Tag Archives: John McCloskey

Bugs Finds the “Plate”

17 May

John McGraw called the erratic, talented, and tragic Arthur “Bugs” Raymond, one of the best pitchers he ever managed.  Raymond might be the best pitcher to finish his career with a record 12 games under .500 (45-56); he drank himself out of organized ball by age 29, and he was dead the following year.

bugs pix

Bugs

When Raymond was traded to the New York Giants after the 1908 season, Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Herald told a story about how St. Louis Cardinals infielder Billy Gilbert helped cure Raymond of a bout with wildness the previous year.

hughf

“Bugs sometimes lacks control, and during one period early last season in St. Louis, he got so wild that (Manager John) McCloskey was in despair.  ‘Bugs’ couldn’t get one over the plate, let alone cutting the corners, and McCloskey began to believe he never would.  One afternoon just before a game, Mack, who is a born worrier, was sitting on the bench and turning to Gilbert, said: ‘Gil, what’s the matter with the Bug? Isn’t there any way he can get control?’

‘Let me catch him for awhile and I’ll fix him,’ said Gilbert.

‘All right.  Take him back of the stand and work with him.’”

billyg

Billy Gilbert

Fullerton said before taking Raymond “back of the stand,’ Gilbert went in search of something.

“(S)ecuring a big beer mug (he) placed it on the ground and standing behind it, ordered Raymond to proceed.

“’Here’s where you get control, Bugs,’ said Gil.  ‘You can hit this every time.’”

Said Fullerton:

“And whether faith, confidence, or luck did it, he got perfect control pitching over the stein, and it was a week before Gilbert dared tell McCloskey how he did it.”

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“I Believe Beyond Doubt he would be the Greatest Manager of All Time”

20 May

By 1911,  “Honest John” McCloskey was in his 22nd season as a manager; five in the major leagues.  Those five seasons were less than successful.

John

John

He led the Louisville Colonels to a 35-96 record in 1895, and was dismissed the following season after a 2-17 start; In three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1906-1908, he was 52-98, 52-101, and 49-105—he also apparently had a bizarre aversion to blond hair.

In those 22 seasons, he won just two championships–in class “B” Pacific National League, but despite a rather inauspicious record, Hugh Fullerton believed McCloskey one was one of the greatest minds in the game.

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

Writing in “The American Magazine” that summer, Fullerton said:

“John McCloskey, one of the greatest tacticians in baseball, has worked out the theory of coaching, both from the bench and from the lines to an exact science.  Yet McCloskey has not been successful because the players lack the quickness and the brains to follow his orders.  If he could find men who could think and act quickly enough to obey his signals.  I believe beyond doubt he would be the greatest manager of all time.”

McCloskey’s genius, according to Fullerton, was enough to overcome one thing:

“One great trouble in the McCloskey system is that players are not yet educated to the point where they cease independent thinking and obey orders…After every blunder of a ballplayer, the reason assigned is ‘I thought.’ Besides that, the fewer brains a player has and the less he knows of the science of the game, the more liable he is to scoff at the theorist and ridicule or ignore the wigwag system.”

As an example of McCloskey’s players not living up to their manager’s intelligence and ridiculing his “system”, Fullerton related a story from the previous season when McCloskey led the Milwaukee Brewers to a 76-91 sixth place finish in the American Association.

“(A) Milwaukee batter drove a ball down into the left field corner of the grounds.  The ball was in the shortstop’s hands when the runner reached third base.”

According to Fullerton “the excited coacher” missed McCloskey’s signal to hold the runner:

“(H)e urged (the runner) onward, and he was thrown out 30 feet from the plate.  McCloskey…slid down until the back of his head was resting on the bench and his feet were six feet away on the ground, his body rigid.  A cruel substitute, gazing at his manager, asked: ‘What’s that, Mac, a signal to slide feet first?’”

McCloskey’s Butte Miners finished third in the Union Association in 1911.  He managed 13 more seasons in the minor leagues through 1932.  He won just one more pennant, leading a team to the class “D” Southwestern  League championship in 1924—not only was the team “educated” enough to “cease independent thinking” and win for McCloskey, but they did so playing home games in three different towns;  they played in Newton, Kansas until July, relocated to Blackwell, Oklahoma for a month, then finished the season in Ottawa, Kansas.

 

Jimmy Rogers

16 Sep

In January of 1897 owner Barney Dreyfuss and the directors of the Louisville, Colonels met to determine the future of the club.  The Louisville Courier-Journal said:

“The most important meeting in the history of the Louisville Base-ball club was held last night at the Louisville Hotel.  It was marked by more liberality than had been shown by the club during all the years since it became a member of the big league.”

No one was surprised that Dreyfuss’ protégé, team secretary Harry Clay Pulliam was named team president, nor was it surprising that Charles Dehler was retained as vice president.

But no one had predicted the Colonel’s choice to replace Bill McGunnigle as manager.

McGunnigle had succeeded John McCloskey, and the two combined for a 38-93 record and a twelfth place finish.

