Tag Archives: International League

One Minute Talk: High Pockets Kelly

20 Sep

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

George Lange “High Pockets” Kelly was a 20-year-old who hit .158 the previous season in 38 at-bats and was in the process of putting up the identical average in 76 at-bats.  The New York Giants outfielder talked about the pressure of having an uncle who was a famous former player:

High Pockets Kelly

High Pockets Kelly

“It’s sometimes hard to live down a name or a relationship.  I don’t mean to imply when I make this statement that I am sorry I am the nephew of Bill Lange, but you know when you are the nephew of one of the greatest stars the game ever produced you are more apt to be in the public eye while there is a lot more expected of you.

“No matter where I happen to be somebody invariably points me out with the illuminating remark: ‘That’s Bill Lange’s nephew.’  But I’m going to stick to baseball and hope someday to make a name for myself just as did Uncle Bill.”

Uncle Bill

Uncle Bill

Kelly finally became a regular with the Giants after hitting .356 for the Rochester Hustlers in the International league in 1919.  He hit .297 over 16 major league seasons and was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1973.  “Uncle Bill” hit .330 over seven seasons for the Chicago Colts/Orphans before retiring at age 28.

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“The Story of Slattery is the Story of a Jinx”

22 Aug

Joe Slattery believed he was jinxed by an entire city.

Joseph Patrick Slattery was born on March 15 in 1888 or 1889—his WWI and WWII draft registrations give the 1889 date, early census data and his death certificate say 1888—in St. Louis.

He played with semi-pro teams in Mount Vernon and Kewanee, Illinois before playing his first professional game with the Dallas Giants in the Texas League in 1908.  Described by The St. Louis Globe as an excellent fielding first basemen with a weak bat, he lived up to that label during his first two seasons as a pro—hitting .125 and .199 with Dallas, the Brockton Tigers in the New England League.

In 1910, he joined the Rock Island Islanders in the Three-I League and began to hit.  He was hitting .300 in June when The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said:

Joe Slattery, Rock Island, 1910

Joe Slattery, Rock Island, 1910

“(Slattery) may obtain a trial with the Browns.  Early this week, owner (Robert) Hedges dispatched Harry Howell, one of his scouts, to look over Slattery.  It is said that Howell made a favorable report.

“Hedges is not the only club owner who has been tipped off about Slattery.  The Pittsburgh Club has had a scout looking over Slattery while it is understood that the Brooklyn Club has made an offer for his release.”

Slattery immediately went into a slump and finished the season with a .216 average.  With Rock Island again in 1911, Slattery hit .280 and was sold to the Syracuse Stars in The New York State League (NYSL).  Slattery played for three teams in the NYSL from 1912 to 1915, hitting in the .290s.

Then he had his best season as a professional—one that has been incorrectly credited to another player with the same last name.

Slattery was sold to the Montreal Royals in the International League in 1916.  He hit .298 and led the league’s first basemen with a .991 fielding percentage, but most sources incorrectly credit those statistics to John Thomas “Jack” Slattery—who  actually played his last professional game in 1911.

Near the end of the 1916 season, The Washington Herald reported in October that Slattery’s contract was purchased by the Senators, but later the same day Clark Griffith told The Washington Times that the report was untrue.

Slattery hit .252 in 1917 for Montreal.  Before the 1918 season, he was sold to the Memphis Chickasaws the Southern Association and went to the city that “jinxed” him.

The (Memphis) Commercial-Appeal reported before the season opened that the Chickasaws would “have their new first sacker longer than expected.”  It had been expected that Slattery would be drafted before the season began, but the paper said his draft board in St. Louis now said he wouldn’t be entering the military until later in the summer.

All involved later wished the delay never happened.

Slattery with Memphis, 1918

Slattery with Memphis, 1918

as the season progressed, The Memphis News-Scimitar said:

“Slattery is the greatest fielding first baser in the Southern today and he made stops and throws that would have done credit to Hal Chase…But Joe can’t get started hitting.”

Slattery appeared in 59 games for Memphis.  He hit .197 in 208 at bats and quickly became the most unpopular man in town

As he struggled, the paper said he was “the target for all verbal bricks the lower end of the stands could hurl.”  His “hitting fell off almost to nothing,” but the paper said it was “due for the most part to the panning the bugs handed him.”

Slattery thought he was jinxed and the newspaper agreed:

“The story of Slattery is the story of a jinx that has been camping on the big fellow’s trail…one of the niftiest first basemen in the game; Slattery from the outset has been handicapped by his inability to hit the ball.”

