Tag Archives: Jack McCarthy

Coast League Stories

5 Dec

Abe Kemp began working at newspapers in San Francisco in 1907, when he was 14 years old, and spent the next 62 years primarily at The San Francisco Examiner where he covered his two passions, baseball and horse racing.

kemp

Abe Kemp

Over the years he collected a number of stories of baseball on the West Coast.

Catcher Tubby Spencer hit just .127 in 21 games for the San Francisco Seals in 1913. Contemporaneous reports said Spencer wore out his welcome with manager Del Howard in Portland. Years later, Kemp said the decision to let Spencer go was made during a team stopover in Sonoma County, and not by Howard. Kemp said he saw:

“Spencer staggering down the highway at Boyes Hot Springs one morning and President/Owner Cal Ewing yelling at him, ‘Hey, ‘Tub,’ where are you going?’

“’I’m going for a little air,’ yelled back Tub.

“’Then keep going,’ shouted Ewing, ‘because you will need it. You’re through.’”

tubbyspencer

Tubby Spencer

Harry “Slim” Nelson was a mediocre left-handed pitcher and weak hitter who played a half a dozen years on the West Coast. Kemp told of witnessing him “hit a home run through the screen at Recreation Park” in San Francisco when Nelson was playing for the Oakland Oaks.

“(He) became so excited when he reached second base that he swallowed his cud of chewing tobacco. Later on the bench, Slim was asked how the home run felt and he replied ‘it would have felt a whole lot better if I could have cut it up into singles to last me the season.”

Kemp said when George Van Haltren made the switch from Oaks player to Pacific Coast League umpire in 1909 he told Kemp and umpire Jack McCarthy “umpiring would be easy…because he had so many friends,” throughout the league. Kemp said McCarty responded:

“You mean you had so many friends. You haven’t any now.”

McCarthy appears to have been correct. Van Haltren was criticized throughout his short time as a Coast League umpire, and became a West Coast scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates the following two seasons. Van Haltren made one more attempt as an umpire, joining the Northwestern League staff in 1912; he was no more successful, lasting only one season after incurring the season-long wrath of Seattle Siwashes owner Dan Dugdale who demanded Van Haltren not be retained for the 1913 season.

George Van Haltren

Another player who had similar training habits to Tubby Spencer, according to Kemp, was Charles “Truck Eagan. Kemp said he was with Vernon Tigers manager Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray one day when Eagan played for the Tigers near the end of his career in 1909:

“Eagan, suffering from the effects of a bad night (told) manager Hap Hogan he was suffering from an attack of ptomaine poisoning.

‘”What did you eat’ the artful and suspicious Hogan asked.

“Eagan scratched his head a minute, then said guiltily, ‘It must have been the (bar) pretzels and herring, Hap.”

“There is only one Thing against him—he is Very Dark”

13 Jul

Vernon Ayau became professional baseball’s first player of Chinese descent when he appeared briefly in the Northwest League in 1917.

But he was the not the first Chinese player a West Coast team attempted to sign.  Two years earlier, Walter McCredie of the Portland Beavers tried to bring one Ayau’s teammates with the Chinese Athletic Club of Honolulu to the Pacific Coast League.

Fong Lang Akana was born in Hawaii in 1889 to a Chinese father and Hawaiian mother.

In the winter of 1914, McCredie announced that he had signed Akana.  The (Portland) Oregonian said:

“Akana is a big, rangy fellow and bats left-handed.  He weighs about 180 pounds, according to the dope given to Mack.”

Lang Akana

Lang Akana

The Oregon Daily Journal said he was 5’ 10” and quoted Bert Lowry, the sports editor at The Honolulu Commercial Advertiser:

“He swings from the left side and hits the ball hard at all times, Akana is well-educated, has pleasing manners and is willing to learn.”

Two former major leaguers Jack Bliss and Justin “Mike” Fitzgerald, barnstorming with Pacific Coast Leaguers in Hawaii, were impressed with Akana.  Bliss said he was a great fielder who “had eyes all over his head.”  Fitzgerald said:

“He is a good fielder and very fast.  He is by far the best player in the islands.”

One additional observation from Lowry and Fitzgerald foretold that there would be trouble ahead:

Lowery: “He is a bit dark.”

Fitzgerald: “There is only one thing against him—he is very dark.”

McCredie told The Daily Journal that Akana would likely join the club at their Fresno, California training camp in the spring, the paper noted:

“Cubans, Indians, Poles and Italians have made good in baseball, but no Chinese or Japanese has yet won his spangles.”

Akana, top row second from left, with Chinese Athletic Club, 1909

Akana, top row second from left, with Chinese Athletic Club, 1909

It took less than a month for the plan to bring Akana to Portland to begin to fall apart.

The San Francisco Chronicle, while getting Akana’s name and position wrong, reported that:

“Portland players won’t play with a Chinese.”

