Tag Archives: Kid Elberfeld

The Tabasco Kid and “Blind Toms”

4 Mar

Kid Elberfeld, “The Tabasco Kid,” while managing the Springfield Midgets in the Western Association in 1930 “wrote” a series of articles for The Springfield Leader:

“A young chap was in the house one day reading some of the many clippings and letters that were sent to me by fans, and even reporters who had a dislike for me”

Elberfeld

Elberfeld said, “it seemed reporters couldn’t roast me enough,” so many fans wrote as well to “bless me down the line.”

His visitor observed: “They did everything to you on a ball field but pull a gun on you.”

Elberfeld’s Response:

“Sonny, that, too happened to me twice in my life. The only reason they didn’t publish it is that it would be a knock to the police of the town to pull a gun on a poor little boy like me.”

He said the first incident took place in Atlanta while he was managing the Little Rock Travelers. 

“Both clubs were up in the race fighting for every point. Sam Mayer the Atlanta captain, and I were at home plate arguing over a decision with the umpire. Sam said something to me I didn’t approve of and I grabbed his shirt.

“Police as a rule were always johnny-on-the-spot when our team was on the field in that town, immediately I felt something stuck in my side. I looked down and saw a nice, bright and shining pistol poked in my ribs. I said, ‘Say, look here’—I put my hand on the gun and pushed it away— ‘that damned thing, might go off.’ I don’t know why, but the policeman stuck it in his pocket.’

“not a word was mentioned in the paper about the policeman pulling the gun on me.”

He said he manager of the Travelers during the second incident as well—this one took place in Memphis. Elberfeld was having a “tough time with the ‘Blind Toms,’ his term for umpires:

“Boys used to say it was the hometown of the league president and the umpires wanted to show him they could run Kid and his players. If the umpires realized what a bad effect this had on my team, they would have been a little more lenient with the players and me.”

Elberfeld had a contentious relationship with Southern Association President John D. Martin–a Memphis attorney—Martin became league president in 1919 and suspended Elberfeld twice in the first month of the season—The Kid threatened to The Memphis News Scimitar after the second suspension that he would “manage my club from the grandstand hereafter,” to avoid additional fines and suspensions.

 Already believing the league’s umpires were particularly hard on him in Memphis, Elberfeld “was putting up a verbal battle,” with the umpire, who ejected him:

“I refused to heed his request and he immediately called out a police squad.

“Here they came. I was standing at home plate. First one pushed me, then another. I finally began pushing a little myself, but they grabbed me quick. I thought they put me in a vice and pulled me along. I was about to break away and run, when a big policeman stuck a gun in my back and said, ‘walk along.’ I did, never hesitating to the street, when they turned me loose.”

Elberfeld never stopped yelling at umpires, even at the point of a gun; and he said he never listened to anyone in the stands:

“Don’t listen to the fans, for everybody who comes to a ballgame gets crazy just as soon as they enter the park, and they are not responsible for what they say or do. Even the owners, secretary, umpires, and manager are irresponsible under the stress of the game, and the newspaper men are worse.”

Elberfeld did not appear to have any brushes with police on the field in 1930, although he was regularly combative and never let up on the “Blind Toms,” his Springfield Midgets finished 64-73, fifth place in the six-team Western Association. Elberfeld was let go after the season.

“It was not only Disgraceful, but Cowardly”

8 Feb

“Tuesday saw the finish of Norman Elberfeld as a Western League baseball player for this season, at least, and there is no one to blame but himself.”

“Kid” Elberfeld had just punched himself out of the league, said The Detroit Free Press.

Kid Elberfeld

The shortstop for the Detroit Tigers in the Western league, “The Tabasco Kid” was popular with fans but frequently at odds with umpires. The final straw in Detroit was August 1, 1899.

In the first inning, Elberfeld argued with umpire Jack Haskell after Haskell called Ollie Pickering safe at first, He continued to argue after being ejected:

“Elberfeld made a quick move and planted both right and left on Haskell’s face…at a time when Haskell was not looking and entirely unprepared for such action. It was not only disgraceful, but cowardly in the extreme as well.”

Just over a month earlier, The Free Press had chided Elberfeld after he “nearly precipitated a riot,” after umpire Jack Sheridan did not allow him take first base on a hit by pitch in the ninth inning with two runners one. Elberfeld then grounded out to end the game.”

