Tag Archives: Jim Corbett

“Crying as if our Hearts Would Break”

29 Mar

Many different versions of how and when Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker finally reconciled—and when—after years of mutual animus have been told over the years. Evers told the story himself—and talked more about both Tinker and Frank Chance—while he was scouting for the Boston Braves in Georgia, in a 1931 interview with Ralph McGill of The Atlanta Constitution

McGill, incidentally, was an outspoken anti-segregationist who rose from assistant sports editor to managing editor and publisher at The Constitution and won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for his editorials on the civil rights movement.

“(W)hen Johnny Evers sat in a room at the Atlanta Athletic Club until a late hour Saturday morning and recalled the old days he held a dozen men on his words: Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

 

Johnny Evers,

McGill said Evers, “told the story of how the trio played for 12 years and were then parted for 11 to meet for the first time two days before Jack Dempsey went into the ring against Luis Firpo (1923)”

With “something glistening in his eyes,” Evers told the story to McGill and the others:

“Joe Tinker and I never got along well. We were both high strung. If a man bumped me at second, Joe was over there to help me. But when it came to just us—well, we often raced off the field into the clubhouse and went to it with fists. If I made a good play, he told me. If I made a poor one, he told me. And I him. As I said, we didn’t get along.”

Then, he said, “came the breakup…And not for 11 years did I see either of them or them one another.”

Days before the Dempsey/Firpo fight Evers received a telegram from Chance who was in New York:

“Come on down. Joe is here.”

Evers said:

“I got on the train and went. I got the number of the room from the clerk. And I went up and knocked.

“’Come in,’ yelled Frank Chance.

“’I knocked again.

“’Come in,’ he yelled louder than ever.

“I knocked once more.

“’All right, you so and so, stay out,’ yelled Chance.

“I turned the knob of the door slowly and then swung it open.

“Tinker and Chance were sitting there at a table, staring at me and I at them across a span of 11 years. We stared there motionless and wordless for five minutes.

“And then I took a step forward and we were all together with our arms about each other’s shoulders and we were all crying as if our hearts would break.”

Tinker to Evers to Chance

Evers turned his attention to Chance, who had died seven years earlier. McGill said:

‘”The Peerless Leader’ they called him. And he must have been. Johnny Evers thought so. He didn’t say, but as he talked of Chance there was something in his voice, something he felt in the old days when they were helping to make the Cubs famous.”

Evers said of his former manager:

“Chance had more courage than any man I ever saw. He was a born fighter.”

 Evers cited Chance’s sparring with Joe Choynski, a heavyweight contender who finished with a 59-17-6 record, with 39 KOs; Jim Corbett said no opponent ever hit him harder:

“Chance stayed four rounds when he was a student in California with Joe Choyniski [sic], one of the greatest of the heavyweights. (He) was touring then and offering $100 to any man who would stay four rounds. Chance was the college champion, and he went in there and stayed four rounds. He was cut to pieces and knocked down innumerable times. But he stayed four rounds.”

Evers either embellished the story in places or heard an embellished version to begin with.

Chance took part in a three-round exhibition with Choynski on May 18, 1896. The fight was not part of some challenge offered by Choynski, but rather a benefit for one of the instructors at the Fresno Athletic Club. Chance’s bout was part of what was advertised in The Fresno Bee as a night of “vaudeville and novelty.”

The bout with Chance was the first of two sparring matches for Choynski that evening—the other was with the honoree E.V. Bradstreet—and The Bee makes no mention of any knockdowns or the savage beating Evers implies:

“Chance is Fresno’s best boxer and did nobly, but Choynski taught him several things…Chance did comparatively well.”

Evers also suggested that the “fight” with Choynski did permanent damage to his former manager:

“It left him with an impediment in his speech from which he never recovered.”

Finally, he suggests the embellishments were Chance’s and not his:

“’Johnny,’ he used to say to me. ’that was hardest $100 I ever earned.’ What a fighter he was.”

More insights from Evers from his 1931 scouting trip for the Braves, Wednesday.

