Tag Archives: International League

“Byron has our Players Feeling Like a lot of Spanked Kids”

23 Apr

Bill Byron resigned as a National League umpire after the 1919 season but “The singing umpire” couldn’t stay away.

He accepted a position with the Pacific Coast League (PCL) for 1920. The (Portland) Oregon Daily Journal said he was the only umpire in the PCL who did not have a reserve clause in his contract.

Byron was partnered with another former National League umpires, Mal Eason. The Los Angeles Evening Express said:

“This pair throws players out of the game on the least provocation.”

Byron

Byron cemented his reputation for throwing out players shortly after joining the PCL.

The Los Angeles Examiner said after he ejected five players during a May game between the Vernon Tigers and the Sacramento Senators:

“Byron, according to all accounts, is rapidly approaching that stage of popularity with everybody that caused him to be dropped from the National league.”

While his exit from the National League appears to have been voluntarily, The Sporting News later made the same claim The Examiner did, telling readers the umpire’s “chip in shoulder attitude caused his dismissal from the National staff.”

In September, Byron called Lu Blue of the Portland Beavers out at the plate on a play that would have tied the score in an eventual 1-0 loss to the Seals:

Blue

The San Francisco Examiner said Blue grabbed Byron, the umpire broke away and punched Blue in the nose, then:

“Lu hit Bill with a left hook and by that time every ball player, ‘copper,’ and umpire in the league were mixed up in one grand shoving contest.”

Blue got to Byron again and punched him in the eye. After that, Portland’s Dick Cox, “grabbed the ump around the neck and dragged him halfway around the park, while Bill’s nose proceeded to pick up stray hunks of pop bottles and rocks.”

Blue was fined $100 and suspended for a week, Cox managed to escape with neither.

Portland manager Judge McCredie was said to be “chafing under” Blue’s suspension, telling The Oregonian Blue acted in self-defense and that Byron should have been punished as well.

A month after the incident, Seals pitcher Sam Lewis yelled to the Byron:

“Hey, Bill, I know you are the king of umpires, for I saw Lu Blue of the Portland club crown you.

The Oregonian concluded:

“Even Byron had to laugh.”

When he was retained by the league for the 1921 season, The Evening Express said:

“Byron had an opportunity to return to the National League but preferred to remain on the Coast.

“Important if true.

“If true, it is too bad he didn’t accept (National League President) John Heydler’s offer.”

Byron was no less controversial his second year on the West Coast. In May, Oakland Oaks third baseman, and future National League umpire, Babe Pirelli knocked him down “with a blow over the eye,” after he ejected Pinelli for disputing a call.

Most of the players and fans–including one famous fan, actor Al Jolson–told The Oakland Tribune that Byron threw the first punch:

“Al wired President McCarthy of the Coast League at once, declaring that the umpire and not the player was to blame.”

Pinelli missed several games with an injured hand but was never officially suspended and was fined $50 by McCarthy who said, “he didn’t place all the blame,” on the player for the incident.

Shortly after the incident with Pinelli, Byron drew the ire of San Francisco fans for indecision on a ball hit by Morrie Schick of the Seals in a game against Oakland. Jack James of The Examiner described the play:

“He looked up. It wasn’t there.

He looked down. It wasn’t there.

He looked at both sides. It wasn’t there.

“He decided to call in an expert for advice.

‘”Where did it go?’ says to the Oakland third baseman a Mister White, temporarily taking the place of Mr. Pinelli, who recently assaulted Mister Byron, they do say, with cause.

“’Foul!’ Says Mr. White.

‘”Foul it is then,’ says Mr. Byron.”

Despite that call in their favor, the Oakland management—J. Cal Ewing and Del Howard—sent a letter to McCarty, asking the league president to not assign the umpire to Oakland games:

“Byron has our players feeling like a lot of spanked kids who are afraid to make a false move or stand up for their rights for fear that will get tossed out of the ball game and then be further punished by having a fine slapped on them.”

The request was ignored.

Soon after, Byron attempted to pull the trick he once pulled on John McGraw on San Francisco Seals manager Charlie Graham—pulling out his watch and giving his a minute to leave the field after an ejection.  Graham, said The Sacramento Bee:

“Graham grabbed the time piece from the indicator man…Byron tried to to wrench his watch from Graham’s hand but he could not do so. The crowd gathered around and finally Graham gave the ‘umps’ back his watch and left the field.”