Sheridan was confronted by “a few wild-eyed fanatics made a run in the direction” of the umpire who was escorted from the field.

The Detroit Journal said that Tigers owner George Vanderbeck told manager George Stallings “the next time (Elberfeld) kicks himself out of a game it will cost him $25. The hazarding of games through dirty play and rowdyism will do longer me tolerated.”

Henry Chadwick opined in his syndicated “Chadwick Chat” column:

“The manager in question should have started the season with this rule, and then he would have had no difficulty.”

Then, a week later, The Free Press reported, Elberfeld boasted that he would make trouble for the official, knowing the rooters would take his part,” after another ejection.

The paper called him “a fine ball player, a valuable man’ and “one of the hardest workers that ever appeared on any field,” but said his act was getting old in Detroit. “Clean baseball is what the public was given in the days of major league baseball in this city, and clean baseball is what they want now.”

And, “while no one is blamed but Elberfeld for the cowardly act…(if he had) been compelled, by the management, to hold his tongue and keep away from umpires from the opening of the season, he would still be playing ball.”

Elberfeld returned home to Ohio.

Harry Weldon of The Cincinnati Enquirer said, “the Kid expressed regret,” and suggested that the Reds purchase his contract “providing the suspension can be raised.”

Three weeks after the incident, Elberfeld was sold to the Reds for $2500:

The Free Press complained that the Kid “has really profited by the punishment if he is allowed to jump into the game at once,”

Elberfeld’s purchase was too much for Henry Chadwick. The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune said “the aged baseball authority” wrote a letter to Reds President John T. Brush. Chadwick asked Brush to explain how he could acquire Elberfeld after the attack; he also questioned why Brush had acquired players like Jack Taylor and Bill Hill (Hill was traded for Taylor after the 1898 season) given “their reputations.” Chadwick was concerned about those players as well as Danny Friend and Bad Bill Eagan, both of whom had been arrested for violent crimes.

Henry Chadwick

Chadwick asked Brush if “the employment of players of this caliber benefitted the game?”

Brush responded:

“You state that ‘Pitcher Friend was suspended for cutting a man with a knife, that Bad Bill Egan [sic Eagan] is just out of prison for attempting to cut his wife to death, also that Elberfeld…You say Taylor, of the Cincinnati team, and Hill, of the Brooklyn team, offer more samples of the neglect of character in engaging players for league teams.”

Brush said he had “nothing whatever” to do with Friend and Eagan.

He said the purchase of Elberfeld had been completed “sometime before” the incident and ‘the fact that he was suspended, laid off without pay for several weeks, ad fined $100, would be evidence that in his case proper action had been taken.”

Brush claimed Elberfeld regretted his actions, was not “an evil-minded ballplayer,” and that there were “extenuating circumstances” but did not disclose what those might have been.

John T. Brush

As for the other two players mentioned by Chadwick—both of whom spent time with the Reds—Brush said:

“Bill Hill was with the Reds one season. We let him go. That ended the responsibility of the Cincinnati Club. He was the only player on the Cincinnati team who violated the rule of 1898. He was fined twice, $25 each time, for disputing the decision of the umpire… Taylor had a bad reputation…He promised, so far as promises go, absolute reformation.

“Taylor’s contract allowed the Reds to hold back $600 of his salary, which was to be forfeited to the club in case he violated Section 6 of the league contract. He broke his pledge, he forfeited the temperance clause of his contract, was suspended for a month, and was restored as an act of justice or mercy to his wife, who was not in fault.”

In closing Brush told Chadwick:

“If you could point out to me a way which seems better or easier to travel, I would be very glad to have you do so, I get wrong on many things, no doubt, but it is not from preference.”

Elberfeld was injured for much of his time in Cincinnati, hit .261 and was returned to Detroit before the 1900 season. He made it back to the major leagues as a member of the Tigers in 1901. He remained in the big leagues for 12 seasons.

Elberfeld never lost his contentious nature as a player, or later as a long-time minor league manager.

Bozeman Bulger of The New York World said:

“To this day Elberfeld is just as rabid in his enmity to umpires as when he fought them in the big leagues. He got into several difficulties last year.”

Bulger said “he happened to be present” when Elberfeld and John McGraw were discussing umpires.

