Tag Archives: James Hart

“Waddell is Considered a Freak”

14 Nov

On his way to a 24-7 record for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902, Rube Waddell pulled a no show in Chicago on August 5.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“Waddell had not caught all the fish he wanted, and so Manager Mack was forced to use his other southpaw (Eddie) Plank.”

rube

Rube

The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“(This) advertisement was submitted to his manager as a handy one to have filed with all the principal newspapers in the country:”

rubead

Waddell had pitched the first game of the series, losing to the White Sox and Roy Patterson 3-1—both pitchers threw four hitters, but the Sox scored two runs in the fifth on errors by Lave Cross and Topsy Hartsell.

The Inter Ocean said:

“Mr. Waddell rode in from the American League grounds (after the game) ate his dinner and—disappeared.”

Waddell was not with the team when they left Chicago for Cleveland two days later, then:

“(W)alked into the grounds at Cleveland and announced that he would pitch the game.  Feeling that a pitcher in hand was worth two in the country, the manager permitted him to do so.”

Waddell lost his second straight game, giving up 12 hits to Cleveland in a 5 to 4 loss to Charlie Smith, who was making his major league debut.

The Inter Ocean said of Waddell, his disappearance, and reappearance:

“His career as a baseball player is so chock full of such incidents that they have ceased to attract attention.  He is the champion contract jumper in the business.  His word is as good as his bond, but his bond isn’t worth a cent, according to numerous baseball managers with whom he has broken agreements.”

rube2

Waddell

The paper said Waddell, “is considered a freak, and apparently he glories,” in the description:

“(President James) Hart of the Chicago National League club, who at the present holds a signed contract for this season and a receipt for money advanced, when urged to prosecute Rube for obtaining money under false pretenses, declared that he never wanted to meet the young man again, even in police court.”

The Inter Ocean told the story of what it said was one of Waddell’s earlier “mysterious disappearances” while he was playing in the minor leagues:

“(H)e suddenly reappeared during a game and took a seat in the grandstand.  He watched the play until the fifth inning, and seeing his club was being beaten, jumped out of his seat, over the railing and onto the field. and declared that he was there to ‘save the game.’ Without more ado he began taking off his clothes, was hustled to the dressing room, and into his uniform—pitched the rest of the game and won it.  When it was over, he dressed, went to the hotel with the club, was assigned to his room in the evening, and the next day could not be found.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer said of Waddell’s next start after his back to back loses in Chicago and Cleveland:

“The eccentric left hander drifted into (Detroit) nearly in the forenoon and assured Manager Mack that no team on earth could beat him feeling as he did.”

He allowed the Tigers just four hits over 13 innings, and won 1 to 0; Waddell scored the winning run after hitting a triple in the top of the 13th.

“It is a Pure, Clean, Wholesome Game”

20 Apr

Billy Sunday took time out from saving souls in the Pacific Northwest in 1909, to talk baseball with a reporter from The Washington Post sent to cover the evangelist’s month-long revival in Spokane:

“I wouldn’t take $1 million dollars for my professional baseball experience.  I am proud I made good and that I was one of the best of them in my day.”

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday

Sunday then went to bat for the unquestioned integrity of the game:

“Baseball is the one sport in this country upon which the gamblers have not been able to get their crooked claws.

“There isn’t the same disgrace attached to a professional baseball player that attends other professional athletes.  The gambler tried for 30 years to get control, but the men behind the game have stood firm and true.  Baseball has stood the test.  It is a pure, clean, wholesome game, and there is no disgrace to any man today for playing professional baseball.”

Sunday also said that after he “converted in 1886,” he discovered that:

“The club owners, the fans generally, and the players themselves will respect a man all the more for living a clean, honest life.”

While he said he rarely had time anymore to attend games, Sunday said he continued to follow the game closely and read the sports page every day.