Slattery blamed the city:

“It’s a fact that I am absolutely jinxed in Memphis, I can hit the ball anywhere else in the world but Memphis, it seems.”

After being drafted, Slattery played first base for the Tenth Training Battalion at Camp Pike in Arkansas.  He returned to Memphis in the spring of 1919 and immediately stopped hitting again during exhibition games.

He told The New-Scimitar:

“When I was in camp at Camp Pike I hit for an average well in the .300 class, and I was hitting against good pitching, too.  But in Memphis, I’m helpless with the stick.  I guess I am too anxious to hit…Last season the jinx was astride my neck all year…I couldn’t hit at all like I used to…the jinx came back and got with me, and I have not been able to hit at all.”

Sold to the Tulsa Oilers in the Western League, he hit.263.  In July, Slattery was playing well in Tulsa, and The News-Scimitar reminded fans that his “jinx” was their fault.  The paper said from July 13 through July 17 Slattery was 8 for 23:

“Which goes to show that in the proper environment when he is not being ridden by the bugs as he was here, Slattery is a good hitter.”

He finished his professional career in 1920 where he started it in 1908, with Dallas in the Texas League.

Never to return to Memphis, he headed west.

He played semi-pro ball for the next decade, primarily with Brigham City Peaches in Utah.

Slattery with the Brigham City Peaches, 1922

Slattery with the Brigham City Peaches, 1922

The once “jinxed” Slattery settled in Idaho where he died on June 14, 1970.

“Maryland is the Home Run State”

25 Mar

Jack Bentley, pitcher and first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles in the International League hit 20 home runs in 1920.  The feat earned Bentley, who was born in Sandy Spring, Maryland, the nickname “Home run” among local fans.   Dean Snyder of The Denver Express declared:

“Maryland is the home run state.

“Three swat kings hail from the oyster state.  Each has earned the “Home Run” prefix”

Snyder spoke to all three:  Bentley, Frank Baker, born in Trappe, Maryland, and Babe Ruth, born in Baltimore.

Bentley said:

“Homerunning depends on how you place your feet.  ’That gives a batter poise.  Keep your feet together.  You’re set to step up or back then.

“(During the 1920 season) I tried for a while to keep my feet apart.  I hit a batting slump.  (Orioles) Manager Jack Dunn told me to get my feet together.  I did.  Then I started bouncing ‘em over the walls.”

Jack Bentley

Jack Bentley

Baker said:

“It’s the way I grasp the bat.

“Grab it right down at the knob.  No long distance hitter holds the bat far up.  Use all the wood in the bat.

“That’s my secret.”

Frank Baker

Frank Baker

Ruth said:

“The eye and the swing is the thing.

“Coordinating the two…that makes the ball travel.  Swing a fraction of a second too early or too late and you don’t hit a homer.

“The old eye counts most.  Without a keen eye you flivver.

“I hit 54 last year because I timed my swing.  When I was making (the movie “Headin’ Home” during the 1920 season) my eyes went bad.  I didn’t bust one for three weeks.  No pictures for me this summer.

“I’m shootin’ at 75.”

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

Bentley hit 24 and 22 home runs the next two seasons with Baltimore (he was also 12-1 with 2.34 ERA in ’21 and 13-2 1.73 on the mound) and was purchased by the New York Giants for $72,000.

“Home run” Bentley appeared in 65 games in the field and hit just seven home runs in 539 National League at-bats from 1923-1927—as a pitcher, he was 40-22 with a 4.35 ERA.

Baker sat out the 1920 season after his wife died of Scarlet Fever in February.  Snyder predicted that when he returned to the Yankees he would “fight Bambino Babe a home run duel.”  He hit 16 home runs in 564 at-bats in 1921 and ’22 before retiring.

Ruth didn’t get “75 in 1921—he settled for 59.  “Headin’ Home,” presented by boxing promoter Tex Rickard, opened at Madison Square Garden on September 19, 1920, to what The Brooklyn Eagle called “a fair sized crowd.”  As for the quality of the film Ruth said caused his eyes to go bad for “three weeks,” the paper said:

“It is an astonishing thing that when people, prominent in other walks in life, enter the moving picture field, they generally appear in most absurd pieces.”

headinhome

Lost Advertisements–The $30,000 Battery

30 Dec

otoolead

An advertisement from the spring of 1914 for Lewis 66 Rye from The Strauss, Pritz Co., of Cincinnati:

“When Barney Dreyfus gave $22,500 to the St. Paul Club of the American Association for the release of pitcher Marty J. O’Toole, the Pittsburgh National Leaguers up a new high mark in baseball finance.  To this sum, 7,500 was added and O’Toole’s battery partner–William Kelly–was also secured, giving the Pirates the highest priced battery in the world.”

