Tag Archives: Kitty League

“There’s one thing you mustn’t do when you get to New York”

26 Oct

“Sinister Dick” Kinsella is primarily known as John McGraw’s equally pugnacious right-hand man and scout.  He was at McGraw’s side for one of the manager’s most famous brawls; a battle with Giants catcher Larry McLean in the lobby of the Buckingham Hotel in St. Louis, he also boasted an impressive list of “finds” including Carl Hubbell, Chief Meyers, Hack Wilson and Larry Doyle.

"Sinister Dick" Kinsella

              “Sinister Dick” Kinsella

Kinsella credited a career minor league player and manager for his discovery of Doyle, who he sold to the New York Giants in July of 1907.  After Doyle hit .310 in 1911, a syndicated Newspaper Enterprise Association told the story of how he acquired Doyle after the 1906 season from the Mattoon Canaries of the Kitty League, having never seen him play:

“Mattoon was in need of a pitcher and appealed to President Dick Kinsella of the Springfield Three-Eye League team for aid…Kinsella saw a chance to make a bargain when Mattoon hoisted the distress sign and struck one.  ‘I’ll let you have a pitcher for the pick of your team at the end of the season,’ Kinsella told the Mattoon people.  His offer was accepted and pitcher (John) Jokerst was sent  to the Kitty League team by Springfield.

“Doyle didn’t do well with Mattoon (.225 in 91 games) that season.  Kinsella had not even considered him in deciding what player to pick.  He had almost made up his mind to take a veteran pitcher.”

Fate intervened when Kinsella mentioned the Mattoon deal to Frank Belt, manager of the Kitty League’s Jacksonville Jacks.  Belt asked Kinsella if he had ever seen Doyle:

“’No,’ answered Kinsella.

‘”Well, don’t pick anyone until you do, and then pick him.  He’s the coming ballplayer of that club.  He hasn’t looked good in the box scores, but he’s ‘there’ any way you take him.  He’ll bring you more money inside of a year than you ever got for a player.”

Larry Doyle

                  Larry Doyle

Sight unseen, Kinsella took Belt’s advice.  Doyle played third base and hit .290 in 66 games for Kinsella’s Springfield Senators.  He became the subject of a bidding war with the Giants winning out over the Detroit Tigers and Washington Senators for his services on July 16.

Kinsella was paid a then-record $4500 for Doyle—a record eclipsed the following year when Kinsella sold Rube Marquard to the Giants for $11,000.

The $4500 check to Kinsella for the sale of Doyle

                              The $4500 check to Kinsella for the sale of Doyle

According to The Springfield Journal Kinsella sent Doyle off to New York with just one piece of advice:

“There’s one thing you mustn’t do when you get to New York.  You must quit sliding to bases on your head.  If you don’t, they will think you’re from the brush.”

Doyle was moved to second base, hit .290 over a 14-year big league career, and presumably took Kinsella’s advice about sliding head first.

Filling in the Blanks—O’Laughlin, 1913 Owensboro Distillers

2 Oct

Baseball Reference lists “O’Laughlin” with the Owensboro Distillers of the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee (Kitty) League.

”William “Bud” O’Laughlin (misspelled O’Loughlin by some sources) was born near Owensboro, Kentucky in 1888 and became a well-known amateur and industrial league player for teams in Western Kentucky and Southern Indiana. In 1913 he played third base for the Owensboro Distillers in the Kitty League and the following year was, for a time, with the Evansville River Rats in the Central League, but he apparently did not appear in any games with the team.

On January 16 of 1918 O’Laughlin became one of several professional players who shared a similar cause of death; shot by a jealous husband.

The Lexington Herald said O’Laughlin was on the street in Boonville, Indiana with a woman when he was approached by a man named Clyde Barnhill:

“O’Laughlin was in the company of Barnhill’s wife and they were on the way to a show when it is alleged that the woman’s husband walked behind the couple and fired a bullet into O’Laughlin’s head.  He fired two bullets at his wife who fled down the street.”

O’Laughlin died early the following morning.

The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“After Barnhill was caught and overpowered he attempted to shoot himself…there were cries of ‘Lynch him, lynch him’ from the mob that gathered on the streets.”

The Indianapolis Star said that Barnhill “will plead the ‘unwritten law.’ It is said Mrs. Barnhill was insanely in love with her husband’s victim.”

