Tag Archives: Interstate League

“Here, you Bone-Headed Mutt, come here”

19 Aug

A small item in the 1913 edition of “Spalding’s Baseball Guide” reporting the death of long-time minor league player and manager Ed Ashenbach—misspelled Aschenbach by the guide—said he “coined the term bonehead.”

Ed Ashenbach

Ed Ashenbach

Wilbert Robinson told Billy Murphy of The St. Louis Star, the story of how Ashenbach, who The Sporting Life once called “The king of the minors,” came upon the term.

Robinson said it happened in 1902 when Ashenbach managed the Shreveport Giants in the Southern Association and involved an outfielder “by the name of McGowan,” whom he called “Mack.”  There was no “McGowan” with Shreveport, but Monte McFarland and Frank McGuire both played games in the outfield while Ashenbach was in Shreveport:

“One of the opposing players knocked a high fly in Mack’s direction.  Somehow he lost his nerve and was unable to judge it correctly.  He made three or four circles and finally gave it up entirely, just as the ball came down on his head and bounded to the far corner of the field, two runners scoring.

Wilbert robinson

Wilbert Robinson

“’Ash’ was wild.  The game was lost.

“Picking up a catcher’s mask and rushing out to the bewildered fielder he yelled: ‘Here, you bone-headed mutt, come here.’  When he came up with the player he began it again.  ‘Here you bonehead,’ he yelled. ‘Take this mask and put it on or they’ll knock your brains out with the next fly they put over.’”

Before his death in 1912, Ashenbach wrote a book called “Humor Among the Minors,” and reprinted a very similar version of Robinson’s story that was told by Bozeman Bulger in The New York World in 1910.  While Ashenbach vouched for the veracity of the story, he said it wasn’t the first time he used the term, and had actually coined the term earlier–although he got the year wrong.:

“In 1899 [sic, 1897] I played center field for the Springfield. Ohio, club (the Governors in the Interstate League).  On the team were Josh Reilly, third baseman, now retired and deputy coroner of San Francisco (It has been a matter of speculation where Reilly played in 1897–Baseball Reference lists the player with Columbus as Joseph Reilly, The Sporting Life referred to  the player with Columbus as “Josh Reilly”) and a catcher to whom we gave the nickname of Zeekoe, and who was continually doing just the opposite of what he was instructed to do.

Josh Reilly

Josh Reilly

“He had a serious weakness, in that it was utterly impossible for him to catch a high foul fly.  He would dance under the ball until he got dizzy.  Reilly often advised that we build a wooden shed over him so that his head would not be shattered by one of those high fouls.

“One day the expected happened.  The ball went high up into the air, with Zeekoe, as usual, doing his sky-dance, under it.  It finally landed, not in his mitt, but right on top of his head, bouncing fully thirty feet off his bean into the bleachers.  The blow would have felled and ox.  Down went poor Zeekoe, but only for an instant–to pick up his mask, which had been knocked off in the encounter.  That evening in the dining room

“That evening in the dining room, Reilly and I passed Zeekoe, who was enjoying his evening meal with the utmost complacency.  In passing him, I playfully pressed both of my hands on his head to feel for the bump which a blow of that size should have raised.  The lump was conspicuous by its absence.

“‘Are you hurt?’ I inquired of him.  ‘Not a bit,’ he said with pride.  Turing to Reilly, I remarked, ‘No wonder, Josh, that he isn’t hurt.  His head is made of bone.’  I believe this was the very first use of the term.  Ever since that night I have applied the expression ‘bonehead’ to any player guilty of unusual stupidity, and it has gained wide circulation.”

 

Nick Altrock’s First Start

27 Jul

The Cincinnati Enquirer ran a small item about Nick Altrock in February of 1914.  The paper said of the left-handed pitcher and one of baseball’s greatest clowns:

“(E)xcellent control, combined with a stolid indifference to the surroundings and trimmings which go to make up the big league contests, were the stock and trade of Mr. Altrock and the principal asset which made him a great pitcher.”

Nick Altrock

Nick Altrock

Altrock is 31st all-time, and third among left-handed pitchers, having walked just 1.6169 batters per nine innings.

A month later a letter arrived at the paper.  The writer, Frank Torreyson, the man who discovered Altrock in Cincinnati, and signed him to his first professional contract with Grand Rapids in the Interstate League in 1898, told the paper that it was under his tutelage that Altrock got “the idea that control was everything almost in the pitching line.”

