Tag Archives: John Tener

“A man of the Caliber of Taft”

10 Sep

Less than a year before the Black Sox scandal, Ed Bang of The Cleveland News wrote about the need for a central authority to govern the game. He suggested his top candidate:

“William H. Taft.

“That’s the name to conjure with in any walk of life to say nothing of baseball and it may come to pass that one of these days the former president of the United States will be the sole member of the national baseball commission, the court of last resort in the national pastime.”

Taft shakes hands with Mordecai Brown, 1909

Bang called baseball “a rather sick individual” since the Federal League wars of 1914 and ’15., then “confined to bed” when the war department declared baseball a non-essential occupation. The situation became more dire earlier in the year when minor league magnates “threw down the gauntlet,” threatening to no longer honor the draft and options agreements.

“It became evident,” wrote Bang, “that baseball needed a doctor.”

Taft, he said was agreeable to most of the major league owners who, like the public had a “lack of confidence,” in August Herrmann, chairman of the National Commission as well as American League President Ban Johnson, and John Tener, who had resigned as National League president in August.

Bang said:

“A man of the caliber of William Howard Taft, one who is in no way connected with the national pastime either as league president or club owner and one who would give all parties a square deal, would add considerable prestige to the sport. Prestige is what is needed right now and if Mr. Taft or any other figure of equal ability can bring that about, the baseball magnates could well afford to pay him $50,000 a year and figure the money as well spent.”

Taft was, of course never hired, and baseball lacked a single, central power as commissioner through the 1919 season and scandal, until Kennesaw Mountain Landis became the first commissioner in 1920.

“The Big League Ballplayer has the Easiest job”

5 May

Malachi Kittridge was nearly a decade removed from major league baseball in 1915 but had plenty of opinions about how easy current players had it.  He told The Cleveland News:

“The big league ballplayer has the easiest job there is. He does not even have to pack his uniform. That is done for him in the clubhouse. His hand baggage is taken to the train for him. He rides in a lower berth. Arriving at another town, he is met by a taxicab while his baggage is taken to the hotel in a wagon. He does not even have to write his name on the hotel register. He finds his room and a good one with a bath reserved for him.”

And once in town, it was even easier:

“He has nothing to do except to report at the grounds at 2 pm, practice and then take part in the game. His evenings are his own as are his mornings, except at home, when some clubs have practice sessions. He has more idle time upon his hands than any man engaged in any other profession, yet he fails to take advantage of it by fitting himself for some other profession or business to take up when his baseball days are over.”

Kittridge

Kittridge said players idled away their time on the road taking walks and playing cards in the morning, or at a theater or pool hall in the evening, rather than devoting “some of his time to study” of a future career.  But, he warned, “he cannot study too much and run the risk of injuring his eyes.”

The News said Kittridge also resented, “the oft printed story that the old-time baseball player was rough neck,” compared to the modern, “college-bred” players:

“I guess they forgot about the famous old Chicago White Sox. Of that team, John K. Tener became governor of Pennsylvania and president of the National League; (Cap) Anson was county clerk of Cook County, which means Chicago; Mark Baldwin is a famous surgeon in Pittsburgh; Ad Gumbert was Sheriff of Pittsburgh [sic, Allegheny County]; (Bill) Hutchinson, the great pitcher, is a railroad official out West; Walter Wilmot is a banker in Minneapolis, and Clark Griffith is pretty well up in the baseball game.”

Kittridge challenged the reporter to “investigate,” and said, “you would find that the majority of the old-timers have done well since quitting the game, indicating that they were not the rowdies later day writers would have the public believe.”

Kittridge himself was a fairly successful minor league manager, but his one stint running a major league club was a disaster. Kittridge’s 1904 Washington Senators were 1-16 when the player-manager was replaced by Patsy Donovan.  The Boston Globe provided an example of how he counseled pitchers to face the league’s leading hitter, Napoleon Lajoie:

“Place the ball at a medium rate of speed over the middle of the rubber, or cut the plate with a slow, arched curve whenever Lajoie is facing you. The big Frenchman will write an obituary in the shape of a double, triple, or homer on any ball that has steam behind it and veers over the outside or inside corners. I have seen him soak a high one in the inside on a level with his Adam’s apple, and the next one he plucked off his socks knee high and on the inside.”

“A Good Plumber’s Helper but an Inferior Umpire”

21 Apr

Edward F. Ballinger of The Pittsburgh Post described Bill Byron thusly:

“(He) is looked upon among the players as the man who rendered more peculiar decisions than any other official in diamond history.”

Honus Wagner singled out Byron for rendering “the worst decision I ever saw.”

Wagner included the incident in his 1924 series of articles about his career for The North American Newspaper Alliance. He said he was stealing third in a game against the Giants:

“The catcher threw the ball into my feet making it impossible for Devlin—I think it was Devlin— [Note: It was Milt Stock] to pick it up. We both got in a tangle as I slid through a cloud of dust. The ball was bound under my arm where nobody could find it.”

