Tag Archives: Jack Chesbro

“Outpitched by a Nineteen-year-old Country yap”

17 Mar

By 1911, Jack Chesbro had been two seasons removed from professional baseball. Lou Guernsey of The Los Angeles Times said:

“Only a year or two ago Jack Chesbro’s praises were sung throughout the length and breadth of the land. Everyone knew who Jack Chesbro was. Everyone from the slant-jawed-son-of-the-slums to the Boss Barber knew that Jack originated the spitball and was the great big calcimine applier in the American League…his appearance at the bat or on the field was the signal for a great outburst of cheers. He was idolized.”

Jack Chesbro

But, said Guernsey, “the inevitable” followed:

“He started to slip. He lost control, couldn’t get his spitter working right and he was banged all over the lot by opposing swatsmen. He looked around one day after he had twirled a losing game and found his friends had gone and that tremendous thing we call fame struggling around somewhere in the vortex of oblivion…Chesbro went, or rather was sent away.”

Guernsey said he had recently visited Massachusetts:

“I stopped at a little town called Whitinsville. It was necessary for me to pass several hours in the little puritanical hamlet in order to catch my train on another road.” I followed a thin line of people out to a typical country baseball field in the afternoon to see Whitinsville hook up with a team from a nearby town.”

Sitting on the bleachers, he said re related:

“Is Chesbro going to pitch today?’ I heard one bewhiskered individual ask of a Whitinsville fan sitting next to him.

“’I guess they’re goin’ to put the big dub in today,’ replied the fan rather hopelessly.”’

And there on the bench sat:

 “Happy Jack Chesbro of international fame once upon a time sitting with his fellow players. He was chewing a wad on Navy plug and fingering his glove.”

Chesbro took the field to, “Not a handclap or cheer,” while Guernsey recalled just three years earlier in New York hearing “25,000 frenzied fans shout the name of Chesbro until the very grandstand trembled.”

According to Guernsey:

“The game commenced. The nearby villagers fell against Jack’s curves and shoots for a total of seventeen hits totaling thirty-one bases. Whitinsville couldn’t do anything with the lanky twirler for the opposing team and they lost the game 11 to 3. Chesbro outpitched by a nineteen-year-old country yap.

“After the game the manager of the Whitinsville team paid Chesbro his $10 for pitching the game and informed him that services would no longer be needed. He went, or rather was sent away.”

Chesbro’s fate had become part of a cycle:

“The fickle crowd throws itself at the feet of the hero for the moment only to rise soon to cast itself before another idol and forget the one upon whom it showered praises at first.”

Chesbro made one last attempt to return to pro ball in 1912, failing to get signed after tryouts with Pittsburgh and Brooklyn in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He returned to Massachusetts and continued pitching in semi-pro leagues well into his 50s.

“Show Life”

29 Jan

Willie Keeler got a couple of details wrong, but told a reporter for The New York Daily News in 1912 about the two best pitchers he ever faced:

“I found during the long time that I was in the big leagues that Amos Rusie and Ed Walsh were the hardest pitchers for me to hit. I have gone through some seasons without striking out, but Rusie and Walsh have the distinction of making me fan twice in one game.”

Keeler struck out so infrequently that it may have seemed like he went an entire season without one, but while he only struck out 136 times in 9616 plate appearances–and from 1897 through 1901 struck out just 20 times–he never had a season with none.

Keeler

Keeler said ‘Rusie did the trick when I was with Baltimore in 1904;” it was in 1894.

“Amos could shoot them over. He had more speed on his curve ball than some of the present-day pitchers have on their fast one. When the big fellow, who was with the Giants, and was going right he was a wonder. How he could buzz them over the plate! I know for a fact that when he was going well it was not necessary for him to pitch any curves. That fast one always had a beautiful hop on it, and it was impossible to connect with it.”

Walsh, he said, had the best spit ball:

“I always thought Jack Chesbro had about the best I ever saw until I went against Walsh. Ed’s breaks better than any I have ever faced.

“Some days a spitball pitcher hasn’t the break on his delivery that he has on others. But when Walsh is good, he is a great pitcher. He may not be effective without the spitball, but they tell me that he still has the spitball going as well as ever.”