Torreyson said:

“During our exhibition season we had much rainy weather and had very few chances to play games and the championship season was upon us before we had much chance to secure any line on our players…Well, Altrock had not done any too well in his one exhibition game, although his work looked good to me and I saw that although he was somewhat green , that he had possibilities and he then was full of comedy, just as at present.”

Torreyson said he decided to leave Altrock behind in Grand Rapids when the club made their first road trip of the season:

“I took Altrock into the clubhouse and told him I was not going to take him along, and you should have seen his face.  His lip fell down and he says, ‘Are you going to can me?’ I told him I was going to leave him at home to see if he could get control during the week we were away, telling him that he had no control over his curveball.”

Torreyson said when Altrock learned he wasn’t going to be released, he “took heart and said he would work hard,” on his control:

“I had a friend who lived near the park and he told me when I came home that Altrock came out at 9 AM and never took his uniform off until 5 o’clock.  Then before supper, he would go down the street and watch to see what the boys did on the trip.”

Frank Torreyson

Frank Torreyson

Torreyson said his left-handed pitchers, Billy Campbell, War Sanders, Charles Hutton, pitched well on the road trip, and:

“Poor Nick told them all that he guessed it was back to Cincy for him.

“Well, when we came home for the opening game Nick didn’t know whether to put on a uniform or not.  I sent him to the grounds early while the other boys were on parade, and when practice came I told him I wanted to see if he could put a few of his curveballs over the plate, and you should have seen them coming over with speed—ins, outs and every ball he pitched right over the center. “

Torreyson said shortly before the game began he informed Altrock that he would be Grand Rapids’ starting pitcher:

“Well, that was the time you should have seen him open his eyes.  Then he went in and only gave up a couple of hits, struck out 12 and never gave anything like a base on balls.”

Torreyson got some of the details wrong.  Altrock did pitch the opener and went the distance in a 12-inning game that ended in a 3 to 3 tie; he struck out eight and walked two.

Altrock went 17-3 for Grand Rapids before the cash-strapped Torreyson sold him to the Louisville Colonels in July.

Torreyson said of Altrock:

“His work with us that season was of the most sensational character.  Besides his great work he was one of the easiest men to handle I have ever seen in the game; always ready and willing and never shirking.  Many a time have I seen him after pitching a winning game, keep his uniform on and play with the kids for an hour or two.  He was always a general favorite with the public and players and was a credit to the game.”

Altrock

Altrock

As for Altrock’s success, well, Torreyson was fairly sure who to credit for that:

“I feel confident that the week he was left at home to learn to get them over had much to do with his having such great control during his later career.”

“The Nomad of the Interstate League”

25 Jul

There have been several incarnations of the Interstate League, the first began in 1885 and the final one played its last game in 1952.  None was more precarious than the one that operated in the 1890s, which newspapers annually announced was on the verge of collapse.  One Interstate League franchise, in particular, was always a little closer to collapse than the rest.

Frank J. Torreyson became the owner of the Wheeling (WV) Nailers in 1897.  He had been part owner of the Dayton franchise but just as that partnership was disintegrating the Wheeling team went on strike because they hadn’t been paid.  The league solved two problems by awarding the Nailers to Torreyson.

Torreyson had been a semi-pro player in Pennsylvania and managed teams in the Tri-State League. His first effort at team ownership involved starting a Pittsburgh franchise in the Pennsylvania State League in 1892.  By July He moved the team to Wilkes-Barre citing poor attendance.

His brother, Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson, was a 2nd baseman who had some excellent seasons in the Pennsylvania State and Atlantic Leagues; but by 1897 Thayer had literally grown into his nickname, and his best playing days were behind him.

Thayer joined Frank in the ownership of the team and continued to play and serve as captain.

In 1898, the Torreyson brothers moved the Wheeling franchise to Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Frank had necessitated the move when, immediately upon acquiring the franchise, he sold off the best players and alienated the Wheeling fans–he also played the two towns against each other.  While he was already aware he had worn out his welcome in Wheeling, he told The Grand Rapids Herald:

“I would very much like to have charge of an Interstate team here though Wheeling is a pretty good ball town.  We can’t play Sunday there, though, unless we get the grounds outside of the town which we expect to have if we stay there.”

He managed to get the city of Grand Rapids’ “West Side businessmen to bear half the expense “of readying two ballparks for the season—the team played most of their games at Recreation Park, but Sunday games were played at nearby Alger Park

The first home Sunday game was a harbinger of what was ahead for Torreyson in Grand Rapids.

Despite each person who “Patronized the grandstand” receiving “‘The Art Gallery of Prominent Baseball Players of America,” fans stayed away in droves.  Bad weather limited the crowd to “a few hundred,” and “stern luck was ‘agin’ the Cabinetmakers,”  Grand Rapids lost the game 6 to 5, and their record for the young season slipped to 2-5.