Asked to name his all-time team, Sunday said:

“I would put (Cap) Anson on first base and make him captain, and I would have to find a place for Mike Kelly and John ClarksonGeorge Gore, Charlie Bennett, Kid Nichols, Amos Rusie, John Ward, Clark Griffith and others were all good men.”

Sunday returned his attention to his “Idol,” Anson:

“For every day in the season, for every occasion that might arise, I believe old Cap Anson was the best batsman the game ever knew.  Just look at that grand record of his…He could hit anything.  He used an extremely heavy bat…it used to do our hearts good to hear the crack when old ‘Cap’ Anson met the ball squarely.”

Sunday's "idol" "Cap" Anson

Sunday’s “idol” “Cap” Anson

The preacher then told the reporter about his career:

“My first professional contract (in 1883 with the Chicago White Stockings) called for $60 a month.  That was a windfall for me in those days, too.  When I quit baseball (in 1890) my salary was $500 a month.  The first two years I only got in a few games and was used more as a utility man.

“As a batter I averaged from .240 to .275 (Sunday’s averages actually ranged from .222 to .291) and that was fair in those days.”

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday

He also recounted the visit received after he secured his release from the Philadelphia Phillies in 1890 in order to take a position with the Y.M.C.A. in Chicago:

“(On the day the release was announced) I was leading a class in a men’s noonday meeting in the Chicago Y.M.C.A., when Jim Hart, president of the Chicago club, walked in, and after the meeting laid down a contract on that old pulpit.  It called for seven month’s salary at $500 a month, with one month’s salary in advance.

Jim Hart

Jim Hart

“Thirty-five hundred dollars and me almost broke with a wife and a baby to support.  It was a horrible temptation, especially since I loved to play baseball.  The next morning I sent Mr. Hart my refusal of his terms.  I accepted a position for the year with the Y.M.C.A. at $83 a month.”

At the peak of his career as an evangelist in the early teens, it was reported that Sunday earned around $800 per day from the pulpit—roughly the annual salary of the average American worker.

“It would increase the Batting, both in a Scientific and Slugging way”

5 Dec

After finishing in second place with a 73-38 record in 1884, the Boston Beaneaters slipped to 46-66 with a fifth place finish the following year; among the reasons for the decline was the team’s batting average which dropped from .254 to .232.

The Sporting Life’s Boston Correspondent said local fans had proposed numerous “wild ideas for proposed changes in the way the game is played,” to remedy the hitting woes.  Of those, one was “worthy of consideration.”

The paper said many “prominent base ball men and a number of players and all have expressed approval.”  Among those consulted were John Morrill, the Beaneaters’ manager, and Arthur Irwin, shortstop for the Providence Grays, both who said the plan would result in more “safe hitting.”

John Morrill

John Morrill

The Sporting Life said “The idea is to make what is now called a diamond but is actually a square a true diamond,” and included a crude diagram:

The Sporting Life's rendering

The Sporting Life’s rendering

 “(T)he catcher would be brought ten feet nearer second base, which would prevent free stealing, and would also enable the second baseman to return a thrown ball to the catcher in time to cut off a base runner.  The pitcher would be placed back five feet, thus reducing the distance between him and second base…the batsman is five feet further from the pitcher, and could therefore more easily hit the ball, thus reducing the number of strikeouts considerably and making livelier fielding by giving more chances.

“The distance from third to first would be increased, thus giving scientific batters and good runners a better chance to beat the ball to base.  The change of foul lines would lessen the number of tedious foul balls; would give more chances to drive the ball between the infielders; would save many pretty hits now called foul; would spread the outfielders more, thus increasing the number of safe hits, and, besides, enable them to make, with the increased territory, more difficult running catches; would give chances for longer hits; it would lessen the damage from errors and make more earned runs, as base runners would have to hug their bases more closely, depending on hitting to score.

“It would but slightly reduce the effectiveness of pitchers without laming them, and give the catcher a better chance to play his position as it should be played.

“To sum up, it would increase the batting, both in a scientific and slugging way; lessen the work of the battery without seriously affecting effectiveness; compel runners to exercise good judgment with speed and increase the work of the fielders over fifty percent.”

