Tag Archives: Louisville Colonels

Kick Kelly’s Night out

20 Feb

After John “Kick” Kelly was fired as manager of the Louisville Colonels in June of 1888, he returned to the National League as an umpire.

When he missed the September 21 game between the New York Giants and Detroit Wolverines, most papers reported he was out sick.  The Detroit Free Press was more specific:

“Mr. Kelly’s white uniform did not make its appearance yesterday when the signal was given and after a painful pause it was concluded to on with the game minus his presence, and John War of the New York team, was selected to umpire…Kelly’s non-appearance is not hard to explain.  The man who has masqueraded as a star umpire has for some time past been attempting the difficult feat of rendering proper decisions on the ball field and at the same time maintain intimate relations with an extensive ‘jag.’ In this effort Mr. Kelly has proven a dire failure, much to the discomfiture of the players compelled to submit to the awful decisions resultant on the aforementioned ‘jag.’”

The paper said Ward acquitted himself well and that Kelly “was not missed to any great extent.”

There was more to the story.

The following day The Free Press said:

“Mr. Kelly was a guest at police headquarters…The cause of Mr. Kelly’s presence at the headquarters was a disagreement between himself and a person whom it would be superfluous to mention by name.”

Their competition, The Detroit Tribune, thought no details of Kelly’s arrest were superfluous:

“Kelly, the League umpire…occupied the “Dead man’s” cell in the Central Police Station about three hours today.  For the past three nights Kelly has been painting the town, and last night his hilarity broke out in a house of bad reputation.  He and a number of local characters started out in the early part of the evening and went to a house on Antoine Street.”

After drinking “several bottles of wine,” Kelly was said to have told his companions:

“I can lick anybody, an I will pound the first person who says a word.”

The party moved to a local brothel, where after more wine, an attempt was made to remove Kelly from the premises:

“He struck one of the inmates, Emma Gordon, on the head and knocked her down and kicked her.  He then struck one of the other inmates, and when the Gordon woman arose, he struck her in the mouth, cutting her lower lip and nocking two of her teeth out. After having asserted his manhood in this way Mr. Kelly was willing to leave and did leave.”

Kelly returned to his room at Detroit’s Hotel Cadillac, where, as he was sleeping, the police “roused him up gently, but forcibly, and led him” to jail.

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Kick Kelly

According to the paper “a large delegation from the ‘sporting fraternity’” of Detroit had Kelly quickly released.

Kelly paid the woman he assaulted $75.  He worked the September 22 game between New York and Detroit.

Despite paying the woman, Kelly told a reporter for The New York World that had done nothing wrong:

“I was so sick on Friday that I could I was unable to leave the hotel.  I was perfectly sober; in fact, I have never abstained from the use of intoxicants so completely as of late.  I committed no assault, as the fact of my almost immediate dismissal proved, nor did I receive any injury of any kind…My arrest was prompted by spite.  I went out the next day and umpired good ball.”

Kelly said he was the victim of “a thirst to grind the umpire,” and a “love for sensationalism.”

The Boston Post said the story from Detroit was nothing new:

“At Washington recently, Umpire Kelly was too intoxicated to discharge his duties properly.”

The paper said that if the Detroit charges “are borne out by facts, he has disgraced himself and the league and should be discharged at once.”

The Detroit Tribune said of Kelly’s denials:

“Umpire Kelly is telling them in the East that he didn’t drink too much and didn’t abuse and beat a woman in Detroit, adding that the Detroit papers had a spite against him and tried to ‘do’ him.  Down in the East they take Kelly’s denial with a grain of salt.”

Kelly was never disciplined further by the authorities in Detroit or by the National League.  He and “Honest John” Gaffney were selected to umpire the post season series between the Giants and the American Association champion St. Louis Browns.

During that series, Kelly was accused of a charge that plagued him as frequently as the one about his drinking; his perceived favoritism of the Giants.  Browns owner Chris von der Ahe went so far as to charge that “Kelly had money on the New Yorks.”

Kelly responded in a letter that was printed in The Boston Globe:

“Chris von der Ahe is hot because the St. Louis men are being slaughtered by the New Yorks.…He lost his nerve and he wants to be revenged on the umpires.”

The Giants won the series six games to four.

Kelly then did what anyone trying dodge charges of a drinking problem would do; he and Mike “King” Kelly decided to open a bar.  The New York World said:

“Umpire John Kelly and $10000 Mike will begin operations in Shang Draper’s (a New York criminal and saloon keeper) old place, corner of thirty-first Street and Sixth Avenue.”