Five years earlier, “after much persuasion,” Keeler shared his baseball tips with The Washington Post:

Never–

Throw back your foot and step away from the ball.

Bend the back foot or shift its position as the ball approaches.

Lunge at the ball as if trying to make a homerun.

Strike at every ball that is thrown.

Lose your nerve after two strikes

Wait for instructions if you see a chance to win the game

Always—

Chop the ball so it will not pop up in the air

Step into the ball and meet it with your whole weight on your front foot. This puts your whole weight into the blow.

Watch the ball from the time it leaves the pitcher’s hand

Hit at the good balls only. Don’t be too anxious. Wait and you can rip out the good one.

Get into your position quickly when your side is out. Show life.

“He was a Rube Waddell, a Cy Young”

22 Sep

In 1905, Napoleon Lajoie told a story to a reporter for The Cleveland News about “a wizard in the person of a pitcher who applied for a job in Philadelphia<’ when Lajoie played for the Phillies in 1899:

Napoleon Lajoie

“We were out for morning practice one day when a tall, angular, awkward man, who looked more like a sailor than an athlete, gained admittance to the park and asked permission to work with us.”

Lajoie said the man was sent to the outfield and “did fairly well catching fungoes;” he then asked to pitch.

“Big (Ed) Delahanty made two or three swings at the twisters y=the stranger served up to him, and then he turned around to me: ‘Nap, that fellow’s a ringer,’ he said. We all laughed at Del’s remark, but the laugh didn’t last. I was as helpless before him that day as I am nowadays before Jack Chesbro’s spitball, when it is worked right. Duff Cooley was mad all over because he couldn’t hit the new-fangled curves.”

Delahanty

Lajoie said when he stood behind the man as he pitched, he:

“(W)atched in open-mouthed wonder the zigzag, round-the-corner, hide-and-seek curves he pitched against the grandstand. It was hard to tell whether you were on a ballfield or in the delirium tremens ward of an inebriate hospital.”

He said he asked the man what he did for work:

“’Oh, most anything,’ he said ‘Anything that will earn me bread and butter and a place to sleep. Help load ships, sweep crossings—anything.’”

Lajoie said the man was told he could “earn $500 or $600 a month.”

He said he invited the man out the next day to meet manager Bill Shettsline.

“He was there at the appointed time and showed Shetts his paces. (Bill) Bernhard, (Red) Donahiue and the other pitchers looked on him with voiceless astonishment. He was a Rube Waddell, a Cy Young, a John Clarkson, a Charles Radbourn and Eddie Beaton [sic, Beatin], and a Clark Griffith combined in one.

“Shettsline told him to come to the office the next day and signa contract. That night we all had dreams of the pennant and of the consternation the new pitcher’s debut would create in the ranks of the other clubs.”

But it was not to be.

“He disappeared as suddenly as he appeared and as completely as if he had jumped into the muddy waters of the Schuylkill. Detectives hired by the club hunted high and low for him, and we even advertised in the papers, but we got no trace of him whatever.

“And never before and never since have I seen such a marvelous exhibition of masterful pitching as that unknown man in shirtsleeves and overalls gave that day in the presence of the most famous hitting team ever organized.”

“That is something Mr. Chesbro”

5 Feb

In 1905, The Chicago Tribune promised readers that an interview would “Undoubtedly cause a sensation.”

The subject?

“Jack Chesbro for the first time tells of the ‘spit ball,’ by which he won forty-one victories last year”

According to The Tribune:

“All last summer Chesbro persistently refused to tell the secret. Manager Clark Griffith did not know how Chesbro got his control and scores of pitchers in the two big leagues vainly tried to emulate him.”

chesbro

Jack Chesbro

Chesbro attributed “over thirty of the forty-one victories” to his use of the spit ball, and the paper said:

“Many baseball pitchers will be surprised when they read Chesbro’s explanation, and, according to him, fans and experts who have thought they really knew something of the ball have been groping in the dark.

“The wetting of the ball by Chesbro is done simply and solely in order in order that the ball may slip off the index and middle fingers first and from the thumb last…It has been supposed that the spit ball must be pitched slowly. Chesbro, on the contrary, says the ball is only effective when pitched with speed.”

