Tag Archives: Joe Corbett

Kid Nichols

25 Jun

Add Hall of Famer Charles “Kid” Nichols to the list of those who were convinced that players from an earlier era were of better quality than those “of today,” even if the earlier era was less than a decade before.

Kid Nichols

Kid Nichols

While pitching for the Kansas City Blue Stockings in the Western League in 1903, the 33-year-old pitcher told a group which included a reporter for The Associated Press:

“I am not so sure that the ball players of today are much superior to those of ten years ago in general utility.  It seems to me there was more life and spirit in the games of a decade ago than in those of the present regime.  They weren’t so mercenary in those days and there was much more sportsmanlike spirit.  Nowadays the paramount question with the average player is salary.  He doesn’t care so much about the record of the team he plays with makes as opportunities offered him to make himself individually famous and thus increase the value of his services.  In many clubs teamwork is lacking on account of the intense desire of some of the men to make an impressive showing by individual work.  In the old days one didn’t hear so much of the individual as the playing of the team as a whole an in my opinion baseball would stand on much firmer foundation if the same spirit prevailed nowadays.”

Among the best:

“Take old (Tommy) McCarthy for instance.  As an outfielder none of them had him beaten, and in my opinion there is not an outfielder his equal now.  It was McCarthy who originated the trap ball which he worked so effectively.

“He was absolutely the headiest man in the outfield I ever saw.  You have seen outfielders throw men out at first on line drives, but you haven’t seen it done often.  I’ve seen McCarthy spoil many a legitimate one-base hit by that same play.  Another favorite play of his was this:  A man would be on first and second.  The man at bat would drive to left.  McCarthy would snap it up on a short bound and flip it to second as quick as a flash in time to catch the man who had run off first.  In turn the second baseman would throw the ball to third in time to head off the man who had started from second.  Thus a really legitimate one-base hit was turned into a double play.

“But, speaking of outfielders, Willie Keeler was about as good as any of them for all around ability.  He was like lightning on his feet and was no slouch at hitting.  He certainly did things to me one day in Baltimore.  He faced me four times and this is what he did:  Made four hits to four different parts of the field off of four different kinds of curves.  Keeler was the hardest man to fool I ever pitched to.”

Nichols said Herman “Germany” Long, his teammate for 12 years was:

“(O)ne of the greatest shortstops in the business.  He played with Boston while I was a Beaneater, and of course I had good opportunities to watch him work.  He could cover a world of territory and was a sure and accurate fielder.  You hear many people say that Hughie Jennings in his palmy days was the best infielder ever developed.  In my opinion Long could cover a foot more territory than Jennings.

“When it comes to catchers my preference is, and always has been, Charlie Bennett, whose legs were cut off in a railroad accident at Wellsville, Kansas.  Charlie was always consistent and knew what his brain was given to him for.  He was also an accurate, quick thrower…Martin Bergen was another good catcher.  He was the one who went crazy, you know, and murdered his wife and children.  Bergen always was ‘a little bit off of the top,’ but when he took a notion to do his best, his playing was beyond criticism.  Ed McFarland and (Billy) Sullivan are two right good men, and then there was reliable old Jim McGuire and Charles Zimmer, both of whom were cracker jack.”

bergen

Martin “Marty” Bergen–” always was ‘a little bit off of the top,’

Nichols said as a pitcher “I can hardly be considered a competent judge” of fellow “slabsters,” but continued:

“Personally, I admire the old war-horse, Cy Young, more than any of the others.  He is certainly a remarkable man.  Of the left-handers there a few better than (Frank “Noodles”) Hahn, of Cincinnati; (Christy) Mathewson and (Joe) McGinnity are undoubtedly valuable men.  Clark Griffith is, I think, the headiest pitcher that ever stepped on a rubber.  Among the other great ones are Jack Taylor, Joe Corbett, (Bill) Bernhard, of Cleveland and our own Jake Weimer.

