Tag Archives: International League

“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.

Sam Barkley and the Mobster

29 Oct

Samuel W. Barkley’s brief career on the diamond was highlighted by two legal disputes over his services; his life off the field was more complicated and interesting.

Barkley rose from amateur and semi-pro teams around Wheeling, West Virginia, to a solid season (.306, league-leading 39 doubles) as a 26-year-old rookie with the Toledo Blue Stockings in the American Association in 1884.  Among his teammates in Toledo were Fleetwood and Welday Walker.

Toledo was only a major league franchise in 1884—The Toledo Blade said the team had lost “nearly $10,000–and disbanded, selling five players, including Barkley, to the St. Louis Browns—the sale included pitcher Tony Mullane, who attempted to sign with Cincinnati after agreeing to sign with St. Louis, leading to his year-long suspension.  By the time all the legal wrangling was done, only Barkley and Curt Welch reported to the Browns.

After a .268 season in St. Louis, owner Chris Von der Ahe sold him to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, but Barkley had already signed a contract with the Baltimore Orioles.  The American Association suspended and fined Barkley; Barkley sued.  The dispute was settled with Barkley being reinstated and Pittsburgh paying the fine on his behalf.

Sam Barkley

Sam Barkley

After two years in Pittsburgh, he was purchased by the Kansas City Cowboys, and that’s when his life got more interesting.

In Chicago, he met an 18-year-old woman named Dora Feldman, who followed him to Kansas City, where as The Toledo News-Bee said, “most of his money was thrown at the feet of the young woman.”

Barkley later told The Chicago Inter Ocean that the day before he married Dora “she went to her room in a Kansas City hotel and took poison, fearing he would not marry her.”

He hit just .216 in 1888 but was hitting .284 the following season when he was sold to the Toledo Black Pirates in the International League.  After just 50 games there his career was over.  At some point during the 1888 season he suffered a knee injury he said ended his career:

“I knocked a safe one to left field, and was dancing around between first and second bags when (Mike) Mattimore, the Philadelphia (Athletics) pitcher attempted to catch me napping.  He ran to the base line, and as I attempted to slide back to the first bag he unintentionally gave me the ‘knee’ and it injured severely the knee cap on my left leg.”

With his playing days behind him, Barkley, who was reported to have made as much as $1,800 a season with the Alleghenys, returned to Pittsburgh with a young wife who had aspirations to be an actress and opened a cigar store.  It didn’t end well.

It didn’t end well.

After just more than a year in business, The Pittsburgh Press said Barkley’s store on Smithfield Street closed by order of the sheriff, due to “claims aggregating $3,600.”

The couple moved to Chicago.  Things initially went better there.

Barkley opened a tavern at 292 West Madison Street, and he and Dora had a son who was born around 1895.

Shortly after they returned to Chicago Dora met Chicago’s first crime boss Michael Cassius “Mike” McDonald.  Richard Henry Little of The Chicago Tribune said McDonald “never held office but ruled the city with an iron hand.”  McDonald built a gambling and protection syndicate, controlled the Garfield Park racetrack, and solidified his control of the city as leader of the local Democratic Party.  He was also heavily involved in legitimate businesses—he owned The Chicago Globe newspaper and financed the building of Chicago’s first elevated rail line.

Mike McDonald

Mike McDonald

Years later Barkley told The Inter Ocean about his wife’s first meeting with McDonald:

“She was introduced to him at a box party in McVicker’s Theater shortly after the close of the big fair (World’s Columbia Exposition), in 1893…I remember the night distinctly.  Dora came home to our place at 319 Washington Boulevard and told me that she had met a very fascinating old man (McDonald was 44), who reputed to have a lot of money.

“’Watch me get a piece of that money,’ Dora said to me, jestingly, and fool that I was I laughed at the supposed joke.”

