Tag Archives: Jersey City Skeeters

Lost Advertisements–Ed Sweeney for Sweet Caporal

15 Jan

sweeneyad

A 1914 advertisement for Sweet Caporal Cigarettes featuring New York Yankee catcher Ed “Jeff” Sweeney:

“In every line-up of the cigarette league champions, you’ll find good old steady sweet Caporal playing first.”

Three years later, while playing for the Toledo Iron Men in the American Association, Sweeney told a reporter about his former teammate Russell Ford, and the development of the Emery Ball.

Sweeney and Ford were teammates with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association in 1907:

“One day while Sweeney was catching Ford in a warm up stunt before a game Russ made a wild peg and the ball bounded into a concrete pillar.

“‘I didn’t know anything about it,’ explains Sweeney, “but after that, I noticed the ball breaking in a peculiar way.  I remarked about it to Ford, but he didn’t appear interested.  I never saw (Ford throw it) again that season.

“‘I was purchased that summer by the Yankees (he joined the team in 1908).  Owner (Frank) Farrell came to me one day and asked who was the best pitcher in the Southern Association.  I told him Ford.  And Russ was drafted.'”

After an unsuccessful one-game trial with Yankees in 1909, Ford spent the remainder of the 1909 season with the Jersey City Skeeters in the Eastern League.  When Sweeney and Ford were reunited the next spring with the Yankees, Ford told the catcher he “‘(H)ad a ball no catcher in the world could receive.  I laughed at him but he persisted.'”

Sweeney said Ford “‘took me into his confidence'” and explained his new pitch, Ford told Sweeney that day in Atlanta he noticed the effect the damage caused by the ball hitting the concrete post had on his ability to make it curve, and he continued experimenting:

“‘Russ showed me a little leather ring that he slipped over a finger of his left hand…All he had to do was to scratch the ball with the emery, that was pasted to the leather…The bigger the scratch the greater the freak jumps the ball would take…He would fake a spitter, and nobody ever got wise.  When he pitched he always requested that I catch him.’

“‘When Russ threw the ball with runners on or in pinches, no batter in the world could hit it.  Once in while somebody did, but it was by accident…I’ve seen batter after batter miss the ball a foot.'”

 

 

“This Fellow has about as much Judgment of Balls and Strikes as a Six-year-old Kid”

10 Sep

Umpire baiting was an art form for managers like John McGraw.  In 1906 Tim Murnane wrote in The Boston Globe about the way McGraw, and his players, intimidated a first-year umpire named John Conway during a game between the New York Giants and Boston Beaneaters.

On May 1 the Giants had defeated the Beaneaters 7 to 5, and according to Murnane:

“I was very much interested with the tactics of the Giants in a game here, when they found the clever Irvin Young in the box, and knew it would take extra work to defeat the local team.

“Umpire Conway was behind the bat in this game, and the New York boys went after the young umpire from the first ball pitched until the last man went out.  Conway was consistently giving Young the small end of the decisions on balls and strikes, and yet the New York men tried to make it appear that he was giving them a terrible roast.  The Giants worked like sailors, never letting up;  in fact, their good work with the stick and on the bases was commendable in every way, and what they were saying to the umpire could only be heard in the front seats, and perhaps that was a good thing for the game.”

Tim Murnane

Tim Murnane

Murnane said the actions of the Giants were reminiscent of those of McGraw and other members of the Baltimore Orioles in the 1890s, but “this time it was umpire and not their fellow players,” who were the target:

“As each man passed the umpire they would make some remark, until finally (Dan) McGann, (Roger) Bresnahan and McGraw were put out of the grounds by Conway.  Note the four names, all of Celtic origin, every man out for a salary, the umpire doing his best to please, and doing it certainly in a fair way to the visitors, and yet the trio must be doing something for effect, perhaps to give the umpire something to think of when he went to New York, or perhaps to affect his work in the next game.  There was an object in the uncalled-for nagging.  The result was that Pitcher Young was actually affected, and put up a weak all-round game as the contest went along, the Giants finally winning out as a result of his poor work.”