The price paid for Kelly remains a matter of dispute.  The New York Times said he was acquired “for less than $5,000.”  The Washington Post put the price at $10,000 while The Pittsburgh Gazette Times, The Pittsburgh Press and The Associated Press said it was $12,500.

 

Kelly and O'Toole

Kelly and O’Toole

O’Toole posted a 24-27 record from 1911-1913.  He struggled in 1914, and with a 1-8 and record and 4.68 ERA in August, he was sold to the Giants, in 10 appearances with new York he was 1-1 with a 4.24 ERA.  Dreyfus’ “$22,500 Beauty,” was done as a major leaguer at 25 years old, seven months after the ad appeared.  He played four more seasons in the American Association and Western League; his professional career was over before his 30th birthday.

Kelly’s big league career was over before the ad came out.  In three seasons with Pittsburgh, he appeared in 104 games and batted .290, but was sold to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League at the end of 1913 season.  The Pittsburgh Press said the sale came as no surprise:

“Kelly came here from St. Paul with Marty O’Toole, but he has not developed as was expected of him, and has long been rated as considerable of a disappointment. It looks very much as if he were just a trifle shy of major league calibre.”

Kelly played four years in Toronto, hitting .227 in 280 games; his professional career was over at age 31.

 

 

The First Jackie Robinson All-Stars

31 Aug

jackierobinsonas

The above advertisement is from the first, and least successful, of Jackie Robinson’s post season barnstorming tours.

In August of 1946, The Pittsburgh Courier said, “Jackie Robinson’s All-Stars” would play in several Eastern and Midwest cities after the Montreal Royals’ season ended.

The tour got off to bad start because the promoters—said to be from Pittsburgh, but never named in newspaper accounts—scheduled games to begin at the close of the International League season, failing to take into account that Robinson and Montreal would be playing in the Little World Series against the Louisville Colonels, the American Association champions.  East Coast games, including one at the Polo Grounds and one in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania were cancelled as a result.

After Robinson’s season ended, his “All-Stars” made up the game in Harrisburg and then played a handful of games in the Midwest before heading to California.

The All-Stars included Artie Wilson of the Birmingham Black Barons, John Scott of the Kansas City Monarchs. Ernie Smith, a one-time member of the Chicago American Giants, who played in 1946 with the Boston Blues in Branch Rickey’s U.S. Baseball League, and Bill “Wee Willie” Pope of the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

williepope

              Wee Willie Pope

Robinson’s All-Stars did not win a game in California.  They lost three games to Bob Feller‘s All-Stars—a team which included Bob Lemon, Stan Musial, Charlie Keller, Ken Keltner and Phil Rizzuto.  Feller’s club won 6 to 0 in San Francisco, 4 to 2 in San Diego, and 4 to 3 in Los Angeles.  Feller pitched five innings each in the San Diego and Los Angeles games—striking out 11 in the first game, and 10 in the second (he left that game having not allowed a hit through five innings).

One of those games was the impetus of the long-term animosity between Robinson and Feller that came to a head before the 1969 All-Star game.  At a press luncheon, Robinson noted the lack of black managers and front office personnel in major league baseball.  Feller criticized Robinson saying “The trouble with Jackie is that he thinks baseball owes him something.”  Feller told The Associated Press (AP) the bad feelings between the two started during the San Diego game on the 1946 tour:

“Jackie was getting a lot of publicity at the time since it was known he was being groomed to be the first Negro in big league baseball (and) threatened not to go on the field unless he got more money.”

Robinson told The AP Feller’s charge was “A damned lie.”

In 1975, Feller told The AP they “buried the hatchet,” before Robinson died in 1972:

“We discovered that out arguments were petty.  Both of us admitted our errors.  When Jackie died, we were good friends.”

Others claimed Feller never let the feud go.

The advertisement above is for the final game Robinson’s All-Stars played.  They faced the Oakland Larks, the champions of Abe Saperstein’s short-lived West Coast Negro Baseball Association (Negro Pacific Coast League) who posted a 14-3 record—the team barnstormed after the league folded and claimed a 56-12 record for all games played that season.

The teams played at San Bernardino’s Perris Hill Park; Robinson played center field.  The San Bernardino County Sun said he made “two stellar catches,” and was 3 for 4 with a double.  Despite Robinson’s efforts, the Larks won 8 to 5.