Newspapers in Kentucky and Indiana reported all the scandalous details two months later when Barnhill stood trial for killing O’Laughlin, who The (Hopkinsville) Kentucky New Era called “a favorite with Kitty League players.”

Barnhill testified that he simply approached O’Laughlin and his wife to “compromise the matter” when “O’Laughlin turned and put his hand in his pocket to pull a thirty-eight-caliber blue steel revolver…It was a question of who shot first.”  As for shooting at his unarmed wife, Barnhill said “I guess I was crazed.”

After 17 hours of deliberation the jury found Barnhill guilty of manslaughter; The Indianapolis News said: “The defendant was well pleased with the light verdict and was congratulated by  numerous friends after it was read.” He was sentenced to serve from two to twenty-one years in prison.

O’Laughlin, the former Kitty Leaguer is buried in Boonville.

Note: Baseball Reference lists a “Bud O’Loughlin” with an incorrect death date of January 19, 1915  in Booneville (Sic), Indiana as a member of the 1911 Spokane Indians in the Northwestern League—that O’Loughlin was a pitcher, and it is highly unlikely he is the same player.  (This same incorrect date and misspelled town appeared in The Sporting Life in 1916)

“A Great deal of foolish Sympathy was wasted on Rusie”

5 Sep

Hank O’Day, pitcher and Hall of Fame umpire, said Amos Rusie was the greatest pitcher ever:

“Amos is the greatest pitcher the country ever saw. Why, Rusie had more speed in his curve ball than any pitcher I ever saw before, or have ever since seen, has in his straight fast ones.  Rusie was a wonder—that’s all there is to it.  I was behind the plate one day when one of Rusie’s  fast incurves hit Hughey Jennings…the ball hit Jennings squarely in the temple, and he fell as though shot by a ball from a Winchester rifle.  I caught him in my arms as he toppled backwards—and he was out of his head for three days.” (Contemporary reports of the incident said Jennings actually finished the game, but later lost consciousness for four days)

O’Day was also on the field when Rusie blew out his arm in 1898; Rusie threw to first to pick-off Chicago Orphans outfielder Bill Lange and “his arm cracked like a pistol’s shot.”  In 1940 Lange told his version of the story to The Portland Oregonian:

“Amos Rusie, I don’t know of any better one and I never played against any other one as good.  He had great control, as well as everything else a pitcher should have.  But my base stealing got him.  He worried over it.  I guess he lost sleep over it.  Anyway, one day he showed up on the field and said he had developed a new way to catch me off of first without turning his body.  I was anxious to see what he had, and he caught me off of first.  But—and it was a mighty large but—in doing so Rusie threw his arm out.  And never could pitch in his old form again.”

Amos Rusie

Amos Rusie

Rusie, with a dead arm, became a benchmark, an oddity, and a cautionary tale.

He posted a 246-173 record before the injury; after sitting out all of 1899 and 1900 he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Christy Mathewson, appeared in three games, was 0-1 with an 8.59 ERA, and his career was over.

In the decade between 1898 and 1908 The Sporting Life christened “the next Rusie,” or “another Rusie” no less than 20 times; scores more were given the same title by newspapers across the country.  Most like Cecil Ferguson (career 29-46), Davey Dunkle (17-30), Cowboy Jones (25-34), and Whitey Guese (1-4) were busts.  The three best were Orval Overall (108-71), who was called the “next Rusie” more than anyone else; Ed Reulbach (182-106), and Hall of Famer Ed Walsh (195-126).

During that same decade there were regular, small items in newspapers about Rusie’s post National League life.  Shortly after his release from the Reds in June of 1901 papers reported that Rusie, “who commanded a salary of many thousands of dollars, is now working as day laborer at $1.50 a day.”   The pitcher told a reporter “This shows I am not afraid to work, but it’s an awful comedown in salary.”

The Dallas Morning News pulled no punches in their assessment of his plight:

“The dismal afterclap to the brilliant career of a once-famous ballplayer whose name was a household word in balldom…reckless wastefulness in financial matters and a total disregard for physical care brought Rusie to his present deplorable condition when he should have been in his prime, for the big fellow is barely 30 now.”

In 1903 it was reported that Rusie had joined the Vincennes (IN) Alices in the Kitty League.  While no statistics survive, he appears to have stayed with the team for most of the summer.  The Detroit Free Press said he was “playing for a salary of $75 per month.”