The Sporting News suggested that Albert Spalding would “introduce the plan at the League meeting this week and doubtless it will be given thorough consideration,” but none of the coverage of the meeting included any mention of the plan being considered.

Like the “the proposed new diamond,” briefly championed by Chicago Colts President James Aristotle Hart, seven years later, the 1885 plan went the way of dozens of other 19th Century “innovations.”

“There are many Degrees of ‘Fan'”

1 Aug

It seemed that James Aristotle “Jim” Hart, president of the Chicago Orphans had a full plate in 1901.  His team got off to a 1-6 start and never recovered, finishing a disappointing 58-81, while the cross-town White Sox took over first place on July 10 and never looked back, winning the American League’s inaugural pennant.

Jim Hart

Jim Hart

Additionally, Hart was meeting frequently with American League President Bancroft “Ban” Johnson in an attempt to avert all-out war between the two leagues.  Rumors about the trouble ahead were so numerous that The Chicago Inter Ocean said one day during August:

“Ban Johnson went fishing yesterday, and Jim Hart busied himself making out checks for his players.  As a plain matter of fact, there wasn’t enough baseball excitement in town to scare a rabbit, but the fakebirds sang just the same.  By night, the National League had flopped over to the American and the American had joined the National; all the players on each side had been stolen, and there were forty-six more baseball wars in view.”

Despite his fading team, the looming battle, and the fact that the White Sox would out draw his club by nearly 150,000 over the course of the season, he still found time to make it clear what constituted “a genuine fan.”  Hart wrote an article for The Chicago Record-Herald:

“The genuine fan is a proper adjunct of the game of baseball and should be encouraged, for from him must come the enthusiasm which provides capital necessary  to operate the game, the encouragement which causes youths to become proficient players and the constant dropping of con for admission tickets to witness games which permits the sport to continue.

“There are many degrees of ‘fans,’ some agreeable and some disagreeable to an extent which is intolerable.  The ‘fan’ proper is perfectly harmless; he annoys nobody and loves the game for the amusement and benefit he derives from it.  He keeps the records of players of his favorite team and players of other teams.  He feels as if he had encountered personal loss when his team losses and is correspondingly jubilant when the team wins.  He does not roar or rant at the players, but feels grieved that any player on his pet team should ever make an error.

“The next degree of ‘fan’ is the one who becomes wildly demonstrative; he can ‘see things’ only one way, and that is the way he wants them to be; the umpire’s decisions are invariably wrong when they do not happen to be the way he wants them; the errors made by the players of his favorite team are made purposely and could just as well been avoided.  Consequently he at once joins the chorus of ‘take him out’ etc…

“The disagreeable ‘fan’ is strictly speaking not a ‘fan’ at all, but is a person who wishes notoriety and the ‘laugh’ which his sallies cause, for be it known that almost any remark made by a person among the spectators  causes more or less of a laugh.  This class of ‘fan’ does not always employ profane of vulgar language, but his remarks are usually coarse and are personal, directed usually to some spectator, or to a player or to the umpire, and, as stated above while the language is not always of a character that is vile, it encourages the next lower degree of ‘fan’ to use expressions which cannot be tolerated on any properly conducted baseball park.

“An honest management is under great strain during a game of baseball whenever the attendance runs up into the thousands, for it feels that every person there, especially the women, are under the protection of the management, and, when one reflects upon the enormous force for good or evil that is contained in an enclosure of less than a half dozen acres when from 15,000 to 20,000 persons are congregated to witness what may prove a wildly exciting contest upon which the championship of the world may depend, he will not by any act or word jeopardize the welfare and happiness of the people assembled.

“The mobs that attack umpires are not ‘fans.’  They are cowards and rowdies and the person who from the crowd insults a player is bound by the rules of his league and club to resent no insult of any description while in uniform;  consequently to hurl an insulting remark at a player or umpire while he is on the playing field is at par with striking a man who is bound hand and foot and tied to a post.”