“The Future Emperor, Napoleon Lajoie”

17 Apr

John L. Sullivan “wrote” his life story for The Boston American in 1905.  The former heavyweight champion had always been a baseball fan, played some semi-pro ball, and was once arrested for participating in a Sunday game.

johnlsullivan

John L. Sullivan

In the 1905 article, he talked about the evolution of personal responsibility of the ballplayer:

“What with firing away his money and having fun with (Cap) Anson, King Kelly had a merry life, but a short one. He was a king among ballplayers and a prince among spendthrifts. Once he lectured me on the wisdom of getting the savings bank habit.

‘”You’ll need it someday, John L.’ he said.

“’How about yourself going broke, Mike,’ I asked.

‘Not me. When I need money, I can take my turnout and go selling milk,’ he replied.

“The turnout he referred to was the horse and buggy given to him before a ballgame on the National League grounds in Boston. The rig was a present to the king by his subjects in my town.

kingkelly

Mike “King” Kelly

“When King Kelly passed out, the future emperor, Napoleon Lajoie was driving an ice cart in Woonsocket. Prosperity almost carried the Frenchman off his feet, but the lesson of Mike Kelly and some more of us foolish ones was drilled into him. He cut out the red-eye and got a bank book, and today he is the king of them all and getting rich. He doesn’t intend to get off the water wagon and go back to the ice cart. The difference between King Kelly and Emperor Lajoie is the difference between the old style and the new in all kinds of sport, and the stayer is the man behind the pledge.

lajoie

Napoleon Lajoie

“Kelly died early. Lajoie grows better every year, and if he were to take up boxing, he could sprint faster than (Jim) Corbett, punch as hard as myself, get away as quick as Fitz (Bob Fitzsimmons), and handle his fists like Tommy Ryan. Moreover, his hat fits. I call the attention of all the temperance lecturers to Larry Lajoie as one of the best examples they can use in their business.”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #28

19 Dec

Satch on Segregation, 1943

In 1943, The Associated Press asked Satchel Paige about the prospect of integration in major league baseball:

satch42

Paige

“’It’s the only sport we haven’t cracked,’ the big, loose-jointed star of the Kansas City Monarchs said last night.

“’I think some of our boys will get major tryouts next spring; in a couple of years I believe they’ll be in the lineups. I wish we could start out with a club of own—all colored boys,’ he asserted.  ‘Later, when they got used to us playing, they could mix the teams up.’”

Fat Cupid, 1901

When the Chicago Orphans released veteran Cupid Childs on July 8, 1901, The Chicago Daily News eulogized the big league career of the one-time star.  Some highlights:

“The passing of Childs removes from the National League, probably forever, one of it’s best known characters… (He was) remarkably fast on grounders and flies, despite his fat shape and short limbs… (Chicago manager Tom) Loftus though he could make the fat man renew his youth, and Childs has certainly done the best he knew how.  Through years of experience the league fielders had learned how to play for his hits; his batting became light in consequence, and his fielding continued very good for a fat old player.”

cupid

Childs

The paper was correct that Childs’ major league career had come to an end, he played three and a half more seasons in the minor leagues before calling it quits for good.

World Series Souvenirs, 1906

Two of the highlights of the surprise win by the 1906 White Sox over the Cubs in the World Series were the bases loaded triple by weak-hitting George Rohe that accounted for the all scoring in the 3-0 White Sox victory in game three; and Frank Isbell’s four doubles in game five.

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune, who made his reputation as a prognosticator that year by being one of the few experts to pick the Sox, told his readers about an encounter with Isbell after the series:

isbell3

Isbell

“I dropped in at the South Side Grounds…I discovered (Isbell) under the grand stand, staggering under a load of bats, and followed him along under the stand.  Then he dragged out a bushel basket filled with old practice balls and began packing balls and bats into a big dry goods box.

“’What the dickens are those, Issy,” I asked.

“’Balls and bats.’ Calmly remarked the Terrible Swede.

“’what are you going to do with them?’

“’I’ll tell you,’ remarked Issy, seating himself on the edge of the box.  ‘I began collecting them in July and saving them up.  I knew everyone in Wichita (Kansas, Isbell’s off-season home) would want one of the balls that was used in the world’s championship series.

“’Those, he added serenely if ungrammatically, pointing at the bushel of baseballs, “are the balls Rohe  made that triple when the bases were full.’ And those,’ he added, pointing to the bats, ‘are the bat used when I made those four doubles in one game.’”

