Tag Archives: John Day

The Pursuit of Elmer Foster

9 Sep

Elmer Ellsworth Foster was the talk of the Northwestern League in 1887.

His career as a pitcher had lasted just one season; in 1884, while pitching for the St. Paul Apostles, he snapped a bone in his arm while throwing a pitch.

Elmer Foster, 1887

            Elmer Foster, 1887

After he recovered, he returned the following year as an outfielder and second baseman with Haverhill in the Eastern New England League and hit .309.

The following spring, The Sporting Life’s Haverhill correspondent said the New York Metropolitans “have taken Elmer Foster from us.”

Hitting just .184 and, as The Sporting Life put it “reckless at the bat,” Foster went back to Haverhill in August.

In 1887, he returned to Minnesota, this time as centerfielder for the Minneapolis Millers.  The club was owned by his brother Robert Owen Foster, a successful dealer of musical instruments, who with his partner J. E. Whitcomb, had taken over operations of the Millers in January.

The Northwestern League of 1887 was a hitter’s paradise owing mostly to the single-season experiments with the four-strike rule and walks counted as hits—nineteen players with at least 350 at-bats hit better than .350—and Foster led with a .415 average and 17 home runs.   While his performance with the bat was noted, he received an equal amount of publicity for his great fielding.

Throughout the season, Minnesota newspapers reported that Foster’s contract would be sold to a major league team—the Indianapolis Hoosiers were the most frequently mentioned—but the deal never materialized.

When the season ended, The Philadelphia Times said Foster was in high demand:

“During the past week agents from nearly every League and Association (club) have been to Minneapolis to secure (Foster) for next season.  (Horace) Phillips of Pittsburgh; (Gus) Schmelz of Cincinnati; Ted Sullivan, agent for Washington; (Emery “Moxie”) Hengel agent for Detroit; (Charlie Hazen) Morton, agent for (A.G.) Spalding, and agents for the Brooklyn, Metropolitan, and Baltimore Clubs have tried to get him.

(John) Day, of New York, sent him this message:  ‘Multrie on the way to Minneapolis.  Make no promise until you see him.’  Boston also wired him for his terms.  (Horace) Fogel of Indianapolis arrived one night and had Foster in tow all the next day.  The bidding of all these clubs has been going on briskly, until now he is offered exorbitant figures by all the clubs.”

Foster called the fight for services a “circus;” it also turned into a controversy, with two teams claiming to have signed him.  The Saint Paul Globe said:

“The circus he speaks of is a curious one, but he is sublimely unmindful of the part he took in it.  The rules of the baseball covenant prohibit the signing of players until Oct. 20…Manager Fogel of Indianapolis approached Foster before that time and made a verbal contract with him, but Manager (Jim) Mutrie, of New York, took him out to Delano (Minnesota), and after midnight  (on the 20th) got his signature.”

Jim Mutrie

                       Jim Mutrie

Years later, Ted Sullivan, who was perusing Foster on behalf of his Washington Nationals, described Mutrie’s method to sign Foster as a kidnapping:

“Jim Mutrie of New York (Giants) grabbed the great fielder Foster on the streets of Minneapolis…bound and gagged him, threw him into a cab and brought him ten minutes out of the city, held him there and dined and wined him until midnight…then compelled him to take $1000 advance money and a contract of $4500 (various other sources put Foster’s salary at $2400, and $4000).”

Foster, it turned out, didn’t simply have a “verbal contract” with Fogel and Indianapolis when he disappeared with Mutrie, but had, as The Sporting News said, accepted “a draft for $100,” from Fogel at the time the two agreed to terms.  Fogel and Indianapolis owner John T. Brush told The Indianapolis News and The Indianapolis Times that there was “a written agreement” between Foster and the club.

Foster’s wife gave birth to a daughter during the height of the controversy.  He told The Globe:

“If she had been a boy I would have named him Mutrie Fogel, in memory of the baseball managers I have been having a circus with.”

In the end, Indianapolis acknowledged that the agreement with Foster, whether written or verbal, was entered into three days before the legal signing date of October 20 and National League President Nick Young awarded Foster to the Giants.

Foster never had success at the plate during his brief major league career; he hit just .187 in 386 at-bats over parts of five seasons.  But Mutrie called him “(O)ne of the best fielders in the country,” and Sullivan said of Foster’s time in the National League, “(H)e was a wonderful fielder in that league.”

Elmer Foster

      Elmer Foster

After he was released by the Giants, he played 31 games with the Chicago Colts in 1890 and ’91, but his brief stay with the club allowed his name to live on with fans long after his career ended.  One of the favorite subjects of Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, who called him “The rowdy of the rowdies,” Foster’s name was a staple of Fullerton’s stories for three decades after his career ended.

