Tag Archives: Memphis Chickasaws

“The Story of Slattery is the Story of a Jinx”

22 Aug

Joe Slattery believed he was jinxed by an entire city.

Joseph Patrick Slattery was born on March 15 in 1888 or 1889—his WWI and WWII draft registrations give the 1889 date, early census data and his death certificate say 1888—in St. Louis.

He played with semi-pro teams in Mount Vernon and Kewanee, Illinois before playing his first professional game with the Dallas Giants in the Texas League in 1908.  Described by The St. Louis Globe as an excellent fielding first basemen with a weak bat, he lived up to that label during his first two seasons as a pro—hitting .125 and .199 with Dallas, the Brockton Tigers in the New England League.

In 1910, he joined the Rock Island Islanders in the Three-I League and began to hit.  He was hitting .300 in June when The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said:

Joe Slattery, Rock Island, 1910

Joe Slattery, Rock Island, 1910

“(Slattery) may obtain a trial with the Browns.  Early this week, owner (Robert) Hedges dispatched Harry Howell, one of his scouts, to look over Slattery.  It is said that Howell made a favorable report.

“Hedges is not the only club owner who has been tipped off about Slattery.  The Pittsburgh Club has had a scout looking over Slattery while it is understood that the Brooklyn Club has made an offer for his release.”

Slattery immediately went into a slump and finished the season with a .216 average.  With Rock Island again in 1911, Slattery hit .280 and was sold to the Syracuse Stars in The New York State League (NYSL).  Slattery played for three teams in the NYSL from 1912 to 1915, hitting in the .290s.

Then he had his best season as a professional—one that has been incorrectly credited to another player with the same last name.

Slattery was sold to the Montreal Royals in the International League in 1916.  He hit .298 and led the league’s first basemen with a .991 fielding percentage, but most sources incorrectly credit those statistics to John Thomas “Jack” Slattery—who  actually played his last professional game in 1911.

Near the end of the 1916 season, The Washington Herald reported in October that Slattery’s contract was purchased by the Senators, but later the same day Clark Griffith told The Washington Times that the report was untrue.

Slattery hit .252 in 1917 for Montreal.  Before the 1918 season, he was sold to the Memphis Chickasaws the Southern Association and went to the city that “jinxed” him.

The (Memphis) Commercial-Appeal reported before the season opened that the Chickasaws would “have their new first sacker longer than expected.”  It had been expected that Slattery would be drafted before the season began, but the paper said his draft board in St. Louis now said he wouldn’t be entering the military until later in the summer.

All involved later wished the delay never happened.

Slattery with Memphis, 1918

Slattery with Memphis, 1918

as the season progressed, The Memphis News-Scimitar said:

“Slattery is the greatest fielding first baser in the Southern today and he made stops and throws that would have done credit to Hal Chase…But Joe can’t get started hitting.”

Slattery appeared in 59 games for Memphis.  He hit .197 in 208 at bats and quickly became the most unpopular man in town

As he struggled, the paper said he was “the target for all verbal bricks the lower end of the stands could hurl.”  His “hitting fell off almost to nothing,” but the paper said it was “due for the most part to the panning the bugs handed him.”

Slattery thought he was jinxed and the newspaper agreed:

“The story of Slattery is the story of a jinx that has been camping on the big fellow’s trail…one of the niftiest first basemen in the game; Slattery from the outset has been handicapped by his inability to hit the ball.”

Slattery blamed the city:

“It’s a fact that I am absolutely jinxed in Memphis, I can hit the ball anywhere else in the world but Memphis, it seems.”

After being drafted, Slattery played first base for the Tenth Training Battalion at Camp Pike in Arkansas.  He returned to Memphis in the spring of 1919 and immediately stopped hitting again during exhibition games.

He told The New-Scimitar:

“When I was in camp at Camp Pike I hit for an average well in the .300 class, and I was hitting against good pitching, too.  But in Memphis, I’m helpless with the stick.  I guess I am too anxious to hit…Last season the jinx was astride my neck all year…I couldn’t hit at all like I used to…the jinx came back and got with me, and I have not been able to hit at all.”