After Robinson’s final game with the All-Stars, he wasn’t quite finished for the year.  He joined the Los Angeles Red Devils, an integrated professional basketball team –three other well-known baseball players were members of the Red Devils: George Crowe, Irv Noren, and Everett “Ziggy” Marcel (the son of Oliver Marcelle).

Robinson’s brief professional basketball career ended in January of 1947.

“Pitcher Geiss No Good”

3 Jun

Emil August Geiss pitched one game in 1887 for Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings; it was his only Major League game as a pitcher (he later played two games in the infield).

The Chicago Tribune reported that Geiss was signed by the White Stockings “at a salary of $250 month.”  Geiss had been blacklisted the previous season for failing to report to the St. Paul Freezers in the Northwestern League after signing with that club.  The paper said, “It cost $200 to get him reinstated (The Sporting Life said it was $600).”

Geiss’ performance on May 18 was less than memorable.  He gave up 11 runs, eight earned, and 17 hits in an 11-4 loss to the Washington Senators.

The Chicago Tribune headline the following day summed up Geiss’ performance:

Pitcher Geiss No Good

Emil Geiss

The headline in The Chicago Inter Ocean was no kinder:

Geiss Is No Good.  A New Pitcher Tried by the Chicagos at Washington with Disastrous Results

The paper said Anson, who sat out, “watched the game from the players’ bench, a look of disgust deepening on his face every inning widened, and fairly turned his back on the unfortunate Whites.”

Geiss briefly redeemed himself when filling in for Anson on June 15 against the Indianapolis Hoosiers. The Tribune said:

“Geiss played first base in first-class style. He accepted eleven chances with no errors.At the bat he struck out twice and made one hit.”

Their opinion changed one week later when he played in place of Fred Pfeffer at second and  made three errors on seven total chances and was 0 for 5 at the plate.

The Tribune said:

“If Geiss is capable of no better work that he did yesterday he should not be allowed to again don the uniform of the Chicago nine.  A man who plays as he did is a positive menace to the success of the club.”

At the end of June, Geiss was released and finished the season in the Chicago City League.

An additional note about Geiss, and it’s a confusing note:

The remainder of his career is a bit vague and complicated.  His brother was William Geiss, who had two brief major league stints and a long minor league career during which he sometimes played under the name of Emil Geis (one “s”), further complicated because Emil Geiss’ Cook County, Illinois death certificate lists him as “Emil Geis.”

Emil pitched for the London Tecumsehs in the International League in 1888 and ’89.  He was the subject of a dispute between London and New Orleans in the Southern League over his rights—an arbitrator ruled that Emil was the property of London; at the same time William was with New Orleans, so we know it was Emil with London.

After a seven-year absence from professional ball, Baseball Reference has Emil hitting .402 in 41 games split between Bloomington in the Western Interstate League and Ottumwa in the Eastern Iowa League in 1895.

It seems likely, and contemporary reports indicate that it was actually William, playing under the name Emil Geiss (sometimes Geis) who put up those numbers in 1895–this conclusion is also supported by the fact that Emil, who had joined the Chicago Police Department in 1891 was still a member a force in 1895.

William Geiss

William Geiss

Both brothers died in Chicago, Emil on October 4, 1911, and William on September 18, 1924.  Both are buried at Saint Boniface Cemetery in Chicago.

 

“Throw Strikes. Home Plate Don’t Move.”

19 Jan

Satchel Paige told Dave Condon of The Chicago Tribune that early in 1965, with the help of his wife Lahoma, and 17-year-old daughter Pamela he “wrote letters to everyone in baseball just looking for a steady job.  Anything.”

After not one professional team responded, the spring and early summer were like most during his 40-year career as a pitcher—Paige traveled wherever there was a chance for a paycheck.

He had made appearances with the Harlem Globetrotters in the winter and spring and then hit the road; pitching for the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns and whoever else would call.  In May, The Chicago Defender said Abe Saperstein, who was managing Paige’s appearances, took out an ad in The Sporting News:

“(T)he man, who may have been the greatest pitcher of all time, is letting it be known that he has glove and is willing to travel.  All that is necessary to secure his services is to contact Saperstein.”

One night Paige would be at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, in a White Sox uniform, pitching for the Clowns in front of a large crowd, or across town in Wrigley Field where 30,000 fans came out; another night would find him in Hastings, Pennsylvania taking “the mound for the Hastings VFW club,” or Wheatfield, Indiana pitching “for the Band Boosters against the Wheatfield Young Farmers,” in front of a few hundred people.

