Tag Archives: Larry Corcoran

“Never a Backstop ever Lived could touch Frank Flint.”

6 Apr

George Gore spent 14 seasons in the major leagues, hitting .301—most notably, he led the National League with a .360 average in 1880 as a member of the Chicago White Stockings.

George Gore

George Gore

After his retirement, Gore was a regular attendee of baseball’s winter meetings.  In 1910, he spoke to a reporter from The Washington Evening Star at the 1910 gathering at New York’s Hotel Breslin.  The paper called him “one of the finest fielders, heaviest hitters, and finest ballplayers,” of his era.

Gore, however, didn’t want to talk about his abilities, but instead was making the case for one of his former teammates, Silver Flint:

Silver Flint

Silver Flint

“Frank Flint of our team was the greatest catcher who ever lived.  He knew more than any other man with the mask.  He had the greatest head of any man in the business.  Nobody before or since could touch Flint.

“Every pitcher he ever handled he made a star.  Look at Fred Goldsmith and Larry Corcoran.”

Fred Goldsmith

Fred Goldsmith

Gore noted that neither pitcher “ever showed much” before or after playing with Flint; although he did leave out that both were still teammates of Flint when they began their steep declines in 1884 and 1885.

“Once Frank took them in hand, they all developed into stars.  He could make cracks out of every pitcher who ever towed the slab.  Show me the backstop today who can take any pitcher and make a marvel out of him.”

Larry Corcoran

Larry Corcoran

Of Flint’s role in both pitchers’ success, Gore said:

“Goldsmith was able to pitch for us for several years after his arm was like a plate of ice cream because he had Flint behind the bat.  Corcoran, you know, was a slightly built man (5’ 3” 125-130 pounds) and as cranky as the dickens.

“The White Stockings were out in California at the time that (William) Hulbert was president of the club.  Corcoran had been heard about by our team, but his sour disposition had queered him with a number of them.  Hulbert was a trifle loath to take him.  However, he talked with ‘Silver’.”  ‘Get him,’ said Frank, ‘and I’ll do the rest.’  So Hulbert took Larry.’”

Gore, who likely exaggerated concerns about the highly prized 20-year-old Corcoran, said of Hulbert’s first meeting with the pitcher:

“The boss called Corcoran to him ‘Look here’ said the president, pointing to Flint:  ‘That fellow is your boss.  You do everything that he asks you, and don’t you disobey, or I’ll fire you right off the reel.’

“Corcoran started.  He obeyed implicitly, and everything went along finely.  Larry was soon one of the best twirlers in the league.  One day, though, he got one of his cranky fits on.  He wouldn’t obey the signals and crossed ‘Silver’ several times.”

Gore said Flint went out to speak to his ‘cranky’ pitcher:

“’Larry,’ he said quietly, but his eyes were snapping, ‘you either do what I say or you  go straight into the clubhouse—I don’t care a d— which you do. Now get busy.’”

Gore said Corcoran complied:

“After the game, Hulbert was sitting in the grandstand.  Corcoran came out of the clubhouse dressed, and the boss was waiting for him.  He called the pitcher to him.  ‘Look here Lawrence,’ sa id the old man, ‘didn’t I tell you that Frank was your boss?  Now if you let another yip out of you like you did today you’ll be fired so quick that your head will swim.’”

Gore said Corcoran again complied, and from that point on Flint had him “trained to the minute.”  Corcoran was 175-85 with a 2.26 ERA from 1880 until the White Stockings released him in 1885—his arm dead.  Despite the numbers, Gore called Corcoran “only a fair twirler” but for Flint.

Goldsmith, a claimant to the invention of the curveball, had a similar fate. He was 98 and 52 with a 2.57 ERA from 1880 through 1883 with Chicago; in 1884, he began to struggle and was 9-11 with a 4.26 ERA when the White Stockings sold him to the Baltimore Orioles in August.  His career was over at the end of that season.

Corcoran’s big league career was over at age 27, Goldsmith was 28.