Things never really improved.

Throughout the 1898 season, Torreyson complained about the lack of support from the Grand Rapids community and threatened to move the team.

For their part, the citizens of Grand Rapids, while not actually coming out to games in great numbers, seemed to appreciate Torreyson’s effort.  In August, with the team in fourth place, The Herald announced that a benefit—whereby blocks of tickets would be purchased by the city’s leaders—would be organized to try to get the owner out of the red:

“Torreyson has given the city the best team it has ever had and this being a bad season f0r the game, there has been no money in it for him.”

There was no report of how much the August 19 benefit raised, but Torreyson, at least for the moment, expressed his gratitude in a letter to the people of the city he was desperately attempting to flee:

“The results show that Grand Rapids people appreciate honest endeavors for clean baseball.  Hoping to continue to please all, I am, respectfully yours, Frank W. Torreyson.”

Frank Torreyson

Frank Torreyson

Over the next twelve months, he visited a number of cities in Ohio and Indiana soliciting the best offer to relocate the team.  Attendance in Grand Rapids decreased further in 1899—while Torreyson’s club had hovered near .500 throughout the 1898 season, they were wire-to-wire doormats, mired in last place for all of 1899– and the already struggling Interstate League was in danger of having a team fold during the season.

In order to keep the eight-team league intact, an unusual trade was made.  The Columbus Buckeyes in the Western League would move to Grand Rapids and Torreyson would take his team to Columbus, Ohio.  The move would benefit both leagues by reducing travel costs.

In mid-July of 1899, the move was made official.  Fans, thrilled to be rid of the cellar-dwelling Interstate League club, filled the ballpark for the first home game of the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers of the Western League.  Newspapers estimated the crowd between 1600 and 2000; at least double the best crowd Torreyson’s team had ever drawn.

Columbus fans were less enthusiastic; 167 attended the first home game of the Columbus Senators of the Interstate League, a 4 to 1 loss to the first place New Castle Quakers.  The Herald said of Grand Rapids’ former club’s first game in their new town:

“That same old story comes from Torreyson’s team.”

The low attendance—they drew just 288 fans for their first Sunday home game– and  not very  friendly reception from the city of Columbus made Frank restless again.  Less than two weeks later, he relocated once more, this time to Springfield, Ohio, where his team was appropriately dubbed The Wanderers.  The team finished the season 49-91, 38 games out of first place.

 

In less than two years, Torreyson had incurred the wrath of the league and each member city.  The Fort Wayne News called for the league to take the franchise away from him. The Toledo Bee said Torreyson was “Ruining the Interstate.”  The Mansfield (OH) News said the transfer of the teams would have been better for the league “If Torreyson had been lost in the trade.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“The managers of the various other teams in the league say that Torreyson has done more to injure baseball in the Interstate League since he got into it than all other drawbacks combined.  The say that if Torreyson is permitted to wander about the country with a club in Columbus this week, in Kalamazoo next week, Erie the following week, Saginaw of Bay City the week after, and God only knows where after that, the league might as well disband.”

Early in 1900, a deal was struck to buy him out of the franchise.  The Youngstown Vindicator said the league had contributed to the purchase price in order to rid them of Torreyson, who they called “The Nomad of the Interstate League.”  Torreyson, The Vindicator said, “(M)ilked at least three towns as dry as tinder. But then the fan is the legitimate prey of the magnet.  Torreyson is now running a billiard hall in Braddock (PA).”

That wasn’t the end of Torreyson’s story.

He did, along with “Heavy,” open a billiard hall in Braddock—then two more in Homestead and McKeesport.  But Frank also became a successful thoroughbred owner and managed dozens of boxers out of a gym in Braddock.

Thayer "Heavy" Torreyson

Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson

Both made headlines one more time.

In October of 1911, The Pittsburgh Dispatch said Thayer was on his way to New York and, “He took with him $21,000.  He will wager this amount that the Philadelphia Athletics will defeat the New York Giants for the world’s championship.”

In 1912, The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said Frank paid passage for two boxers from Whales to come fight for him in Pennsylvania.   Leslie Williams and David John Bowen never made it to the United States; they went down with the Titanic on April 14.

Frank Torreyson died on April 10, 1918.

Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson continued to operate the billiard halls—and as The Pittsburgh Press said he was known to sell “horse race pools and (make) book on races.”  He also remained active in Pittsburgh area amateur baseball until his death on May 7, 1939.

A shorter version of this post appeared in September of 2012.

