Tag Archives: London Tecumsehs

“Pitcher Geiss No Good”

3 Jun

Emil August Geiss pitched one game in 1887 for Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings; it was his only Major League game as a pitcher (he later played two games in the infield).

The Chicago Tribune reported that Geiss was signed by the White Stockings “at a salary of $250 month.”  Geiss had been blacklisted the previous season for failing to report to the St. Paul Freezers in the Northwestern League after signing with that club.  The paper said, “It cost $200 to get him reinstated (The Sporting Life said it was $600).”

Geiss’ performance on May 18 was less than memorable.  He gave up 11 runs, eight earned, and 17 hits in an 11-4 loss to the Washington Senators.

The Chicago Tribune headline the following day summed up Geiss’ performance:

Pitcher Geiss No Good

Emil Geiss

The headline in The Chicago Inter Ocean was no kinder:

Geiss Is No Good.  A New Pitcher Tried by the Chicagos at Washington with Disastrous Results

The paper said Anson, who sat out, “watched the game from the players’ bench, a look of disgust deepening on his face every inning widened, and fairly turned his back on the unfortunate Whites.”

Geiss briefly redeemed himself when filling in for Anson on June 15 against the Indianapolis Hoosiers. The Tribune said:

“Geiss played first base in first-class style. He accepted eleven chances with no errors.At the bat he struck out twice and made one hit.”

Their opinion changed one week later when he played in place of Fred Pfeffer at second and  made three errors on seven total chances and was 0 for 5 at the plate.

The Tribune said:

“If Geiss is capable of no better work that he did yesterday he should not be allowed to again don the uniform of the Chicago nine.  A man who plays as he did is a positive menace to the success of the club.”

At the end of June, Geiss was released and finished the season in the Chicago City League.

An additional note about Geiss, and it’s a confusing note:

The remainder of his career is a bit vague and complicated.  His brother was William Geiss, who had two brief major league stints and a long minor league career during which he sometimes played under the name of Emil Geis (one “s”), further complicated because Emil Geiss’ Cook County, Illinois death certificate lists him as “Emil Geis.”

Emil pitched for the London Tecumsehs in the International League in 1888 and ’89.  He was the subject of a dispute between London and New Orleans in the Southern League over his rights—an arbitrator ruled that Emil was the property of London; at the same time William was with New Orleans, so we know it was Emil with London.

After a seven-year absence from professional ball, Baseball Reference has Emil hitting .402 in 41 games split between Bloomington in the Western Interstate League and Ottumwa in the Eastern Iowa League in 1895.

It seems likely, and contemporary reports indicate that it was actually William, playing under the name Emil Geiss (sometimes Geis) who put up those numbers in 1895–this conclusion is also supported by the fact that Emil, who had joined the Chicago Police Department in 1891 was still a member a force in 1895.

William Geiss

William Geiss

Both brothers died in Chicago, Emil on October 4, 1911, and William on September 18, 1924.  Both are buried at Saint Boniface Cemetery in Chicago.

 

The Ross Barnes Case

2 May

Charles Roscoe “Ross” Barnes was one of the greatest players of his era, and largely forgotten today.

Barnes was a member Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stocking teams in the National Association from 1871-1875 and won the National League’s first batting title hitting .429 in 1876 as a member the Chicago White Stockings.

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes

Teammates and contemporaries had no doubt about how good he was.

“Orator Jim” O’Rourke called Barnes “the greatest second baseman the game ever saw.”  In 1896, A.G. Spalding “declared Ross Barnes to have been the greatest ballplayer in America,” and Tim Murnane said of Barnes:

“His left-handed stops of hard-hit balls to right field were the prettiest stops ever made on the Boston grounds. As a base-runner no man of the present day is his equal, and as a batsman he must be reckoned very high.”

1871 Red Stockings. Spalding, standing second from left, Barnes, standing far right, O'Rourke, seated far left.

1871 Red Stockings. Spalding, standing second from left, Barnes, standing far right, O’Rourke, seated far left.

Some of Barnes’ success was due to the rule at the time regarding  balls that rolled foul in the infield, The Sporting Life said:

“It was Barnes who was the first to master the fair-foul hit. He was able to drive the ball so that it would land fair and then swing in foul just outside of the reach of the third baseman.”