“’Kid,’ said the Giants manager, ‘it took me a long time, but I’ve learned that nobody can get anything by continually fighting those umpires. Why don’t you lay off them? It’s the only way.’

“’Maybe it is,’ said the Kid with finality. ‘But, Mac, I intend to fight ‘em as long as I live.”

Oyster Joe Martina

26 May

Joseph John “Oyster Joe” Martina made a name for himself in New Orleans before he threw his first professional pitch. Martina’s father Anthony was at one time the city’s largest oyster dealer, a business he passed on to his sons.

Martina was playing semi-pro ball for the Sam Bonarts—a team sponsored by the owner of a local clothing store, and for a club called the Beavers  when he decided in addition to pitching, he had a talent for distance throwing.

He won $25 in a contest at Pelican Park in July of 1909, The New Orleans Times-Democrat said Martina “threw the sphere from home plate over the back fence.”

martina

Martina, circa 1909

The throw was said to be 394 feet; just 11 feet short of what was considered the world record—there was some dispute in contemporaneous accounts about who actually held the record, some credited it to Larry Twitchell, said to have accomplished the feat in 1888 and others to Same Crane, whose was made in 1884.

Martina made his next attempt on July 31.

The New Orleans Picayune said:

“Joe Martina met with success this afternoon in his effort to break the world’s record for throwing a baseball, his best throw being 416 feet and 2 inches.”

The paper said he “threw a standard league baseball, which was inspected by several representatives of the southern division of the American Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).”

The event was of interest to local gamblers and when Martina made the record-setting throw it created a stir:

“Disputes also arose over Martina being allowed five throws. Those placing wagers against his breaking the record claimed that only three throws should be allowed. It was on the fifth throw that Martina made the record.”

There was also initially some doubt that the record would be accepted by the AAU because of the five throws. The Times-Democrat said:

“Usually only three throws are allowed. But as there are no definite rules governing contests of that kind, Martina’s record will likely stand. Whether it was his fifth of fiftieth it was a great heave and one which should go as a record.”

The Picayune said there might be another problem with the record:

“One regret remains, that the throw was not measured with a steel tape. It was measured with a linen tape, and may not be accepted by the AAU officials, although the throw was so much over the record the is no question of it being farther than Crane’s”

The record, and Marina’s performance in New Orleans’ semi-pro league earned him a tryout the following spring with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association—pitching three innings in the first game of Atlanta’s exhibition series with the Philadelphia Athletics. Marina gave up one run and struck out three.

The Atlanta Georgian and News said:

“Martina is nothing if not confident.

“After his try-out against Philadelphia he said: ‘Why, it’s just as easy to pitch against those big leaguers as it is against the New Orleans semi-pros. I don’t see anything very hard. I think I can make good in the Southern league all right I certainly had the steam against the Athletics. How many his did they make, anyhow’”

The Crackers did not agree, and sold the 20-year-old to the Savannah Indians in the Sally League

Martina bounced from Georgia, to Louisiana, to Mississippi and then Texas over the next four years.

In the spring of 1914, entering his third season with the Beaumont Oilers in the Texas League, Martina faced the New York Giants.  The Giants beat him 5 to 2, but The New York Sun said:

“The Giants had practice hitting speed the other day. Joe Martina, who prescribed the medicine for the National League champions, had it in caloric quantities…I yearned for a chance in the majors, felt I had more stuff than many pitchers sent up from the South but the big opportunity always passed me by.”

Red Murray of the Giants, barely avoided getting hit in the head with a Martina fastball, and told the paper:

“’That fellow’s got as much speed as I ever saw.’ Said John after the game, and the other Giants corroborated him. He’s as fast as (Chief) Bender.”

The Sun took notice of more than the pitcher’s speed:

“This Martina is something of a character. In the course of the game the umpire announced that Mathewson would pitch today. ‘Mathewson?’ queried Martina, who appears to be n iconoclast. ‘What busher’s that?’

“’Say,’ exclaimed the skeptical Martina to Chief Meyers when the latter made a base hit after several fruitless tries in that direction, ‘you’re lucky to get a hit off of me,’ and then, by the way of an afterthought: ‘All the hits you ever get are lucky.’

“Evidently, Mr. Martina is no hero worshiper.”

When he struck out Fred Snodgrass, he asked, “How do you like that, busher?”