The Giants doubled-down on their harassment of Conway after the game was over.  Murnane said Fred Knowles, the Giants Secretary,

“(I)nformed me that the New York players complained of Conway’s breath, saying that he had been drinking and was under the influence of liquor during the game.  What are the honest facts?  A friend of mine at the same hotel with Conway and Bob Emslie (the other umpire) told me that he was with the umpires the night before, as well as that morning, and heard them refuse to take a drink of any kind.  I was speaking to Conway just before the game, and took pains to note if he had been drinking, and I can say positively that he had not.”

Murnane’s comments are curious, given that he said Knowles informed him of the accusation after the game, yet he claims he “took pains” to confirm whether Conway was drinking before the game began.

“Now, doesn’t it seem unfair to pass around cold-blooded lies about an umpire doing his duty, to a management who naturally listens to stories of this kind, and then tries to make it easy for players?  I could forgive every act of the New York men, as they are out for blood, and are fine ballplayers, but I must pass up players who will try to harm a good, honest fellow, for Conway is a good umpire and had the nerve to pick the big fellows out, and no two men in the business need the call-downs that McGann and Bresnahan do.”

Murnane’s Boston colleague, Jacob Charles Morse of The Herald, called the Giants actions “reprehensible,” but said the umpire was partially to blame:

“Had Conway started in at the very first a lot of trouble might have been obviated, but it was not until he had allowed the New Yorks to kick at strikes and decisions, to leave their places, something strictly forbidden by the rules, and to bellow like bulls.  Bresnahan could be heard all over the field telling the umpire to ‘get out.’  Early in the game a bunch gathered around the umpire without the least expostulation, and went back to their places when the seemingly felt like it.”

Despite McGraw, McGann and Bresnahan receiving three-game suspensions for their actions, Morse said “The penalty imposed for the actions of the individuals was ridiculously light; not at all commensurate with the gravity of the offense.”

Things did not get any easier for Conway.

He had another run-in with the Giants at the end of June which resulted in another McGraw ejection.

He was also assaulted by two different St. Louis Cardinals; William “Spike” Shannon in June, and Mike Grady in August.  The August incident, during a game in Boston, required police to escort Conway from the field and resulted in a three game suspension for Grady.

Mike Grady had two altercations with Conway

Mike Grady had two altercations with Conway

After a second incident with Grady; this time in Pittsburgh on September 4, The Pittsburgh Press took the side of the Cardinals catcher, and harshly criticised Conway:

 “Umpire Conway officiated the game at Exposition Park yesterday afternoon.  To be more exact, a man named Conway attempted to imitate a real umpire, but the attempt was a failure…this fellow has about as much judgment of balls and strikes as a six-year-old kid, and he makes some of the weirdest mistakes ever seen.  To make matters worse, Conway thinks he is funny and laughs at his poor decisions…The Press never condones umpire baiting, but Conway called one strike on Grady that was not within two feet of the plate, and it is little wonder indeed that Michael was exasperated.

“It is to be hoped that Conway’s career as an umpire in the National League will end with the present season.  There are a score more competent men umpiring in the minor leagues today.  Conway is not fit for the position he occupies.  He takes trouble with him wherever he goes, owing to his inefficiency.”

National League President Harry Pulliam apparently agreed; Conway was not retained for the 1907 season.

He joined the Eastern League in 1907, but trouble continued to follow him.  In June he was assaulted by Toronto Maple Leafs second baseman Tim Flood—which resulted in Flood serving 10 days in jail.

Tim Flood

Tim Flood

 

Less than a week later, after the Jersey City Skeeters scored a run in the ninth inning to beat the Newark Sailors 2 to 1, Conway was attacked by fans in Newark’s Wiedenmayer Park.  The New York Times said:

 “A mob waited after the game until Umpire Conway left the dressing room on the grounds for the train, and when he appeared in the street the mob hooted, hissed and threw mud at him.”

He was escorted to the train station by “a squad of policemen.”

Just weeks into the 1908 season Conway decided he had enough, and resigned.  The Sporting Life said he “quit umpiring to go into business.”

Conway never worked a professional game again, although he worked several Ivy League games before giving it up all together in 1910.  He died in Massachusetts in 1932–the same year McGraw, too ill to continue baiting umpires, resigned as manager of the Giants.