Paige at Comiskey Park in 1965--Chicago Cubs outfielder George Altman is the catcher.

Paige at Comiskey Park in 1965–Chicago Cubs outfielder George Altman is the catcher.

Things began to look up in late July when the Cleveland Indians inducted Paige into the team’s Hall of Fame between games of a Sunday doubleheader with the Yankees; in front of the team’s largest crowd of the season:  56,634.  According to United Press International:

“Satch tossed examples of his blooper, drooper and hesitation pitches to (former Indians teammate) Jim Hegan, now a Yankee coach and explained his philosophy of pitching thus: ‘Just take the ball and throw it where you want to.  Throw strikes.  Home plate don’t move.”

In August, he accepted an offer to pitch for and manage a team in Anchorage, Alaska called the Earthquakers.  In reality, Paige simply went to Alaska for a short series of exhibition games, and had no intention of staying there—he was already booked to appear at the old-timers game scheduled in September to mark the first season of the Houston Astrodome.  But he did his best to sell it as a possible long-term move.  He told a reporter for The Associated Press:

“Lately, I’ve wanted to leave barnstorming baseball to settle down somewhat to help the sport.  Anchorage seems to be the place to do it.”

In addition to his appearance in a handful of games in Alaska, his arrival in the state also resulted in a chance meeting that was reported in the press.

As a crowd of local residents gathered at the Anchorage airport to greet Paige, another plane arrived for refueling.  It carried former Vice President Richard M. Nixon on his way to Tokyo.  Nixon walked into the terminal while the plane was refueled, and when he asked about the crowd he was told they were waiting for Paige’s arrival.  Nixon joined the line to greet the pitcher.  The man who would be the leader of the free world in a little more than three years told a reporter from The Associated Press:

“I always like to meet celebrities.”

Nixon and Paige meet in Alaska

Nixon and Paige meet in Alaska

His commitment in Alaska over, Paige made it to the Astrodome on September 6.  The two-inning game, featuring a team of “immortals” versus “Texas All-Stars,” was an incredible collection of legends—more than 50 former players participated; twelve were already members of the Hall of Fame.  The Houston Post said of the player introductions:

Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, got a deafening cheer.  So did Satchel Paige, peerless Negro hurler.”

The paper said the only others to receive a reception near that for Paige and DiMaggio were Dizzy Dean and native Texan Monty Stratton.

Paige in the Astrodome

Paige in the Astrodome

Perhaps it was the reception in Houston that caused one of the letters Paige, and his wife and daughter had written months earlier to finally be answered.

Charles Oscar Finley, who made his fortune in the insurance business and bought controlling interest of the Kansas City A’s before the 1961 season, was the one who finally responded.

That the signing of Paige appears to have been a spur of the moment decision for Finley after reading about the reception in Houston, is supported by the fact that it was announced by the marketing savvy Finley at what The Kansas City Times described as a “hastily called news conference,” which Finley, who was in Chicago, did not attend.

He appeared with General Manager Hank Peters and told reporters “I thought they were kidding” when Finley called and offered him a contract.

He said he was ready to pitch and brushed aside questions about his age:

“I think I can still pitch and help this club.  So what difference does it make what my age is if I can?”

Bill Veeck, who had signed Paige with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and the St. Louis Browns in 1951, told The Times he hoped it wasn’t just a publicity stunt by Finley:

“I am hopeful he will be used as he should be—as a pitcher. Leroy should surprise a few people as he has for a long time.”

Veeck and Paige

Veeck and Paige

The controversial Veeck, more than a decade away from his return to the game, told The Kansas City Star he blamed himself for the pitcher’s  long absence:

“When I left Cleveland the first thing the new owners did was get rid of Satch.  When I sold the St. Louis Browns (and the team relocated to Baltimore), the same thing happened.  That’s nothing more than guilt by association.”

The signing of the 59-year-old Paige, who joined a team that included five 19 and 20-year-old pitchers who appeared in at least one game that year—Jim “Catfish” Hunter, John “Blue Moon” Odom, Ron Tompkins, Tom Harrison and Don Buschorn—inspired a short poem published in The Star:

“They’re either too

Young or too old,

When Charlie puts ‘em

In A’s Green and Gold.”

Papers across the country carried a photograph of Paige, seated on a chair, with one of Finley’s young pitchers, Catfish Hunter, on his knee.  While the photo was straight from Finley’s marketing plan, the impact of one future Hall of Famer on another, forty years his junior, seems to have been real.

Paige and Hunter

Paige and Hunter

The Star spoke to Paige about his pitching philosophy one afternoon as Hunter stood nearby.  The paper said:

“Hunter listened intently as Satchel expounded his pitching theories.”