Sold to the Tulsa Oilers in the Western League, he hit.263.  In July, Slattery was playing well in Tulsa, and The News-Scimitar reminded fans that his “jinx” was their fault.  The paper said from July 13 through July 17 Slattery was 8 for 23:

“Which goes to show that in the proper environment when he is not being ridden by the bugs as he was here, Slattery is a good hitter.”

He finished his professional career in 1920 where he started it in 1908, with Dallas in the Texas League.

Never to return to Memphis, he headed west.

He played semi-pro ball for the next decade, primarily with Brigham City Peaches in Utah.

Slattery with the Brigham City Peaches, 1922

Slattery with the Brigham City Peaches, 1922

The once “jinxed” Slattery settled in Idaho where he died on June 14, 1970.

Lost Advertisements–Southern League Opener, Memphis, 1919

29 Jul

memphis1919

An advertisement for the Memphis Chickasaws 1919 home opener against the Little Rock Travelers at Memphis’ Russwood Park:

“Some Faces You’ll See at the Opening Ball Game

“‘Fan.’ A hard loser but a game fan–you’ll like him too

“And when ‘Cy’ (Memphis manager, outfielder and pitcher Eros Bolivar “Cy” Barger) pounds the pill for a homer with a couple of Chick sluggers on the bases, there is going to be some faces from Little Rock that are going to show the shock…

“‘Fan.’ With the winning smile, that makes you happy.

“If ‘Cy’ hits a home run.

“In the first game of the season–if he wallops that old pill over the right field fence–you’ll see this happy grin on a thousand faces…The artist couldn’t draw a face that would show the consternation, the gloom, the lost-heartedness depicted. on the face of the Little Rock fans who are rash enough to follow the Travelers to Memphis, should old Cy smash that pill over the fence and into the bleachers.

“But Cy’s Chickasaws have to beat somebody in the opening game at home and it might as well be Little Rock.

“‘Fan.’ Whose grandma dies about this time every year.

“‘Fanette.’  Who says she is going to see every game.

“No!  Memphis isn’t full of sport ‘Pikers.’ We’re going to break the attendance record and win the cup to show the Southern League how much we appreciate their electing the greatest true-blooded sportsman in the South for its president.  And because he hails from Memphis we’re not going to let him feel sorry for it.  We know the man and know we’ll get the good, clean game we’ve wanted in our national sport for the last ten years if we’ll support him as loyally as he’ll support us.”

The new league president referenced in the ad was John Donelson Martin, a Memphis attorney, who later became a federal judge.

The mention of the need for a “good, clean game” refers to the lingering concerns in Memphis about the integrity of the league which began when the Memphis Egyptians collapsed in the last three weeks of the 1907 season, giving the pennant to the Atlanta Crackers, after holding a wire-to-wire lead.

As for the opener, the Chickasaws lost to Little Rock 4-2.  Things never got better for the team, which finished fifth with a 66-79 record.

Cy Barger

Cy Barger

Cy Barger didn’t hit a home run on Opening Day, he didn’t hit a home run all season.  In 1758 at bats during a 16-year professional career (seven in the major leagues) Barger hit a total of four.

Roy Spruell

14 Aug

Throughout the first half of the 20th Century there were thousands of independent and industrial league baseball teams that operated across the country; the only distinction, in many cases, between the quality of these teams and their players and those in “professional” leagues was the “professional” teams were recognized by The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.

Given the economics of the game, which usually required players to be employed during the off season, it was often as profitable, or even more so, to play with an independent or semi-professional team that either paid the same or more as the “professional” leagues or provided the player with a job.

As a result, there are thousands of players, who while well-known names in the towns, cities and regions where they played, have been largely forgotten.

Roy Layton Spruell is one of them.

From 1920 until 1939 Spruell was a fixture in Southern baseball, specifically on the Gulf Coast, although his “official” statistics only indicate limited “professional” appearances between 1924 and 1936.

Spruell appears to have been born January 25, 1900 in Birmingham, Alabama according to state records and census data, (his grave lists his birth year as 1902, but like many players of his era, he likely subtracted a couple of years at some point during his career and the new date stuck).