Dora Feldman Barkley McDonald

Dora Feldman Barkley McDonald

There are several versions of what happened next.  One involves an elaborate (seemingly too elaborate) story that suggested Barkley was lured by a friend of McDonald into a compromising position involving women and drugs—only to be “caught” by his wife.  The more likely version was that he was simply paid off—The Inter Ocean said he received $30,000 to divorce Dora.

Barkley never acknowledged receiving the money and only said:

“(Dora and McDonald) had planned between them to oust me, and no matter what I might have done, it would have been all the same in the long run.  With his money and his influence, McDonald could put it over me any time he wanted.”

Dora eventually became McDonald’s second wife in 1898, (his first wife, who once shot a police officer—she was acquitted—had eloped to Europe with a priest).

By 1897, Barkley had opened a new tavern at 15 North Clark Street, which was frequently in the news.

Sam Barkley

Sam Barkley

The Chicago Tribune called it a “notorious saloon,” and The Chicago Daily News reported on several occasions that the saloon had its license revoked temporarily for various criminal activities and violations; in 1900 The Inter Ocean said a grand jury report was “almost an indictment of the city administration for its toleration of the dives, all-night saloons, and resorts for thieves and the depraved.”  Of Barkley’s location the grand jury said:

“Men and women drinking, swearing and carousing, with music; open after midnight in the past.  Several murders have been committed in front of this door.”

As with all such “clean-up” drives during that era in Chicago, nothing came of the grand jury report.

Dora again made headlines in 1907—and as a result so did her ex-husband.

The Inter Ocean said:

‘Mike ‘ M’Donald’s Wife Kills Artist in His Studio

“Dora McDonald, wife of Michael C. McDonald, millionaire, politician, traction man, and ex-gambler, shot and killed Webster S. Guerin, an artist, behind the locked doors of his studio in the Omaha Building, LaSalle and Van Buren Streets yesterday.”

Barkley was quickly contacted by reporters and told his sad story of how Dora had left him.  The paper said:

“The story that Sam Barkley slowly grieved his life away over the loss of his pretty wife is disproved by the discovery of Sam Barkley alive and prosperous in Chicago today.”

Dora McDonald was eventually acquitted, but Mike McDonald did not live to see it, he died during her trial.

Barkley fell on hard times in Chicago soon after the killing.  In August of 1908 a six-inning benefit baseball game was played at Comiskey Park between two Chicago City League teams–“Nixey” Callahan‘s Logan Squares and the Rogers Parks–“to raise enough money to start him in the cigar business.”  The Chicago Examiner said, “A fair-sized crowd turned out.”

Fred Pfeffer played first base for the Rogers Parks and “was the hero of the game with two hits besides fielding in grand style,” another former big leaguer, Emil Gross, served as umpire.

Shortly after that Barkley was operating a cigar store in his hometown, Wheeling, West Virginia.

There was one last chapter in the Barkley story.  Soon after he returned to West Virginia he was living in poverty and became ill, and died on April 20, 1912.  The Chicago Daily News said several days before his death a former baseball acquaintance was summoned to his side:

Billy Sunday called on him.  He talked baseball for a while and then religion.  At the end Sam liked both equally well.”

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday

Dora McDonald was contacted for a comment:

“It is a closed incident—it’s so long ago that I knew him.  But I’m sorry.”

She eventually married a doctor, moved to California and died in 1930.

“In Baseball there is no such Advantage”

8 Oct

John Henry Mohardt was, with George Gipp, a member of the backfield on Knute Rockne‘s undefeated 1920 Notre Dame football team, and would go on to play for the Chicago Cardinals, Racine Legion and Chicago Bears in the NFL.

He also played baseball in at Notre Dame and was a highly sought after prospect.  Contemporary reports said he received offers from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indiana, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers.  He signed with the Tigers and manager Ty Cobb.

When it was announced that he would open the season as a member of the Tigers Mohardt was asked by reporters which sport was more difficult:

“Baseball, of course.  Football is team play, baseball largely individual effort.

“In football there is time enough to get set after each signal.  The calling of the signal tells you just what you are expected to do to put over the play.  Every player has a chance to firmly concentrate on his task.