Hart’s Orphans improved to 68-69 and finished fifth in 1902, but were again outplayed (74-60, fourth place) and out drawn by the Sox–Hart made no comment about the relative quality of either team’s fans.

Fans at White Sox game circa 1910

Fans at White Sox game circa 1910

“Each Club has its own Particular Omens”

29 Jan

James Aristotle “Jim” Hart gave one of the earliest interviews on the superstitions of ballplayers.

Hart sold his interest in the Louisville Colonels of the American Association before the 1887 season—he was an original investor in the team in 1882 and managed the club in 1885 and ’86—and bought controlling interest in the Milwaukee Cream Cities in the Northwestern League.

James Hart, 1886

James Hart, 1886

 

Before he left the Colonels, Hart accompanied the team on a tour of the  West Coast in December of 1886, and talked to a reporter from The San Francisco Chronicle:

“Why my dear fellow you have no idea to what ridiculous extremes most ball players allow their superstitious inclinations to carry them.  It’s a wonder to me that none of you newspaper men have ever written them up.”

Hart said “Each club has its own particular omens, you know there are four or five favorite beliefs which are held in general esteem by all.  In the East the boys always go to the grounds on the day of the game in hacks, and if they should win they go next time in the same carriages if they can get them, but anyway by the same route, around the same corners and along the same streets.  Should fortune prove averse and defeat be their lot another route is chosen next time and different carriages selected.  To meet a funeral procession on the way to the ball grounds it is also considered good luck, but should their driver be so rash as to cross the road and break through the line of mourners’ carriages I verily believe the boys would murder him.  It is considered such a bad omen that the boys would remain on one side of street all day rather than cross the line.”

“To meet a cross-eyed person is the worst kind of luck.  The only antidote for it is to turn around immediately and spit over your left shoulder before you speak.  It’s kind of amusing sometimes to see half a dozen or so fellows suddenly whirl around altogether like pivot machines and spit over their shoulders while walking quietly along the street, and without saying a word, too.  It was done here on Market Street a few days ago by some of my boys, and I guess the people must have thought then either drunk or crazy.  Another good mascot is to have a dog run across the diamond either just before or during a game.   The Pittsburgh team carried a dog around with it all last season that had run across the field early in the summer.  It didn’t matter that the poor brute had no tail, and was all over sores and all that, he was a mascot just the same and the boys were proud of him.  I reckon there has never been a dog so handsomely treated as that one was.”

“One of the greatest jonahs we have is to commence packing up the bats before the game is finished.  No matter how the score stands at the time, your luck is sure to flop right over and give the victory to the other side.  To illustrate it to you more clearly, I will relate an incident that occurred to our nine early last season at home (the game was actually played August 16, 1885).  We were playing a match game with the Pittsburgh team.  Luck went clear against us all day, and at the beginning of the ninth inning the Pittsburghs (Alleghenys) had ten runs to our five.  It seemed an utter impossibility to catch up that difference in one inning, and I can tell you we felt pretty blue.  Victory looked so sure for the Pittsburghs that Pete Meegan, an extra man belonging to that team, who was sitting on the bench, begin packing up the bats when the last inning was commenced.  You may not believe it, but it’s an actual fact and a matter of record; our luck changed from that instant (Louisville won 11-10).  Manager (Horace) Phillips of the Pittsburghs was crazy with rage, but he didn’t blame any of his players.  He could have murdered Meegan though for bringing on a jonah by packing up those bats before the game had finished. I don’t remember very clearly, but I think Meegan got let out subsequently.  At any rate he was fined heavily for his offense (Meegan never played in the major leagues after 1885; whether he was “let out” by Phillips because of this incident or his 14-20 record in two American Association seasons is unknown).

