Tag Archives: Johnstown Johnnies

“The one man in Baseball who did not Want to Rise”

15 Apr

William Malcolm Bingay of The Detroit News found a player he could not figure out:

“Somewhere in the big state of Pennsylvania there is a lean, wiry lad with a big under jaw and a crop of wire hair, who is eking out an existence tinning roofs. He escaped an awful fate, so he is happy. He might have been a major league ball player. His name is Johnson and he is on the Tiger reserve list, but he will not be taken South this spring.”

Charlie “Home Run” Johnson was an enigma—he was said to have a huge ego; The Trenton Times once said of him:

“If Home-Run Johnson gets his chest out much further he will crack his wish bone or else curve his spine so that it will never regain its normal shape.”

But Johnson refused to play far from Pennsylvania—he lived just outside Philadelphia in Chester.  When he spent the spring of 1907 with the Tigers, but when he was assigned to the Montreal Royals, The News said:

“The heavy hitting outfielder…is averse to playing in Montreal.”

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Home Run Johnson

Johnson instead played for the Johnstown Johnnies in the Tri-State League.

Bingay said:

“Johnson was the one man in baseball who did not want to rise.”

Johnson told Bingay

“’I don’t want to ply in the American League. I don’t want to play in any big league. I want to play around home.”

When he joined the Tigers on the trip south, Bingay said Johnson “had a strange idea of the power of baseball law,” thinking he had to come.

“’What did you come South for, then?’ ‘I was drafted.’ He said that in the voice of some Russian prisoner explaining why he was sent to Siberia.”

According to Bingay, Johnson, who picked up the additional nickname,“Little Ban” after  American League President Ban Johnson,  not only wanted nothing to do with major league baseball, he barely had anything to do with his teammates:

“Johnson never spoke to anybody on the team unless spoken to. He spent his nights in his rooms with a massive book about the size of a family dictionary. It was entitled ‘Tales of the Seven Murderers” and described life in the ‘Wild and wicked West.’ He was often so deeply interested in the doings of his bloodthirsty heroes that he would take the book to the dinner table with him.”

On his way the his “forced” spring service with the Tigers, Johnson’s trunk apparently went missing, forcing him, according to Bingay to use borrowed clothes on and off the field:

“Johnson on the ball field was a sight never to be forgotten. If you had never seen Little Ban in his makeup, (vaudeville actor) Eddie Foy would appear as an imitation. He had a pair of Sam Crawford’s pants, once white; George Mullin’s shirt and (Germany) Schaefer’s cap; which completely covered his ears.”

Bingay said Johnson played that spring with a pair of congress gaiters in the place of his lost baseball shoes, and:

“Once, during a heated scrub game he lost his shoe running from first to second, and they tagged him out because he stopped to sweat at (first baseman Claude) Rossman, who had kicked it into right field.”

Johnson apparently managed to annoy his manager as well:

“He used to keep Jennings up night after night until almost dawn, knocking at his door to find out ‘just how he could get his trunk.’”

Johnson went home to Chester and stayed there. Throughout May it was rumored he was joining the York White Roses in the Tri-State League; that fell through and he played for a semi-pro team in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At the end of July, he joined the Johnstown Johnnies in the Tri-State.

He hit .262 in 1907 and returned to Johnstown the following season; hitting, hitting .296 and leading the Tri-State with nine home runs.

On September 1, Johnson was drafted by a major league team agreeable to him—one 18 miles away from his home in Chester–the Philadelphia Phillies.

Johnson made his major league debut on September 21, pinch hitting in the first game of a double header; he started the second game in left field. The local boy’s arrival to the big leagues was barely noticed by the local press, The Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“(Sherry) Magee started the first game in left field but gave way to young Johnson in the second battle…Johnson failed to get a hit during five times up but managed to take care of everything which came his way in the field.”

Johnson appeared in six games for the Phillies, he was 4 for 16 with two RBI,

By the end of the season, The Philadelphia Press predicted:

“Johnson, the Johnstown pickup, undoubtedly will get a thorough trial with the Phillies next spring. He is a natural batsman and hits the ball with terrible force.”

