Tag Archives: John Clarkson

“He Would let a Fast one hit him Square in the Chest”

11 Sep

Charlie Bennett was one of the best catchers of the 1880s, and is credited with inventing the chest protector.  Bennett always gave the credit for the invention to his wife. The Detroit Free Press told the story in the 1914:

“It was a constant source of worry to Mrs. Bennett to watch her husband being made a target for the speed merchants of thirty years ago.  And she fully realized the pressing necessity of some kind of armor to prevent the hot shot sent through by these speedy slabmen from caving in a rib or two which belonged to her better half.

“So she and her hubby proceeded to contrive some means of saving the aforementioned ribs.  After much deep thinking and considerable labor they gradually shaped out something that had a faint resemblance to the protector worn today.  A crude but very substantial shield was made by sewing strips of cork of a good thickness in between heavy bed ticking material.   After much hard work and many dove like spats they had it ready for trial.  Charlie didn’t have the nerve to wear it outside his shirt for fear of the fans roasting him about being chicken-hearted, so he wore it under his baseball shirt.”

Charlie Bennett

Charlie Bennett

The article said after Bennett began wearing the protector in games sometimes “he would let a fast one hit him square in the chest.  The ball would rebound back almost to the pitcher, much to the amazement of the fans and players, who weren’t on to the hidden cause.”

Bennett’s career came to an end after the 1893 season.  While taking a train with former Boston Beaneaters teammate John Clarkson for a hunting trip, Bennett slipped while getting off a moving train to speak to a friend, when the train began moving he tried to climb back aboard, slipped and fell under the wheels.  Bennett lost his left leg at the ankle and his right at the knee.

Johnny Evers, in his book “Touching Second: Science of Baseball” written in 1910 with Hugh Fullerton, told a story about Bennett watching a game years after his accident:

 “He was watching a game at Detroit when a young base runner, trying to steal second, slid straight at the baseman, who was reaching to take a high throw.  The baseman blocked him with one leg, caught the ball and touched the runner out. “’I could have beaten that myself,’ muttered Bennett in disgust. “’Without legs, Charlie?’ inquired a friend. “Yes—without legs,’  Snorted Bennett angrily, ‘for I would have had brains enough not to slide where he could block my feet.’”

Charlie Bennett threw out the first pitch at every Detroit Opening Day from 1896-1926...he died in February of 1927.

Charlie Bennett threw out the first pitch at every Detroit Opening Day from 1896-1926…he died in February of 1927.

“Fear of the Black List has Stopped Many a Crooked Player from Jumping”

9 Sep

For a brief period in the mid1890s, George Jouett Meekin was considered among the top pitchers in the game; he might never have had the opportunity, but for what The Sporting Life called “The disastrous effects of Chairman Young’s somersault.”

Jouett Meekin

Jouett Meekin

 John Montgomery Ward, Meekin’s manager with the New York Giants, said he was, along with Amos Rusie, Tim Keefe, John Clarkson and Kid Nichols, the “most marvelous pitchers as ever lived.”

Charles “Duke” Farrell, who caught Meekin and Rusie with the Giants, said:

“Sometime, it seemed to me that (Meekin) was actually faster…Rusie’s speed struck the glove with a bruising deadening, heavy shock, and Meekin’s fastest gave a sharp, sudden sting.”

But in 1891 Meekin was a 24-year-old pitcher in his third season with the St. Paul Apostles in the Western Association. The New Albany, Indiana native became a well-known amateur player across the Ohio River in Louisville before signing his first professional contract with the Apostles in 1889.  His sub .500 winning percentage was not enough to keep the American Association’s eighth place Louisville Colonels, from inducing Meekin to jump his contract with St. Paul.

In June Meekin jumped; at the same time third baseman Harry Raymond jumped to Colonels from the Western League’s Lincoln Rustlers.

The National Board of Control, created after the 1890 season as part of the “peace agreement” between the National League and The American Association after the collapse of the Players League, to arbitrate contract disputes, acted quickly.  Board Chairman (and National League President) Nick Young announced that Meekin and Raymond would be “forever ineligible to play with or against a National Agreement club.”  The statement, signed by Young, also said:

“This order or any other that may hereafter be made for the same cause, will never be modified or revoked during the existence of the present board, whose term of office will not expire for five years.”

The move was applauded by the press and no less a figure than “the father of baseball,” Henry Chadwick, who called Raymond and Meekin part of a “venal cabal” of jumping players.