Chesbro told the paper:

“The spitball has come to stay and is easily the most effective ball that possibly be used. It is easy to pitch once you have acquired its secrets. I have never yet read an explanation of it that was anywhere near correct.”

Chesbro said he injured the fingers of New York’s catchers Deacon McGuire and Red Kleinow early in the season, but later he was able to let them know “just how far the ball would drop and whether it would drop straight or outside,” before throwing a pitch.

Chesbro said old time players would find the pitch impossible to hit:

“Cap Anson couldn’t hit the spitball in a hundred years. In fact, I would be willing to bet Anson couldn’t even catch it.”

Chesbro said Norwood Gibson of Boston had “better control of the ball” than any spitball pitcher he saw.  Chesbro said his wild pitch that “gave Boston the pennant” on the final day of the season was because “I simply put a little too much force on the ball,” and because Boston pitcher Bill Dinneen was throwing the spitball too, “so that it was slippery.”

norwood

Norwood Gibson

Chesbro who had seen Elmer Stricklett throw the spitball in Sacramento in 1902 and again in the spring of 1904, said of the second encounter:

“It was down at New Orleans last spring. I saw Stricklett throw one, and I quickly said: That is something Mr. Chesbro, that you must acquire. I watched Stricklett closely and noticed how he wet his fingers. I did the same and soon discovered it was the thumb that did the work”

The Tribune sad Chesbro was spending the winter tending to “two of the fastest horses in western Massachusetts,” one purchased for him by Highlanders owner Frank Farrell which “bears the name spitball.”

After revealing the secrets of his spitball after his 41-12 season in 1904, Chesbro was 66-72 for the remainder of his career which ended in 1909.

“The Spitball Suffers from Nothing so much as its Vulgarity”

10 Jan

Louis Lee Arms became well known for being the husband of actress Mae Marsh and publicist for studio head Samuel Goldwyn, but before the age of 30 he was sports editor for The St. Louis Star and a sports columnist for The New York Tribune.

arms.png

Louis Lee Arms

In 1918, after it was reported in The Washington Post that Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss and “other big league magnates (would be) behind a movement to legislate the spitball and other freak deliveries,” at that year’s winter meetings, Arms wrote in The Tribune:

“It is apparent that for the first time in its gay young life the spitball is going to be placed seriously on trial.”

Arms said there were good cases on each side of the debate over “the saturated slant.”

He laid out the arguments:

“Those most opposed to this effective style of delivery make general claims against it, as follows:

  1. From its nature it is not legitimate

  2. It leads to other illegal styles of delivery

  3. It retards hitting

  4. It mars fielding

  5. It delays the game by delaying pitching

Each one of these claims is more or less justified. In opposition, those who favor the spitball submit the following:

  1. From its nature it is NOT illegitimate

  2. It depends upon skillful manipulation

  3. It greatly increases pitching effectiveness

  4. It is an effective substitute for a pitcher who is unable to develop a first-class curve ball

  5. Its abolition would greatly weaken, if not destroy the major league usefulness of many established pitchers.”

Arms had a theory that the pitch was not so much targeted for extinction for baseball reasons, but for changing social mores:

“It is our humble opinion the spitball suffers from nothing so much as its vulgarity. As a nation we are being taught more and more that it is usually unsanitary and largely unlawful to spit in public places. A ballpark is certainly public enough for anyone.

“Pithy placards in our subways, surface cars, and ‘L’s’ and in theaters and public places remind us that two years in prison or $500, or both, may be the penalty for even a first offence. We think now ere we spit. Back in grandfather’s salad days the town bloods may have sat before the grocery store and spit with formality and greater accuracy. But if grandfather had happened along in 1918, he would have smoked Egyptian cigarettes and saved the coupons.

“Assuredly the spitball is vulgar, it is a highly effective pitching asset. Ed Walsh and Jack Chesbro will be remembered as among the greatest pitchers in baseball and the spitter made them that. Dozens of other pitchers have owed the greater part of their success to the (Elmer) Stricklett discovery.”

elmer.png

Stricklett

Of the pitch itself, he said:

“In effect, it is an artistic and astonishing delivery, as showing the ‘stuff’ that may be put upon a ball over a flight of sixty feet. There is no curve that has to it the arrogant viciousness of the spitter. No delivery is harder to control. By control we mean the ability to ‘break’ the spitter either way as well as to regulate the angle of the break.