Byron

While the Giants looked for the ball, Wagner headed towards the plate:

“About ten feet from home the ball dropped on the baseline. Now here’s where McGraw got in his fine work. He rushed up to umpire Byron, who had run down to third base to make the decision and told him I carried the ball to the bench in my hand.

“’If you don’t believe it, go to the bench and make them give it to you,’ he urged Byron.

“About this time McGraw’s attention was called to the ball lying on the base path.”

McGraw then told Byron, “That proves it. See! Wagner just rolled it out.”

Wagner said a confused Byron called him out for, “Carrying the ball to the bench with your hand.”

Wagner’s recollection was a bit faulty, in addition to forgetting who was playing third base. The incident happened on July 17, 1914, during the sixth inning of what would turn out to be a 21-inning 3 to 1 victory for the Giants. The game was, to that point, baseball’s longest game and both pitchers, Babe Adams and Rube Marquard pitched complete games.

As for the play, Wagner was not attempting to steal; he was advancing to third from first on a hit by Jim Viox and the throw came from center fielder Bob Bescher.

Contemporaneous accounts in The Pittsburgh Press, The Dispatch, and The Post all said that when the ball fell from Wagner’s uniform, it was immediately picked up by Marquard who threw to third trying to retire Viox who was called safe, rather than Wagner’s version where McGraw called Byron’s attention to the ball.

McGraw, said The Press, came out on the field at that point, “and told Byron Wagner was out.” The umpire agreed and also sent Viox back to second The Post said:

“The Pirates gathered around the umpire and raised a hubbub. (Fred) Clarke read the riot act and was motioned off the lot by umpire Byron.”

Pittsburgh protested the game, but Byron’s ruling was upheld.

Fred Mitchell, manager of the Cubs, was also not a Byron fan, and told Billy Evans in 1920:

“He hasn’t improved much since the summer (1917) he gave a decision that cost me $100 and the game. We were playing in St. Louis and big Mule (Milt) Watson was on the rubber. Art Wilson was at the plate. Watson, as he started to pitch, stubbed his toe and in trying to hold back on the ball threw it wildly and hit Wilson in the back of the neck. Byron would not let him take his base, saying it was a slow ball. I protested and consequently was chased and later fined $100.”

Mitchell’s details of the September 3 game were all correct, except for the outcome of the game. The Cubs beat the Cardinals and Watson 6 to 5. Mitchell had also, “had a mix-up” with Byron the previous day, according to The Chicago Tribune, when the umpire had initially called Tom Long of St. Louis out on a play at the plate, “then called him safe, although (catcher Rowdy) Elliott held the ball.”

Cardinals owner John C. Jones held the same opinion Mitchell did off Byron.  Earlier that same season, Byron made another questionable call on another play involving Tom Long. The Cardinals outfielder hit a ball off Eppa Rixey that appeared to be fair for a double. Byron, despite “the fact that a gap in the whitewash marked the spot,” where the ball hit called it foul.

Long was called out on strikes on the next pitch The Cardinals lost 3 to 2 to the Phillies.

So incensed was Jones at the umpire, whom The St. Louis Star called, “a good plumber’s helper but an inferior umpire,” that he wrote an open letter to fans that appeared in St. Louis papers. He told fans who were present, “The good of the game demands,” that they wire league president John Tener about “Byron’s judgment.”

Jones’ message resulted in bottles and other items being thrown at Byron the following day. Two fans were injured. Cardinal President Branch Rickey disavowed Jones’ comments:

“I strongly advised against it. In fact, both (manager) Miller Huggins and myself wired President Tener that the message did not officially express the club’s sentiments.”

Despite his comment that he did not support the club owners’ position, Rickey was more critical of the umpire in his telegram to Tener than Jones had been in his message to the fans:

“(His) attitude and manners generally were extremely antagonistic to the crowd…If Byron will keep his face to the filed and not parade about in front of the stands, he will have no trouble.”

The previous season, Byron “wrote” an article for The Pittsburgh Press. He said he became an umpire in 1896 only because he couldn’t find enough work in his “first love, steamfitting.” Over two decades he worked his way from the Michigan State League to the National League.

Before steamfitting and umpiring, Byron had briefly played minor league ball:

“As for myself, I am frank to admit that I was the worst ball player that ever broke into the Texas League. I managed to hold my job with the Dallas club for a while, but the race was too fast. It nearly ruined a good steamfitter. Afterward I played semi-professional ball occasionally in Michigan but gave up the game—and what was baseball’s loss was the plumbing trade’s game.”

After four seasons in the Michigan State League, he worked his way up to South Atlantic League, then the Virgina League, followed by International League and finally the Eastern League before his big-league career began.

He became well known—and versions of the story were told for the next two decades—for a call he made on August 31, 1909. In an Eastern League pitchers duel between the second place Newark Indians, with manager Joe McGinnity on the mound and Big Jeff Pfeffer pitching for the fourth place Toronto Maple Leafs.