After the 1908 season, the Detroit Tigers filed a claim against the $750 draft price paid by the Phillies for Johnson’s contract, claiming they still held his rights. The Tigers were eventually awarded half.

The prediction that Johnson would return to the Phillies was wrong, shortly before the team when South in the spring of 1909, The Press reported that 31-year-old journeyman Pep Deininger and minor leaguer Charlie Hanford would instead be given the opportunity to be the Phillies extra outfielder; Deininger made the club. Johnson returned to Johnstown.

Johnson never went to camp with another major league club, but stayed a star, near home, with the New York State and Tri-State League clubs.  The biggest highlight of his career was his league-leading .403 average for the Trenton Tigers in 1912—he also hit 14 home runs.

Johnson hit better than .300 for two more seasons in the Tri-State League but battled injuries and returned home to Chester after the 1914 season. He worked for the rest of his life in a clothing factory—for the American Viscose Company—in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. He and his wife had eight children.

He died of a heart attack at the factory at age 55.  His obituary in The Delaware County Daily Times mentioned that he was a local baseball legend but said he had only had a “try-out with the Phillies,” and did mention his two weeks a major leaguer.

Adventures in Barnstorming: Anson’s Colts

1 Apr

Cap Anson was broke.  Again.

In January of 1909, he appeared in “debtors court” in Chicago over $111 owed to the Chicago House Wrecking Company.  Anson told Judge Sheridan E. Fry he was “busted.”

The judge asked Anson about his stock in the company that owned Chicago’s Coliseum. Anson said, “I did but the bank’s got it now.  I even owe them money on it.”

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Anson

The judge dismissed the case.  The Chicago Tribune said as Anson was leaving the courtroom:

‘”Three strikes and out,’ half called a man among the spectators.

“The ‘Cap’ paused a moment with his hand on the door knob.

“’There is still another inning,’ he offered as he stepped into the corridor.  Someone started to applaud, and the bailiff forgot to rap for order, and the judge looked on indulgently.”

A rumor made the rounds in subsequent days that Cubs President Charles Webb Murphy was trying to get Anson appointed supervisor of National League umpires. National League President Harry Pulliam quickly killed the idea, The Detroit Free Press said:

“Mr. Pulliam comes through with the sensible suggestion that if Chicago wishes to do anything for Anson it would do better to provide the job itself.”

Anson’s former teammate, Evangelist Billy Sunday, told The Associated Press he was willing to help:

“So, poor old ‘Cap’ Anson is busted! Well, that’s too bad. We ought to help that old boy in some way.

“The Chicago people ought to help ‘old Cap’ out. They ought to give him a benefit. I’d like to help him myself.”

With the job with the National League not forthcoming, no offer from the Cubs, and Anson’s apparently turning down Sunday’s help, he set out on a 5,000-mile barnstorming tour with his Chicago City League amateur team, Anson’s Colts.  Anson, who celebrated his 57th birthday on tour, played first base on a club that included future major leaguers Fred Kommers, George Cutshaw, and Biff Schaller.

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The barnstorming Colts, Anson top center

The tour started in March 28 in South Bend, Indiana; the Colts lost games on the 28th and 29th to the Central League South Bend Greens.

On April 1, Anson’s Colts played the Cincinnati Reds. Thirty-nine-year-old Clark Griffith took the mound for the Reds. Jack Ryder of The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“Seventy-nine persons witnessed a game of ball at League Park yesterday afternoon which would have furnished several thousand with material for conversation if they had only been there to observe it.”

Griffith pitcher=d a complete game and went 5 for 5 with a triple. In a 15-4 victory; he allowed just seven hits, Anson had two of them in four trips to the plate.

Ryder said of Anson:

“That game old boy played first base for his team, stuck through to the finish, and was the only man on his side who could do much of anything with the delivery of Mr. Griffith.”

Ryder said Anson also “handled perfectly,” every play at first base:

“Remarkable indeed was the spectacle of this great player, now nearly 60 years of age, hitting them out as he did in the days of old and handling thrown balls at his corner like a youngster.  Will there ever be another like him?”