Graham drew a five-game suspension and $50 fine.

Within days, Los Angeles Angels manager Wade Killefer was fined $50 and suspended for five games, and two of his players—George Lyons and Red Baldwin–were fined and suspended. Baldwin was ejected and given “thirty seconds” to leave the field, Killefer and the rest of the Angels came out on the field and “surrounded” the umpire, who promptly “declared the game forfeited” to the Seattle Rainers:

The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“Byron should demand a commission, for he fines more players than all of the other umpires combined.”

After Byron’s active first half of the season, The Express noted on August 1:

“Bill Byron didn’t suspend anyone yesterday.”

Byron’s reputation was such, that The San Francisco Examiner headlined a story about a riot involving players, umpires, and fans at an International League in Buffalo that resulted player arrests:

“Here’s one that Bill Byron Missed”

The Chronicle referred to him and partner Jake Croter as “the demon umpires.”

The Los Angeles Record said, “the much-abused umpire” had also taking up singing on the field again:

“When a player protests a called strike too vehemently, Bill will drone in a sing-sing voice:

‘”Can’t hit the ball with the bat on your shoulder; can’t hit the ball with the bat on your shoulder!’

“And when a player tells Bill things that Bill doesn’t think he is paid to hear, Bill grabs the whiskbroom and starts dusting the plate to the accompaniment of:

“’Some one’s going to the clubhouse; some one IS going to the club house!’”

Not everyone thought Byron was bad for the league. Carl “Boots” Weber” spent more than 30 years in the front office with the Los Angeles Angels and later served as treasurer for the Chicago Cubs. Shortly after Byron’s dust up with manager Wade Killefer and the two Angles players, The Los Angeles Examiner recounted a conversation between Weber and Byron:

“You’re an absolute attraction,’ Weber told Byron, ‘and I’m for you. You help to draw the people through the gate.’

“’Yes, and I help draw them on me,’ replied Byron.

“that’s just the point,’ enthused Weber. ‘Keep them on you. The more they get on you the more they will come out to see you, and that, after all, is the first and main consideration.”’

Byron, not particularly wisely, might have taken Weber’s comment to heart. In mid-August, The Bee said the umpire endured a “pop bottle shower” after making a call at the plate that cost the Beavers the tying run in a game with the Sacramento Senators:

“Senatorial ball players say that Bill Byron showed a lot of courage…it is said he never retreated an inch, nor did he look toward the stand from where the barrage was coming. Bill walked up and down the line never flinching…There was a little too much courage in the umpire’s manner according to the players, who say if one of the bottles had hit Bill on the head, he might have been through for the season, and perhaps forever.”

The Bee also reported that after the bottle throwing incident, a rookie pitcher named Carroll Canfield was told by his teammates to “tell Bill” that an opposing player missed first base.  The paper said the players meant Canfield to tell manage Bill Rodgers; the 18-year-old instead approached Byron:

“(Canfield) in a meek way, went out and told the umpire about the runner missing the sack.

“’You get back to that bench kid,’ roared Bill, ‘and watch those other fellows play for a coupe of years more before you ever come out and talk to me.”

Despite two seasons of controversy, PCL President William H. McCarthy enthusiastically retained him for the 1922 season, telling The Associated Press:

“Byron is as good an umpire as there is in baseball and the Coast League is fortunate to have him numbered among its list of officials.”

The Singing Umpire didn’t make it through the first week of the 1922 season before being pelted with pop bottles. During the April 15 game between the Oaks and the Seals, The Oakland Tribune said Byron called Dee Walsh of the Seals out on a close play at third base in the 10th inning; then reversed himself and ruled Walsh safe, “after a flock of Seals charged him from the dugout.”

The paper called what happened next, the biggest baseball riot witnessed here since the days at old Freeman’s park,” which the Oaks vacated nearly a decade earlier. After changing the call, Byron was showered with bottles and “surrounded” by Oaks players.  Calm was restored and Walsh scored on a sacrifice fly.

When the Oaks came to bat in the bottom of the tenth, Byron ejected Oakland’s Ray Brubaker and Ray Kremer who were heckling him from the dugout; the ejections resulted in another round of bottles throw at the umpire. When the final Oaks batter was retired:

“(F)ans dashed from the stands as a flock of gray-coated policemen sought to give Byron protection. Pop bottles and cushions were heaved through the mob and the dressing room was wrecked by the angered fans.”