The game was scoreless in the sixth inning with Newark batting:

The Detroit News said:

“Two were out and the batter (Joe Crisp) raised a high foul within the easy reach of both the Toronto catcher and third baseman.”

Toronto Third baseman Jimmy Frick and catcher Fred Mitchell both stopped when Newark “coacher” Benny Meyer yelled “I’ll take it.”

“The catcher backed away and the ball fell on the Dominion of Canada. Great glee broke out among the Newark contingent, who seemed apparently to conclude that the strategy of the coacher had won the batsman another chance to connect. But they reckoned without Mr. Byron.

“’Batter out!’ yelled the ump.”

McGinnity and “his entire team” came out on the field.:

Byron told the Newark manager:

“’He’s out on interference.’

“This set McGinnity fairly crazy and he frothed at the mouth, ‘But there wasn’t a man within 10 feet of Mitchell when he backed away,’ he screamed.

‘”He’s out on vocal interference; get into the field and finish the game.’ And Byron pulled his watch.”

Pfeffer and McGinnity both went the distance in a 13-inning game won by Toronto 1 to 0. McGinnity filed a protest with the league, but Byron’s decision was upheld.

Byron said the “secret of umpiring” was that “The umpire must keep his head and let the other man lose his.”

The umpire retired before the 1920 season saying he could make more money at his first love.  Evans said of his seven seasons in the National League:

“Like the rest of the umpires, he had his faults. No umpire is infallible, so Bill made mistakes like the rest of us, but they were always honest mistakes.”

He said Byron “always looked trouble in the eye,” and “no gamer fellow” ever wore a mask.

Despite his contentious relationship with McGraw, Evans told a story about a game in New York.  The previous day while making a ruling on a play involving fan interference, “the umpires were criticized” by reporters for their long deliberation. The following day:

“At an amusement park near the Polo Grounds, it was customary for an aviator to do a series of stunts. Usually the aviator paid the Polo Grounds a visit before landing. On this occasion, he flew unusually low over the grounds, so that it was easily possible to see him greet the big crowd with a wave of the hand. Evidently Bill Byron had given some thought of the criticism of the day previous unjustly heaped on the arbitrators for what was called a needless delay.

“Calling time and turning toward the New York bench, he addressed manager McGraw of the Giants thusly.

“If the ball hits the airplane, John, while it is flying over fair territory, it is good for two bases. If it lands in some part of the machine and stays there while flying over fait territory, the runners shall stop at the base last touched when such thing occurs. If the ball lands in some part of the machine while the machine is outside playing territory, it will be good for a home run. Play.”

Evans said McGraw “was shaking with laughter.

The press box was as well:

“Byron’s retort courteous to their slam had not gone over their heads.”

L. C. Davis of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of Byron’s retirement:

“It will always be a moot question whether Lord Byron was greater as a singer or an umpire. But whether singing or umpiring the fans agree that he displayed all the earmarks of a good plumber.”

More Byron, Friday.

“Byron was more to blame than I was”

19 Apr

After National league umpire Tim Hurst died in 1915, his American League counterpart Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“In the passing of Tim Hurst, baseball lost the quaintest character of the diamond. It was believed there would never be another one to approach him., but in Bill Byron baseball has a pocket edition of Timothy Carroll Hurst.

“No more fearless umpire ever held an indicator than Tim Hurst. Bill Byron runs him a close second.”

Evans said before coming to the National League in 1913, Byron was the subject “of many stories of wild minor league riots, in which Bill played the leading role without so much as mussing his hair.”

Fearless was one adjective used about Byron, but there were many others. After the 1911 season, Ed Barrow, president of the Eastern League removed Byron from the league’s staff. The Baltimore Sun said many celebrated the move:

“Byron’s chief fault is his stubbornness, and he, as well, is a bit dictatorial and oversteps his authority on the diamond…For the good of the game–in the face of many prejudices–Barrow has acted wisely in giving him the ‘can.'”

Bill Byron

Known as the “singing Umpire,” Byron’s “little ditties” were so well known that writers like L.C. Davis of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Willian Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star both wrote columns suggesting new songs for the umpire.

Davis suggested that when the Cubs Heine Zimmerman argued a call:

Heinie, Heinie, I’ve been thinking,

I don’t want none of your slack;

To the clubhouse you’ll go slinking,

If you make another crack.

Johnny Evers complained to Phelon:

“How can a guy tend to his batting when the umpire’s warbling in his ears?”

John McGraw was Byron’s biggest foil and foe, and Byron had a song for the manager of the New York Giants:

“John McGraw is awful sore

Just listen to Napoleon roar

The crowd is also very mad

They think my work is very bad.”

In 1917, in an often told story, after a game in Cincinnati, the Giants manager landed two punches before he was separated from Byron after an ejection.

McGraw

After the incident, McGraw provided a signed statement admitting to punching Byron, but blaming the incident on the umpire:

“Byron said to me: ‘McGraw, you were run out of Baltimore.”