Kelly moved to the American Association the following season.

The business apparently did not operate for long either, the following spring The New York Herald asked:

“With Mike Kelly captain of the Bostons and John Kelly umpire in the American Association, what will become of the New York wine joint—Shang Draper’s old place?”

“Cincinnati’ll be Sorry if They let me go”

14 Jan

Hitting above .300 but currently bed ridden with a kidney ailment, Pete Browning was unceremoniously released by the Cincinnati Reds on July 15, 1892, after the club had signed outfielder Curt Welch who had been released two days earlier by the Baltimore Orioles.

Browning had joined the Reds on May 22 after being released by Louisville.

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Browning

Just before the Reds released Browning, manager Charles Comiskey told The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“There has been some complaint about fielder Pete Browning, I don’t see where it comes in.  I know he isn’t the best fielder in the world, but I can get along with a little poor fielding, providing he keeps up his current batting lick.”

Business Manager Frank Bancroft disagreed with his manager.  The Reds beat the New York Giants 3 to 1 on July 10, after Welch made two catches in center field The Enquirer said robbed Jack Boyle and Harry Lyons of extra base hits.

The paper reported on a conversation at the team hotel between Bancroft and Comiskey after the game:

“’If Browning had been in Welch’s place today when that hard hit went out the batter would have been running yet.  The game would have been tied and perhaps lost to us.  Welch save us twice.  It’s a boss fielding team, isn’t it, Charley?’”

Comiskey responded:

“’It is for a fact, and I’m glad to see it, after what I’ve had to handle for the past three months.”

Browning remained sick in bed at Baltimore’s Eutaw House for several days, when he returned to Cincinnati, he told The Cincinnati Times-Star:

“I tell you, Cincinnati’ll be sorry if they let me go and keep a man like Welch.  Pete’s got kidney troubles, I guess.  I will go down to West Baden Springs (Indiana) if Comiskey says so, I think that will help my batting.”

Over the next month Browning’s whereabouts, state of mind, and next destination were the stuff of speculation.

The Times-Star said in early August that Browning remained in Cincinnati “although he does not attend the games or associate with his former baseball playing friends.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer said he was “brokenhearted since his release,” and there was “absolutely no demand for his services.”

The Boston Globe and The Washington Times said he was about to sign with the Senators.

On August 14, The Louisville Times said Browning was getting in shape in West Baden, two days later The Cincinnati Enquirer said, “Browning is lost again,” and had left Indiana.  The paper also announced that day that Welch had been released after hitting just .202 in 25 games.

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Browning

At the same time, Browns owner Chris von der Ahe was telling The S. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“I’ve got a man scouring Indiana after Pete Browning.”

After he found him, The St. Louis Republic said Browning “was offered $3500 to sign” by von der Ahe but refused.  In response von der Ahe said he had “no use” for Browning.

On July 31, The Louisville Times reported that former Louisville Colonels Director Larry Gatto received a telegram from Bancroft:

“Requesting that he see Pete Browning and notify him that if he wanted a place on the team he could report at once.  When Larry showed the telegram to Pietro the latter at once started on a run for his home to pack his grip.  He will leave this morning for Cincinnati to resume his old place with the Reds.”

Browning returned to the Reds lineup on September 2nd against Brooklyn, The Enquirer said:

“He had his ‘lampteenies’ trimmed and hit the ball in good style (he was 3 for 4).  Pete however, seemed to lose his head on the bases, and was caught twice after he reached first. In the third inning he ran as far as second on a long fly from Comiskey’s bat, (Bill) Hart caught the ball and threw it in before the Gladiator could scramble back to first.  Then in the fifth he was caught napping off first by (Tom) Kinslow.”

The fifth place Reds were 17-17 the rest of the way with Browning back in the lineup. He hit .303 for the season.

Browning was let go again by the Reds and joined the Louisville Colonels in 1893.

“He Would eat red Pepper and Drink Tabasco Sauce”

17 Dec

In June of 1905, when it was reported that Pete Browning was committed to Louisville’s Lakeland Hospital, William A. Phelon, then with The Chicago Journal wrote a slightly premature obituary for Browning:

“Browning was a natural batsman of vast ability and supreme self-confidence.  He quaked before no pitcher.  The smoothest curve or the fastest delivery were all the same to him. Carrying a huge bat, far heavier than they wield in these degenerate days, he would stride to the plate, pick out one that suited him and whang that leather with a crash that could be heard three miles away.”