“In baseball there is no such advantage.  There is never an opportunity to get set.

“In baseball the great weight is on the individual.  When I go to bat I am up there along.  I cannot depend on anybody but myself for help. “

Johnny Mohardt

Johnny Mohardt

Mohardt had never played football before entering Notre Dame and “Inside a week he was a first-string player,” as a result he said:

“It is easy to make football players, but from what I know of baseball it is necessary to have natural ability and also be able to think quickly.  Developing football players is easy.  If a fellow is physically fit the coach will do the rest.

“I have seen Coach Rockne make stars almost overnight at Notre Dame.  Every season brings forth scores of new stars in the football world.  In baseball I understand a new star a year is the exception.”

Mohardt was not the exception; he was 1 for 1 with a walk and 2 runs scored for the Tigers in five games in April, and after he was released hit .185 in 21 games for the Syracuse Stars in the International League—then returned to football.

Mohardt became a physician, served in the military in World War II and died in 1961.

An excellent biography of Mohardt written by Dan Cichalski appears on Gary Joseph Cieradkowski’s Infinite Baseball Card Set blog.

Butcher Boy Schmidt

25 Jul

Charles John “Butch” “Butcher Boy” Schmidt was credited by Connie Mack with being the catalyst for the Boston Braves World Series upset of Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics in 1914; one year later Schmidt walked away from baseball in his prime.

Butch Schmidt

Butch Schmidt

He was born in Baltimore in 1886, and played amateur ball while working in the family meat market, which earned him his nickname.

Schmidt signed as a pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles  in the Eastern League and assigned to the Holyoke Papermakers in the Connecticut State League, where he posted a 10-9 record.  In late August the Orioles recalled him, and he went 5-1 in 11 games with Baltimore.

The New York Highlanders drafted Schmidt and the 22-year-old pitcher started the 1909 season in New York.  He appeared in only one game, on May 11, giving up 10 hits and eight runs, four earned, in five innings.  Early in June he was returned to the Orioles.

After appearing in eight games on the mound with the Orioles, Schmidt was moved to first base.  After hitting .244 for the remainder of ’09, he hit .292, .291, and .274 the next three seasons, and was sold to the Rochester Hustlers in the International League, where he hit .321; he was purchased by the Boston Braves on August 22, and hit .308 in 22 games playing in place of Ralph “Hap” Myers.

At the end of the 1913 season Boston sold Myers’ contract to Rochester; The Boston Post reported that Braves manager George Stallings simply didn’t like Myers.  (Myers had a different theory for his release—that story next week)

Schmidt was installed as the Braves first baseman in 1914, and as Boston made their improbable run to the National league pennant Schmidt   hit .285 with 71 RBI and .990 fielding percentage, and finished 16th in the voting for the Chalmers Award, for the most valuable player in the National League; teammates Johnny Evers and Rabbit Maranville finished first and second in the voting.

Grantland Rice said in The New York Tribune:

“There are few greater first basemen in baseball and none who is steadier or a better fighter.  For Schmidt is also of the aggressive type and a hustler every second.”

The New York Times didn’t think quite as highly of Schmidt and on the eve of the World Series said the “advantage favors the Athletics” at first base:

(John “Stuffy”) McInnis makes exceptionally brilliant plays…has been through Worlds Series fire and proved just as cool as if he were playing an exhibition game in the springtime.  Schmidt has yet to face the strain and tension of the big baseball classic…While Schmidt is not a scientific batsman, he is a free swinger and hits the ball hard, but he doesn’t hit it often.”

The pressure of the series didn’t seem to bother Schmidt, the Braves first baseman hit .294 with five hits, two runs and two RBIs in the four game sweep of the Athletics; McInnis hit just .143.

In game one he made a play in the first inning that Connie Mack said set the tone for the series and “sparked the Braves.”  With runners on first and second with one out, Athletics third baseman Frank “Home Run” Baker hit a foul pop-up into short right field.  Athletics outfielder Eddie Murphy tagged up and attempted to go to third; The Associated Press said Schmidt made a “great throw…from a difficult angle,” to third baseman Charlie Deal to retire Murphy.

Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Murphy and "Home Run" Baker,

Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Murphy and “Home Run” Baker,

Early in the 1915 season Braves manager George Stallings called Schmidt “The best first baseman in the game,” but his performance at the plate slipped.  Schmidt hit just .251 with 60 RBIs.  The Braves again found themselves in 8th place in July, and while they made another strong run, finished 2nd, seven games behind the Philadelphia Phillies.

Despite the mediocre season at the plate, it was assumed the 28-year-old Schmidt would remain the Braves first baseman.  Schmidt shocked Stallings, Boston fans, and all of baseball when he announced in January of 1916 that he was retiring from baseball.

Butch Schmidt at bat

Butch Schmidt at bat

The Associated Press said Schmidt was leaving “to devote his entire time to his private business.”

Grantland Rice said Schmidt’s business included “six meat markets in Baltimore,” and that he earned $8000 a year from his stores.

The Sporting Life said it was just as likely that Schmidt, listed at 200 pounds, retired because:

Hard work in that old rubber shirt to get down to weight, especially when the extra weight comes off slowly, more slowly each succeeding season, is a trial that anyone would like to sidestep if he could. “

Boston manager George Stallings filled the void left by Schmidt by purchasing Ed Konetchy from the Pittsburgh Rebels from the newly defunct Federal League.

The Boston Post said the change at first base would not hurt the Braves:

“Konetchy, a heavier hitter than Schmidt, is just about as capable in other ways.”

Despite the confidence of The Post, Stallings was not convinced and continued to try to induce Schmidt to return; his efforts were unsuccessful.

After Konetchy hit .260 for the third place Braves in 1916 it was reported that Schmidt would return to the team.  After several weeks of speculation, Schmidt told The Boston Globe “no offer” could induce him to return to Boston.

Konetchy hit .272 and .236 the next two seasons, and each off season it was rumored Schmidt would return, and every year he stayed home where he continued to run his business and play semi-pro ball in Baltimore’s Inter-City League.

Before the 1919 season Konetchy was traded to the Brooklyn Robins and the Braves acquired Walter Holke from the Cincinnati Reds.  Holke hit .292 for the Braves in 1919, but rumors continued that Schmidt, out of organized baseball for four years, would be returning to Boston.  The Associated Press said:

“George Stallings of the Boston Braves is trying to get Charlie “Butch” Schmidt, the Baltimore butcher boy who played first base for the world’s champions of 1914, to return to the Boston Braves.  Schmidt is reported to be in wonderful condition as he has kept in practice since his retirement.”

Schmidt never returned to professional ball, and was finally removed from Boston’s reserve list in 1922.

Butch Schmidt walked away from professional baseball and never looked back; he died in 1952 of a heart attack while inspecting cattle at the Baltimore Union Stock Yards.

“He was Not Crazy as Reported”

18 Jul

Ervin Thomas “Erve” “Dutch” Beck hit the first home run in the American League; on April 25, 1901, the second day of the season, as a member of the Cleveland Blues; Beck homered off White Sox pitcher John Skopec at Chicago’s South Side Park.

It was a highlight in a short, promising career, like many at the turn of the 20th Century, destroyed by alcoholism.

Beck was considered the best young player in Toledo, Ohio when he joined the Adrian Reformers in the Michigan State League as a 16-year-old in 1895, then for the next five seasons, he was the star of his hometown Toledo Mud Hens in the Interstate League.  For the two seasons in Toledo for which complete records survive, Beck hit .298 in 1898 with 11 home runs and, a league-leading .360 with 15 home runs in 1900.

Erve Beck

Erve Beck

Earning the Nickname “Home run Dutch” in the Toledo papers, Beck was credited with 67  during his five seasons with the Mud Hens;  he would remain the team’s all-time career home run leader until 2007 when Mike Hessman (currently with the Louisville Bats in the International League) hit his 68th as a Mud Hen.

