamond was not a success.  In his opening game nine bases were stolen on him and he had three errors.”

Things went downhill from there.  Sweeney was released in mid-May but apparently remained in London.  In June, it was reported that he had been arrested for stealing $40 from London pitcher James Maguire.

He received four months in jail and as the judge handed down the sentence The Sporting Life said, “Sweeney wept copiously.”

It was reported that Sweeney spent his time in jail writing letters to friends, one of which found its way into several newspapers.  Regarding the crime he was convicted of, Sweeney wrote:

 “We were all playing poker in a room up here and there was a big pot on the table.   Just then somebody flung a big black cat square on the table.  Of course the cat was scared and in her hurry to get away scattered the chips every which way and knocked down the stacks that were standing in front of the players.   Well, I just grabbed what I thought was my share, the same as any man would do, and it got me into jail, that’s all.”

After his release from jail, there are no records that indicate he ever again played in a professional game, but nearly every article written about him mentions that “He is not averse to playing baseball again.”

In 1892, Sweeney became involved in boxing, claiming he was going to manage fighters.  Just weeks later he was reported he was through with boxing and said:

 “I thought ballplayers was (sic) the ungreatfullest (sic) lot on earth, but they ain’t in it with fighters.”

And of course, the articles said, “Rooney is going to try his hand again at catching.”

Within a year of Sweeney’s foray into the boxing world both of his parents and his brother, New York City police officer Jeremiah Sweeney, died, and it was reported that he had inherited a great deal of property in New York and New Jersey, but of course in between collecting rents he said he’d like to play baseball again.

Sweeney was next heard from in September of 1897 when The Sporting Life said:

 “John Sweeney, a once famous base ball player, more popularly known as “Rooney” Sweeney  is dying in the Hudson Street Hospital as the result of injuries sustained by a fall in Battery Park last night.

“For some past Sweeney has been assisting the boatmen at the Battery…last night, while seated on the excursion pier, he was seized with an epileptic fit, and fell heavily to the ground, sustaining a concussion of the brain. An ambulance was rung up, and he was hurried to the hospital.  Sweeney has played with many of the principal base ball clubs both in the East and West, being at one time a member of the famous Metropolitan nine. He was also identified during his career with the St. Louis and Indianapolis.”

But that might not have been the end for Sweeney.  Three years later it was reported that he was working as a “Fireman on a tug boat.”

Sadly, that’s the last bit of information about the enigmatic Sweeney.  Whether he had succumbed to his illness in 1897 or he recovered and ended up aboard that tug boat we may never know.  No records of his death are available.