Paige was equally impressed with the 19-year-old, telling The Star:

“This young man has shown me a lot of poise.  He has a great future in this game.”

The next two weeks were filled with pictures of, and stories about, Paige in a rocking chair, a nurse seated nearby, watching the A’s play, and while a “Satchel Paige Night” was scheduled, there appeared little chance the pitcher would be used as anything but a prop for publicity.  Then Finley announced that his new pitcher would start on his night, September 25 against the Boston Red Sox.

What took place on the mound on September 25 has been written about many times. With his six children and wife Lahoma—pregnant with number seven—sitting in the owner’s box with Finley, Paige pitched three shutout innings, allowing just one hit—a Carl Yastrzemski double.

The only disappointment was the anemic crowd—just 9,289 Kansas City fans turned out to see a legend, the second largest crowd during that six-game home stand was 2,874.

As Paige took the mound in the fourth inning, A’s Manager Haywood Sullivan, who was not consulted before Paige’s signing or before Finley announced he would pitch that night, came to the mound to remove Paige.  The pitcher walked off to a standing ovation.

Paige walks off the field with Manager Haywood Sullivan while Diego Segui warms up.

Paige walks off the field with Manager Haywood Sullivan while Diego Segui warms up.

Paige returned to the clubhouse.  The Star said:

“In the clubhouse he was down to his long underwear, and talking about helping the A‘s out of the basement when someone rushed in a and screamed, ‘Satch, they want you back on the field.’

“The lights were out.  More than 9,000 matches flickered in the darkness, and on ‘Salute to Satchel Paige Night,’ they sang ‘Rockin’ Chair,’ ‘Darling I am Growing Old,’ and “The Old Gray Mare.”

After returning to the clubhouse, Paige was greeted by Finley, who called him “a real credit to the game.”  Paige “shook the owner’s hand” and said “I want to thank you for bringing me here.”

Whether he truly believed it or not, Paige told reporters he planned to pitch again in 1965.

“Everybody doubted me on the ballclub.  They’ll have more confidence in me now.”

He did not appear in another game but stayed with the club for the remainder of the season.  Two days after his three-inning performance, he was with the team in Baltimore.

A discouraging word had not been uttered by Paige during his time with the A’s.  Perhaps being in Baltimore—where his big league career effectively ended after Veeck sold the Browns—or maybe just the realization that a man capable of throwing three shutout innings at age 59 was not given an opportunity by a major league club the previous 12 seasons, changed that.

Lou Hatter wrote in The Baltimore Sun:

“Satchel Paige, the slender pitching ancient signed 2 ½ weeks ago by Kansas City, bared a deep-rooted wound here last night for the first time.”

Paige said to Hatter:

“You can put it this way.  You can say I resent being overlooked by organized baseball all these years while I threw away most of my best years pitching for a barnstorming club…All they ask me, though, is how old am I.  But nobody asks me why I stayed out of the major leagues for 15 [sic 12] years.  That’s a long time isn’t it?  That’s a lifetime for most professional players.

“Let me ask another question. When Baltimore bought the St. Louis ballclub, why did they turn me loose?

“When I went to the Miami club (again pitching for Bill Veeck with the International League Marlins) and was a top pitcher for three years (11, 10 and 10 win seasons with ERAs of 1.86, 2.42 and 2.95), how come nobody picked me up?…I know the answer, but I won’t tell that neither—like I won’t tell my age.”

Despite Finley telling reporters throughout September that Paige would return to the A’s in 1966, if not as a player, then as a coach, he was released in September. The next time he appeared on the mound at Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium, it was again as a member of the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns.

Paige back in Kansas City as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns in 1966.

Paige back in Kansas City as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns in 1966.

“Is Napoleon Lajoie a Hoodoo?”

14 Nov

Napoleon Lajoie had his share of superstitions and sought to avoid “Hoodoo,” like most players of his era.  But, as Lajoie was winding down his long career, hitting un-Lajoie like .246 for a horrible Philadelphia Athletics team (36-117) in 1916, The Philadelphia Bulletin presented a case that Lajoie himself was the problem:

“Is Napoleon Lajoie a hoodoo?

Napoleon Lajoie

Napoleon Lajoie

“Several baseball managers and ‘Larry’ himself would like to know the answer.  And here is why:

“Lajoie, for many years recognized as the king of second basemen and dubbed ‘King Larry,’ now has visions of the waning of his baseball star of fame, and he has never played on a pennant-winning team…For years he hit well over the .300 mark—once over .400—was one of the most dangerous men to pitch to in a pinch, and fielded his position around second base in a finished, manner—so finished in fact, that he won the distinction of being the classiest second-sacker in baseball.  Every move of the big Frenchman was grace personified.

