Tag Archives: Mark Baldwin

“I was in Sort of a Trembling Condition”

19 Jul

When George Van Haltren joined the Chicago White Stockings as a pitcher in June of 1887, California newspapers followed his progress closely.

After a disastrous first start on June 27, Van Haltren was used in relief and in right field until July 5, when he started for Chicago against the New York Giants.

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Van Haltren

The Chicago Tribune said that likely “not one of each hundred of the 7000” fans in attendance thought the White Stockings would win with the rookie on the mound:

“(T)here were many who feared that the Giants would ‘get into’ the young man and hammer out a victory.”

Van Haltren beat the Giants 15-3, allowing just one earned run in the ninth inning when he experienced a bout of the wildness that plagued his first start, and walked three batters.

The Sacramento Daily Record-Union sent a reporter to Chicago who provided West Coast fans with the first interview of “The California Wonder” since he headed East:

“George Van Haltren, hot, tired, and dusty, but with a most excusable look of triumph on his face, walked into the White Stockings clubhouse at close of today’s ‘toying’ with the New York Giants and seated himself in a chair. The crowning test of his ability as a pitcher had come and been triumphantly met.”

The reporter asked “the well-tried young pitcher,” about to embark on his first road trip with the club, how he was being accepted in Chicago:

“I’ve been treated like a prince and feel sorry that we are going away even for three weeks. Talk about Southern hospitality, if it’s anything better than what I’ve experienced here, I want to go South.”

Van Haltren was asked to compare baseball on the West Coast to the National League:

“Oh, players are very much more finished, of course, and in some respects the game is almost a new one to me. There is fielding, for instance; why, if my old partners in San Francisco could see the way the ball comes into the diamond from the field in Chicago, it would make their hair stand on end.”

But, said Van Haltren, he wasn’t necessarily having a harder time in Chicago:

“On the contrary, I’ve been most agreeably surprised in that respect. You see, there I was almost expected to strike three out of every five men who faced me, and when I came here, of course, I expected that against famous sluggers of the National League I should have to get down to just so much harder playing. Shortly after my arrival here, however, Captain Anson told me that I was not expected to do anything of the sort. There are outfielders in the Chicago nine, he said, and it was part of their business to look after balls that were knocked into the field. All I was expected to do was play good ball, and if batsmen knocked me hard, men on the outside of the diamond were to attend to the rest.”

He said he was treated well by his teammates:

“I was a stranger, and they took me in and treated me in such a way that now I feel perfectly at home. They are gentlemen from way back, and I would not ask for better company.”

Anson then interjected:

“The satisfaction is mutual my boy, and don’t let it slip your memory.”

Van Haltren was then asked about his disastrous first start—after four strong innings, the rookie walked 14 batter and hit four, although most sources said umpire Herm Doescher did the pitcher no favors:

 “Well, that was a bitter dose. When I went on the ground that day my heart was in my throat and stayed there until I had struck out the first Boston batsman to face me (Joe Hornung), the it went down nearer its natural place, but all through the game I was in sort of a trembling condition. It might not have been so bad if Doescher had given me a fair show.”

He said by the end of the game:

“I wished that I had never come East of the Rocky Mountains. That was an awful roast.

‘”Should say it was,’ growled big Edward Williamson, the Chicago shortstop, who was gravely killing flies on the wall, smashing them with his baseball pants. ‘It is a wonder the colt didn’t break down entirely,’ and the speaker made a vicious lunge at an unusually big bluebottle fly.”

He said he had just one regret; he had been informed that day that Tom Daly would no longer be his catcher for his starts. The Tribune said of his performance during the game with the Giants that, “Daly’s work behind the bat was little short of phenomenal and was best ever seen on the grounds.”

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Daly

Van Haltren told the California reporter:

“I am only sorry I am going to lose Daly, who has been catching for me. He is the greatest man behind the bat I ever saw, and I think that he’s the only man can hold (Mark) Baldwin’s terrific delivery, and so I am to have (Dell) Darling. He of course is a first-class man, too, but Daly caught first for me and I am sorry to lose him.”