Del Sayers

12 Oct

The line between professional and amateur athletes was often very blurry before the turn of the 20th Century.  Delbert Bancroft Sayers is a good example.

Born in Ohio in 1876, Sayers first made a name for himself as a pitcher with the Ohio Wesleyan University team in 1895 and ’96 and with semi-pro teams in Galion and Marion, Ohio in 1896–local papers referred to the Marion club as a “professional” team.  In 1897, he  signed with the Youngstown Puddlers of the Interstate League.

                                 Del Sayers

Despite being described by The Youngstown Vindicator as “(A) clever young pitcher with good curves and wonderful speed,” Sayers struggled with Youngstown (no statistics survive but in a May game against Mansfield he walked six batters before being pulled in the third inning).  In June, he was sent to the Guelph Maple Leafs in the Canadian League.  The paper said:

“(He) had difficulty in locating the plate and it is thought a little more practice in a minor league will aid him for Interstate work.  He leaves with the best wishes of all concerned.”

After the 1897 season, Sayers returned to college; this time at Ohio State University.

He played baseball and football at Ohio State and was at times a dominant pitcher.  After a game in 1900 The Marion Star said:

“Sayers, who formerly played with Marion’s professional team, is doing some phenomenal slab work for the O.S.U. team.

“In the Decoration Day (May 28) game against Centre College at Columbus, he shut out his opponents, allowing them but two hits…nineteen of them fanned out at his mysterious shoots and curves.”

Known for his lack of control as a professional, he walked three and hit two batters during that game.

But he was better known as a football player.

Sayers, a tackle, was named captain in 1899, Ohio State’s first undefeated season.  The team went 9-0-1 giving up only five points all season, in a 5-5 tie with Case University.  In a 6-0 victory over Oberlin, Sayers returned a fumble 25 yards for the game’s only score.

                              1899 Ohio State Football team

By the middle of the decade, a college star’s former professional status would have been cause for controversy, but there was hardly a mention of Sayers’ minor league experience during his second college career.

After leaving Ohio State in 1900, Sayers considered offers from several teams in the Interstate League and eventually signed with the Columbus Senators.  He appears to have only pitched one game with Columbus and there are no mentions of his again until 1903 when The Sporting Life reported he had signed with the Terre Haute Hottentots in the Central League—he appears to have pitched in just two games for Terre Haute, both complete-game loses; 10-2 to the Wheeling Stogies (with Branch Rickey behind the plate) on June 19 and 10 to 1  to the South Bend Greens five days later.  The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“South Bend hit Sayers at will.”

In 1904, he returned to Ohio State to finish school.  After graduating Sayers was employed as chief engineer at the Stonega Coke and Coal Company in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, later returning to Ohio where, according to The Columbus Dispatch, as a civil engineer he “laid out” the town of Upper Arlington which had been founded and developed by his brothers in law.  Sayers died in Columbus’ University Hospital on December 4, 1949.

A shorter version of this post appeared on November 21, 2012.

“A Gilded Youth”

10 Jul

Byron D. J. McKeown was born to wealth in 1872 or ’73 (census records say he was born in july of 1872, his death records list his birth year as 1873).  His father, John, immigrated to Western Pennsylvania from Ireland and struck it rich in the oil business.  By the time he died in 1891 he owned oil wells throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and more than 40,000 acres of land in Mississippi; depending on the source he was worth from $2-$10 million.

Byron, one of five brothers, inherited a large portion of his father’s fortune, although there was a legal battle over the estate for more than 20 years—John’s Irish relatives said they were his proper heirs because they claimed John and his wife were never married.

In 1896, the wealthy 23-year-old, who had been playing amateur baseball and formerly played at Washington and Jefferson College, decided to become a professional baseball player and bought his own team.  The Warren (PA) Evening Democrat said:

“There are but few men of wealth among baseballists, and in all the world there is but one millionaire player.”

McKeown organized a team in the Interstate League in his hometown called the Washington (PA) Little Senators (Some sources incorrectly place the team in Washington D.C.).  His college teammate, David Curran, was the team captain.

The Sporting Life called McKeown “A gilded youth who follows the game for pastime.”  McKeown said:

“I am just playing for the sport of it; I have nothing else to do.  I have a leaning towards baseball and thought I would cultivate it”

There are no statistics for McKeown, but the few surviving assessments of his ability as a player are positive.  Toledo Mud Hens manager Frank Torreyson said:

“McKeown can hit the ball…sometimes he is liable to drive it out of sight.”

The Washington (PA) Observer said:

“McKeown is making quite a record as a first baseman.”

