Tag Archives: John B. Foster

“Pioneers of Baseball Methods were so Often Overshadowed”

3 May

John B. Foster writing in The New York Sun 1927, said:

“When the theory of baseball playing differed greatly from the methods that are used now, the idea of an outfielder was that of a portly individual who carried with him a great expanse of shoulder blade, a pair of arms that looked as if they could knock the horns off a crescent, and the ability to shoulder a bat that weighed more than the captain of a winch”

He said Cap Anson, “had a lot to do with that theory” becoming a trend. “All of Anson’s outfielders were big men when he could get them,” because the White Stockings manager would say, “They can hit the ball out of the lot, and it’s the hitters that count.”

Foster said, “Anson’s long batters and big men,” became less critical as, “Fielders found their way into the game who could run back to the fences and get the ball…There was the beginning of a system which has not changed much since, although it has been improved.”

One of the first of the new “system,” said Foster, was:

“Honest John Corkhill…They called him ‘Pop’ as he grew older in harness.”

Corkhill

Corkhill, he said was the first outfield who tried “coming in” on balls and was “a great exponent of that kind of fielding and, combined with his ability to bat well, was one of the great players of the big game.”

Ren Mulford of The Cincinnati Enquirer agreed with Foster’s assessment. During the outfielder’s final season, he said:

“Corkhill always was a sensational catch. He was wont to make connection with flies that most outfielders could not reach.”

And said Mulford in recalling Corkhill fifteen years after his big-league career ended, said:

“What a fellow Corkhill was on those forward running catches! He could skate in on his breastbone and snatch flies off the grass.”

But Foster said, Corkhill was never “given due credit for his skill, his intelligence, and his daring. The pioneers of baseball methods were so often overshadowed by the big deeds of the really big men physically that they were overlooked.”

The one thing written about Corkhill as much as his fielding prowess was his baldness and sensitivity about it. Foster said:

“As he grew older, he acquired a bald spot. When he donned his frock coat, his shiny bald head, combined with a huge mustache made him appear like a professor.”

After the 1889 season, Corkhill’s former teammate Hugh Nicoll was “wintering in Kansas City” and told The Kansas City Star a story from the previous season when Corkhill played for the Bridegrooms:

“One day when the Cincinnatis were playing in Brooklyn and the old man lost his cap while sliding to second and it rolled about ten feet away from the base. (Bid) McPhee had the ball and John was in a sorry fix. He could not get the cap without being put out and to get up would reveal his baldness to the thousands of people looking at him, but he was a sly old fox, and he got the headgear and yet he did not show his baldness.

“’Get that cap,’ he whispered to McPhee as he laid on the ground; but McPhee refused just to worry him. Then John began to writhe as in great pain and the Brooklyn players ran out to him with a bucket of water. One of them tossed the cap to him and as he got up all the players laughed.”

“A Colorful Critter”

17 Feb

John Walter “Duster” Mails was another left-handed pitcher with talent who never lived up expectations and was labeled “eccentric,” or “Another Rube.”

John B. Foster of The New York Sun said:

“Mails’ ability is conceded so far as his arm is concerned, but when it comes to the illuminated phases of baseball Duster must have the center of the stage or he moans in a corner like a monkey with the pip. If he’d make the best use of his left arm, he should be able to win two games for every one he loses.”

Billy Evans, the American League umpire, and syndicated newspaper columnist called him, “A colorful critter.”

In 1925, when the St. Louis Cardinals acquired Mails from the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League for what would be Mails’ third and final shot at the big leagues, Evans wrote:

“Walter Mails has as much natural ability as Rube Waddell and no southpaw ever had more stuff than George Edward.

“Mails has a dazzling fastball. I umpired back of Waddell when he was at his best. If anything, Mails’ fastball had something on Rube’s.”

Mails

Evans concluded that Waddell “seemed to have uncanny control” of his pitches, which Mails lacked.

He argued that given Mails’ personality quirks, he would be “rival Babe Ruth” as a newspaper copy generator if he could recreate his short period of major league dominance in 1920:

“Joining Cleveland late in the season, when the Indians were on the ropes because of lack of pitching, Mails proved the man of the hour.

“Taking part in nine games he turned in seven victories and didn’t suffer a single defeat.”

The Indians won the pennant by two games over the White Sox.

“Late in the season when Cleveland met Chicago in the final and all series between the two clubs, Mails remarked to me before the first game:

“Those birds are made to order for me; If (Tris) Speaker starts me against them I won’t be satisfied with anything but a shutout.”

Mails shut the White Sox out and beat Urban Faber 2 to 0; the September 24 victory increased the Indians lead over the Sox to 1.5 games.

“In one inning, after walking three men a la Waddell, he continued Rube’s trick by striking the next three out.”

Evans’ recall was slightly off.

In the fifth inning, Mails retired Swede Risberg, then walked Ray Schalk, Faber, and Amos Strunk. 