In closing he asked the reporter to:

“Be sure to tell my California friends that I am enjoying myself.”

Van Haltren was 11-7 with a 3.86 ERA as the White Stocking’s third starter; he also played 27 games in the outfield and hit .206 for the third place White Stockings.

“Spalding Should Never Permit a Chicago Audience to be so Insulted Again”

20 Mar

George Van Haltren didn’t instantly live up to his billing.

The 21-year-old, then pitcher, had finally decided to leave California in June, after the death of his mother—he had refused to come East for more than a year while his mother was ill. His refusal to come to Chicago had resulted in threats of being blacklisted from White Stockings’ owner A. G. Spaulding.

The Oakland Tribune said Van Haltren’s current club, the Greenhood and Morans had offered him $300 a month to stay in California.

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Van Haltren

The impending arrival of Van Haltren was big new in the Chicago papers.  With the team struggling in fourth place, The Chicago Daily Journal said Van Haltren was “depended upon to help (John) Clarkson and (Mark) Baldwin boost the club.’ The paper left readers with high expectations:

“Two years ago he commenced playing ball as a catcher, but after a year at the receiving end of the battery, he decided it was better to give than to receive…In his first four games he struck out 55 men; in a game a little later he struck out three consecutive batters on nine pitched balls, and in another game he made a record of 19 strike outs in a nine inning game.”

Van Haltren’s arrival for his start, against Boston, was greeted with fanfare and received as much coverage in West Coast newspapers as in Chicago.  The scene, described by The Oakland Tribune:

“Eight thousand people witnessed the game.  The Chicagos marched on the diamond with Van Haltren and Captain Anson in the lead, then followed by the band and th other players of the club.  When they arrived at the home plate Anson and Van Haltren took off their caps, and the latter was loudly cheered.”

The Chicago Tribune said Van Haltren was sharp for four innings, striking out the first batter he faced:

“(He) retired Joe Hornung on strikes and the crowd manifested its pleasure.”

The Beaneaters scored two unearned runs in the first, but the White Stockings responded with five in the first and scored two more runs in the third.  Through four innings Van Haltren allowed just one hit.

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Van Haltren

The Boston Globe said what came next:

“Spalding’s wonder, the famous left-handed pitcher Van Haltren, the terror of the Pacific slope, made his debut as a league pitcher and for four innings he was a king with the crowd. After that he lost all control of the ball and all the Bostons had to do to get to first was to wait for five balls.”

Beginning in the fifth, Van Haltren “sent 14 men to first on balls, besides hitting four with the ball, and (Tom) Daly, who caught him for the first time, saved him about 10 wild pitches.”

The Chicago and California papers saw Van Haltren’s implosion differently—they blamed umpire Herm Doscher.  The Chicago Tribune said:

“Not only was his judgment on balls and strikes miserable, but he lacks a knowledge of the rules of the game.”

The Chicago Inter Ocean (which estimated the crowd at 7,000, not 8,000) said fans “witnessed the rankest case of robbery by an umpire that has ever taken place in the city. President Spalding should never permit a Chicago audience to be so insulted again.”

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Doescher

The Oakland Tribune called Doscher “Incredibly unfair and incorrect,” and The San Francisco Examiner claimed Doscher was confused by Van Haltern’s curve ball:

“Doescher’s [sic] decisions of balls were drawn from the direction of the ball when at least three feet away from the plate, losing all sight of the ultimate course of the curves at the vital spot.”

Even The Boston Post agreed that Doscher’s umpiring was “erratic” and that he participated in “bad discrimination against Van Haltren.”

Despite his meltdown—or Doscher’s incompetence—Van Haltren entered the ninth with the game tied at 11.

The Beaneaters scored six runs in the ninth after three walks—The Chicago Daily News said, “fully one-half the balls called on Van Haltren should have been strikes.”  Van Haltren was also rattled by second baseman Fred Pfeffer’s second error of the game and two hits—or as The Chicago Tribune put it:

“(Edward ‘Pop’) Tate got his base on balls after Van Haltren had struck him out fairly; (Michael ‘Kid’) Madden was hit by the ball and given his base; Pfeffer’s error gave (King) Kelly first and filled the bases.  Then (Bobby) Wheelock was given his base on balls after about six strikes.”