Throughout his 20s, Martina was considered an “iron man,” pitching from 261 to 330 innings every year from 1910 through 1915; he also, according to The Picayune regularly pitched Sunday games in New Orleans throughout each off season.
In 1916, he injured his arm—or as The Arkansas Democrat said, his “arm cracked after hard usage.”

Speed Johnson of The Chicago Record Herald compared Martina to White Sox ace Ed Walsh, “The spitball king of other days now is a bench-warmer.”

Johnson said Chattanooga Lookouts manager Kid Elberfeld was the culprit:

“Performing under orders from (Elberfeld) Martina pitched seven games in the first sixteen games of the season. From May 1 to May 13 he officiated in five engagements, toiling with a sore arm.”

Elberfeld claimed that Martina injured his arm throwing too many spitballs, Johnson said, “it behooves young pitchers bent on winning fame as iron men to work only in their turn.”

Despite the reported injury, and a release from Chattanooga, Martina pitched 278 innings in 1916 with three teams.

Martina went back to the Texas League for four more seasons—including a 28-win season for Beaumont in 1919.

In 1921 he came back to the Southern Association, with his hometown Pelicans. From 1921-1923 he won 56 games, including a 22-6 mark in 1922. He told The Times-Picayune:

“It’s the old story, “You don’t learn how to pitch until your arm is gone.”

His three-year run with the Pelicans finally earned him a major league contract in 1924.  Umpire Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“Speaking of miracle workers, supermen, and rookie phenoms of baseball, don’t overlook pitcher Joe Martina of the Washington Nationals.

“At the age of 34, when most big leaguers are wondering how much longer they will be able to stand the pace, Joe Martina is making his debut.”

martina24

Martina, 1924

Martina told Evans:

“I had as much stuff fifteen years ago as I have today, and with-it youth, but somehow the major leagues scouts would annually pass me up.”

He was 6-8 for the World Series Champion Senators, he pitched one perfect inning in game three of the World Series. In the off season, Washington Manager Bucky Harris told The Washington Post that Martina “will win at least 15 games this year and may reach the 20 mark.”

He was due to join the Senators in Tampa, Florida on February 19, 1925, but failed to show up. The Post said Martina wired President Clark Griffith and asked to report later because he was having a new home built. Griffith refused and he was “notified by telegraph” that he was suspended. The Washington Evening Star said he would be fined and forced “to labor at a smaller salary,” for the season.  The paper suggested that the pay cut would not impact him greatly because:

“The Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, with the resulting big crowds in attendance and the consequent increase in the oyster business conducted by Martina probably mean that the pitcher can suffer these financial setbacks and still be ahead of the game.”

He arrived in Tampa on March 1; The Star said Griffith withdrew the fine because Martina claimed he had received a letter from the Washington owner that he could report late:

“Griff admitted that in the stress of arranging for the annual pilgrimage South of his club he might have forgotten the original letter to Joe.”

On April 9, Martina, along with left-handers–Jim Brillheart and Jim McNamara—were released by Griffith. The Star said

 “(Martini’s) work this spring indicated he has passed the peak of his form which is not quite good enough for fast company.”

He returned to New Orleans for four more seasons—winning 77 games and leading the Pelicans to Southern Association championships in 1926 and 1927. The 39-year-old went back to the Texas League for one more season in 1929; after a disappointing 10-13 campaign for the Dallas Steers, Martina purchased—or bartered for—his release. The Times-Picayune said:

“Martina has been given his unconditional release at the price of two barrels of oysters. This was the price demanded by Fred McJunkin, president of the Dallas club.”

He played two more seasons in the Cotton States League and took a crack at managing with the Baton Rouge Standards in 1931—he was released mid-season at age 41.

With both the Pelicans and the Knoxville Smokies hopelessly out of the 1931 Southern Association pennant race, Knoxville signed Martina to pitch against New Orleans on the final day of the season. He started the first game of a double header, gave up six runs over eight innings and lost his final game as a professional.

Zipp Newman, sports editor of The Birmingham News and official scorer for the Birmingham Barons for 44 years said Martina’s strong arm was with him to the very end::

“After pitching a full game for Knoxville against New Orleans Sunday, Joe went to the outfield and made the longest throw-in. Joe threw the ball right up to the grandstand. There wasn’t a youngster on the field who could come close to him. Joe Martina arms are few and far between in baseball.”