Pittsburgh Alleghenys Manager Horace Phillips

Pittsburgh Alleghenys Manager Horace Phillips

Another funny idea we’ve got is to pick out a saloon we think to be lucky, and drink a glass of beer there on the day of the game and have the glass set on one side for us.  If we win, then we go to that saloon every day after and drink out beer out of the same glass.  Of course if our luck should change then we try another saloon.  This don’t apply to every nine, because some of them are not allowed to drink at all during the season, under penalty of a heavy fine.  In addition to these things, some clubs belonging to the league are called jonah clubs.  That is, there are some clubs against which it is useless for us to attempt to play.  It doesn’t make any difference whether we consider our own the best team or not, they are jonahs and we can’t beat them.  Loss of confidence has a great deal to do with it, I suppose.”

“The Chicagos’ mascot for the past three seasons has been a little boy in short clothes named Willie Hahn.  The tiny fellow is just able to talk and always sits on the bench during the game.  The Chicagos have the greatest confidence in him as a promoter of success and make a great fuss over him.  Two seasons ago, when the Chicagos won the championship of the league, they hired an open landau upon their return home, put Master Willies in it, bedecked him with flowers and wreaths and hauled him all over the city by hand.  It was a regular triumphal march, you bet. “

Willie Hahn, Chicago White Stockings mascot with Ned Williamson

Willie Hahn, Chicago White Stockings mascot with Ned Williamson

Hart said Willie Hahn, who was white, was unusual.  Most of the teams had black mascots and the players rubbed their heads before batting:

“Sometimes the black boy is kept in a closed hack during the game to prevent contamination from other hands.  The kid then has to duck his head out of the carriage window when the boys want to rub it.”

Hart said the Pittsburgh Alleghenys kept a seat in the stands open for an old black woman “Just before the game commenced the boys would invariably look up to see if old aunty was in her place, and if by chance, she was not there they would lose heart, say the game was ‘jonahed,’ and in all probability, lose it.”  He said the Alleghenys also had two sets of uniform pants “one pair white and the other blue.  One color would be worn so long as the club was successful.”

More from Hart on Friday.

Burns “Put the Punishment on Phyle”

20 Nov

After holding out over a temperance clause the Chicago Orphans added to his contract, Bill Phyle finally signed in late March of 1899.  He reported to spring training in New Mexico anywhere from 10 to 30 pounds overweight (depending on the source) and struggled all season to regain the form he showed the previous season.

On April 17 he was beaten 8-0 by the Louisville Colonels in first start.

On April 25 he lost 3-2 to the St. Louis Perfectos.  The Chicago Tribune said “Phyle gave away the game by distributing bases on balls in just the spots where timely hits followed and transformed the favors into tallies that gave the victory.”

William Phelon, The Chicago Daily News baseball writer, disagreed.  He said Phyle’s “work was of sterling quality.”

Regardless, Chicago Manager Tom Burns didn’t give Phyle another opportunity to pitch for more than a month.

Phelon said it was a mistake for Burns to not use Phyle.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said after the team lost seven of nine games in May “it is passing strange that young Phyle is not given a chance.  On last year’s form Phyle is as good as, if not better than (Jack) Taylor.  The paper called Phyle’s performance in the St. Louis game “gilt-edged” and blamed the loss on “comrades that gave the victory to the enemy.”

Finally, on May 28 Phyle pitched again.   He lost 4 to 3 to the Washington Senators; he gave up three runs on five straight hits with two outs in the ninth.

He lost again on June 1, 7-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies.  Phelon’s opinion of the pitcher was unchanged, and said the losses were simply bad luck:

“Phyle has now lost four straight games.  It is Phyle’s luck to be stuck in whenever the other pitchers have won about three straight, and the team is just about unavoidably due to lose.”

On June 5 Phyle did his best pitching of the season–a victory he is not credited with in the record books.

With the Orphans trailing the Baltimore Orioles 3 to 2 in the third inning, pitcher Clark Griffith was ejected for arguing a called ball.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“It was a queer game.  Phyle pitched after Griffith had been benched…holding the Orioles helpless.”