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Browning

Phelon described Browning as:

“(L)ong and ungainly, comical in gait and action and eccentric to a marked degree.  He would eat red pepper and drink Tabasco Sauce, claiming that it helped his batting eye, and his conversation was full of baseball, and nothing but baseball.  It was also popularly supposed that Pete was the champion consumer of Bourbon in the baseball business, but that was time when conviviality and professional baseball went hand in hand, and the most famous players were the most famous drinkers too.”

In the field, Phelon said Browning was “a mixture of skill and laziness.”

He noted:

“He could make the most wonderful catches—if the ball got near him.  If it was hit beyond him, he deemed it beneath his dignity to pursue, claiming that the younger fielder in the other garden ought to do the running—that he, Pete Browning was hired to hit the ball, and not to run his breath out chasing three-baggers.”

Phelon “quoted” Browning:

‘” Youse kin git fellers ter run after dose hits,’ Pete would say, ‘but what good is dey outside of dat? Can dey walk up to de plate wit tree on bases an’ line ‘em out, bing, bang, de way Pete dus?’”

The Louisville Courier-Journal said it wasn’t just chasing balls that offended Browning:

“Pete was never known to slide for a base.  He insisted it was beneath his dignity to slide, and he never would do it, although he was repeatedly put out because of his refusal.”

The paper chronicled many of “his peculiarities,” including his bizarre rituals:

“During Pete’s palmy days he told some of his friends how he kept his eyes in condition for batting:

“’Buttermilk is the secret of old Pete’s batting,’ he would say.  ‘Just wash your eyes with buttermilk if you want to ‘em to the fence.  I wash my eyes with buttermilk and that keeps my lamps trimmed.  Whenever Old Pete’s lamps get dim and he cannot hit the ball, then he gets some good buttermilk and washes his eyes in it; that trims up the lamps all right and the next day-Old Pete will be hitting them out as usual.’”

The Chicago Tribune compared Browning to “Rube Waddell of our present-day Athletics” and told how Browning discussed his bats:

“When showing his assortment, he would speak of the bats much as a trainer would his stable of racehorses. ‘Ah, that is a fine 2-year-old,’ he would declare as picked one out of the lot, and ‘this one is a 4-year-old,’ he would say of another.”

The paper said Browning would never sell a bat, but occasionally “surprised the man” by giving away a bat to a player who had “looked longingly” at one of Browning’s.”

The Tribune’s early “eulogy” closed with the likely apocryphal story that was demonstrate how laser focused Browning was on baseball to the exclusion of everything else around him:

“(O)n the occasion of (President) Garfield’s assassination he said to the newsboy who was crying out extras: ‘Who’s that you say is assassinated?’ ‘Why, Garfield!’ shouted the boy…” What league did he play with?’ is the alleged return made by Browning.”

The Tribune allowed that the story was “discredited by some who knew the man best,” and that many claimed that Browning “knew the humor” in many of the things he was alleged to have said “by accident.”

Although the first reports of Browning’s imminent death were premature—he was released from Lakeland after two weeks—he spent the next six weeks in and out of hospitals before he died on September 10.

 

 

 

Things I learned on the Way to Looking up Other Things #27

28 Nov

Chicago’s American Association Franchise

At the close of the 1891 season, The Chicago Tribune assured their readers that Chicago would be a two-team town:

“The Chicago club of the American Association of 1892 is a certainty.  Fred Pfeffer will be its manager and leading spirit, and Sam G. Morton (an executive with A.G. Spalding and Bros. Co.) well known here, its business guardian.”

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Fred Pfeffer

According to the paper, the new club’s roster would include:

“(Bill) Dahlen, (Ad) Gumbert, and (Malachi) Kittridge probabilities.  Such men as (Bill) Hart, the Sioux City pitcher, (Bid) McPhee of Cincinnati, (Jake) Beckley of Pittsburgh, Danny Richardson of New York, and (Herman) Long of Boston are in sight.”

The Tribune said the new American Association franchise would build a park on Chicago’s west side:

“Convenient to cable and railroad, and their accommodations will be for 20,000 people.”

The stockholders in the team were said to be some of the most prominent industrialists in Chicago.

The planned team never materialized after the American Association folded and four teams were absorbed into the National League.

Pfeffer, the would be manager, was traded to the Louisville Colonels for Jim Canavan and $1000.

 Weidman’s Swan Song

George “Stump” “Kid” Weidman spent parts of nine seasons in the major leagues, he appeared in his final game in 1888, and posted a career 101-156 record.

