Tag Archives: Jim Corbett

“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

Brother Joe Comes Back

30 Nov

Twenty-three-year-old Joe Corbett, brother of heavyweight champ “Gentleman Jim” Corbett announced his retirement before the 1899 season.  Corbett had written a column for The San Francisco Call during his 1898 hold out, and announced he was quitting that job too:

“I have (also) quit writing baseball news now, and take little or no interest in the game. I wouldn’t cross the street to see one.”

Corbett ran the livery stable his father had started in San Francisco, helped operate the family bar on Ellis Street, and within weeks had apparently regained his interest in the game and was back writing for The Call.  His responsibilities in the family businesses increased after his parent’s deaths in August of 1898 (Patrick Corbett shot and killed his wife then committed suicide).

Joe Corbett

There remained significant interest in Corbett’s services; unfortunately for Joe he remained under the control of Ned Hanlon.  Hanlon had moved to the Brooklyn Superbas in 1899 as part of a stock swap between the Brooklyn and Baltimore franchises—he took several players with him, including “Wee Willie” Keeler, Hughie Jennings and Joe Kelley—he also kept Corbett’s rights.

Ned Hanlon

Hanlon offered Corbett $2400 to play for Brooklyn and turned down offers to trade his rights.

According to California newspapers Corbett occasionally pitched in semi-pro games in 1899, but in 1900 The Sporting Life reported that Corbett was “dangerously ill,” and would probably never pitch again as a result of sciatic rheumatism.

Less than a year later The Sporting Life said Corbett was pitching for a team in Oakland, and the next year he appeared in five games for the Minneapolis Millers in the American Association—the retirement appeared to be over.

A successful January 1903 appearance on the mound in an exhibition game featuring barnstorming Major Leaguers renewed interest in Corbett again.  The Los Angeles Angels of The Pacific Coast League offered Joe a contract he couldn’t refuse, one that allowed him to tend to the family business interests in San Francisco during the season.

Newspaper reports said Corbett earned $5000 for the 1903 season, Angels manager Jim Morley said he wouldn’t say how much Joe earned but said that he had:

“Figured it out that Corbett will get 4.99 a curve.”

After going 23-16 for the Angels, the Major leagues again came calling.   Early reports had Corbett signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who offered $5000, but Joe eventually signed with the Saint Louis Cardinals.  While the Cardinals assured Joe that Ned Hanlon had relinquished Brooklyn’s claim, the Corbett family was not ready to end the feud with Hanlon.

Gentleman Jim, when asked if Joe would ever consider playing for his former manager again, told reporters:

“Hanlon couldn’t get Joe to twirl for him if he offers him a million dollars a year.”

Things didn’t go well in Saint Louis.  Joe Corbett was 5-8 when the Cardinals released him August 1.

Jim was, as always, Joe’s biggest defender:

“My brother Joe was getting $7000 for the season from the St. Louis club, but his heart was not in his work, simply because he was separated from his wife and little ones who were out in California.  Thinking of his family all the time impaired his effectiveness as a pitcher.”

Gentleman Jim

Joe returned to San Francisco where he added a hat store to growing stable of businesses; his rights returned to Hanlon and Brooklyn.

The final chapter of the Corbett story on Monday.

Brother Joe’s Holdout

29 Nov

Joseph Aloysius “Brother Joe” Corbett got his nickname because lived in the shadow of his older sibling—“Gentleman Jim” Corbett, World Heavyweight Champion.

Baseball was Jim’s first love, and he aspired to pro career, but his time in professional baseball was limited to about three dozen games for a variety of minor league teams from 1897-1900 when his boxing fame made him a drawing card.

Jim was very protective of Joe, and contemporaneous newspaper accounts indicate that he served as something of an agent for his younger brother.

Joe, at 19-years-old and with limited experience in college and two California-based minor leagues, was given a trial with the Washington Senators in 1895—said to be a result of Jim’s friendship with Senators manager Gus Schmelz.  Joe went 0-2 for Washington and was released.

After pitching for the Norfolk Braves in the Virginia League and Scranton Miners in the Eastern League in 1896, Corbett earned another trip to the Big Leagues with Ned Hanlon’s great Baltimore Orioles team, the O’s were 90-39, 9.5 games ahead of the second place Cleveland Spiders.

Joe Corbett

Corbett was 3-0, and won two games against Cleveland in the Temple Cup, the National League post season 7-game series between the first and second place teams.

At the close of the Temple Cup series, while Jim was in New York, Hanlon got Joe to sign a $1400 contract in Baltimore for the 1897 season.

The 1897 Orioles finished in second place, but Corbett established himself as a rising star, posting a 24-8 record.  The Orioles sent Joe a contract for $2100.  Joe returned it unsigned and demanded $3000, and according to some reports, $300 in travel expenses.

The Orioles offered to split the difference.  Joe refused.

Ultimately the parties ended up either $100 apart, or with the Orioles relenting (depending on the source).  Joe still refused, and sat out the entire season.

Some sources, like the book “Baseball Hall of Shame 4,” claim Corbett’s holdout was over Hanlon’s failure to keep a promise to buy Joe a suit for winning 20 games.  The articles from that period and the quotes from the principles would make the suit story appear apocryphal and of later vintage.

Jim Corbett blamed the dispute on Hanlon, who he felt took advantage of his brother with the $1400 contract for 1897. “Gentleman Jim” said:

“Hanlon, as you know, is the cheapest magnate in baseball…he knows very well that I would not allow Joe to sign for such a measly salary and he took advantage of my absence. “

Jim said he told his brother to “Quit Hanlon for all time.”

Joe sat out 1898.  Before the 1899 season Joe told reporters:

“I have gone out of the baseball business for good.”

Like his brother, who retired from the ring on numerous occasions, Joe would be back.

More tomorrow.

Gentleman Jim