“Notwithstanding the fact that he was a star of the first magnitude, ranking with Hans Wagner of Pittsburgh—and they are the two real stars of baseball of former years—he never was able to help his team to the pennant.  So, when Lajoie was sold to Connie Mack dopesters and Larry himself thought he eventually would get into a World Series.  But alas!

“Larry joined the Athletics in the spring of 1915, and while his admirers were expecting him to get back his batting eye, which had apparently been dimmed while he was in Cleveland, Connie Mack decided to tear down his wonderful machine.  (Eddie) Collins, (Ed) Plank, (Charles “Chief”) Bender, (Jack) Coombs, and (Jack) Barry were sold (or released), while (Frank) Baker played bush league ball because Connie would not meet his salary demands, and the famous $100,000 infield of the Athletics was wrecked and the run making machine of the world champions was put out of commission.  And the hopes of Larry and his enthusiastic followers went glimmering.  He is on a tail-end team, just like he was at Cleveland.

“And worst of all from Lajoie’s point of view, the Cleveland team has been holding down first place in the American League for many weeks and is a contender for the pennant.

“The question, ‘Is Napoleon Lajoie a hoodoo?’ Again presents itself.”

While Cleveland was in first place as late as July 12, the Lajoie-hoodoo-free Indians still faltered and finished seventh in 1916.

After Philadelphia’s disastrous season—they finished 54 and a half games back—Lajoie accepted the position of player-manager with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the International League.  The 42-year-old second baseman hit a league-leading .380 and led the Maple Leafs to the championship in 1917—the first, and only of his career.

“The Dream of an Ardent Baseball Fan and Admirer brought to Realization”

8 Sep

The Associated Press (AP) reported the same day that Hall of Famer Joe McGinnity was released by the New York Giants that he, along with a partner had purchased an Eastern League franchise, the Newark Indians, for $50,000—more than $1.3 million in current dollars.

Joe McGinnity

Joe McGinnity

The following month, The AP told how McGinnity and his co-owner, Chicago businessman Henry Clay Smith, came to be partners:

“There is an interesting story connected with the deal whereby Joe McGinnity and H.C. Smith of Chicago purchased the Newark club of the Eastern League, which reveals the identity of Mr. Smith and portrays the rise of a penniless man to a millionaire, who remained true to his first love in the baseball world.

“H.C. Smith is now a leading member of a Chicago manufacturing company, was station agent for the Chicago & Alton Railroad at Auburn, a little town south of Springfield, IL., working on a modest salary, with nothing better in view, 12 years ago…it was in those days that he learned to admire McGinnity as a ballplayer.

“That was the time when McGinnity earned the sobriquet of ‘Iron Man.’ He would work six days a week, pitching for country teams all over central Illinois, and on Sunday he would go to Springfield and play with the Springfield team.”

One of McGinnity’s teammates on that semi-pro team in Springfield was Dick Kinsella, who would become a minor league magnate and confidant of John McGraw:

“(Kinsella) remembers the connection between H.C. Smith and Joe McGinnity in the olden days.

“Smith was one of Joe’s staunchest and most consistent admirers, and from the time he first knew him until the present day, his admiration has not abated.  In 1895 Smith left Auburn and went to Chicago, where he became engaged in the brokerage business, at which he prospered.  Later he became connected with his present company, gradually working his way to the top, until he was a man of wealth.

“Learning that the New York Giants were going to release McGinnity, Smith at once arranged with Joe to get hold of some team, for which Smith would furnish the money.  The result was the purchase of the Newark club, the dream of an ardent baseball fan and admirer brought to realization, and a home assured the famous Joe McGinnity, all through the regard, which a station agent in a country town felt for a ballplayer whom he considered the best he had ever known.”

McGinnity

McGinnity

The 38-year-old McGinnity started 46 games and posted a 29-16 record with a 1.66 ERA for the 2nd place Indians during his first season as co-owner and team president.

Harry Wolverton, who had been hired as manager by the previous ownership was retained by McGinnity and Smith.

Harry Wolverton

Harry Wolverton

 

There are several versions of the story of how McGinnity came to replace Wolverton as manager late in the season—some say Wolverton was let go for trying to remove McGinnity from a game, others say Wolverton took another position.  The real story, based on contemporaneous accounts in The Newark Evening News, was simply that Wolverton was injured before the team’s final road trip, and McGinnity took over.  In the winter of 1909 Wolverton purchased his release and McGinnity became the team’s full-time manager.