Mails then struck out Buck Weaver and Eddie Collins, The Chicago Tribune said, with a full count, Collins:

“(H)it three fouls in succession, swung at a bad ball and struck out.”

Mails’ dream season continued through the World Series, he relieved Ray Caldwell in the first inning of game three, pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings in a 2 to 1 loss to the Brooklyn Robins.

Evans said Mails told him:

“If Speaker had only started me that one run we made would have been enough to win. He says he is going to give me a chance against (Sherry) Smith the next time he starts. Those birds will be lucky any time they score on me.”

He shut out the Robins and Smith 1 to 0.

Mails posted a 1.85 regular season ERA in 1920 which ballooned to 3.94 in 1921 and 5.28 in 1922, before he was sold to Oakland.

Mails’ final big-league stint ended like his first two, flashes of brilliance punctuating an overall lack of control and discipline.

He returned to the minor leagues for another decade. 

Early in his career, Mails tried to explain his control issues to The Spokane Spokesman Review:

“In my younger days, my folks used to live just a short distance from the San Quentin penitentiary. It was always a hobby with me to throw stones at the guards on the ramparts to kid them. One day I thought I could get control by aiming at them, but the darn fools always used to be on the move and even today when I am out on the mound pitching, the home plate seems to act like those guards, always on the move. So, you can see I have an excuse coming.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #29

2 Jan

McGraw on Brouthers, 1907

T.P. Magilligan covered baseball for Bay area newspapers during the first two decades of the 20th Century.

In 1907, he talked to John McGraw during the New York Giants’ West Coast tour:

“Dan Brouthers was the greatest hitter I ever saw.  Lajoie is a good and wonderful hitter, and so was the late Ed Delahanty, but for straightaway slugging I think the equal of big Dan never lived.  He used to take a nice healthy swing at it, and I tell you that when Brouthers rapped the ball on the nose that she sped with the force of Gatling gun.  Getting in the way of one of Brouther’s shots generally meant the loss of a hand for a time.  He was the best batter of them all, and that bars none of them.  Brouthers seldom hit them high in the air.  He had a way of smashing them on a line to right field and they fairly whistled through the air.

brouthers

Dan Brouthers

McDonough on Anson, 1910

Ed McDonough played semi-pro ball in Chicago before beginning his professional career at age 22.  The Chicago Evening Post said, “Mac played with and against (Cap) Anson for a couple of seasons,” when Anson owned and played for Anson’s Colts in the Chicago City League:

“’During practice Uncle Anson used to step up to the plate and offer fifty dollars to any man on the grounds who could strike him out,’ says Mac.  ‘He would give the fellow who attempted it the right to choose any player he wanted for his umpire.  Sometimes they would get two strikes on him, but I never saw anybody earn a fifty.  Cap didn’t ask them to give him anything if he kept from fanning.  That was before he went broke and he made the offer more to show the fellows he could still clout a few.”

anson

 “Cap” Anson

Foster on Bugs, 1911

After Arthur “Bugs” Raymond slipped from an 18-12, 2.47 ERA season in 1909 to an 4-11 3.81 performance in 1910, many still held out hope that Raymond, still just 28 years old, could overcome his demons.  When the pitcher checked himself into a hospital in Dwight, IL that winter, John B. Foster of The New York Telegram wrote:

“If Raymond does not break up the institution with his pranks, and if he really makes an effort to put himself in proper condition, the chances of the New York National League club in 1911 will be greatly enhanced.

“If some of the self-constituted friends of this unfortunate young man—and he is unfortunate, for he has the skill of a great ball player and the physical ability to earn thousands of dollars for himself—will be kind enough to let him alone, and assist in the good work which has been begun, they will prove their friendship to be far more lasting that if they cajole him away from those who are doing their best to help him.

“There are some who think it funny to encourage a man of Raymond’s peculiar temperament in a line of conduct which leads to his downfall…There are more than ball players who would like to see Raymond have a real chance to show what is in him.  The skill of the man as a player is too great to be thrown away in idle rioting.

“Help him out.”

Raymond quickly reverted to his old ways in 1911, and despite a 6-4 record and a 3.31 ERA he was released by the Giants in June.  He was dead 15 months later, at age 30.

bugs pix

Raymond

White on Risberg, 1916

Doc White, the former White Sox pitcher was working in the front office of the Pacific Coast League Vernon Tigers—he managed the team on an interim basis the previous season as well—and told The Los Angeles Times that the “greatest arm in baseball” was playing in Vernon:

“(Charles) Swede Risberg…in addition to being everything else, is a pitcher of real ability.  White says if the Swede would perfect a wind-up that would enable him to get his body behind his delivery he would have more speed than Walter Johnson.”

The 21-year-old Risberg, the starting shortstop, appeared in two games as a pitcher for Vernon in 1916, he was 1-1 with a 3.24 ERA.  It would be the last time he pitched in organized ball.  He was purchased by the Chicago White Sox the following season.

swede

Swede Risberg