Tag Archives: Kansas City Blues

“The fans make us the ‘goat’ for Everything”

21 Nov

Chicago Orphans Manager Tom Burns suspended pitcher Bill Phyle without pay in August of 1899, even after Burns was replaced by Tom Loftus, Phyle remained in limbo.

Tom Loftus

Tom Loftus

In January Hugh Fullerton said in The Chicago Tribune that Loftus “probably will give him a chance.”  But in early February The Chicago Inter Ocean said even though Phyle had met with team President James Hart nothing had been resolved.  Phyle told the paper he was offered a contract but was “in no hurry to sign.”

Phyle finally signed at the end of the February, but The Tribune said Chicago would most likely trade him “although Loftus thinks highly of him.”

The team trained in West Baden Springs, Indiana, where according to The Tribune Phyle was “sarcastically called ‘Lucky,’ because of his proverbial hard luck, (he) rarely escapes a day without being hurt.”  He also managed to alienate his new manager.

After several days of poor weather in Indiana, Loftus decided to take the team further south, to Selma, Alabama on March 18.  According to The Tribune Phyle was not on the train:

“Phyle may not be with the team in Selma.  He left Friday (March 16), announcing he was going to see the fights in Chicago.  Manager Loftus hunted up the pitcher before he departed and told him it was a bad plan to start the year in such a manner.  Phyle then said he was ill and was making the journey in order to consult a physician in Chicago.”

Phyle did return from Chicago (where he claimed he had an unspecified operation), and joined the team on the trip south.  Upon his return he continued to suffer a series of illnesses and injuries, which included a bad reaction to a vaccination and a being hit in the knee with a thrown bat, both of which kept him inactive for several days.

Phyle was left in Chicago when the team opened the season in Cincinnati, and his imminent trade or release was speculated upon nearly daily in the Chicago press; he was finally traded to the Kansas City Blues in the American League with Sam Dungan and Bill Everitt for John Ganzel on May 18.  Phyle refused to report to Kansas City and spent the season playing for Chicago City League teams and a semi-pro team in DeKalb County, Illinois.  He was also a regular attendee at Chicago’s boxing venues and was said to own a piece of featherweight contender Eddie Santry.

Phyle returned to the National League in 1901 posting a 7-10 record for the New York Giants.  In 1902 he went to the California League as an infielder and never pitched again.  After his controversial exit from Memphis in 1903—and the aftermath—he continued to play until 1909.

Phyle worked as a boxing referee and as an umpire for more than 20 years in the Canadian, Eastern and Pacific Coast and International  Leagues, and was involved in two final controversies.

Bill Phyle, 1913

Bill Phyle, 1913

In 1920 a grand jury was impaneled in Los Angeles to investigate charges of game fixing in the Pacific Coast League.  Players Harl Maggert, William “Babe” Borton, Bill Rumler and Gene Dale were implicated.  While all criminal charges were eventually dismissed, the four were banned from baseball in 1921.

Phyle was called to testify in front of the grand jury, and said umpires were often blamed when players were crooked:

“The fans make us the ‘goat’ for everything that goes on during the ball game.  How many times we have suffered to suit the whims of a ballplayer who might have been working with the gamblers will never be known.  They just slough us around, call us whatever names they please and yell murder when we happen to fire them out of the game or have them suspended.

“An umpire should have the same authority as a referee has in the prize-ring.  If he believes a ballplayer isn’t giving his best toward the game, he ought to have the privilege of ousting him without taking the manager into confidence.”

In July of 1923 Phyle was working an International League game between the Baltimore Orioles and Rochester Tribe.  Phyle called a Rochester runner safe at first, then immediately reversed his decision.  He was dismissed the following day by league President John Conway Toole.

As a result of the dismissal, four other umpires resigned in sympathy.  Toole, who was attending the game, claimed he had not released him because of the blown call, but because Phyle had failed to work a double hitter he was assigned to earlier in the month.   The decision was upheld, and within three days the four other umpires withdrew their resignation.

