Tag Archives: Louisville Colonels

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:

 

sudhoffpix2

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.”

sudhoffpix

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.”

“I Believe Beyond Doubt he would be the Greatest Manager of All Time”

20 May

By 1911,  “Honest John” McCloskey was in his 22nd season as a manager; five in the major leagues.  Those five seasons were less than successful.

John

John

He led the Louisville Colonels to a 35-96 record in 1895, and was dismissed the following season after a 2-17 start; In three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1906-1908, he was 52-98, 52-101, and 49-105—he also apparently had a bizarre aversion to blond hair.

In those 22 seasons, he won just two championships–in class “B” Pacific National League, but despite a rather inauspicious record, Hugh Fullerton believed McCloskey one was one of the greatest minds in the game.

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

Writing in “The American Magazine” that summer, Fullerton said:

“John McCloskey, one of the greatest tacticians in baseball, has worked out the theory of coaching, both from the bench and from the lines to an exact science.  Yet McCloskey has not been successful because the players lack the quickness and the brains to follow his orders.  If he could find men who could think and act quickly enough to obey his signals.  I believe beyond doubt he would be the greatest manager of all time.”

McCloskey’s genius, according to Fullerton, was enough to overcome one thing:

“One great trouble in the McCloskey system is that players are not yet educated to the point where they cease independent thinking and obey orders…After every blunder of a ballplayer, the reason assigned is ‘I thought.’ Besides that, the fewer brains a player has and the less he knows of the science of the game, the more liable he is to scoff at the theorist and ridicule or ignore the wigwag system.”

As an example of McCloskey’s players not living up to their manager’s intelligence and ridiculing his “system”, Fullerton related a story from the previous season when McCloskey led the Milwaukee Brewers to a 76-91 sixth place finish in the American Association.

“(A) Milwaukee batter drove a ball down into the left field corner of the grounds.  The ball was in the shortstop’s hands when the runner reached third base.”

According to Fullerton “the excited coacher” missed McCloskey’s signal to hold the runner:

“(H)e urged (the runner) onward, and he was thrown out 30 feet from the plate.  McCloskey…slid down until the back of his head was resting on the bench and his feet were six feet away on the ground, his body rigid.  A cruel substitute, gazing at his manager, asked: ‘What’s that, Mac, a signal to slide feet first?’”

McCloskey’s Butte Miners finished third in the Union Association in 1911.  He managed 13 more seasons in the minor leagues through 1932.  He won just one more pennant, leading a team to the class “D” Southwestern  League championship in 1924—not only was the team “educated” enough to “cease independent thinking” and win for McCloskey, but they did so playing home games in three different towns;  they played in Newton, Kansas until July, relocated to Blackwell, Oklahoma for a month, then finished the season in Ottawa, Kansas.

 

“One of the Most Mysterious Cases in Baseball”

16 May

Before the 1925 season, Billy Evans, the American League umpire and syndicated columnist, said St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Allan Sothoron was:

“One of the most mysterious cases in baseball.”

sothoron

Evans said the 32-year-old who had spent parts of nine seasons in the major leagues:

“Here was a pitcher who was recognized as one of the richest prizes ever found.  He had a fast ball, a spitter, a curve, a change of pace; control—well, just everything that a great pitcher requires.

“And Sothoron lived as a pitching star, but not for long.  A weakness was discovered.  Show the opposing side a weak spot and it plays through it.

“Sothoron, with an iron arm are rare intelligence, could not control his throw once he fielded the ball.”

During five seasons in the American League from 1917-1921, Sothoron made 50 errors in just 356 total chances.

“On bunts or easy taps hit straight to him he lost his bearings.  With one swish of his arm, he threw—threw in any direction which usually was yards away from his fielder.

“To first, second, third base or the plate, Sothoron aimed and fired.

“And eventually, he threw himself out of the American League.”

Evans said Indians manager Tris Speaker “thought he could correct the fault’ when he acquired Sothoron in June of 1921, and for a time he thought he had–Speaker told The Cleveland News when he acquired the pitcher that the problem was Sothoron “throwing flat-footed.”

Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker

He won 12 and lost four, with a 3.24 ERA for Cleveland—although he did commit four errors in just 36 total chances.  But in 1922, Speaker “gave up the job” after Sothoron appeared in just six games—he was 1-3 with a 6.39 ERA and made one error on six chances.

Evans said after he was released by Boston:

“Sothoron, disgusted with himself, retired from baseball.”

He returned to baseball in 1923, with the Louisville Colonels in the American Association.  Despite a 6-9 5.92 season with the Colonels, Evans said:

“The scene changes.  Branch Rickey, as manager of the St. Louis Browns in 1914, discovered Sothoron.  And he refused to believe that such an evil could not be corrected.  He took a chance and purchased Sothoron for his St. Louis Cardinals in 1924.”

Branch Rickey

Branch Rickey

And the pitcher responded:

“The story is not closed.  Sothoron was one of the few pitchers with a perfect fielding average in the National league last season.”

He was 10-16 with a 3.57 ERA, but handled 37 total chances without an error, which included “making 35 perfect throws in aiding in the retirement of batters or runners.”

Evans attributed Sothoron’s fielding to:

“Branch Rickey’s system of training… (Rickey) saw that Sothoron…simply scooped in the ball and made his throw.  He did not steady himself.

“For days and weeks, Sothoron was put through such a course—fielding a ball, pausing, steadying himself, then following through with the throw.”

Evans suggested that “after 10 years of drifting” Sothoron had “finally found himself.”

It did not last.

He pitched for the Cardinals for two more seasons, he was 13-13 with a 4.09 ERA, and he committed five errors in just 31 chances.   He finished his career with an .871 fielding percentage.

“The Moment he got a Glove on his Hand he was Another Man”

3 Feb

In 1911, 66-year old John Curtis “Jack” Chapman, “Death to Flying Things,” wrote an article in “Baseball Magazine” about his “discovery” of Hughie Jennings 20 years earlier:

Jack Chapman

Jack Chapman

“I had taken my Louisville team of the American Association to Philadelphia when Jack Ryan of our club was hurt and had to be taken from behind the bat.  We were hard up for a substitute and had pressed into service Tommy Cahill.  I was put to it for a catcher and began skirmishing around for a man who would fit into place.

“Casually reading the paper the evening of my trouble I noticed an account of a game between the Lehightons and some other team, in which a young man named Jennings, who caught, seemed to be the whole show.”

Jennings had played with a local semi-pro team in Lehighton, Pennsylvania in 1889, and returned to the town to play for a semi-pro club in 1891, after playing in the Atlantic Association and Eastern Interstate League in 1890.

Hughie Jennings

Hughie Jennings

Chapman said of Jennings’ performance for Lehighton:

“He had fifteen putouts and four or five base hits, a home run among them.  I rushed to a telegraph office and sent a hurry-up call to his home in Moosic, a little mining town six miles from Scranton, asking him if he would not join my Louisville team.

“It did not take long for his affirmative to get back.

“I wired him in return that I would give him $175 a month if he proved satisfactory, and directed him to answer me at Boston and for him to report at Louisville.  When we got back to Louisville this young man reported to me at the Fifth Avenue Hotel.

“I will have to admit that I was disappointed with his looks, for his general appearance was somewhat verdant.  It was with fear and trembling that I watched him at his first tryout, for I had begun to think that I had invested in a salted mine.

“But the moment he got a glove on his hand he was another man.  A simple mitt worked wonders with him.  I had no chance to work him out behind the bat…First baseman (Harry) Taylor was injured.  Here was an opportunity for my new man to show the stuff he was made of.

“’Jennings,’ I said to him, ‘you will have to go out to first, as there is no one else who can play the bag.’

“’Mr. Chapman,’ he answered, ‘I have never played the position in my life, and fear that I cannot fill the bill.’