“The spitter that carries the biggest break is not necessarily the most effective. It was only the other day that Miller Huggins was saying he had seen Bill Doak, eminent among modern spittists. Knocked from the box when his ‘spitter was breaking a foot,’ only to come back the next day with a delivery that jumped but a few inches and pitch unbeatable ball.

“It is unfair to the spitball to attribute to its influence the discovery of such illegal pitches as the resin and emery balls. Why not indict the knuckle ball on the same score? Yet no word is heard against the knuckle ball, which breaks like the spitter, requiring, albeit highly talented knuckles to control.

“We shall continue to believe the main objection its antagonists find against the spitball is that it isn’t polite. Yet they do not to be thought so softened by civilization as to admit that.”

It would take until the winter between the 1919 and 1920 seasons for the first stage of the spitball ban which allowed two pitchers per team to use the pitch, and the second after the 1920 season  which grandfathered in 17 pitchers.

Jack Chesbro and the Tri-State Triple Play

28 Sep

Heading into the 1906 season, Jack Chesbro had played 11 seasons of professional baseball and seven in the major leagues, still, he told The Washington Post the best play he ever witnessed took place while he was working as an attendant at a mental hospital—The Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital in Middletown, New York during the mid-1890s:

Middletown Asylum

Middletown Hospital

“While I was employed at the state hospital…we used to make frequent trips to a place near Port Jervis, (NY), called Tri-States.  The little place got its name from the fact that the states of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania met there, a stone marking the spot.”

Jack Chesbro

Jack Chesbro

Chesbro had “attracted some attention” pitching for the team that represented the asylum, and “the crack Middletown team, ” asked him to pitch a game for them against the Tri-State club.

“The ball field was just at the point where the three states joined.  One part of the field was in New York, another in New Jersey, and another in Pennsylvania.  The Tri-Staters did not class with our team, and the game was dragging along until about the seventh inning when the most remarkable triple play I ever saw was pulled off.”

Chesbro said Middletown had runners on base with no one out.

“(The batter) hit a sharp liner right over the second baseman’s head , which looked safe enough until the right fielder, who had been playing in very close, came up on the run and got the drive about a foot above the ground, which, by the way, was in New York state.  By the time he caught the ball he was well up to second base, which was in New Jersey.

“During this time baserunners, who were on second and third, made a dash for the plate.  The right fielder barely stopped after making the catch;  in fact, it would have been impossible for  him to slow up.  As he straightened up he took in the situation at a glance and kept on to second, which he touched, making two hands out.  Looking towards third base, which was unguarded, the third baseman having run up the line toward home…he kept right on to third with the ball in his hand.  When he reached third he was in Pennsylvania and had retired the side. That’s the story of the Tri-State triple play.”

tristate

Tri-State Monument

There is no longer a ball field at the site of  Chesbro’s “Tri-State triple play;” the small stone monument marking the meeting point of three states sits at the edge of Laurel Grove Cemetary in Port Jervis, at the confluence of the Delaware and Neversink Rivers, beneath an underpass for Interstate 84.

“It was just as Hard to Hit a Curve Ball in 1885 as it is Now”

29 Jan

Cap Anson was visiting New York shortly after the death of his wife in February of  1916, when he was asked by Bozeman Bulger of The New York Globe the question put to every former player:

"Cap" Anson

Cap Anson

“’How do you think the ball players of today compare to the boys back in the eighties?’

“’I was always of the belief,’ the Captain answered, ‘that ball players are born and not made according to set rules.  Therefore, a ballplayer had just as much chance being born in 1885 as in 1915.  Really, I can’t see a great deal of difference.’”

While Anson didn’t believe the players of his generation were better, he strenuously disagreed when it was suggested that there had been, in general terms, “a big improvement in the game itself” since his playing days:

“’Where?’ parried the veteran.  ‘The rules are practically the same.  The diamond, the bases, the ball and the bat are exactly the same.  The gloves they wear now make fielding even easier.’

