Tag Archives: Larry McLean

One Minute Talk: Art Wilson

19 Oct

In 1916, The Newspaper Enterprise Association ran a series of brief articles called “One Minute Talks with Ballplayers.”

Art Wilson

Art Wilson

Art Wilson of the Chicago Cubs talked about the least favorite ballpark of  fellow catcher and former New York Giants teammate, the 6′ 5″ 230 pound Larry McLean:

“The distance from the home plate to the backstop in Pittsburgh (Forbes Field) used to be a terrible strain on Larry in the hot weather.  Every time a wild pitch or a passed ball got by him Larry would cuss out the man who laid out the Pirate plant.

McLean

McLean

“One night (Pirates owner) Barney Dreyfuss was seated on the veranda of the hotel where the Giants were stopping.  Larry had chased eight balls that afternoon.  He approached Dreyfuss and tapped him on the shoulder.

“‘Barney,’ he said, ‘you’ve got a great ballpark but it’s lacking in one detail.  You should have taxicab service  at the home plate for catchers to help them chase wild pitches and passed balls.'”

Lost Advertisements–“A Pennant Winning Nine!!

8 Apr

1910reds

A 1910 advertisement for Smith-Kasson Shoes in Cincinnati.

“Each shoe so named by special permission of a Red”

The shoe lineup included the “Mike Mitchell,” the “Rowan,” for pitcher Jack Rowan, the “Mr. Gaspar,” “Mr. Beebe,” and “Fromme” for pitchers Harry Gaspar and Art Fromme.  The “Egan,” for 2nd baseman Dick Egan, outfielder Bob Bescher was immortalized with the “Buster Bescher,” the “Hans Lobert” for third baseman Hans Lobert, and simply “Larry” for catcher Larry McLean.

"Buster Bescher"

“Buster Bescher”

“Every one of these swagger Oxfords is a hit with the bases full.  Some seem to be home runs they have been such great hits.

“At Three-Ninety, you cannot find any Oxford within scoring distance of these.

“Long Larry (McLean), giving permission to name one after him said, ‘Hope you sell a million pairs.’

Long Larry

Long Larry

“We’ll not sell a million, but these nifty Oxfords are going on thousands of feet of the best dressers in Redland.

“They’re in Tan, Patent, (and)  Gun Metal.  Best have a look, one of them is bound to score on you.”

It’s unknown how well the line of shoes fared;  their namesakes, stylish Oxfords and all, limped to a 75-79, fifth place finish.

Lost Advertisements–Larry McLean for Sweet Caporal

25 Sep

mclean

A 1914 Sweet Caporal Cigarette advertisement featuring New York Giants catcher Larry McLean “a great favorite of the fans:”

“Once a smoker gets the taste of Sweet Caporal no other cigarette ever really satisfies him.  He always comes back to good old Sweets.”

McLean wore out his welcome in New York and ended his major league career the following season when he fought with Manager John McGraw, and McGraw’s right-hand man, “Sinister Dick” Kinsella in the lobby of the Buckingham Hotel in St. Louis.

It was hardly the first controversy for McLean, who battled–albeit not physically–with every manager he played for during his 13-year-career.  Sam Crane, the sports writer and former infielder, summed up McLean well in a 1910 article for “Pearson’s Magazine:”

“Larry McLean, of the Cincinnati Reds, as a mere mechanical catcher is hard to beat.  He has a splendid arm and can throw like a streak.  Larry is too, perhaps, the best batting catcher in either league, but his erratic habits make it impossible to place any confidence in him.”

Larry McLean

                                  Larry McLean

A year earlier, in May, McLean had deserted the Reds during an East Coast trip and was “suspended indefinitely” by Manager Clark Griffith, who told The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“When you have a man who is liable to run out at the first call of the wild, you are in an uncertain position all the time. I am perfectly free to say that I might not take McLean back on the team at all, and certainly not until he shows me that he means business.”

McLean was back in the lineup within days, and as he did throughout his career, pledged to a reporter from The Cincinnati Times-Star that he would “(C)onduct himself properly from now on.”

It was a pledge McLean made and broke several times throughout his career which ended at age 33.  He would be dead six years later, the result of a fight in a Boston bar.