Corbett on Gentleman Jim, 1916

After his baseball career, Joe Corbett worked for several years as a deputy to the San Francisco County Clerk.  In 1916, The San Francisco Call & Post said the younger brother of former Heavyweight Champion Gentleman Jim Corbett, had a way of dealing with fans who wanted to talk to him about his brother’s prowess in the ring—he would tell them:

joecorbett

Corbett

“They tell me he was a great fighter; you see, I don’t know.  I only saw him in the ring twice; I guess he wasn’t fighting then.  (Bob) Fitzsimmons won the first time and Jeff (Jim Jeffries) knocked him out the second time.  But they tell me he was some fighter.”

“The Most Graceful Player of All-Time”

25 Jun

Writing in The New York Herald Tribune in 1952, Grantland Rice, in his 51st year covering baseball, set out to choose his all-time “Most graceful” team.

The idea was borne out of a conversation with Charles Ambrose Hughes, who covered baseball for several Chicago and Detroit papers during a career that started one year after Rice’s–Hughes left the newspaper business to serve as secretary of the Detroit Athletic Club, he published the club’s magazine and led the group of investors who founded the National Hockey League Detroit Cougers in 1926–the team became the Red Wings in 1932 .

hughes

Hughes

In an earlier column that year, Rice quoted Hughes on Napoleon Lajoie:

“Big Nap, or Larry, was the most graceful player of all time.  Every move he made was a poem in action.  He was even more graceful in the infield than Joe DiMaggio was in the outfield—and that means something.”

Rice agreed:

“I was another Lajoie admirer.  I never say Larry make a hard play.  Every play looked easy—just as it so often looked to DiMaggio, (Tris) Speaker, and Terry Moore.”

The comments apparently caused a spike in the volume of mail Rice received, and he said in a later column:

“Old timers in baseball still have the keener memories.  This thought developed in the number of letters received by admirers of Napoleon Lajoie, the Woonsocket cab driver…they were writing of baseball’s most graceful player. But almost as many modern fans stuck with Joe DiMaggio.”

rice.jpg

Rice

Rice said the issue caused him to think about “grace or rhythm” among players:

“(It) does not mean everything.  Honus Wagner looked like a huge land crab scooping up everything in sight.  He had a peculiar grace of his own, but it was hardly grace as we know it. Yet he was the game’s greatest shortstop”

Rice based his team on “the beauty of movement,” on the field:

Rice’s team:

Pitchers—Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Bugs Raymond

Catcher—Johnny Kling

First Base—Hal Chase

Second Base—Lajoie

Third Base—Jimmy Collins

Shortstop—Phil Rizzuto, Marty Marion

Outfield—Speaker, DiMaggio, Moore

Rice said:

“(T)his is the team we’d rather see play.  This doesn’t mean the greatest team in baseball…it leaves out many a star.

“But for beauty of action this team would be a standout…Looking back I can see now some of the plays Lajoie, Chase, DiMaggio, Speaker, Collins, Moore, Rizzuto, and Marion made without effort.”

Rice said Kling was not as good as Mickey Cochrane and Bill Dickey, “But he was a fine, smooth workman—smart and keen.”

He said he chose Raymond as one of the pitchers because of John McGraw:

“In an argument far away and long ago, I named Walter Johnson.  McGraw picked Raymond.

“’Raymond has the finest pitching motion I ever say,’ he said.  ‘It is perfect motion from start to finish—no wasted effort anywhere.”

bugspix

Bugs

Rice reiterated that the  “Woonsocket cab driver” was the most graceful of the graceful:

“The all-time top was Lajoie.  Here was the final word in grace, in the field or with a bat.  After Lajoie the next two selections belong to Hal Chase and Joe DiMaggio.  Speaker isn’t too far away.”

Rice concluded:

“Gracefulness does not mean greatness.  It means Jim Corbett in boxing, Hobey Baker in hockey, Bobby Jones in golf, Red Grange in football, Lajoie in baseball, (Paavo) Nurmi in running, It means (Eddie) Arcaro in the saddle. It means smoothness, ease, lack of effort where sensational plays are reduced to normal efforts.”

Joe Nealon

2 May

There was a race to sign Joe Nealon in 1905.  The San Francisco Chronicle said he was “thought to be the equal of Hal Chase,” the fellow first baseman and Californian who made his major league debut that season.