Raised in Mobile, Alabama, he first made a name for himself in 1920 pitching with industrial teams at the Southern Kraft Paper Mill and White Swann Laundry Company in Mobile.

Two years later he was a member of an independent team in Mississippi, the Ocean Springs Regulars.  In addition to Ocean Springs, the loosely affiliated semi-pro league included independent teams from nearby Mississippi towns Biloxi, Gulfport, Pascagoula  and Wiggins, and industrial teams out of New Orleans, including the Choro Colas (later renamed RC Cola), the Tokay Teas.

The following season Spruell played for another Southern Kraft Mills team; contemporary newspaper accounts alternately called the team either the Moss Point or the Kreole Papermakers—the mill was located in Moss Point, Mississippi, but the team appears to have played home games in nearby Kreole.  Spruell’s older brother Harvey was his teammate with the Papermakers.

The 1923 Papermakers, Roy Spruell is standing second from right.  His brother Harvey is in the middle of the front row.   The other players are identified as: Standing at left - Manager McGee 2nd from left  - Pat McGee 3rd from left  - Matt Delmas 4th from left-unidentified. 6th from left - Sam Leslie   Seated at left - Johnnie Cunningham 2nd from left - Brother Nelson 4th from left - John Bell

The 1923 Papermakers, Roy Spruell is standing second from right. His brother Harvey is in the middle of the front row. The other players:: Standing Manager McGee, Pat McGee, Matt Delmas, unidentified, Roy Spruell, and Sam Leslie
Seated Johnnie Cunningham, Brother Nelson, Harvey Spruell, and John Bell.

 

In 1924 he signed his first professional contract, posting an 11-12 record for the fifth place Laurel Lumberjacks, in the six-team Cotton States League.  The following season, pitching for the last place (51-70) Alexandria Reds, Spruell was 14-10.

1924 Laurel Lumberjacks.  Roy Spruell is in the top row, third from left.  The player seated on the far left in the front row appears to be future big league pitcher Ray Moss who pitched for the Brooklyn Robins and Boston Braves.

1924 Laurel Lumberjacks. Roy Spruell is in the top row, third from left. The player seated on the far left in the front row appears to be Ray Moss, the only member of the Laurel club to play in the big leagues,; he pitched for the Brooklyn Robins and Boston Braves.

Spruell had his best professional season in 1926 as a member of the Hattiesburg Pinetoppers.  He led the team to the Cotton States championship with a 22-8 record, and got his name in newspapers across the country in August.  The Associated Press said:

“Friday the 13th was far from unlucky for Roy Spruell, pitching star of the Hattiesburg club of the Cotton States League, Spruell hurled the first no hit, no run game of his career.”

Spruell allowed just two walks (shortstop/manager Herschel Bobo also made an error) to the Monroe Drillers, but still only faced the minimum 27 batters.

The 1926 Cotton States League champion Hattiesburg Pinetoppers.  Roy Spruell is standing third from left.  Manager/shortstop Herschel Bobo is kneeling far left.

The 1926 Cotton States League champion Hattiesburg Pinetoppers. Roy Spruell is standing third from left. Manager/shortstop Herschel Bobo is kneeling far left.

At the end of the 1926 season Spruell was purchased by the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League, but never played in Texas.  He started the season with the Memphis Chickasaws in the Southern Association and was released to the Knoxville Smokies in the South Atlantic League in May of 1927.  He was 10-10 in Knoxville and also appeared in 20 games in outfield.  The Spartanburg Herald called Spruell “the elongated righthander,” (he was listed variously from 6’ to 6’ 2”).

Spruell returned to the Smokies for the 1928 season, but a hand injury led to a slow start and with a 1-3 record at the end of May he was released and returned to the Cotton States League. He pitched professionally through the 1930 season, but struggled with injuries his last three seasons and pitched for several teams:  Laurel and Hattiesburg again (he also pitched for the Baton Rouge Essos when the Hattiesburg franchise relocated there during the 1929 season) as well as the Jackson Senators in the Cotton States League, and the Jacksonville Tars in the Southeastern League.