Chicago won 9 to 4.  And while the Chicago newspapers credited the victory to Phyle, the record books do not.

Box score for June 5 game.  Phyle relieved Clark Griffith in the 3rd inning.

Box score for June 5 game. Phyle relieved Clark Griffith in the 3rd inning.

Phyle became ill later the same week, (some sources said it was recurring malaria), a week later he fell off a bicycle and missed two more weeks.  When he returned to the team on June 22, the Boston Beaneaters beat him 5 to 1.

He was credited with his first “official” win on July 1—a game The Inter Ocean called “a comedy of errors,” and a “depressing exhibition.”   He beat the New York Giants 10 to 9, allowing 10 hits and giving up seven runs in the first two innings.  Each team committed seven errors.

Box score of Bill Phyle's only "official" victory of 1899.

Box score of Bill Phyle’s only “official” victory of 1899.

Chicago went into a slump that would last for the rest of the season; after Phyle’s July 1 win the team was 38-24, in third place, and went 37-49 the rest of the way finishing eighth.

Phyle lost again on July 9 and July 24, and rumors began to circulate that he would be released or traded back to Charlie Comiskey’s St. Paul Saints.

On August 6 Phyle lost 10 to 9 to the Cleveland Spiders.  One week later while the team was on the road, The Inter Ocean reported that he “was sent home by manager Burns.”

The Tribune called Phyle “the scapegoat” and said he and three unnamed teammates  “celebrated after beating a horse race at Washington and Manager Burns, to call a halt, put the punishment on Phyle.

Phelon wrote in The Daily News:

“When the club started for Philadelphia he was told to go home ‘You are through young man, go back to Chicago,’ said Burns, and Phyle went back.  He went back in a rage too, and says he will tell (team president) Jim Hart a lot of things. He says that he has been held up to public derision as a drunkard, all season, and that Burns plays favorites, allowing his friends to jag up as much as they wish and turning all the trouble on others.”

Phelon remained supportive of the pitcher in The Daily News, but in The Sporting Life he reported that Phyle, a former boxer, had deserted the team in early August to go to “St. Louis to see a prize fight, and was not on hand when sorely needed.”

While the relationship between Hart and Burns was strained, and Burns would be replaced at season’s end, Phyle’s complaints went nowhere with the team president and he was suspended without pay.

Ten days after Phyle was suspended Phelon reported that the Baltimore Orioles had offered to trade for or buy Phyle,” (John) McGraw has taken quite a fancy to the young pitcher.”  Hart refused to make a deal.

Phyle never pitched for Chicago again, he is credited with a 1-8 record and 4.20 ERA.

The last Bill Phyle chapter—tomorrow.

“Clark Griffith nearly Ended the Life of William Phyle”

19 Nov

Bill Phyle was expelled from baseball after failing to back up his allegations that the 1903 Southern Association pennant race was fixed—four years earlier he had an even more eventful season.

Phyle started his career as a pitcher; he was 18-9 in 1897, and 21-21 in 1898 for the St. Paul Saints when he was traded to the Chicago Orphans for Frank Isbell.

Bill Phyle

Bill Phyle

He appeared in three September games, winning two with a 0.78 ERA, and was expected to contribute the following season.

In March of 1899 Phyle failed to report to Hudson Hot Springs, New Mexico to join manager Tom Burns and Orphans for spring training.

The Chicago Tribune said the pitcher had refused to sign his contract:

“It is asserted on good authority that pitcher Phyle has refused so far to sign a Chicago contract owing to the insertion of a temperance clause in the document…Phyle objects strenuously to the temperance contract which has been offered to him.  He has asserted positively within the last three weeks that he would never sign such an agreement.”