After the 1903 season he went to work in a lumber yard, and the regular reports on his activities as a “low-wage laborer” appeared regularly in newspapers.  The items became such a regular feature that The Associated Press, in a short story about the Philadelphia Athletics’ eccentric and troubled Rube Waddell in 1904 said:

“Rube has run the gamut of foolishness.  He is in his prime but a few more years of such lack of sense as he displayed last season will send him to the wood pile or coal heap and he will, like Amos Rusie, be occupying two inches in the has-been columns every spring.”

There were multiple reports that Rusie was coming back as a pitcher for the 1906 season.  The rumors started in September of 1905 when Rusie attended an exhibition game in Vincennes between the Alices and the Chicago Cubs.  The Philadelphia Inquirer said of the news:

“If you don’t know the tremendous importance of this announcement you are no baseball fan.”

Not everyone agreed that Rusie returning to baseball would be a good thing.  A report from The News Special Service, which appeared in many Midwest papers said:

“His habits were none of the best, and he rapidly deteriorated in efficiency as an athlete.  He refused to pitch one whole season because he had been fined by the New York (Giants) management for being intoxicated and abusing his wife.  A great deal of foolish sympathy was wasted about that time on Rusie, but he was entitled to nothing except what he received, and some who knew the circumstances thought stricter disciplinary methods would not have been amiss.”

Rusie didn’t sign a contract that spring; and two other rumors that John McGraw had sent him a letter inviting him to spring training with the Giants and that he would return to the Kitty League didn’t materialize either.

But Rusie did make the news again in June.  A man named Gabe Watson was collecting mussels in the Wabash River when his boat when his boat overturned.  The Evansville Courier said Rusie pulled the drowning man from the river.

The nearly annual reports of “Rusie’s return” ended after 1906, but Rusie’s many career, and life changes continued as newspaper copy for the next twenty years.

When pearls were discovered in the Wabash River’s mussels, Rusie became a pearl diver.  Two years later he was in Weiser, Idaho, serving a 10-day sentence for public drunkenness.  In 1910 he was in Olney, Illinois working in a glass factory.  The following year he moved to Seattle, Washington.  For the next decade served as an umpire for a couple of Northwestern League games, worked as a ticket taker and groundskeeper at Yesler Way Park and Dugdale Field, home of the Seattle Giants, and also worked as a steam fitter.  Rusie went to jail at least once while in Seattle, and remained a big enough name that when he was injured by a falling pipe in 1913, it made newspapers throughout the country.

In 1921 Rusie became another in the long line of former players hired by the New York Giants at the behest of John McGraw.  According to newspaper reports McGraw offered the former pitcher a “job for life” as a “deputy superintendent” at the Polo Grounds.  Interest in Rusie’s career was renewed, and the pitcher was regularly interviewed for the next couple of years, reminiscing about his career and about how he’d like to have had the opportunity to pitch to Babe Ruth.

Unlike most of the former players who McGraw found work for at the Polo Grounds, Rusie did not stay for the rest of his life; he returned to Auburn, Washington in 1929 and bought a farm, where he remained for the rest of his life.  He was badly injured in a car accident in July of 1934—The Seattle Daily Times said Rusie’s vehicle overturned and he sustained a concussion and broken ribs.

While he received less attention after being incapacitated after the car accident, Rusie was still mentioned frequently in the press until his death in 1942; contrary to oft-repeated fiction that he died in obscurity.  And his obituary appeared in hundreds of papers across the country in December of 1942.  It wasn’t until the post WWII area that Rusie stopped being a household name, which led to his final comeback in the 1970s; Rusie was inducted into the Hall of Fame 34 years after his death.

Filling in the Blanks—F. Bassett

7 Jan

Baseball Reference lists the manager of the 1903 Hopkinsville Browns of the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League simply as F. Bassett—something of a slight to a man whose obituary in The Chicago Tribune called him “The Father of the Kitty League.”

Dr. Frank Houston Bassett was born in Stephensport, Kentucky in 1873, and grew up in Hopkinsville.

Bassett, who came from a wealthy family, played with semi-professional teams in Hopkinsville in his 20s.  Late in 1902 Bassett began trying to line up cities in Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee and Indiana to form a new professional league; by February of 1903 the eight-team league was formed.