Martina, who died of a heart attack in 1962, said in an interview with Newman in 1941:

“I am convinced I had more human endurance than any man who ever lived. In all my life I was never tired, even when it was 110 out there on the mound. The answer is simple: I was a good boy. I behaved myself and every at 8 o’clock I was in bed…When my arm was live the ball would sail slightly upward, and nobody could hit me. When it was dead, although the pitch was just as fast, the ball went straight, like on a string, and I was a goner.”

“Those $8 Diamond cuff buttons cost us the Championship”

11 Apr

Clark Griffith never got over losing the pennant to the Boston Americans by 1 ½ games in the American League’s first great pennant race in 1904.

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

Over the years, he wasn’t even able to decide which of his New York Highlanders’ three straight losses to Boston in October was the most “hard luck” game, and just who he blamed for letting the season slip away.

In 1914, Griffith told Stanley Milliken of The Washington Post that second baseman Jimmy Williams, who failed to heed his instructions at the plate during the game that gave the pennant to Boston on October 10—Griffith barely mentioned the wild pitch Jack Chesbro threw which allowed Boston to score the winning run.

But two years earlier, he told a different story to Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner –in in this one he put the blame on himself and Chesbro, but not for the October 10 game:

“There never was any hard luck except mine.  Whenever I hear them tell hard luck stories I think to myself that they don’t know what it is.”

[…]

“The race had narrowed down to New York and Boston.  We both came east from our last Western trip with (a half game) separating us.”

Griffith said his club returned to New York believing all five games would be played in New York as scheduled, but discovered that New York owner Frank Farrell “not thinking we would be in the race at all, had in the middle of the season leased the Highlanders park to the Columbia University team for football on Saturday.”

As a result, the two Saturday games were moved to Boston.

“We beat Boston on Friday 3 to 2, and that put us where we only had to break even in the next four games to win.  Chesbro had pitched the Friday game.  I did my planning and decided to pitch Jack Powell the two games in Boston on Saturday, and to leave Chesbro at home to get a good rest over Sunday and to be ready to pitch the two games on Monday if it became necessary, knowing that with two days of good rest he could do it.”

chesbro2

Jack Chesbro

Griffith said his pitcher had other plans:

“When I got down to the depot that night there was Chesbro begging to go with us to Boston.  Some fool friends of his had notified him that they intended to present him with diamond cuff buttons in Boston, and he was wild to go.  I could not refuse him under the circumstances but those $8 diamond cuff buttons cost us the championship.

“(Once in Boston) Chesbro was crazy to pitch, and he warmed up in Boston and declared he felt better than at any time during his life.  I was angry because I wanted him to rest, and refused him.   He almost cried and said he had repeated numerous times during the season and always had won.  I said ‘no’ that we couldn’t take the chance.”

But Griffith said his team pressured him:

“Chesbro got (Wee Willie) Keeler, (Kid) Elberfeld and all the boys to come to me and beg me to let him pitch.  (Jack) Powell came to me and said he would keep warmed up and ready to relieve Chesbro in the first game.  I fell for it, seeing Chesbro had already warmed up and my plan for resting him was spoiled. He was good for (three innings), but before anyone could relieve him in the next Boston made six runs and the game was lost (13-2)…Powell  and Cy Young met in the second game and Boston won 1 to 0.”

And Griffith was quick to blame that loss on his “hard luck” as well:

Griffith's "Hard Luck" Highlanders

Griffith’s “Hard Luck” Highlanders

“The one run was scored on the rankest kind of luck.  A ball thrown (by John Anderson) from the outfield to (third baseman Wid) Conroy got by him…allowing the run to score.  The ball would not have rolled five feet from Conroy, but the crowd had pushed up to within three feet of third base.

This made it necessary for us to win both games on Monday.  And in the first game, in the ninth inning, with two out and two strikes on (Freddy) Parent, Chesbro let his spitball slip for a wild pitch and gave Boston the game.  We won the next 1 to 0 but the pennant was done.

“If there ever was harder luck than that, I don’t want to hear of it.”

“He thought he knew more than his Manager”

14 Oct

New York Highlanders pitcher Jack Chesbro’s wild pitch in the top of the ninth inning in the first game of an October 10, 1904 doubleheader with the Boston Americans allowed the winning run to score in a 3 to 2 game, and ended the first great American League pennant race, Boston winning the championship by 1 ½ games over New York.