Whether Flint deserved as much credit as Gore gave him for their brief, incredible success, is open to debate, but in 1910, the former outfielder was certain in his praise for his former teammate, who had died in 1892:

“Yes, there was never a backstop ever lived  could touch Frank Flint.”

Grantland Rice’s “All-Time All-Star Round up”

10 Aug

In December of 1917, thirty-eight-year-old sportswriter Grantland Rice of The New York Tribune enlisted in the army–he spent fourteen months in Europe.  Before he left he laid out the case, over two weeks, for an all-time all-star team in the pages of the paper:

“As we expect to be held to a restricted output very shortly, due to the exigencies and demands of the artillery game, this seemed to be a fairly fitting period to unfold the results.”

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

Rice said the selections were “not solely from our own limited observation, extending over a period of some eighteen or twenty years,” but included input from players, managers and sportswriters, including  “such veterans” as Frank Bancroft and Clark Griffith, and baseball writers Joe Vila of The New York Sun, Bill Hanna of The New York Herald and Sam Crane, the former major league infielder turned sportswriter of The New York Journal.

Rice said only one of the nine selections “(S)eems to rest in doubt.  The others were almost unanimously backed.”

The selections:

Pitcher:  Christy Mathewson

A. G. Spalding, John (Montgomery) Ward, Larry Corcoran, Charley Radbourn, John Clarkson, (Thomas) Toad Ramsey, Tim Keefe, Bill Hoffer, Amos Rusie, (Mordecai) Miner Brown, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh–the array is almost endless.

“In the matter of physical stamina, Cy Young has outclassed the field.  Cy won more games than almost any others ever pitched.

“(But) For all the pitching mixtures and ingredients, stamina, steadiness, brilliancy, brains, control, speed, curves, coolness, courage, is generally agreed that no man has ever yet surpassed Christy Mathewson…there has never been another who had more brains or as fine control.”

 

[…]

“It might be argued that Radbourn or (Walter) Johnson or (Grover Cleveland) Alexander was a greater pitcher than Mathewson.

But we’ll string with Matty against the field.”

Radbourn was the second choice.  Bancroft said:

“Radbourn was more like Mathewson than any pitcher I ever saw.  I mean by that, that like Matty, he depended largely upon brains and courage and control, like Matty he had fine speed and the rest of it.  Radbourn was a great pitcher, the best of the old school beyond any doubt.”

Catcher:  William “Buck” Ewing

“Here we come to a long array—Frank (Silver) Flint, Charley Bennett, (Charles “Chief”) Zimmer, (James “Deacon”) McGuire, (Wilbert) Robinson, (Marty) Bergen(Johnny) Kling, (Roger) Bresnahan and various others.

“But the bulk of the votes went to Buck Ewing.”

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

[…]

“Wherein did Ewing excel?

“He was a great mechanical catcher.  He had a wonderful arm and no man was surer of the bat…he had a keen brain, uncanny judgment, and those who worked with him say that he had no rival at diagnosing the  weakness of opposing batsman, or at handling his pitchers with rare skill.”

Kling was the second choice:

“Kling was fairly close…a fine thrower, hard hitter, and brilliant strategist…But as brilliant as Kling was over a span of years, we found no one who placed him over the immortal Buck.”

1B Fred Tenney

First Base was the one position with “the greatest difference of opinion,” among Rice and the others:

“From Charlie Comiskey to George Sisler is a long gap—and in that gap it seems that no one man has ever risen to undisputed heights… There are logical arguments to be offered that Hal Chase or Frank Chance should displace Fred Tenney at first.

But in the way of batting and fielding records Tenney wins….Of the present array, George Sisler is the one who has the best chance of replacing Tenney.”

2B Eddie Collins

 “There was no great argument about second base.

“The vote was almost unanimous.

“From the days of Ross Barnes, a great hitter and a good second baseman on through 1917, the game has known many stars.  But for all-around ability the game has known but one Eddie Collins.”

Rice said the competition was between Collins, Napoleon Lajoie and Johnny Evers:

“Of these Lajoie was the greatest hitter and most graceful workman.

“Of these Evers was the greatest fighter and the more eternally mentally alert.