Nichols was largely forgotten as one of baseball’s great pitchers by the time the Baseball Hall of Fame’s inaugural class was selected in 1936.  In the late 1940s, a push for his inclusion was led by sportswriter Grantland Rice.  Rice frequently mentioned the pitcher in his columns and in the summer of 1948 quoted two Hall of Famers regarding Nichols’ prowess:

“A few decades ago I asked Christy Mathewson to name the best pitcher he ever faced.  ‘That’s easy,’ Matty answered.  ‘His name is Charles Kid Nichols of Boston.  Nichols isn’t a good pitcher.  He is a great one.’

“I recalled this talk when the mail brought a letter from Ty Cobb at Menlo Park, California.

“‘I think everyone has overlooked one of the greatest pitchers of all time,’ Cobb Writes.  ‘His name is Kid Nichols.  Here are just a few of his records from 1890 to 1906:

“1.  Won three consecutive games on three consecutive days, all pitched in different cities.

“2.  Won 20 or more games for 10 consecutive years.  He won 360 and lost 202. (Nichols’ record was 361-208)

“3.  Won 28 or more games for eight consecutive seasons.  (Nichols won more than 28 games seven times, and not consecutively).”

Despite the inaccuracies in the letter, Cobb and Rice continued to campaign for Nichols and the push to honor him worked.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949.

Nichols, right, with Pie Traynor, left, and Branch Rickey at the Hall of Fame in 1949. Traynor was elected in 1948, but his plaque was not presented until 1949

Nichols, right, with Pie Traynor, left, and Branch Rickey at the Hall of Fame in 1949. Traynor was elected in 1948, but his plaque was not presented until 1949

“Hanlon Springs a Surprise on the Baseball Public”

14 Jan

Albert Joseph “Smiling Al” Maul’s best days seemed well behind him by 1898.  The 32-year-old Maul had posted a 16-12 record for the Pittsburgh Burghers in the Players League in 1890, but after returning to the National League the following season he had gone 39-44 through 1897.

Baltimore Orioles manager Ned Hanlon signed Maul after he was released by the Washington Senators in 1897.  The results were not good; in two games Maul gave up 9 hits and walked 8, posting a 7.04 ERA.  Baltimore released him at the end of the season and there were no takers for Maul at the beginning of 1898.

Ned Hanlon

Ned Hanlon

By June of 1898 The Baltimore Morning Herald said:

“For some time (Hanlon) has been hinting to his friends that he had something up his sleeve in the way of twirling talent that would surprise the natives, but when he let fall Al Maul’s name he was met with a chorus of merry ha-has.”

But by June Hanlon’s “surprise” was no longer met with laughter.

On June 5, The Sunday Herald headline said:

“Hanlon springs a surprise on the baseball world.”

Maul had shut out the Saint Louis Browns on three hits in his first start for Baltimore.

Al Maul

Al Maul

The Herald cautioned that “it’s too early to say that Maul is all right,” but all season he successfully filled the gap in Baltimore’s rotation caused by Joe Corbett’s holdout.

The New York World said Maul was:

“The most remarkable case on record of a restored glass arm.”

Maul’s comeback season became a sensation.  John Clarkson, who had not appeared in a game since 1894, told The Bay City (MI) Tribune he was serious about making his own comeback:

“I might be a second Al Maul, who can tell?”

Clarkson’s comeback never materialized, but Maul’s success continued all summer.

The Sporting Life credited Hanlon for his pitcher’s success:

“Al Maul’s experience this season is only another confirmation of the claim that Ned Hanlon can take any old thing and get good results from, it for a year or so.”

Maul finished the season with a 20-7 record and a 2.10 ERA, and Hanlon had high hopes for his pitcher the next season.  Maul, along with “Wee Willie” Keeler, Hughie Jennings and Joe Kelley moved to the Brooklyn Superbas as part of the stock swap between the Baltimore and Brooklyn franchises that led to Hanlon’s move to Brooklyn.