“Random Notes on the Leading Members of the Brotherhood.”

29 Sep

Ernest Justin Jarrold wrote for The New York Sun in the 1880s and 90s and was best known as the author of the “Mickey Finn” stories which were serialized in The Sun—Jarrold also wrote for the paper under the pseudonym “Mickey Finn,” about his travels through Ireland.

Ernest Jarrold

Ernest Jarrold

In 1889 Jarrold was at New York’s Fifth Avenue Hotel for “the meeting of the Ball Players Brotherhood for the purpose of forming the Players’ League.”  He provided readers with his “random notes on the leading members of the Brotherhood.”

Jarrold said:

“I met all the leaders.  The man who attracted the most attention was John Montgomery Ward, the celebrated shortstop.  This little man—for he is a pygmy compared with some of his associates—is generally admitted to have the largest business faculty of any baseball man in the country.  He originated the scheme of the new league while on the trip around the world last year, and, with the help of Fred Pfeffer, of Chicago, and Edward Hanlon, of Pittsburgh, formulated the plans while on the steamer going from Australia to Europe.  This conspiracy was carried out under the very nose of Al Spalding, and many secret conferences were interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Spalding.  Ward has a winning personality.  He dresses modestly but neatly.  He is the husband of the celebrated actress Helen  Dauvray, and has saved money from his earnings as a ballplayer.  This he has invested mostly in western real estate.  He is variously estimated to be worth from $50,000 to $75,000.

“Perhaps the next man in popular interest seen in the corridors was Michael Kelly.  In addition to being one of the handsomest men in the new league, Kelly is probably the wittiest.  He has created more original coaching expressions than any of his contemporaries.  He dresses well and wears diamonds.  Kelly is credited with executive ability on the ball field of a high order.  Most of the tricks in ball playing are the tricks of his prolific Irish brain. “

Jarrold said “one of the most striking figures” present at the meeting was the six-foot-four 200 pound Jay Faatz:

Jay Faatz

Jay Faatz

Faatz is the most expert poker player in the United States.  He has a passionate love for diamonds and always carries in his shirt bosom and cuffs $1,500 worth of these gems…He also has a snug sum in the bank.  Faatz always takes in the prize fights and the dog disputes which occur in his vicinity.  He is a level-headed, clear thinker, and the orator o the Brotherhood.

Fred Pfeffer, of Chicago, is one of the few players who has put money into the new league.  He has invested $3,000.  He is said to be the best fielder in the West.  Pfeffer is remarkable for his neat appearance when playing ball.  He is quiet and reserved.  He wears a brown mustache, a silk hat and a pleasant smile.  The New York reporters couldn’t elicit any information from him even when they used a corkscrew.

William Ewing, the greatest ball player in the world, is a bachelor. He is a very ordinary looking citizen in street attire.  He earned $6,500 last season (The New York Times said he earned $5,500, the “Spalding Guide” said $5,000).  Ewing was the first man to sign the agreement which bound the players to the new scheme.  He said he had no grievance, as the league had always used him well, but he wanted to cast his lot with ‘the boys.’  For a long time he was distrusted by the players on account o his intimacy with Mr. Day (Giants owner John B. Day).  Ewing will be captain of the New York team.

Lawrence G. Twitchell, five years ago, was a carpenter, working for $2 per day.  Today he is a capable left fielder, and earns $2,500 for working about six months in the year.  Tony, as he is familiarly known, is remarkable for his fine physique.  No more perfect man physically ever set foot on a diamond.  The trip east from his house in Ohio to attend the convention cost him $500.  He married a wealthy young woman, who became enamored of him while playing ball at Zanesville, Ohio…Tony says he is not obliged to play ball for a livelihood.  He does it for love of the game.  He is young, beardless and handsome;  also enthusiastic as to the ultimate success of the new league.

Larry Twitchell

Larry Twitchell

Edward Hanlon, who will fill the onerous position of captain of the new Pittsburgh club, will also act as manager and centerfielder of the team.  He has been frugal and has saved money during his long and illustrious baseball career.  Hanlon is one of the progenitors of the new league.”

Hanlon had been responsible for making the initial contact with street car magnate Albert Loftin Johnson, who would become one of the league’s principal financial backers, and according to Jarrold “the missionary of the new baseball venture.”  Jarrold said:

“(Johnson is) an ardent admirer of the game…All preliminary meetings in the formation of the Players’ League were held in his rooms in Cleveland.  A policeman was stationed at the door to keep out reporters.  It was mainly through his efforts that the seal of secrecy was kept over the organization for so long a time.  He can talk longer and state less facts for reportorial use than any man connected with the baseball fraternity.  It can be stated truthfully that no organization of such interest to the public as the Players’ League was ever handled so secretly as has this one.  This was mainly due to Johnson’s perspicuity.  He is a heavy backer of the new enterprise, and is known as the Moses of the new baseball dispensation.  Johnson doesn’t pay much attention to clothes or diamonds.”