By November, West Coast newspapers had reported that at least four teams were after Nealon—the New York Highlanders, Boston Americans, St. Louis Browns, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates were after Nealon.

nealon

Joe Nealon

There likely would have been even more interest in Nealon if not for his background; as The Chronicle said after Nealon signed with the San Francisco Seals before the 1905 season:

“Parental objection had to be overcome, and this was accomplished through an understanding that the boy would remain in professional baseball not more than two or three seasons.”

Nealon was the son of the James C. Nealon, a wealthy real estate executive, elected official, owner of thoroughbreds, and one of the best known handball players on the West Coast who often played with boxer Jim Corbett.

Nealon attended St. Ignatius College (now the University of San Francisco) and had played in the California State League in 1903 and 1904.

Cincinnati and Boston appeared to be the most aggressive pursuer of Nealon; according to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“Everybody who has seen him work says that Nealon will fill the bill.  He is described as a second Bill Lange at the bat, and a new edition of Charley Comiskey on the bag.  Allowing for exaggeration he seems to be the real goods.”

The Reds dispatched Ted Sullivan to San Francisco. The Americans sent Dan Long.  They did not know that Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Fred Clarke was on his way West as well; Clarke arrived first. The Pirates manager won out.  The Pittsburgh Post said:

“It was against these two men that Clarke had to use his ingenuity in securing Nealon.  The player is a freelance and was at liberty to join a team of his own selection.  Being independently wealthy and playing baseball only for the sport he finds in it.  Nealon was not influenced by any financial proposition.”

Reds owner August Herrmann told The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“I had become very much interested in young Nealon and regret that we did not succeed in getting him, but there is no use mourning over his loss.”

While Herrmann might not have been mourning, others in Cincinnati were and blamed Sullivan.

Jack Ryder of The Enquirer said:

“Why was not Ted Sullivan on the ground earlier?  Ted left Cincinnati a week ago last Saturday (October 29) with instructions to make a bee line for Frisco.  Mr. Herrmann knew that there was keen competition for  the services of Nealon…If Sullivan had reached San Francisco on Tuesday or Wednesday, as he was expected to do he would have got in ahead of Fred Clarke, and the chances would have favored his securing the player.”

Ryder said he had a letter from James C. Nealon written to Herrmann promising “that his son would sign with Cincinnati, ‘other things being equal,’” Ryder noted that the Reds “offered the boy more salary than any other club including Pittsburgh.”

Ryder concluded:

“Fred Clarke, who was on the spot, while Ted Sullivan was not, was able to persuade (Nealon) that the Pirates are a far better aggregation than the Reds.”

Ted Sullivan was not about to blamed, and fired off a letter to The Enquirer:

“There is not a man in the city of Cincinnati that would feel as much hurt as myself to lose a good man for the Cincinnati club.  The two years that I have acted as agent for Mr. Herrmann he has treated me like a king, and has showed a disposition to back my judgment on the skill of a player.”

tedsullivan

Ted Sullivan

Sullivan said in the letter, he had discovered Nealon’s “hidden skill” in August:

“The skill I noticed in Nealon (I wrote Mr. Herrmann at the time) was skill hidden beneath a dross of inexperience and youth.”

While he conceded that some time in the major leagues would “make him a star,” he assured The Enquirer he was not of the caliber of Sullivan’s favorite first baseman:

“The greatest first baseman in the history of the game, Charles Comiskey, was my own selection and making (which I say without egotism), but the California fledgling, without disparaging him, is a pallbearer compared to the magnetism of the matchless Comiskey.”

Sullivan blamed his inability to sign Nealon on Nealon’s father.  He claimed to have offered $3,800 to the first baseman in August, and was told that money was not the critical consideration, but complained that Nealon Sr. had immediately “proclaimed throughout Frisco, with the aid of a flashlight, and had also the newspaper men transmit (the offer) to all of the papers in the East.”

As for arriving is San Francisco after Clarke, Sullivan blamed that on the railroads:

“(I) was blocked between Salt Lake and Sacramento, caused by the immense amount of trains”

But, said Sullivan, none of that mattered.  Nealon’s father had not dealt with the Reds in good faith:

“Mr. Nealon Sr., who claimed he was not out for the money, called Fred out on the porch of the house and showed him, in confidence, the offer from Cincinnati.”