Frank Houston Bassett

Frank Houston Bassett

Bassett owned, managed and played for the Browns.

Very few records survive for the Kitty League’s first season and no statistics for Bassett can be found.  The only reference to his abilities as a player came years later in an article in The Kentucky New Era which included a quote from Scott Means.  Means, a well-known amateur and professional player in Hopkinsville who played in the Kitty in 1913, saw Bassett play:

“Doc Bassett was a very good fielder.  Only trouble was he couldn’t hit.”

Bassett continued to own the Hopkinsville franchise, renamed the Hoppers for 1905 until the team was dropped from the league in July in order to keep a balanced schedule after the Henderson Hens disbanded.  The first incarnation of the league ended the following season.

Bassett maintained the Hoppers as a semi-professional team for the 2nd half of 1905 and all of 1906.  He then became an umpire in the Cotton States League and the Southern Association.  He also entered medical school.

In the spring of 1909, Bassett was the subject of a feature in The Chicago American after he had umpired an exhibition between the Cubs and the Nashville Volunteers.  The article said Bassett was worth more than $100,000 and had an income from investments of “$500 a month…and umpires for the love of it.”

The American noted that Bassett owned a car, “a forty horsepower French machine,” and drove it 72 miles from Hopkinsville to umpire Southern Association games in Nashville.  Bassett said:

 “I run over in the machine every day before the game and return in the evening.”

In 1910 Bassett helped to resurrect the Kitty League and was named President before the 1912 season; as he would continue to do throughout the league’s many incarnations Bassett used his personal fortune to keep the league afloat by financing the Evansville Yankees.

Frank Houston Bassett

Frank Houston Bassett

He was re-elected president for the next two seasons, but the financially troubled league folded again after the 1914 season.  An attempt to revive the league in 1915 failed, and after being revived again for 1916 the league folded in August.

Bassett seems to have temporarily lost interest in professional baseball in Kentucky and turned to politics.  He became a city commissioner in Hopkinsville in 1916 and became mayor in 1918; he served until 1922 when he was elected Court Clerk of Christian County.

In 1922, he again helped to revive the Kitty league; this version lasted for three seasons but was plagued by the same financial difficulties that doomed its predecessors.

Bassett tried again after a decade and was the driving force in reorganizing the league in 1935.  He was named president, secretary and treasurer of the new six-team league.

Bassett served for three seasons as president.  The league meeting after the 1937 season was contentious and several league owners felt Bassett had been a weak leader, and objected to his indifference in maintaining accurate statistics for the league and his opposition to night baseball.

There are a number of versions of what transpired.  Most sources say that after being re-elected Bassett left the meeting and team owners then voted him out; others say he, in effect, resigned by leaving—sometimes even the same source disagrees.  Some accounts in The Kentucky New Era said Bassett was ousted; others said he “became disgusted” and resigned.

In either case, night baseball was the primary issue that ended Bassett’s presidency.  The league would not survive without it and Bassett was dead set against it.   The New Era said:

 “The good doc contends that if baseball was supposed to be played after supper, nature would have made it light enough to see.”

With the exception of a few occasions when he was honored in Hopkinsville, Bassett seldom attended games after 1937 citing his hatred for night baseball.

He continued to serve as Christian County’s court clerk until his death in 1950.

Two weeks after Bassett’s death the Hopkinsville Hoppers held a memorial for him before their game with the Owensboro Oilers—it was a night game.

A Thousand Words–New Orleans Pelicans

13 Nov

Another picture I’ve never seen published before—the 1906 New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association.

Top, Left to right.

Bill Phillipshe spent seven seasons in the Major Leagues with a 70-76 record; and won 256 games in a minor league career that began in 1890 and ended in 1909.

Mark “Moxie” Manuelwas said to have appeared as a both a left and right-handed pitcher for New Orleans in 1906 and 07, Manuel was a combined 37-26, earning him a second trip to the Major Leagues in 1908, where he posted a 3-4 record in 18 appearances for the Chicago White Sox.

Milo Stratton—a weak hitting (career .185) catcher who played in the minor leagues from 1903-1914.

William O’Brien—a .215 hitting first baseman in 1905 with the Toronto Maple  Leafs in the Eastern League and with the Pelicans in 1906.

