Tag Archives: Lewis Henke

“Atlanta’s Baseball Bullies”

17 Jun

During the 1885 season, Lewis Henke of the Southern League’s Atlanta Atlantas was killed during a game; the death was attributed to on-field rowdyism by the Southern press who hoped the death of the popular player would help end brawling behavior in the league.

In January of 1886, the Atlantas hired a new manager, William Aloysius “Blondie” “Billy” Purcell.   Purcell had split the 1885 season between the Philadelphia Athletics in the American Association and the Boston Beaneaters in the National League, hitting .279 in 87 games.  The Sporting Life said:

 “Billy will make a good manager, and is capable of securing a team—even at this late date—to win the championship. “

William "Blondie" Purcell

William “Blondie” Purcell

Purcell came to Atlanta with an excellent reputation, The Philadelphia Inquirer described him as being “Of a genial, happy disposition,” who was very popular when playing for the Athletics, and in 1883 and ’84 as a member of the Quakers.

That changed quickly, just two weeks into the season The Macon Telegraph said under the headline “An Alleged Conspiracy against Purcell,” that the new manager had incurred the wrath of his players by “ruling the team with an iron hand.”

After the rough start, the team appears to have turned their wrath towards their opponents and became the most hated team in the league.

Over the course of the next four months, Southern papers chronicled the bad behavior of the Atlanta squad.

It started with a game against the Charleston Seagulls when Purcell was accused of cheating, The Charleston News and Courier said:

“Manager Purcell was playing in the left field and the Charleston team was at the bat.  During the inning one of the Charleston team batted a ball to left field.  It went over the fielder’s head and, after striking the fence, rebounded and then went into the ditch.  The fielder started for it, but after running only a short distance took a ball from his shirt pocket and through it to the diamond.  The remarkable rapidity with which the ball was fielded was loudly applauded at the time…The fielder subsequently went to the ditch, picked up the ball and tossed it in the diamond…The incident was witnessed by several people, and the statement can be substantiated if the proof is demanded.”

Cheating turned to “bullying” as the season progressed.

The Savannah Times dubbed the team “Purcell’s Plug-Uglies,” and said of them after a July game:

“From the start of the game yesterday the Atlantas began their rowdyism, (Tom) Lynch was running to first in the first inning, the ball got there just ahead of him, Lynch deliberately struck (Jim) Field with his fist…from then on the whole team began to kick and try to hack the umpire.  In this Purcell was ably assisted by (John “Monk”) Cline and (John “Cub”) Stricker, two of the rowdiest  ball players that have been seen on our field…The conduct of the Atlanta club was most reprehensible, and has placed them in an exceedingly unenviable light.”

Tom Lynch, one of Atlanta's bullies

Tom Lynch, one of Atlanta’s bullies

Earlier that month after a couple of close wins over the Seagulls, The News and Courier again criticized the Atlantas saying the team “ought to be kicked out of the league,” and said:

“(T)here was an immense crowd present to witness the game, but their afternoon’s pleasure was completely spoiled by the disgusting behavior of the visitors, whose kicking and sharp practices are sufficient to drive any respectable audience from a ball field.”

After another game in Charleston, The News and Courier said Purcell’s team used “blasphemous and obscene language,” and:

“Those who attended the game this afternoon are outspoken in their condemnation of the disgraceful behavior of the Atlanta team, and declare that either they should not be allowed to continue in the league, or that they should be made to behave themselves at least decently in the presence of the communities where they have to play.”

The Macon Telegraph called the team “Atlanta’s Baseball Bullies,” and said after a game in which Purcell was fined $10 “for his ungentlemanly remarks,” that Atlanta played “good ball,” but that it was “marred” by their conduct.  The paper also said:

“The Atlanta team is evidently akin to the bulldozing idea.  The bullies and braggarts who compose the team have evidently been taught that an umpire is a very insignificant personage and to be influenced by blackguardism.”

Similar charges of “rowdyism” and “bullying” were made throughout the season.

The Atlanta Constitution saw nothing wrong with the team and blamed the criticisms from the papers in other Southern Association on “jealousy” over the team’s success.

With Atlanta holding on to a small lead for the league championship, the most serious charges would wait until the final weeks of the season, and include two of Atlanta’s most prominent citizens …tomorrow.

