Tag Archives: Lew Whistler

“The Montgomery Team Threw to us Three Games by Arrangement”

12 Nov

The Southern Association kicked off their 1903 season assuming things couldn’t help but go better than the previous year.  The actions of Memphis Egyptians owner/manager Charlie Frank—who continued to put players in the Memphis line up who had been blacklisted by the league—had thrown the season into chaos.  The situation became so contentious that the headline in The Atlanta Constitution said after the final day of the season:

  To The Relief of All the Season is Now Over

A post season agreement restored the league—and made Frank even a greater power in the league.

As part of the settlement Frank received an estimated $5000 which he immediately put towards building a contender for 1903.

Frank built a good team and continued to improve it; as the team battled for the pennant in the final month the roster included veterans Perry Werden, Joe Delehanty, and Charles “Dusty” Miller.

In July he paid a reported $2500 to the Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association for outfielder Sam Dungan, pitcher Ray “Dad” Hale and third baseman Bill Phyle; Frank named Phyle team captain.

Bill Phyle

Bill Phyle

Frank’s team finished strong and edged out the second place Little Rock Travelers on the final day of the season; Memphis beat the Atlanta Crackers 9 to 5 in front of 7500 fans—the then largest ever crowd at Atlanta’s Red Elm Park.

The final standings

The final standings

The following week Little Rock defeated Memphis 3 games to 2 in a best of five series; the Southern Association season appeared to have come to peaceful close on September 28, 1903.

That changed two days later.

Newspapers across the South reported on serious charges that were being made in Memphis.  The Associated Press said:

“According to statements made by William Phyle, former National League player and this year a captain of the pennant-winning Memphis team…the Memphis club won first honors by inducing players on the opposing team to ‘throw’ the final (series).”

Phyle told reporters the scheme began earlier in September:

“The Montgomery team (Black Sox) threw to us three games by arrangement, but Little Rock kept on winning and kept it close on out heals.  I knew that Birmingham (Barons) threw to Little Rock too.  Then the deciding and final game of the season between Memphis and Atlanta arrived, and we had to win the last two games to keep the lead.  Two of the Atlanta pitchers were given $25 each to allow Memphis to win…and another player was also bought.  We won one game by (George) Winters misjudging a fly that allowed (Ted) Breitenstein a three-bagger and the deciding run.”

Winters error came in the second to last game; he was absent from the final game of the season.

Phyle later told an Atlanta reporter that the pitchers who were paid off were Frank “Zeke” Wilson and John Ely.  Charlie Frank, who had just announced he was leaving Memphis to take control of the New Orleans Pelicans, denied the charges and claimed Phyle was simply angry over a “dispute involving money.”

Zeke Wilson

Zeke Wilson

Phyle also said the five-game post season series was “prearranged, so that the deciding game was played in Memphis before a Sunday crowd.”

League President William Kavanaugh scheduled a meeting in Memphis for October 17 to investigate the charges, and Phyle went to West Baden, Indiana.

Phyle demanded travel expenses to return to Memphis for the meeting, he initially claimed that the money the league wired came too late. Then Kavanaugh ordered him, by telegram, to “catch the first train for Memphis,” Phyle refused, now claiming he was ill.

The meeting was held without Phyle.  Zeke Wilson testified that he had received $50 from Charlie Frank, but that it was given to him after the season in order to secure his release from Atlanta.  He said he intended to sign with Frank in New Orleans (he ended up signing with Montgomery in 1905, but joined Frank in New Orleans in 1905).

As for Winters, who made the error that allowed Memphis to win the second to last game and was absent for the final game, The Sporting Life said that charge was “very easily explained.” It was claimed he failed to appear in the final game because of a dispute with Atlanta management over transportation money.

Managers Lew Whistler of Montgomery and Michael “Duke” Finn of Little Rock denied that either club was involved in “anything crooked.”  John Ely did not appear but sent a letter denying all charges.

Without Phyle in attendance to provide his evidence the league “exonerated all clubs and players mentioned in his charges,” and suspended Phyle indefinitely.