“But for batting and base running, fielding skill, speed and the entire combination, Collins was voted on top.”

 SS Honus Wagner

“Here, with possibly one exception, is the easiest pick of the lot.  The game has been replete with star shortstops with George Wright in 1875 to (Walter “Rabbit”) Maranville, (George “Buck”) Weaver…There were (Jack) Glasscock and (John Montgomery) Ward, (Hardy) Richards0n, (Hugh) Jennings, (Herman)Long, (Joe) Tinker and (Jack) Barry.

“But there has been only one Hans Wagner.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Jennings and Long were rated second and third,  “But, with the entire list  considered there is no question but that Wagner stands at the top.”

3B Jimmy Collins

Rice said:

“From the days of (Ned) Williamson(Jerry) Denny, and (Ezra) Sutton, over thirty years ago, great third basemen have only appeared at widely separated intervals.

“There have been fewer great third basemen in baseball than at any other position, for there have been periods when five or six years would pass without an undoubted star.”

The final decision came down to “John McGraw vs. Jimmy Collins.”  McGraw was “a great hitter, a fine bunter and a star base runner,” while “Collins was a marvel and a marvel over a long stretch…he was good enough to carve out a .330 or a .340 clip (and) when it came to infield play at third he certainly had no superior…So taking his combined fielding and batting ability against that of McGraw and Collins wins the place.  McGraw was a trifle his superior on the attack. But as a fielder there was no great comparison, Collins leading by a number of strides.”

 

OF Ty Cobb

“The supply here is overwhelming…Yet the remarkable part is that when we offered our selection to a jury of old players, managers and veteran scribes there was hardly a dissenting vote.”

[…]

“Number one answers itself.  A man who can lead the league nine years in succession at bat.

“A man who can lead his league at bat in ten out of eleven seasons.

“A man who can run up the record for base hits and runs scored in a year—also runs driven in.

“Well, the name Ty Cobb answers the rest of it.”

OF Tris Speaker

 “The man who gives Cobb the hardest battle is Tris Speaker.  Veteran observers like Clark Griffith all say that Speaker is the greatest defensive outfielder baseball has ever exploited…Speaker can cover more ground before a ball is pitched than any man.  And if he guesses incorrectly, which he seldom does, he can go a mile to retrieve his error in judgment…And to this impressive defensive strength must be added the fact he is a powerful hitter, not only a normal .350 man, but one who can tear the hide off the ball for extra bases.”

Tris Speaker "hardest hit"

Tris Speaker 

OF “Wee Willie” Keeler

Mike Kelly and Joe KelleyJimmy Sheckard and Fred Clarke—the slugging (Ed) Delehanty—the rare Bill LangeBilly Hamilton.

“The remaining list is a great one, but how can Wee Willie Keeler be put aside?

“Ask Joe Kelley, or John McGraw, or others who played with Keeler and who remember his work.

“Keeler was one of the most scientific batsmen that ever chopped a timely single over third or first…And Keeler was also a great defensive outfielder, a fine ground coverer—a great thrower—a star in every department of play.

“Mike Kelly was a marvel, more of an all-around sensation, but those who watched the work of both figure Keeler on top.”

Rice said of the nine selections:

“The above is the verdict arrived at after discussions with managers, players and writers who have seen a big section of the long parade, and who are therefore able to compare the stars of today with the best men of forgotten years.

“Out of the thousands of fine players who have made up the roll call of the game since 1870 it would seem impossible to pick nine men and award them the olive wreath.  In several instances the margin among three or four is slight.

“But as far a s deductions, observations, records and opinions go, the cast named isn’t very far away from an all-time all-star round up, picked for ability, stamina, brains, aggressiveness and team value.

“If it doesn’t stick, just what name from above could you drop?”

“The Farce of the Season”

26 Nov

In November of 1885 Topeka, Kansas was scandalized by a baseball game.

