Tag Archives: Michigan State League

“A Good Plumber’s Helper but an Inferior Umpire”

21 Apr

Edward F. Ballinger of The Pittsburgh Post described Bill Byron thusly:

“(He) is looked upon among the players as the man who rendered more peculiar decisions than any other official in diamond history.”

Honus Wagner singled out Byron for rendering “the worst decision I ever saw.”

Wagner included the incident in his 1924 series of articles about his career for The North American Newspaper Alliance. He said he was stealing third in a game against the Giants:

“The catcher threw the ball into my feet making it impossible for Devlin—I think it was Devlin— [Note: It was Milt Stock] to pick it up. We both got in a tangle as I slid through a cloud of dust. The ball was bound under my arm where nobody could find it.”

Byron

While the Giants looked for the ball, Wagner headed towards the plate:

“About ten feet from home the ball dropped on the baseline. Now here’s where McGraw got in his fine work. He rushed up to umpire Byron, who had run down to third base to make the decision and told him I carried the ball to the bench in my hand.

“’If you don’t believe it, go to the bench and make them give it to you,’ he urged Byron.

“About this time McGraw’s attention was called to the ball lying on the base path.”

McGraw then told Byron, “That proves it. See! Wagner just rolled it out.”

Wagner said a confused Byron called him out for, “Carrying the ball to the bench with your hand.”

Wagner’s recollection was a bit faulty, in addition to forgetting who was playing third base. The incident happened on July 17, 1914, during the sixth inning of what would turn out to be a 21-inning 3 to 1 victory for the Giants. The game was, to that point, baseball’s longest game and both pitchers, Babe Adams and Rube Marquard pitched complete games.

As for the play, Wagner was not attempting to steal; he was advancing to third from first on a hit by Jim Viox and the throw came from center fielder Bob Bescher.

Contemporaneous accounts in The Pittsburgh Press, The Dispatch, and The Post all said that when the ball fell from Wagner’s uniform, it was immediately picked up by Marquard who threw to third trying to retire Viox who was called safe, rather than Wagner’s version where McGraw called Byron’s attention to the ball.

McGraw, said The Press, came out on the field at that point, “and told Byron Wagner was out.” The umpire agreed and also sent Viox back to second The Post said:

“The Pirates gathered around the umpire and raised a hubbub. (Fred) Clarke read the riot act and was motioned off the lot by umpire Byron.”

Pittsburgh protested the game, but Byron’s ruling was upheld.

Fred Mitchell, manager of the Cubs, was also not a Byron fan, and told Billy Evans in 1920:

“He hasn’t improved much since the summer (1917) he gave a decision that cost me $100 and the game. We were playing in St. Louis and big Mule (Milt) Watson was on the rubber. Art Wilson was at the plate. Watson, as he started to pitch, stubbed his toe and in trying to hold back on the ball threw it wildly and hit Wilson in the back of the neck. Byron would not let him take his base, saying it was a slow ball. I protested and consequently was chased and later fined $100.”

Mitchell’s details of the September 3 game were all correct, except for the outcome of the game. The Cubs beat the Cardinals and Watson 6 to 5. Mitchell had also, “had a mix-up” with Byron the previous day, according to The Chicago Tribune, when the umpire had initially called Tom Long of St. Louis out on a play at the plate, “then called him safe, although (catcher Rowdy) Elliott held the ball.”

Cardinals owner John C. Jones held the same opinion Mitchell did off Byron.  Earlier that same season, Byron made another questionable call on another play involving Tom Long. The Cardinals outfielder hit a ball off Eppa Rixey that appeared to be fair for a double. Byron, despite “the fact that a gap in the whitewash marked the spot,” where the ball hit called it foul.

Long was called out on strikes on the next pitch The Cardinals lost 3 to 2 to the Phillies.

So incensed was Jones at the umpire, whom The St. Louis Star called, “a good plumber’s helper but an inferior umpire,” that he wrote an open letter to fans that appeared in St. Louis papers. He told fans who were present, “The good of the game demands,” that they wire league president John Tener about “Byron’s judgment.”

Jones’ message resulted in bottles and other items being thrown at Byron the following day. Two fans were injured. Cardinal President Branch Rickey disavowed Jones’ comments:

“I strongly advised against it. In fact, both (manager) Miller Huggins and myself wired President Tener that the message did not officially express the club’s sentiments.”

Despite his comment that he did not support the club owners’ position, Rickey was more critical of the umpire in his telegram to Tener than Jones had been in his message to the fans:

“(His) attitude and manners generally were extremely antagonistic to the crowd…If Byron will keep his face to the filed and not parade about in front of the stands, he will have no trouble.”