Phyle ended his career back in the Pacific Coast League in 1926, and died in Los Angeles in 1953.

Burns “Put the Punishment on Phyle”

20 Nov

After holding out over a temperance clause the Chicago Orphans added to his contract, Bill Phyle finally signed in late March of 1899.  He reported to spring training in New Mexico anywhere from 10 to 30 pounds overweight (depending on the source) and struggled all season to regain the form he showed the previous season.

On April 17 he was beaten 8-0 by the Louisville Colonels in first start.

On April 25 he lost 3-2 to the St. Louis Perfectos.  The Chicago Tribune said “Phyle gave away the game by distributing bases on balls in just the spots where timely hits followed and transformed the favors into tallies that gave the victory.”

William Phelon, The Chicago Daily News baseball writer, disagreed.  He said Phyle’s “work was of sterling quality.”

Regardless, Chicago Manager Tom Burns didn’t give Phyle another opportunity to pitch for more than a month.

Phelon said it was a mistake for Burns to not use Phyle.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said after the team lost seven of nine games in May “it is passing strange that young Phyle is not given a chance.  On last year’s form Phyle is as good as, if not better than (Jack) Taylor.  The paper called Phyle’s performance in the St. Louis game “gilt-edged” and blamed the loss on “comrades that gave the victory to the enemy.”

Finally, on May 28 Phyle pitched again.   He lost 4 to 3 to the Washington Senators; he gave up three runs on five straight hits with two outs in the ninth.

He lost again on June 1, 7-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies.  Phelon’s opinion of the pitcher was unchanged, and said the losses were simply bad luck:

“Phyle has now lost four straight games.  It is Phyle’s luck to be stuck in whenever the other pitchers have won about three straight, and the team is just about unavoidably due to lose.”

On June 5 Phyle did his best pitching of the season–a victory he is not credited with in the record books.

With the Orphans trailing the Baltimore Orioles 3 to 2 in the third inning, pitcher Clark Griffith was ejected for arguing a called ball.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“It was a queer game.  Phyle pitched after Griffith had been benched…holding the Orioles helpless.”

Chicago won 9 to 4.  And while the Chicago newspapers credited the victory to Phyle, the record books do not.

Box score for June 5 game.  Phyle relieved Clark Griffith in the 3rd inning.

Box score for June 5 game. Phyle relieved Clark Griffith in the 3rd inning.

Phyle became ill later the same week, (some sources said it was recurring malaria), a week later he fell off a bicycle and missed two more weeks.  When he returned to the team on June 22, the Boston Beaneaters beat him 5 to 1.

He was credited with his first “official” win on July 1—a game The Inter Ocean called “a comedy of errors,” and a “depressing exhibition.”   He beat the New York Giants 10 to 9, allowing 10 hits and giving up seven runs in the first two innings.  Each team committed seven errors.

Box score of Bill Phyle's only "official" victory of 1899.

Box score of Bill Phyle’s only “official” victory of 1899.

Chicago went into a slump that would last for the rest of the season; after Phyle’s July 1 win the team was 38-24, in third place, and went 37-49 the rest of the way finishing eighth.

Phyle lost again on July 9 and July 24, and rumors began to circulate that he would be released or traded back to Charlie Comiskey’s St. Paul Saints.

On August 6 Phyle lost 10 to 9 to the Cleveland Spiders.  One week later while the team was on the road, The Inter Ocean reported that he “was sent home by manager Burns.”

The Tribune called Phyle “the scapegoat” and said he and three unnamed teammates  “celebrated after beating a horse race at Washington and Manager Burns, to call a halt, put the punishment on Phyle.

Phelon wrote in The Daily News:

“When the club started for Philadelphia he was told to go home ‘You are through young man, go back to Chicago,’ said Burns, and Phyle went back.  He went back in a rage too, and says he will tell (team president) Jim Hart a lot of things. He says that he has been held up to public derision as a drunkard, all season, and that Burns plays favorites, allowing his friends to jag up as much as they wish and turning all the trouble on others.”