Spruell spent the next decade playing with and managing independent and industrial league teams in the South.  He played from 1931 to 1935 in the Mississippi Coast League, a strong semi-pro league with teams sponsored by union and industrial interests.

He left the Gulf Coast the following year, relocating in Savannah, Georgia where he played for and managed the Union Baggers—the company team of the Union Bag and Paper Company, operator of the world’s largest paper mill.  The team was considered one of Georgia’s best semi-pro and industrial teams, playing in the Coastal League, which included teams in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

The Union Baggers, circa 1937.  Roy Spruell, standing second from right.

The Union Baggers, circa 1937. Roy Spruell, standing second from right.

Spruell’s baseball career appears to have ended around 1940.

He eventually relocated to Pensacola, Florida and worked for the Florida Pulp and Paper Company; he suffered a heart attack at work and died in 1950

Roy Spruell shortly before his death in 1950.

Roy Spruell shortly before his death in 1950.

Like thousands of others who played baseball in small and large towns, and small and large leagues, throughout the country, Roy Spruell’s career brings to mind a passage from W. P. Kinsella’s great novel “Shoeless Joe:”

“For some reason, I recall the question at the bottom of the form sent by the Baseball Hall of Fame to everyone who has ever played professional baseball: ‘If you had it to do over again, would you play professional baseball?’  The historian at Cooperstown, Clifford S. Kachline, said he couldn’t recall even one ex-player answering ‘no’ to the question.  I wonder if any other profession can say the same?”

Thank you to Roy Spruell’s grandchildren, Paula Grady and Bob Gattis for sharing the photographs used in this post as well as a copy of Mr. Spruell’s obituary. 

“Calvo May Come Out But No One Cares”

5 Jun

Jacinto Calvo and San Francisco Seals owner Charlie Graham were unable to come to terms on a contract for 1918, and the local press quickly turned on the outfielder.

The San Francisco Chronicle said:

“(Calvo) is a simple-minded Cuban boy…When he is hitting he can go around the bases in nothing flat.  When he has a batting slump, he develops water on the knee and can hardly limp up to the plate.”

He remained in Cuba and served as a police officer in Havana.

It was rumored again in 1919 that Calvo might return to the Seals, but The Chronicle, under the headline “Calvo May Come Out But No One Cares,” made it clear that twelve months had not softened opinions about the holdout outfielder:

“Calvo has written friends that he wants to come back, but if he stays in that dear old Havana until Charlie Graham coaxes him back, he will grow whiskers a foot long.  Graham really tried to get Calvo last year, for he was in a bad way for lack of outfielders, but if there is any coaxing to be done this year, Calvo will do it.”

Calvo

Calvo

Terms were not reached for 1919, and Calvo remained in Havana for another year.

In February of 1920 The Chronicle said Calvo, “Who bobs up every year about this time,” had written Graham saying he wanted to return to the Seals, then in March the paper reported that “The Havana World” said that Calvo “has joined the Franklin, PA independent team together with (Manuel) Cueto.”

Neither report proved true; instead, Calvo was signed by Clark Griffith for a second tour of duty with the Washington Senators.  In 17 games he had only one hit, a triple, in 23 at-bats before being sent to the Little Rock Travelers in the Southern Association in July.

Calvo could not hit American League pitching, but no one questioned his throwing arm; except teammate Stanley “Bucky” Harris.  The future Hall of Famer wrote in 1925, in a series of articles he wrote for The North American Newspaper Alliance, that his doubts about Calvo’s arm almost cost him his career:

“I thought I could hurl a baseball farther than anyone on the club and entered into a contest with Jack Calvo, an outfielder.  The Cuban has a reputation for having a great arm.  I had won a long-distance throwing contest…while with the Buffalo club.  That convinced me I could hold my own.”

Despite being warned against taking on Calvo by teammate Clyde Milan, Harris went ahead with the contest, the two stood in the infield:

“(Calvo) cut loose.  He threw the ball over the right field bleacher wall.  I realized it was a truly wonderful peg.”