The Daily Capital said:

“A social game of baseball, whether the contestants are skilled professionals of ambitious amateurs, is always a matter of some interest and pleasure both to the participants and the spectators; but a sensational exhibition, such as was witnessed at the fairgrounds yesterday afternoon, is another and quite a different thing.  The fact that it attracted a crowd of several hundred men and boys does not divest the spectacle of its questionable character, and it is surprising that an outfit of this kind should receive such substantial encouragement in a city like Topeka, where a claim to ordinary civilization is advanced and where the spires of nearly a hundred churches cast their shadows upon an enlightened and progressive people.”

The Daily Commonwealth was more succinct:

“The farce of the season was the game of baseball played yesterday afternoon.”

The cause of the outrage was “The Fairies of the Field,” a traveling female team.

The Daily Commonwealth noted that the team arrived in Topeka on a “Sante Fe train, traveling in a special car, painted red, perhaps because their advent into a town causes the town to assume that color.”

Neither of the Topeka papers were impressed with the ball-playing ability of the visitors, who faced a “picked nine” of local male amateurs and semi-pro players.

The Daily Capital:

“The nine females who formed the principal attraction were awkward and scrawny and had no knowledge whatever of the national game they were abusing.”

The Daily Commonwealth:

“The ‘belles’ can’t throw any better than any other woman can, and can hit a ball with about as much force as a ten year old boy.”

The Daily Capital didn’t bother to disclose the final score, “The details of the game are not worthy of extended notice.” The Daily Commonwealth gave the final score, but attributed the Fairies’ 19 to 7 victory in the four-inning game to “assistance” from the umpire, and the generousness of “The home nine (who) gave them every opportunity to make runs.”

Despite the reception in Topeka, the team was popular and performed to large crowds the previous year at the World’s Fair in New Orleans, then spent the summer and early fall of 1895 barnstorming across the Midwest.  The Fairies were generally received with more respect and enthusiasm than what they faced in Topeka, but the reviews of their skills varied.

The Minneapolis Tribune gave the team a glowing notice after a game in August of 1885 “attended by 700 men and eight women,” and said:

“The Fairies of the Field were in fine form and flitted coyly over the luxuriant sward as blithe and chipper as a Mayday butterfly.”

The paper said one of the Fairies—Genevieve McAllister—“wields the willow after the style of Jim O’Rourke,” and Clara Corcoran, who played third base was said to be the niece of Chicago White Stockings pitcher Larry Corcoran.”  The Tribune said of the team’s pitcher:

“Miss Royalston—“the expert and lady-like pitcher of the visitors…formerly lived at Detroit, and learned the art from the study of (Frederick “Dupee”) Shaw, the wizard.  She takes a graceful three-lap pirouette on the left toe, and while the batsman is dazzled by the rapidity with which the stripes on her polonaise fly by, the ball comes out from somewhere and the umpire calls a strike.”

The St. Paul Globe's rendering of one of the 'Fairies.'

The St. Paul Globe’s rendering of one of the ‘Fairies.’

The Fairies defeated the Minneapolis men 8 to 7.

The St. Paul Globe said after a loss at Stillwater, Minnesota “witnessed by a crowd of 1,200 or 1,300 persons,” composed of “Every profession in Stillwater, excepting the clergy, from street urchin to the capitalist, was represented.”

The Globe said of the visitors:

“The girls, seven brunettes and two blondes, were attired in red hose, plaid dresses reaching to the knee, red caps and slippers.  All wore belts, and two or three black jerseys, and were powdered and panted like ballet fairies.”

But the St. Paul paper was not as impressed with the Fairies as their counterparts in Minneapolis, summing up their performance in Stillwell:

“They can’t play ball a little bit.”

When 1,500 turned out for a game in St. Paul, The Globe was equally unimpressed:

“Four innings were played, the score being 14 to 4 in favor of the picked nine, who could have made it 44 to 4 if they chose.  At the close of the fourth inning the manager called, ‘Game! Grab your bases,’ which each basewoman did and the fairies vanished, leaving behind the most disgusted audience that ever went to see a game of baseball.”

Handbills that promoted the team’s appearances read “Have never been here before, may never come again.”

True to the advertisements the Fairies of the Field disbanded shortly after their ‘farce’ in Topeka, and never came again.