The previous season, Byron “wrote” an article for The Pittsburgh Press. He said he became an umpire in 1896 only because he couldn’t find enough work in his “first love, steamfitting.” Over two decades he worked his way from the Michigan State League to the National League.

Before steamfitting and umpiring, Byron had briefly played minor league ball:

“As for myself, I am frank to admit that I was the worst ball player that ever broke into the Texas League. I managed to hold my job with the Dallas club for a while, but the race was too fast. It nearly ruined a good steamfitter. Afterward I played semi-professional ball occasionally in Michigan but gave up the game—and what was baseball’s loss was the plumbing trade’s game.”

After four seasons in the Michigan State League, he worked his way up to South Atlantic League, then the Virgina League, followed by International League and finally the Eastern League before his big-league career began.

He became well known—and versions of the story were told for the next two decades—for a call he made on August 31, 1909. In an Eastern League pitchers duel between the second place Newark Indians, with manager Joe McGinnity on the mound and Big Jeff Pfeffer pitching for the fourth place Toronto Maple Leafs.

The game was scoreless in the sixth inning with Newark batting:

The Detroit News said:

“Two were out and the batter (Joe Crisp) raised a high foul within the easy reach of both the Toronto catcher and third baseman.”

Toronto Third baseman Jimmy Frick and catcher Fred Mitchell both stopped when Newark “coacher” Benny Meyer yelled “I’ll take it.”

“The catcher backed away and the ball fell on the Dominion of Canada. Great glee broke out among the Newark contingent, who seemed apparently to conclude that the strategy of the coacher had won the batsman another chance to connect. But they reckoned without Mr. Byron.

“’Batter out!’ yelled the ump.”

McGinnity and “his entire team” came out on the field.:

Byron told the Newark manager:

“’He’s out on interference.’

“This set McGinnity fairly crazy and he frothed at the mouth, ‘But there wasn’t a man within 10 feet of Mitchell when he backed away,’ he screamed.

‘”He’s out on vocal interference; get into the field and finish the game.’ And Byron pulled his watch.”

Pfeffer and McGinnity both went the distance in a 13-inning game won by Toronto 1 to 0. McGinnity filed a protest with the league, but Byron’s decision was upheld.

Byron said the “secret of umpiring” was that “The umpire must keep his head and let the other man lose his.”

The umpire retired before the 1920 season saying he could make more money at his first love.  Evans said of his seven seasons in the National League:

“Like the rest of the umpires, he had his faults. No umpire is infallible, so Bill made mistakes like the rest of us, but they were always honest mistakes.”

He said Byron “always looked trouble in the eye,” and “no gamer fellow” ever wore a mask.

Despite his contentious relationship with McGraw, Evans told a story about a game in New York.  The previous day while making a ruling on a play involving fan interference, “the umpires were criticized” by reporters for their long deliberation. The following day:

“At an amusement park near the Polo Grounds, it was customary for an aviator to do a series of stunts. Usually the aviator paid the Polo Grounds a visit before landing. On this occasion, he flew unusually low over the grounds, so that it was easily possible to see him greet the big crowd with a wave of the hand. Evidently Bill Byron had given some thought of the criticism of the day previous unjustly heaped on the arbitrators for what was called a needless delay.

“Calling time and turning toward the New York bench, he addressed manager McGraw of the Giants thusly.

“If the ball hits the airplane, John, while it is flying over fair territory, it is good for two bases. If it lands in some part of the machine and stays there while flying over fait territory, the runners shall stop at the base last touched when such thing occurs. If the ball lands in some part of the machine while the machine is outside playing territory, it will be good for a home run. Play.”

Evans said McGraw “was shaking with laughter.

The press box was as well:

“Byron’s retort courteous to their slam had not gone over their heads.”

L. C. Davis of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of Byron’s retirement:

“It will always be a moot question whether Lord Byron was greater as a singer or an umpire. But whether singing or umpiring the fans agree that he displayed all the earmarks of a good plumber.”

More Byron, Friday.

Tragic Exits: James McDonough

28 Jan

James Vincent McDonough was born in Chicago in 1888, his father and younger brother were both Chicago police officers.  Primarily a catcher, the 5’ 10” 180 pound right-handed hitter first made a name for himself in the Chicago City League with the Auburn Parks and the Rogers Parks.

McDonough, middle row, second from left with the Rogers Parks in 1910.

McDonough, middle row, second from left with the Rogers Parks in 1910.

In 1911 he joined the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers in the Central League; in July The Sporting Life said he was traded to the Terre Haute Miners.  He finished the season with the Traverse City Reporters in the Michigan State League, and then returned to Chicago.