Chapman said, despite Jennings’ protestations, he told him again “I have no one else at all,” and installed him at first base:

“’All right; I’ll do the best I can.’

“Things began to happen.  He tickled the crowd by the way he pulled down high sailers, reached for wild ones, and dug balls out of the dirt.  His best was amply good.  I might add that I was tickled, too.

“He covered the base for a week.  When Taylor recovered, though, Jennings had to be relegated to the bench.”

At that point, Chapman said, Tommy Cahill, who had been pressed into duty behind the plate, but was the club’s best shortstop, became ill.  Although he played at least one game at the position the previous season in the minor leagues, Chapman claimed Jennings told him he had never played there when he was asked to fill in at shortstop:

“’Do what you can.’ I urged.

“’I’ll do my best,’ replied he.

“Again the crowd was tickled.  He covered more ground than any man I ever saw in my life.  He went after everything; errors never troubled him; he seemed born for the place…From the very first leap he has been a topnotcher. “

After Chapman left Louisville in 1892, Jennings struggled and was hitting just .136 in June of 1893 when he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles.  After finishing the 1893 season with a .255 average in Baltimore, Jennings hit .335, .386, .401, .355, and .328, the next five seasons, and the Orioles won three National League championships.

“The Man who Lives in the Santa Claus House””

23 Dec

Walter Sydney Woods earned his nickname “Sunday School Pitcher” because he never played a game on Sunday throughout his 20-year professional career.

Woods also played lacrosse, football, basketball and tennis and was considered one of the best athletes in New Hampshire when he chose to enter professional baseball with Portland in the New England League in 1895.

In 1897, he won 17 games for the Springfield Ponies in the Eastern League and was drafted by the Chicago Orphans.

When Woods arrived in Chicago, it was assumed he’d give up his pledge not to play on Sunday, but he quickly made it clear that he would quit first.  The Sporting Life said:

“Walter Woods, Chicago’s model man, will not play Sunday ball either at home or on the road.  The conscientious youngster who neither smokes, drinks nor swears, also has scruples against participating in games on the Sabbath. He will thus be a standing reproach to all the other members of the Chicago Club”

Woods pitched and played infield and outfield for Chicago, going 9-13 and hitting only .175.  He was traded to the Louisville Colonels the following season and posted an identical pitching record, although The Sporting Life said in July:

“Walter Woods is an unlucky pitcher.  Though pitching finely he has won but two games out of his last eight.”

Woods went to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900 but was released in April.  He spent the next 14 season playing for a variety of teams in the Eastern and New York State Leagues, exclusively as a position player after 1902.

Walter Woods, 1899 Louisville Colonels

Walter Woods, 1899 Louisville Colonels

Woods also coached baseball at the University of New Hampshire from 1897-99 and at Dartmouth from 1912-1915 and played semi-pro football during the winter.  After baseball, he went to work for the US Postal Service.

But to a generation of kids in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, none of that mattered.  At Christmas every year, he was known as “Jolly Wally Woods-the man who lives in the Santa Claus house.”

For about 15 years until his death, kids would line up in front of Woods’ house one day about a week before Christmas and wait for him to appear in an attic window dressed as Santa Claus.  Woods would lower baskets of candy and toys down to the children with a rope, and then on Christmas morning, he was back in the suit with presents for all the neighborhood kids.

Wally Woods

Wally Woods

The “Sunday School Pitcher” died in Portsmouth in 1951.

“Rube received the Princely Salary of but $4 a Week”

30 Sep

In 1903, The St. Louis Republic told the story about the arrangement that briefly made Rube Waddell a college man in 1897.  It involved Dr. Thomas H. George who was the manager of the baseball team at Volant College, a small state Normal School (Teacher’s College) in Volant, Pennsylvania.

rube3

                            Rube Waddell

George said that he wrote to Waddell “asking his terms,” and upon hearing back that the pitcher had requested one dollar per game, George sent a telegram telling him to meet the team for a game in Waupun, Pennsylvania.