Jake Atz—played for the Washington Senators in 1903 and the Chicago White Sox 1907-1909, a minor league manager for 21 seasons he won more than 1900 games.

Art Brouthers—a third baseman who played in 37 games for the 1906 Philadelphia Athletics, Brouthers managed the 1913 Paducah Indians to the Kitty League championship.  After his baseball career he was a hotel detective in Charleston, South Carolina.

Front, left to right

Whitey GueseGuese had several strong seasons in the minors, but in his lone Major League season with the Cincinnati Reds in 1901 he was 1-4.  The Youngstown Vindicator said, “He is a twirler who belongs to the disappointing species known as ‘morning glories.” And, “Seemingly has a heart like a canary.”

Joe Rickert—“Diamond Joe” Rickert stole 77 bases for the Pelicans in 1904; he played 15 games in the Major Leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Beaneaters.

William Blake—an outfielder with 13 different minor league teams from 1902 to 1910 and native of Louisville, Kentucky, little else is known.

Punch Knoll—another long-time minor league manager.  Knoll appeared in 79 games for the 1905 Washington Senators, he appeared in 3 games as a pinch hitter, collecting one hit, at 48-years-old while managing the Fort Wayne Chiefs in the Central League

Chick Cargo—brother of Major Leaguer Bobby Cargo, Charles “Chick” Cargo was a shortstop and 3rd baseman who played 19 seasons of minor league ball.

George Watt—Watt had three good seasons for the Little Rock Travelers, with a 53-34 record from 1902-1904.  He slipped to 20-37 in 1905-06 with Little Rock and New Orleans.  By 1907 he had dropped from “A” ball to “D” ball with the Zanesville franchise in the Pennsylvania-Ohio-Maryland League.  In 1908 he pitched for the Zanesville Infants in the Central League, was release in August after posting a 6-15 record and disappeared.

The League That Billy Sunday Helped Shut Down

12 Nov

The Eastern Illinois League began with great promise in the spring of 1907 to fill the void created by the collapse of the first incarnation of the Kitty League.  Joe “Wagon Tongue” Adams, an Illinois native who appeared in one game for the 1902 St. Louis Cardinals, was said to be the guiding force behind  the league, he was also manager on the Pana Coal Miners.  Adams had helped create the Central Illinois League two years earlier with teams from many of the same cities—unlike the 1905 effort, the Eastern Illinois League was granted membership in the National Association.

The six-team league had franchises in Centralia, Charleston, Mattoon, Pana, Shelbyville and Taylorville, and elected Charles Welvert, a Pana businessman  league president.  Midway through the 1907 season the Centralia team relocated to nearby Paris, Illinois, and replaced Welvert as league president by Louis A. Godey Shoaff (often incorrectly spelled “Schoaff”), editor and publisher of The Paris Gazette.

The teams in Charleston, Mattoon, Pana and Paris were supported, as The Associated Press said, “In great part from saloon interests.”

The league made news in August, when during a heated series between the Mattoon Giants and the Pana Coal Miners, The Sporting Life reported that Mattoon second baseman Fred Wilson during a dispute with  Pana manager Adams:

“Wilson put Adams down with a straight jab on the jaw. The manager came up, but another blow in the same place fractured his chewing apparatus.”

The Mattoon Giants won the 1907 championship, led by the pitching of future Major Leaguer Grover Lowdermilk, who posted a 33-10 record with a 0.93 ERA.  Although records for the league are nearly nonexistent, contemporary newspaper accounts mention other past and future Major Leaguers who appeared in the league including Harry Patton, Joe Yeager (after his release from the St. Louis Browns in 1908), Cecil Coombs, and Hosea Siner.

The league appeared to be in good shape heading into 1908, adding teams in Danville, Illinois and Vincennes, Indiana.  But as it prepared for the beginning of its second season other forces were ensuring it would be its last.

William Ashley “Billy” Sunday, the former outfielder for the Chicago White Stockings, Pittsburgh Alleghenys and Philadelphia Phillies, turned evangelist and temperance supporter was spending the early months of 1908 holding a five-week long  revival in Decatur, Illinois and advocating for citizens throughout Illinois to vote their towns dry during local option elections in April.

Sunday’s revival was a huge success, according to The Associated Press “there were 5,843 conversions;” and the service “on ‘booze’ was attended by 8,000 enthusiastic local optionists.”

