Tag Archives: Max Linder

“Some People Think I’m Eccentric, and Maybe I am”

10 Jul

In March of 1920, Hal Chase provided a short, sometimes self-serving, eulogy for his major league career to a United Press reporter “while attending a dinner at the Ritz Carlton” in New York:

“I wanted to quit big league baseball before it quit me, I realize that I would lose out in two or three years, and I’d rather quit while I’m top of my baseball career than wait for the career to leave me flat. That is the principal reason why I am not with the Giants on their training trip.”

Chase told the reporter he was heading West:

“I want work that is more regular. I’d like to work my eight hours daily and be free after that. It must be work in which I can advance. I can’t get any higher in baseball. My old parents live in San Jose and I haven’t seen them in four years. They want to see me and I’m going out.”

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Hal Chase

Chase believed he had a future in Hollywood:

“If the film business offers me an opportunity for money-making, I’ll go into it.”

The report suggested to Chase that he might have the same impact as another recent arrival to films:

“Look how well Will Rogers, cowboy, has done.

“’That’s right,’ said Chase. ‘Say, I’d like to join hands with Rogers and put on a film comedy based on Ban Johnson. It would be a scream. I’ll bet.”

As for his baseball career coming to an end, Chase said:

“Some people think I’m eccentric, and maybe I am. However, I have no sore spots. McGraw is a fine fellow and my friend. I understand he is to put (George “High Pockets”) Kelly in my place at first base. Kelly in a regular baseball player and should make good.”

Within days of giving that interview, The New York Daily News reported that Chase was working with a theatrical agent named Thaddee Letendre–who represented several actors, including French silent film star Max Linder–and had signed a contract for Chase’s “exclusive appearance in films.”

The paper said:

“In a short while Hal probably will be the screen idol of the small boy, Letendre intends to fit Chase into the role of Frank Merriwell, whose episodes have been chronicled in novels by Burt L. Standish (pen name for author Gilbert Patton). The role of Merriwell probably will fit Chase like a glove, inasmuch as he is a versatile athlete.”

The irony of Chase playing a character Patten said he created to embody “truth, faith, justice, the triumph of right, mother, home (and) friendship,” was not mentioned in the article.

Whether it was an unsubstantiated rumor, or whether the deal fell through is unknown. But by the time Chase reached California on April 13, there was no talk of a movie contract and The Los Angeles Examiner said Chase “would like to play ball in the Pacific Coast League (PCL).”

The Seattle Star reported the next day that the Seattle Rainiers “puts in bid for services” of Chase. Team president William Klepper telegraphed the Giants offering to but Chase’s contract.

That never materialized either—The Examiner said, “apparently a hitch in the proposed deal developed;” the “hitch” was likely when revelations made by Lee Magee went public just as Chase was traveling West, that they had conspired to throw games in 1918.

The Seattle option gone; Chase joined the San Jose Bears in the Mission League He made his Mission League debut on May 2—Chase was 1 for 4 with a double and drove in both San Jose runs in a 10 to 2 loss to Monterey.

In mid-May, with San Jose 1 and 4, despite having “Prince Hal” in the lineup, Mission League officials met and attempted to ban Chase; A.J. O’Connor, director of the San Jose club told The San Jose in June, The San Jose Evening News:

“The effort is going to be made to bar Chase, but it’s not going to get anywhere. We simply will not stand for it. We are going to keep Chase for we know the fans want him.”

O’Connor told the paper the team would withdraw from the league if Chase was ruled ineligible.

On May 24, The Evening News reported:

“The (Mission League) board voted (May 23) in favor of allowing Hal Chase to continue his playing with the local club, which brought joy to the hearts of the fans all over the circuit.”

Chase celebrated the decision by hitting an RBI double—his third hit of the game–in the tenth inning to give San Jose a 4 to 3 victory over Watsonville.