In 1912 and ’13 McDonough was one of the more popular members of Chicago’s entries in the United States and Federal Leagues.  He also started the 1914 season as a member of Joe Tinker’s Whales in the Federal league, although The Chicago Tribune said he was “handicapped this spring with a sore arm,” he played in the club’s final exhibition game in Covington, Kentucky, collecting two hits but never appeared in a game during the regular season, and was released in May.

McDonough

McDonough

That same month McDonough returned to semi-pro ball in Chicago and married the Marion Delores Jordan.

He remained a popular enough figure in Chicago baseball circles that his wedding and the brief marital scandal that followed in 1916 was reported in the local press.  The Tribune said:

“A ‘poisoned phone’ almost brought about the complete separation of Jim McDonough, the former backstop of the Federal baseball team, and his wife a few days ago.  For the last two weeks girls called up Mrs. McDonough every night and told her that her beloved hubby was not the saint she thought him.

“’These naughty girls,’ said the young Mrs. McDonough, ‘said Jim was out drinking champagne with them.  It almost drove me to nervous prostration.  Jim always denied the stories, but by that time I had grown to suspect him.

“’Then I went home to mother’s.  Three days later I saw a lawyer and filed a bill for a divorce.  Then the most wonderful thing in the world happened.  Jim came to me and told me he had done nothing wrong and that he loved me more than ever.”

Marion McDonough

Marion McDonough

The couple reconciled.

On April 22, 1918 McDonough made the papers for the final time.  The Chicago Examiner said:

“James McDonough, well-known as a catcher in the Chicago Federal League baseball team the first year of that organization’s existence, shot and killed his wife last night.  Then he killed himself with a bullet through his temple…Mrs. McDonough left the former ballplayer several months ago, charging that he failed to support her and their two children…McDonough was 29-years-old and subject to the draft. At the time of the separation Mrs. McDonough refused to sign exemption papers for him.  Several times since, it is said, he begged her to return to him or sign the exemption papers.”

The two had an altercation outside a drug store on Chicago’s South side.

“Noticing that they were attracting attention, the couple walked away.  At 4250 Vincennes Ave., McDonough pushed his wife into a hallway.  A moment later he shot her twice, once in the temple and once just below the heart. Then he sent a bullet into his own head.”

Both were taken to a nearby residence.  McDonough died after 10 minutes, his wife died 30 minutes later.

Although it appears he never played organized baseball after 1914, his Cook County, Illinois death certificate listed his profession as “Ballplayer.”

Tragic Exits 2

5 May

Charles Rapp

Charles “Adonis” Rapp was a left-handed pitcher (he also played first base and outfield) who began his career with the Austin Senators in the Texas League in 1898.  For the next several years he played for a variety of Midwest based clubs (Fort Wayne, Saginaw, Grand Rapids) in the Interstate and Michigan State Leagues.

Contemporary newspaper reports say he was also a member of the South Bend Greens in the Central League, but he is not listed on any surviving rosters; he was also said to have been “tried out by Milwaukee, when that city was in the old Western League (1903).”

Rapp’s trail goes cold after the 1903 season until 1909.  Rapp was living in his hometown of South Bend, Indiana.  The Indianapolis News reported on May 17:

“Charles Rapp, former ball player, and well known throughout the city, killed his mother late Saturday and then committed suicide.  The weapons used were a hammer, a dull paring knife and a small pair of shears.  It is said that Rapp had a tendency towards insanity, that the tendency had been marked during the last few days and that he undoubtedly deranged when he attacked his mother.

“Rapp did not die until several hours after the double crime had been committed and after he had been removed from the Rapp home to the St. Joseph County Jail.  Before death came, and in reply to a query about the crime, Rapp said: ‘I tried to get the whole family.’

“The last person to see Mrs. Rapp alive and the first one to discover the body of the woman and the dying son was Charlotte Benz.  Mrs. Benz had spent the day at the Rapp home and left the house late in the afternoon…On her return she stopped at the Rapp place, entering by the rear door…and then suddenly a sickening sight met her gaze.  Lying in a pool of blood at one side of the sitting-room were Rapp and the body of the mother.  The heads were close together and as Mrs. Benz entered the young man cried out: ‘Get out of here, Lottie, get out of here.’  It was evidently his intention to kill the Benz woman, but Rapp was unable to move from loss of blood.”

The Associated Press said of the incident:

 “Until Rapp fell a victim to the liquor habit he was one of the most popular young men in the city.”

Henry Long

Henry Long was born in Chicago in 1870 or 1871 (cemetery and death records disagree), he was the younger brother of  Herman who had a 16-year big league career.

Herman Long

Herman Long

Little is known about Henry’s early life, or when exactly he began playing professional baseball.  Based on newspaper reports he appears to be the “Long” who played with the Battle Creek Adventists in the Michigan State League in 1895.