Barnes became ill in 1877, although he started the season with the White Stockings, The Chicago Inter Ocean said in early May “he is now, and has been all spring, very sick with few signs of improvement.”  After a slow start, Barnes was out for more than three months before returning in late August.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“Barnes made his reappearance with the Whites, and played his old position at second base,  but he showed evidence of physical weakness and lack of practice,”

Barnes appeared in only 22 games, hitting .272.

The second baseman,  who was earning $2500 for the season, and as was often the case in 19th Century baseball,  was not paid for the time he missed.  Early in 1878 Barnes filed a lawsuit against the White Stockings to collect more than $1,000 the team did not pay him while he was ill.

Cook County Judge Mason B. Loomis heard the case, which The Inter Ocean said:

“(I)s a new one in the experience of ball clubs, and the result is looked forward to with some interest  in sporting circles.”

The result was not favorable for ballplayers.  Judge Loomis ruled against Barnes, The Tribune said:

“This makes clear the point that players are not legally entitled to wages when laid off by sickness.”

While some owners did pay players during time missed due to illness and injury, teams had the right, after 15 days, to suspend any player without pay; and the legal precedent established in Barnes’ case remained until 1916 when the “injury clause” was rescinded.

Barnes attempted to return to the White Stockings in 1878, but The Tribune said he “has never fully recovered,” from the illness, and was released.

He played with and managed the London Tecumsehs in the International Association in 1878, then made two comeback attempts with the Cincinnati Reds in 1879, and the Boston Red Stockings in 1881, his career was over at age 31.

Barnes retired to Chicago and was working for Peoples Gas, Light and Coke Co. when he died in 1915 at age 65.

“Phil Powers Seems to be Dead to the World”

15 Apr

Phillip J. Powers again left the National League umpire staff at the close of the 1888 season.  In 1889 he returned to London, Ontario to manage the Tecumseh’s, quit in May to become an umpire in the International Association, and then resigned from that job to return to the National League as an umpire in July.

Phil Powers

Phil Powers

The Detroit Free Press said the former and current National League arbiter “would never be a success as an umpire.”

Within weeks he was again at the center of controversy.

After the Boston Beaneaters beat the Philadelphia Quakers on July 25, The Philadelphia Inquirer placed the blame for the home team’s loss squarely on the shoulders of one man:

“Anyone who saw Phil Powers umpire yesterday would set him down as incompetent or dishonest.  While he is neither of these he gave a combination of glaring decisions which robbed the Philadelphia club of the game…It was a hard game to lose and it was no wonder that nearly every one of the 6,7000 spectators joined in hooting at Powers.”

The Inquirer would continue to criticize Powers for the remainder of his career; a few sample quotes.

From 1890:

“Umpire Phil Powers seems to be dead to the world.”

From 1891:

“The rank work of umpire Powers.”

From 1892:

“Umpire Phil Powers has been unanimously elected a member of the Society for the Promotion of Riots.”

The Sporting Life joined the chorus and derided as a “decided detriment to the game,” his work in the Giants-White Stockings series in early August:

“Mr. Powers is not a competent umpire…He does not know the rules, and judging from his decisions on the bases his eyesight is certainly impaired.”

 The Chicago Daily News quoted “Cap” Anson saying Powers “ didn’t know his business.”

Powers did have one defender.  “Orator” Jim O’Rourke, of the New York Giants, wrote a long letter that was reprinted in The Sporting Life, and other papers, making the case for the “High opinion in which Mr. Powers is held by the majority of professionals”, and using the opportunity to heap scorn on Anson:

“No man ever filled the position to better advantage and with more honor and credit to himself.   Mr. Powers is conscientious, faithful and absolutely fearless in voicing his convictions; neither can there be any doubt of his intentions to discharge impartially the irksome duties which the office entail upon him.

