Tag Archives: Louisville Eclipse

“The Catcher Struck him in the Face”

23 Dec

Dan Sullivan was a star in Louisville.  He played with the Akrons with Tony Mullane in in 1881—and the two were reunited with the Eclipse in 1882.

He caught Mullane’s and Guy Hecker’s no-hitters, thrown eight days apart, and hit .273 for Louisville.

Dan Sullivan

The Louisville Courier-Journal said of him:

“He is a vey hard worker behind the bat and being a powerful man can hold the swiftest pitcher with ease. He is a thoroughly reliable catcher at all times and a very safe hitter, especially in a close place. In stature he is about the medium height, but very strongly bult, weighing about 180 pounds.”

Sullivan’s batting average slipped the next two seasons, but he remained popular.  An amateur team called the “Dan Sullivans” was named in his honor, and during the final homestand of the 1884 season, Eclipse president Zachery Phelps halted the game as Sullivan came to bat for the first time:

“Phelps stepped out on the ballfield with a beautiful gold medal in his hand. Approaching the batter, se said:

”A number of Louisville gentlemen, lovers of the national game who are deeply interest in the success of base ball in this place and who from time to time admired the earnest and honest efforts put forth by you interest of our representative club; who have applauded again and again the readiness and willingness with which you are always found at your post of duty, even though scarred and bruised from battles already fought…They desire me to urge you continue faithful as you have been; to avoid carefully such faults and excesses as have already destroyed the prospects of many a man in your profession.”

The Courier-Journal said Sullivan was “too surprised to make a response and bowed his thanks while the spectators loudly applauded.”

The medal was “a broad plate of gold, to which is suspended two bats and a mask, of solid gold, which represents a ball field, with a batter and catcher in position. The legs, caps, and shirts of the players are made of white platinum, and the bodies of red gold. The diamond is made of green and gold, with a miniature grandstand in the background.”

Things changed quickly.

Sullivan got off to a slow start, hitting less than .200 during the first month of the season and losing playing time to Joe Crotty, which drew the notice of William G. Osborne, sports editor of The Louisville Commercial.

Osborne was mildly critical of Sullivan’s play, and the catcher was “very much offended and threatened vengeance.”

On May 27, Osborne arrived at the ballpark:

“(A)ccompanied by two ladies.  As he went up the grandstand, he passed Sullivan, and the latter said he wanted to see him.”

Osborne returned to Sullivan who said the criticism was unfair, Osborne said, “he had written what he thought was just, and had criticized his playing, not his personal character.”

The argument continued into the clubhouse:

“’You must make me an apology before you go out of here,’ said Sullivan.

‘”I will not do anything of the kind,’ replied Mr. Osborne.”

Sullivan then called Osborne “a name most vile,” then:

“The catcher struck him in the face and knocked him down, following up the blow with several others. Mr. Osborne was of course no match for his opponent, who weighs something over 200 pounds, and received the worst of the encounter.”

More details emerged the following day, suggesting that the entire Eclipse club was aware of the attack:

“Mr. Osborne very properly and manfully refused (to apologize). Thereupon, Mr. Sullivan, the brave and courageous Louisville catcher, with Mr. James A. Hart, his manager, and eight or ten sympathizing fellow-players to lend him additional courage, introduced his slugging act against a gentleman without a single friend present, who was vastly his inferior in weight and physical strength.”

The Courier-Journal said, “No language of ours is strong enough to express the utter contempt in which Mr. James A. Hart, the manager of the Louisville club, should be held by all of the respectable ball-loving public of the city, who assist by their presence in keeping the Louisville club alive.

“A manager who permits such an outrage in his own presence, without the slightest effort to prevent it, shows himself utterly wanting in the qualities which go to make a good manager.”

The Commercial and The Courier-Journal also charged that Hart, “got the ruffian into a hack…and had him hustled over to Jeffersonville so as to evade arrest; both papers called for Hart’s immediate dismissal and the release of Sullivan.

Sullivan remained with the club for 10 more days, Hart said he would have released him sooner but “was compelled to retain his services until another man could be signed.” The Eclipse signed Miah Murray to replace Sullivan.

Sullivan never appears to have been arrested, and there was no further mention was made of replacing Hart, who remained manager through the 1886 season.

Sullivan was signed by the St. Louis Browns. He hit .117 in 17 games for the American Association champions and was released before the end of the season. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said:

“(Sullivan’s) work was unsatisfactory and he was again released. He did not assist in winning the pennant.”