James F. “Jimmy” Rogers would be a first-time manager; three months short of his 25th birthday and only 110 games into his major league career.  The Courier-Journal knew so little about the new manager that the paper got his age and place of birth wrong, and also reported incorrectly that he had minor league managerial experience.

While he had only played 72 games with Louisville in 1896 and only 60 at first base, The Courier-Journal called Rogers “the best first baseman the Colonels ever had.”  Even so, the paper acknowledged that “as a manager he is yet to be tried.”

Just why was he the right man to manage the team?

“One of the chief reasons Rogers was selected was that he is sober.”

Jimmy Rogers

Jimmy Rogers

Despite being “the best first baseman the Colonels ever had,” Rogers opened the season as the team’s starting second baseman; thirty-five-year-old minor league home run king Perry Werden, acquired from the Minneapolis Millers of the Western League played first base for Louisville.

The team won five of their first seven games, and then went 12-22 through June 16 when Rogers was fired as manager and released; he was hitting .144 and made 16 errors in forty games at second base.

Rogers was replaced as manager by Fred Clarke; the future Hall of Famer was two weeks shy of his 24th birthday.

The Cincinnati Post said the outgoing manager was not only to blame for the team’s poor performance but also for center fielder Ollie Pickering’s slump; Pickering hit .303 after joining Louisville in August of 1896 but was hitting .243 on the day Rogers was let go:

“The claim is made that Jimmy Rogers is responsible for the decline of Pickering.  The Virginian created a sensation last fall, but “Manager Jimmy” tacked the title “Rube” to Pick, and it broke his heart.”

Ollie "Rube" Pickering

Ollie “Rube” Pickering

Pickering was released in July, signed with the Cleveland Spiders, and apparently recovered from his broken heart, hitting .352 in 46 games for Cleveland.

Rogers would never play another major league game.  He was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates the day after Louisville released him, but became ill with the flu and never played for them.  A month later he joined the Springfield Ponies in the Eastern League and finished the season with them.  Rogers played for East Coast minor league teams until in August of 1899 when he became ill while playing with the Norwich Witches in the Connecticut League.

In January of 1900, Rogers died at age 27.  Two different explanations for his death appear in various newspapers; both may be wrong.  The Courier-Journal and several other newspapers said his death was the result of the lingering effects of “being struck on the head by a pitched ball several years ago while playing in the National League.”

The New Haven (CT) Register repeated the story about Rogers being hit by a pitch, and said that while that injury contributed to his death, he had died of Bright’s disease—a kidney ailment now referred to as nephritis.

Rogers’ Connecticut death certificate listed the cause of death as a bacterial inflammation of the brain.

McCloskey, Mays and Hair Color

12 Mar

Carl Mays is best known for being the pitcher that hit Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman with a pitch, resulting in the only hit by pitch death of a Major League player. In fifteen seasons he posted a 208-126 record with a 2.92 ERA.

Five years before he became infamous for Chapman’s death, Mays became embroiled in a strange feud with former National League manager John James McCloskey; the dispute was over hair color.

Carl Mays

Carl Mays

In December of 1914, McCloskey was a well-respected figure in baseball, credited with being the “father” of the original Texas League in 1888, McCloskey had spent five seasons as manager of the Louisville Colonels and St. Louis Cardinals in the National League, and another 23 as a minor league manager and owner.

Mays was coming off a 24-8 season for the Providence Grays in the international League, and while called up to the Red Sox in the closing weeks of the season had not yet appeared in a big league game.

The controversy originated when Charles “Toby” Fullerton, a pitcher for the Seattle Giants in the Northwestern League was quoted in an article that appeared in The Pittsburgh Press and several other newspapers about pitcher “Seattle Bill” James, who had just led the Boston Braves to a World Championship.  Fullerton said when he and James were teammates in Seattle in 1912, manager Shad Barry had “condemned the youngster for being a blond,” then was quoted saying McCloskey also “has no use in the world for blonde ball players.”

"Seattle Bill" James

“Seattle Bill” James

The strange, silly, throwaway quote should have been the end of it, but it was apparently serious enough for McCloskey to issue a long denial from his home in Louisville, Kentucky.   The full-page letter McCloskey wrote appeared in more newspapers than the original story, and read in part:

“Let me say, I have been accused of every crime in the calendar, but this is too much.”

McCloskey claimed the “rumor” originated when he was managing the Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association in 1910.  Outfielder Rube DeGroff played for McCloskey (incidentally, Shad Barry was also a member of the team), and according to McCloskey:

“We were playing in Kansas City, we were behind…and made a big rally that came near giving us the game.  The bases were full in the last inning, with two men out, when the big, blonde and good-natured Rube DeGroff, who was a splendid all-around player and life of the club, came to bat with the bases full and struck out.  I was sore over losing the game and made the remark that I never saw a cotton-top who ever made good in a pinch.”

McCloskey said he also believed anything Barry might have said to or about James was certainly a joke, and closed with a final defense:

“In fact, in my humble opinion, I think the blonde has a shade over the brunette.  But why the color of a man’s hair should have anything to do with his ability as a ball player is a mystery to me, and I hope this explanation will put an end to these silly rumors.”