“Anson’s hate of such a man is only limited by the capacity of his nature for hate. Now why is this so? Because this cross-grain brow-beater, with the swaggering air of a Mexican bandit, who is so susceptible to becoming red-headed In the presence of umpires and spectators, is forced by this honest referee to have the result of a game settled by the contesting clubs upon its merits and not by his disgusting methods, which have made him the laughing-stock of all players, not even excepting his own.”

Jim O'Rourke--Defender of Powers

Jim O’Rourke–Defender of Powers

Despite O’Rourke’s defense, the criticisms of Powers continued, but he managed to stay on the National League staff in 1890 and ’91.

The Sporting Life updated readers about the umpire through the 1891 season:

“(Powers) has been catching it along the Western line from spectators, players and reporters.”

“(The Pirates) ready to meet Anson’s team to the call of Umpire Phil Powers, who has never pleased Pittsburgh’s audiences”

“Western critics are unanimously of the opinion that Phil Powers argues too much with the players.”

“(Cleveland papers) roasted Phil Powers to their hearts’ content.”

In August of 1891 Powers was released as an umpire by the National League.  He died in New York City in 1914.

A postscript:

A story that has appeared in several books and articles (all citing previous secondary sources) claims Powers pulled a gun on enraged fans in either 1888 or ’89.  While similar stories have been attributed to other umpires (for example umpire Joe Ellick, in 1886, was escorted off the field in Philadelphia by police who drew their weapons to protect him from an angry mob) and there are numerous contemporaneous references to irate fans at games, some with Powers as umpire,  none mention the gun incident.

It is probably a conflation of stories such as Ellick’s and a wire service article that appeared in several newspapers in 1906, shortly after “Buck” Ewing’s death, and described another incident involving Powers and Ewing.

“It was in 1889 that one of the worst rows in the history of baseball was precipitated at Cleveland by “Buck” Ewing.  Phil Powers was umpiring and his weakness whenever a critical decision came up was so apparent that the crowd was on pins and needles as to which way the cat would jump.

“(Jimmy) McAleer hit for two bases.  After he had got (sic) to second, Ewing said something to Powers, and the umpire hesitated a moment and then declared McAleer out for not touching first base…(Powers) was not looking at first when McAleer passed, having turned his head as somebody yelled at him from the opposite side of the field.  This was plainly evident to the crowd, and the moment that the spectators understood why McAleer was out they bolted from the stands and made a rush for the umpire.

“(Powers) took one look at the approaching mob and fled to the players’ clubhouse.  The police cleared the field after a while and Powers was induced to come forth and finish the game, but with police protection on either side of him.”

According to the story (which makes no mention of a gun), Powers later admitted that he had no idea whether McAleer had touched first base and simply took “Ewing’s word for it.”

Jimmy McAleer, called out on Ewing's word

Jimmy McAleer, called out on Ewing’s word

“Leather-Fisted Phil”

12 Apr

“Leather –Fisted Phil” is what Phillip J. Powers was called in his 1914 Associated Press obituary which said:

“(Powers) was famous for his ability to stop the swiftest throws of the league’s star pitchers.”

He most likely earned the nickname in 1877 when, like many other catchers of the era, he began using a small, leather pad on his hand while with the London Tecumsehs of the International Association.

After the London team disbanded in August of 1878 Powers joined the Chicago White Stockings.  According to The Chicago Inter Ocean:

“He is a tall young fellow…He is described as a good catcher, but liable to get hurt, fair at the bat, and a genial man on the grounds.”

Powers would spend parts of seven seasons and 155 games in the National League and American Association with the Boston Red Stockings, Cleveland Blues, Cincinnati Red Stockings and Baltimore Orioles, hitting .180.  In between his engagements as a player Powers was an umpire.

It was as an umpire that he made a name for himself, but it probably wasn’t what he had in mind.  Few umpires, even in an era when members of the “profession” were poorly trained and underpaid, were the target of as much criticism as Powers.

