Tag Archives: John Morrill

Boston’s Horseshoe

9 Jan

Boston Beaneaters Manager John Morrill told The Washington Star in 1886:

“Yes, sir, it’s a fact, that professional ball-tossers are as a rule very superstitious.  It is nothing more than natural though, and is not as much due to the ignorance of the men as is sometimes supposed.  You see, so much chance enters into every game of ball that the boys who play game after game gradually become impressed with the belief that they can read in advance certain signs or omens which will have more or less effect upon their individual play, if not upon the result of the game.”

John Morrill

John Morrill

Morrill said that “on the whole” he thought his player’s superstitions were “a very good thing,” as long as “bad signs do not outnumber the good one.”  Morrill felt players were more inclined to look for good signs, which would encourage them to play “with more confidence.”

Morrill was also a supporter of mascots:

“Mascots are good things to encourage the boys.”

Morrill even attributed his greatest success as a manager to the power of superstition.  He took over the reins of the fourth place Beaneaters in July of 1883, and the team won 33 of their last 44 games and won the National league pennant.

“When we were way behind in the race for the championship, one of the members of our nine saw a horseshoe in front of the hotel in Detroit.  He stepped into the street and picked it up.  On it was the mark ‘O Winn.’  It was only the name of the Detroit blacksmith who had made the shoe, but as we won the game that day, the members of the nine began to regard the shoe as a good-luck sign, and the first thing we knew we were winning games right and left, and ended the season in the lead.  Our players attributed out success to the horseshoe, and so did Mr. O. Winn, who never fails to call upon us when we are in Detroit.”

More than 40 years later, William Braucher, columnist for the Newspaper Enterprise Association, resurrected the story of the horseshoe—although he embellished some of the details of Boston’s winning season.

He said the player who had found the horseshoe was outfielder Paul Radford. According to Braucher, “Radford’s father had it gilded and framed and it was presented to the Boston National League club.”

Paul Radford--found the horseshoe

Paul Radford–found the horseshoe

The horseshoe hung at the South End Grounds until the ballpark was destroyed by fire on May 15, 1894

Baucher said Red Sox owner James Aloysius Robert “Bob” Quinn, whose club had been a perennial doormat since he took ownership in 1923, was so desperate for a winner that he was trying to locate the missing horseshoe.

“Bob Quinn would like to know what happened to that horseshoe.  The president of the Red Sox even went so far as to put an ad in the Boston papers the other day offering a reward for the shoe stamped with the name of ‘O. Winn.’  Bob is trying every possible means to give Boston a winning ballclub.  And if a horseshoe will help he wants it.”

Bob Quinn

Bob Quinn

Quinn never found the horseshoe, and never had a  winning Red Sox team.

“It would increase the Batting, both in a Scientific and Slugging way”

5 Dec

After finishing in second place with a 73-38 record in 1884, the Boston Beaneaters slipped to 46-66 with a fifth place finish the following year; among the reasons for the decline was the team’s batting average which dropped from .254 to .232.

The Sporting Life’s Boston Correspondent said local fans had proposed numerous “wild ideas for proposed changes in the way the game is played,” to remedy the hitting woes.  Of those, one was “worthy of consideration.”

The paper said many “prominent base ball men and a number of players and all have expressed approval.”  Among those consulted were John Morrill, the Beaneaters’ manager, and Arthur Irwin, shortstop for the Providence Grays, both who said the plan would result in more “safe hitting.”

John Morrill

John Morrill

The Sporting Life said “The idea is to make what is now called a diamond but is actually a square a true diamond,” and included a crude diagram:

The Sporting Life's rendering

The Sporting Life’s rendering

 “(T)he catcher would be brought ten feet nearer second base, which would prevent free stealing, and would also enable the second baseman to return a thrown ball to the catcher in time to cut off a base runner.  The pitcher would be placed back five feet, thus reducing the distance between him and second base…the batsman is five feet further from the pitcher, and could therefore more easily hit the ball, thus reducing the number of strikeouts considerably and making livelier fielding by giving more chances.

“The distance from third to first would be increased, thus giving scientific batters and good runners a better chance to beat the ball to base.  The change of foul lines would lessen the number of tedious foul balls; would give more chances to drive the ball between the infielders; would save many pretty hits now called foul; would spread the outfielders more, thus increasing the number of safe hits, and, besides, enable them to make, with the increased territory, more difficult running catches; would give chances for longer hits; it would lessen the damage from errors and make more earned runs, as base runners would have to hug their bases more closely, depending on hitting to score.