Beck also had a brief trial with the Brooklyn Superbas in the National League in 1899, hitting .167 in eight September games.

It’s unclear exactly when Beck’s problems with alcohol began, but according to fellow Ohioan Ed Ashenbach (alternately spelled Ashenback by several contemporary sources), a minor league contemporary who wrote a book in 1911 called “Humor among the Minors”,  it was well-known during Beck’s career that he was “addicted to strong drink,” and as a result suffered from “hallucinations.”

Ed Ashenbach

Ed Ashenbach (Ashenback)

Before the 1901 season, Beck, whose rights were held by the Cincinnati Reds, jumped to the Cleveland Blues in the newly formed American League; the twenty-two-year-old hit .289 and accounted for six of Cleveland’s twelve home runs.

Beck jumped back to the Reds before the 1902 season and received rave reviews early in the season.  The Cincinnati Tribune seemed to like him more at second base than veteran Heine Peitz:

“Erve Beck looks more like a second baseman than anyone who has filled the position since (Bid) McPhee went into retirement (in 1899).  He covers the ground, seems to know where to play and is capable of swinging the bat with some effect.”

His teammate, pitcher Frank “Noodles” Hahn claimed Beck hit the ball “harder than (Napoleon) Lajoie.”

Beck hit better than .300 playing second base in May but went to the bench when Peitz, who was filling in behind the plate for an injured Bill Bergen returned to second.

In June first baseman Jake Beckley missed a week with an injury and Beck filled in there; The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Ren Mulford said:

“(Beck) played the bag in splendid style…In handling ground balls Beck is as good as Beckley, and he is a better thrower… Beck gave another display of his versatility by plugging up a hole in right field.  He made one catch that was a lollapalooza…Most players would have lost heart when benched as Beck was, but he remained as chipper as a skunk during his term of inactivity, and gladly accepted the opportunity to get back into the swim. Beck is a phlegmatic soul, who takes life, as he finds it without a growl.”

In spite of a .305 batting average in 48 games and the great press he received, Beck was released by the Reds in July.  Whether the release was simply because he was the odd man out with Peitz, Beckley and right fielder Sam Crawford healthy or as a result of drinking is unknown.

Beck was signed almost immediately by the Detroit Tigers where he took over at first base after Frank “Pop” Dillon was sent to the Baltimore Orioles.  He hit .296 in 41 games but was again released at the end of the season.

Beck would never return to the big leagues.

In 1903 he .331 for the Shreveport Giants in the Southern Association, he jumped Shreveport the following season and played for the Portland Browns in the Pacific Coast League.   He returned to the Southern Association with the New Orleans Pelicans in 1905.  After starting the 1906 season in New Orleans, he was released in July and signed by the Nashville Volunteers; his combined average with both Southern Association teams was .211.

Beck’s drinking was, according to Ashenback and contemporary newspaper accounts, common knowledge by the time he wore out his welcome in Nashville in August and was sold to the Augusta Tourists in the South Atlantic League.

That stop would last for only one game.

The 27-year-old, four years removed from the American League, played first base for the Tourists on August 6.  Augusta second baseman Ed McKernan said, “It was evident when he reported there was something amiss with him,” and claimed Beck chased “an imaginary flock of geese away from first base” during the game.

The following day, according to The Augusta Chronicle, Beck “created a sensation in the clubhouse…causing all but two of the players to leave the house.”  As a result, Augusta released him.

The following day The Chronicle said:

“(Beck) ran amuck this morning and created great excitement on the street.

“While in a room on the third floor of the Chelsea hotel the big infielder suddenly began to see things and sprang from the third story window to the ground below.  Only two intervening telephone wires and a rose bush saved his life.

“He then darted down an alley and hid himself in a store.  He was finally captured and came quietly back to his room with a policeman and (Tourists outfielder Frank) Norcum.”