Phelon remained supportive of the pitcher in The Daily News, but in The Sporting Life he reported that Phyle, a former boxer, had deserted the team in early August to go to “St. Louis to see a prize fight, and was not on hand when sorely needed.”

While the relationship between Hart and Burns was strained, and Burns would be replaced at season’s end, Phyle’s complaints went nowhere with the team president and he was suspended without pay.

Ten days after Phyle was suspended Phelon reported that the Baltimore Orioles had offered to trade for or buy Phyle,” (John) McGraw has taken quite a fancy to the young pitcher.”  Hart refused to make a deal.

Phyle never pitched for Chicago again, he is credited with a 1-8 record and 4.20 ERA.

The last Bill Phyle chapter—tomorrow.

“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.

“Another Phil Pitcher was Sacrificed on the altar of a Futile Attack”

6 Aug

When George Chalmers returned from Cuba with the Philadelphia Phillies in November of 1911 he wasn’t the same pitcher.

After pitching the first game of the series against Almendares and the great Cuban pitcher Jose Mendez, Chalmers saw little action in the final eight games.

While training in Hot Springs, Arkansas in the spring of 1912 it became clear that Chalmers’ shoulder was in bad shape.  The Philadelphia Inquirer said he was sent from Hot Springs to Youngstown, Ohio to “visit ‘Bonesetter’ Reese.” (John D. Reese was a Welsh-born “practitioner of alternative medicine.” The  “self trained”  Reese was, according to The Pittsburgh Press, visited by many of baseball’s biggest stars, including Frank Chance, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and John McGraw.  At the same time he was condemned by Ohio physicians who said there was no evidence of Reese “curing a single case where there was actual fracture or displacement of bone.”)

The famous “Bonesetter” was unable to do anything for Chalmers.  The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader said in April:

“It is reported on good authority that Chalmers, one of the Phillies star pitchers, will be unable to deliver the goods this season owing to the condition of his pitching arm.”

As a result of the injury Chalmers only appeared in 12 games in 1912, with a 3-4 record, and didn’t pitch at all from July 5 until September 4.   At the end of the season Phillies owner Horace Fogel, who would soon find himself chased out of the game, used Chalmers’ injury to suggest a change in how pitchers were paid.  According to The Philadelphia Bulletin:Ho

“Horace wants to employ pitchers on the percentage basis, paying them so much per game—no game, no pay.

“The Phillies President conceived the idea after he had figured that it had cost him an average of $800 per game for the few games pitched by George Chalmers during the present season.”

Phillies team photo from George Chalmers personal collection--appears to be the 1912 team.

Team photo from George Chalmers’ personal collection

The $800 per game figure was clearly wrong—Chalmers would have not earned anywhere near $9600 for the 1912 season (Christy Mathewson made between $8000 and $9000), Chalmers and “Pete” Alexander both probably made less than $3000.  It is doubtful Fogel’s plan would have gone anywhere had he remained president of the Phillies.

The following season was no better; with no improvement to the injured shoulder, Chalmers appeared in 26 games, 15 as a starter, and was 3-10 with 4.81 ERA.  It got so bad that after a loss near the end of the season The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader said:

“Our old friend ‘Dut’ Chalmers got another trimming yesterday.  It has gotten to be such a regular thing for Chalmers to be beaten that he doesn’t mind it anymore.”

Two of the Phillies best pitchers in 1913, Tom Seaton (27-12), and Addison “Ad” Brennan (14-12) jumped to the Federal League, making Chalmers and his injured shoulder even more critical to the Phillies hopes for 1914.

In March The Philadelphia Inquirer said Chalmers had spent the winter in Hot Springs rehabilitating his shoulder and appeared “to be in splendid shape,” when he reported to spring training in Wilmington, North Carolina, and “(Charles “Red”) Dooin is thanking his lucky stars that Chalmers is in camp.”