“’Believe me,’ he added with emphasis, ‘it was just as hard to hit a curve ball in 1885 as it is now. We had a few great hitters then just like you have now.  Yes, and we had just as many weak ones.’”

As far as Anson was concerned, there were really only two significant changes in the game:

“The only new thing in baseball that I know of is the spitball.  In the old days, they used to pitch something like it, but not so perfectly and not with such a sharp break.  The spitball is really built on a new principle. That is practically the only new thing.  In the old days, we bunted and stole bases just as you do now, and the runners were blocked away from the plate in exactly the same manner.”

He was honest when asked if he thought he could hit a spitball:

“’No, I don’t. A few years ago when Jack Chesbro was in his prime with the spitter Clark Griffith bet me a hat that Jack could strike me out.  The argument arose over my disbelief in the spitball.  I really did think it simply a lot of newspaper talk then.  Well, we went out and tried it, and Jack did strike me out.’”

Jack Chesbro

Jack Chesbro

Anson said the other “important change in the methods of baseball,” was the number of players on each roster.

“In the old days we rarely ever had over 14 players…I don’t know whether that is a good thing or not.  When we carried a few men each of them felt that he was expected to do his part.  They all worked harder because they had to.  Nowadays if a player doesn’t feel exactly right there are two or three on the bench waiting and anxious to take his place.”

As for salaries, Anson said:

“Yes, there’s been a change there.  What an ordinary ballplayer gets nowadays would have been a star’s salary some years ago.  At that, I always got pretty good money.”

“He thought he knew more than his Manager”

14 Oct

New York Highlanders pitcher Jack Chesbro’s wild pitch in the top of the ninth inning in the first game of an October 10, 1904 doubleheader with the Boston Americans allowed the winning run to score in a 3 to 2 game, and ended the first great American League pennant race, Boston winning the championship by 1 ½ games over New York.

Jack Chesbro

Jack Chesbro

But, ten years later, Chesbro’s manager, Clark Griffith, put the blame for losing the game, and the pennant, squarely on another member of the team.

Griffith told Stanley Milliken of The Washington Post:

“Players are often of the opinion that they know more than their manager, and simply on this account New York lost a pennant to Boston in 1904.”

[…]

“It was either Boston or New York, and as fate would have it, the schedule brought us together. I sent in Jack Chesbro, who at the time was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball.  ‘Big’ Bill Dinneen worked for Boston, and when he was right had few superiors.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

Griffith said the moment that lost the pennant came when “Dinneen began to weaken,” and allowed two runs—Griffith, in his ten-year-old recollection incorrectly said it was the seventh inning; it was actually the fifth.  Dinneen had just walked “Wee Willie” Keeler and “Kid” Elberfeld, forcing in a second run and loading the bases.  With two out, and 2 to 0 lead, Griffith picked up the story:

“Every man that went to the bat (in the fifth inning) had instructions to wait ‘em out.

(Jimmy) Williams, my second baseman was also sent up with the same orders.  But he thought he knew more than his manager.  He did not even look over the first ball, but banged away at it, thinking perhaps he might clean the bases.  What happened?  Well, he rolled weakly (to Dinneen) and the side was retired.  There is no telling how many men Dinneen would have walked.”

Jimmy Williams

Jimmy Williams

Chesbro’s wild pitch was merely a footnote in Griffith’s story, and he failed to mention Williams’ throwing error in the seventh that allowed two runs to score. The pennant, according to Griffith, was lost because Williams failed to listen to his manager; a widespread problem in baseball according to the manager:

“Not only on this occasion but on many, have I seen a player go directly against the orders of his manager and bad results follow.  Of course, we all have different ideas regarding what is to be done at the critical moment, but brains count in baseball just as much as it does in any other walk of life.

“Give me a bunch of ballplayers with superior brains but not as much actual playing ability as opponents and I will win just as many games as they do.“

Despite Williams’ thinking he “knew more than his manager,”  he remained as Griffith’s second baseman for three more seasons.