Despite the praise from Ryder, third baseman Hans Lober said of the team from Chicago:

“Teams like…Anson’s Colts don’t give you just the kind of work you need.”

The Colts dropped two more games in Ohio to the American Association Columbus Senators.

Anson’s barnstormers finally won a game on April 4; beating the Central League’s Wheeling Stogies 10 to 4.

The Colts won the next day in Washington D.C., defeating a team from the government departmental league 11 to 1.  Anson had two hits and stole a base.  The Washington Evening Star said:

“The grand old man of the game distinguished himself by playing and errorless game at first.”

The only other highlight of the game was the first appearance of the new electric scoreboard at American League Park.  The Evening Star said:

“It proved a great success and convinced those present that it will undoubtedly make a big hit with the local fans who will witness major league games this summer.”

Against professional competition the next day in Baltimore, the Eastern League Orioles with Rube Dessau on the mound, shutout the Colts 8 to 0; Anson was hitless and committed two errors.

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Ad for the Orioles game

After a 10 to 8 loss to the Reading club of the Atlantic League on April 7, the Colts traveled to Philadelphia for a game with the Athletics the following day.

The Philadelphia Inquirer said of the game:

“The Athletics held Pop Anson and his Colts all too cheaply yesterday and before they realized it the traveling Chicagoans had secured such a lead that they succeeded in beating the White Elephants at Broad and Huntington Streets by a score of 6 to 3.”

Anson had two hits, one of Biff Schlitzer and another off losing pitcher Jimmy Dygert, and accepted 21 error-free chances at first in a 10-inning victory.

Although only “a couple of hundred” fans turned out The Philadelphia Press said:

“Anson played first in a style that showed he has not forgotten any of his baseball cunning.”

Anson also promised reporters the Colts would win upcoming games with the Giants and Red Sox.

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Anson on tour

The Colts traveled to New Jersey to play the Trenton Tigers of the Tri-State League the following day. The Evening Times of that city said:

“Anson came over to Trenton hugging to his breast fond recollections of the victory over Connie Mack’s Athletics, won the previous day.  Trenton seemed only a small blot on the map compared to the Athletics and he counted on winning in a common canter.

“Alas how rudely were these delusions shattered by these smashing, dashing, crashing Trentons that manager (Percy) Stetler has corralled.”

The Colts lost 13-5, Anson was 1 for 4 and made an error.

On to Newark the following day to play the Eastern League Indians.  The Colts lost 7 to 0, but The Newark Evening News said:

“The way (Anson) cavorted around first base, picking low throws from the earth, and pulling down sizzling liners with either hand, made spectators gaze upon him in wonderment.”

The toll of travel and games nearly every day appeared to hit Anson on April 12, five days before his 57th birthday in Waterbury, Connecticut.  The Colts won 4 to 2, but The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“Anson’s batting eye was weak…he fanned furiously in five futile trips to the plate.  He was the only one who didn’t get a hit.”

The following day, The New York Times said the “Colts played a light, fumbly, amateurish game though the boss himself had said before it started that they would take a scalp.”

The Giants won 7 to 1 and the game featured two other old-timers:

“(Wilbert) Robinson, ancient catcher of Baltimore, and Dan Brouthers, more ancient first baseman of the old Buffalo club, who came down from Wappinger’s Falls ‘to help out.’ Robinson caught the whole nine innings; Brouthers stood at first base after the fifth inning.”

Only “a few hundred people” came out on a cold, rainy day to see the three legends.  Anson was 1 for 4, Brouthers 0 for 1, and Robinson, who also managed the Giants in place of John McGraw, was 2 for 4.

Games scheduled for Worcester and Springfield, Massachusetts were cancelled due to poor weather and the team did not play again until April 16, In Hartford against the Connecticut State League’s Senators.

 

The Hartford Courant said Anson struggled at the plate, and when pitcher Chick Evans struck him out in the third inning:

“John W. Rogers, the vocal member of the local double umpire system, obliged with ‘It isn’t what you Used to be, but What you are Today.”