The latest Cincinnati offer was $6500—with a clause that promised $1000 more than any other offer Nealon would receive–Sullivan said.  Clarke matched the $6500, he said, and signed Nealon.

fredclarkepix

Fred Clarke

There was more said Sullivan:

“Now comes the most brazen effrontery of offended dignity that has more hypocritic brass in it than the Colossus of Rhodes.  With this standing offer of Mr. Herrmann’s in his hands for days before I arrived,  I asked Mr. Nealon Sr., why he did not close with Mr. Herrmann on such a grand offer.  ‘Why,’ says he, ‘I consider it an insult for any man to make me such an offer as that, as it would appear that I was playing one club against the other.”  Think of that insult—one man offers another man $1000 more than the highest bidder and he is insulted.”

Sullivan closed his letter by again questioning Nealon’s prospects of making an immediate impact, and said:

“I would rather go down to Millcreek bottoms and pick up some young fellow that wanted to make baseball a profession, than any young man in the United States who thinks that he is condescending to play ball for $7000.”

Sullivan was not the only representative of a club who had expressed interest in Nealon who now questioned the prospects ability.  In response to Frank Chance of the Chicago Cubs who said Nealon was “not of National League Caliber,” The Pittsburgh Press responded:

“Sour Grapes?”

The rest of the story on Friday.

“I Claim that that First Putout was a Record-Breaker”

9 Apr

When Fred Mitchell was in the process of leading the Cubs to the 1918 National league pennant, George Stallings told boxer turned sports columnist James Corbett that Mitchell was, “a genius as a leader of ball players.”

Corbett said:

“And if anyone should know the ‘what’s what’ concerning the chieftain of the Cubs it’s this same Stallings, who had Mitchell as a lieutenant for over eleven years.”

fredmitchell2

Mitchell

Mitchell, however, had no problem pointing out the times he might not have been the fastest thinker on the field. He recounted one example to Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Herald and Examiner during that pennant winning season:

“The place was St. Louis and the time one season when Fred was a member of the Yankees (1910). The bases were brim full of Browns and the batter banged the ball to second base. Mitch, who was catching, stepped in front of the plate to take the throw, and as he set himself for the peg he heard a noise behind him. Thinking it was the runner scoring from third, he quickly threw the ball to Hal Chase at first to stop the batter. To Mitchell’s surprise, Hal came tearing in and winged the ball right back to him. Then a runner started for second and Mitch shot the pill down to Jack Knight. Jack did the same thing Chase had done; he ran in and banged the pellet right back to Mitch.”

Mitchell picked up the story:

“’By this time I figured that they must want me to keep the ball, so I held it. I looked around and discovered that there were four men on the three sacks, as the the runner had stayed at third, for some reason or other. So I touched the plate for a force out. The man at second had held the base because the runner ahead of him had not advanced and this left two men on first. So, I chased down there, shin guards, protector, big mitt and all, and ran one of the base runners towards second. That forced the man there towards third, so I rounded second after him. Just as I got to shortstop, the runner (who had been on second, rounded third and) made a dash for the plate. So I pegged home from short and Chase tagged the man for a double play.”

fredmitchell3

Mitchell, 1910

Mitchell said he received:

“(A) good bawling out for running around the infield and leaving the plate unprotected.

“I claim that that first putout was a record-breaker, for it went from second to catcher, catcher to first, a first to catcher, catcher to short and short to catcher before I got wise to the fact that there was a force play at the plate.

“I later learned that the noise I thought was the runner scoring had been made by the next batter who picked up the bat near home plate so the runner could slide.”

“You are mostly Fakes, and yet I love you all!”

19 Mar

Elmer Foster became better known after his career had ended than he ever had been as a player because of sportswriter Hugh Fullerton who included stories he said were about Foster in his columns for more than twenty years.

Elmer Foster

Elmer Foster

The first story appeared in 1897, shortly after Fullerton arrived at The Chicago Tribune:

“The long-lost is found.  A few days ago a traveling man who is a baseball fan climbed on the train with the Colts and engaged Jimmy Ryan in Conversation.

