Tag Archives: Jim Rogers

“He was Neither Lucky, Dumb, nor Awkward”

22 Apr

On the occasion of the sale of the land which once stood “the old major league ball grounds at Broadway and Twenty-Eight Street,” in Louisville, James Jerpe of The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times reminisced and Fred Clarke bringing “the foundation of those habitual tail-enders to Pittsburgh.”

Jerpe said:

“Louisville is proud of Fred Clarke-maybe prouder than Pittsburgh or Winfield, Kansas, or Madison County, Iowa, where he was born. It was in Louisville that he won his spurs as a player and showed the qualifications that made him a great leader.”

He said future Louisville residents of the homes built on the ballpark site, “may point with pride to the fact that on their home sites great men like Clarke and Honus Wagner reached their prime.”

clarke

Clarke

Twenty-one-year-old Clarke joined Louisville in June of 1894:

“They called him the freshest busher of the period. He had cost Barney Dreyfuss the munificent sum of $100. With him the little recruit brought a little red bat that was the butt of derisive jokes from veteran players.”

Jerpe said Clarke’s “little red bat” caught the attention of the opponents when he made his debut in a game with Philadelphia:

“’Why, kid, these pitchers will knock that toothpick out of your hands,’ exclaimed Billy Hamilton.”

Years later, Jerpe said Hamilton told Clarke:

“Do you remember how you got four hits in that game and then topped it off with a home run that made me run like mad to the clubhouse?”

Clarke—still so unfamiliar that The Louisville Courier Journal left the “e” off his last name—had five hits in his debut, but did not hit a home run as Hamilton recalled; he had four singles and a triple off Gus Weyhing, but the Colonels lost 13 to 6.

Three years later, Clarke, just 24, became manager of the Colonels; he told Jerpe about the wire he received from club president Harry Pulliam in June of 1897 informing him of the move:

“I didn’t know what to make of that telegram. I thought some of the other players had faked up a message to kid me. You know they always roasted me about being fresh and I thought that they wanted to get my goat. But I talked with several of them and found out that the message was on the level. A fellow named Rodgers [sic, Jim Rogers] had been acting in the capacity of manager. He advised me to accept the job. I was younger than any of the men playing regularly on the Pittsburgh club today, and I couldn’t hardly realize that Pulliam had picked me for a boss job.”

Jerpe said the Colonels under Clarke were “a rough and ready crowd,” and Clarke himself was “a tough nut.”

Clarke told him in 1912:

“You know they had the outfielders pegged as bad men, reckless base runners, vicious spikers and so on. But we were not as bad as they tried to paint us. Managers had a fashion of expecting the outfielders to run bases that way and to intimidate the infielders for the opposition. If one of their men spiked or bumped into one of our men the order always went out to get back at them. Of course, an outfielder was picked to bump the offending player on the other team because the outfielder covered no bases and therefore there would be no chance for them to come back at us again. If the third baseman on the opposing team blocked or bumped our shortstop the manager very promptly tipped his outfielders to get back at the third baseman.”

In 1912, Clarke also told Jerpe about the first time Honus Wagner worked out with his team; less than a month after Clarke became manager in 1897:

wagner1897

Wagner 1897

“We called him the luckiest, dumbest, and most awkward Dutchman we ever saw, but we later learned how badly mistaken we were. He was neither lucky, dumb, nor awkward.

“He played in most every position during his first few days at practice. I was one of the loudest shouters about his blind luck and awkwardness. The way he broke down his hits, fielded anything hit above him or around him and the way he handled himself in general had us all guessing. He stood awkwardly at the bat but hit like a fiend. He ran bases, it seemed, very awkwardly, but he got there. After watching him about two weeks I turned toward a fellow named O’Brien and said, ‘That Dutchman isn’t lucky. He is a wonder. He knows what he is doing, and he can do it better than any of us. I want to take it all back.’”

Wagner, Clarke said, fifteen years after his debut:

“(H)as never changed. He is playing ball the same way he played it during his first week with Louisville. He didn’t seem any more awkward then than he does now. So you fellows might take from this that it is not always the best policy to figure that your first impression of a young ball player is correct. It takes a couple weeks sometimes to see a real good man and often it takes much longer.”