The season turned out to be Chalmers’ worst.  He pitched in three games, losing all three with an ERA of 5.50, and he Phillies released him on June 22.  The Inquirer said his shoulder had never healed and attributed the injury to “rheumatism and a misplaced muscle.”

George "Dut" Chalmers

George “Dut” Chalmers

The Pittsburgh Press said:

“The frailty of baseball life and the quickness with which a career in the big show may be ruined are shown again in the case of George Chalmers…Chalmers may recover and come back some time, but it is doubtful, and his going marks the untimely end of a career that promised to be one of the most brilliant in baseball pitching history.”

According to The Inquirer, he was not yet ready for the end:

“Chalmers…had mighty little money, about $400 in all, and his best friends advised him to stick the little old four hundred into some good business and forget baseball…Good doctors had told George that his arm was gone.  Other pitchers, real friends of the Phillies star, had told him the same thing…Then he heard of a specialist in New York who had done a great job on another pitcher’s arm which had seemed to be gone (no articles mentioned the name of the specialist or the other pitcher).”

With his arm seemingly better, Chalmers was invited to spring training with John McGraw’s New York Giants in Marlin, Texas.  The New York Mail said “he looked good at Marlin,” but the Giants let him go before the season began.  On April 20 he was signed again by the Phillies, and sent out to pitch the next day.  The Inquirer said:

 “George Chalmers, once a Philly discard and lately spurned by the Giants, with whom he trained during the spring trip to the Southland, was the hero of today’s festive occasion for Philadelphia.  Chalmers had been without a big league contract and he was signed by (manager Pat) Moran only yesterday.  But he gave him a quick trial by shunting him at the Giants, and he showed his gratitude to the Quaker boss by pitching the best game of his career.”

Chalmers gave up only two hits and beat the Giants 6-1.

As the Phillies fifth starter in 1915 he was 8-9 with a 2.48 ERA, appearing in 26 games.  Jack Kofoed, a sportswriter for The Philadelphia Record said in “Baseball Magazine”that Chalmers’ record did not reflect how well he pitched:

“Throughout the season Chalmers twirled splendid ball, but played in tougher luck than any man on the Philly staff.  Had fate been as kind to him as to Al Demaree (14-11 3.05 ERA) , for instance, he would have won twice the number of games he did.  But the Phillies played more weird ball behind him than in back of any man on the staff.”

The Phillies won the National League pennant, and met the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.  With Philadelphia down two games to one, Chalmers was Moran’s choice to pitch game four in Boston.

Facing Ernie Shore, who won 19 games for the Red Sox, Chalmers pitched well, but lost 2-1 (the same score of Philadelphia’s losses Geo 2 and 3); The Inquirer said:

“Another Phil pitcher was sacrificed on the altar of a futile attack…through the futile efforts of his companions to obtain for him even the slender margin that was all he required.”

The Red Sox beat the Phillies four games to one.

In November of 1915 several Pennsylvania papers said Chalmers had used his “World Series coin as a matrimonial nest egg.”

The following season was his last.  The shoulder injury returned and the Phillies only used Chalmers in 12 games, he was 1-4 with a 3.19 ERA.  He did not appear in a game after August 7, and was released at the end of the season.  After an unsuccessful attempt to catch on with the Kansas City Blues in the American Association in 1917 Chalmers career was over before his 29th birthday.

In the waning days of his career, The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader said:

“’Dut,’ as George is called by his playmates is a fine, upstanding, intelligent young fellow, with all the sturdy Scotch virtues as well as a Scotch burr in his speech, and whether or not he lasts in baseball he is very likely to be successful in life.”

Chalmers retired to New York and died in the Bronx in 1960.

Special thanks to Karen Weiss, George Chalmers’ great niece, for generously providing copies of photos from Mr. Chalmers’ scrapbook.