Having given up the lead, Van Haltren then gave up a triple to Boston’s Bill Nash, Nash scored on a single by Ezra Sutton and the Chicago went down in order in the ninth.

The phenom left-hander from California lost his first game 17-11, walked 16 and hit three batters.

The Oakland Tribune said:

“A correspondent saw Captain Anson and was informed the management of the White Stockings were perfectly satisfied with the new pitcher, who, considering all circumstances, made a good showing as a National League player.”

Anson started Van Haltren in right field the following day and thought enough of him to use him in relief of John Clarkson in the seventh inning, The Chicago Daily News said of his second stint on the mound:

“(He) did remarkably well, staking out such batsmen as Hornung, Nash and Johnson.  The general opinion here is that when he becomes used to Eastern ways, he will prove the best pitcher of the year.”

Van Haltren did not prove to be “pitcher of the year,” he finished 11-7 with a 3.86 ERA, but walked just 50 batters in 152 innings after walking 16 in his first nine.

But he was treated like the “pitcher of the year” when he returned home.

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Van Haltren

The San Francisco Examiner said:

“George Van Haltren is, beyond all question entitles to rank as the premier pitcher of California, and the most invidious of our Eastern friends will not begrudge us the right to boast a little about the stalwart young fellow who has done so much in the East to puzzle the crack batsmen beyond the Rockies, and at the same time prove to the older but not more progressive East what kind of products we raise here in California…It is believed that The Examiner’s readers will agree that a finer specimen of young America, of Californian or any other growth, than George Van Haltren would be hard to find.”

Van Haltren never excelled as a pitcher but became one of the best leadoff men of the 19th Century.

“There will be Cliques”

30 Jun

William Ingraham “W.I.” Harris was one of the most important baseball writers of the 19th Century, but like Charles Emmett Van Loan three decades later, he died young and is mostly forgotten today.

He was sports editor for The New York Press, which was billed as “The aggressive Republican newspaper of New York,” and The New York Star.  The Sporting Life said of Harris:

“He feels strongly in any given direction and talks earnestly. One cannot be long in his presence without being convinced of his unswerving honesty and sincerity.”

He was, along with Ren Mulford Jr. of The Cincinnati Times-Star, an outspoken critic of the Players League, and said he agreed with Mulford’s assessment that the appearance of the Brotherhood, and the resulting “baseball war” was “a campaign for the preservation of baseball law on one side and its destruction on the other.”

William Ingraham Harris

William Ingraham Harris

Harris was also considered the best prognosticators among contemporary baseball writers, and before the 1890 season began he said:

 “For the past two years I have had the satisfaction of naming the champions of both major associations before a championship game had been played…and last season (in the National league), with the exception of Pittsburgh and Cleveland, I located the exact position at the finish.”

He said he would not attempt to handicap the results of the three leagues in 1890:

“The writer who ventures to make predictions as to the results of the championship fight in any one of the many leagues at this stage of affairs takes an enormous risk on masticating a pretty tough crow later on.”

But, said Harris, he was “willing to take my chances on giving one tip,” before the beginning of the season.  The “tip” went against the conventional wisdom, in fact, it went against what the entire baseball world considered a certainty; the fate of the club The Chicago Tribune called “The greatest team ever organized.

“(I) shall not undertake to pick any winners this year until the season has been well started.  I propose, however, to nominate one team that will not win a pennant, and that is the Chicago Brotherhood team.  In making this assertion I am bucking against general sentiment, or rather general belief.  The consensus of opinion is the other way.  There is no doubt that on paper the Chicago Brotherhood team is in many respects one of the greatest aggregations of baseball stars ever got together, but there are some potent reasons against its success.“

Harris was critical of the team’s catchers and pitchers:

(Conrad “Dell”) Darling never was a first class catcher and never will be.  (Charles “Duke”) Farrell is a strong hitter, and at times a most brilliant catcher, but he is not a steady or remarkably heady catcher.  Boyle is a good one, but he isn’t in it with such good men as (William “Buck”) Ewing, (Jack) Clements, (Charlie) Bennett, (Charlie) Ganzel, (George “Doggie’) Miller, (Connie) Mack, (Michael “King”) Kelly, (John “Jocko”) Milligan, (Paul) Cook and (Cornelius “Con”) Daily.  On catchers the team is all right on quantity, but short in quality.

