Tag Archives: Mark Polhemus

“He is Thoroughly Incompetent and Could do no Better”

12 May

After the Cincinnati Reds traded for Piggy Ward in June of 1893, Alonzo Flanner of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of his first visit to play the Browns with his new club:

“Ward, one of Comiskey’s latest acquisitions, is a great baseball player. He got his base every time he came to bat yesterday. He steals bases with a gavotte step and coaches like a cow with a cough but can’t field a little bit.”

Flanner had more to say later the same month:

“Ward, the young man with the waddle and voice like a catarrhal cow, who essayed to play right field for Cincinnati. He shows the happiest faculty for muffing, fumbling, and wild throwing of any young man masquerading in a League uniform and drawing salary.”

The observations appear to be accurate; in 42 games with the Reds, Ward hit .280, stole 27 bases, and made 13 errors in just 75 chances in the outfield. The Reds released him in August.

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Frank Gray “Piggy” Ward

The Cincinnati Enquirer said of Ward’s two-month tenure with the club:

“His opening was a dream. For weeks after he started in with the Reds, he was the talk of the town. He stood on the topmost pinnacle in the esteem of the local enthusiasts. Then came the awful exhibition of yellow fielding in the Fourth of July games.”

Ward played right field in the first game and left field in the second against Philadelphia on July 4. He was charged with two errors in the first game and one in second, and the paper said, “His miserable work in the field,” accounted for “no less than six” of Philadelphia’s 15 runs in their 15-14 victory in the first game, but allowed:

“Ward should not be blamed too harshly, because he is thoroughly incompetent and could do no better.”

After the Fourth of July debacle, The Enquirer said:

“No one could be found to fill his place as well, and again Ward had a chance to show himself. So well did he take advantage of this opportunity that it is safe to say of all the players that have been released by the Cincinnati Club none of them ever left behind such a feeling of universal regret as this same Ward.”

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The Cincinnati Enquirer after the July 4 double header

The Enquirer was so appalled by Ward’s performance that the paper referenced it at length a year later on Independence Day:

“The Exhibition of how not to play the game of ball given by Piggy that day will never be forgotten by those unfortunate enough to witness it. Such fielding was nauseating.”

The Cincinnati Commercial Gazette said, “There is nothing that that so disgusts a Cincinnati base ball crowd as poor fielding.”

Ward had arrived in Cincinnati with a reputation. He appeared in a major league game at age 16—playing third base for the Philadelphia Quakers on June 12, 1883; he was 0 for 5 and reached on an error. The Philadelphia Times description of Ward’s debut is ironic given later assessments of his skills:

“(Ward) fielded well but was weak at the bat and a very slow runner.”

After that single game, he bounced all over the US and Canada—and made two more brief stops in the big leagues between 1887 and 1891—after his first game in the outfield for the Quakers in his second trial with the club in 1889, The Philadelphia Enquirer said, “he proved conclusively he cannot play the outfield.”

He was also, by all accounts, a bit eccentric:

While playing with the Hamilton Hams in the International League, The Toronto Mail said he, “tried one of his supposed funny fakes.”

Ward handed a potato to pitcher Bill Pfann who was supposed to throw the potato over first baseman Ed Swartwood’s head.  Pfann was apparently slow on the uptake and threw the potato to Swartwood “and (Toronto Canucks Tom) McLaughlin was therefore not caught by the trick.”

Ward made at least one other documented attempt at the hidden ball trick—this time without a potato—during his brief stop with the Baltimore Orioles in June of 1893 in a game with Louisville. The Baltimore Sun described the play:

“Ward walked to the pitcher’s plate as if to advise (Kirtley) Baker on some point of the game. Then he walked back to first base. Baker resumed his position on the plate as if to pitch, but (Fred) Pfeffer had seen Ward take the ball and did not remove his foot from first base.”

Pfeffer pointed out the situation to umpire Michael McLaughlin and Baker was charged with a balk.

Pfeffer told the paper:

“I did intend at first , for the fun of the thing, to let Ward touch me with the ball by stepping off the base and then calling the umpire’s attention to the balk, but it occurred to me that the umpire might not have seen the play and would therefore decide against me. You have to be careful on such points.”

Ward’s was also considered by many to be a clubhouse cancer throughout his career. He started the 1893 season with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association. After Ward left the Pelicans, The New Orleans Times-Democrat said team president Charles Genslinger called Ward “a dissenter of the worst type and kept the local club in constant internal turmoil until his departure.”

Among Genslinger’s charges were that Ward had been the “sole cause” of an early season uprising that caused several of the team’s best players—including Count Campau, Pat Luby, and Mark Polhemus– to attempt to secure their releases, and that manager Abner “Powell ordered Ward to stop smoking in uniform, and as he persisted in the disobedience to orders he was compelled to impose a heavy fine.”

More of Ward’s story tomorrow.