Next Phyle was ordered to St. Louis to defend his charges before the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.  He again failed to appear.

On October 25 Bill Phyle was expelled indefinitely from professional baseball.

The following week he appealed the decision; claiming his illness was the only reason he failed to appear and that if allowed “he will appear and substantiate the charges which he has made.”

He was never given another opportunity to present his case.  His appeal was denied in December.

Tomorrow: More on Bill Phyle.

The 1903 Memphis Egyptians--

The 1903 Memphis Egyptians–Bill Phyle is number 11, Joe Delehanty 2, Perry Werden 4, “Dusty” Miller 12, Ted Breitenstein 13, Charlie Frank, bottom left with bow tie

“An Almost Complete Surrender”

23 Sep

At the close of the Southern Association’s tumultuous 1902 season league president William Kavanaugh, and the majority of the team owners, led by the New Orleans Pelicans’ Abner Powell, set out to oust Charlie Frank of the Memphis Egyptians.

Charlie Frank

Charlie Frank

After a decade as a player, including two seasons with the St. Louis Browns in the National League, Frank was one of the founding members of the new Southern Association in 1901 and became the president and manager of the Memphis Egyptians.

The Atlanta Constitution said that right from the beginning Frank became “the storm center for southern baseball politics… (He) was constantly engaged in some sort of furious baseball litigation.”

After signing three players–Jim St. Vrain, Charlie Babb,  and Bill Evans—who were under contract with other teams during the 1902 season, Frank became embroiled in a months-long legal battle with the league and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL).

In October of 1902, Frank lost his legal battle, and it was thought that the time was right to force him out.  The New Orleans Times-Picayune said Powell and Kavanaugh were “confident that a new party” would take over the Memphis franchise and “do much better than the old.”

Powell, Kavanaugh, and the other league owners overestimated their influence in Southern baseball and underestimated Frank’s.

While Powell and company were trying to find a replacement for Frank, he was creating a new league.  The Constitution said:

“(Frank) determined to organize an outlaw league, got financial backing in Memphis and actually formed a circuit.”

The problem for the Powell group was that Frank’s proposed league, and its investors, were more financially sound than the existing league.  Charlie Frank challenged the Southern Association again, and again the Southern Association blinked.

Rather than losing the league, the other team owners accepted every one of Frank’s demands and welcomed him back.

The Associated Press called it “an almost complete surrender,” by the Powell-Kavanaugh contingent:

“Charles Frank retains the Memphis franchise; Memphis club and Frank restored to good standing; Memphis will be paid for all losses sustained during last season, on account of unplayed games, legal costs, etc…”

Additionally, Frank saw to it that every investor in his “new league” was reimbursed for their costs; the Association covered “all obligations made by the promoters,” including honoring the contracts of all players who had been signed, most of whom were absorbed into Southern Association teams.  Additionally, Chattanooga, Tennessee was dropped from the league and a franchise in Montgomery, Alabama was “awarded to the promoters” of Frank’s “new league.”

It was estimated that Frank received $5,000 in the settlement.  He put some of that money towards building a solid team for 1903, winning his first pennant.  Memphis won again in 1904; early in the season, Frank handed over the managerial reins to Lew Whistler.

Lew Whistler

Lew Whistler

In 1905, Frank became president, principal owner, and manager of the New Orleans Pelicans, and promptly led them to a pennant— in spite of a Yellow Fever epidemic in New Orleans which required the team to relocate to Atlanta for part of the season.  Frank’s Pelicans also won pennants in 1910 and ’11.  He sold his interest in the team after the 1911 season but remained manager for two more years.

Charlie Frank's 1910 New Orleans Pelicans

Charlie Frank’s 1910 New Orleans Pelicans

In 1916 Frank returned to the Southern association again, organizing a stock company to purchase the Atlanta Crackers.  He managed Atlanta to a fifth place finish in 1916, and then won pennants in 1917 and ’19.

Frank sold his majority interest in the Crackers in May of 1921 but continued to manage the team.  In May of 1922, he resigned citing poor health—he died in Memphis three weeks later.