 

“Three of the Greatest Pitchers the Game ever has Produced”

15 Jul

In 1915, Frank G. Menke, who wrote for the Heart Newspaper’s International News Service told readers:

“The color line drawn so tightly around major league baseball has barred from major league fields three of the greatest pitchers the game ever has produced.”

The three were John Donaldson, Frank Wickware, and Jose Mendez.

In May, Donaldson, who pitched for the All Nations, had thrown 30 consecutive no-hit innings against Kansas City based semi-pro clubs.

Sketchy contemporary accounts with some transposed numbers in newspaper articles seem to have led to confusion about Donaldson’s feat in later years: some sources claim the streak was over two games—a regulation contest and a 21-inning game , but it appears from the earliest reports in The Kansas City Times and The Indianapolis Freeman that he pitched a nine-inning and 12-inning no-hitter against the Schmelzers, a powerful semi-pro club sponsored by the Schmelzer Arms Sporting Goods Company in Kansas City and another no-hitter against a team called the KCK (Kansas City, Kansas) All-Stars.  (Later in the summer of 1915, Schmelzers became the sponsor of the All Nations after the club lost their original sponsor, Hopkins Brothers Sporting Goods).

John Donaldson

John Donaldson

Menke quoted New York Giants Manager John McGraw’s assessment of the All Nations’ star after having watched him pitch in Cuba:

“If Donaldson were a white man, or if the unwritten law of baseball didn’t bar Negroes from the major leagues, I would give $50,000 for him—and think I was getting a bargain.”

Menke said of Wickware of the Chicago American Giants:

“(He) is another Negro pitcher who would rank with the Walter Johnsons, Joe Woods and Grover Alexanders if he were a white man…Wickware has marvelous speed, a weird set of curves and wonderful control.  And he has a trick that has made him feared among batters.  He throws what seems like a ‘bean ball,’ but his control is so perfect that he never yet has hit a batter in the head.  But when the batters see the ball, propelled with mighty force, come for their heads, they jump away, and the ball, taking its proper and well-timed curve, arches over the plate for a strike.”

Frank Wickware

Frank Wickware

The final pitcher on Menke’s list was Mendez,  another member of the All Nations:

“He’s known as “The Black Matty” and his work has been almost as brilliant as that of “The Big Six” of the Giants.  Mendez is only of medium height (5′ 9”), but he has terrific power in his arm.

“The Cuban Negro has a canny brain and he always has used it.  He has mixed his fastball with his slow one, has an assortment of beautiful curves and perfect control…Like Mathewson, he never pitches air-tight ball unless he has to.  He conserves his strength.  But when he needs to pitch hitless ball he does it.  When he needs to strike out a man he usually succeeds.”

Jose Mendez

Jose Mendez

Incredibly, a story about three pitchers who deserved notice by the major leagues written by an influential white sportswriter received barely a notice in the black press.

The Indianapolis Freeman ran the story with no further comment, and no mention of who wrote the original story, simply attributing it to The Indiana Daily Times which had run Menke’s piece.

The Chicago Defender and The Pittsburgh Courier ignored the story entirely.  The New York Age didn’t mention Menke’s story, but the same week did make a pitch for black players—not with the positive portrayal of three great pitchers as Menke had done, but by highlighting the bad behavior of some major leaguers.

Lester Aglar Walton, who wrote about baseball and theater for The Age and later became the United States Ambassador to Liberia, said:

“(I)f baseball magnates are not color prejudiced can it be that they have misgivings as to how Negro players would conduct themselves on and off the field if permitted to play in the big leagues?  However, if this is their chief cause of concern and the stumbling block in the way of crack Negro players, big league managers should be reminded of the Ty Cobbs, Larry McLeans and others who have distinguished themselves by acts of ruffianism on and off the diamond.”

Lester Aglar Watson

Lester Aglar Watson

Walton related the story of McLean’s recent fight with Giants Manager John McGraw and coach “Sinister” Dick Kinsella in the Buckingham Hotel in St. Louis.

“(H)ad McLean been a colored player the incident in St. Louis would have brought about the disbarment of all Negroes from hotels in St. Louis—had a policy of accommodating Negroes existed.”

Larry McLean

Larry McLean

Walton also noted that when white teams met black teams on the field after the regular season, “The mixing of the races does not provoke racial conflicts and the best of feelings exist” among the players.