“It would but slightly reduce the effectiveness of pitchers without laming them, and give the catcher a better chance to play his position as it should be played.

“To sum up, it would increase the batting, both in a scientific and slugging way; lessen the work of the battery without seriously affecting effectiveness; compel runners to exercise good judgment with speed and increase the work of the fielders over fifty percent.”

The Sporting News suggested that Albert Spalding would “introduce the plan at the League meeting this week and doubtless it will be given thorough consideration,” but none of the coverage of the meeting included any mention of the plan being considered.

Like the “the proposed new diamond,” briefly championed by Chicago Colts President James Aristotle Hart, seven years later, the 1885 plan went the way of dozens of other 19th Century “innovations.”

Hope Springs Eternal

30 Dec

In April of 1889, the Washington Nationals were preparing to open the season at home against the Philadelphia Quakers.

The Washington Critic editorialized about the fortunes of the local team:

“As is proper, the National Capital has a club competing for the pennant, which indicates championship in the national game, but unfortunately, this club has never yet succeeded in winning the coveted emblem.  The ‘Senators,’ as a facetious country has dubbed out baseball players, are engaged usually in a desperate struggle to keep from taking place near the tail end of the league at the tail end of the season, and if the Goddess of Liberty on the dome of the Capitol has any local pride she must weep at what she has seen happen in the park a few blocks north of her.  She has observed the home club walloped all over the grounds and has been humiliated beyond endurance.”

The Nationals had been members of the National League for three underachieving season; 28-92 in 1886 (eighth place), 46-76 in 1887 (seventh place), and 48-86 in 1888 (eighth place).  John Morrill would open the 1889 season as the team’s fifth manager:

John Morrill

John Morrill

“There is a prospect of better baseball fortunes for Washington in the season opening today.  There are, up to date at least, no dissensions in the club, and a stalwart and resolute group are prepared to do battle for the pennant.  They may not win the trophy, but it is tolerably certain that they will give a good account of themselves, and that when ‘Senators’ are referred to in terms of opprobrium , reference will be had to those belonging to that club ‘where wealth accumulates and men decay,’ rather than to our baseball team.”

There would be no “prospect of better baseball fortunes’ for Washington.  The Nationals lost the opener to Philadelphia, then lost seven more.  In July, John Morrill, who had led the team to a 13-38 record and was hitting .185, was replaced as manager and released.  Arthur Irwin did better (but only slightly better) at the helm.  The team went 28-45 the rest of the way, finishing in eighth place with a 41-83 record.  The team disbanded at the end of the season.

Arthur Irwin

Arthur Irwin

1876 Salaries

14 May

In July of 1876, The Brooklyn Argus published the salaries of the two highest paid teams in the newly formed National League; many of these have never appeared in any of the collections of early baseball salaries.

According to the article, the highest paid player was Chicago White Stockings pitcher Albert Goodwill Spalding who “as pitcher and manager, receives $3,000 for the year, with $1,000 bonus for producing the secession from the Hub (Boston) to Chicago.”  (The 1950 book “100 Years of Baseball,” by Lee Allen said Spalding earned $3,500 and a $500 bonus for the season).

A.G. Spalding, highest paid in National League

A.G. Spalding, highest paid in National League

The three players Spalding brought with him from the Boston Red Stockings in the National Association, Catcher James “Deacon” White, first baseman Cal McVey and second baseman Ross Barnes were all paid $2,500.  The two players signed away from the Philadelphia Athletics, third baseman Adrian “Cap” Anson and outfielder Bob Addy received $2,200 and $1,500 respectively.

Outfielder Paul Hines earned 1.800, utility player Fred Andrus was paid 1,000, and the remaining members of the first National League Champions, shortstop John Peters and outfielders John Glenn and Oscar Bielaski were made $1500 each.

Chicago White Stockings, 1876 National League Champions--and highest salaried team.

Chicago White Stockings, 1876 National League Champions–and highest salaried team.

Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stockings filled the vacancies of White and Barnes with 18-year-old Lew Brown and 21-year-old John Morrill who The Argus said received “between 800 to 1000 dollars each.”

Manager Wright, who only appeared in one game, and his brother George were the highest paid members of the Boston club at $2,500 each.  Andy Leonard, who played second and outfield was paid $2,000.  Two other notable players on the Red Stockings, Hall of Famer “Orator Jim” O’Rourke and Tim Murnane received “between fifteen hundred and eighteen hundred dollars.”

According to The Argus, the White Stockings payroll of $21,500 topped the league, with Boston’s total of 18,000.