Gus Dorner’s Spitball

7 Jun

dorner1 dorner2

Augustus “Gus” Dorner suddenly became a successful pitcher in 1904.  He had brief trials with Cleveland in the American League in 1902 and ’03, he was 6-6 and control was a problem; on May 23, 1903, walked 11 batters in a game against the Philadelphia Athletics.  He finished the 1903 season with the Columbus Senators in the American Association posting a 7-7 record.

The next two seasons in Columbus Dorner was 18-10, and 29-8.  The Fort Wayne Daily News said:

“The big German attributes his success to condition, control, study of the batsman and mastery of the spitball.”

Dorner said, “I use the spitball a great deal.”  As a result of his new pitch he said:

“(I) have not had the slightest trouble with my arm this year.  I have worked hard to get control and perfect the spit ball.”

The magic was short-lived.  Dorner earned a return to the big leagues in 1906 but was a combined 8-26 with the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Beaneaters.  Overall he was 29-62 in parts of four seasons with Boston.

Gus Dorner

Gus Dorner

He didn’t fare much better in the minor leagues, going 25-29 his last three seasons as a professional.  After his release from Boston in May of 1909, he finished the season with the American Association’s Kansas City Blues with a 9-18 record.  The last two years of his career were spent with the Wilkes-Barre Barons in the New York State League and the Harrisburg Senators in the Tri-State League.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #4

22 May

A Ballplayers Hands

Joe Ardner played second base in the National League for the Cleveland Blues in 1884 and the Cleveland Spiders in 1890; he played another 12 years in the minors.  In 1888 he was with the Kansas City Blues in Western League and provided the following explanation of the care and maintenance of an infielder’s hands:

“A ballplayer’s hands should not be hard, they should be soft.  When my hands are in perfect condition they are almost as soft as a lady’s.  Hard hands on a ballplayer will crack and get sore, but when the skin is pliable and tough there is little danger of the hands bruising, cracking or puffing.  Some folks imagine a ballplayer’s hands to be as hard as a board, but they are wrong.”

Joe Ardner

Joe Ardner

They have realized that the Umpire is Almost Human

National League President Harry Clay Pulliam was very pleased with how civilized his league had become by 1908.  In an interview with The Chicago Tribune he said:

“The game is getting cleaner all the time.  Why, I’ve only suspended about half a dozen men this year, to about forty last year, and I want to say that the players are trying harder to keep the game clean…They have realized that the umpires are almost human.  It’s business with the player now, and they’re banking instead of boozing…It’s a grand game, clean, wholesome, and it’s the spirit of contest that gives it its virility.  Civic pride is another vital adjunct to it.  Every town likes to have its own team a winner.  Sort of local pride or another form of patriotism, I call it.”

Harry Pulliam--National League President

Harry Pulliam–National League President

Soo League Night Games

The Copper Country Soo League was recognized as a league for the first time by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues in 1905; its last season in operation.  The four-team league located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was made up of mining towns along the Soo Line Railroad: the Calumet Aristocrats, the Sault Ste. Marie Soos, the Hancock Infants and the Lake Linden Lakers.

Nearly no records or roster information survives, other than that three future Major Leaguers played in the league: Donie Bush and Fred Luderus played for Sault Ste. Marie and Pat Paige played for Calumet.

In an effort to boost sagging attendance in June, the league first  attempted to merge with the Northern League, and when that effort failed announced a scheduling change.

The Duluth News-Tribune said:

“An innovation…will be introduced by managers of the clubs comprising the Copper Country Soo League.  Owing to the peculiar conditions which exist in some of the cities, it has been decided to play some of the games after supper as an experiment as it is believed the attendance will be larger.”

The Chicago Tribune‘s Hugh Fullerton said:

“(I)n the copper country baseball depends on miners for support…the plan proved quite a success…The miners would come out of their shift at 6 o’clock, the games were called at 6:30 and finished about 8:30 at twilight.  There were few games called by darkness.”