In 1881 he began the season as a National League umpire.  By July he had become a target in several cities,

The Detroit News said:

“Phil Powers has acquired reputation enough in the last two weeks to last him a lifetime.  The erroneous umpiring he did here, people were inclined to regard as errors of judgment, but to say the least his ‘mistakes’ have become so numerous that his utter unfitness for the position he holds is unquestioned.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer took the criticism even further:

“Powers is said to have been offered $150 to play ball (for the Detroit Wolverines) for one month, but refused it.  As an umpire he cannot, if square, earn more than $15 or $20 a week and expenses; and must take the chance at that of being chosen an umpire.  He preferred to be an umpire.  Several of his decisions on Saturday were grossly unfair, and, what is worse, they bore heavily on Cleveland.  They were so one-sided that many of the spectators believed he deliberately purposed to give the game to Troy.”

Despite the ill feelings in Cleveland, Powers joined the Blues in August and caught five games for the team after Michael “Doc” Kennedy was injured and John Clapp was “called away by an illness in his family.”   He finished the season with the New York Metropolitans in the Eastern Championship Association.

Powers again became a full-time player from 1882-1885, and was part of the Red Stockings American Association championship team in 1882.  He was released by Cincinnati in July of 1885, signed with the Baltimore Orioles and was again released the following month.

1882reds

1882 Cincinnati Red Stockings, Phil Powers standing 2nd from left

Powers was signed by the St. Louis Browns in the spring of 1886, but released before the beginning of the season, and was added to the National League umpiring staff in August.  He again worked as an umpire through the 1887 season, left to return to London, Ontario to manage the Tecumsehs in the International Association, but again returned to the National League as an umpire in August of 1888.   He came back just in time to find himself in the middle of a controversy involving two Hall of Famers.

New York Giants catcher/captain William “Buck” Ewing was hit on the wrist by a ball during a game with the White Stockings in Chicago.  In 1888 the opposing team’s captain had to agree that an injury was serious to necessitate a substitution; Chicago’s “Cap” Anson said he did not agree to a substitution when backup catcher “Big Bill” Brown entered the game in the 6th inning.  Anson appealed to the umpire, and according to The Chicago Inter Ocean, “(Powers) said that Captain Ewing was not so badly hurt that he could not play.”

After a heated argument, during which The Inter Ocean said Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner,” Powers declared the game “forfeited to Chicago by a score of 9 to 0.”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Buck Ewing acted “in a childish and fatuous manner”

Powers had been involved in a similar situation in 1886, refusing to allow Philadelphia Quakers catcher “Deacon” McGuire to leave a game after an injury.  The Chicago Tribune said Quakers captain Arthur Irwin “told McGuire to catch ‘away back’ (from the plate).” The Tribune said Irwin’s actions created a “scene” and “pandemonium reigned,” until Anson agreed to allow Philadelphia to replace McGuire.  White Stockings President A.G. Spalding “preferred charges against umpire Powers” for losing control of the game.

The substitution rule was changed in 1891, putting an end to controversies regarding the replacement of injured players.

But controversies involving Powers continued.  More on Monday.

Rooney Sweeney

18 Oct

John “Rooney” Sweeney was better known for his unpredictability and for making  good copy for the 19th Century press than for anything he did on the baseball field.  He remains one of the few Major League players for which a date of death is unknown.

Born in New York City in 1858, Sweeney’s first professional experience was in 1881 in the Eastern Championship Association, a league which only lasted one season.  Like many of the short-lived leagues of baseball’s first 30 years, the ECA had no fixed schedules and no control over player movement making it impossible to keep full rosters.  Sweeney played with four teams in the league: The Brooklyn Atlantics, New York Mets, New York Quick Steps and New York New Yorks.

There’s no record of where Sweeney played the following season, but in 1883 he played for Camden Merritts in the Interstate Association and made his Major League debut with the Baltimore Orioles in the American Association.

Although there is no other source for the claim, a 1910 article on the origin of catcher’s equipment in The Freeman claims that Sweeney was playing on the West Coast in Oakland for part of 1883 and was one of the first catchers to wear a mask, “The day he placed it on his head and went up behind the bat he was ‘Booed’ until he took it off in disgust.  Later the fans began to see the benefits of the wire covering.”