As Chase was settling into his role as Mission League drawing card, he was again making headlines in the East; Lee Magee’s case against the Chicago Cubs went to trial and Chase’s alleged role in fixing games was a key feature.

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Lee Magee

Chase told The San Jose Mercury-Herald:

“There is absolutely no truth in this statement made by Magee. I was exonerated of all charges by the national commission after it made a full investigation. I do not know what Magee did at the time of the game he mentions, but I do know that I did not place any bets and the statement is untrue from start to finish.”

Days after Magee lost his suit against the Cubs, The Mercury Herald reported “the greatest stir in baseball circles;” Chase had purchased a one-third interest in the San Jose club:

“This announcement will no doubt please the local fans as it shows what an active interest Hal has taken in baseball here and that he is out to do his share in giving San Jose real baseball and a winning team.”

Both San Jose papers reported a rumor that Chase had been in contact with former Giants teammate Heinie Zimmerman to join the San Jose team–Zimmerman never came West,

Chase made several trips to Southern California in search of players and to watch PCL games—primarily a pitcher—for San Jose. Failing to secure one, Chase took the mound for the club. On July 24, he pitched a complete game shutout against King City; he pitched again a week later, losing 4 to 1 to Watsonville.

Never far from trouble, two days after he pitched against Watsonville, Chase was in the news again. William H. McCarthy, President of the PCL barred him from all league parks after a sworn statement from Charles “Spider” Baum of the Salt Lake City Bees that Chase had approached him at the Hotel Lankersham in Los Angeles with an offer to throw a game; Baum told Chase he would likely not pitch in the series.

In response, Mission League President James J. Nealon, who had backed San Jose in its earlier effort to keep Chase, issued a statement:

“The Mission League has stood for all that is clean and wholesome and doesn’t intend to have its name smeared by such an incident as Baum relates of Chase.

“The directors of the league unite with me in declaring that Chase is barred. Whatever interest he may have in the San Jose ball club must be forfeited.”

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Chase, 1920

The San Jose papers which had been among his biggest cheerleaders, were split on the quick action of the Mission League. The Evening News said:

“There is no room on the San Jose club for Hal Chase. He is finished. If the club attempts to play Chase the baseball fans should absent themselves from the game. Chase wired yesterday (from the Clark Hotel in Los Angeles) that the latest charges against him were ridiculous. If these charges had been made by some player whose reputation for honesty, decency, and truthfulness was less known than Spider Baum’s we might withhold judgment for a minute.”

The Mercury-Herald countered:

“The latest accusation—that Chase actually approached a pitcher with the view of inducing him to ‘throw’ the game—is the most serious of any yet revealed, and if true should at once and forever eliminate him from the baseball field. But it should be proved, not hinted at; it should be made so clear that none shall say hereafter that the player was ‘railroaded’ out of the game, or that jealous managers anxious to get him on their teams fought over him and finally decided to put him out of the way…Otherwise the ‘fans’ will continue to idolize the player and regard him as a martyr rather than as a ‘short sport,’ which we trust he is not.”

On August 8, Chase was in uniform and on the bench when San Jose took the field against Hollister. In the third inning, San Jose was down 5 to 0, with two runners on base, when Chase was brought in in relief. Umpire Al Erle forfeited the game Hollister. The remainder of the contest was played as an exhibition game; Chase pitched the rest of the way in the 14-9 loss.

Three days later, the league directors voted 10-2 to uphold Chase’s banishment from the Mission League. Four days later, Chase was on the field—along with Harl Maggert who had been banned by the PCL—with the Madera team in the Northern San Joaquin Valley League and led Madera to an 11-0 victory over Chowchilla. The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“Chase thrilled spectators with two headlong slides to second.”

Chase and Maggert were banned from playing in the Northern San Joaquin Valley League two days later by league president J. C. Lesher who also announced that the game they participated in would be thrown out.

Chase spent the remainder of the 1920s playing semi-ball in California, Arizona, Texas, and anywhere that would have him.