Tag Archives: Levi Meyerle

“That was Base Ball Playing with more Science”

24 Feb

Sargent Perry “Sadie” Houck played for seven National League and American Association clubs from 1879 to 1887. After his retirement, the Washington D.C. native owned a roadhouse on Conduit Road (renamed MacArthur Boulevard after World War II in honor of General Douglas MacArthur), and was occasionally sought out by local reporters for his views on the modern game.

sadie

In 1907, The Washington Evening Star said of Houck:

“(N)ext to Charley (Pop) Snyder and Doug Allison, none is remembered more by the old boys.”

And his name, “always brings the smile of fond remembrance” from fans and he was “a player that ranked with George Wright and Davy Force.”

The paper said that Houck and Snyder had played amateur ball for “the Creighton club,” which played their games on the White Lot—current site of The Ellipse, south of the White House and north of the National Mall.

The Evening Star said Houck was:

“A ‘dirty ball player,’ and by this we do not mean that he tried to injure another player, for he was never known to do an act that ever brought discredit on his fame as a straight player. But in the history of the game, no one, not even Uncle Nick Young, can recall the time when he ever saw Houck in a neat, trim condition as far as his uniform went, for he always had the appearance of a football player after a gridiron struggle on a wet and soggy field.”

Houck, who still took “a lively interest in the game,” had a strong opinion about bunting:

“Say, it gives me a pain to read about players laying down a neat bunt or playing for a sacrifice in order to advance a runner a base. Any old player who gets long green for playing base ball ought to be able to bunt or sacrifice or hie away to the tall timbers in disgust.”

Houck said:

“It is dead easy to poke your bat out in front of a pitched ball and let it hit your bat, and the fellow that is unable to do that ought to go out and chop stones.”

It was a better game he said, before “bunting was discovered by Mike Kelly.”

Houck much preferred the “science” of the “old fair foul hits,” he said:

“(They) struck on fair ground, but glanced off into foul grounds ere it reached either first or third base, and to successfully hit the ball this way required all the skill and grace of a skillful billiardist getting in his best carom work. It was impossible to hit the ball similar to the way the present-day bunters and doing, slow and methodical, but on the contrary it had to be met at a certain angle with a heavy swing in order to get the best results, and hence when success was accomplished the batsman invariably made a two-base hit.”

Houck said the best practitioners of the “clever piece of batting,” were:

“Davy Force, Ross Barnes, Joe Gerhardt, Buck Ewing, Levi Meyerle, myself,”

rossbarnes

Ross Barnes

The tactic was so successful he said, that “pitchers of the country united and forced the new rule.”

Houck’s conclusion on how the rule change impacted the game:

“That was base ball playing with more science than these modern gladiators show in their ‘baby bunting’ plays, and I would cut out all such business. Make the players lace them out and the game will get back to the fine batting matinees that used to take place in the good old days.”

And the “modern” game:

“Nowadays the pitcher can pitch, but can’t hit; the catcher can catch, but can’t throw; the fielders can bat, but are too loggy to run, and so on through the entire crowd. Do away with your bunting a sacrificing squads and give us good old-time free batting and running.”

Houck remained in Washington D.C. for the rest of his life; by the time he died in 1919, he was so forgotten that local death notices didn’t mention he had been a major league player.

“Eighteen Thousand Dollars Squandered by Chicago”

22 Aug

Almost 50 years after he helped to organize the Chicago White Stockings Jimmy Wood told the story of the team’s founding to Hearst Newspapers sports writer Frank G. Menke in a series of articles.

Wood said he read an ad in a New York newspaper in late 1869, seeking to “form a team to represent Chicago and to defeat the Cincinnati Red Stockings.”  Wood said:

“Chicago wasn’t such a wonderfully large city then and it was doing everything possible to boom the town.  And it was jealous of Cincinnati because of the great publicity Cincinnati had gained through the medium of its 1869 ball team which had won 56 out of its 57 games.”

Wood, along with Tom Foley, who had placed the ad, (not to be confused with Thomas James “Tom” Foley, who played outfield for the White Stockings in 1871) set out together to build a team.

Wood called it the most difficult task of his life, attempting to sign players for “a team that had as its ultimate purpose the beating of the Reds in a three-game series.”

The press was ready to call the entire operation a failure in January—a point never referred to in Wood and Menke’s “historical” account.  The Chicago Tribune declared:

“We are not to have a first-class base ball club.  That is the long and short of it.  The thing has fizzled.”

The Tribune cited Wood and Foley’s “bungling inefficiency” as the reason Chicago should not expect much from the undertaking.