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Weidman

Ten years after he left the game, C. H. Steiger, The Detroit Tribune sportswriter, quoted an unnamed former teammate about how Weidman wore out his welcome in Detroit during his second tenure with the Wolverines.  Weidman had rejoined Detroit after the Kansas City Cowboys folded:

“He had pitched for us before, and was at that time considered a great pitcher, and he really was.  When he was with us before, he was the most popular boy on the team.  Everything was Kid, and he got the glad hand from everyone until one day he lost it all at once.  It goes to show how easily a man can throw away what it has taken him a long time to acquire”

Weidman won 13 games for the eventual pennant winning Wolverines before being sold to the New York Metropolitans in August, after the former teammate said Weidman was playing right field one day, while Detroit ace Pretzels Getzein was on the mound:

“(The) batter on the opposing club, Philadelphia I think it was, popped up a slow outfield fly to Weidman.  He had lots of time to get it, and it was the easiest kind of chance, but he ran up to within about ten feet of where it would strike, stopped, let it strike and bound into his hands, then threw it in.

“Well, it was the only time I ever saw Getzein mad.  He looked at Weidman, shrugged his shoulders and said to his catcher, ‘What do you think of that?’

“(Manager Bill) Watkins saw it from the bench, and was mad as a hornet.  When Weidman came in, Watkins called him down, and the Kid said he was afraid of over-running it, and thought it was best to do as he did, otherwise the batter might have made two bases on it,  But his explanation didn’t go.”

The teammate concluded:

“I don’t think he meant to throw the game.  He just wanted to let the other fellows get another hit off Getzein.  But the other players in the club rather soured on Weidman after that, and so did the crowd.”

After being sold to the Metropolitans, Weidman appeared in just 15 more games, his major league career was over at age 27.

“The Things That Bring Good Luck to the Various Clubs”

26 Nov

In 1886, The St, Louis Post-Dispatch noted:

“Gamblers and old women are not the only ones who are given to superstitious observations of signs and to the carrying of luck tokens…Baseball players are more given to that sort of thing of late years than any other class of men.”

Under the Headline The Things That Bring Luck to the Various Clubs, the paper laid out the different “mascottic tastes” of the teams.

The paper said the success of the Cincinnati Red Stockings the previous season, was attributed in part to “Kid Baldwin’s pink jersey,” but the team’s fortunes turned in 1886 after:

“(A)fter a St. Louis laundry women’s daughter eloped in ‘Kid’s’ jersey and the club is now in last place.”

The Louisville Colonels had recently found a new “lucky hanger-on,” for a mascot; a calf born with a caul—the rare instance has long been the subject of superstition. The team took the calf ad proceeded to take five out of six games from the defending champion St. Louis Brown Stockings.

Pete Browning of the Colonels,“(C)arries a loaded die in the hip pocket of his knickerbockers for luck.  Before a recent game somebody took the die out of Pete’s pocket and he failed to make a hit that day,” ending a long hitting streak.

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Pete Browning

The paper said that Brown Stockings captain Charles Comiskey and third baseman Arlie Latham disagreed on the best mascot for the team:

“Comiskey argued in favor of a mule, for which he has a kindly fellow feeling, and he said he knew where he could get one cheap.  Latham held out for (a small white) mouse because he owned one and won the day, though Comiskey still believed in the efficacy of the mule, and had his heel spikes made out of a cast-off shoe from the foot of his favorite animal.”

The mouse died–suffocating when Latham, carrying the mouse, got in a fight with teammate Doc Bushong—right around the time Louisville acquired their calf and the Brown Stockings dropped those five games to Louisville,

The Post-Dispatch said New York Giants President John Day had recently had a prospect for a new mascot for the team:

“(He) tore his hair out the other day when he was informed that the youngster born with a full beard in Williamsburg had died. Day was sure that he would have in him one of the best mascots in the country.”

The paper noted the better known mascots, “Little Willie Hahn,” of the Chicago White Stockings and Charlie Gallagher of the Detroit Wolverines—who was said to have been born with a full set of teeth—and said of other National League clubs:

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Willie Hahn

“The Bostons never had a mascot because they haven’t luck enough to find one.  The Washington and Kansas City teams are unable to get a mascot to even look at them.”

And concluded:

“The strangest thing about a baseball mascot is that he is occasionally traitorous and transfers his services to the other side without the slightest warning.  He will never play with a cripples, badly-managed or broken-up team, and as soon as a club begins to go down hill it is a clear case of desertion by the mascot.”

 

 

Things I Learned on the way to Looking Up Other Things #24

1 Aug

Pitching to Ruth

According to the International News Service, during a discussion before a game in 1919, Frank Baker was talking to his Yankees teammates about “the days when batters demanded the sort of delivery they could hit best.”