While he appears to have played well, things didn’t go smoothly for McKeown’s team.

While Washington, Pennsylvania, with a population of just more than 7000 was, by far, the smallest town in the Interstate League, initially, there was excitement for the club.  The Observer said that the Western Pennsylvania Agricultural Association was providing a home field for the team at the Washington County Fairgrounds.

The Sporting Life said McKeown was “Sure to receive strong financial support from Washington enthusiasts.”

He didn’t.

Professional baseball was not a hit in the small Pennsylvania town.  By the end of July The Sporting Life said the team had lost more than $4000 dollars and had recently played a home game that had only brought in $3.50 in total receipts.

By September McKeown had lost more than $8000 and decided to disband the team before the end of the season. The Observer said that at one August game there was not a single paid attendee.

Over the next several months, McKeown attempted to buy another Interstate league franchise, the Saginaw Lumbermen.  He told a reporter from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he had “every one of last season’s players reserved,” and would “put a strong team on the field.”

The bid to buy the Lumbermen fell through and after a brief stint as first baseman for an Elks Club team, McKeown seems to have lost interest in playing professionally or owning a team.

Two years later McKeown joined the 10th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, “The Fighting 10th” and served in the Spanish-American War.  The Pittsburgh Daily Post said:

“Western Pennsylvania is sending one of her millionaires  to the front to fight for Cuban Independence…Mr. McKeown has been in sympathy with Cuba in their fight against their mother country.”

Curran, his college and minor league teammate, joined him.

McKeown also fought in the Philippine Insurrection and played first base with his regiment’s baseball team in Manila (Curran played second).

He returned to his business interests in Pennsylvania, and after his 25-year-old wife Nellie died of peritonitis in March of 1902, he began to drink heavily, and his death on November 24,  1904, was attributed to alcoholism.(Several Pennsylvania newspapers said he died on November 23; his death certificate says November 24).

The man responsible for Washington, Pennsylvania’s only professional baseball team, was buried in the Washington Cemetery.

This is an update of a post that originally appeared on December 26, 2012.

“He Looked like an Animated Bean Pole”

21 Nov

Hall of Fame Pitcher Addie Joss was discovered, according to his first professional manager, by a man who made a living playing pool with his nose.

Addie Joss

Addie Joss

 

Bob Gilks was Joss’ first manager with the Toledo Mud Hens in the Interstate League.  In 1910 he told the story of the pitcher’s discovery to a reporter for The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader:

“’About ten years ago,’ says Gilks.  ‘I was running the Toledo team in the Interstate League for Charlie Strobel.“

Gilks said he was approached by “Professor Lewis.”  Professor Henry Lewis was the stage name of a man named Herman Cohn, who preformed billiards exhibitions using his fingers, nose and other body parts; Cohn/Lewis also considered himself a good judge of baseball talent:

“(Lewis said) ‘Gilks, I’ve found a pitcher who is a wonder.  He’s playing…in the wilds of Wisconsin, and if you get him and he makes good all I want is $25.  His name is Joss.

“I went after Joss and signed him.  When he showed up at Toledo he looked like an animated bean pole.  He seemed about six and half feet tall and weighed more than 75 pounds, but not much more.

“Joss was a weakling then.  He would go into a game and pitch all kinds of curves and benders for three innings.  Then he’d get tired and I‘d have to take him out.  He complained of pains and I took him to a doctor who decided that Addie had growing pains.

Joss went along this way all year, and next season he showed up sick again.    The doctor gave him some pills and cured him, and Addie grew strong.  He filled out and began to pitch like a whirl wind.”

Wilks’ contention that he was often required to “take him out” is belied by the statistics—Joss had 33 complete games in 34 starts in 1900.

“Joss did so well the next year (25-18) I knew some big league club would grab him, so I told Strobel, and he decided to go to Addie’s home, invite him to spend a few weeks in Toledo and keep him under cover so no one would find him.

“This was just before Easter and Addie didn’t want to leave home until after that day.  He persuaded Strobel to return to Toledo, promising to follow later.  And a couple of days afterward Bill Armour slipped into Juneau (Wisconsin) with Charlie Somers’ bankroll and signed Joss.”

Joss was 17-13 for Cleveland in 1902.

According to The Times-Leader, Gilks and Strobel failed to pay the pool player his $25 despite the tip which led to Joss’ signing.

A Ripley's Believe it or Not Drawing about one of "Professor Lewis'" billiard feats.

A Ripley’s Believe it or Not Drawing about one of “Professor Lewis'” billiard feats.