Among those present at the meeting, Jarrold seemed to think most highly of outfielder George Gore “One of the most dashing, devil-may-care men in the new league.”  Jarrold said:

George Gore

George Gore

“Gore has the happy faculty of laying aside his profession when off the diamond, which faculty is shared by but few ball players.  As a rule these men are very sensitive, and when a game is lost it is not uncommon for them to be so depressed in spirits that they cannot eat or sleep.  Gore, however is not that kind.  As John Ward says:  ‘Gore lets care get behind the wood pile when his work is over.’  He used to run a paper machine in Saccarappa, Maine in 1878.  Gore lives up to his income and has saved no money.”

Within a year, the Players League was finished and “Mickey Finn” had moved on to writing about his travels in Ireland.

Erastus Wiman’s Trophy

20 May

A trophy presented to the 1886 American Association Champions was created as a peace-offering to heal bitter feelings in the wake of one of professional baseball’s early controversies.

Erastus Wiman was a former Canadian journalist who had become a railroad, ferry and entertainment magnate on Staten Island.  Wiman, who promoted Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and a circus at his Staten Island Amusement Company, wanted to add baseball, at the adjacent St. George Cricket Grounds, to the entertainment offerings on the island in order to increase commuter traffic.

 

The St. George Cricket Grounds--home of the 1886-87 Metropolitans. The Giants would play a handful of home games there in 1889.

The St. George Cricket Grounds–home of the 1886-87 Metropolitans. The Giants would play a handful of home games there in 1889.

In December of 1885 he purchased the American Association New York Metropolitans from John Day for $25,000; Day also owned the New York Giants in the National League.

The other American Association owners claimed the sale was merely a scheme to take the Mets out of Manhattan and thus weaken the Association, and immediately expelled the team and began making arrangements to assign the team’s players to other organizations.

Erasmus Wiman

Erasmus Wiman

Wiman went to court in Philadelphia and was granted an injunction.  His new players stood with him and agreed not to seek contracts with other teams until the issue was resolved, and George F. Williams, the general manager of his company, accused American Association owners of being the schemers, telling The New York Times:

“The real motive was a scheme on the part of Charles Byrne, of the Brooklyn club.  He knew that a strong club on Staten Island would lessen the attendance at Washington Park, in Brooklyn, and besides this he was anxious to secure two of players (first baseman Dave) Orr and (outfielder James “Chief”) Roseman…the only way in which to gain his point was to act in concert with others who are also anxious to get the services of some of our men.”

Later in the month, Judge Martin Russell Thayer ruled that there was no merit to the American  Associations’ expulsion of the Mets, The Times said:

“(Thayer) sent the ‘Mets’ all the way around the bases, and landed them safely home in the association, there to stay as long as the organization holds together as an aggregation of baseball clubs.”

Despite the victory in court, bad feelings between Wiman and the other owners remained throughout the winter and spring.

In April Wiman announced that he had ordered a trophy, described by The Sporting Life as “solid silver, 26 inches high, representing a batsman in position to bat a pitched ball. The whole will be enclosed in plate glass case.”

Newspaper drawing of Wiman's Trophy

Newspaper drawing of Wiman’s Trophy

Various reports put the trophy’s value between $1,000 and $2,000.

According to a wire service article that ran in several papers across the country, Wiman ordered the trophy for two reasons:

“(F)irst, to show that he had no ill feelings towards the members of the association because of the bitter legal fight which he encountered on entering it, and second, as a stimulant to extraordinary exertion by the various clubs in order that they might possess so valuable a work of art.”

Wiman’s Metropolitans would never have any hope of winning his trophy.  They finished in 7th place in 1886 and 1887, never drew well on Staten Island, and disbanded at the end of the ’87 season.

Brooklyn’s Charles Byrne got the last laugh; he purchased the team’s remaining assets to protect his territorial control and acquired seven Mets players, including Orr, Darby O’Brien and Paul Radford, who helped lead the team to a second place finish in 1888.  O’Brien, Brooklyn’s captain, would lead the team to a championship in 1889

Wiman would quickly fall upon hard times.  By 1893, the man who was reputed to have been worth between $2 and $3 million, was nearly broke.  In 1894, he was arrested for forgery and embezzlement, and according to The Times “was locked up in the tombs (NYC’s House of Detention).”  Wiman was found guilty, but the conviction was reversed.

The Times said that despite attempts to start businesses “He never recovered his ability to engage successfully in business after these reverses…and he died a poor man”

There are no references to the trophy after an 1886 mention in The Sporting Life that it was presented to the St. Louis Browns.