Sullivan played just three more professional games; one with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys and two with the Savannah club in the Southern Association in 1886—he was 0 for 10.

He returned to Providence, Rhode Island. Sullivan died of quick consumption on October 26, 1893; it was said he contracted the illness while visiting the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago earlier in the month.

The Story of the Story of Browning’s bat

12 Aug

On the Louisville Slugger website, the simple story of how 17-year-old Bud Hillerich “changed the game of baseball forever,” is told.

According to company, Hillerich watched Browning break his bat during a Louisville Eclipse game in 1884, and offered to make him a new one—Browning sat at his side as he made the bat, and with that, “one of the most iconic brands,” was born.

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Pete Browning

That humble origin story was not enough for two of the most prominent baseball writers of the 1920s, who both told their readers more dramatic versions of the story nearly 20 years after Browning’s death.

Fred Lieb, then sports editor of The New York Telegram, told his version in February of 1923 as part of a series of articles he wrote on the game’s history for the Al Munro Elias Sports Bureau:

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Fred Lieb

“They still tell a story around the Hillerich and Bradsby factory in Louisville about Pete when he came in one night and would not leave the factory until they had made him a new bat.”

Lieb said Browning was “brooding,” having cracked “his most successful bat,” and walked to the factory:

“(F)ortunately, some of the men were working. He insisted that one of the workmen leave his lathe and get busy on making him a new bat. Personally, he selected the piece of timber and then had it put on the lathe.

“He had his old bat with him as a model, and insisted the new bludgeon be an exact duplicate. From time to time he would have it taken out of the lathe to see how it ‘felt.’ Then he would want a little more taken off here and a little more there. If too much was taken off, then an entirely new club would be prepared.

“It was early in the morning when he left the factory satisfied and happy. An exact duplicate of his lucky bat had been reproduced.”

And while the “official” story on the company website says Browning had “a trio of hits,” the following game, Lieb did them one better:

“That afternoon he slapped out four hits.”

Lieb closed by asking his readers:

“Can anyone imagine a player of today staying up all night to superintend the making of a new bat?”

One year later, just after Bud’s father, John Frederick “Fred,” Hillerich died, Bozeman Bulger, the sports editor of The New York World, who also wrote a nationally syndicated column, further embellished the story.

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Bozeman Bulger

In Bulger’s version, it was Fred who “never tired of telling the story of Browning’s night visit to the then small factory,” in Louisville:

“His favorite bat had been cracked. None other would do.”

In Bulger’s story, Browning arrived just as the factory workers were leaving.

“’I got to have a bat, and have it tonight,’ said Pete, ‘or I can’t sleep. If I don’t get my hits tomorrow, I’ll go daffy.’”

After Browning, “with an expert eye,” picked out the piece of timber “having the most solid wood,” the shop foreman told him:

“’(W)e’ll turn it for you tomorrow. We know your model.’”

In Bulger’s version, Browning had not brought the broken bat with him:

“’Tomorrow,’ exclaimed Browning. ‘Listen, I don’t care what it costs, and I’ll but supper for the gang. You fellows stay here and get the man on the lathe. I want that bat turned just right. But I’ve got to have it tonight.”

After feeding the factory workers, “The foreman and the lathe man,” returned to the factory with Browning, and after “They turned the stick again and again,” Browning said the bat “felt just right.”

It was “well after midnight,” and in Bulger’s version, Browning also had four hits that day, and soon “Others took up the fad.”

Six months after Fred’s death,  his hometown paper, The Louisville Courier-Journal, in a long article, under the headline “Baseball bat industry brings fame to city,” told the story.

In this version it was not Hillerich, but one of “the turners” who was “an ardent fan,” who stayed late to make Browning’s bat. When it was to his liking, Browning was so pleased with the bat he left with it “without waiting for the final polishing.” The paper qualified the claim about Browning’s performance the following day, saying “Tradition has it,” that he had four hits.

Lieb, Bulger, and The Courier-Journal did not mention Hillerich attending the Eclipse game on the day in question.

Bud Hillerich, who spent his winters in Florida, told his version the story to The Miami Herald in 1944.

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Bud Hillerich

In his own telling, he doesn’t mention having attended the game that day, but instead says Browning approached his father about making a bat:

“Dad refused. He said, ‘we don’t have time to turn out such junk. Besides baseball is just a passing fancy. But if you can find my son, Bud, he might make a bat for you.”

Bud Hillerich died in 1946 in Chicago, en route to the winter meeting in Los Angeles, his obituary in The Courier-Journal failed to mention the Browning story.