“The Longest Hit in the World”

10 Oct

Walter “Judge” McCredie, longtime Portland Beavers player, manager and president said the longest home run he ever saw was hit by Otis L. “Ote” Johnson when Johnson played for him:

“The drive of Ote Johnson’s at Los Angeles (in 1909) was the longest clout I have ever witnessed.  Out in center field they had a pavilion 150 feet long.  Hits at Chutes Park in Los Angeles had never come within fifty feet of the pavilion…Johnson put the ball clean over the pavilion and the ball bounced into the bandstand for what I call the longest hit in the world.”

By the time he hit that ball in Portland he had already been called “Home run” Johnson for at least five years, a name earned in the Texas League when he hit 22 home runs in two seasons for the Dallas Giants—he finished third with 12 in 1903 and led the league with 10 in 1904.

Otis "Ote" Johnson

Otis “Ote” Johnson

Johnson was born in Fowler, Indiana in 1882, and grew up in Muncie.  The Dallas Morning News said fellow Indianan Claude Berry recommended Johnson to Dallas.  Primarily a shortstop, Johnson also played first, third and outfield, and appeared in more than 30 games as a pitcher during his professional career.

Johnson was sold to the Little Rock Travelers near the end of the 1904 season; he remained with Little Rock through 1906 but hit just .210 against “A” class Southern Association pitching.  He was sold to the Charleston Sea Gulls in the class “C” South Atlantic League before the 1907 season and hit .263, leading the team in doubles (27), triples (13) and home runs (10).

His performance in Charleston earned him another shot in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) when his contract was sold to Portland.  After a slow start at the tail-end of the 1907 season, Johnson regained his form, hitting .280 with 10 home runs in 1908 and .293 with 13 home runs (including his “longest hit in the world”) in 1909.

McCredie said the day Johnson hit his home run against Los Angeles scouts from the New York Highlanders was in the stands:

“(A)fter the battle they asked me to put a price on Ote.  I did, and a few days later the deal was consummated.”

The price was $4,000.

As Johnson prepared to join the Highlanders and manager George Stallings for spring training in Georgia, the New York press was excited about the team’s new prospect who was spending the winter in Muncie working and playing goalie Muncie’s professional roller polo team.  The New York Globe said:

“There is a ‘terrible Swede’ coming to New York next season.  He is a glass blower and makes from $6 to $7 a day in a factory at Muncie, Ind., and in the summertime he makes his living at swinging a large club and gathering bad and good bounders on the baseball field…The boy we’re harping about is Ote Johnson, who will be a member of the New York Americans. (In the PCL) he is known as ‘Home Run’ Johnson.  They say he has driven many a pitcher to the bench.”

George Stallings

George Stallings

Phil Cooney, a New Yorker, who played with Johnson in Portland, told The Globe:

“They seem to think that this boy Johnson can’t hit a curve ball, but Stallings will find out that he can hit any kind.”

On March 23 Stallings told The New York American that Johnson, who was playing third base and shortstop, “couldn’t hit.” Two days later The American said:

“Ote Johnson this afternoon gave an apt illustration of a home run and for the first time since he reported to Stallings the Portland demon found his batting eye.  But for the most daring burglaries on the part of (William) Birdie Cree, the big third sacker would have hit for 1.000 during the afternoon.  As it was he had a single and a homer in three times at bat.  His single might have been a homer had not (2nd baseman) Earle Gardner sprang into the air and retarded its progress by a blind stab.  But the four-base smash was beyond reach.

“Johnson got to one of (Dick) Carroll’s choicest curves and knocked the ball further than any had ever before traveled in Georgia.  Birdie Cree was playing deep for the big fellow.  The ball went so far that Cree had not gotten to it by the time Johnson crossed the home plate, and he only jogged from second.  The ball rolled to the fence, which is fully 300 yards from the plate.”