“’Who do you think I saw the other day?’ he queried…I was up in Minnehaha, the village at the falls of St. Paul.  About 10 o’clock at night I was preparing to go to bed, when suddenly there came a series of war whoops up the street.  A man came tearing down on horseback, whipping the animal to dead run and whooping like a Comanche Just as he got to where we were standing he pulled two revolvers and, still whooping, emptied them into the air.  I was scared to death, but no one else paid any attention.  When the danger was over I crawled out from under a cellar door and said ‘Who is that?  ‘Oh, that’s nothing,’ said one of the gang.  ‘It’s only Elmer Foster going home.’”

The 1897 article also told a more accurate version of the incident in Pittsburgh that led to Foster’s release than Fullerton told in later years–it mentioned that he was with Pat Luby (incorrectly identified as “Harry” Luby), and Fullerton, in this version, did not claim to be present.

With that the legend was born.

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

By the turn of the century the legend grew.  Fullerton said:

“Foster was a great baserunner…He ran regardless of consequences, and perhaps no man that ever played in fast company ever took an extra base on a hit oftener than did Elmer.  He simply refused to stop at his legitimate destination, and kept right on.  When he got caught he always said: ‘Why, I wasn’t a bit tired.  Why should I have stopped running?’”

By 1903 Fullerton said of Foster:

“No man who was interested in baseball during the early ‘90s can certainly have forgotten the name of the man who was perhaps the best center fielder who ever wore a Chicago uniform.”

Like Bill Lange, another player he helped make famous long after his career was over, Fullerton’s most often repeated story about Foster was a dubious one involving a catch—a story that was repeated over the years as having happened three years after Foster’s big league career was over:

“Back in ’94 one of the Eastern teams was playing Chicago on the West Side, with Foster in center field.  The man at bat made a terrific swipe at the ball and hit it.  The shadow was deep over the infield and Foster could not see the ball.  He started to run out into far center, so as to be prepared.

“As a matter of fact the ball was only a bunt.  The shortstop caught it and threw the batter out at first.  But Foster kept on running—running like mad….Foster ran at the top of his speed almost to the center field fence.  Then he jumped high up into the air, threw up his left hand, and came down to the ground with—an English sparrow tightly clenched in his fist.”

In addition to Fullerton repeating the story over the years,  “Gentleman” Jim Corbett retold it in his syndicated sports column in 1919 and Al Spink, writing for The Chicago Evening Post in 1920 quoted former Chicago White Sox Manager Jimmy “Nixey” Callahan telling the story in 1920—like the original, both Corbett’s version and Spink’s via Callahan say the “catch’ happened three years after Foster left Chicago.  The story survived until at least 1925 when it appeared in several paper as park of a King Features syndicated column of short baseball stories.

Fullerton’s Foster stories—including several regarding drunken pranks Foster was alleged to have played on Cap Anson—became so ubiquitous that William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star  said in 1912:

“It is now an accepted tradition that Elmer Foster, the famous fielder, led the Chicago team on a glorious, care-free, drunk through a whole wild merry season in 1891.  That is believed by everybody—yet the records show that Foster played just a few games with Chicago in 1890, and was released in April [sic] of 1891, before the season was even one week old!  Oh, you legends!  Oh, you deceiving old stories!  You are mostly fakes, and yet I love you all!”

A Thousand Words–Jim Jeffries and Baseball

12 Jul

jeffries

 

Former Heavyweight Champion Jim Jeffries fields a ground ball at his ranch in Burbank, California as he prepares for “The Fight of the Century,” against reigning  champion Jack Johnson; Johnson pummeled the former champ on July 4 in Reno, Nevada, retaining his title on a TKO in the 15th round.

Behind him is Harley M. “Beanie” Walker, sports editor of The Los Angeles Examiner.

A decade earlier, while champion, Jeffries along with fellow fighters John L.  Sullivan and “Gentleman Jim” Corbett began making appearances as umpires (Corbett also played at times) in many minor league games.  The use of fighters as umpires appears to have been the idea of Atlantic League president, and future Hall of Famer Ed Barrow, although all three fighters appeared at professional games in many leagues across the country.   When Barrow died in 1953, Al Abrams of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said he once paid Jeffries “60 percent of the gate receipts,” for appearing at a game.

After Jeffries defeated Corbett in 1900 he did a series of  appearances at ballparks across the country. The Kansas City Star said:

“Jeffries had an easy time as the players were so scared they forgot all the baiting tactics.”