Then, he asked the men who owned major league clubs:

“The question is therefore put up to big league magnates that if the Indian with his dark skin and the Cuban are permitted to play in the big leagues, and if there is not the least possibility of the record for ruffianism established by the Ty Cobbs and Larry McLeans being eclipsed, why not give the Negro player a chance?”

As would be the case for three more decades, there was no reply.

Bill Brennan versus Philadelphia

10 Jul

Umpire William “Bill” Brennan was at the center of the controversy that led to Philadelphia Phillies owner Horace Fogel being banished from the National League.  Fogel maintained that the 1912 pennant race was fixed, and that Brennan and the rest of the league’s umpires were in the tank for the champion New York Giants.

After Fogel was expelled Brennan dropped a threatened libel suit against him and the umpire’s life went back to normal, until August 30, 1913.

Fogel was working the game in Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl between the Phillies and the New York Giants.  The Giants, who were in first place by nine games, were trailing the Phillies 8-6 in the ninth inning.

Harry “Moose” McCormick, pinch-hitting for Fred Merkle, led off the inning with a groundout to second baseman Otto KnabeThe Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“As the big Giants’ pinch hitter started for the players’ bench he motioned towards the center field bleachers and shouted to Brennan that the white shirts there had blinded him.”

Brennan walked out to the center field bleachers and told the fans seated in the area to vacate their seats:

“They greeted him with jeers and catcalls; Brennan paused helplessly for minute and then walked back into the diamond.  Approaching Mike Doolan, captain of the Phillies, he ordered him to have the crowd removed.  Doolan laughed and said that it was impossible.  Then Brennan walked over to the New York bench and held a conference with Manager (John) McGraw.”

Philadelphia manager Charles “Red” Dooin had been ejected earlier in the game, so Brennan told acting manager Hans Lobert to move the crowd out of center field.  Lobert and the Phillies “explained that it could not be done.”

Brennan again went out to the center field bleachers, this time ordering a Philadelphia police officer to remove the crowd:

“The bluecoat laughed at him and said that he could not, under any circumstances, take his orders.

“’You’re under my orders,’ said Brennan.

“’I’m under no orders except from my sergeant or captain,’ was the answer.”

The crowd of 22,000 was “storming angrily for the game to proceed,” and the other umpire, Mal Eason, suggested the game be continued and played under protest.  Instead, Brennan again huddled with McGraw.

“Strangely enough, McGraw, who is generally the most volatile man in the world and charges all over the field in excitement, this time, remained quietly on the New York Players’ bench.”

Brennan walked back on the field and said, “This game is forfeited to New York, 9 to 0.”  The Giants were “running towards the clubhouse before (Brennan) completed his statement,” according to The Inquirer.

“Bedlam cut loose at that instant.  Screaming in rage the bleacherites by the thousands poured over the low rail into the playing field…a cushion seat struck Brennan in the face as he was walking towards the exit…His walk turned into an undignified run.  The bleach crowd had first tried to stop the New York players who butted their way to safety.  Then they turned toward Brennan.”

Bill Brennan

Bill Brennan

Escorted by police “with drawn revolvers,” Breen was able to get off the field.   Mobs formed outside the Baker Bowl and pursued the Giants, and Brennan, with his police escort, on their separate routes to the North Philadelphia Railroad Station:

“Brennan and his guard reached the entrance to the station just at the instant McGraw and his players came fleeing around the corner at Broad Street.  The police forsook the umpire to try and head off the larger crowd behind the New Yorkers.  With drawn guns they held them at bay for a few minutes. “

While police held two mobs at bay, a third waited for Brennan inside the station and “jumped upon him by the dozens.  (Brennan) was beaten to the ground, rose, (and) was beaten down again.”

The Inquirer claimed that McGraw and Brennan in their haste to escape the crowd boarded the wrong train, “an extra fare train from Pittsburgh,” rather than the train to New York.

Despite the mob, the chaos, and the “Missiles of all kinds,” that were thrown by Phillies fans, there was only one injury.  Giants’ utility man Arthur Tillie Shafer was hit in the head with a brick, but was not seriously injured.

Two days later National League President Thomas Lynch assigned Brennan to work the Phillies September 1 double-header with the Dodgers. The Inquirer said:

“President Lynch, of the National league, exhibited anything but a keen sense of delicacy in sending Brennan in to umpire the two games between the Phillies and Brooklyn on Monday,  or perhaps he is trying to work up a reputation as a humorist.”