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Babe Ruth

The players agreed:

“If that rule were in force in the present day the outfielders would have to be mounted on motorcycles, and Muddy Ruel said that the playing field would have to be as big as the parade grounds at old Camp Pike, where he was at officers training camp.

Just imagine Babe Ruth coming up with the bases filled and a hit needed if he had the privilege of demanding a fastball waist high.  The question of how to pitch to him under such conditions was placed in open discussion.  Ping Bodie solved it.  ‘I’d get back on second base, throw the ball and then duck,’ said Ping.”

Negotiating with Murphy

When it was first rumored that Fred Mitchell would step down as president of the Chicago Cubs in the summer of 1919, there was speculation that Charles Webb Murphy might return to the club as president (Bill Veeck Sr. was ultimately given the position)

Hearing word of Murphy’s possible return, Johnny Evers told The Sporting News what it was like to negotiate a contract with Murphy after the team’s back to back World Series wins in 1907 and 1908:

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Charles Webb Murphy

“We had made lots of money for the Cubs and certainly expected owner Murphy to give us a big boost in salary.  I received my contract, gave it the once over and returned it to C.W. with the curt reply that I thought I deserved more money for my labors.

“It was not a big salary,  In fact, the sum mentioned was so small that if I were to tell you the amount it would shock you.  Mr. Murphy was shrewd enough to get around my request for a raise.  His reply was to the effect that I might deserve more money, but should be satisfied to work for the amount he mentioned in view of the fact that I had such wonderful stars to help me as Frank Chance on my left and Joe Tinker on my right.

“Joe Tinker also protested against the figures mentioned in his contract that year and the crafty Mr. Murphy’s reply to him was that he should be satisfied to play for almost anything since he was teamed up with such stars as (Harry) Steinfeldt on his right, Evers on his left and Frank Chance at first base.  There was no way to get around an argument like that, and when the season opened Tinker and I were playing at the original figures offered by chubby Charley.”

Arguing with Browning

The Louisville Courier-Journal recalled in 1908 an incident “When Pete Browning played with the Louisville club.”

Browning, said the paper, was “no prize beauty…still he was sensitive regarding his un-Apollo like appearance and would get angry in a moment if any allusion was made to his lack of pulchritude.”

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Pete Browning

During a game in Cincinnati, umpire John Gaffney called Browning out on strikes.

 “The big fellow rushed up the umpire roaring like a toreador stuck bull.  But John Gaffney was afraid of no living man, and he ruled the field with a rod of iron, but he was also a reasonable man and would explain his decisions.  However, Pete would listen to no explanations.  Finally, Gaffney became angry, and walking up to Browning, he shook his finger in his face and said:

“’I would like to have a photograph of your face, Browning.’

“’And for why,’ shot back Pete, who was taken wholly by surprise, and began to color up when allusion was made to his face.

“’Why, I have a chicken farm back home,’ said Gaffney, ‘and I would like to put your picture in the coop so as to frighten eggs out of the hens.’”

Rube and Money

18 May

After Rube Waddell’s death on April 1, 1914, he was eulogized by Christy Mathewson in his nationally syndicated column.  Mathewson compared Waddell to one of his own former teammates with the Giants:

“He was a man, who, like ‘Bugs’ Raymond, wasted a wonderful natural gift.  If both these players had taken care of themselves they might still be stars of the big leagues.”

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Rube

Mathewson said a teammate had recently told him a story about Rube’s time with the Louisville Colonels:

“Waddell was always notably careless with money, and he never kept track of how much he had or how much was coming to him…Mr. (Harry) Pulliam…hit on a scheme in 1899 to make ‘Rube’ save money.

‘”Rube,’ he said to Waddell at the beginning of the season, ‘I am going to give you $2 to spend every day, and then we will pay you the balance of what we owe you at the end of the season so that you won’t be broke all winter.  The club will take care of all your living expenses.”

After Waddell agreed to the deal:

“So after every game that year Mr. Pulliam gave Waddell his $2. He was never a high salaried player in his palmist days, and I believe the figures written into the best contract he ever had did not amount to more than $3,500, which would not be much for a star of his ability in these times.”

Mathewson said at the end of the season Pulliam had $150 left for Waddell:

“’Now, be careful of that money,’ advised Mr. Pulliam, ‘because it has got to last you for a long time.’

“’Sure,’ said Rube.

“By the first of November Mr. Pulliam heard from Rube, and the report said he was broke.  Waddell received a response of $25, which lasted him for a couple of weeks, and he had to repeat his request for money. This occurred several times and then Mr. Pulliam sent him $100 for Christmas.  Rube was back for more by the first of February.”