While the move helped three of the teams at the gate, the Sault Ste. Marie Soos failed to draw fans and disbanded late in August.

Calumet won the championship, and along with Hancock and Lake Linden  merged with the Northern league to form the Northern-Copper Country League–Calumet won the league’s first championship in 1906, playing a schedule of day games.

 

Future Phillies star Fred Luderus was a 19-year-old rookie with the Sault Ste. Marie Soos

Future Phillies star Fred Luderus was a 19-year-old rookie with the Sault Ste. Marie Soos

Charlie Hoover–Infinite Baseball Card Set

21 Mar

Gary Cieradkowski is an exceptionally talented artist from Covington, Kentucky.  Since 2010 he has produced the great Infinite Baseball Card Set Blog–with excellent stories and his incredible art work.  Gary contacted me recently about collaborating on a piece.  I chose Charlie Hoover.  Hoover was a talented, troubled 19th Century catcher who faded into obscurity and remains one of a handful of Major League players for which there is no information on the place or date of his death.  Read the piece here on Gary’s blog.

This is the card Gary created:

HOOVER_LG

“An Umpire Nearly Lynched”

11 Mar

The above headline appeared on an Associated Press story in August of 1890.  Former Major Leaguer Jimmy Manning, then managing the Kansas City Blues in the Western Association had interceded to quell a riot at the end of a game with the Denver Grizzlies in Kansas City:

“Two questionable decisions by umpire Jovin (Sic) in the ninth inning, when Kansas City was about to tie the score, angered the crowd to such an extent that they swarmed into field, hooting and jeering the umpire.  Two young boys got hold of a rope, and in fun proposed to lynch him.  This added to the excitement, and it looked for a time as if the umpire would be mobbed.  Jimmy Manning climbed up to the top of the fence and addressed the mob.  He said the umpire had decided rightly and advised that no violence be attempted.  This quieted the mob to a degree.  In the meantime the players of both clubs formed a hollow square around the umpire and conducted him to the clubhouse.”

Jimmy Manning

Jimmy Manning

“Jovin” was actually Fred Jevne, a 26-year-old minor league veteran who had become an umpire just a month earlier.  After joining the Spokane franchise in the Pacific Northwest League in April, Jevne was suspended in May for punching an umpire.

In July The Spokane Falls Daily Chronicle said Jevne and teammate Tom Turner “quit the nine because they were excessively fined and ill-treated.”  According to the paper the two players showed up at the July, 1 game “in an intoxicated condition and acted like ruffians in the grand stand.” Turner was eventually reinstated and finished the season in Spokane, Jevne did not.

Since 1885 Jevne had played for a variety of teams in several leagues, including the Southern, International, and California.  When he was signed by Spokane to play center field and serve as captain, The Daily Chronicle said:

“Jevne is rather short.  He is a good batsman and a good player generally.  The San Francisco papers, when he played there, alternately praised him and berated him, but all agree that he was a good player.”

Jevne made one more attempt at playing, joining the Evansville Hoosiers in the Northwestern League in 1891.  He then returned to the Western Association as an umpire.

Fred Jevne

Fred Jevne with the Minneapolis Millers, 1889

In December of 1894 Jevne was named to the National League umpiring staff, where his work received mixed reviews.  In June The Baltimore Sun called him “As good an umpire as there is in the business.” In August, after a he worked a game between the Boston Beaneaters and Chicago Colts, The Boston Globe said “Umpire Jevne did poor work, both sides suffering from his yellow decisions.”  The Pittsburgh Press called Jevne’s performance in a September game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Athletics “By far the worst exhibition of umpiring given this season.”