National League President Thomas Lynch

National League President Thomas Lynch

Philadelphia won both games without any serious incidents.  The Inquirer headline read:

“Man Who Helped Giants Couldn’t Aid Dodgers.”

Two days later Lynch reversed Brennan’s decision, The Associated Press said:

“Lynch, in his decision says that Umpire Brennan exceeded his authority in declaring the game forfeited to the New York club and formally awards it to the Philadelphia team by a score of 8 to 6.”

While New York appealed Lynch’s decision, Brennan‘s troubles were just starting.

He learned that a warrant was issued for his arrest in Philadelphia; a Phillies fan named Henry Russell claimed “Brennan in his efforts to get out of the park pummeled him and knocked him to the ground where he was trampled by the crowd.”  At the same time, it was rumored that Brennan would be let go by the National League.  The Associated Press said:

“(Tom Lynch) is certain to let him out, it is said if he is reelected, and if another man is chosen to head the circuit he will be instructed by his nominators to dispense with Brennan.  It is not the case of the forfeit that mitigates against Brennan so much, according to the yarn circulated, but his generally inconsistent work in games where the spirit of battle ran high.  He is said to be over excitable.”

Two weeks after Lynch’s decision, he was overruled by the National League Board of Directors, and it was determined that the game would be completed on October 2,

The Philadelphia Record and The Inquirer called the decision unfair and gave the second place Phillies “all the worst of it.”

In the end, the decision made no difference.  The Phillies, nine games behind the Giants on the day of the forfeit, never got closer than seven games out of first place, and finished the season twelve and a half games behind the Giants.  The pennant was a foregone conclusion when what The Inquirer called “The longest game on record,” was finally completed.

The anti-climactic two-thirds of an inning ended quickly on October 2.  Tacked on to the beginning of a double-header, pitcher George Chalmers faced three batters:  John “Red” Murray grounded out, John “Chief” Meyers singled; Eddie Grant ran for Meyers and was forced at second on Larry McLean’s ground ball.  The Phillies “ran from the bench and danced in glee at the speedy decision in favor of the long-standing dispute.”

billbrennan

After New York won the 1913 pennant, Giant pitcher and cartoonist Al Demaree featured Brennan in one of his nationally syndicated cartoons.

In December Lynch resigned as National League president; the following month it was announced that Brennan had jumped from the National League, signing a three-year contract to become a Federal League umpire (the league would only last two seasons).

The last word in the Brennan/Philadelphia controversy belonged to a journeyman boxer and fight promoter in Superior, Minnesota named Curly Ulrich.  Three weeks after the 1913 season ended The Duluth News-Tribune said Brennan, a St. Paul resident,  “attended the bouts in Superior.”  Promoter Ulrich introduced him:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to present to you Bill Brennan, National League umpire and member of the New York Giants.”

The box score as it appeared on August 31

The box score as it appeared on August 31

Kauff and Perritt

29 Jan

Benny Kauff and Pol Perritt were two of the reasons why the New York giants won the National League Pennant in 1917.  Kauff led the team with a .308 average and Perritt was 17-7 with a 1.88 ERA.  Both came to the Giants by way of the Federal League, and with the help of “Sinister Dick” Kinsella, John McGraw’s right-hand man.

"Sinister Dick" Kinsella

“Sinister Dick” Kinsella

Kinsella was the former baseball magnate of Springfield, Illinois who went east to serve as McGraw’s chief scout.  He was a key player in the incident that led to Giants’ catcher Larry McLean’s banishment from organized baseball.

After the 1914 season, McGraw set his sights on the Indianapolis Hoosiers’ Kauff, who was being called the “Ty Cobb of the Federal League.”  Kauff led the league with a .370 average, 120 runs, 211 hits and 75 stolen bases.

When the debt-ridden Hoosiers were transferred to Newark for the 1915 season Kauff’s contract was sold to the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, and he joined the team in Browns Wells, Mississippi.

At the same time, Perritt coming off a 16-13 season was prepared to jump the St. Louis Cardinals and join the Pittsburgh Rebels in the Federal League.

Pol Perritt and Benny Kauff, 1917

Pol Perritt and Benny Kauff, 1917

Sportswriter Frank G. Menke of Hearst’s International News Service picks up the story:

“Dick Kinsella, scout for the Giants, according to the story we get, hustled to Browns Wells and got a job on a plantation…Kinsella didn’t dare to put up at the same hotel because he was known by Manager Lee Magee, Business Manager Dick Carroll and others of the Brookfeds.”