When the umpire repeated the charge, McGraw said he “hit him. I maintain I was given reason.”

When Byron arrived in St. Louis the day after the incident to work a series between the Cardinals and Phillies, he refused to answer when asked by a reporter from The Philadelphia Inquirer if McGraw had punched him, instead:

“Bill pointed the right hand to the jaw. There was dark clot—which indicated that something landed as early as 20 hours ago.” 

McGraw’s justification for the attack notwithstanding, he was fined $500 and suspended for 16 days.

McGraw responded, claiming to be “discriminated against personally,” by league President John Tener,” and that “Byron was more to blame than I was.”

He said the action taken against him would result in:

“Umpires with Byron’s lack of common intelligence and good sense, will now be so overbearing with players there will be no living with them.”

But the feud had been brewing since the umpire entered the league.

In August of 1914, in a game where the Reds scored five runs in the eighth to beat the Giants 5 to 4, The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“The character of McGraw was shown by his getting into an insulting ruction with Umpire Byron…He was so angered at losing out that he pelted the official with vicious expletives and delayed the game for several minutes.”

In 1915, Sam Crane, the former player turned baseball writer for The New York Journal, and a close friend of McGraw, chronicled a clash between the two during a September 25 game between the seventh place Giants and sixth place Cardinals in St. Louis:

Byron was being taunted from the New York bench and decided utility infielder Fred Brainard was the culprit and ejected him:

“Brainard (in a startled voice: ‘Who me/ Why, I didn’t open my mouth, did I boys?’

“Chorus of players: ‘No, he didn’t.’

“A mysterious voice from a far corner of the dugout: ‘’Byron, you can’t hear any better than you can see. You’re rotten.’”

At this point, Byron walked to the Giants bench and gave Brainard one minute to leave.

McGraw responded, “You have pulled another boot Byron,” and accused the umpire of once ordering a player off the bench who was coaching at first base, and asked how he knew it was Brainard:

“Umpire Byron (turning pale): ‘I caught Brainard with his mouth open.’”

The Giants bench laughed at the umpire and McGraw accused him of always “guessing” at his decisions.

At this point Crane said Byron, “five minutes after he had given Brainard one minute,” removed his watch from his pocket and again gave Brainard a minute to leave and told McGraw he would be ejected as well. The manager responded:

“Why should I be put out of the game? I haven’t done anything. Neither has Brainard. You’re all tangled up. Do you know the rules? What time is it by that tin timepiece you have got there?”

Byron repeated the order and threatened to forfeit the game to St. Louis. McGraw said:

“Go ahead and forfeit. You will be in very bad if you do. Every one of my players here say Brainard did not say a word. You will be in a nice fix with Tener, won’t you. You will have a fat chance to umpire the world’s series. Go ahead and forfeit the game.”

Byron then summoned three police officers to remove Brainard, but according to Crane, the police sergeant said,” I will have to take the umpire along, too.”

This elicited more laughter from the Giants bench.

Crane’s story ends with McGraw chastising the umpire while finally telling Brainard to go, and Byron returning to homeplate while singing:

“Oh, I don’t know. The multitude and the players are enraged at me; but I gained my point. Oh, I don’t know; I ain’t so bad.”

And the game “then proceeded, and smoothly throughout.”

Crane claimed the whole ordeal took at least 15 minutes.

The Post-Dispatch didn’t mention police, implied that Byron clearly won the encounter, and said, “five minutes were consumed in this senseless argument.”

The paper scolded the umpire for the “bush league trick” of pulling out his watch, but said:

“In time, however, McGraw relented under the threat of a forfeiture, which means a fine of $1000, and Brainard went his way.”

McGraw might have gotten the better of Byron in their 1917 fight in Cincinnati, but in 1915 the umpire “landed twice” on Boston Braves third baseman Red Smith after the game when Smith renewed an earlier argument over balls and strikes September 16 in Chicago. Smith attempted to get at Byron after being hit but was stopped by the other umpire, Al Orth.

Byron and McGraw continued to butt heads and the umpire’s combative style and singing continued to draw attention.

George Moriarty, the Detroit Tigers infielder, turned American League umpire—who also wrote songs—and often included poems about players in the nationally syndicated column he began writing in 1917, said—in part–of Byron:

“It’s wonderful the way you face the throng of maddened players all season long;

While other umps get busted on the bean you pacify the athletes with a song.

You know that music charms the savage beast, and as they rush to stab you in the vest,

And tell you how they’ll tear you limb from limb, you sing like John McCormack at his best.”

More on Byron Wednesday.