Jack Chesbro

Jack Chesbro

But, ten years later, Chesbro’s manager, Clark Griffith, put the blame for losing the game, and the pennant, squarely on another member of the team.

Griffith told Stanley Milliken of The Washington Post:

“Players are often of the opinion that they know more than their manager, and simply on this account New York lost a pennant to Boston in 1904.”

[…]

“It was either Boston or New York, and as fate would have it, the schedule brought us together. I sent in Jack Chesbro, who at the time was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball.  ‘Big’ Bill Dinneen worked for Boston, and when he was right had few superiors.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

Griffith said the moment that lost the pennant came when “Dinneen began to weaken,” and allowed two runs—Griffith, in his ten-year-old recollection incorrectly said it was the seventh inning; it was actually the fifth.  Dinneen had just walked “Wee Willie” Keeler and “Kid” Elberfeld, forcing in a second run and loading the bases.  With two out, and 2 to 0 lead, Griffith picked up the story:

“Every man that went to the bat (in the fifth inning) had instructions to wait ‘em out.

(Jimmy) Williams, my second baseman was also sent up with the same orders.  But he thought he knew more than his manager.  He did not even look over the first ball, but banged away at it, thinking perhaps he might clean the bases.  What happened?  Well, he rolled weakly (to Dinneen) and the side was retired.  There is no telling how many men Dinneen would have walked.”

Jimmy Williams

Jimmy Williams

Chesbro’s wild pitch was merely a footnote in Griffith’s story, and he failed to mention Williams’ throwing error in the seventh that allowed two runs to score. The pennant, according to Griffith, was lost because Williams failed to listen to his manager; a widespread problem in baseball according to the manager:

“Not only on this occasion but on many, have I seen a player go directly against the orders of his manager and bad results follow.  Of course, we all have different ideas regarding what is to be done at the critical moment, but brains count in baseball just as much as it does in any other walk of life.

“Give me a bunch of ballplayers with superior brains but not as much actual playing ability as opponents and I will win just as many games as they do.“

Despite Williams’ thinking he “knew more than his manager,”  he remained as Griffith’s second baseman for three more seasons.

“It is Feared that the Cares of his Office are making an old man out of Tim”

18 Aug

Timothy Carroll “Tim” Hurst had an eventful season in 1906.

He had been an umpire since 1891—with the exception of one awful season managing the St. Louis Browns to a 39-111 last place finish in 1898.  In 1904 Hurst retired from the National League, but months later joined the umpire staff of the Central League, and took a job in the American League in 1905.

Tim Hurst

Tim Hurst

The Kansas City Journal described the 5’ 5” umpire who was also a boxing referee::

“Hurst is a pudgy little fellow, below medium height, with sandy hair, twinkling blue eyes and a ruddy complexion.”

He was often called “pugnacious” for his on field, and off, altercations, and once told a reporter for The New York Herald how he dealt with argumentative catchers:

“Never put a catcher out of the game.  If the man back of the bat is sassy and objects to your calling of balls and strikes, keep close behind him while doing your work and kick him every time he reaches out a catch a ball.  After about the third kick he’ll shut up.”

The incident that earned him the most attention in 1906 happened during a May 7 game in New York between the Highlanders and the Washington Nationals.   The New York Times said during the fifth inning:

(Frank) LaPorte was declared out at first base on a close decision.  Manager (Clark) Griffith rushed over to the base line, and, throwing his cap in the air, protested against the decision.  He wildly gesticulated, and Hurst ordered him away.  Griffith, instead of following Hurst’s instructions, stepped up to the latter, protesting all the time.  In his excitement he stepped upon Hurst’s foot.”

Hurst “drew back” to punch Griffith but was held back by players from both teams.

“Hurst then took hold of the lapel of Griffith’s coat and started to lead the player-manager to the bench.  The latter angrily resented this action and pushed Hurst’s hand away.  Lave Cross and the Washingtons tried to pacify Griffith, and succeeded in getting him to the players’ bench.”

Hurst followed Griffith to the New York bench and again attempted to punch the manager, while Griffith “rushed at the umpire.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

According to The Associated Press Griffith claimed “’Hurst didn’t hit me.’ Then pointing to his swollen mouth he added, ‘I had this swollen lip before the game.’”