“As to pitchers, (Mark) Baldwin, in 1887 and 1889, was a star In 1888 he was not to be depended on.  Baldwin doesn’t take care of himself as he should in the winter time.  As a pitcher he ranks among those who may be great at any time, but who keep you guessing on the dates.

(Charles “Silver”) King, in condition, is a ‘tip topper.’  He was a failure in the League once before, and in the world’s Series against New York didn’t astonish people to any extent.”

He dismissed the other two pitchers, Frank Dwyer and Charlie Bartson as a “medium man” and “unknown quantity,” and said “Unless strengthened in the battery department, and probably not then, this team will not land first.”

He conceded that “The outfield and infield are well-nigh perfect.”  But, there was a bigger problem than the weak pitching and catching; Harris predicted tension between second baseman Fred Pfeffer, who had raised $20,000 for the creation of the Players League, recruited most of his Chicago White Stockings teammates to jump to the Brotherhood, and was one of the club’s directors, and team captain and first baseman Charles Comiskey:

“(T)he Comiskey-Pfeffer or the Pfeffer-Comiskey combination.  By the way, which is it?  The answer to this will have quite a bearing on the general result…There will be cliques.  Germany and Ireland will be at war in less than a month.  The public may not know, but the lack of harmony will be there and will have its effect.  Comiskey is a great baseball captain.  At least he was in the American Association.  His methods are well-known.  He was supreme at St. Louis.  Everything went.  The men had no respect for (owner Chris) von der Ahe.  They feared Comiskey.  At Chicago Comiskey will find some men who have just escaped from the rule of a greater captain than himself, perhaps a harder task master.  They have reveled all winter over the prospect of freedom from that restraint, proper and effective though it was.  They are stockholders—yes magnates—now.  Will they swallow Comiskey’s manners on the field and in the dressing room?  As Charlie Reed sings, ‘Well, I guess not.’ (Reed was a famous minstrel performer in the 1880s and 18890s)

“Comiskey must change his methods.  He will have to gag himself; he will have to, figuratively, kiss the baseball blarney stone; he will have to be cheerful, under protest; and, above all, if harmony be his objective point he will have to please Director Pfeffer.  He may not try to do these things; he probably won’t.  Comiskey will have his way.  He always has had it.  He can only rule by practically despotic methods.”

Fred Pfeffer

Fred Pfeffer

Harris correctly concluded that Brooklyn, New York, and probably Boston (the eventual champions) would finish ahead of Chicago.  At season’s end, The Chicago Times summed up how prescient Harris had been about the fourth place team in the Players League:

“The outside world cannot fully realize the bitter disappointment felt here over the poor showing made by Comiskey’s team during the season just closed.  Surely it was strongest aggregation of players ever collected in one club, but its lack of success was mainly from two causes—lack of discipline and the miserable condition of certain members of the club.

“There has been absolutely no discipline in the team, and some of the men paid as much attention to Comiskey’s orders as they would to a call from some church congregation.  An order to sacrifice was met with a smile of scorn, and the ball was hammered down to an infielder, who made an easy double play.”

Harris died the following summer on July 7, at age 33, of tuberculosis.  The Boston Globe, the first paper he worked for, said:

“Being of a most observing nature, a ready thinker and as it were, a lightening calculator, he managed to foretell many of the leading baseball events of the year weeks ahead…Mr. Harris was without exaggeration, one of the brightest of his class, a ready and graceful writer and a hard worker.”

W.I. Harris (#5), as a member of the New York Reporters Baseball Club at the Polo Ground in 1889.

W.I. Harris (#5), as a member of the New York Reporters Baseball Club at the Polo Ground in 1889.