He continued ejecting players at a clip that caused The San Francisco Examiner to say after a June game between the Seals and Oaks:

“Umpire Bill Byron gave the crowd a little taste of the unusual when he failed to prescribe an early afternoon shower for a single player. This was without doubt, the most notable feature of the game.”

Late in the 1922 season, he stopped what could have been an ugly incident and received unusual praise in The Los Angels Times. During the September 30 game between the Vernon Tigers and Seattle Indians, Vernon pitcher Jakie May hit Seattle third baseman Tex Wisterzil with a pitch, for the second time in the game, this one struck the batter behind the right ear:

“Tex was plainly out of patience, and started for the box in a brisk walk, bat in hand. Jakie awaited the impending onslaught with folded arms, fearless, dignified, and Napoleonic. Just when everybody expected the spark to be struck with the bat which would inflame the whole world, Bill Byron, the great pacifier, made a flying tackle from the rear and nailed Wisterzil’s elbows to his floating ribs. Thus, crisis was averted.”

The dinal Byron chapter, Monday

“A Good Plumber’s Helper but an Inferior Umpire”

21 Apr

Edward F. Ballinger of The Pittsburgh Post described Bill Byron thusly:

“(He) is looked upon among the players as the man who rendered more peculiar decisions than any other official in diamond history.”

Honus Wagner singled out Byron for rendering “the worst decision I ever saw.”

Wagner included the incident in his 1924 series of articles about his career for The North American Newspaper Alliance. He said he was stealing third in a game against the Giants:

“The catcher threw the ball into my feet making it impossible for Devlin—I think it was Devlin— [Note: It was Milt Stock] to pick it up. We both got in a tangle as I slid through a cloud of dust. The ball was bound under my arm where nobody could find it.”

Byron

While the Giants looked for the ball, Wagner headed towards the plate:

“About ten feet from home the ball dropped on the baseline. Now here’s where McGraw got in his fine work. He rushed up to umpire Byron, who had run down to third base to make the decision and told him I carried the ball to the bench in my hand.

“’If you don’t believe it, go to the bench and make them give it to you,’ he urged Byron.

“About this time McGraw’s attention was called to the ball lying on the base path.”

McGraw then told Byron, “That proves it. See! Wagner just rolled it out.”

Wagner said a confused Byron called him out for, “Carrying the ball to the bench with your hand.”

Wagner’s recollection was a bit faulty, in addition to forgetting who was playing third base. The incident happened on July 17, 1914, during the sixth inning of what would turn out to be a 21-inning 3 to 1 victory for the Giants. The game was, to that point, baseball’s longest game and both pitchers, Babe Adams and Rube Marquard pitched complete games.

As for the play, Wagner was not attempting to steal; he was advancing to third from first on a hit by Jim Viox and the throw came from center fielder Bob Bescher.

Contemporaneous accounts in The Pittsburgh Press, The Dispatch, and The Post all said that when the ball fell from Wagner’s uniform, it was immediately picked up by Marquard who threw to third trying to retire Viox who was called safe, rather than Wagner’s version where McGraw called Byron’s attention to the ball.

McGraw, said The Press, came out on the field at that point, “and told Byron Wagner was out.” The umpire agreed and also sent Viox back to second The Post said:

“The Pirates gathered around the umpire and raised a hubbub. (Fred) Clarke read the riot act and was motioned off the lot by umpire Byron.”

Pittsburgh protested the game, but Byron’s ruling was upheld.

Fred Mitchell, manager of the Cubs, was also not a Byron fan, and told Billy Evans in 1920:

“He hasn’t improved much since the summer (1917) he gave a decision that cost me $100 and the game. We were playing in St. Louis and big Mule (Milt) Watson was on the rubber. Art Wilson was at the plate. Watson, as he started to pitch, stubbed his toe and in trying to hold back on the ball threw it wildly and hit Wilson in the back of the neck. Byron would not let him take his base, saying it was a slow ball. I protested and consequently was chased and later fined $100.”

Mitchell’s details of the September 3 game were all correct, except for the outcome of the game. The Cubs beat the Cardinals and Watson 6 to 5. Mitchell had also, “had a mix-up” with Byron the previous day, according to The Chicago Tribune, when the umpire had initially called Tom Long of St. Louis out on a play at the plate, “then called him safe, although (catcher Rowdy) Elliott held the ball.”