The Colts lost 8 to 2.

The team lost again the following day, on Anson’s birthday, 5 to 3 to the Providence Grays of the Eastern League. Anson was 1 for 4.

The Boston Globe said:

“Capt. Anson was warmly greeted every time he came to bat. He showed much of his old-time skill in fielding, covering first base in grand style.”

The paper—as did most during the tour–wrongly added a year to Anson’s age, saying he turned 58 that day.
The Colts were back in New York the following day but were the victims of a seldom enforced ban on Sunday baseball while playing a game against the semi-pro Carsey’s Manhattans ant Manhattan Field.

The Chicago Daily News said:

“The officers stopped the game after six innings of play. Throughout the Bronx the police were active in suppressing Sunday ballplaying, but this is said to be the first time that a game on Manhattan Field has thus been broken up.”

The score at the end of six innings was not reported.

The next day in Binghamton, New York, two innings of scoreless baseball between the Colts and the New York State League Bingoes, were bookended by rain and the field “looked like a lake” before the game was called, according to The Binghamton Press.

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Ad for the rained out Binghamton game

On to Pennsylvania, the Colts were scheduled to play Anson’s old White Stockings teammate Malachi Kittridge’s Wilkes-Barre Barons, but the that game was rained out as well.

The Tri-State League’s Johnstown Johnnies beat the Colts 11 to 2, no full box score appears to have survived.

On to Ohio and a 4 to 1 loss to the Dayton Veterans—Anson added two more hits and played error free.

On April 24, The Colts hit Indiana, and lost 8 to 3.

The Fort Wayne Sentinel noted that it was the first time since 1871 that Anson has played a game in their city—as a member of the Rockford Forest Cities.

Anson—who also gave his age as 58 rather than 57– told the paper:

“I’m just a kid at fifty-eight.”

Despite feeling like a hit, Anson did collect either of the Colts’ two hits in the loss.

The tour ended on April 25 in Terre Haute with a 13 to 1 shellacking at the hands of the Hottentots, the eventual basement dwellers of the Central League.

Anson capped the tour with one hit in four trips and an error.

The club returned to Chicago amid little fanfare and the tour likely lost money for Anson, who found himself “busted” several more times before his death in 1922.

The best anyone could say about the tour was a tiny item buried in the bottom of The Chicago Tribune’s sports page:

“Capt. Anson and his ball team returned yesterday from the first invasion of the East ever made by a local semi-pro team. While the team lost a majority of the games played, it paved the way for future visits and other local semi-pro teams are expected to follow the Captain’s example. The veteran was received warmly in all of the towns in which he played.”

The paper ignored the fact that Rube Foster and the Leland Giants—also members of the Chicago City League—had made two similar trips.

“I Consider him a Weak, Foolish Talker”

13 Nov

Bill Phyle was a no-show.  He failed to appear before Southern Association President William Kavanaugh at the league’s hearing regarding his charges that the end of the 1903 season was fixed.  After the league suspended him he failed to appear in St. Louis to defend his charges in front of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL).  He claimed he was too ill to attend either meeting.

As a result he was expelled from organized baseball in October of 1903.  His appeal was denied in December.

Phyle had very few supporters by the time his fate was settled by the NAPBL, but he still had at least one—kind of:  Milwaukee Brewers Manager “Pongo” Joe Cantillon, the man who sold Phyle’s contract to the Memphis Egyptians.

Joe Cantillon

Joe Cantillon

Cantillon told William A. Phelon of The Chicago Daily News that his former player wasn’t too bright, but that he also wasn’t wrong:

“I consider him a weak, foolish talker, who opened his head when it did not do him any good.  Just the same, Billy Phyle had cause for the charges which he made, and I got it good and straight that there was work done in the Southern league last season which was on the scandalous pattern.”

Cantillon stopped short of saying the season was fixed—but not very far short:

“Understand I do not say, neither does Phyle charge, that any games were sold, or that either manager or club owners were in on any such deals.   Even though there are thousands who say—apparently with mighty good reason—that the league is crooked, always has been crooked since it started, and always will be crooked—I do not accuse anyone of selling out.”