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Rube Waddell

When Waddell reported to the Colonels that spring, Mathewson said, Pulliam “figured it up,” and he had still held back $1100 from Waddell’s 1899 salary:

“He sent $1000 to Waddell’s father…Then he handed the $100 to Rube.

“’That was still coming to you from last season’s work,’ said Mr. Pulliam.  Waddell pocketed the money without complaint.  If he had drawn his salary twice a month during the season as the rest of the players did, the improvident Waddell would not have had a cent left by the close of the 1899 campaign.”

 

 

“How ‘Sun’ Daly Became a Coacher”

7 May

In 1898, Dan Shannon explained how James J. “Sun” Daly started coaching, and also took a shot at a former rival.  Shannon was then managing the Wilkes-Barre Coal Barons, a team he managed in 1894 and 1895 and again from 1897-1899.

He told the story to The Wilkes-Barre Record:

“’Did I ever tell you how ‘Sun’ Daly became a coacher?’

“’Why, you know Jim Daly was never known to open his mouth from the minute he got into his uniform until he was ready to tell the waiter at the supper table that he would have some macaroni,’ said Shannon.  ‘One day in 1894—when I was managing Wilkes-Barre—Buffalo came along for her second series of games.  Daly was playing right field—at least he was out there for that purpose. (Tom) Vinegar Vickery was in the box and there was a manager on the bench for Buffalo, who, I believe, afterwards took my place and made a mess of it in this city.  He was asked to resign by the management, and being obstinate, was released for incompetence.”

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Dan Shannon

The Buffalo manager Shannon was referring to was Jack “Death to Flying Things” Chapman, and he was close, but not quite right with his description.  Chapman succeeded Shannon as manager of Wilkes-Barre.  His tenure was short and rocky.  The Coal Barons struggled out of the gate and by June, The Wilkes-Barre News-Dealer called Chapman “a failure as a baseball manager,” and said:

“(I)t is quite safe to say if Chapman was not manager the team would stand well to the front. “

On July 3, with the Coal Barons tied for last place with a 19-35 record, Chapman resigned.  The News-Dealer said “The public demand…has been granted at last.”

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Jack Chapman

Shannon and Chapman also both managed the Louisville Colonels in the American Association for parts of 1889–Shannon was 10-46, and Chapman 1-6, as two of the four managers of the club that finished with a 27-111 record.

Shannon continued his story:

“’Well, Daly was in right field, and up to the fourth inning had let four ground balls go by him, and muffed one fly ball.  When the Bisons finally got us out, Daly came in from right field to the coacher’s box at first base, dropped his mitt on the grass, and, getting in position, commenced to coach.  We were all of us thunderstruck, for every player knew that Daly would never think of coaching unless from some extraordinary impulse.’”

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Sun Daly

Shannon said the usually silent Daly:

“(K)ept up a running fire of coaching, never glancing towards the bench.  Three of the Buffalo crowd went out in their order and Daly quietly picked up his mitt and returned to the action in right.  When they had retired the boys again Jim again stopped at first base and commenced his sing-song-catch-a-ky-me-oh.  Finally, I was inclined to ask the cause of his sudden change and so I called over to him from second base:’

“’What on earth are you doing over there, Jim, hollering like that?’

“’What do you s’pose I’m doing?’ asked Jim. ‘D’you think I’m going into that bench after that exhibition out’n the field and get a tongue lashing from the likes o’ him! Nit! It’s a dumb sight more pleasant taking a hack at coaching!’

“And that’s the way Sun Daly became a coacher right here in Wilkes-Barre,’ said Uncle Daniel.”

Wee Willie Sudhoff

19 Jun

William “Wee Willie” Sudhoff was in the midst of his best season.  The 28-year-old pitcher, who was 28-52 during his first three major league seasons, was on his way to his first 20-win season for the St. Louis Browns in 1903.

Born in St. Louis, Sudhoff was a local favorite.  The St. Louis Republic said about him signing with the Browns (NL) in 1897:

 

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Willie Sudhoff with the Ben Winklers, a local St. Louis amateur club circa 1895

 

“Although he had many chances to play with the big Eastern teams, Willy Steadfastly refused their offers and remained loyal to the city of his birth.”

On August 28, the Browns left Cleveland aboard a train carrying the ballclub and the Cleveland Naps— the teams were scheduled to play a doubleheader the following day in St. Louis.  In Napoleon, Ohio, the engineer misread a signal and the train derailed.