Cardinals owner John C. Jones held the same opinion Mitchell did off Byron.  Earlier that same season, Byron made another questionable call on another play involving Tom Long. The Cardinals outfielder hit a ball off Eppa Rixey that appeared to be fair for a double. Byron, despite “the fact that a gap in the whitewash marked the spot,” where the ball hit called it foul.

Long was called out on strikes on the next pitch The Cardinals lost 3 to 2 to the Phillies.

So incensed was Jones at the umpire, whom The St. Louis Star called, “a good plumber’s helper but an inferior umpire,” that he wrote an open letter to fans that appeared in St. Louis papers. He told fans who were present, “The good of the game demands,” that they wire league president John Tener about “Byron’s judgment.”

Jones’ message resulted in bottles and other items being thrown at Byron the following day. Two fans were injured. Cardinal President Branch Rickey disavowed Jones’ comments:

“I strongly advised against it. In fact, both (manager) Miller Huggins and myself wired President Tener that the message did not officially express the club’s sentiments.”

Despite his comment that he did not support the club owners’ position, Rickey was more critical of the umpire in his telegram to Tener than Jones had been in his message to the fans:

“(His) attitude and manners generally were extremely antagonistic to the crowd…If Byron will keep his face to the filed and not parade about in front of the stands, he will have no trouble.”

The previous season, Byron “wrote” an article for The Pittsburgh Press. He said he became an umpire in 1896 only because he couldn’t find enough work in his “first love, steamfitting.” Over two decades he worked his way from the Michigan State League to the National League.

Before steamfitting and umpiring, Byron had briefly played minor league ball:

“As for myself, I am frank to admit that I was the worst ball player that ever broke into the Texas League. I managed to hold my job with the Dallas club for a while, but the race was too fast. It nearly ruined a good steamfitter. Afterward I played semi-professional ball occasionally in Michigan but gave up the game—and what was baseball’s loss was the plumbing trade’s game.”

After four seasons in the Michigan State League, he worked his way up to South Atlantic League, then the Virgina League, followed by International League and finally the Eastern League before his big-league career began.

He became well known—and versions of the story were told for the next two decades—for a call he made on August 31, 1909. In an Eastern League pitchers duel between the second place Newark Indians, with manager Joe McGinnity on the mound and Big Jeff Pfeffer pitching for the fourth place Toronto Maple Leafs.

The game was scoreless in the sixth inning with Newark batting:

The Detroit News said:

“Two were out and the batter (Joe Crisp) raised a high foul within the easy reach of both the Toronto catcher and third baseman.”

Toronto Third baseman Jimmy Frick and catcher Fred Mitchell both stopped when Newark “coacher” Benny Meyer yelled “I’ll take it.”

“The catcher backed away and the ball fell on the Dominion of Canada. Great glee broke out among the Newark contingent, who seemed apparently to conclude that the strategy of the coacher had won the batsman another chance to connect. But they reckoned without Mr. Byron.

“’Batter out!’ yelled the ump.”

McGinnity and “his entire team” came out on the field.:

Byron told the Newark manager:

“’He’s out on interference.’

“This set McGinnity fairly crazy and he frothed at the mouth, ‘But there wasn’t a man within 10 feet of Mitchell when he backed away,’ he screamed.

‘”He’s out on vocal interference; get into the field and finish the game.’ And Byron pulled his watch.”

Pfeffer and McGinnity both went the distance in a 13-inning game won by Toronto 1 to 0. McGinnity filed a protest with the league, but Byron’s decision was upheld.

Byron said the “secret of umpiring” was that “The umpire must keep his head and let the other man lose his.”

The umpire retired before the 1920 season saying he could make more money at his first love.  Evans said of his seven seasons in the National League:

“Like the rest of the umpires, he had his faults. No umpire is infallible, so Bill made mistakes like the rest of us, but they were always honest mistakes.”

He said Byron “always looked trouble in the eye,” and “no gamer fellow” ever wore a mask.

Despite his contentious relationship with McGraw, Evans told a story about a game in New York.  The previous day while making a ruling on a play involving fan interference, “the umpires were criticized” by reporters for their long deliberation. The following day:

“At an amusement park near the Polo Grounds, it was customary for an aviator to do a series of stunts. Usually the aviator paid the Polo Grounds a visit before landing. On this occasion, he flew unusually low over the grounds, so that it was easily possible to see him greet the big crowd with a wave of the hand. Evidently Bill Byron had given some thought of the criticism of the day previous unjustly heaped on the arbitrators for what was called a needless delay.

