Tag Archives: Joe Gunson

“His Jealousy Would Break Forth Violently”

28 Dec

“Ball orchards are the favorite breeding places of green-eyed monsters.”

So said Hugh Fullerton in The Chicago Herald in 1907.

Jealousy among players, he said often resulted in “ludicrous situations” on baseball teams.

“One of the funniest instances that ever came to my notice happened when (Cap) Anson was running the Chicago club.”

Hugh Fullerton

He said that spring Anson had brought in enough pitchers to fill “the whole West Side park.”

One of them was Walter Thornton, who Anson sent to the mound one day:

 “The big fellow was one of the best natural hitters…besides pitching fair ball he rammed out four hits.”

The response:

“The other candidates sat on the benches and looked at each other anxiously as Thornton banged the ball around the lot, and every hit he made caused them deeper woe.

“That evening, just as the sun was setting, a delegation of Cub pitchers slipped out to the clubhouse, ravaged Thornton’s locker, took out his bats, secured (groundskeeper) Charlie Kuhn’s saw and proceeded to saw up every bat Thornton owned.”

Then, said Fullerton, there was the case of, “Little Tommy Hess.”

As a 16-year-old, Hess got into one game for the Baltimore Orioles in 1892:

“There were two other catchers on the team (Wilbert Robinson and Joe Gunson) both veterans, and they would have lost an arm before they would have let Tommy have a chance. He sat on the bench week after week, eager and ready to jump in and prove his worth.

“Finally, he thought his day had come. One of the catchers had been laying off with a split hand—and the other was working. A foul tip in the first inning of the game put the catcher out of business. Before (manager Ned) Hanlon could say a word, Hess had on a protector and was starting for the plate, when the man with the split hand grabbed the mask and protector from him and went in. That broke Hess’ heart.”

Hess played pro ball for another 19 years but never again reached the major leagues.

Fullerton said one of his favorite subjects—Bill Lange—was the object of jealousy during his time in Chicago:

“It is a hard thing to prove, but there are cases where a man on first signaled the batter to hit, as he was going to steal, and then the batter deliberately let the ball go and the runner be thrown out at second. This happened on the old Chicago club so many times that Anson was forced to put one player on the bench for ‘double crossing’ Lange to let him be caught stealing.”

Bill Lange

In Fullerton’s last example he failed to mention the player in question, but it was likely John O’Neill, an outfielder with the 1906 World Series Champions:

“There was a certain outfielder on the White Sox team not long ago who was jealous of (outfielder/manager Fielder) Jones. The man should have been a great ballplayer, but because of his disposition more than anything else, he fell short of being great.

“When this man was not hitting well, he quit…he would let Jones race across his field and get flies and never move. But when that fellow began to get base hits and move up in the batting average, his jealousy of his manager would break forth violently. His criticisms of Jones were bitter, and he refused to permit the manager to take one step into his territory to get a fly ball.

“The beauty of Jones’ character was never better shown than during those times.”

Fielder Jones

O’Neill appeared in 94 games for the 1906 Sox, hitting .248.  Jones used him in only one game during the World Series and O’Neill never played in the major leagues again—spending the last four seasons of his career in the American Association.

Joe Gunson’s Mitt

6 Nov

The photo above was taken in 1939.  Former Major League catcher Joe Gunson was donating the mitt he created in May of 1888 to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Gunson caught for the Kansas City Blues in the Western League and made the mitt after a foul tip split his finger.  He told the Associated Press:

“We had a doubleheader scheduled the next day and Charlie Reynolds, who shared the catching with me, had sustained a similar injury…I got the idea to fashion some kind of glove to protect my hand.”

According to the United Press:

“(Gunson) improvised the mitt from a piece of leather, the belt from a Norfolk jacket, a bit of wire, sheepskin padding, and a buckskin covering.”

When Gunson died three years later the Associated Press and United Press called him the originator of the catcher’s mitt.

Over the years, other newspaper articles credited Albert John “Doc” Bushong with developing the catcher’s mitt.  In 1915, The New York Times said:

“(Bushong) wore the largest glove he could find, an added pads until it looked like a pillow…Out of bushings idea grew the idea of the mitt.”

Bushong’s glove was also mentioned in The Brooklyn Eagle in October of 1887, seven months before Gunson said he made his.

Bushong died in 1908, Gunson lived until 1942—longevity gave him a decided advantage in the number of times he was given credit for the mitt in newspaper articles during the first half of the 20th Century.

Currently, baseball historians remain split over which catcher should get the credit.

The Gunson Mitt

The debate may never be resolved. The most likely answer is that catchers in the 19th Century, who like Gunson, according to The Sporting Life, “has hands which for knots and gnarls rival the famous battered-up paws of Silver Flint,” might well have independently and nearly simultaneously developed equipment to protect their livelihood.