The Associated Press said:

“The Cleveland sleeper (car, the first sleeper on the special train that consisted of a baggage car and two sleepers) turned completely over on one side and the boys on the upper said were thrown over on top of those who occupied berths on the opposite side.”

The rear car, carrying the Browns, ended up in a ditch but did not turn over.

In what The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called, “(A) miraculous escape from almost total annihilation,” no players on either club were seriously injured.

Sudhoff was the most seriously injured player; he had a strained wrist and “had his hand cut,” and missed his scheduled start against Cleveland.

Despite the relatively minor injury, teammates and friends said Sudhoff was never the same after the derailment.

After ending 1903 with a 21-15 record and 2.27 ERA for the 65-74 Browns, Sudhof threatened to leave the Browns two weeks before the 1904 season opener.  The Post-Dispatch said he “Bolted from Browns headquarters,” but returned the same day to sign his contract.  The paper said:

“A baseball catastrophe was averted.”

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Willie Sudhoff, 1903

By June, Sudhoff, struggling on his way to an 8-15 3.76 ERA season, was accused of underperforming to draw his release.  The Post-Dispatch said:

“This is the gossip of the bleachers, where the deep undercurrents of baseball diplomacy are as an open book.

“Sudhoff bears no more resemblance in his pitching this year to the Sudhoff of last year than a Parish League shortstop to Hans Wagner.  To all appearances, the little twirler is in excellent condition but he fails of delivery as to the goods nearly every time he goes into the box.”

The paper said, “Sudhoff indignantly denies that there is any truth to the story.”

The following season The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said the Browns had cut Sudhoff’s salary for 1905.  Team owner Robert Hedges remained hopeful about his pitcher’s future:

“Willie pitched good baseball at times last year, but he had so many misfortunes during the season that it discouraged him a bit.”

Hedges said two members of Sudhoff’s family had died and that he had also taken care of sick relatives.

And Sudhoff appeared to make Hedges look smart when he shut out the Cleveland Naps in his first start of the season.

He attributed his success to his new “Raising Jump Ball.”  He told The Post-Dispatch:

“It is different from the “raise ball” of Charley Nichols and the “jump ball” of Christy Mathewson but combines features of both.  It passes over the plate at a man’s shoulder and jumping rises, changing its course slightly as it passes him.”

The paper said Sudhoff believed his pitch “will revolutionize the theory of curve pitching.”

The pitch did not turn Sudhoff’s luck around; after winning his first two decisions he went 8-20 the rest of the season.

Beginning in July, it was rumored that Sudhoff would be sold to the Indianapolis Indians in the American Association, but Sudhoff managed to stay in St. Louis for the whole season.  In December he was traded to the Washington Senators for pitcher Beany Jacobson.

The Post-Dispatch said after the trade:

“Sudhoff does not like the stories being circulated about the alleged inefficiency of his arm.”

He told the paper:

“Why should I get out of the game so long as the public and the managers will stand for me?  I am still a young fellow…Watch me next year.”

One of the “stories” about Sudhoff’s arm was reported by The Washington Post:

“A St. Louis critic claims that Willie Sudhoff injured his pitching arm by indulging in too much bowling, which developed muscles that he had no use for in his work on the diamond.”

Sudhoff only lasted until July in Washington, in nine appearances he was 0-2 with a 9.15 ERA.

In 1907 and 1908 Sudhoff signed with American Association teams—the Kansas City Blues and Louisville Colonels—but never played in a regular season game for either.

Sudhoff appeared in one more professional game—he gave up four runs in three innings pitching for the Topeka White Sox in the Western Association in July 1908.

He returned to St. Louis where he sold suits and pitched in the city’s semi-pro Trolley league in 1909 and 1910.

Late in 1911, The St. Louis Star reported that Sudhoff was planning a professional comeback:

“He is working hard this winter to get in shape.  He believes he can regain his cunning.”

The comeback never materialized and Sudhoff took a job as an oiler at the St. Louis waterworks Chain of Rocks Plant until July of 1913.  The Post-Dispatch reported that he had been admitted to St. Louis’ City Hospital, diagnosed as “Violently insane.”

The paper said it took two patrolmen to subdue Sudhoff, who was placed in “a dark padded cell to prevent him from injuring himself.”

According to the report:

“Sudhoff continually calls to everyone who comes within sight, saying he was a professional ballplayer and he will give $5 if the stranger gets him out.”

Mrs. Sudhoff told police her husband “acted queerly” for the previous three months, and “Monday evening he put on his old baseball suit and:

“(C)avorted about the yard, talking continuously about playing with the Browns.”