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin said:

“Narrow racial prejudices, or possibly the fear that if the bars are let down someone will lose his regular job, threatens to work a grave injustice to Lang Akana.”

In late December, McCredie was ready to bend to the pressure, telling Roscoe Fawcett the sports editor of The Oregonian:

“His skin’s too dark…The Coast Leaguers who played at Honolulu on that recent barnstorming trip came back vowing boycott.  I have received a couple of letters from players telling me Akana is as dark as Jack Johnson, so I guess I will have to give him a release.”

Walter McCredie

Walter McCredie

Pitcher “Seattle” Bill James, who also played against Akana in Hawaii, disputed the account that players were refusing to play with Akana, telling The Oregonian:

“I don’t think any ballplayer will object to playing on the same team as him.  But he might have some trouble around the hotels.  He is not black like a negro, more sepia colored—and his hair is straight.”

But in January, McCredie, who was by far the most progressive PCL magnates on the issue of race, switched direction, and vowed to keep Akana when Fawcett showed him a photograph of the outfielder:

“Dark or not dark, we’ll  have Lang Akana report to us at Fresno…This photograph shows him to be extremely dark-skinned…(PCL umpire) Jack McCarthy saw him at Honolulu this winter and says Lang is just as white as most ballplayers after they have been out all summer in the sunshine.

“He doesn’t look any blacker than Barney Joy, who used to pitch for San Francisco.”

Apparently, McCredie found a way out without explicitly saying he refused to put a Chinese player on his club.  Shortly before the Beavers headed to California, The Oregonian said:

“The Hawaiian, Akana, will not be considered unless he pays his own expenses to the spring camp at Fresno.”

The paper had said earlier that it would cost $175 to bring Akana over from Hawaii.  Akana, whose father was a doctor, and whose family, according to several accounts were “wealthy,” likely could afford the cost of transportation. So, it is unknown whether he refused to pay for his own way or if the paper’s account was incorrect.

The Beavers went to California and started the season without Akana, but there was still talk of his joining the team.  In May, The Honolulu Star-Bulletin said McCredie was still considering adding Akana to the roster:

“Portland is wavering between the first and second division…’What we need here are bat artists,’ writes the sporting editor (Fawcett) of The Oregonian to a Honolulan…Naturally, Lang is watching the Portland field from a distance;  Manager Mac has not made good and Lang is playing the ‘watchful waiting’ polity to perfection.”

“Summed up, the situation now is: if Portland can gain a foothold in the Coast race within the next month or six weeks, it is probable that Akana will celebrate the Fourth of July and Christmas in Honolulu, if not then a demand for strengthening the team with a few good hitters will be forthcoming…’McCredie is silent on the Akana contract,’ (Fawcett) continued, ‘and I think that the Hawaiian-Chinese’s chances to play with the Beavers are good, unless Portland takes a sudden leap upward in the percentage column soon.”

The prediction was wrong.  Portland struggled all season, finishing in last place with a 78-116 record, but the call never went out to Hawaii for Akana to join the team.

Akana, bottom row, left, 1915

Akana, bottom row, left, 1915

McCredie finally saw Akana in person two years later when he brought the Beavers to Honolulu for spring training.  Fawcett said in The Oregonian that “Akana played left field and did not show up particularly well, owing it is said, that he had played little ball for several months.”

Akana continued to play in Honolulu—interrupted by service in the Hawaii National Guard in 1917—into the 1920s, but was “Too dark” to ever appear in a professional game.

Biographical notes: Some sources, including his Hawaii Birth and Christening (B&C) record list his name as Lan rather than Lang, the same B&C record lists his complete name as C. Fong Lan Akana.  Several sources, including the B&C record list his date of birth as April 15, 1890, several others, including his WWI and WWII Draft Registrations list the date of birth as April 15, 1889.

“Their Joy was Unrestricted”

10 Jun

After Charles “Cy” Swain lost his leg in an accident after the 1914 season, he attempted to stay active in baseball by forming a team called the Independents with another former player, Tommy Sheehan.

Cy Swain

Cy Swain

Swain managed the team which was comprised of minor and major leaguers who spent the off-season on the West Coast.

In the early spring of 1916, the team played their most unusual game.  The San Francisco Chronicle described the scene:

“For the first time in the history of the State Prison across the bay in Marin County, the convict baseballers were yesterday permitted to play against an outside team…The attendance? Good!  Something like 2300 men and women prisoners, even including the fellows from solitary confinement, took their seats to watch the game, and their joy was unrestricted.”

Swain’s Independents were playing the Midgets, the baseball team at San Quentin.

The paper said Swain received “an ovation that lasted for five minutes,” and that the prisoners cheered loudly for Ping Bodie, Spider Baum, and Biff Schaller.