“Rube did not get the telegram until nearly noon on the day of the game, whereupon he hitched up a pair of his father’s horses…The game was nearly over when Waddell reached the field of action…he immediately broke into the game, giving the crowd a yell.”

George said the game was already lost, but Waddell did not allow a baserunner.

“That night Waddell signed a contract…doubling the amount which Waddell had agreed to pitch for, also giving him board and lodging.  As Volant only played two games a week, the Rube received the princely salary of but $4 a week.  There were many extras, however, as the rooters had a habit of taking up a purse for him after he won, which was, by the way, every game he pitched.”

The text of Waddell’s contract was included with the story, it read in part:

“The party of the second part (Waddell) agrees to pitch ball for the Volant College team during the season of 1897 for and in consideration of $2 for each game of ball played and pitched by said party of the second part. Said party of the first part (Volant) agrees to furnish…suitable room and boarding…This contract to hold good from May 18, 1897 to June 25, 1897.”

The story quoted George talking about one of Waddell’s “eccentricities” while pitching for Volant:

“Rube had a bad habit of throwing to bases without looking at the base to which he was throwing.  As a result the ball would go half a mile before it would be recovered, and every man who happened to be on the bases would score.  Consequently we had to instruct the basemen to play only for the batter, and not pay any attention to the base runner.  That used the Rube all up, for he delighted in throwing to the basemen with all his strength. When he found, however, that the guardians of the sacks were playing off from the bags, and not looking for throws, he stopped the practice.”

The story also claimed that even a contract covering just five weeks was too much for Waddell to honor:

“(Rube) deserted the Volant team upon the day they wanted him the most, commencement day, when a game had been scheduled with Mount Union College…The reason for (jumping) was that at the (nearby) town of Greenville there was fireman’s tournament in progress and a huge crowd would be on hand.  Now, Rube always liked to show off in front of a large crowd, and consequently he preferred going where the attendance would be larger.  He also took part in th firemen’s races which were held that day.”

There was no record of Waddell having attended a class during his brief college career.  He made his major league debut that same season, in September.

Volant College closed after a fire destroyed the school in 1911.

The First Jackie Robinson All-Stars

31 Aug

jackierobinsonas

The above advertisement is from the first, and least successful, of Jackie Robinson’s post season barnstorming tours.

In August of 1946, The Pittsburgh Courier said, “Jackie Robinson’s All-Stars” would play in several Eastern and Midwest cities after the Montreal Royals’ season ended.

The tour got off to bad start because the promoters—said to be from Pittsburgh, but never named in newspaper accounts—scheduled games to begin at the close of the International League season, failing to take into account that Robinson and Montreal would be playing in the Little World Series against the Louisville Colonels, the American Association champions.  East Coast games, including one at the Polo Grounds and one in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania were cancelled as a result.

After Robinson’s season ended, his “All-Stars” made up the game in Harrisburg and then played a handful of games in the Midwest before heading to California.

The All-Stars included Artie Wilson of the Birmingham Black Barons, John Scott of the Kansas City Monarchs. Ernie Smith, a one-time member of the Chicago American Giants, who played in 1946 with the Boston Blues in Branch Rickey’s U.S. Baseball League, and Bill “Wee Willie” Pope of the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

williepope

              Wee Willie Pope

Robinson’s All-Stars did not win a game in California.  They lost three games to Bob Feller‘s All-Stars—a team which included Bob Lemon, Stan Musial, Charlie Keller, Ken Keltner and Phil Rizzuto.  Feller’s club won 6 to 0 in San Francisco, 4 to 2 in San Diego, and 4 to 3 in Los Angeles.  Feller pitched five innings each in the San Diego and Los Angeles games—striking out 11 in the first game, and 10 in the second (he left that game having not allowed a hit through five innings).