McGinnity and Smith owned the Newark Tigers through the 1912 season.  McGinnity managed the team to a second place finish in 1910 and a seventh place finish in 1911.  The team joined the International League in 1912 and finished third.

McGinnity won 87 games and lost 64 in 151 starts during his four seasons in Newark.

He and Smith sold their shares in the club after the 1913 season.

“The fans make us the ‘goat’ for Everything”

21 Nov

Chicago Orphans Manager Tom Burns suspended pitcher Bill Phyle without pay in August of 1899, even after Burns was replaced by Tom Loftus, Phyle remained in limbo.

Tom Loftus

Tom Loftus

In January Hugh Fullerton said in The Chicago Tribune that Loftus “probably will give him a chance.”  But in early February The Chicago Inter Ocean said even though Phyle had met with team President James Hart nothing had been resolved.  Phyle told the paper he was offered a contract but was “in no hurry to sign.”

Phyle finally signed at the end of the February, but The Tribune said Chicago would most likely trade him “although Loftus thinks highly of him.”

The team trained in West Baden Springs, Indiana, where according to The Tribune Phyle was “sarcastically called ‘Lucky,’ because of his proverbial hard luck, (he) rarely escapes a day without being hurt.”  He also managed to alienate his new manager.

After several days of poor weather in Indiana, Loftus decided to take the team further south, to Selma, Alabama on March 18.  According to The Tribune Phyle was not on the train:

“Phyle may not be with the team in Selma.  He left Friday (March 16), announcing he was going to see the fights in Chicago.  Manager Loftus hunted up the pitcher before he departed and told him it was a bad plan to start the year in such a manner.  Phyle then said he was ill and was making the journey in order to consult a physician in Chicago.”

Phyle did return from Chicago (where he claimed he had an unspecified operation), and joined the team on the trip south.  Upon his return he continued to suffer a series of illnesses and injuries, which included a bad reaction to a vaccination and a being hit in the knee with a thrown bat, both of which kept him inactive for several days.

Phyle was left in Chicago when the team opened the season in Cincinnati, and his imminent trade or release was speculated upon nearly daily in the Chicago press; he was finally traded to the Kansas City Blues in the American League with Sam Dungan and Bill Everitt for John Ganzel on May 18.  Phyle refused to report to Kansas City and spent the season playing for Chicago City League teams and a semi-pro team in DeKalb County, Illinois.  He was also a regular attendee at Chicago’s boxing venues and was said to own a piece of featherweight contender Eddie Santry.

Phyle returned to the National League in 1901 posting a 7-10 record for the New York Giants.  In 1902 he went to the California League as an infielder and never pitched again.  After his controversial exit from Memphis in 1903—and the aftermath—he continued to play until 1909.

Phyle worked as a boxing referee and as an umpire for more than 20 years in the Canadian, Eastern and Pacific Coast and International  Leagues, and was involved in two final controversies.

Bill Phyle, 1913

Bill Phyle, 1913

In 1920 a grand jury was impaneled in Los Angeles to investigate charges of game fixing in the Pacific Coast League.  Players Harl Maggert, William “Babe” Borton, Bill Rumler and Gene Dale were implicated.  While all criminal charges were eventually dismissed, the four were banned from baseball in 1921.

Phyle was called to testify in front of the grand jury, and said umpires were often blamed when players were crooked:

“The fans make us the ‘goat’ for everything that goes on during the ball game.  How many times we have suffered to suit the whims of a ballplayer who might have been working with the gamblers will never be known.  They just slough us around, call us whatever names they please and yell murder when we happen to fire them out of the game or have them suspended.

“An umpire should have the same authority as a referee has in the prize-ring.  If he believes a ballplayer isn’t giving his best toward the game, he ought to have the privilege of ousting him without taking the manager into confidence.”

In July of 1923 Phyle was working an International League game between the Baltimore Orioles and Rochester Tribe.  Phyle called a Rochester runner safe at first, then immediately reversed his decision.  He was dismissed the following day by league President John Conway Toole.

As a result of the dismissal, four other umpires resigned in sympathy.  Toole, who was attending the game, claimed he had not released him because of the blown call, but because Phyle had failed to work a double hitter he was assigned to earlier in the month.   The decision was upheld, and within three days the four other umpires withdrew their resignation.

Phyle ended his career back in the Pacific Coast League in 1926, and died in Los Angeles in 1953.