The Sporting Life assured their readers that Beck “was not crazy, as reported, but only suffering from the effects of a (drunken) spree.”

McKernan said “During his convalescence…Beck would smilingly avow his determination to abstain from strong drink.”

There were varying reports regarding the extent of his injuries, and it’s unknown whether he was physically able to play after the fall, but Beck would never play professionally again.

He returned to Toledo where he operated a tavern and appears to have been unable “to abstain from strong drink;” he died in 1916 of Articular Rheumatism complicated by Hepatic Cirrhosis.

Luke Easter, Sausage King

31 May

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Between the 1952 and ’53 season, Cleveland Indians first baseman Luke Easter (r) went into the sausage business with his brother-in-law Raymond Cash (l).  The business, Ray’s Sausage still operates in Cleveland.  In a Jet Magazine article  Easter said they only managed to sell 20 pounds their first week, but by January of 1953 they were selling 2,300 pounds a day.  The article said Easter had “taken out a license to place his sausage on sale” at Indians games.  He said:

“I can make this business go by hitting lots of home runs (but) even if our sausage makes a million dollars I won’t quit baseball, I’ll stay in baseball as long as I can walk.”

During the fourth game of the 1953 season Easter was hit by a pitch, breaking a bone in his foot, as a result the 37-year-old, who had hit 31 home runs with 97 RBIs in 127 games the previous season, dropped to 7 and 31 in 68 games;  his career with the Indians ended after only 6 games in 1954.  But while Easter didn’t hit “lots of home runs” in Cleveland after starting the company, he did stay in baseball for almost “as long as (he could) walk.”

Playing primarily in the International League with the Buffalo Bisons and Rochester Red Wings, Easter remained in baseball until 1964, hitting more than 235 homes runs.

Easter was killed in a hold up in Cleveland in 1979.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer editorialized the day after his death:

“For all of his huge size and great strength, Luke Easter was a gentle man.  It is a contradiction to the way in which he lived that his life should be ended violently.

“He had courage.  He played first base for the Cleveland Indians from 1949 to 1954, a time when it was far from easy to be a black athlete in the major leagues…He was shot dead yesterday at age 63, victim of a cowardly attack from ambush outside a bank office .

“It is a wound to the community.  Luke Easter, athlete and gentleman, will be missed.”

Luke Easter, 1949

Luke Easter, 1949

McCloskey, Mays and Hair Color

12 Mar

Carl Mays is best known for being the pitcher that hit Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman with a pitch, resulting in the only hit by pitch death of a Major League player. In fifteen seasons he posted a 208-126 record with a 2.92 ERA.

Five years before he became infamous for Chapman’s death, Mays became embroiled in a strange feud with former National League manager John James McCloskey; the dispute was over hair color.

Carl Mays

Carl Mays

In December of 1914, McCloskey was a well-respected figure in baseball, credited with being the “father” of the original Texas League in 1888, McCloskey had spent five seasons as manager of the Louisville Colonels and St. Louis Cardinals in the National League, and another 23 as a minor league manager and owner.

Mays was coming off a 24-8 season for the Providence Grays in the international League, and while called up to the Red Sox in the closing weeks of the season had not yet appeared in a big league game.

The controversy originated when Charles “Toby” Fullerton, a pitcher for the Seattle Giants in the Northwestern League was quoted in an article that appeared in The Pittsburgh Press and several other newspapers about pitcher “Seattle Bill” James, who had just led the Boston Braves to a World Championship.  Fullerton said when he and James were teammates in Seattle in 1912, manager Shad Barry had “condemned the youngster for being a blond,” then was quoted saying McCloskey also “has no use in the world for blonde ball players.”

"Seattle Bill" James

“Seattle Bill” James

The strange, silly, throwaway quote should have been the end of it, but it was apparently serious enough for McCloskey to issue a long denial from his home in Louisville, Kentucky.   The full-page letter McCloskey wrote appeared in more newspapers than the original story, and read in part:

“Let me say, I have been accused of every crime in the calendar, but this is too much.”