Lewis Henke

3 May

Lewis Henke played first base for the Atlanta Atlantas in the Southern League in 1885.  The Atlanta Constitution said:

“He was the swiftest and most baring baserunner on the Atlanta nine.”

And

“(A) favorite not only in Atlanta, but wherever he was known…perhaps the most popular player in the Southern League.”

On August 14 Atlanta was hosting the Nashville Americans, when according to The Macon Telegraph:

“In the fourth inning Henke, in making the first base, ran violently against the knee of (Charles “Lefty”) Marr, of the Nashvilles, the knee joint striking him apparently full in the stomach.  Henke showed immediately that he was badly hurt, and in a moment was lying stretched out almost on the base.  He was carried from the field to the dressing room…Although he had clearly made his base after heavy hit, no one of the players, no one of the great crowd looking on, knew that the infallible umpire above had decided differently, and called him out.”

Henke’s liver was ruptured in the collision and the Cincinnati native died of the injury the following day.

The New York Times blamed the death on “Bad feelings” between the two teams, which resulted in “much ugly work on the field, such as tripping each other, etc..”

Henry “Red” Bittman was Henke’s teammate, fellow Cincinnatian and best friend; they had come to Atlanta together in 1884 to play for the city’s entry in the Georgia State League.  He was at his friend’s bedside.

According to The Times:

“Henke observing his friend by his side this evening whispered to him: ‘Bitt, do not play today; I feel that I am dying.’ ‘What shall I tell your wife for you?’ Bittman inquired.  ‘Just tell her I got hurt in yesterday’s game and died from it,’ he replied as he again closed his eyes, and in three minutes he was dead.”

The Telegraph said that later that evening:

 “At half past ten the manager (Gus Schmelz) escorted the remains to the depot, and walked beside the undertaker’s team through the streets with barred (sic) heads.  The dead man’s comrades, rough and hard, were deeply afflicted, and some of the cried like children over the coffin…Henke, the dead baseballist, was carried west on the 10:40 train tonight on the Western and Atlantic to Cincinnati.”

???????????????????????????????

Lewis Henke, standing–Henry “Red” Bittman, seated

While some attributed Henke’s death to the “bad blood” and “ugly work on the field,” no one publicly singled out the popular “Lefty” Marr for blame.  Years later, Edward Cuba Bruffey, a long-time reporter and editor for The Atlanta Constitution said:

“The death of Henke completely prostrated Marr, and it was several days before he was able or willing to return to the game.  I am not certain now, but I think Marr was one of the men who accompanied the body to Cincinnati for the funeral.”

The Southern League owners pledged to play benefit games to raise money for Henke’s wife and child.

Tickets for the Atlanta benefit went on sale the final week of August.  The Constitution said:

 “Henke’s wife and child are destitute.  There is not one of the thousands who have seen him play and applauded him his pluck and skill who could not afford to buy tickets to the benefit…every dollar taken in will go to his family.”

The benefit became a bit of a scandal in Atlanta; and it’s unclear whether games were played throughout the league as promised.

The Atlanta game raised $159.85 for the widow, but it took more than six months for the money to get to her.  Ownership of the Atlanta franchise changed hands after the 1885 season and the former management of the club never gave the money raised from the game to Henke’s family.

In February of 1886 The Macon Telegraph said the new chairman of the Atlanta Baseball Association, Steve Ryan had advanced the money to the widow and “received a guarantee that he will be reimbursed” by the former owners.  According to The Telegraph:

“(Ryan) saved the old directorship from a very ugly legal squabble.  With the remittance Mr. Ryan forwarded to Mrs. Henke a spicy and sympathetic letter…It would be rich and rewarding reading as it touches up the old directorship interestingly. “

Henke’s best friend Henry Bittman played five more seasons in the minor leagues; including 87 games as “Lefty” Marr’s teammate with the Nashville Americans in 1886. In 1889 he appeared in four games with the Kansas City Cowboys in the American Association.  He died in Cincinnati in 1929 at the age of 67.

Charles "Lefty" Marr

Charles “Lefty” Marr

Marr played professional ball until 1898, including parts of four seasons in the American association and National League.  His best seasons were with the Columbus Solons in 1889 and the Cincinnati Reds in 1890.  The left-handed thrower played 129 games at third base and 29 at shortstop in the big leagues. He died in Connecticut in 1912.