One of those games was the impetus of the long-term animosity between Robinson and Feller that came to a head before the 1969 All-Star game.  At a press luncheon, Robinson noted the lack of black managers and front office personnel in major league baseball.  Feller criticized Robinson saying “The trouble with Jackie is that he thinks baseball owes him something.”  Feller told The Associated Press (AP) the bad feelings between the two started during the San Diego game on the 1946 tour:

“Jackie was getting a lot of publicity at the time since it was known he was being groomed to be the first Negro in big league baseball (and) threatened not to go on the field unless he got more money.”

Robinson told The AP Feller’s charge was “A damned lie.”

In 1975, Feller told The AP they “buried the hatchet,” before Robinson died in 1972:

“We discovered that out arguments were petty.  Both of us admitted our errors.  When Jackie died, we were good friends.”

Others claimed Feller never let the feud go.

The advertisement above is for the final game Robinson’s All-Stars played.  They faced the Oakland Larks, the champions of Abe Saperstein’s short-lived West Coast Negro Baseball Association (Negro Pacific Coast League) who posted a 14-3 record—the team barnstormed after the league folded and claimed a 56-12 record for all games played that season.

The teams played at San Bernardino’s Perris Hill Park; Robinson played center field.  The San Bernardino County Sun said he made “two stellar catches,” and was 3 for 4 with a double.  Despite Robinson’s efforts, the Larks won 8 to 5.

After Robinson’s final game with the All-Stars, he wasn’t quite finished for the year.  He joined the Los Angeles Red Devils, an integrated professional basketball team –three other well-known baseball players were members of the Red Devils: George Crowe, Irv Noren, and Everett “Ziggy” Marcel (the son of Oliver Marcelle).

Robinson’s brief professional basketball career ended in January of 1947.

Tragic Exits 3

23 Mar

Eddie Meade

Edward “Eddie” Meade appeared headed to the big leagues.  After beginning the 1926 season with the Kinston Eagles in the Virginia League, the 24-year-old left-hander was acquired at midseason by the St. Paul Saints of the American Association and posted a 12-7 record with a 3.40 ERA in 22 games.

Meade began the 1927 season with a 6-0 shutout of the Louisville Colonels on April 17.  The same week he recorded his first victory, The Associated Press said he was about to become a member of the defending American League champions:

“The Yankees talked of possible reinforcements in the shape of Eddie Meade, of St. Paul, called the best young pitcher in the American Association.”

Eddie Meade

Eddie Meade

During the same week, Meade became ill; although the nature of the illness was never disclosed.  Eight days later he started a game with the Columbus Senators but was pulled after giving up six runs in the fifth inning of 9 to 8 loss.  Five days later he pitched in relief against Louisville, but The Minneapolis Journal said he lasted less than an inning due to his “impaired physical condition.”

When the Saints left Minnesota for a series in Kansas City on May 16, Meade stayed behind.  The following evening Meade checked into St. Paul’s Boardman Hotel and shot himself to death.

The day after his suicide, The Journal said, “it was learned today that Meade was slated to go to the New York Yankees in the fall.”

St. Paul Manager Nick Allen told The Associated Press:

“He was one of the hardest working youngsters we ever had on the club and the outlook for his future was bright, as he had only two years in baseball.  The only motive he could have had for such action would be mental depression.  He was not married.  The nature of his illness was no cause for alarm, but he apparently believed it otherwise.”

Tommy Coates

Thomas A. “Tommy” Coates was born in Omro, Wisconsin on February 18, 1886 (Baseball Reference lists his middle initial as “O” but birth and death records  list it as “A”).

After starring, along with his older brother Hiram, on Omro High School’s undefeated baseball team in 1901—The Omro Herald called the team “possibly the best in the state”—Coates played industrial league and semi-pro ball in Central and Northern Wisconsin.

After playing in Rhinelander, Wisconsin in 1908, The Oshkosh Northwestern said:

“Coates had lots of confidence in himself, and during the winter months the Omro boy came to the city one day and sought out “Pink” Hawley. Hawley agreed to give him a trial.”

Emerson Pink Hawley, a Wisconsin native who pitched in the major leagues for a decade, was the manager of the Oshkosh Indians in the Wisconsin-Illinois League.

