Tag Archives: Joe Nealon

“There is a Heap about Baseball that I do not Know”

4 May

After Ted Sullivan blamed Joe Nealon’s father for his failure to secure the first baseman for the Reds, James C. Nealon was not going to let his accusations stand, and sent a letter in response to Sullivan’s letter to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“The public has always permitted, and will always permit a man who has lost the object he was seeking to compensate himself for the loss is excusing his failure by some worthy and absurd explanation, or by throwing the responsibility of the failure on someone else.”

Nealon said he was forced to respond because Sullivan “falsely placed myself and my son in an unenviable light.”

Nealon said he only cared about his son going to the club with “the best and most congenial associations,” and initially, many people he trusted told him Cincinnati was the best option.

He said Sullivan was the reason he and his son changed their minds.  Nealon said he checked train schedules and determined that Sullivan—who left Cincinnati on October 28—could have arrived in California no later than November 3, yet he did not hear from the Reds representative until after the contract was signed with Pittsburgh on November 6.

Nealon also said while he received a telegram from August Herrmann, Cincinnati Reds owner, with the offer of “a certain sum more than any other club,” he never shared that information with the Pirates Fred Clarke, and that the combination of being insulted by the Reds making their offer just about money and Sullivan not arriving in time made up his mind, and as a result:

 “I advised my son to sign a contract with any club he desired.”

After Sullivan arrived in San Francisco, Nealon said:

“He admitted to me that it was all his fault, yet he seeks in your paper to advise the public that it was the fault of my son and myself…I would rather (Joe) fail then to commit a dishonorable act, and I do not want the people of Cincinnati to believe his entry into the major league was associated in any manner with unfairness or unfair dealing.  Mr. Sullivan knows it was not.”

Joe Nealon wrote a letter to The Pittsburgh Post, and said he understood that when he joined the team in Hot Springs. Arkansas:

“There is a heap about baseball that I do not know.  I am eager to learn, however, and will gladly go under instructions.”

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Joe Nealon

Even after the beginning of the 1906 season, the stories about what influenced Nealon to sign with the Pirates would not go away.  In May is was reported that it was Jake Beckley, former first baseman for the Reds and Pirates who influenced Nealon to accept Clarke’s offer.  Nealon told The Pittsburgh Press that Beckley had nothing to do with his decision, and continued to blame Sullivan who he said did not “keep faith” with him and his father.

Nealon appeared in every game, hit the Pirates first home run of the 1906 season on May 5, tied Harry Steinfeldt for the league lead in RBI, and led all NL first basemen in total chances and putouts.

At the end of the season it was widely reported that Nealon would not return to the Pirates for the 1907 season.  After the team lost five straight games in September and slipped to third place, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss went on a tear to a wire service reporter—The Philadelphia Inquirer, under the headline “Barney Dreyfuss Lets Himself say Things” said:

“(Dreyfuss said) if his team doesn’t win second place for him he will keep their noses to the grindstone barnstorming for him until their contracts have run out (on October 16)”

Dreyfuss told the reporter:

“One of the things that ails our team is that there are too many capitalists on it.  The boys know that they do not have to play ball for a living, and sometimes that may affect their playing.  There is only one of the old players on the Pittsburgh team who is playing as a means of livelihood—that’s (Tommy) Leach.  The other could give up the game anytime.”

Nealon left the team immediately after the final game in Cincinnati and did not participate in the tour.  The San Francisco Call said he was done:

“Nealon, who became a great favorite in Pittsburgh and all over the league circuit, has had several grievances against Pittsburgh, and it was announced some time ago that the big San Francisco lad had declared himself in no unmeasured terms that he did not have to take the worst of it from anyone connected with the club, nor would he more than one season.”

The Call said Nealon became disenchanted in Pittsburgh when Dreyfuss attempted to trade him and “other Pittsburgh players” to the Brooklyn Superbas for Harry Lumley and Tim Jordan “although Captain Clarke had guaranteed him a full and free tryout for a year.”

Nealon returned to San Francisco to play winter ball, but he failed to make a trip to Stockton for the first game.  The San Jose Evening News said:

“Many San Joseans who took the trip to Stockton…were disappointed in not seeing Joe Nealon…the big first baseman, met with an accident Saturday evening.”

While racing to catch the train to Stockton, Nealon tripped and fell into a stone wall.  He broke two bones in his left hand.”

In December, the Pittsburgh papers reported that Nealon had declared himself “Completely healed,” in a letter to Barney Dreyfuss.

By February The Pittsburgh Press was assuring readers:

“Reports from the West have Joe Nealon in the best condition of his career.  Just keep your eyes on this big fellow this season; he is going to be a winner in every sense of the word.”