McCloskey claimed the “rumor” originated when he was managing the Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association in 1910.  Outfielder Rube DeGroff played for McCloskey (incidentally, Shad Barry was also a member of the team), and according to McCloskey:

“We were playing in Kansas City, we were behind…and made a big rally that came near giving us the game.  The bases were full in the last inning, with two men out, when the big, blonde and good-natured Rube DeGroff, who was a splendid all-around player and life of the club, came to bat with the bases full and struck out.  I was sore over losing the game and made the remark that I never saw a cotton-top who ever made good in a pinch.”

McCloskey said he also believed anything Barry might have said to or about James was certainly a joke, and closed with a final defense:

“In fact, in my humble opinion, I think the blonde has a shade over the brunette.  But why the color of a man’s hair should have anything to do with his ability as a ball player is a mystery to me, and I hope this explanation will put an end to these silly rumors.”

It didn’t.

Within days Carl Mays weighed in, claiming that he had twice been rejected for an opportunity to pitch for McCloskey’s Ogden Canners in the Union Association because he was blond.

Mays said:

“McCloskey is a liar pure and simple…In 1912, when I was on my way to Boise to try out for the Boise team; I stopped off at Ogden, thinking possibly owner McCloskey might give me a trial.  I met him downtown in a billiard parlor and went up and introduced myself.

“McCloskey looked me over carefully, like a horse-trader examining a piece of horseflesh, and then suddenly espied my blond hair.  ‘No,’ said he coolly, ‘I don’t want you.  In fact I wouldn’t have you around the ranch.  I don’t want any blonds in my camp.’”

Mays also claimed that later in 1912 while compiling a 22-9 record for the Boise Irrigators in the Western Tri-State League; he was nearly sold to McCloskey’s pitching-strapped Ogden Canners until:

“One of the Ogden players happened to mention the fact that he was the same blond-haired fellow who had asked for a job earlier.”

According to Mays, McCloskey said:

“’Deal is off.  Send that white-haired guy over here and I’ll kill him.’”

The story stuck with McCloskey for more than 20 years.  A 1916 story in The Providence Tribune said:

“Scouts all over the country know McCloskey and never did one in his employ recommend a light-haired ballplayer…His peculiarity was well-known, and he knew that no one would have the temerity to recommend to him a blond or light-haired ballplayer. “

The black-haired John McCloskey

The black-haired John McCloskey

In 1934, The Milwaukee Journal called McCloskey “one grizzled veteran who frowned on blond athletes.”  The article quoted E. Lee Keyser, a long-time minor league executive, who said when McCloskey managed Butte “One of (McCloskey’s) players was an Indian outfielder whose hair was black,” the player struck out in a critical situation.  According to Keyser, when the unnamed player returned to the clubhouse later, McCloskey grabbed his hair and said:  “I just want to know if you’re wearing a wig.  You hit like a blond.”

McCloskey managed in the minor leagues until he was 70-years-old, he died eight years later in 1940.

“An Umpire Nearly Lynched”

11 Mar

The above headline appeared on an Associated Press story in August of 1890.  Former Major Leaguer Jimmy Manning, then managing the Kansas City Blues in the Western Association had interceded to quell a riot at the end of a game with the Denver Grizzlies in Kansas City:

“Two questionable decisions by umpire Jovin (Sic) in the ninth inning, when Kansas City was about to tie the score, angered the crowd to such an extent that they swarmed into field, hooting and jeering the umpire.  Two young boys got hold of a rope, and in fun proposed to lynch him.  This added to the excitement, and it looked for a time as if the umpire would be mobbed.  Jimmy Manning climbed up to the top of the fence and addressed the mob.  He said the umpire had decided rightly and advised that no violence be attempted.  This quieted the mob to a degree.  In the meantime the players of both clubs formed a hollow square around the umpire and conducted him to the clubhouse.”

Jimmy Manning

Jimmy Manning

“Jovin” was actually Fred Jevne, a 26-year-old minor league veteran who had become an umpire just a month earlier.  After joining the Spokane franchise in the Pacific Northwest League in April, Jevne was suspended in May for punching an umpire.