Jeffries often included a sparring exhibition as part of his appearance, when he didn’t, fans usually left disappointed.    The St. Joseph (MO) Herald said during his 1900 ballpark tour:

“He merely walked up and down between first and second bases, but was not heard either by the crowd or the players, to make any decisions…The crowd had expected that Jeffries, besides umpiring the game throughout, would be placed on exhibition and put through his paces…such remarks as ‘Where’s the punching bag?’ and ‘Who’s going to box with him?’ were heard among the crowd, and when no bag or sparring mate was produced the disappointment of the spectators was so apparent that it had a depressing effect on the teams.”

Jim Jeffries

Jim Jeffries

“Beanie” Walker would leave the newspaper business in 1917 and become a screenwriter for movie producer Hal Roach, writing title cards during the silent film era and dialogue for talkies.  Walker wrote for Roach’s films featuring Laurel & Hardy, Harold Lloyd, and Our Gang.

Beanie Walker

Beanie Walker

Walker is also credited with coining the nickname for a  redheaded teenage pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League with an excellent fastball, who would became the first big league player from Arizona.  Lee William “Flame” Delhi only pitched one game for the Chicago White Sox;  the 19-year-old, who had already pitched nearly 700 inning of professional ball (not including two seasons of winter ball), had a dead arm by the time he joined the Sox.

Flame Delhi

Flame Delhi

 

Larry McLean

8 Jan

At 6’ 5” John Bannerman “Larry” McLean is still the tallest catcher to have played in the Major Leagues nearly a century after his final game.  Born in New Brunswick, Canada, McLean’s ability was mostly overshadowed by his frequent off-field troubles during his career.

McLean bounced between the minor leagues, semi-pro teams, and trials with the Boston Americans, Chicago Cubs and Saint Louis Cardinals from 1901-1904.  McLean joined the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League in 1905 and it was here that he developed into a good ballplayer and a first-rate baseball character.

Larry McLean

Larry McLean

McLean hit .285 in 182 games with Portland in 1905, but also started to show signs of the troubles that would plague him for the remainder of his career; Portland added a “temperance clause” to his contract and McLean, who had originally planned on a boxing career, loved to fight.

In 1906, while hitting .355 for Portland, and catching the eye of the Cincinnati Reds who would purchase his contract in August; McLean announced that he was going to become a professional fighter.

The wire report which ran in The Bakersfield Daily Californian said:

“McLean the giant catcher of the Portland team…He is so big that umpires walk out behind the pitcher so they judge balls and strikes…announces that he will fight any man in the world, Big Jeff (Jim Jeffries) not barred.”

The story said McLean was training with Tom Corbett (older brother of “Gentleman Jim” Corbett) and Corbett said he “has a ‘sure ‘nuff’ champion in the big catcher.”

Talk of a ring career temporarily ended when McLean joined the Reds, but McLean’s legend grew.  In November of 1906, he caught a murderer while in a subway station with his wife.  The Boston Post said the suspect:

“Was seen to pull a gun and pump five bullets (into the victim)…Larry started after him and collard him just outside the entrance.  (McLean had the suspect) pinioned so he could not move.  The police soon arrived and took charge of McLean’s prisoner.”

McLean was a huge hit with Havana fans the following winter when the Reds touring Cuba; The Sporting Life said:

“Larry McLean was the favorite and every time he caught a ball the crowd applauded. McLean has been dubbed by the baseball fans ‘Chiquito.’”

McLean and Chicago White Sox pitcher Frank Smith were mentioned at various times as possible opponents for heavyweight champion Jack Johnson; boxing writer Tommy Clark said in 1910 that McLean “Thinks he has a good chance of lowering Johnson’s colors.”

But while McLean was a fan favorite he regularly ran afoul of Cincinnati management and none of the managers he played for was able to keep him out of trouble.

While with the Reds McLean was arrested at least four times–for disorderly conduct, passing a bad check and two assaults.  In one case, at the Savoy Hotel in Cincinnati, McLean knocked a newspaper man from Toledo unconscious after the man “Reproved McLean for using a vile name.”

While serving a suspension for breaking team rules in 1910 McLean Said:

“When I get back to Cincinnati there will be 25,000 fans at the depot waiting to shake hands with me.”