The Tribune said the contract clause wasn’t the only issue that might keep Phyle from playing in Chicago in 1899; the pitcher had, inadvertently, alienated Burns and team president James Hart the previous September:

“Phyle was unfortunate in his entry into the major league in incurring the displeasure of the Chicago president and manager.  There is a peculiar story connected with the affair.  Last year some members of the Chicago team believed that someone was carrying reports to Hart and Burns regarding the conversations of the players concerning their opinions of the heads of the club.  One night in Washington some of the men put up a job on the man they suspected in order to find out if their suspicions were correct.    In the presence of the man in question they made unflattering remarks regarding the president and manager of the club, and Phyle, being an innocent party to the plot, listened, approved some of the statements quoted as facts, and also took up the discussion.  It is asserted the conversation was carried to President Hart and Manager Burns.  At any rate, Phyle has been in disfavor since that time.”

The Tribune said Phyle was the only player who was given a contract that included a temperance clause.

With the situation at an impasse, Charlie Comiskey, Phyle’s manager in St. Paul, intervened.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said Comiskey, who called Phyle “one of the most promising youngsters” in baseball, sent a “tersely worded” telegram to the pitcher who “decided to sign the Chicago contract temperance clause and all.”

Phyle reported to Hudson Hot Springs ten pounds overweight on March 21.

Three days later he went duck hunting with teammates Clark Griffith, Bill Lange, Jack Taylor and Jimmy Callahan at A.G. Spalding’s New Mexico ranch.  The Inter Ocean said of the trip:

“A bullet from a Winchester rifle in the hands of Clark Griffith nearly ended the life of William Phyle, the promising young pitcher of the Chicago ball team.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

Phyle, unbeknownst to Griffith, remained in the group’s boat while Griffith fired on a flock of ducks flying near the boat:

“Griffith pulled the trigger and a ball tore its way through the stem of the boat…The ball carried in a direct line over the young pitcher’s head, and could not have missed him by more than six inches.”

Phyle was shaken, but unhurt, while “Griffith’s nerves received such a shock that he was weak and almost prostrated for some time after.”

Things didn’t get much better for Phyle after his near-death experience—tomorrow.

“He Used to Knock Down Infielders”

4 Nov

William Alexander “Bill” Lange is best known for a play that likely never happened.  The legend was that he had made a spectacular catch that culminated with the Chicago Colts’ outfielder crashing through the left-field fence in Washington in an 1897 game with the Senators.  It is most likely another in a long line of exaggerations and apocryphal stories from Lange’s friend, Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton—a story that first appeared in that paper with no byline in 1903, but was repeated by Fullerton many times in later years.   A nice analysis of that story appears here.

Bill Lang, seated fourth from left, with 1896 Chicago Colts

Bill Lang, seated fourth from left, with 1896 Chicago Colts

Lange played just seven seasons, retiring after the 1899 season at age 28 to join his father-in-law in the insurance and real estate business in San Francisco.

During the spring of 1900, The Chicago Daily News said “The wise ones in the baseball business” were certain he’d be back, including Chicago’s manager Tom Loftus and President James Hart, and Charlie Comiskey, “’When the season opens and the sun warms up he can’t stay away,’ remarks Comiskey, with a knowing wink.”

Despite the certainty that he would, Lange never returned.

Lange, who stole 400 career bases, was called “Little Eva” because of his gracefulness.  In 1909 Billy Sunday called him “the greatest outfielder in baseball history.”  Connie Mack called him the best base-runner he ever saw.  In fact,  Mack and Clark Griffith considered Lange so good that they petitioned the Hall of Fame in 1940 to change the “rules (which) restrict membership to players of the twentieth century” in order to allow for Lange’s induction.

Griffith said Lange was “the best outfielder that ever played behind me:”

“Lange here was rougher base-stealer than (Billy) Hamilton.  He used to knock down infielders.  Once I saw him hit a grounder to third base.  He should have been out, but he knocked down the first baseman.

“Then he knocked down the second and third baseman and scored.  Connie Mack was the catcher.  No he didn’t knock Connie down because he didn’t have to.”

Mack told the same story over the years.

Lange never made the Hall of Fame.  He died in 1950.