Hurst and Griffith were both suspended for five games.

The following year Henry Pierrepoint Edwards of The Cleveland Plain Dealer said Hurst had given him an explanation to “clear up the mystery” of why he reacted so violently:

“Now, it isn’t customary for Tim to wear baseball shoes on the diamond.  Usually Tim appears for the fray clad in the same suit he would wear at a pink tea.  His real uniform is just a cap.

“On the afternoon in question Tim purchased a new pair of patent leather shoes.  The shoes glistened in the sun like a diamond and gave Tim great pleasure.  Griffith forgot all about the shoes and in his rage over losing a close decision spiked and spoiled the new kicks.  Great was Tim’s rage.  Even greater was the clash.  That’s all.”

Two months after the incident with Griffith, Hurst made what might have been the worst call of his career.

On July 7 in Washington, he was working the game between the Nationals and the Detroit Tigers.  The score was tied 3 to 3 in the seventh inning, the Tigers had the bases loaded with two out and Sam “Wahoo” Crawford at the plate, facing Nationals pitcher Frank KitsonThe Washington Post said:

“’Wahoo’ lifted one a thousand miles directly over the pan.  Kitson came tearing in,  (Catcher Howard) Wakefield hesitated.  Manager (Jake) Stahl stood still at first base.  The pellet whirled in the air and finally dropped just inside the line and bounded back to the stands.  (Charley) O’Leary and (John) Eubank romped home.  Crawford went to second, carrying the funniest two-base hit on record.  Kitson and Wakefield stood admiring each other until Hurst again yelled ‘Fair ball!’ when the boy catcher went after the bulb.”

Sam Crawford

Sam Crawford

While the Nationals argued the call, and Hurst refused to reverse his decision, The Post said “The spectators were forced to listen to the dillydallying for fully fifteen minutes, then many of them got up and left the belligerents wrangling over the decision.”

Kitson threw a wild pitch to the next batter, Matty McIntyre scoring Herman “Germany” Schaefer and Crawford.  The Tigers went on to win 9 to 3.  Jake Stahl filed a protest with American league President Ban Johnson.

The Washington Evening Star said:

“The only excuse that Umpire Hurst can have is that the play was an unusual one.  Lave Cross admitting that he never saw its like in his experience on the diamond.  Hurst was palpably rattled, and the Tigers when taking their places on the field chaffed the locals with the remark that ‘Tim certainly handed us one that time.’”

The Washington Times said it was “one of the most remarkable plays ever seen on a diamond,“ and printed for their readers rule number’s 44 and 45 from the 1906 “Reach Guide” Reach describing “A Fair Hit,” and “A Foul Hit.”

The Washington Times used "The Reach Guide" to illustrate how Hurst blew the call.

The Washington Times used “The Reach Guide” to illustrate how Hurst blew the call.

The Times said:

“(T)here seemed no possible way of calling it fair, but Hurst was obdurate, and the only explanation he would give was that the ball ‘was hit too high.”  What the heighth of the hit had to do with the fact that it eventually bounded foul is still another mystery.”

Hurst’s story evolved over the next several days.  The Post said his original explanation regarding the ball’s height was “to the effect that the ball was it so high it ‘settled’ inside, constituting the hit a fair one. “  This was quickly replaced by Hurst’s claim that the ball had touched Wakefield, the Washington catcher, before bounding into foul territory.

The Times’ baseball reporter Thomas Stevens Rice said of Hurst’s new story:

“This explanation is all right if it presents the facts in the case.  In the press box there was not a single man who thought the ball was touched by Wakefield or anybody else.”

The Post conceded that the protest would be rejected, saying “It is almost certain that Ban Johnson will sustain his scrappy umpire, no matter what interpretation he puts on the rules,” but the paper did not let up on Hurst.

The following week when Sam Crawford brought his average up to .300, The Post said:

“Hurst last week decided that Crawford’s high rap which hit inside the base line and bounded back to the stands was fair…am would have faced the pitcher 271 times and got away with 81 hits which would have made his average .299, as it was Sam got and extra hit which brought the total to .303.  He owes Tim a hat.”