As late as April 1 it looked like Johnson might stick with New York.  The Trenton Evening Times said:

“The latest ‘phenom’ to be discovered is Otis Johnson, the New York Americans’ third sacker.  This recruit has been playing sensational games around the last station since he joined the club…Johnson is also quite a slugologist.  In the last few games the youngster has been batting like a Tyrus Cobb.  In a recent game at Athens, Ga., he made four hits in as many times at bat.  Among them was a home run.  Manager Stallings says he thinks Johnson will make a great name for himself this season.”

Despite the build up, and the reports of his prowess at the plate, Johnson did make Stallings’ club.  His contract was sold to the Jersey City Skeeters in the Eastern League.

The (Portland) Oregonian said New York “farmed out” the former Beaver star despite the fact that:

“New York critics credit Ote, nevertheless, with having more promise than some of the players retained by Stallings.”

Johnson hit just .223 with 9 home runs (second in the league) with Jersey City, but would benefit from unrest in the New York clubhouse.  Manager George Stallings accused his star first baseman, Hal Chase, of trying to throw a game in St. Louis (the first of what would become many accusations against Chase). Stallings said he would resign if Chase wasn’t let go; Highlander owner Frank Farrell sided with Chase and forced Stallings out in September; Chase was named manager.

Hal Chase

Hal Chase

After the season ended the New York papers said Johnson would on Chase’s club the following season, either at third base in place of Jimmy Austin (who was rumored to be on the market, and eventually traded to the St. Louis Browns), or to play shortstop in place of John Knight  who would be moved to second base to replace Frank LaPorte (also on the market, and also eventually traded to St. Louis with Austin).

More Otis Johnson on Monday.

Memorial Day—Major League Baseball’s First World War Casualty

27 May

By the time he enlisted in the United States Army in July of 1917, Edward Leslie “Harvard Eddie” Grant had retired from baseball to practice law in Boston.

He attended Harvard, but only played baseball as a freshman; he was declared ineligible after being paid for playing with a semi-pro team.  After that Grant played intramural baseball at Harvard and played with Northeastern outlaw teams during the summer.

In 1905 Grant made his Major League debut when the visiting Cleveland Naps recruited him to fill in for two games at second base for Hall of Famer Napoleon Lajoie against the Boston Americans—he was 3 for 8 and made one error.

He was with the Jersey City Skeeters in the Eastern League in 1906, hitting .322, which earned him a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.  He would spend the next nine seasons in the National League, also playing for the Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants.  Grant was never a star, but he was popular with fans and the press.  The New York Times said:

“He was a handy utility player and could fill in any position on the infield.  While never a heavy batsman, he was skillful fielder and a smart baserunner.”

1910 Advertisement for the  Vetterlein Brothers Cigar Company; the Saboroso Cup mentioned in the ad was presented to the phillies or Athletics player with the highest batting average.

1910 Advertisement for the Vetterlein Brothers Cigar Company; the Saboroso Cup mentioned in the ad was presented to the Phillies or Athletics player with the highest batting average.

Grant was among the first wave of prominent athletes to join the military, making his enlistment news.  A wire service article under the headline “Eddie Grant Joins Uncle Sam’s League” appeared in numerous papers across the country.

On October 5 1918, he would become the first Major League player to be killed during World War I, The Associated Press said:

“Captain Edward Grant, former third baseman of the New York National League Club, and attached to the 307th Infantry, was killed by a shell when leading a unit to the aid of the famous ‘Lost Battalion.’

“The battalion was surrounded for five days in the Argonne Forest and Captain Grant was killed in one of the attempts to reach it.”

Grant was originally buried in the Argonne Forest, and his body was later moved to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery.

“Champ” Fertsch

5 Oct

A bullet nearly ended Edward “Champ” Fertsch’s career before it really got started.

Fertsch was born in Moorestown, New Jersey (birthplace incorrectly listed as Reading, PA in Baseball Reference) in 1874. The 5’ 10” 175 pound righthander played with the Carlisle Colts of the Cumberland Valley League in 1895, then pitched for Salisbury in the unaffiliated Peach Tree League in Maryland and Taunton in the New England League—records are incomplete or nonexistent for these seasons.

Fertsch joined the Reading Coal Heavers of the Atlantic League in 1898 and played two seasons, winning 14 games in 1899.  In 1900 Fertsch split time between New Castle in the Interstate League and Buffalo Bisons in the then minor league American League.  Fertsch’s contract was purchased by the Brooklyn Superbas, but he never had the opportunity to report the following spring.