“Honest John” Anderson’s Swing

29 Jun

While the New York Highlanders were training in Birmingham, Alabama before the 1905 season, outfielder “Honest John” Anderson told a reporter from The New York Herald-Tribune that he had developed a secret weapon:

“He claims to have discovered a way to swat the ball that will fool the fielders just as effectively as (Jack) Chesbro deceives the batters with his spitball.”

Anderson, a 10-year veteran, with a .297 career batting average entering 1905, even had a name for his swing:

“The ‘Tangent’ he calls it. Anderson declares he has developed a method of putting an ‘english’ on the ball when he hits it that will cause it to deflect from  its true course in a similar manner to a billiard ball…Just how he twists the bat to accomplish this Anderson refuses to divulge.”

Honest John Anderson

Honest John Anderson

The paper told readers that Anderson was working hard on his “new stunt,” and would “have it down to a fine art,” by the time the club broke camp:

“The advantages of the trick, if he gains control of it, are manifest.  It will turn many a fly or certain out into a safe hit.”

Anderson clearly had not made “a fine art” of the “Tangent” by the beginning of the season.  He hit just .232 in 32 games before being claimed on waivers by the Washington Senators.  He played through 1908; his career average dropped six points after he made his discovery.

“I am, I Believe, more Inclined to fear the Jinx”

12 Apr

In 1910, Johnny Evers “wrote” an article in “Baseball Magazine” about superstitions:

“’On the Cubs’ team, for instance, I am, I believe, more inclined to fear the jinx than any other member of the club.  In batting practice before the game the general belief is that if you are not hitting the ball hard or up in the air you will bat well in the game ofttimes as a result. In many cases I have seen a player hit two or three balls hard and on the line and then go to the bench and refuse to bat anymore, saying, ‘I’m saving mine for the game.’”

Johnny Evers

Johnny Evers

Some of Evers’ other superstitions:

“Going to the different parks in the cars the sight of a funeral along the road is regarded as an ill omen.  The same applies to a (handicapped person) unless you toss him a coin.  A wagon load of barrels is a good sing.  Frequently a man, having gone a mile out of the way to purchase something on a day when his club happened to win, will continue to travel the roundabout pathway so long as the club is in that particular city or until his teammates lose.”

As for superstitions during a game:

“Watch a man when the inning is over.  If the inning previous was favorable to a player, observe him go over and be particular to locate the same spot to lay down his glove.  You doubtless have often seen a player attired in a soiled and far from presentable uniform.  Beneath all that lurks our old friend the jinx.  The player will stick to the dirty garments so long as his team is winning.  When the streak is broken the laundryman gets a chance at his clothing, but not before.”

[…]

“Not for the world could you induce the average major league pitcher to resume work with a new shoe lace.  He will tie up the remnants and go ahead, hoping to make the laces last throughout the session.  The players don’t want the bat boys to hand them their clubs either.  On our home grounds of course, Red Gallagher, the bat boy, has a sort of standing job swinging the sticks, but he always tries hard to drive away the hoodoo.  Watch him salivate the handle of every bat before it goes in the hands of its owner.”

In addition to bat boy spit, Evers said there were other superstitions among the Cubs:

“Keep your eyes glued on Tinker when he goes to bat.  Joe has a habit of walking straight from the bench to the plate to the plate for the first time up.  If he gets a clean hit that time he’ll repeat in the second trip, but if he fans or fouls out or is tossed o death on an infield drive Tinker certainly will waltz out in a circle, going back to the plate.  This is the way he hopes to break the hoodoo.”

Joe Tinker

Joe Tinker

[…]

“Recall how Manager (Frank) Chance refused to have the Cubs pose for a team picture during the closing days of the League race in 1908.  He was especially fearful that the photographer might work a jinx on the players and jeopardize our chances of beating Detroit.    (Ed) Reulbach is a mighty superstitious chap.  I remember how one of Ed’s friends approached him when the big pitcher was mowing them down for his record of fourteen straight victories (In 1909 Reulbach tied the record set in 1904 by Joe McGinnity and Jack Chesbro). He wanted Reulbach’s cap, the one he had worn during all those games, but Ed refused to part with the headgear.

Yes, the ballplayer is to be listed only with the actor or the sailor when it comes to the superstitious phase of life.”