Kinsella, according to Menke, was pretending to be a farm hand and also observing Kauff’s workouts and reporting back to McGraw who, along with Jack Hendricks of the Indianapolis Indians in the American Association (who held Kauff’s rights) was sending coded telegrams to Kauff signed “Father.”  Kauff received telegrams saying, “Mother wishes to see her boy,” and “All is forgiven.”

According to Menke, the telegrams were intended to inform Kauff that McGraw wanted him with the Giants and:

“The “everything forgiven” telegram was to tip Kauff off that if he jumped the National Commission probably would let him play.”

While Kauff was in Mississippi, Pol Perritt was in the process of  jumping to the Federal League.

According to Menke, Kinsella left Mississippi in the middle of the operation to secure Kauff in order to talk to Perritt.  What Kinsella said to Perritt is unknown, but Perritt’s meeting with Pittsburgh manager Rebel Oakes pretty much put an end to any chance of joining the Federal League.  The Associated Press said:

“Pitcher ‘Pol’ Perritt who jumped to the Pittsburgh Federal recently had a fist fight with Manager ‘Rebel’ Oakes…Those who saw the fight say that the pitcher delivered one blow that knocked Oakes over a chair…Friends and acquaintances interceded and hushed up the whole affair before police arrived on the scene.”

The story said Perritt was meeting with Cardinals’ management to “flop back to organized ball,” within weeks the Cardinals sold Perritt’s contract to the Giants, The AP said:

“Carefully guarded by “Sinister Dick” Kinsella…Perritt was delivered to John J. McGraw this noon…Kinsella brought his man in from Shreveport without struggle, and states that he did not even sight a Federal submarine during the entire journey.”

An alternate version of the story, published in The New York Times said it was McGraw who met with Perritt rather than Kinsella and highlighted the manager’s journey to meet the pitcher:

“McGraw had to travel forty miles on one railroad, nine miles on another, and then drive nine miles through the mud to get to Perritt’s home in Louisiana.”

Perritt was in the fold.  After a 12-18 season in 1915, he would win 18, 17 and 18 from 1916-18.

Kauff would be a bit more complicated.

While Kinsella was gone from Mississippi securing Perritt, Kauff signed a $6000 contract with Brooklyn, which he immediately regretted and contacted McGraw.

kinsellamcgraw

Dick Kinsella and John McGraw, 1920

According to Menke, Kauff:

“Related the difficulty he had with Robert B. Ward, president of the Brookfeds, over the contract.  The Giants people thought that owing to Kauff’s trouble—or alleged trouble—over the Brookfed contract that he was not legally under contract.”

Menke said the Giants signed Kauff for $7000 a year for three years with a $7000 bonus.

National League President John Tener voided the contract and Kauff was forced to return to the Tip Tops; he again led the league with a .342 average.

McGraw finally got his second man at the close of the 1915 season.  After the Federal League folded and Kauff was reinstated to organized baseball he signed a two-year contract for $6500 a season and a $5000 bonus with the Giants.

New York had finished in eighth place in 1915. They improved to fourth in 1916 and won the pennant by 10 games in 1917. McGraw’s Giants lost the to the Chicago White Sox four games to two in the World Series.  Perritt appeared in three games in relief, and Kauff hit a disappointing .160, despite two home runs in the Giants’ game four victory.

After the 1917 World Series Perritt and Kauff faded fast.

Perritt was 18-13 in 1918, but would only win four more games over the following three seasons with the Giants and Detroit Tigers; he was out of professional baseball before his 30th birthday.

Kauff’s demise is better known; his professional career came to an end at age thirty, the result of allegations of his involvement with gamblers, in general, and 1919 World series fixer Arthur Rothstein in particular.  Kauff, who owned an automobile accessory business with his half-brother and Giant teammate Jesse Barnes, was charged with stealing and reselling an automobile.  Although he was acquitted at trial, Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned Kauff for life.  Kauff’s oft-told story is told best in two excellent books by David Pietrusza:  Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series and Judge and Jury: The Life and Times of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

Perritt died in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1947; Kauff died in Columbus, Ohio in 1961.