Ping Bodie

Ping Bodie

“They know a good play or a bad one, just as you do from your comfy seat at Recreation Park, and they did their rooting accordingly.”

Because of prison rules, the game recap was slightly different than usual:

“Names are barred when it comes to San Quentin inmates, but it is worthy of note that No. 27784 came through with a home run, while third sacker 26130 pulled a fielding stunt that would land him with the Coasters if he were a free agent.

“Warden (James A.) Johnson, however, has his players fully signed, and he is protected with a reserve clause that is far more binding than the foundation of organized baseball. “

Jack McCarthy, a former American League and Pacific Coast League umpire, worked the game with “No. 23547,” and “to their credit be it said, the double system worked perfectly.”

The game was a slugfest, won the Independents 15 to 10—Bodie, Schaller and Ed Hallanan had three hits each.

The Box Score

The Box Score

Swain’s independents returned to the prison again the following year, beating the Mascots 9 to 6.  After the success of those games, baseball against outside teams became a regular feature at San Quentin.

Polchow and Starnagle

13 Aug

At the close of the 1902 Three-I League season two unlikely candidates for the big leagues were signed by Cleveland Bronchos Manager Bill Armour.

Pitcher Louis William “Polly” Polchow and catcher George Henry Starnagle (born Steurnagel) did not put up impressive numbers.   Neither the Reach or Spalding Guides included Polchow’s won-loss record, but both said the 22-year-old’s winning percentage was just .414 in 32 games for the Evansville River Rats.  Starnagle hit just .180 with 13 passed balls and eight errors in 93 games for the Terre Haute Hottentots.

Louis Polchow

Louis Polchow

The two joined the fifth place Bronchos in St. Louis on September 13.  The following day both made their major league debuts in the second game of a doubleheader against the second place Browns.

The St. Louis Republic said:

“Captain (Napoleon) Lajoie decided to try his new Three-Eye League battery, which reported to him yesterday.  Starnagle, the former Terre Haute catcher, was as steady as a veteran, but Polchow wobbled at the drop of the hat, and before he steadied himself the damage was done.

“Five runs in the first two innings gave the Browns a good lead, and it was well they made hay while the sun shone, for Polchow handed them six ciphers for dessert.”

Starnagle made an error in the seventh when he overthrew Lajoie on an attempted steal of second by Bobby Wallace—Wallace advanced to third on the error, but Polchow retired the side without a run.

George Starnagle

George Starnagle

In Cleveland’s half of the seventh Starnagle and Polchow had the opportunity to get them back in the game.  With two runs in, and a runner on first and one out Starnagle came to the plate.  The Republic said:

 “Starnagle tried to put on a Three-Eye League slugging scene.  He dislocated two ribs going after (Bill) Reidy’s slow ones and finally fanned.  Polchow forced (Jack) McCarthy.”

Starnagle was lifted in the ninth for a pinch hitter.  Cleveland lost 5-3.  Polchow gave up nine hits and walked four, striking out two, and was 0 for 4 at the plate.  Starnagle was 0 for 3, with one error behind the plate.  Neither would ever appear in another big league game.

The Box Score

The Box Score

Starnagle was 28-years-old, and had only played two seasons of pro ball before his game with Cleveland—he was semi-pro player with teams in Danville and Sterling, Illinois for nearly a decade before he joined Terre Haute in 1901.  He was considered a solid defensive catcher, but during 10 minor league seasons he only hit better than .230 three times.  When he played with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Royals in 1909 The Montreal Gazette said:

“Starnagle has been drafted every year by big league clubs, all of whom have been pretty well supplied with seasoned catchers; hence his failure to be kept.”

Polchow was just 22 when he pitched his only big league game.  Plagued by wildness, he spent three mediocre seasons with teams in the Southern Association and South Atlantic League (he was 36-45 for the Montgomery Senators, Macon Highlanders and Augusta Tourists), then pitched five seasons in the New York State League.

In 1906 he helped lead the Scranton Miners to the New York State League championship (the team’s leading hitter was Archibald “Moonlight” Graham), although The Scranton Republican said his first start with the team was nearly his last.  Polchow lost 12 to 2 to the Utica Pent-Ups, walking 10 and giving up 10 hits.  After the game Polchow accused catcher “Wilkie Clark of throwing the game.  A fight followed and Clark and Polchow never worked together after that.   Andy Roth was Polchow’s battery partner during the remainder of the season.”

Starnagle retired after the 1910 season.  He returned to Danville, Illinois where he died in 1946; he was 72.

Polchow played through the 1911 season, and then became ill.  He died of Bright’s Disease at 32-years-old in August of 1912

In addition to Polchow and Starnagle, the Bronchos signed two other Three-I League players in September of 1902—both had somewhat more success.