“Murphy has Done More to Hurt Baseball”

26 Jul

Frank Chance was about to begin his second season managing the New York Yankees, but in the early part of 1914, he had still not let go of his feud with his former boss, Cubs President Charles Webb Murphy.

chance

Frank Chance

Murphy, Chance told a reporter for The Associated Press at his winter home in Los Angeles, was solely responsible for the formation of the Federal League:

“Charley Murphy has done more to hurt baseball than any other man who has been in the game in all the years that the sport has flourished. You can mark my words well, because he is going to continue to be an objectionable figure in the national pastime just so long as he is allowed to have any connection with any club under the jurisdiction of the national commission.”

cwmurphy.jpg

Chance said many of his friends said he “was crazy two years ago” when he sold his interest in the Cubs. He received $40,000 for his shares.

He said Charles Weeghman, the Chicago restaurant owner who had been trying to buy into a baseball team since 1911, “was for years an ardent Cub rooter. He soured on Murphy, and so did thousands of other patrons of the West Side ballpark.”

Chance wasn’t finished:

“Now, just a few words about the way Murphy handles ballplayers. When (Johnny) Evers was in poor health one spring (1911), Murphy found out that he would not be able to play the entire season. He wired me while the team was in Pittsburgh to that effect. And right there Murphy showed his hand.

“Evers who had been with the team for years and who had played great ball, would not have received a cent of salary that year if Murphy had had his way.

“Murphy, in his message said that he did not believe Evers should draw his pay for the season. I wouldn’t stand for giving Evers a raw deal of that sort, and Johnny got his salary, every dollar of it for the entire year. He played only a few games (46) for us that season.”

Chance went on to say how poorly Murphy treated Mordecai Brown and Joe Tinker, but said he wouldn’t bother to get into the “treatment” he received from Murphy, because:

“(T)hat’s past and gone and life is too short to let things like that embitter one and spoil his life.”

Just more than a month after Chance’s comments, Murphy was “persuaded” by National League President John Tener to sell his shares in the Cubs to Charles Taft—although Murphy disputed that claim, and said he voluntarily sold to Taft.

Damon Runyon, in his syndicated column in the Hearst Newspapers, summed up the Murphy affair:

“We know that when they throw him out, as they doubtless will throw him out, there will be someone else ready to take his place as official bugaboo, for there must be a bugaboo in baseball, else we might have no baseball.”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #18

7 Mar

Tener on Anson

In 1917, John Tener wrote an article in “Baseball Magazine” about Cap Anson, his former manager with the Chicago White Stockings.

John Tener

John Tener

The former pitcher and outfielder, who went on to serve in the United States Congress and as Governor of Pennsylvania, and who in 1917 was president of the National League said:

“Pop Anson was the Greatest Batter who ever lived.  You may look up his record, compare it with others and draw your own conclusions.  When I say this I am well aware of the claims of Ed Delehanty, Hans Wagner and many other great hitters.  I give them all due credit, but in my opinion, Anson was the greatest of them all.

"Cap" Anson

Anson

“He was, first of all, a free hitter. He loved batting…He had that true eye which enabled him to hit the ball squarely on the nose.  His hits were line drives.  They were solid smashes with the full force of his muscular shoulders behind them.”

[…]

“He was an excellent judge of the precise fraction of a second that he needed to swing that heavy bat of his against the best the pitcher could offer.  He didn’t exactly place his hits, but he contrived to drive the ball behind the base runner about where he wanted to drive it…He was big and strong and heavy.  Some hitters of the present day fatten their averages by their nimbleness in reaching first.  Anson drove the ball solidly into the outfield and took his time in going to first.”

Conte on Mendez

Jose Pepe Conte was a well-known sportswriter in Havana, Cuba. Frank Menke of Heart Newspaper’s International News Service (INS) said of him:

Jose Pepe Conte

Jose Pepe Conte

“Pepe is a fellow who knows heaps and heaps about ancient history, European customs, chemistry, baseball and prize fighting.”

The Pittsburgh Press called him:

“(A) Cuban newspaperman, political personage, and unearther of baseball talent.”

In 1912, the INS distributed an article Conte wrote about the pitcher he thought was the best ever:

“American baseball fans can talk all they want about their (Chief) Benders, (Christy) Mathewsons, (Ed) Walshes and (Mordecai) Browns, but down in our country we have a pitcher that none of the best batters in the country can touch. This is the famous Black Tornado, (Jose) Mendez.  Talk about speed.  Why, when he cuts loose at his hardest clip the ball bounces out of the catcher’s mitt Talk about speed, Mendez has to pitch most of the time without curves because we haven’t a catcher who can hold him.  To make things better, Mendez can bat like (Ty) Cobb.  He has won his own games on various occasions with smashes over the fences for home runs.  He weighs about 154 pounds and is a little fellow.”

Jose Mendez

Jose Mendez

[…]

“No one has been found who can hold him when he really extends himself.  He has shown his skill in the past when he has faced the best batters of the Cubs and Detroit teams when those teams were champions, and when the Athletics went there last year.  Mendez has more curves than any pitcher in America, and if some inventive genius could produce a whitening process whereby we could get the fellow into the big leagues he could win a pennant for either tail-end team in either league.”