“Big, Good-Hearted and Foolish”

9 Jan

Almost immediately there was trouble for manager John McGraw after the New York Giants acquired Larry McLean from the St. Louis Cardinals, August 6, 1913—it was one of the few times in his career when the trouble wasn’t McLean’s fault.

With Chief Meyers hurt McGraw needed a catcher and traded the popular Doc Crandall to the Cardinals for McLean.  The day after the trade The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune reported that McGraw had “exchanged fisticuffs” with five of his players:

“Crandall was very popular among the club members, and there was much bitterness felt at his loss…The players passed hot words (at McGraw), and several blows were struck.”

McGraw was left with a bloody nose from the fight, and less than two weeks later reacquired Crandall from St. Louis.

McLean thrived in New York, a United Press story said:

“The big lad has been slamming the horsehide at a terrific gait, and has been displaying wonderful form behind the plate…Larry is said to be behaving himself better than he ever has since joining the big show.”

McLean hit .320 for the pennant-winning Giants and went 6 for 12 in their World Series loss to the Philadelphia Athletics.  He earned the praise of McGraw and despite diminishing skills, remained a model citizen for all of 1914 and part of 1915.

That all changed in June of 1915.  McLean had a clause in his contract which would have earned him an additional $1000 if he did not drink during the season.  McGraw’s right-hand man, scout Richard “Sinister Dick” Kinsella, had accused McLean of drunkenness and as a result was suspended for 10 days by McGraw.

Larry McLean, 1915

Larry McLean, 1915

In the lobby of the Buckingham Hotel in St. Louis, McLean accused Kinsella of making up the charge that he’d been drinking in order to cheat him out of the promised bonus.  Words were exchanged and then a fight broke out.  There was the McGraw-Kinsella version and the McLean version.

McGraw and Kinsella said McLean was carrying a length of gas pipe, and “came into the lobby with a number of rough companions.”

Kinsella’s version was as colorful as it was questionable:

“I picked up a chair and broke it over McLean’s head.  That frightened his gang of ruffians and they fled.  McLean continued to fight until McGraw and I chased him into the street, where he jumped into an automobile filled with women and begged for protection.”

McLean told reporters “I whipped McGraw and all of his associates with my two fists, I did not use a gas pipe, and he “exhibited his bruised right hand as evidence.”

McLean was finished with the Giants.

In March of 1916 The Associated Press reported that McLean had purchased the New Haven Murlins of the Eastern League and said “Larry will manage the club and catch.”  Either the report was erroneous or the deal fell through.  McLean never again played professional baseball and spent 1916 playing with semi-pro teams in New York.

Before the 1917 season baseball writer Ren Mulford reported that McLean might be signed by the Reds:

 Wouldn’t it be odd if Big Larry would come out of the swamp and stick to his spikes into dry ground?  Larry McLean, big, good-hearted and foolish, always his own worst enemy might come back if he willed it so.”

McLean never joined the Reds.

Also in 1917 several newspapers reported that McLean was becoming an actor, The New London (CT) Day said McLean “is now a real moving picture actor,” and included a picture of McLean with another actor “as Egyptian slaves in ‘The Siren,’ a movie soon to be released.”  (The film “The Siren” is described on IMDB as a western—what film, if any McLean actually appeared in is unknown)

Larry McLean, 1915

Larry McLean as an Egyptian slave in a 1917 film

In 1919 McLean was “in serious condition,” in a New York hospital as a result of burns received in a Turkish bath when he lost consciousness after entering a room.  He had been suffering from pneumonia and was in a weakened condition.”

That was the last that was heard of McLean until March 24, 1921.  McLean and a friend named Jack McCarthy were in a bar in Boston’s South End.  The bartender (John Connor) claimed McLean became enraged when he refused to give him cigarettes and threatened to “beat him up:”

 “McLean started to climb the bar to attack him.  McCarthy was helping McLean over the counter when Connor reached for a pistol, and fired… McLean staggered out to the sidewalk where he fell.”

Connor claimed that the previous evening McLean had chased another bartender “up and down the barroom…and forced him to leave to save himself from a beating.

McCarthy was also shot and died in the hospital six days later.  (Some recent sources, such as Bill James in “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” erroneously identify McCarthy as John Arthur “Jack” McCarthy, a former Major League player.  The McCarthy who was shot with McLean was John F. McCarthy.  Incidentally, John Arthur McCarthy is one of a very few Major League players for whom death information is unknown)

Connor was being held without bail at the time of McCarthy’s death and, according to The Boston Post, eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to one year in prison.