Bill Lange 1931

Bill Lange 1931

In his final years the story about the “catch” had become so ingrained in the legend of Bill Lange that other players told essentially the same story Fullerton did (the most widely disseminated versions appeared in “The American Magazine” in 1909 and in Johnny Evers‘ book “Touching Second,” coauthored by Fullerton), but inserted themselves into the story.  In 1946 Griffith told reporters:

“It happened right here in Washington, I was pitching for Chicago.  Bill missed the train from New York, and arrived in the fourth inning.  We were then with the Chicago Colts and Cap Anson fined Lange $100 before he put him in the game.

“I had a one-run lead when Al (“Kip”) Selbach of Washington hit a terrific drive.  Lange ran back hard, and when he crashed into the wooden fence his 210 pounds took him right through the planks.

“He caught the ball at the same time and held it.  All we could see were his feet sticking through the fence and Bill’s arm holding the ball.  When he came back to the bench, he handed the ball to Anson and said:

‘This ought to cancel that $100 fine.’ It did too.”

When Lange died Griffith said:

“I have seen all the other great outfielders—Speaker, Cobb, DiMaggio –in action and I consider Bill Lange the equal of, if not better than, all outfielders of all time.  There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.”

A Really Bad Idea

19 Oct

James Aristotle Hart (his middle name is incorrectly listed as Abner on Baseball Reference) was an influential figure in shaping baseball’s rules.

Hart managed the Louisville Colonels in 1885 and ’86.  He then purchased the Milwaukee franchise in the Western League, and helped A.G. Spalding organize the first baseball teams to go on world tours.  He returned to the National League to manage the Boston Beaneaters in 1889.

James Hart, 1886

In 1890 he went to England and Scotland to help launch a professional baseball league, and upon his return he became secretary of the Chicago Colts and served as an intermediary in the 1890 fight between the National League the nascent Players League.  He became president of the Chicago club the following year, succeeding Spalding, and served in that capacity until 1905.

The New York Times said:

“Many rules now deemed indispensable were championed by Hart.  The foul strike rule, one of the most important, was his final effort in the rule making.  He was largely responsible for…defining the coachers’ box, changing the pitchers’ box and substituting the slab, altering the shape of the home plate, requiring the catcher to play close up to the plate all the time, abolishing the foul tip and covering the players’ bench.”

One rule that Hart considered seriously enough to release to the press “with earnest request for publication and comment,” would have completely changed the game as we know it.

The idea, proposed by a man from Rollo, Missouri named Cliff Spencer and submitted to Hart, called for a redesign of the baseball diamond.

The Sporting Life said of the design:

“The proposed new diamond is a startling innovation, but the more it is studied the more favorably it impresses.”

The new diamond would increase the number of bases from three to four and while the distance between the bases would remain 90 feet:

“(T)he new base lines would throw first and fourth bases about ten feet further out than the present base lines. Thus making a very much larger area for fair balls.”

After several more paragraphs espousing the virtues of the new design, The Sporting Life concluded:

“No decided disadvantages are apparent in this proposed new diamond except that it may operate to the extreme in batting, base running and run-scoring.  (The) objection, could however be easily overcome by deadening the ball somewhat more should the batting become too heavy.”

The article concluded:

“The proposed new diamond, if adopted, would be a radical innovation.  But it maybe that a radical remedy is requisite to restore the base ball patient to entire health and vigor. It is generally conceded that some changes in the game are urgently needed in order to make it more attractive, to lift it out of the rut of pitcher-domination.”

Diagram of the proposed new diamond laid over traditional diamond–home plate is at the top.

Even the glowing review of the proposed plan in The Sporting Life stopped short of absolutely endorsing the idea:  “It is not intended here to advocate, either reservedly or unreservedly, the adoption of this radical innovation,” because it was conceded that there were much less radical measures that could be adopted to increase run production.

Within a week The Sporting Life, and every other newspaper who had published a story about the new diamond concept, had concluded that the idea would never be adopted.

Hart, a long time advocate of increasing run production, was not known to have ever again commented on the new diamond.