Harris said he was concerned about being caught by manager Clark Griffith and rushed his throw:

“My elbow cracked as the ball left my hand.  It sounded to me as if a board had been broken across a fence…The ball dropped yards inside the park.”

Harris said for three weeks he “wondered if I ever would be able to throw a ball again.”  By the time Harris returned to the lineup, Calvo was on his way to Little Rock where he hit .306.

From 1921 through 1926 Calvo spent his summers playing baseball in the states; most notably in Fort Worth, where he helped lead the Texas league Panthers to two Dixie Series victories over the Southern Association champions in 1923 and ’24.  His winters were spent working as a lieutenant in Havana’s Harbor police and playing baseball in the Cuban League.

Calvo’s career ended abruptly in September of 1926.  The San Antonio Light reported that the former Fort Worth outfielder, then with the Memphis Chickasaws in the Southern Association “must forego baseball…and return to his job, his leave of absence was about to expire, and he packed up and beat it for a boat.”

Calvo played briefly in Cuba that winter but never played professionally again.  He was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1948 and died in Miami in 1965.

“The Man who Ate Himself out of the American League”

20 Nov

Frank Frederick Schneiberg was born in Milwaukee in 1882 (Baseball Reference lists his year of birth as 1880, but all available documents say 1882).

He began playing baseball for amateur teams in the Milwaukee city league, and after playing for the Pabst Brewery team in 1903 signed with the Springfield Hustlers in the Three-I League.  No records survive, but according to The Milwaukee Journal Schneiberg “won 19 out of 21 starts.”  He played with the Freeport Pretzels in the Wisconsin State League in 1905 and according to the Journal “won 12 straight.”

Frank Schneiberg

He won 22 games the following season with the La Crosse Pinks, which earned him a shot with the Detroit Tigers.

It didn’t go well.

Schneiberg was released to the Milwaukee Brewers before the beginning of the season.

The Associated Press said:

“He has the earmarks of a great pitcher…speed, curves, control and a pretty good collection of baseball brains…but Schneiberg was lazy…He wasn’t eager to pitch.”

The story quoted Tigers manager Hugh Jennings:

“He knows how (to pitch) but he won’t exert himself, I don’t want anybody who will not hustle.”

The Toledo News-Bee blamed his release on something else:

“He is known all over the country as the man who ate himself out of the American League.”

It is unknown whether either or both versions of his time with the Tigers is accurate, in either case, Detroit did try to claim that Schneiberg was still their property later that season when he was pitching well for the Brewers.  The claim was denied and he remained in Milwaukee.

Schneiberg pitched for the Brewers for three seasons compiling a 40-48 record.

While a fan favorite in Milwaukee, Schneiberg appears not to have been popular in at least one other American Association city.  The Toledo News-Bee accused him of being a head hunter in 1908:

“Schneiberg has the reputation of threatening to ‘bean’ batters.”

The following season The News-Bee claimed the Brewers were trying to trade the pitcher and said the team was:

“(V)ery anxious to trade the German, who does not work with any spirit, but the player is not highly regarded around the circuit.”

Regardless of the opinion in Toledo, The Brooklyn Superbas thought highly enough of Schneiberg to draft him from the Brewers at the end of the 1909 season.

He appeared in his only Major League game. On June 8, 1910, with Brooklyn trailing the Cincinnati Reds 4-0, Schneiberg relieved Nap Rucker in the top of seventh inning.  He walked four, gave up five hits and allowed 7 runs (Baseball Reference shows Schneiberg giving up eight runs, with seven earned—the box score from the game shows 7 total).

Schneiberg was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh.  Within days, he was traded to the Des Moines Boosters in the Western League.

He retired after the 1910 season, but in February of 1913 signed with the Memphis Chickasaws of the Southern Association.  He appeared in two games and was released, and in June signed with the Springfield Watchmakers in the Three-I League.  It’s unclear whether he appeared in any games with Springfield.

Frank Schneiberg 1932

Schneiberg retired to Milwaukee after the 1913 season, he became an asbestos worker and an official in the Asbestos Workers Union.  He passed away in Milwaukee in 1948.