“Stories of his Badness are told all over the League”

8 Oct

After “Bad Bill” Eagan finished the 1898 season with the Syracuse Stars –he hit just .227, his lowest recorded minor league season average—then returned to his native Camden, NJ–Eagan started his amateur baseball career in Camden as a pitcher, his catcher was another Camden native, William “Kid” Gleason.

Bad Bill Eagan

Bad Bill Eagan

The Harrisburg Telegraph—Eagan had spent two seasons playing in the Pennsylvania city—told the story:

“Bill Eagan the once great second baseman of the Harrisburg Club, in a fair example of what rum will do when it gets the upper hand of a man.  Eagan would have been one of the leading players of the profession if he had left strong drink alone.  He was a sure fielder, hard batter and quick baserunner and ought to be in his prime as a player by this time, but he has drained too many mugs and now winds up in a police court at his home in Camden, NJ, on a charge of attempted murder.

“Eagan was intoxicated yesterday and displaying a 48-caliber revolver, placed it to his temple and remarked: ‘I am going to kill my wife and blow my brains out.’ He paid Barber Riceman fifty cents which he owed him, and also paid a nearby saloon keeper $1 for drinks that he had bought.  Then he returned to the barber shop, said good-bye to his friends, and exclaiming; “Now I am free from debt and am ready to do the job,’ he started for his home and put the threat into execution.

When he arrived home Eagan fired two shots at—and missed–his wife, and then attempted to shoot one of the responding police officers, but because of “a quick blow from (another police officer’s) club the murderous weapon was knocked from the crazed man’s hand.”

The Chicago Tribune said:

“William Eagan, or, as he is known in the baseball profession, ‘Bad Bill’ Eagan, is a player of national reputation.  He is an ignorant man, and stories of his badness are told all over the league.  He was considered one of the best ball players in the profession.”

The Tribune said about Eagan’s brief stay with Pittsburgh earlier in 1898:

“He failed to behave himself, and drunkenness was the charge which let him out as a Pirate.”

Eagan was held in the Camden jail from October of 1898 until March of 1899; it is unclear what he was formally charged with, and he was never tried.

In spite of his reputation, baseball wasn’t done with “Bad Bill” yet.  Shortly after his release from jail, Syracuse sold Eagan’s contract to the Western League’s Detroit Tigers.  His statistics for the season don’t survive, but Eagan seems to have gone back to his old habits.  After he sat out both games of a double-header with the Kansas City Blues in July, The Kansas City Journal said:

“’Bad Bill’ Eagan acquired a jag yesterday and succeeded in making a holy show of himself.  Such creatures and ‘Bad Bill’ should be out of the game.”

Eagan was also seriously injured the same month when, according to The Associated Press, during a game with the Columbus Buckeyes, while trying to stretch a double into a triple:

“Eagan threw himself, feet foremost toward the bag.  His spike caught in the base sack and his right leg was given a terrible wrench.  ‘Bad Bill’ screamed with pain and in an instant was surrounded by members of both teams… (He) had thrown out his kneecap.  (A doctor) pushed the cap back and then the injured player was carried to the bench.”

Whether the injury contributed or not is unknown, but by August The Sporting Life reported that he had again worn out his welcome:

“Bad Bill” Eagan has worn a Detroit uniform for the last time. Eagan has not behaved at all and (George) Stallings has got through for good and all with him.”

George Stallings

George Stallings

One more team was willing to take a chance on Eagan; he was signed for 1900 by the Youngstown Little Giants in the Interstate League.  After appearing in just 26 games The Sporting Life reported that:

“Eagan has been playing ball in Youngstown, OH, but he said he needed a rest.  He came to Detroit for that purpose Saturday morning, and he paid $5 in the police court this morning for the first installment. “Bad Bill” said he was so glad to get back and he met so many friends that he rather lost track of the proceedings. He had fallen Into a Rip Van Winkle sleep when the policeman picked him up. “Bad Bill” paid his fine and went out for the “rest.” Bill doesn’t think much of Youngstown, he says. “

The Youngstown Vindicator said Eagan was released by the Little Giants before he left for Detroit

In either case, he had finally run out of chances, and never played another professional game.

The Indianapolis News said, in late August of 1900, that Eagan was:

 “(P)icked up on the streets of Detroit) insane.  He was removed to the emergency hospital, where he became violent and it took a number of men to overpower him and take him to the station and confine him in a padded cell.  Drink caused Eagan’s downfall. Sober he was a hard working ambitious ball player; if a drink or two were given to him he became a dangerous maniac.”