Sullivan on Comiskey

In his book, “The National Game,” Al Spink said Ted Sullivan was “the best judge of a ball player in America, the man of widest vision in the baseball world, who predicted much for the National game years ago, and whose predictions have all come true.”

Ted Sullivan

Ted Sullivan

Sullivan was a player, manager, executive, and in 1921, he wrote a series of articles for The Washington Times called “The Best of my Sport Reminiscences.”  He said of Charles Comiskey, who he was crediting with “discovering” at St. Mary’s College in Kansas:

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

“As a player, Comiskey was easily the best first baseman of his time…His intuition in defining the thoughts of his opponents and making his play accordingly placed him head and shoulders over any man that played that position before or after.

“Comiskey was with John Ward and King Kelly one of the greatest of base runners.  I do not mean dress parade base running, either, merely to show the crowd he could run.  Comiskey’s base running was done at a place in the game when it meant victory for his side.  He was far from being the machine batter that Anson, Roger Connor and some others were; but as a run-getter, which means the combination of hitting, waiting, bunting and running, he outclassed all others.  Jack Doyle, when in his prime with Baltimore and New York, was the nearest approach to Comiskey in brainwork.  There are no others.”

“Soldiers ‘Over There’ Sore on Baseball Players”

25 Jan

In August of 1918 Harry “Moose” McCormick returned to the United States from the front lines in France—he served in the 42nd Infantry, The Rainbow Division, and according to The Washington Herald “has been in the front line trenches for nearly six months.”

Moose McCormick

Moose McCormick

The former outfielder-pinch hitter, who played his final big league game with the New York Giants in 1913, was at the Polo Grounds to watch the Giants sweep a doubleheader from the Boston Braves, and he came to deliver a message; one that had come repeatedly from the general public, but not yet from someone within baseball.

McCormick told reporters that while baseball was hugely popular among the troops in Europe, the major leagues were not.  The Washington Times said, under the headline:

Soldiers ‘Over There’ Sore on Baseball Players

“It may surprise the professional ball players of the United States to know that the American soldiers now fighting in France do not hold them in high esteem; that they do not scramble for news of how the big league races are going, and that they do not care whether (Ty) Cobb, and (Tris) Speaker, and (Frank) Baker are hitting .300 or 3,000.

“The fact that the ball players aren’t hitting in the big, big game across the water is the reason for this feeling.”

The Washington Times said McCormick, then a Lieutenant, “who had just returned from the shell-swept front,” and was in the states “under orders, the nature of which is secret.”

There were various reports as to why McCormick had returned.

The New York Globe said he had come home with “Wound Chevrons on his arm,” having received the badge after being “Mussed up considerably by a German shell.”  The New York Tribune said he had been “Invalided home” suffering from “Shell shock.”  The New York World said he returned with “A hacking cough caused by gas.”

McCormick told reporters:

“The feeling among the boys over there seems generally to be that the ball players haven’t acted on the level.  The soldiers feel that there has been too much evasion, too much hanging back, too much side stepping by the ball players when other men, just as good, have given up paying places and gone into the big game.  That seems to them the ONLY thing for real men just now.

“The boys are generally incensed over the statements they read to the effect that ball players have sought work in munitions plants and shipyards, where they can keep playing ball.  They regard that as ducking, as a sort of dodging of the issue.”

McCormick said, so complete was the disgust with baseball that “Stars and Stripes, the soldiers’ paper, has stopped printing the big league scores and standings.  That, it seems to me, ought to make baseball men, both players and owners, wake up.”

He said the men at the front were still “interested in baseball,” and “like to play ball,” but were having trouble getting enough baseballs:

Baseball game with members of the Twenty-eighth Division, Three Hundred and Second U.S. supply train in France

US Soldiers play in France

Governor (John) Tener sent me two every week, and they were worth their weight in gold.  The soldiers get plenty of chance to play it themselves.  They don’t take any interest in men playing it here anymore.”

McCormick, who would be promoted to the rank of captain by the war’s end, concluded that the consensus at the front was that America’s game had failed the country:

“The talk of the soldiers is that the ball players should have volunteered in a body and made up one big organization and gone into the country’s service to fight right at the start.  That would have been a great thing to do.”

“Who Cares about Color, when the Scores are Tied?”

6 Jan

Beauregard Fitzhugh Moseley was one of the primary financial backers of the Leland Giants and after the dispute which led to the departure of Frank Leland, he partnered with Rube Foster and served as business manager for the club when he and Foster won the right in court to continue using that name.

Beauregard Fitzhugh Moseley

Beauregard Fitzhugh Moseley

In January of 1911, he wrote an open letter to the readers of The Broad Axe, what the paper called “A baseball appeal of a worthy undertaking by a worthy man to worthy men:”

“We are undertaking to organize a Negro National League of America, an enterprise that that needs no prospectus to convince one of its necessity to our people, who are already forced out of the game from a national standpoint, with the closing in and narrowing each year our opportunity to play with the white semi-pro teams, because of the organization of these teams into minor state and city leagues.