Sudhoff was transferred to the St. Louis City Sanitarium the following week.

There was speculation about whether it was a beaning in 1905 or the train wreck that contributed to Sudhoff’s insanity.

The paper said:

“Physicians believe (the) old injury to his head is responsible for his condition.”

And while the paper said no one present at the train wreck “(D)o not believe he received a blow serious to cause a permanent injury,”  some of Sudhoff’s former teammates, and Browns owner Robert Hedges “(R)ecalled an eccentricity that developed shortly after the wreck.  From that time on in a Pullman car, he went to bed fully dressed.”

A 1908 article in The Detroit Free Press about the train crash said:

“Sudhoff was so frightened that he could not utter a word for ten minutes, and from that time until he quit the league, ‘Wee Willie’ always sat up all night on a train.  He would do anything to get out of railroad traveling.”

Sudhoff never made it out of the city sanitarium; he died there on the morning of May 25, 1917.

He was survived by his wife and his son, Emmet Wallace, named after Sudhoff’s teammates Emmet Heidrick and Bobby Wallace.

Nick Altrock’s First Start

27 Jul

The Cincinnati Enquirer ran a small item about Nick Altrock in February of 1914.  The paper said of the left-handed pitcher and one of baseball’s greatest clowns:

“(E)xcellent control, combined with a stolid indifference to the surroundings and trimmings which go to make up the big league contests, were the stock and trade of Mr. Altrock and the principal asset which made him a great pitcher.”

Nick Altrock

Nick Altrock

Altrock is 31st all-time, and third among left-handed pitchers, having walked just 1.6169 batters per nine innings.

A month later a letter arrived at the paper.  The writer, Frank Torreyson, the man who discovered Altrock in Cincinnati, and signed him to his first professional contract with Grand Rapids in the Interstate League in 1898, told the paper that it was under his tutelage that Altrock got “the idea that control was everything almost in the pitching line.”

Torreyson said:

“During our exhibition season we had much rainy weather and had very few chances to play games and the championship season was upon us before we had much chance to secure any line on our players…Well, Altrock had not done any too well in his one exhibition game, although his work looked good to me and I saw that although he was somewhat green , that he had possibilities and he then was full of comedy, just as at present.”

Torreyson said he decided to leave Altrock behind in Grand Rapids when the club made their first road trip of the season:

“I took Altrock into the clubhouse and told him I was not going to take him along, and you should have seen his face.  His lip fell down and he says, ‘Are you going to can me?’ I told him I was going to leave him at home to see if he could get control during the week we were away, telling him that he had no control over his curveball.”

Torreyson said when Altrock learned he wasn’t going to be released, he “took heart and said he would work hard,” on his control:

“I had a friend who lived near the park and he told me when I came home that Altrock came out at 9 AM and never took his uniform off until 5 o’clock.  Then before supper, he would go down the street and watch to see what the boys did on the trip.”

Frank Torreyson

Frank Torreyson

Torreyson said his left-handed pitchers, Billy Campbell, War Sanders, Charles Hutton, pitched well on the road trip, and:

“Poor Nick told them all that he guessed it was back to Cincy for him.

“Well, when we came home for the opening game Nick didn’t know whether to put on a uniform or not.  I sent him to the grounds early while the other boys were on parade, and when practice came I told him I wanted to see if he could put a few of his curveballs over the plate, and you should have seen them coming over with speed—ins, outs and every ball he pitched right over the center. “

Torreyson said shortly before the game began he informed Altrock that he would be Grand Rapids’ starting pitcher:

“Well, that was the time you should have seen him open his eyes.  Then he went in and only gave up a couple of hits, struck out 12 and never gave anything like a base on balls.”

Torreyson got some of the details wrong.  Altrock did pitch the opener and went the distance in a 12-inning game that ended in a 3 to 3 tie; he struck out eight and walked two.

Altrock went 17-3 for Grand Rapids before the cash-strapped Torreyson sold him to the Louisville Colonels in July.

Torreyson said of Altrock:

“His work with us that season was of the most sensational character.  Besides his great work he was one of the easiest men to handle I have ever seen in the game; always ready and willing and never shirking.  Many a time have I seen him after pitching a winning game, keep his uniform on and play with the kids for an hour or two.  He was always a general favorite with the public and players and was a credit to the game.”

Altrock

Altrock

As for Altrock’s success, well, Torreyson was fairly sure who to credit for that:

“I feel confident that the week he was left at home to learn to get them over had much to do with his having such great control during his later career.”