Rock Island Islanders catcher George “Peaches” Graham made his debut the same day as Polchow and Starnagle, during the first game of the doubleheader; he struck out as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning of a 3 to 1 loss. He spent parts of seven seasons in the major leagues, and hit .265.  Decatur Commodores pitcher Augustus “Gus” Dorner made his debut three days later beating the Chicago White Sox 7 to 6.  He pitched for parts of six big league seasons, compiling a 35-69 record.

 

“Big, Good-Hearted and Foolish”

9 Jan

Almost immediately there was trouble for manager John McGraw after the New York Giants acquired Larry McLean from the St. Louis Cardinals, August 6, 1913—it was one of the few times in his career when the trouble wasn’t McLean’s fault.

With Chief Meyers hurt McGraw needed a catcher and traded the popular Doc Crandall to the Cardinals for McLean.  The day after the trade The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune reported that McGraw had “exchanged fisticuffs” with five of his players:

“Crandall was very popular among the club members, and there was much bitterness felt at his loss…The players passed hot words (at McGraw), and several blows were struck.”

McGraw was left with a bloody nose from the fight, and less than two weeks later reacquired Crandall from St. Louis.

McLean thrived in New York, a United Press story said:

“The big lad has been slamming the horsehide at a terrific gait, and has been displaying wonderful form behind the plate…Larry is said to be behaving himself better than he ever has since joining the big show.”

McLean hit .320 for the pennant-winning Giants and went 6 for 12 in their World Series loss to the Philadelphia Athletics.  He earned the praise of McGraw and despite diminishing skills, remained a model citizen for all of 1914 and part of 1915.

That all changed in June of 1915.  McLean had a clause in his contract which would have earned him an additional $1000 if he did not drink during the season.  McGraw’s right-hand man, scout Richard “Sinister Dick” Kinsella, had accused McLean of drunkenness and as a result was suspended for 10 days by McGraw.

Larry McLean, 1915

Larry McLean, 1915

In the lobby of the Buckingham Hotel in St. Louis, McLean accused Kinsella of making up the charge that he’d been drinking in order to cheat him out of the promised bonus.  Words were exchanged and then a fight broke out.  There was the McGraw-Kinsella version and the McLean version.

McGraw and Kinsella said McLean was carrying a length of gas pipe, and “came into the lobby with a number of rough companions.”

Kinsella’s version was as colorful as it was questionable:

“I picked up a chair and broke it over McLean’s head.  That frightened his gang of ruffians and they fled.  McLean continued to fight until McGraw and I chased him into the street, where he jumped into an automobile filled with women and begged for protection.”

McLean told reporters “I whipped McGraw and all of his associates with my two fists, I did not use a gas pipe, and he “exhibited his bruised right hand as evidence.”

McLean was finished with the Giants.

In March of 1916 The Associated Press reported that McLean had purchased the New Haven Murlins of the Eastern League and said “Larry will manage the club and catch.”  Either the report was erroneous or the deal fell through.  McLean never again played professional baseball and spent 1916 playing with semi-pro teams in New York.

Before the 1917 season baseball writer Ren Mulford reported that McLean might be signed by the Reds:

 Wouldn’t it be odd if Big Larry would come out of the swamp and stick to his spikes into dry ground?  Larry McLean, big, good-hearted and foolish, always his own worst enemy might come back if he willed it so.”

McLean never joined the Reds.

Also in 1917 several newspapers reported that McLean was becoming an actor, The New London (CT) Day said McLean “is now a real moving picture actor,” and included a picture of McLean with another actor “as Egyptian slaves in ‘The Siren,’ a movie soon to be released.”  (The film “The Siren” is described on IMDB as a western—what film, if any McLean actually appeared in is unknown)

Larry McLean, 1915

Larry McLean as an Egyptian slave in a 1917 film

In 1919 McLean was “in serious condition,” in a New York hospital as a result of burns received in a Turkish bath when he lost consciousness after entering a room.  He had been suffering from pneumonia and was in a weakened condition.”

That was the last that was heard of McLean until March 24, 1921.  McLean and a friend named Jack McCarthy were in a bar in Boston’s South End.  The bartender (John Connor) claimed McLean became enraged when he refused to give him cigarettes and threatened to “beat him up:”

 “McLean started to climb the bar to attack him.  McCarthy was helping McLean over the counter when Connor reached for a pistol, and fired… McLean staggered out to the sidewalk where he fell.”

Connor claimed that the previous evening McLean had chased another bartender “up and down the barroom…and forced him to leave to save himself from a beating.

McCarthy was also shot and died in the hospital six days later.  (Some recent sources, such as Bill James in “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” erroneously identify McCarthy as John Arthur “Jack” McCarthy, a former Major League player.  The McCarthy who was shot with McLean was John F. McCarthy.  Incidentally, John Arthur McCarthy is one of a very few Major League players for whom death information is unknown)

Connor was being held without bail at the time of McCarthy’s death and, according to The Boston Post, eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to one year in prison.