Despite the promise that the order would “never be modified or revoked,” Young did just that.  Within weeks of issuing the order, both players were reinstated.

The backlash was swift.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer called the reversal “nauseating.”  The Cincinnati Times-Star said it was “one of the greatest mistakes ever made.”  The Milwaukee Evening Wisconsin said Young and the board chose to “toss the National Agreement into the fire.”

nickyoungpix

Nick Young

James Edward Sullivan, founder of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) said the reinstatement of the “arch-culprits” Meekin and Raymond “was the worst in the history.”  He predicted dire consequences as a result:

“Heretofore the fear of the black list has stopped many a crooked player from jumping or doing dishonest work.  But from now on it will be different.  A precedent has been formed.”

Raymond jumped back to Lincoln, taking Colonels’ pitcher Phillip “Red” Ehret with him to the Rustlers.  Meekin remained with Louisville and moved to the National League with the Colonels the following season.

Meekin had a 10-year big league career as a result of Young’s reversal.

From 1891-93, Meekin was 29-51 with Louisville and the Washington Senators and was traded to the Giants (along with Duke Farrell) before the 1894 season.  He was 33-9, and fellow Indiana native Amos Rusie was 36-13, for the 2nd place Giants.  Meekin had two complete game victories in the Giants four game sweep of the first-place Baltimore Orioles in the Temple Cup series (Rusie won the other two games).

The New York Evening Journal called Meekin “Old Reliable,” and said, “He can push ‘em up to the plate in any old style, and is factor with the stick.”  The pitcher hit .276 with 29 RBI in 183 at bats in 1894 (including hitting 3 triples in a game on July 4) and was a career .243 hitter.

Meekin won 102 more games (including 26, and 20 win seasons in 1896 and ’97), but as O. P. Caylor said in The New York Herald he suffered from “a lack of control.”  Meekin walked 1056 batters and struck out only 901 in more than 2600 innings, he also hit 89 batters; in 1898, he broke Hughie Jennings nose with a pitch.

After posting a 16-18 record for the seventh place Giants in 1898, Meekin, along with Rusie, and second baseman William “Kid” Gleason, were blamed by New York owner Andrew Freeman for the team’s disappointing finish.  Freeman told reporters:

“Meekin, Rusie and Gleason will be either sold or traded.  We do not want them.  I’m going to break up cliques in the team even if I have to get rid of every man.  There must be harmony.  Without it we can’t win games.  We have too many men who are simply playing for their salaries and do not seem to care whether they win or not.”

Rusie had injured his arm late in the season and sat out the next two years.  Meekin and Gleason, despite Freedman’s promise, returned to the Giants for the 1899 season.  The team finished in tenth place, and Meekin struggled with a 5-11 record.

He was sold to the Boston Beaneaters in August for a reported $5000, although it was commonly assumed that the Giants received much less, or simply “loaned” Meekin to Boston for the stretch run; a charge made by Brooklyn Superbas manager Ned Hanlon.  Although Hanlon’s charges have become “fact” in countless books and articles over the years, several newspapers, including The Pittsburgh Press refuted Hanlon’s story:

“All that talk and fuss about Freedman giving Jouett Meekin to Boston in order to help that team win the pennant and thus get even with Brooklyn is nonsense.  The truth of the matter is that Freedman thought Meekin’s days as a pitcher were over, and he offered him to the Pittsburgh club, but President (William) Kerr thought the same way and did not take him.  At the time Boston’s pitching corps was in bad shape and manager (Frank) Selee took a chance on the big fellow.  There was no underhand dealing in the matter at all.”

Meekin was 7-6 with a 2.83 ERA for Boston, but the team finished second to Brooklyn.  He was released by Boston before the 1900 season and pitched just two games with the Pittsburgh Pirates before being released again in July.  He finished the season with the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers in the Western Association and spent 1902 in the Southern Association with the Memphis Egyptians.

Meekin returned home to New Albany, Indiana, where, in 1910, according to The Trenton True American “his earnings from baseball are well invested in real estate.”

Meekin slipped into relative obscurity by the time he died in 1944.

The original picture that appeared with this post–now below–was misidentified as Jouett Meekin in this blog and by The Louisville courier-Journal in 1897.  According to Mark Fimoff co-chair SABR Pictorial History Committee, the picture was actually Lave Cross.  

Lave Cross--picture earlier misidentified as Jouett Meekin.

Lave Cross–picture earlier misidentified as Jouett Meekin.

“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.