“Calling time and turning toward the New York bench, he addressed manager McGraw of the Giants thusly.

“If the ball hits the airplane, John, while it is flying over fair territory, it is good for two bases. If it lands in some part of the machine and stays there while flying over fait territory, the runners shall stop at the base last touched when such thing occurs. If the ball lands in some part of the machine while the machine is outside playing territory, it will be good for a home run. Play.”

Evans said McGraw “was shaking with laughter.

The press box was as well:

“Byron’s retort courteous to their slam had not gone over their heads.”

L. C. Davis of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of Byron’s retirement:

“It will always be a moot question whether Lord Byron was greater as a singer or an umpire. But whether singing or umpiring the fans agree that he displayed all the earmarks of a good plumber.”

More Byron, Friday.

“The Charming and Fascinating Pig Ward”

14 May

It was as a “coacher” that Piggy Ward—who appeared in 221 games over parts of six seasons with five National League teams between 1883 and 1894—was best known

That reputation began in the minor leagues. In 1889, when Ward was with the Hamilton Hams in the International League, The Detroit Free Press described him:

“A squatty, thickset man, with a bull neck, loaferish appearance, and voice a combination of the bellowing of a bull and braying of a donkey, attempted to make himself conspicuous in yesterday’s game and succeeded, to the intense disgust of the 1200 people present. Whenever the Hamiltons went to bat this unmitigated nuisance placed himself near third base and bellowed, roared, and ranted till everybody in the park was seized with a burning desire to rush upon and club him into silence.”

The paper called him “The champion lunatic of the noisy coaching clan,” but softened somewhat in their assessment of Ward later when it appeared he would not be returning to the International League:

“There is burning curiosity in this vicinity to whether the Hamilton management intends to sign that meadowlark of the ball field, the charming and fascinating Pig Ward. The echoes of his weird voice still reverberate around Recreation Park.”

piggy1904

The press, for the most part, did not approve of his technique. The Buffalo Express said:

“Ward’s coaching is too coarse altogether and should be stopped. The umpire’s voice is drowned in his babble.”

When he played for the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association in 1893, The Birmingham Times noted that he was the first player of the season to be fined for his “loaferish behavior,” while coaching, the paper also said Ward “has entirely too good an opinion of his own merits and too much contempt for the lesser deficiencies of his brother players.”

Ward’s coaching received greater attention when he joined the Washington Senators in 1894.

The Washington Star said during one game in July, “Ward’s lamentations were loud, continuous, and contentious—so much so that (umpire Bob) Emslie warned Capt. (Bill) Joyce that ‘Piggy’ would be sent to the bench if he didn’t keep quiet.”

O. P. Caylor of The New York Herald, in noting that “noisy coaching” had become more widespread that year, referred to the, “(Tommy) Tucker—(Dad) Clarke—‘Piggy’ Ward method of making noise by howling and shrieking from the coaching lines, in order to ‘rattle’ the opposing pitcher.”

Caylor did not approve, and said the practice because “in part, the science of the game is obscured, owing to the frantic attempts of the players to confuse one another.”

Cap Anson agreed, telling Caylor:

“It isn’t respectable ball playing and neither will I adopt that method or let any of my players use it.”

Ward’s “coaching” caused Anson’s Colts a loss on July 8. The Chicago Inter Ocean was not amused:

“The trick which ‘Pig’ Ward resorted to yesterday in the seventh inning no doubt won the game for Washington, but if (manager Gus) Schmelz were not impervious to all decency and self-respect he would release the man on the ground of dirty ball playing. (Ed) Cartwright had hit a high fly to infield, for which (Charlie) Irwin ran. It was a hard sprint, but the shortstop got well under it, when Ward, imitating the voice of Anson, called out ‘(Bill) Dahlen!’ Irwin, who had to keep his eyes up in the air, of course dropped the ball. Cartwright and (Win) Mercer subsequently scored. The game finished 9 to 8, so that these two runs did the work.”

The paper complained that “under the rules there was nothing Umpire (Jack) McQuaid to do except to the fine the fellow, but even this that functionary refused to do. He should have been fined the limit and ordered off the diamond.”

That same season, his coaching, and the extra effort he added to it, drew the ire of The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“When a rotten ball player wants to keep his job, he resorts to dirty tricks to conch his position with his manager. Piggy Ward belongs to this class, and his latest is to paw first with his big feet around first base so as to blind the first baseman and prevent him from seeing thrown or batted balls.”