He was released after several days, and the the many premature rumors of his death began at that point, while Eagan continued to tend bar in Detroit. In April of 1904 w he became ill and was sent to a tuberculosis sanitarium in Denver.  Ten months later “Bad Bill” was dead at age 35.

Despite having played just six games with Chicago in 1893 Eagan made such an William A. Phelon that more than 20 years later he wrote in “Baseball Magazine:”

 “Although the poor fellow had few chances given him in the big league, I always thought there never yet was a second baseman who mixed and mingled in the furtherance of infield plays like Bad Bill Eagan. Possibly I can best symbolize Eagan’s style of second-basing, for the present generation, by stating that he played second just about as (Fred) Tenney played first. (Eddie) Collins doesn’t go so far from second as Eagan did, nor does he carry out nearly so many plays—but it’s quite likely he could if he had to—if he didn’t have, through the past few years, the marvelous (Jack) Barry cutting in and taking his half of the proceedings.

Eagan, though, was almost uncanny at times. I saw him working with (Cap) Anson on first and (Bill) Dahlen at short. It might be taken for granted that Eagan would have to move round considerably on the side toward first, with the ponderous and fast-aging Anson on station one, but Dahlen was then in the flush of his youth and a moving streak at short—when he wanted to be. Yet I saw Eagan bewildering Dahlen as well as Anson by the phantom-like rapidity of his movements, and the way in which he suddenly appeared at the spot where the play should be kept going, arriving on the ground before Dahlen could even draw back his arm to throw.”

“The Poet-Pitcher”

17 Sep

Edward Benninghaus Kenna came from a prominent West Virginia Family; his father, John Edward Kenna was a United States Senators.  Another West Virginia Senator, William Edwin Chilton was often referred to as Kenna’s uncle—he was his father’s former law partner and best friend, but they were not related.

Edward B. Kenna, circa 1900

Edward B. Kenna,1900

He was, according to The Kansas City Star:

“(A)n unusually well-educated young man,.  He spent four years at Mount St. Mary’s College and was graduated there in 1898.  His post graduate course of one year was taken at Georgetown University, and the following three years he spent at West Virginia University, studying law.”

Kenna played football and baseball at all three schools—and coached both sports at Richmond College in 1900, the same season he made his professional debut with the Toledo Mud Hens in the Interstate League.

He was also a poet who had two anthologies of his poems published and was later the editor of The Charleston Gazette.  While most current sources say his nickname was “The Pitching Poet,” during his lifetime he was nearly always referred to by the slightly less lyrical “The Poet-Pitcher.”

Despite his education, and pedigree, The Star said:

“Seeing Kenna on the ball field one would not think that he was the possessor of so many distinctions.  He does not attempt to hold himself aloof from his teammates, but on the contrary is one of the most energetic (players) in the pursuit of victory and when not in the pitcher’s box is on the coacher’s line haranguing the opposing players and urging the members of his own team to their best efforts.  Coaching is one of his hobbies and he is particularly successful at this line of work.  He finds special enjoyment in ‘kidding’ the bleacher element…He says that base ball is not an uplifting pursuit either morally or intellectually, but is an enjoyable one.”

He pitched two games in the major leagues—with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902, but said the two most interesting games of his career were back-to-back starts in 1904 while he was a member of the Denver Grizzlies in the Western League.

When Kenna joined the Louisville Colonels in the following season, The Louisville Times told the story of the games—both against the Des Moines Prohibitionists:

“(He) was touched up for nineteen safe hits, and yet his opponents failed to get a runner over the pan.  In one inning he was hit for a triple, a double and three singles, and still his opponents failed to get a man home.

“The first batter up hit for a triple, but was nailed trying to stretch it into a homer.  The next man doubled down the left field line, but was afterward caught off second by the poet.  The next three batters hit safely, and then Kenna got down to work and fanned the next batter with the bases full.

“Two days later Kenna was sent in against the same team.  For eight innings he did great work (allowing no hits) and his teammates made but one error.  He had perfect control and during this period gave only one base on balls.  The Denver team managed to get one runner across the pan, which looked as good as a hundred when the ninth inning was about to close.  The bard fanned the first two batter, but the third reached first on a fluke (a second error).  Then (Bob) Ganley, who is now with Pittsburgh, stepped to the plate and drove out a home run, which won the game.  Only one hit was made off his delivery, and yet Kenna lost the contest by one score.”