John “Rooney” Sweeney”

Sweeney then played with the Baltimore Monumentals in the Union Association in 1884.  He appeared in three games for the St. Louis Maroons in the National League in 1885 before being released.

According to The Sporting Life:

“When Rooney Sweeney was recently released by (Maroons owner Henry) Lucas he had quite a roll. So before leaving St. Louis, just to blow in a dollar or two, Rooney… hired a fine team of grays and a park wagon from a livery stable.  This was at ten o’clock Thursday morning.  At three o’clock Friday morning, eleven hours behind time, a messenger boy drove the team into the stable. Both the grays looked ready for the bone-yard and the owner at that moment would have sold them for a song. Their whole appearance showed that they had been driven nearly to death.

“Several men in the stable armed themselves with clubs and horsewhips and started out in search of Rooney. He must have been told of their coming, however, for before daybreak he took a train. It was lucky for him that the train started out before the livery men caught him.”

Rooney’s never again appeared in the Majors, but was said to have joined a team in Troy, New York after leaving St. Louis.  In 1887 and ’88 he played in the New England League, and then dropped out of sight, and apparently out of baseball, again.

In 1890, Sweeney signed with the London Tecumsehs in the International Association.

Official records indicate that he only appeared in one game—The Chicago Tribune, on May 12 reported on his debut:

 “Rooney Sweeney’s return to the diamond was not a success.  In his opening game nine bases were stolen on him and he had three errors.”

Things went downhill from there.  Sweeney was released in mid-May but apparently remained in London.  In June, it was reported that he had been arrested for stealing $40 from London pitcher James Maguire.

He received four months in jail and as the judge handed down the sentence The Sporting Life said, “Sweeney wept copiously.”

It was reported that Sweeney spent his time in jail writing letters to friends, one of which found its way into several newspapers.  Regarding the crime he was convicted of, Sweeney wrote:

 “We were all playing poker in a room up here and there was a big pot on the table.   Just then somebody flung a big black cat square on the table.  Of course the cat was scared and in her hurry to get away scattered the chips every which way and knocked down the stacks that were standing in front of the players.   Well, I just grabbed what I thought was my share, the same as any man would do, and it got me into jail, that’s all.”

After his release from jail, there are no records that indicate he ever again played in a professional game, but nearly every article written about him mentions that “He is not averse to playing baseball again.”

In 1892, Sweeney became involved in boxing, claiming he was going to manage fighters.  Just weeks later he was reported he was through with boxing and said:

 “I thought ballplayers was (sic) the ungreatfullest (sic) lot on earth, but they ain’t in it with fighters.”

And of course, the articles said, “Rooney is going to try his hand again at catching.”

Within a year of Sweeney’s foray into the boxing world both of his parents and his brother, New York City police officer Jeremiah Sweeney, died, and it was reported that he had inherited a great deal of property in New York and New Jersey, but of course in between collecting rents he said he’d like to play baseball again.

Sweeney was next heard from in September of 1897 when The Sporting Life said:

 “John Sweeney, a once famous base ball player, more popularly known as “Rooney” Sweeney  is dying in the Hudson Street Hospital as the result of injuries sustained by a fall in Battery Park last night.

“For some past Sweeney has been assisting the boatmen at the Battery…last night, while seated on the excursion pier, he was seized with an epileptic fit, and fell heavily to the ground, sustaining a concussion of the brain. An ambulance was rung up, and he was hurried to the hospital.  Sweeney has played with many of the principal base ball clubs both in the East and West, being at one time a member of the famous Metropolitan nine. He was also identified during his career with the St. Louis and Indianapolis.”

But that might not have been the end for Sweeney.  Three years later it was reported that he was working as a “Fireman on a tug boat.”

Sadly, that’s the last bit of information about the enigmatic Sweeney.  Whether he had succumbed to his illness in 1897 or he recovered and ended up aboard that tug boat we may never know.  No records of his death are available.