As Ward’s coaching antics became more commented upon and the nickname “Piggy” became more frequently used for him, The Brooklyn Citizen speculated it was “probably to distinguish him from Brooklyn’s gentlemanly and able Captain,” John Montgomery Ward.

Ward also engaged with fans form the “coacher’s box.” When he returned to Cincinnati as a member of the Senators, The Enquirer related a verbal sparring match Ward engaged in with a fan during a game:

“Piggy Ward is a good coacher. He is on the line nearly all the time, and he has been the target of a good many taunts and unkind remarks from the stand in the two games the last two days. He doesn’t seem to mind it a bit but goes on giving his directions and trying to rattle the opposing team as though everything that came to ears was complimentary.

“Yesterday, a waiter in a downtown restaurant who was with a party of fellow waiters, yelled at Ward:

‘”Who told you that you could play ball? You ought to be behind a plow.’

“’Is that so?’ said Piggy. ‘What are you doing for a living now? The same thing, I suppose. Turning cakes in a fifteen-cent restaurant?’

“Whether it was a chance thrust or not it went home, and for a few moments the waiters and those n the vicinity made matters unpleasant for the fresh young man who endeavored to kid the ballplayer.

Despite having his best major league season at the plate in 1894—hitting .303 in 98 games with the Washington Senators—Ward, who also committed 52 errors at four positions, was often belittled in the press. Sporting Life said:

“Piggy Ward of the Washingtons appears to like the bench better than the field. He was ordered there during the season oftener than any other player in the League.”

Sporting Life also called him “A wretchedly bad second baseman.”

The Star related a conversation between him and his manager:

“’Are you a ballplayer?’ said Schmelz to Piggy Ward. ‘Well, the newspapers say I’m not,’ responded the ever-ready Piggy.”

Ward fractured his thumb on August 14, The Washington Post said the injury occurred while he was “trying to tag a man” at second base.  The injury kept him out of the lineup for several days.

He was released by Washington, ending his big-league career, but not his reputation as a “coacher,” or his story.

Shortly after being let go by Washington, Ward became more of a local hero in his hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania. A fire broke out in the shop of a black barber named J. H. Crocker. The Altoona Tribune said, after several people, tried but failed to get through the dense smoke:

“Frank Ward then made another attempt to get in and succeeded in catching hold of the arm of the man and dragging him out.”

While the man later died, Ward’s heroics were reported in major newspapers in the East.

More Ward tomorrow.

“He is Thoroughly Incompetent and Could do no Better”

12 May

After the Cincinnati Reds traded for Piggy Ward in June of 1893, Alonzo Flanner of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of his first visit to play the Browns with his new club:

“Ward, one of Comiskey’s latest acquisitions, is a great baseball player. He got his base every time he came to bat yesterday. He steals bases with a gavotte step and coaches like a cow with a cough but can’t field a little bit.”

Flanner had more to say later the same month:

“Ward, the young man with the waddle and voice like a catarrhal cow, who essayed to play right field for Cincinnati. He shows the happiest faculty for muffing, fumbling, and wild throwing of any young man masquerading in a League uniform and drawing salary.”

The observations appear to be accurate; in 42 games with the Reds, Ward hit .280, stole 27 bases, and made 13 errors in just 75 chances in the outfield. The Reds released him in August.

piggyward

Frank Gray “Piggy” Ward

The Cincinnati Enquirer said of Ward’s two-month tenure with the club:

“His opening was a dream. For weeks after he started in with the Reds, he was the talk of the town. He stood on the topmost pinnacle in the esteem of the local enthusiasts. Then came the awful exhibition of yellow fielding in the Fourth of July games.”

Ward played right field in the first game and left field in the second against Philadelphia on July 4. He was charged with two errors in the first game and one in second, and the paper said, “His miserable work in the field,” accounted for “no less than six” of Philadelphia’s 15 runs in their 15-14 victory in the first game, but allowed:

“Ward should not be blamed too harshly, because he is thoroughly incompetent and could do no better.”

After the Fourth of July debacle, The Enquirer said:

“No one could be found to fill his place as well, and again Ward had a chance to show himself. So well did he take advantage of this opportunity that it is safe to say of all the players that have been released by the Cincinnati Club none of them ever left behind such a feeling of universal regret as this same Ward.”

ward4thofjuly

The Cincinnati Enquirer after the July 4 double header

The Enquirer was so appalled by Ward’s performance that the paper referenced it at length a year later on Independence Day:

“The Exhibition of how not to play the game of ball given by Piggy that day will never be forgotten by those unfortunate enough to witness it. Such fielding was nauseating.”