Cantillon then came pretty close to accusing Atlanta of selling out:

“This is the way the thing was done—and if anybody wants to howl I’ll show the goods and produce the names.  When Memphis was playing Atlanta it was a case of anything to beat out Little Rock.  The Atlanta players, knowing that their only chances had gone glimmering, were anxious to help their friend’s to beat Mike Finn’s gang (Little Rock).  There was no sell out and there were no intentional errors—nothing so gross and coarse as that.  But a couple of the best regulars on the Atlanta team were laid off; a couple of substitutes were put in their places; a raw, unseasoned amateur was sent in to pitch, and then, to make assurances doubly sure, the Atlanta catcher told each Memphis batsman just what to expect as he came to the plate.”

Cantillon also said the Birmingham Barons were “trying to help (Little Rock) along,” and:

“Every player in the league was dead wise to the whole situation, but Billy Phyle was the only man who was foolish enough to open his face, and he got soaked proper.”

Cantillon claimed to “positively know” that Phyle had been sick, and that was the only reason he failed to appear to substantiate his claims in front the league and the NAPBL.  Regardless, he said Phyle would have had a difficult time:

“Even if he had been able to attend, what show would he have had, with every manager determined to clear his own skirts and swat Bill for the squeal he made?”

Cantillon challenged anyone in the Southern Association to refute his allegations.

In February of 1904 Cantillon cancelled a scheduled spring tour of the South and Phelon said in The Daily News that Southern Association teams had refused to play against Brewers.

The following month Clark Griffith, who was in the South with the New York Highlanders, told The Atlanta Constitution that Cantillon was “ a nice fellow,” who “had been misquoted and had not authorized the interview, and in fact knew nothing of it until it appeared in the press.”

Cantillon himself never directly denied his statement, but The Constitution, content to keep the focus of Southern wrath on Phyle was happy to give the Milwaukee manager a pass:

“(Griffith’s claim) puts a new light on the question and it is very probable that he has been judged too harshly in the south…Phyle as a baseball issue is now dead.  Any effort to revive him and bring him forward on the stage either as a hero suffering persecution or a sick man worrying his life out by the blacklist hanging over him, will meet with the opposition of every paper in the south.”

Phyle went to Toledo and spent the spring and summer wiring Southern Association President Kavanaugh asking for reinstatement so his contract could be assigned to the Mud Hens.  After his application was rejected in May, and again in July, Phyle joined the independent Youngstown Ohio Works team.  The team played exhibition games that summer with the Brooklyn Superbas and Pittsburgh Pirates—both National League clubs were fined $100 for playing against the blacklisted Phyle.

(Some sources list Phyle as a member of the 1904 Johnstown Johnnies in the independent Pennsylvania League, but several Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Williamsport Gazette and The Scranton  Republican said in August “Phyle turned down a $225 per month offer from Johnstown.”)

Phyle became part of another scandal in 1905.

Bill Phyle

Bill Phyle

Youngstown joined the newly formed Ohio-Pennsylvania League, and needed to submit a roster to the NAPBL for approval.  Phyle’s name did not appear on the submitted list, but he played third base for the club all season, including an exhibition with the Cincinnati Reds on August 31. Youngstown was fined $500 in mid September and ordered to release Phyle.  Cincinnati was fined $100.

Phyle was finally reinstated in February of 1906, after he submitted a letter to the directors of the Southern Association retracting all of his 1903 allegations.

His contract was assigned to the Nashville Volunteers who sold him to the Kansas City Blues in the American Association.  After hitting .295 in 72 games, Phyle got one last trip to the National League.  He was traded to the St. Louis; he hit just .178 for the Cardinals.  He retired after playing three years in the Eastern League with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1907-1909.

More than twenty years later Joe Cantillon was apparently forgiven in the South.  He managed the Little Rock Travelers to back-to-back eighth place finishes in 1926 and 1927.

The rest of Bill Phyle’s story next week.