The 1870 article was at odds with wood’s nearly 50-year-old recollection that the problem of securing players was because of fear of taking on the Red Stockings:

“Scores of desirable players throughout the country applied for engagement, but delay after delay ensued…in short, everything was done precisely as it should not have been done, and the result is a total failure.  A base-ball club may, and probably will, be selected and announced within the next few weeks; but it will not be a nine capable of worsting all other clubs.”

Even Wood acknowledged that he might not have handled the process of securing players particularly well; he gave more than $1200 out of his pocket to players only to find out “some of those players had squandered their first advance money in drinking or gambling, they came for more, threatening to jump their contracts if we didn’t ‘come through.’”

Despite the slow the start, and doubts about whether or not it would be possible to put together a competitive team, Wood and Foley completed the roster that spring when they signed Bill Craver and William “Cherokee” Fisher away from the Troy Haymakers—although Fisher never played for the team.

Even The Tribune was on board; lauding Chicago’s newly formed “$18,000 team.”   The $18,000 White Stockings roster in addition to Wood and Craver, consisted of Ned Cuthbert, Charlie Hodes, Michael (Bub) McAtee, Levi Meyerle, Ed PinkhamFred Treacey, Marshall King, and William “Clipper” Flynn—a number of Chicago amateurs also filled in with the team throughout the 1870 season.

The 1870 White Stockings: Ned Cuthbert, Fred Treacey, Charlie Hodes, Bill Craver, Charlie Hodes, Levi Meyerle,Bob McAtee, , Marshall King, and William “Clipper” Flynn

The 1870 White Stockings: Ned Cuthbert, Fred Treacey, Charlie Hodes, Levi Meyerle, Ed Pinkham, Jimmy Wood, Bub McAtee, Bill Craver, Marshall King, and William “Clipper” Flynn

In May, the White Stockings arrived in New Orleans for a training trip.  Many books and articles credit Wood with being “the father” of spring training as a result of this trip; most cite Al Spink of The Sporting News as the source.  Most fail to mention that the Red Stockings trained in New Orleans at the same time that season, and even Wood didn’t take credit for being first.  Wood said in 1916 that his was “the second Southern trip ever undertaken by a ball club.”  The Atlantics of Brooklyn had made a similar trip in 1868, which included stops in New Orleans, Mobile, and Savannah.

Wood said the team won all of their games against New Orleans opponents—the Lone Stars, Pelicans, Robert E. Lee’s, and Southerns—“by overwhelming scores.”  He also claimed they defeated “the Memphis team, champions of Tennessee 157-1—and Foley was very angry because we had permitted the southerners to score their lone tally!”

The team played what Wood called their “first real game,” against Al Spalding and the Forest Citys in Rockford, Illinois and despite the Rockford fans backing “their team heavily in the betting…we swamped them.”

According to Wood, he and Foley shut the team down due to injuries “along about June 4th when I found that my ailing quartet was not convalescing very rapidly, I canceled all our remaining June and July games and stayed in Chicago.”

His 1916 recollection seems to be faulty here as well, as records indicate that the White Stockings played several games in June and July against amateur and professional clubs, including the season’s biggest disappointment for the team.

On July 6 the overconfident White Stockings lost 13-4 to the New York Mutuals, who had recently lost several games.  The New York Herald headline taunted:

Eighteen Thousand Dollars Squandered by Chicago

“With ‘hearts as light as the wind blows’ and feeling as happy as ‘big sunflowers’ the White Stockings crossed over to Williamsburg yesterday, there to teach the Mutuals of New York what a six months residence in Chicago could do in the art of base ball playing.  Never did a more confident party enter a ball field than the ‘nine’ created by Chicago…On the other hand, the Mutuals crossed over alarmed somewhat at the confidence of their opponents, and reflecting over their many defeats of late, denied not a syllable uttered.  They were quiet, reticent, in fact, and dressed for the fray as one might roll himself in a shroud preparatory to decapitation.  Underneath all of this, however, there was a determined will.”

On July 26, the Mutuals would beat Chicago again, this time on their home field, at the Dexter Park Racetrack at 47th and Halsted.  The Herald again taunted Chicago, calling the 9 to 0 victory “The Worst Whipping on Record.”

Despite the records indicating a fairly complete schedule during June and July, Wood, speaking in 1916 said “About August 4 we resumed our schedule and played out the season, winning all of our games from the resumption in August until the end.  And then came the grand climax of the year—the task for which we had been preparing ourselves; the battle with the Cincinnati Red Stockings.”

Wood’s memory was again at odds with the facts.  The White Stockings lost, at least, one August game at home, a 14 to 7 defeat at the hands of Spalding’s Forest Citys.

The story of Wood’s “grand climax of the year;” the Red Stockings series, coming up on Monday.