Larry McLean

8 Jan

At 6’ 5” John Bannerman “Larry” McLean is still the tallest catcher to have played in the Major Leagues nearly a century after his final game.  Born in New Brunswick, Canada, McLean’s ability was mostly overshadowed by his frequent off-field troubles during his career.

McLean bounced between the minor leagues, semi-pro teams, and trials with the Boston Americans, Chicago Cubs and Saint Louis Cardinals from 1901-1904.  McLean joined the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League in 1905 and it was here that he developed into a good ballplayer and a first-rate baseball character.

Larry McLean

Larry McLean

McLean hit .285 in 182 games with Portland in 1905, but also started to show signs of the troubles that would plague him for the remainder of his career; Portland added a “temperance clause” to his contract and McLean, who had originally planned on a boxing career, loved to fight.

In 1906, while hitting .355 for Portland, and catching the eye of the Cincinnati Reds who would purchase his contract in August; McLean announced that he was going to become a professional fighter.

The wire report which ran in The Bakersfield Daily Californian said:

“McLean the giant catcher of the Portland team…He is so big that umpires walk out behind the pitcher so they judge balls and strikes…announces that he will fight any man in the world, Big Jeff (Jim Jeffries) not barred.”

The story said McLean was training with Tom Corbett (older brother of “Gentleman Jim” Corbett) and Corbett said he “has a ‘sure ‘nuff’ champion in the big catcher.”

Talk of a ring career temporarily ended when McLean joined the Reds, but McLean’s legend grew.  In November of 1906, he caught a murderer while in a subway station with his wife.  The Boston Post said the suspect:

“Was seen to pull a gun and pump five bullets (into the victim)…Larry started after him and collard him just outside the entrance.  (McLean had the suspect) pinioned so he could not move.  The police soon arrived and took charge of McLean’s prisoner.”

McLean was a huge hit with Havana fans the following winter when the Reds touring Cuba; The Sporting Life said:

“Larry McLean was the favorite and every time he caught a ball the crowd applauded. McLean has been dubbed by the baseball fans ‘Chiquito.’”

McLean and Chicago White Sox pitcher Frank Smith were mentioned at various times as possible opponents for heavyweight champion Jack Johnson; boxing writer Tommy Clark said in 1910 that McLean “Thinks he has a good chance of lowering Johnson’s colors.”

But while McLean was a fan favorite he regularly ran afoul of Cincinnati management and none of the managers he played for was able to keep him out of trouble.

While with the Reds McLean was arrested at least four times–for disorderly conduct, passing a bad check and two assaults.  In one case, at the Savoy Hotel in Cincinnati, McLean knocked a newspaper man from Toledo unconscious after the man “Reproved McLean for using a vile name.”

While serving a suspension for breaking team rules in 1910 McLean Said:

“When I get back to Cincinnati there will be 25,000 fans at the depot waiting to shake hands with me.”

Frank Bancroft, Reds secretary and former manager said in response:

“Twenty-five thousand, why, they’ve not that many barkeepers in Cincinnati”

McLean had worn out his welcome by 1910, but Cincinnati was not able to find any takers for the catcher.  Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss said, “I wouldn’t give 30 cents for Larry McLean.”

McLean stayed with the Reds for two more seasons, but when Joe Tinker took over the team one of his first moves was to sell McLean to the Saint Louis Cardinals in January of 1913.  McLean said he had finally learned his lesson and promised to behave with the Cardinals:

“They didn’t want me around because they said I was a bum. Now I’m going to fool Tinker.”

McLean did behave himself in Saint Louis and seemed to appreciate the opportunity he was given by his former Reds teammate, manager Miller Huggins, even earning a “good behavior” incentive in his contract, and was hitting .270 for the Cardinals, but the cash-strapped team went with the younger, cheaper Ivey Wingo behind the plate and traded McLean to the New York Giants for Pitcher Doc Crandall.

Larry McLean, standing end right, Miller Huggins, standing end left, and Frank Bancroft, standing middle (in suit) on the 1908 Cuban tour.

Larry McLean, standing 5th from left, Miller Huggins, standing end left, and Frank Bancroft, standing middle (in suit) on the 1908 Cuban tour.

The rest of the McLean story tomorrow.