Tommy Coates

Tommy Coates

 “Coates came to this city from his home at Omro (for his tryout).  He donned baseball togs and he ‘made good’ from the start.”

Coates, who The Northwestern said  was “tall (and) built something like the great Ty Cobb,” became the Indians starting left fielder one week into the season and went on to lead  the team with a .299 batting average (he hit .002 better than his 19-year-old teammate Heinie Groh).

In September, The Sporting News reported that with just one season of professional experience, Coates “Looks good to Connie Mack,” and was drafted by the Philadelphia Athletics. He was the only member of the Indians drafted by a big league club in 1909.

At season’s end in September, Coates, with an invitation to train with Mack’s club in the spring, spent most of his time hunting.

On October 11 Coates was in a row-boat with a friend, hunting in a marsh near Omro.  The friend told The Omro Herald:

“Tom saw a mud hen rise up on the right hand side.  He turned about quickly and took hold of his gun which was at his left side and pulled it toward him…I turned about as soon as I heard the shot, and to my horror saw Tom lunge forward.”

Coates accidentally discharged his gun, shooting himself in the left eye.

Twelve days after the Oshkosh Indians received a $300 check from Connie Mack—his draft price—Coates was dead.

The Northwestern said:

“He was quiet and unassuming. After making a sensational play in the field or batting out the hit that won the game…the Oshkosh fans could not induce Coates to doff his hat.  He would return to the bench with face covered with blushes.”

[…]

“His more ardent admirers were confident he would make good in the American League, and one of their first thoughts upon hearing of the unfortunate accident, was the promising career he had before him.”

“I guess I am Rotten”

24 Nov

It was in doubt where Pete “The Gladiator” Browning would play in 1892.

There is no record of exactly how he parted ways with the Cincinnati Reds—Released by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Browning hit .343 for the Reds in 55 games in 1891 after signing with the club on June 29—but, by January of 1892 there were a steady stream of rumors about where he would sign.

Pete Browning

Pete Browning

Speculation included the Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Browns, but Browning opted to return home to Louisville, and signed with the Colonels—he was released again after an early spring salary dispute, but signed a new contract with the team a week into the season.

Browning returned Louisville with much fanfare.  The Courier-Journal said, after he contributed two singles and two sacrifice hits in a 7 to 2 victory over the Chicago Colts:

“Prodigal Pete…walked out—‘Prods’ do not return in carriages—to his old home in left field at Eclipse Park yesterday afternoon, where he had spent a happy, happy youth before the false adulation of the outer world called the Gladiator away.”

After am 11-3 start, the Colonels were returning to form, and were beginning to look like the ninth place team with a 63-89 record they would be at season’s end.

To make matters worse, “Prodigal Pete” struggled after his first game, hitting just .247—94 points less than his career average—in 21 games.

Browning explained his sump to Harry Weldon of The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“’I guess I am rotten. I guess I ought to be out of the business,’ said Pietro Gladiator Browning, as he walked on the field.  ‘Old Gladdy ain’t to his speed yet, but he’s hitting ‘em, and hitting ‘em good, but not as good as he will hit ‘em though, cause he’s got the catarrh, and is stopped up in the head.  When you’re stopped up your ‘lamps’ ain’t right.  Wait until the sun gets hot and the catarrh leaves the old hoss.  Then the pitchers will have to look out.  Will I lead the league in hitting?  Why not?  Look out for me.  None of ‘em are getting away from me in the outfield.  Did you read about me going up in the seats and pulling down a fly that saved the game?  I can do it right along.  None of them big stars, Jim) McAleer, Curt Welch or any of the rest of them fellows have the best of old Pete on fly balls.  The old boy is still ready money, and worth one hundred cents on the dollar.”

Within days the Colonels gave up on the Gladiator and handed him his release on May 18.

For a time Browning got his “lamps’ right again.  After signing with the Reds again, he hit .303 the rest of 1892.  He returned to Louisville in 1893 and hit .355 in part-time role.