The Cincinnati Commercial Gazette said, “There is nothing that that so disgusts a Cincinnati base ball crowd as poor fielding.”

Ward had arrived in Cincinnati with a reputation. He appeared in a major league game at age 16—playing third base for the Philadelphia Quakers on June 12, 1883; he was 0 for 5 and reached on an error. The Philadelphia Times description of Ward’s debut is ironic given later assessments of his skills:

“(Ward) fielded well but was weak at the bat and a very slow runner.”

After that single game, he bounced all over the US and Canada—and made two more brief stops in the big leagues between 1887 and 1891—after his first game in the outfield for the Quakers in his second trial with the club in 1889, The Philadelphia Enquirer said, “he proved conclusively he cannot play the outfield.”

He was also, by all accounts, a bit eccentric:

While playing with the Hamilton Hams in the International League, The Toronto Mail said he, “tried one of his supposed funny fakes.”

Ward handed a potato to pitcher Bill Pfann who was supposed to throw the potato over first baseman Ed Swartwood’s head.  Pfann was apparently slow on the uptake and threw the potato to Swartwood “and (Toronto Canucks Tom) McLaughlin was therefore not caught by the trick.”

Ward made at least one other documented attempt at the hidden ball trick—this time without a potato—during his brief stop with the Baltimore Orioles in June of 1893 in a game with Louisville. The Baltimore Sun described the play:

“Ward walked to the pitcher’s plate as if to advise (Kirtley) Baker on some point of the game. Then he walked back to first base. Baker resumed his position on the plate as if to pitch, but (Fred) Pfeffer had seen Ward take the ball and did not remove his foot from first base.”

Pfeffer pointed out the situation to umpire Michael McLaughlin and Baker was charged with a balk.

Pfeffer told the paper:

“I did intend at first , for the fun of the thing, to let Ward touch me with the ball by stepping off the base and then calling the umpire’s attention to the balk, but it occurred to me that the umpire might not have seen the play and would therefore decide against me. You have to be careful on such points.”

Ward’s was also considered by many to be a clubhouse cancer throughout his career. He started the 1893 season with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association. After Ward left the Pelicans, The New Orleans Times-Democrat said team president Charles Genslinger called Ward “a dissenter of the worst type and kept the local club in constant internal turmoil until his departure.”

Among Genslinger’s charges were that Ward had been the “sole cause” of an early season uprising that caused several of the team’s best players—including Count Campau, Pat Luby, and Mark Polhemus– to attempt to secure their releases, and that manager Abner “Powell ordered Ward to stop smoking in uniform, and as he persisted in the disobedience to orders he was compelled to impose a heavy fine.”

More of Ward’s story tomorrow.

“There is a Fault in the Armor of the Greatest Slugger”

21 Feb

 

babe

In 1927, a News Enterprise Association syndicated series of columns promised readers the secrets to “Fooling the great batters.”

Of Babe Ruth, the article said:

“There is a fault in the armor of the greatest slugger of them all, the man who has inspired more fear in the breasts of more pitchers than any other hitter, present day or past.”

St. Louis Browns pitcher Hub Pruett’s success against Ruth as a rookie in 1921 was noted as the gold standard for shutting him down—in six appearances against the Yankees that season, Pruett struck Ruth out 10 times; overall, Ruth was 2 for 13 with a home run and three walks in his 16 plate appearances against the 21-year-old lefty:

“(Pruett)  found that Ruth couldn’t hit a slow curve ball which sank close to the knees…Time and again it came up, slow and twisting, so that you could almost read the Ban Johnson signature, and time out of mind the Great Ball Murderer swung and missed.”

The scouting report on Ruth:

“A curve which sinks towards the batter can be hit by the Babe, but one which sinks away is harder. That was the great Pruett discovery. It is still in the big leagues, but Pruett isn’t”

Pruett, was 14-18 over three seasons for the Browns with a 3.55 ERA, and had less success against Ruth in 1923 and ’24 than he had during his rookie season. He never faced Ruth after 1924. He spent two years in the Pacific Coast League then returned to the major leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1927 and ’28; and in between two stints in the International League, he pitched for the New York Giants in 1930 and the Boston Braves in 1932.

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.

“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.