In July The Spokane Falls Daily Chronicle said Jevne and teammate Tom Turner “quit the nine because they were excessively fined and ill-treated.”  According to the paper the two players showed up at the July, 1 game “in an intoxicated condition and acted like ruffians in the grand stand.” Turner was eventually reinstated and finished the season in Spokane, Jevne did not.

Since 1885 Jevne had played for a variety of teams in several leagues, including the Southern, International, and California.  When he was signed by Spokane to play center field and serve as captain, The Daily Chronicle said:

“Jevne is rather short.  He is a good batsman and a good player generally.  The San Francisco papers, when he played there, alternately praised him and berated him, but all agree that he was a good player.”

Jevne made one more attempt at playing, joining the Evansville Hoosiers in the Northwestern League in 1891.  He then returned to the Western Association as an umpire.

Fred Jevne

Fred Jevne with the Minneapolis Millers, 1889

In December of 1894 Jevne was named to the National League umpiring staff, where his work received mixed reviews.  In June The Baltimore Sun called him “As good an umpire as there is in the business.” In August, after a he worked a game between the Boston Beaneaters and Chicago Colts, The Boston Globe said “Umpire Jevne did poor work, both sides suffering from his yellow decisions.”  The Pittsburgh Press called Jevne’s performance in a September game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Athletics “By far the worst exhibition of umpiring given this season.”

Jevne was not offered a position in the National League for 1896, and went to work in the Southern Association, where he seems to have a continued his fighting ways.  In July, The Birmingham Age-Herald said Jevne had missed the previous day’s game between the Montgomery Senators and Columbus River Snipes:

“Jevne, the regular umpire, arrived in town last night, but this morning loaded himself up with the spirit of hilarity, got into a fight with a citizen and when the hour for playing arrived was in the hands of the police, and failing to make bond was unavoidably absent from the field.”

Despite his troubles, or because of them, Jevne was asked to join the Interstate League at the end of the 1896 season because, according to The Sporting Life, umpires were losing control of games:

 “(Interstate League President Charles) Powers to-night wired for Fred Jevne the ex-National League umpire, who is so handy with his fists, to report for duty.”

Jevne was not popular with players or the press down south, and said his time in the Southern Association was difficult:

“It was no snap umpiring down South.  Fines didn’t go—were never paid—and so I used to remove men from the game.  Sometimes I would have to take out about half of a team before they would behave, and then the papers would roast me good and plenty the next morning…I had a scrap with a player named (Al) Gifford (Atlanta Crackers shortstop), and punched him in a car going from the grounds.  The local paper came out the next morning and urged the chartering of a special car for the umpire. So that he could be alone in his dignity, and another paragraph hinted that a cigar sign or dummy could be put in the special car for the umpire to punch”

Jevne appears to have returned to the Southern Association for parts of the 1897 and ’98 seasons.  He spent at least part of 1899 and 1900 in his hometown, Chicago, where he worked as an umpire in some college games.  In 1901 Jevne became a Western League umpire and that year met with a violent and mysterious end.

Initial newspaper reports said Jevne had fallen from a third story window in Denver’s Hotel Victor on August 2; he lingered for two days before dying. His body was returned to Chicago and he was buried at Graceland Cemetery.

However, several months after his death, Jevne’s brother Lloyd, a well-known three cushion billiard champion, told The Associated Press he was certain he had been murdered, and that before dying Jevne had said he was pushed:

“I saw Fred’s body after it was shipped back to Chicago, where the burial took place, and the most prominent feature of his injuries was the bruise on his nose.  Doctors I saw believe that he was struck across the face with some blunt object… When he was about to die it is not probable he would have told a falsehood.  He would not have said at that time that he had been pushed out the window.”

Lloyd Jevne

Lloyd Jevne

Whether Fred Jevne fell or was pushed from that hotel window has never been positively determined.