But the pitcher who won 20 games two years after his career was “over” was out of surprises.  After four games with Brooklyn in 1898, Hanlon released Maul.  Brief stints with the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Giants failed to rekindle the magic and Maul’s career came to an end after his release by the Giants in September of 1901.

Maul went on to coach baseball at Lehigh University and scouted for several years for the Philadelphia Athletics.  He died in 1958 at age 92.

Assumed Names–Happy Hogan

11 Jan
Wallace Bray 1890s

Wallace Bray 1890s

Some players became so closely associated with the name they adopted that their real name takes a century to catch up.  Wallace Louis Bray came from a prominent family in Santa Clara, California, and like many players at the turn of the 20th Century chose to play under an assumed name to spare the family the shame of having produced a professional ballplayer.  Baseball Reference and other sources still list him by his assumed name.

Bray went by the name Wallace Bray while playing baseball at Santa Clara University (other contemporary sources said he also attended the University of the Pacific)—one of his coaches was Major League pitcher Joe Corbett.  (There is some confusion because there is another player with the surname Hogan, Major Leaguer Willie Hogan attended Santa Clara seven years after Bray and also played in the Pacific Coast League at the same time and he was also sometimes called “Happy,” but Hogan was his given name).

Bray became Wallace Hogan when he signed his first professional contract with the Sacramento Senators in the California League in 1900, and picked up the nickname “Happy.”.

The Berkeley Daily Gazette said:

“He was dubbed “Happy” by the writers because of his sunny disposition.”

He become an extremely popular West Coast baseball figure and in 1903 he was still with Sacramento when they joined the Pacific Coast League, the league in which he played and managed for the next 12 seasons

While never a great player, he was considered a good catcher and infielder but he was a career .186 hitter; The San Francisco Chronicle called him “The most popular figure,” in the Pacific Coast League.

After playing for the Tacoma Tigers, Fresno Raisin Eaters and Los Angeles Angels, Bray was named manager of the new PCL franchise, the Vernon Tigers in 1909; Vernon finished last, but Hogan’s team, which moved to nearby Venice, improved each of the next 5 years and finished in 2nd place twice.

The Chronicle said:

“Taking a new club in a league of the highest minor classification…is quite a job.  Hogan made good with a bang, or his club has always been in the running and in addition it has always been a big attraction.”

The Associated Press said:

“(Hogan) is a human dynamo when on the baseball field.  The present position of the Vernon club in the pennant race is due mainly to his dynamic personality…Baseball players say Hap is the fairest manager in the league and that he treats his men better than any other coast league impresario.”

The Tigers got off to a great start in 1915 and were in first place on May 9, an off day, when Bray went swimming at Venice beach and “He contracted a severe cold and pneumonia set in.”  He missed several games, but “While it was reported several times that Hogan was in serious condition, it was confidently expected that he would pull through it all right.”

He did not pull through and died on May 17 at 37-years-old.

The Associated Press said of his funeral:

Roy Hitt, Doc White, Walter Carlisle, Dick Bayless, Frank Decanniere and Johnny Kane are the players who acted as pallbearers.  The other members of the club and prominent men in baseball acted as honorary pallbearers.  While the throng at the funeral viewed for the last time the face from which even death could not efface the famous smile, every baseball game played in the Coast League halted for five minutes, the stars of the diamond in many cities on the Coast stood with bared heads in silent prayer for the dead star. In accordance with Hogan’s wishes, the body was cremated.”

Wallace Louis "Happy Hogan" Bray 1912

Wallace Louis “Happy Hogan” Bray 1912

The Tigers went into a tailspin under new manager Dick Bayless, while they recovered in the second half the team finished 4th.

A benefit game was played to raise money for Bray’s widow on June 25 at Washington Park in Los Angeles.  The Sporting Life said:

“In the most remarkable tribute ever paid to the memory of any man in Los Angeles, 10,000 persons choked the stands.”

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