“Here in Chicago, the City League has barred all but possibly one colored club; this fact alone presages the day when there will be none, (unless) the Negro comes to his own rescue by organizing and patronizing the game successfully which would itself force recognition from minor white leagues to play us and share in the receipts; for with six or eight National Negro clubs playing clean, scientific baseball the public would soon ask itself the question which of the National Leagues are the stronger; just as it is queried about the world’s pugilistic championship until the promoters of the game were compelled to answer at Reno (Nevada), July 4th last (The Jack Johnson/Jim Jeffries fight).

Johnson and Jeffries in Reno

Johnson and Jeffries in Reno

“In that contest, just as in the coming contest of the world’s best ball clubs the Negro will be prepared, if he acts wise to take care of himself and be heralded again Champion of the World, so let these who serve the Race and assist it in holding its own back up and encourage the national  movement for with it goes the hope of the Race in more than one direction, for be it known that there are no greater leveler of men than manly sport such as baseball which is admired by white and black alike, appeals to their pride as athletes and to their senses as the best test of physical and mental superiority and here on the diamond before the frenzied anxious populace the Negro has the best opportunity of his present day advantage to display ability, that taken the ball player in Pennsylvania, and California to the Gubernatorial chair.”

John Kinley Tener, a major league player, had just been elected governor of Pennsylvania and George Cooper Pardee, who had made a name for himself as a college and amateur ballplayer served as California’s governor from 1903-1907.

Moseley then asked the most important question:

“Who care(s) about color, when the scores are tied and the home team is at bat in the ninth inning, with two gone and two on base?

“What is wasted is a man that can hit, be he blue, black, yellow, grizzle or gray, a hit that scores (runners) from 2nd and 3rd and the batter is thereafter a hero; hence, the importance of being a ‘hitter’ is a great asset, greater perhaps than any other I can now recall.

“So I appeal to all Race loving men in the cities in which it has been agreed to place a National League club to organize an effort to secure not only the franchise but the best club of ball players possible to the end, that nothing should retard the entire success of the national undertaking.  Hesitancy means ruin.  Procrastination has almost drove the talent from the fold and stagnation will surely set in if a business turn is not thrown over and around the game, $300 is a mere bagatelle for cities like St. Louis, Kansas City, Louisville, Memphis, New Orleans, Mobile and Columbus to raise, it is just $10 each for 30 men and yet this is sufficient to secure a franchise and guarantee the making of the circuit by each club, besides it should be the best investment  now apparent and make those who invest it proud by the returns due them at the end of the season.”

Mosley predicted that each team in an eight-team league could turn enough of profit to repay investors and create operating capital for the following season.

He made a final pitch:

“(O)rganize, get 1o of your Race men together and write at once for your franchise, hustle, the time is short.  The Schedule Committee must report on February 27th next and the organization must be complete and ready to play ball by Easter Sunday.  Men of the Race this appeal is to you for you and yours.  It is in vain or shall we have a Negro National Baseball League?”

His plea for an enduring league was in vain.

Rube Foster deserted Moseley before the 1911 season to form the Chicago American Giants; the failure to form a league has been posited as one of the reasons for the split.  Without Foster, the Leland Giants quickly faded from prominence.

Moseley’s brief tenure as a baseball executive was over after the 1911 season.  He returned to his many business interests, including land holdings in “The Black Eden,” Idlewild, Michigan.  He also owned the Idlewild Hotel and Dixie Land Park at 33rd and Wabash in Chicago–The Chicago Defender said of the Idlewild “It is one of the most pretentious hotels conducted for Colored people in the United States.”  And he continued to practice law–The Defender noted that upwards of “90 percent” of his clients were white–and remained a political force in Chicago’s Black Belt; Moseley also served as a presidential elector for Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party in 1912.

Ad for Moseley's Dixie Land Park

Ad for Moseley’s Dixie Land Park

It would be nearly a decade until the formation of a league, and Moseley would not live to see it.

Just two months before his former business partner, Foster and other team owners met at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City in February of 1912 to form the Negro National League, Moseley died of Influenza.  He was 54.

Rube Foster

Rube Foster

“Daily Chats with Famous Ballplayers”

18 Sep

In 1916, a series of two to three paragraph items called “Daily Chats with Famous Ballplayers” (some papers called the feature different names) appeared in several smaller West Coast and Midwest newspapers.

Some highlights:

Oscar “Ossie” Vitt, third baseman for the Detroit Tigers, who survived a beaning from Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators on August 10, 1915:

“The world stopped moving when the ball nicked my bean.  Johnson thought I was killed and I guess I thought so myself for awhile, so far as I was able to think at all.

Ossie Vitt

Ossie Vitt

“My head proved to be the goods alright and wasn’t worse for wear.  But it upset Johnson so much that he couldn’t locate the plate and we pounded him all over the lot (Vitt was hit leading off the first inning—Johnson gave up eight runs after that in six innings and lost 8 to 2 to Detroit).”