Hurst was still young, just forty-one in 1906, but The Sporting Life said something had changed during that year, and by the end of the season that the umpire lacked the “Aggressiveness and enthusiasm” he had previously exhibited:

“It is feared that the cares of his office are making an old man out of Tim, who once was noted for having the finest brand of keen-cutting, kill-at-a-thousand-yards sarcasm of any umpire in captivity.  Sit Timothy is very tame, and the players, even the bush leaguers who have just broken in, can tell him what they think of him and his calling.”

Hurst’s old “aggressiveness” came out in 1909.  He was suspended in May for a fight with Norman “Kid” Elberfeld of the Highlanders, then on August 3 during a game between the Athletics and White Sox.  The Brooklyn Eagle said:

“At Philadelphia Tim Hurst came in for considerable trouble.  Hurst called Eddie Collins out at second and the Columbia youngster put up a kick.

“Whether it was with malice aforethought or quite an accident, it is a fact that the umpire distributed a mouthful of moistened union-made tobacco in the direction of the youthful Eddie, who immediately called Tim’s attention to the board of health ordinance which prohibited expectorating in public places.”

After the game Hurst had to be escorted from the field by Philadelphia police.  Ban Johnson suspended Hurst, beginning two weeks of rumor and speculation about the umpire’s fate.  Finally, on August 18 it was announced that Hurst had been let go by the American League.

Hurst, in poor health since 1912, died in 1915.  Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner said of his passing at age 49:

“The saddest part of it is that ‘Timothy’ did not die in the blue uniform, and that during the last few years of his life he was practically blacklisted in baseball for refusing to answer or deny charges made against him for his actions during a clash with Eddie Collins…President Johnson declared that if Hurst even had replied to his telegrams of inquiry he would have kept him—but Tim, knowing he had done wrong, refused, and went out of the game.”

“It was one of those Lucky Days when a Player can hit a pea”

8 Aug

Norman Arthur “The Tabasco Kid” Elberfeld earned his nickname for his aggressive play and violent temper.  In 1904 he described his greatest game in an  article that appeared in several newspapers:

Kid Elberfeld

Kid Elberfeld

“It is not a cinch by any means to dig up the good and bad plays one has made.  If my team can win the game, that is about sufficient for me, and I forget many times just how prominently I may have figured in the victory.

“The best batting I remember having done was right up on Washington Heights last season, when we were playing the Philadelphia Athletics.  Connie Mack had saved Rube Waddell for us, and the famous southpaw never had more speed or better benders.  When Rube is right he is a wonder, and when it is remembered that he fanned thirteen batters that afternoon it can be appreciated that he was pretty near being tight.  It was Rube’s first appearance of the season in New York, and he was more than anxious to pitch a winning game.  It was the closest kind of contest, and we just managed to win out 4 to 3.  I was the lucky boy that day.  I made four clean plunks off Rube, drove in three runs and scored one myself.  That wasn’t so bad, when you say it quick.  There were only four hits made off Rube that day.  So I copped.

“It was one of those lucky days when a player can hit a pea.  Rube didn’t fool me a little bit.  I refused to let him drive me away from the plate, but stood up close and just met the ball.  Every hit was a hard one, too, and on a line.  If I had attempted to swing hard I might not have made a hit.  There is everything in a batter timing the ball well and then just meeting it.  One will be surprised at the swiftness with which the ball shoots off the bat.”

Elberfeld got a couple of key facts incorrect; the score was actually 3 to 2 and while Elberfeld drove in all three runs he did not score a run that day.  For the rest of his life, Elberfeld referred to the game as the greatest of his career.

In 1929, in an article about the athletic prowess of Elberfeld’s five daughters—they had their own basketball team, and each excelled in additional sports as well—the proud father still referred to the 1903 game as “The best batting I remember having done,” although he still incorrectly maintained that the Highlanders scored four runs that day.

Elberfeld's greatest game, August 1, 1903

Elberfeld’s greatest game, August 1, 1903

As for his aggressiveness towards umpires, Elberfeld had no regrets fifteen years after his playing career ended:

“I’ve been asked whether it did any good to threaten umpires, and occasionally take a wallop at one.  I always thought that if I didn’t stand up for my rights, they would give me the worst of it.  If an umpire made a mistake in the really rowdy days the whole team would threaten his life.  Would that scare him?  I should say so, and the next time a close decision came up, he would even up for the bad one previously handed down.”