Frank Bancroft, Reds secretary and former manager said in response:

“Twenty-five thousand, why, they’ve not that many barkeepers in Cincinnati”

McLean had worn out his welcome by 1910, but Cincinnati was not able to find any takers for the catcher.  Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss said, “I wouldn’t give 30 cents for Larry McLean.”

McLean stayed with the Reds for two more seasons, but when Joe Tinker took over the team one of his first moves was to sell McLean to the Saint Louis Cardinals in January of 1913.  McLean said he had finally learned his lesson and promised to behave with the Cardinals:

“They didn’t want me around because they said I was a bum. Now I’m going to fool Tinker.”

McLean did behave himself in Saint Louis and seemed to appreciate the opportunity he was given by his former Reds teammate, manager Miller Huggins, even earning a “good behavior” incentive in his contract, and was hitting .270 for the Cardinals, but the cash-strapped team went with the younger, cheaper Ivey Wingo behind the plate and traded McLean to the New York Giants for Pitcher Doc Crandall.

Larry McLean, standing end right, Miller Huggins, standing end left, and Frank Bancroft, standing middle (in suit) on the 1908 Cuban tour.

Larry McLean, standing 5th from left, Miller Huggins, standing end left, and Frank Bancroft, standing middle (in suit) on the 1908 Cuban tour.

The rest of the McLean story tomorrow.

Brother Joe Goes Home

3 Dec

After the Saint Louis Cardinals released Joe Corbett in August of 1904, he returned to San Francisco and signed with the Seals of the Pacific Coast League.

There would be one more skirmish between Hanlon and Corbett.

Hanlon filed a grievance with the National Commission claiming that Corbett’s release did not make him a free agent, but instead released his rights back to Brooklyn.  Hanlon seemed to have a solid case.  Ed Grillo, former and future sports writer and then President of the American Association said:

“(Brooklyn) has a prima facie title to Corbett…The National League acquired complete control of Corbett’s services when he signed a St. Louis contract for 1904, and his release to Brooklyn is in conformity with the national agreement.  The law of the game is clearly with the Brooklyn club.”

San Francisco, with the support of the entire Pacific Coast League, ignored the complaint and put Corbett in the Seals’ lineup.  Hanlon ultimately backed down and Corbett was released to San Francisco.

Corbett appeared in 33 games for the Seals in 1904 and 05, posting a 17-13 record.  In September of 1905 he threatened to bring law suits against Hanlon, The Brooklyn club, and the National Commission:

“(O)n the ground that he has suffered in reputation by combined actions of baseball magnates (and) has been deprived from earning thousands of dollars, rightfully his, because of his pitching ability; and that he has been humiliated and disgraced in many ways.”

The threatened legal action made headlines, but doesn’t appear to have gone further.

Corbett also retired, again, that September.  Reporters, skeptical about this retirement (and given brother Jim’s multiple “retirements” from the ring) pressed Joe on the issue.  In reply he “Promised faithfully to never reappear.”

He kept his promise.  For a few months.

In 1906 he played for the Stockton Millers and San Jose Prune Pickers in the California League, and appeared in two games in the outfield for the Seals.

Corbett came back and retired twice more.  In 1909 he pitched 12 games for the Seals.  In 1916 he tried again; the Seals released him in May after four games.

Joe Corbett, 1916

Corbett and his wife had seven children, and when he wasn’t pitching he amassed quite a resume.  In addition to the various family businesses and newspaper work mentioned, Corbett worked at various times as baseball coach at Santa Clara College (1898-99, 1902-03), in the San Francisco Assessor’s office, clerk’s office, for an oil company, and the San Francisco branch of the Bank of Italy.

A few years before his death in 1945, Corbett was asked by The Associated Press if he had any advice for players who were considering defying the reserve clause and holding out. Joe said:

“If you think you’re right, stick to it.  But don’t forget, it’s pretty hard to beat those hours.”

And finally…Corbett was said to have worshiped “Gentleman Jim,” but was also known to sometimes tire of hearing what a great fighter his brother was.  Over time he developed a standard reply:

“I only saw him in the ring twice… (Bob) Fitzsimmons won the first time and Jeff (Jim Jeffries) knocked him out the second time.  But they tell me he was some fighter.”

Corbett/Fitzsimmons

Corbett/Jeffries