When the polls closed on April 7, six of the league’s eight towns were voted dry.  The Associated Press said:

“With the saloons out of business, subscriptions of new stock (in the teams) will be cancelled in many instances.”

The league was in trouble.  It got worse worse when Sunday moved his revival to Charleston in April and began a new crusade against playing games on Sunday.

The 1908 season was chaotic.  New investors were scarce.  Some Sunday games were played, but attendance was down.  In July the Danville Speakers relocated to Staunton and the Pana Coal Miners moved to Linton, Indiana (incorrectly listed on Baseball Reference as Linton, Illinois).  Early in August the Mattoon Giants were on the verge of collapse.  The league finally disbanded on August 20, 1908, the Speakers were declared 1908 champions.

Professional baseball never returned to Charleston, Pana, Linton, Staunton, and Shelbyville.  Taylorville had a team in the Illinois-Missouri League in 1911.  Vincennes was part of the reformed Kitty League in 1910-11 and 1913.  Beginning in 1910 Danville was in and out of the Three-I League for the next forty years.  Mattoon did not have a professional team again until 1947, Paris until 1950.

Alonzo Hedges and the Hunting Dog

31 Oct

In 1903 Alonzo Hedges briefly became a baseball sensation.

“Pongo” Joe Cantillon, manager of the pitching strapped Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association acquired fellow Kentuckian Hedges in August from the Paducah Chiefs in the Kitty League (no roster exists for the team, but Hedges is listed in multiple box scores in Kentucky newspapers).

Said to be a 19-year-old, Hedges started his first game for Milwaukee the day after his arrival and shut down the Columbus Senators–he took a no-hitter into the ninth inning, giving up a single with two outs.

After another shutout in his second game, Hedges, “The Boy Pitcher of Milwaukee,” appeared headed for stardom.  He wasn’t.

Alonzo Hedges

First, The Chicago Tribune revealed in mid August that “The ‘boy pitcher’, whom a number of clubs are after, is really 23-years-old.”   Then Hedges faltered.  While posting a 5-4 record he was hit hard in last 11 games with Milwaukee, after being nearly unhittable in the first two.

Back in the Kitty League with the Springfield Hustlers in 1904, Hedges was effective and helped lead the team to the league championship (again, no statistics survive), but he was no longer mentioned seriously as prospect.

Newspaper accounts indicate he was the “Hedges” who appeared in four games for the Webb City Goldbugs in the Missouri Valley League in 1905—although an arm injury ended his career early in the season.   Hedges signed with the Springfield Senators of the Three-I League in 1906, but it appears that he never played for the team.

How Hedges ended up with Springfield after his brief time in Milwaukee is the real story.

One of the stories that has been told and retold about the colorful Joe Cantillon is that in 1915, while part owner and manager of the Minneapolis Millers, he traded a player, “outfielder Bruce Hopper,” to the Chicago Cubs for a hunting dog.

There are two problems with the oft-repeated story:  “outfielder Bruce Hopper”  is actually pitcher Bill “Bird Dog” Hopper, and contemporaneous accounts mentioning that Hopper was once traded for a dog provide no details of the transaction and predate Hopper’s tenure playing for Cantillon.

Joe Cantillon

However, such a trade might have taken place, but it happened more than ten years earlier and the player traded was Alonzo Hedges.

A 1910 article in The Milwaukee Sentinel mentions that Milwaukee Brewers owner Charles Sheldon Havenor kept a photo of Cantillon on his desk, along with a letter.  The letter read:

“The mother of the dog in the picture is the one I received in exchange for Alonzo Hedges, the pitcher.”

The story went on to tell the story of the trade:

“Cantillon went to Springfield, IL, to see a friend of his who owned the Springfield club and ran a cafe on the side.  During the course of the afternoon the friend showed Joe a couple of dandy setter puppies.”

Later in the discussion when the Springfield owner mentioned his need for pitching, Cantillon offered to sell him Hedges, and Cantillon said “I’ll let you have the fellow for one of those dogs.”

The Sentinel concluded:

“Mr. Hedges may not have been much of a bear cat as a pitcher, but he probably has the distinction of being the only ball player in captivity ever traded for a dog.”