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Henry “Hi” Jasper on the superstition of teammate Harry “Slim” Sallee:

“Sal’s pet superstition is that it’s bad luck for him to warm up with any catcher but the one who is to work in the game with him.

“If the playing backstop has batted last and has to put on his shin guards and armour before warming up, Sal will never throw a ball to the plate to any man who may come out of the dugout with a mitt.  He will throw either to the first or third baseman.”

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Al Mamaux on a lesson learned during a loss to the Chicago Cubs in September of 1914:

“Smart old timers can always make it tough for youngsters just breaking in.  I remember one day when I was the goat for a trick pulled by Roger Bresnahan.”

Mamaux

Al Mamaux

Mamaux said Chicago had two runners on base and Bresnahan was coaching third.

“(He was) talking real friendly like to me (then) hailed me suddenly as the ball was returned to me.  ‘Say Al, toss me that ball I want to look at it,’ said Roger.  I didn’t give it a second thought…tossed it towards him and I’ll be darned if he didn’t step to one side and yell to the runners to beat it home.  Each advanced a base and would have scored if Jimmy Viox hadn’t run his head off to recover the ball.  Believe me that one cured me.”

George Stallings, on suspensions and how badly the Boston Braves needed George Stallings:

“You don’t have to call an umpire all the names in the calendar to draw a suspension.  I got three days off for just remarking to (Charles “Cy”) Rigler that he ought to go to jail for umpiring a game like he did the other day.

George Stallings

George Stallings

“Nothing that I could say or do would make any difference.  What I can say though right now is that the action of (National League) President (John) Tener, coming as it does, with the race so close, appears peculiar to say the least (Tener said the suspension was for a series of altercations that Stallings and his players had with umpires during the two months before the August suspension was announced).

“Without any braggadocio I can say that my suspension will cripple my club considerably.  I know what my presence means to the club and so does President Tener.”

Boston won all three games during Stallings’ suspension and regained second place, but finished the season in third, five and half games behind the Brooklyn Robins.

“It smacks of Old-fashioned Common Sense”

26 Jun

For more than a century, major league baseball has looked for ways to increase hitting.  Or, as Bozeman Bulger of The New York World put it in 1917

“Overhauling the rules of baseball to make it harder for the pitcher and more of a joy ride for the boys who wield the ash has always been a favorite winter pastime.”

Burger said former pitcher and current National League President John Tener was “(C)onvinced that the public wants more hitting.”

John Tener

John Tener

Tener and others shared their ideas for rule changes with Bulger on the eve of the meeting of the rules committee.

“Tener proposes making the home plate larger and at the same time allowing a batter to take his base on three balls instead of four.”

[…]

“Then comes Charlie (Buck) Herzog (of the New York Giants) with a suggestion, perhaps the most interesting of all.  It is the outpost of a real imagination that is comprehensive. Before announcing his plan, Herzog calls attention to the injustice of calling strikes on very hard hit line drives that fall foul by inches.  To all intents and purposes, those are real scientific hits, and the fact that luck causes them to fall foul should not act upon the batter as a penalty.  In other words, he is being severely punished for really doing scientific work. Herzog suggests, therefore, that a zone be described along those two foul lines between third and the fence and between first and the ground limits.  This zone should be at least ten feet in width, and any ball hit therein is not to be called a foul.  At the same time, it is not to be called a safe hit.  In other words, the batter loses his hit by bad luck, but it relieves him of an unjust penalty.”

Buck Herzog

Buck Herzog

Incredibly, Bulger completely endorsed Herzog’s proposed rules change and claimed, “Every ballplayer in America” would agree, because “It smacks of old-fashioned common sense.”

Another rule change was proposed by Percy Duncan Haughton.  Haughton, a long-time college football coach (Cornell and Harvard), and Harvard baseball coach in 1915 (he also played both sports at Harvard) had become a part-owner of the Boston Braves in 1916.  Bulger said:

“Mr. Haughton’s scheme has not been taken very seriously by those who were studying these problems while he was still a football player, but there is a real satisfaction in finding a new magnate so much interested in the sport.  The President of the Braves proposes that the distance from third to home and from home to first be lessened by several inches.  It might help the batter a little, but an extreme change like that would be pecking at the one fundamental of the game that has stood all tests.”

The most practical suggestion came from Giants Manager John McGraw, who proposed that no rules be changed, but advocated a more lively ball.

Bulger, however, was sure some rules would change:

“(T)he powers that be appear to be intent upon really turning out a new model.”

The New York World's rendering of the proposed changes.

The New York World’s rendering of the proposed changes.

When the meetings at the Waldorf Astoria in New York ended two weeks later, Jack Veiock of the Hearst Newspapers International News Service said:

“(I)t was confidently expected that the members of the rules committee would get together and make a few alterations in the baseball code as it stands today.

“But the rules committee did nothing of the kind  The wise old heads who are in control of baseball are satisfied with the rules.”

 

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