It didn’t.

Within days Carl Mays weighed in, claiming that he had twice been rejected for an opportunity to pitch for McCloskey’s Ogden Canners in the Union Association because he was blond.

Mays said:

“McCloskey is a liar pure and simple…In 1912, when I was on my way to Boise to try out for the Boise team; I stopped off at Ogden, thinking possibly owner McCloskey might give me a trial.  I met him downtown in a billiard parlor and went up and introduced myself.

“McCloskey looked me over carefully, like a horse-trader examining a piece of horseflesh, and then suddenly espied my blond hair.  ‘No,’ said he coolly, ‘I don’t want you.  In fact I wouldn’t have you around the ranch.  I don’t want any blonds in my camp.’”

Mays also claimed that later in 1912 while compiling a 22-9 record for the Boise Irrigators in the Western Tri-State League; he was nearly sold to McCloskey’s pitching-strapped Ogden Canners until:

“One of the Ogden players happened to mention the fact that he was the same blond-haired fellow who had asked for a job earlier.”

According to Mays, McCloskey said:

“’Deal is off.  Send that white-haired guy over here and I’ll kill him.’”

The story stuck with McCloskey for more than 20 years.  A 1916 story in The Providence Tribune said:

“Scouts all over the country know McCloskey and never did one in his employ recommend a light-haired ballplayer…His peculiarity was well-known, and he knew that no one would have the temerity to recommend to him a blond or light-haired ballplayer. “

The black-haired John McCloskey

The black-haired John McCloskey

In 1934, The Milwaukee Journal called McCloskey “one grizzled veteran who frowned on blond athletes.”  The article quoted E. Lee Keyser, a long-time minor league executive, who said when McCloskey managed Butte “One of (McCloskey’s) players was an Indian outfielder whose hair was black,” the player struck out in a critical situation.  According to Keyser, when the unnamed player returned to the clubhouse later, McCloskey grabbed his hair and said:  “I just want to know if you’re wearing a wig.  You hit like a blond.”

McCloskey managed in the minor leagues until he was 70-years-old, he died eight years later in 1940.

Fighting Jimmy Burke

2 Jan

James Timothy Burke had a stormy tenure with the Saint Louis Cardinals from 1903-1905, including a disastrous 35-56 record as player-manager in 1905, replacing Kid Nichols (who remained on the pitching staff)—Burke resigned in August, and the Cardinals were in such disarray that owner Stan Robison eventually took over the team for the remainder of the season.

Burke had been with five teams from 1898 through 1902 before being traded to the Cardinals.

Jimmy Burke

Jimmy Burke

During his time with the Cardinals Burke had various fights and feuds, it was said he was the ringleader in a group of players trying to undermine manager Patsy Donovan in 1903; he had a long-standing feud with shortstop Dave Brain and the two seldom spoke, and he feuded with Robison throughout his short tenure as manager.  After his resignation he said:

“When I took charge of the team it was with the understanding that I was to be manager or nothing.  I have suffered as Donovan and Nichols with too much interference.”

Burke also had trouble with a Saint Louis sportswriter named Joe Finnegan.  Their contentious relationship came to a head at the Victoria Hotel in Chicago in September of 1904 after Finnegan had written an article in which he called Burke “a cow’s foot,” (apparently those were fighting words circa 1904).

The Pittsburgh Press provided the colorful blow-by-blow of the fight:

“First round–Burke hit Finnegan in the lobby, and followed the blow with a left hook on the back of the neck, breaking the scribe’s collar.  Burke pressed the advantage and struck Finnegan near the cigar stand.  Finnegan blocked cleverly, uppercut with the left and caught Burke in the snout.  Finnegan crossed his right and landed on Jimmy’s potato-trap.  Burke jolted Finnegan in the rotunda and followed with a short swing near the Turkish parlor.  Finnegan shot the right to the ear, and the left to the lamp.  They clinched.  Terrific short-arm fighting, completely wrecking Finnegan’s collar and cuff.  Johnny Farrell separated the men. Time.

“Second round—The house detective threw both fighters out in the alley.  Time.  Decision to Finnegan.”

Burke’s Major League career ended after the 1905 season.  New Cardinal manager John McCloskey said he wanted to retain Burke as his third baseman, but Robison, against his manager’s wishes (and continuing the pattern which led papers to call Cardinals managers “figureheads”) waived Burke.

Burke became a successful minor league manager and returned to the Major Leagues as a coach with the Detroit Tigers in 1914.  He also served as a coach with the St. Louis Browns and managed the team for three seasons.

Jimmy Burke, Cubs coach

Jimmy Burke, Cubs coach

Burke served as Joe McCarty’s right hand from 1926-1930 with the Chicago Cubs and followed him to the New York Yankees where they continued together until a stroke necessitated Burke’s retirement after the 1933 season.  McCarthy had played for Burke with the Indianapolis Indians in the American Association in 1911.

Burke died in St. Louis in 1942.