Despite the high expectations, Nealon was a disappointment to the pirates when he reported to  West Baden, Indiana in March.  The Press said:

“If the fans at home could see big Joe Nealon now they would not know him.  With his sweater on he looks like a three hundred pounder.”

Nealon actually weighed 216 pounds, roughly 20 pounds heavier than he was in 1906.

Additionally, The Pittsburgh Post said Nealon was experiencing stiffness in his left hand.

The Press announced that Nealon had gotten down to his playing weight and that his had had healed just in time for the opening of the season, but a knee injury sliding into second during the Pirates third game sidelined him for nearly two weeks, and according to The Post included a visit to John “Bonesetter” Reese, the Youngstown, Ohio doctor who treated many major leaguers.

Nealon was hitting just .217 in June when The Washington Post noted that two California Thoroughbreds—Nealon and Joe Nealon—both bred by friends of Nealon’s father, and both stakes race winners in 1907, were having decidedly better years than the first baseman.

Nealon steadily improved his batting average but had already fallen out of favor with fans and in the papers.  Rumors persisted that the Pirates were trying to trade for Fred Tenney of the Boston Doves.  By September, The Press said:

 “There is suspicion among the Pittsburgh players that Tenney may be secured as first baseman…to succeed Joe Nealon whose work this season is said to have been below standard.”

When Harry Swacina was purchased by the Pirates from the Peoria Distillers in the Three-I League that same month, the Pittsburgh correspondent for The Sporting News said:

 “He is an improvement over Joe Nealon in every department of the game.”

The New York Sun summed up the consensus view:

“Joe Nealon came out of California with the reputation of being a better first baseman than Hal Chase was, but in making a big league reputation Chase simply lost his fellow Californian.”

Swacina hit just .200, but got most of the playing time at first base in September, Nealon finished with a .257 average.

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Nealon

The Press speculated in November about who would play first base for the Pirates in 1908:

“Most of the fans have eliminated Joe Nealon from the competition all together, for it is an open secret that both President (Barney) Dreyfuss and Manager (Fred) Clarke were displeased with the way the young Californian acted this year, and it is presumed that no further time will be wasted with him, but that he will either be traded or released outright.”

In December, Nealon ended any remaining speculation by announcing his retirement—two weeks before his 23rd birthday. The Post said:

“The big Californian has quit the professional diamond for all time and will become a partner in business with his millionaire father…But for the intercession of Fred Clarke, it is said he would have been asked to retire about mid season, alleged infractions of the club’s rules and his general attitude of indifference being criticized by the local management.”

Nealon went to Hawaii in December with a team of West Coast stars—including Bill Lange and Orval Overall— formed by Mique Fisher and told reporters he would play weekends in San Francisco in 1908.

After returning from Hawaii, Nealon made his retirement official in a letter to Dreyfuss.  The Press said:

Joe writes that he is helping his father  who has a contract to erect a large public building in California…he asks, however, that his name be kept on Pittsburgh’s reserve list and wishes his teammates the best of luck.”

Nealon went to work with his father and appeared in 62 games for the Sacramento Senators in the California State League in 1908—hitting .372; as late as July he was hitting .436.  Nearly every Pacific Coast League time tried to sign him that summer, but The Oakland Tribune said:

“(Nealon) declared positively to the writer yesterday that he would not play ball, except as he is doing now, and Joe said there was not enough money in any of the Coast League treasuries to make him change his mind.”

Despite his protestations, nearly every team on the West Coast sought to sign Nealon.  Charlie Graham, Owner of the Sacramento Sacts made an offer that The San Francisco Call said led Nealon to tell a friend he wasn’t sure he could refuse.  He eventually did refuse, and instead signed to play for the Oakland Commuters in the California State League. The Call said he was the highest paid player on the West Coast.

Nealon captained the Oakland club, and hit .274 in 138 games.  How Nealon differed from his teammates and most players was probably best illustrated during a bench clearing brawl between Oakland and the Stockton Millers in June.  The Oakland Tribune said:

“(E)very man on both teams, with the exception of Joe Nealon, was mixed up…Nealon simply walked about the field and sat on the bench while the trouble was going on, and if anyone should ask right quick what player showed the only good judgment on the field the answer would be Joe Nealon.”

Nealon announced his retirement again, a week after his 25th birthday.

Nealon’s father had just helped elect San Francisco’s new mayor, Patrick Henry McCarthy, The Tribune said Nealon was “slated for a fat political job.”

Nealon was appointed deputy in the San Francisco County Clerk’s office in January.

On March 28, The Tribune said:

“(Nealon) is lying on death’s door in his home in San Francisco, suffering from typhoid fever.  Several physicians have been at the bedside of the ill athlete almost constantly for the past few days, and although they hold out but slight hope for his recovery, they state that his splendid physique may enable him to pull through.”

Nealon died five days later.

 

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.