That fall Fertsch was hunting with a friend, as the friend climbed a fence his gun discharged and Fertsch was hit the left arm.  Initially the arm was to be amputated, but Fertsch implored doctors to save it.

Assuming his career was over Brooklyn released Fertsch, but he sufficiently recovered to rejoin the Coal Heavers for the 1901 season.

According to the Reading Eagle “Fertsch cannot use the limb very well in delivering or batting, but it does not seem to hinder his twirling.”

“Champ” Fertsch

No records survive for the 1901 season, but Fertsch pitched well enough coming off the shooting to earn another shot in the Eastern League; splitting time with the Providence Grays and the Jersey City Skeeters Fertsch posted a 17-11 record.

Fertsch remained in the Eastern League for the next four seasons (no statistics survive for 1902 or ‘03), after 9-10 and 11-14 seasons in 1904 and ’05, Fertsch played the next four seasons with the Lancaster Red Roses and Reading Pretzels in the Tri-State League.

Again no complete records are available for those years, but Fertsch was frequently referred to in the Eagle as Reading’s and the Tri-State’s “Highest paid professional ballplayer.”

Fertsch was plagued by arm injuries after returning to the Tri-State and retired at the close of the 1909 season.  He became an umpire in the Tri-State League in 1910, but only served for one season because of a league rule change which no longer allowed umpires to be residents of one of the Tri-State club’s cities.

Fertsch again attempted to pitch for Reading in 1911, but only appeared in one game.

After baseball Fertsch was considered one the best bowlers in Pennsylvania.

He died in Reading in 1964.

Jack Ogden

28 Sep

John Mahlon Ogden had limited success in three stints in Major League Baseball, but for an eight year period he was one of the greatest minor league pitchers in history.

Born in 1897, Ogden played baseball at Swarthmore College (where his brother, Major League pitcher Warren “Curly” Ogden also played), and went directly to John McGraw’s New York Giants.  The 20 year old appeared in five games for the Giants before being shipped to the Newark Bears in the International League where he went 5-5 with a 1.48 ERA.  Ogden spent 1919 with the Rochester Hustlers posting a 10-13 record with a 2.37 ERA.

His career took off the next season with the Baltimore Orioles.  The 22 year old Ogden led the International League champions with a 27-9 record—future Hall of Famer Lefty Grove was 12-2 for the O’s that year.  Egan followed that up with an incredible 31-8 record with a 2.29 ERA in 1921.  Beginning on May 10 Ogden won 18 straight decisions, finally losing 3-2 to the Jersey City Skeeters on July 22.  Ogden then won his next five starts.  Baltimore won their third of seven straight IL championships (Grove was 25-10 with a 2.56 ERA).

Over the next six seasons Ogden went 133-63, including a 28-win season in 1925, the last championship in Baltimore’s domination of the International League.

Jack Ogden

Ogden made it back to the Major Leagues with the Saint Louis Browns in 1928 and ’29 where he was a combined 19-24 with an ERA above 4. Ogden was acquired by Cincinnati for the 1930 season, but due to an illness he announced his retirement and took a high school coaching job.

Ogden attempted a comeback in 1931, going a combined 6-10 for the Reds in ’31 and ’32, followed by two more minor league stints with Rochester (after being traded by the Reds to Cardinals) and Baltimore.  He retired for good in 1934 and accepted the position of Vice President and General Manager of the Orioles and became assistant to Philadelphia Phillies President Gerald Nugent in 1939.

In 1941 Ogden bought controlling interest of the Elmira Pioneers in the Eastern League.  His son, John Jr., also a star pitcher and basketball player at Swarthmore, helped Ogden operate the team until he was drafted in 1943.   PFC John Mahlon Ogden Jr. was killed in France on August 8, 1944. Ogden sold the Elmira franchise shortly after his son’s death.

Ogden continued in baseball serving as a scout for a number of teams and managed high school and college teams.  He passed away in 1977 in Philadelphia.

Ogden is a member of the International League Hall of Fame.