One more note on Hedges.  The Chicago Tribune might have been wrong, the 23-year-old “Boy Pitcher,” might have actually been 26-years-old.  While Hedges grave lists his birth date as 1880, all extant records, including Hedges’ death certificate and census data, indicate he was born on 1877.

Hedges passed away January 12, 1928 in Paducah, Kentucky.

A Really Complete Chronology, and Quite a Reason to End up on the Disabled List

10 Oct

The Reach Guide, founded by Major Leaguer turned sporting goods magnet Alfred Reach in 1883, along with the Spalding Guide, founded by Major Leaguer turned sporting good magnet Albert Spalding in 1878, were the annual bibles of baseball.

Both publications prided themselves on providing the most complete chronology of the previous season.

An example of just how complete the Reach Guide could be is found in the 1906 edition.

The entry is about a young pitcher named Gus Bonno.

Bonno was born November 27, 1882 (Baseball reference incorrectly lists his birth year as 1881) in Ohio.  Records for his career are spotty.  After playing for a semi-pro team in Urbana Ohio in 1901 and part of ’02, late that season Bonno appeared in two games with the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association.  Bonno returned to semi-pro the following season and played for the Paducah Indians in the Kitty League in 1904.

Bonno pitched for the Newark Sailors in the Eastern League and Norwich Reds in the Connecticut State League in 1905.

The Kentucky New Era referred to the Bonno as: “The handsome black haired, black-eyed debonair Italian twirler.”  In fact, nearly every contemporaneous newspaper article about Bonno referred to his ethnicity, which underscores the domination of players of Irish and German heritage in 19th and early 20th Century baseball.

Back to the Reach Guide.

On page 160, for the date September 23, 1905:

“Pitcher Gus Bonno at Cincinnati broke his ankle jumping from a second story window of a young woman’s home to avoid being shot by a jealous rival suitor.”

1906 Reach Guide

Bonno recovered enough to join the Augusta Tourists in the South Atlantic in the spring of 1906, but was sold to the Norfolk Tars of the Virginia League at the beginning of season.  He continued to pitch until 1911 with stops in the Western League and Bluegrass League.

He passed away in Cincinnati in 1964.

Assumed Names II

9 Oct

Players using assumed names were common enough during professional baseball’s first four decades that some players still exist in the record books as separate individuals.

John Berkel is one such case.  He has four separate listing on Baseball Reference.

The “official” record for John H. Berkel begins in 1910 with the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association and ends in 1914 with the Fort Forth Panthers of the Texas League.

That was the second half of his career.

Under the name John Bierkotte he started playing pro ball with the Mattoon-Charleston Canaries in the Kitty League when he was 20 years old.

A slick fielding, weak hitting shortstop and third baseman, Berkel, as John Bierkotte, played with the Jacksonville Jays and Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic League from 1907-1910 (further complicating the trail of Berkel-Bierkotte is that Baseball reference lists him as “Bierkortte” on the Jays’ 1909 roster with a unique player listing).

John Bierkotte with the Augusta Tourists, 1909

On June 30, 1910 John Bierkotte was acquired by Atlanta from Augusta.

John Bierkotte made his debut with the Crackers on August 1.  On August 2 the Atlanta Constitution said:

“John Berkel.  You fans will have to learn to call our new shortstop by that name, for that is really his name…When he first broke into baseball he was trifle afraid he might not make good and rather than cause the laugh to be thrown on him, he decided to change his name.  This he did, and he chose Bierkotte, a weird name, as the one.”

John Berkel 1910

Berkel received high marks for his fielding but struggled at the plate and hit only .207 for Atlanta.  At the end of the 1910 season he was sold to Albany in the South Atlantic League.  From there he went to the Scranton Miners in the New York Penn League in 1912.  The “official” listing for Berkel only adds 10 games with Fort Worth in 1914.

The rest of his career is under the listing “Berkel.”

Berkel spent 1914 on the West Coast, playing for the Fresno Packers of the California State League.  After those 10 games in Fort Worth he played for the Decatur Commodores in the Three-I League, and then was sold to the Peoria Distillers in the same league.  Berkel was offered a contract by Peoria for 1915, but chose to retire and move to the west coast.

The Berkel trail runs cold until 1926 when he turns up as a 40-year-old infielder for the Spokane Eagles in the semi-pro Idaho-Washington League.

Berkel continued to live in Spokane until his death in 1975.  There is no record of why he chose the name Bierkotte.