Jevne was not offered a position in the National League for 1896, and went to work in the Southern Association, where he seems to have a continued his fighting ways.  In July, The Birmingham Age-Herald said Jevne had missed the previous day’s game between the Montgomery Senators and Columbus River Snipes:

“Jevne, the regular umpire, arrived in town last night, but this morning loaded himself up with the spirit of hilarity, got into a fight with a citizen and when the hour for playing arrived was in the hands of the police, and failing to make bond was unavoidably absent from the field.”

Despite his troubles, or because of them, Jevne was asked to join the Interstate League at the end of the 1896 season because, according to The Sporting Life, umpires were losing control of games:

 “(Interstate League President Charles) Powers to-night wired for Fred Jevne the ex-National League umpire, who is so handy with his fists, to report for duty.”

Jevne was not popular with players or the press down south, and said his time in the Southern Association was difficult:

“It was no snap umpiring down South.  Fines didn’t go—were never paid—and so I used to remove men from the game.  Sometimes I would have to take out about half of a team before they would behave, and then the papers would roast me good and plenty the next morning…I had a scrap with a player named (Al) Gifford (Atlanta Crackers shortstop), and punched him in a car going from the grounds.  The local paper came out the next morning and urged the chartering of a special car for the umpire. So that he could be alone in his dignity, and another paragraph hinted that a cigar sign or dummy could be put in the special car for the umpire to punch”

Jevne appears to have returned to the Southern Association for parts of the 1897 and ’98 seasons.  He spent at least part of 1899 and 1900 in his hometown, Chicago, where he worked as an umpire in some college games.  In 1901 Jevne became a Western League umpire and that year met with a violent and mysterious end.

Initial newspaper reports said Jevne had fallen from a third story window in Denver’s Hotel Victor on August 2; he lingered for two days before dying. His body was returned to Chicago and he was buried at Graceland Cemetery.

However, several months after his death, Jevne’s brother Lloyd, a well-known three cushion billiard champion, told The Associated Press he was certain he had been murdered, and that before dying Jevne had said he was pushed:

“I saw Fred’s body after it was shipped back to Chicago, where the burial took place, and the most prominent feature of his injuries was the bruise on his nose.  Doctors I saw believe that he was struck across the face with some blunt object… When he was about to die it is not probable he would have told a falsehood.  He would not have said at that time that he had been pushed out the window.”

Lloyd Jevne

Lloyd Jevne

Whether Fred Jevne fell or was pushed from that hotel window has never been positively determined.

Joe Gunson’s Mitt

6 Nov

The photo above was taken in 1939.  Former Major League catcher Joe Gunson was donating the mitt he created in May of 1888 to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Gunson caught for the Kansas City Blues in the Western League and made the mitt after a foul tip split his finger.  He told the Associated Press:

“We had a doubleheader scheduled the next day and Charlie Reynolds, who shared the catching with me, had sustained a similar injury…I got the idea to fashion some kind of glove to protect my hand.”

According to the United Press:

“(Gunson) improvised the mitt from a piece of leather, the belt from a Norfolk jacket, a bit of wire, sheepskin padding, and a buckskin covering.”

When Gunson died three years later the Associated Press and United Press called him the originator of the catcher’s mitt.

Over the years, other newspaper articles credited Albert John “Doc” Bushong with developing the catcher’s mitt.  In 1915, The New York Times said:

“(Bushong) wore the largest glove he could find, an added pads until it looked like a pillow…Out of bushings idea grew the idea of the mitt.”

Bushong’s glove was also mentioned in The Brooklyn Eagle in October of 1887, seven months before Gunson said he made his.

Bushong died in 1908, Gunson lived until 1942—longevity gave him a decided advantage in the number of times he was given credit for the mitt in newspaper articles during the first half of the 20th Century.

Currently, baseball historians remain split over which catcher should get the credit.

The Gunson Mitt

The debate may never be resolved. The most likely answer is that catchers in the 19th Century, who like Gunson, according to The Sporting Life, “has hands which for knots and gnarls rival the famous battered-up paws of Silver Flint,” might well have independently and nearly simultaneously developed equipment to protect their livelihood.