He was 16-13 for the Colonels in 1905 when, on September 1, he and seven other members of the team were injured in Kansas City when an electric trolley car crashed into the wagon they were riding  to the ballpark.  Kenna was the most seriously injured, and  reportedly suffered broken bones in his right (pitching) hand, a fractured left arm, a concussion, broken nose and an eye injury.  The Kansas City Star said he was listed in serious condition at a local hospital.  Despite the extent of his injuries—which ended his season– Kenna sent a telegram to family members in Washington D.C., saying simply

“Nothing serious; strained arm.  Don’t worry.  Ed.”

He never fully recovered.  He returned to Louisville in 1906, and struggled, finishing the season 12-21, but he hit .325 in 166 at bats.  Given his new found success as a hitter—his best previously recorded average was .225—Kenna decided he was through as a pitcher:

The Louisville Times said:

“Kenna announces that from now on he will be an outfielder, and he hopes (team President George) Tebeau will play him in right field on the Louisville team next season.  Kenna is simply tired of pitching.”

The Colonels accommodated him, but he struggled at the plate and was released in July after hitting just .143.

Edward Kenna, circa 1910

Edward Kenna, circa 1910

Kenna returned to West Virginia, newspapers and poetry.  About the time his book “Songs of the Open Air, and Other Poems” was published in early 1912, he left his job at the, and went to Florida to attempt to recover from what was described simply as “a heart condition.”  He died in Florida on March 22.

The Sporting Life said of the thirty four-year-old’s funeral in Charleston:

“(It) was one of the largest ever seen here.  All races and creeds showed their deep grief for this beloved man.”

Kenna’s younger brother John Edward Kenna Jr. was also a right-handed pitcher; he was 15-6 for the Chattanooga Lookouts in the South Atlantic League in 1909 and 7-7 with the Worcester Busters in the New England League in 1910—also born in Charleston on January 6, 1883, he died there on May 5, 1956.

Happy Labor Day—the Oberbeck Case

1 Sep

Henry Oberbeck is barely a footnote in baseball history—he appeared in 66 American Association and Union Association games in 1883 and 1884, hitting just .176—but he scored a rare, early victory for the rights of players.

Henry Oberbeck

Henry Oberbeck

 

In 1883, after appearing in just two games with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, Oberbeck was released and signed with the Peoria Reds in the Northwestern League.

No records survive for Oberbeck’s time in Peoria, but the outfielder caught the eye of St. Louis Browns owner Chris von der Ahe, and the St. Louis native jumped his contract with Peoria to sign with the Browns on May 24.

Chris von der Ahe

Chris von der Ahe

Oberbeck’s short tenure with St. Louis was unimpressive.  He played four games and was hitless in 14 at-bats.  The Browns released him on June 23.

He found himself out of a job in the American Association and was unable to return to Peoria because he had been blackballed by the Northwestern League.

Oberbeck filed a lawsuit in St. Louis claiming the Browns owed him the entire amount of his contract –$785.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the “case is regarded as a test,” and is “being fought very earnestly.”

The March 1884 trial included testimony from  Overbeck’s teammates, catcher/outfielder Tom Dolan and pitcher George “Jumbo” McGinnis.  Dolan, a .204 lifetime hitter whose .214 average lowest among the Browns 1883 regulars testified that Oberbeck was a poor hitter who “hit wind nearly every time.”  McGinnis also said Overbeck deserved to be released.

Despite the testimony of his teammates, the jury found in favor of Oberbeck and ordered the Browns to pay him $431.12—although most newspapers incorrectly reported the amount paid as $738.

The press assumed the decision would have a lasting impact.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“The case is one of interest to base ball players, inasmuch as it proves that the contracts are binding upon the part of the club as well as the player.”

Oberbeck was signed by the Baltimore Monuments of the Union Association for 1884, and played a total of 60 games for Baltimore and the Kansas City Cowboys that season—he hit .186 as an outfielder/first baseman and was 0-5 in six appearances as a pitcher.

The Browns appealed the case and lost, but by the time the appellate court upheld the original decision in Henry Oberbeck v. Sportsman’s Park and Club Association in April of 1885, Oberbeck’s victory for the rights of baseball players was already largely forgotten.

In 1885, The Post-Dispatch said Oberbeck had been reinstated by the Northwestern League, although there is no record of his ever having returned to the league.   The Youngstown Vindicator said he had signed with that city’s team in the Interstate league for 1885 season.

No statistics survive for Oberbeck after 1884, and his groundbreaking role in baseball’s labor movement is all but forgotten.

He returned to St. Louis after his career and worked for the post office until his death from cancer in 1921.

Tragic Exits 2

5 May

Charles Rapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Associated Press said of the incident:

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

Henry Long

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

Herman Long

Herman Long

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Barry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barry was discovered by the owner of the house:

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

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

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

The cause of death was never officially determined.

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