Before the 1896 season he was signed by the Lewiston team in the New England League.  The Lewiston Daily Sun said:

“Manager (Michael) Garrity has signed pitcher Henry Long of Chicago, a brother of Herman Long of the Bostons, and is said to be a good pitcher, a hard hitter and a good all-around man.”

Long didn’t last in Lewiston, he was 0-2 in just three games before he was released.  Long then appeared in one game for the Shamokin Actives in the Pennsylvania State League, and then joined the Hagerstown Lions in the Cumberland Valley League.

The right-handed pitcher started seven games for the Lions and was 4-3 with a 1.29 ERA.

On July 10 he missed the team’s train for a game in Hanover, Maryland.  The Philadelphia Times said he attempted to hop a freight train and fell; his right arm was crushed under the wheels.  His arm was amputated “but Long sank rapidly and died in the hospital” in Hagerstown.  While contemporary news reports said the body was to be shipped back to Chicago, where it would be “received by his brother Herman,” he was instead buried in Maryland

Matt Barry

In 1900 The Sporting Life said Matthew “Matt” Barry had been “the first player from Rhode Island to receive money for playing ball.”

Information on where he played is sketchy—he was the Rhode Islands in the New England League in 1877 and Springfield (MA) of the International Association in 1878–but beyond that, there are few references to where he played during his career.

The Providence News-Democrat called Barry, who was born in Providence in 1850, a “well-known ballplayer and one of the best-known members of the sporting fraternity in the state.”

Barry eventually returned to his hometown, Providence where he operated the Empire Saloon, on Empire Street.

After the turn of the century, Barry suffered a series of financial setbacks.   On August 30, 1907 The News Democrat said:

 “(Barry) attempted suicide by inhaling illuminating gas in his room in the Essex house, at 23 Burrill Street.”

Barry was discovered by the owner of the house:

 “The room was locked, but the door was forced, and then Barry was seen unconscious on the bed with gas streaming from an open unlighted jet…as Barry’s usual custom was to sleep with all the windows open , the fact that they were closed , indicated that he had prepared to take his life.”

He was taken to Rhode Island, where he died on September 2.

Barry’s friends disputed the story that he had taken his own life, claiming his “financial embarrassments” had been overstated and that he “was in better condition financially than he had been for years.”  His friends instead said Barry, who “had been troubled with insomnia” and took morphine to sleep, turning off the lights “at that time the morphine would begin to get in its work,” had accidentally turned on the gas when he meant to turn off the light “which was on the same chandelier.”

The cause of death was never officially determined.

Page Fence Giants

30 Sep

The Page Fence Giants would become one of the great early teams in black baseball; some sources say they played 156 games, winning 118 their first year.  But things did not go well in their first game.

Organized by John “Bud” Fowler and Grant “Home Run” Johnson, the team represented the Adrian, Michigan-based Page Woven Wire Fence Company; at the time the nation’s largest fence company;  Augustus “Gus” Parsons served as the team’s business manager and scheduled their games (he’s often misidentified as the team’s manager).

Grant "Home Run" Johnson, left center row and John "Bud" Fowler, right center row, with the independent Findley (OH) Sluggers in 1894.

Grant “Home Run” Johnson, left center row and John “Bud” Fowler, right center row, with the independent Findley (OH) Sluggers in 1894.

Their first game was scheduled for April 10 against the Western League’s Indianapolis Hoosiers.

The Indianapolis News said of the Giants:

“Besides playing ball they perform feats of tumbling, and there is a quartet among them that sings between innings.”

The team also would arrive in towns riding bicycles in parade formation (the Giants’ other sponsor was the Monarch Bicycle Company).

While they often played for mostly white crowds The News said the stands “were very nearly peopled” with black fans; they did not get the show they had hoped for:

“In the first inning the Indianapolis team had fourteen men to bat and scored eight runs.  It seemed evident that one more inning of slaughter like the first would precipitate a race riot, and President (and manager William “Bill”) Watkins diplomatically let up.  The ease with which Indianapolis did everything it wanted to, and the “rough deal” the colored team received at the hands of umpire Andrews conspired to make the score look like the original report of the Armenian massacre…The one-sided score, which misrepresents both teams as far as figures are concerned.”

Page Fence lost 26-1.

The Box Score

The Box Score

They also lost two games against the Cincinnati Reds, then lost Fowler and pitcher George Wilson to the Adrian Reformers in the Michigan State League (where they were teammates of Honus Wagner).

The Giants returned to Indianapolis in 1896, losing 16-3 to the Hoosiers

The Giants returned to Indianapolis in 1896, losing 16-3 to the Hoosiers

Despite their first game, the Giants continued drawing crowds and winning games until they disbanded in 1898—with most of the players joining the newly formed Chicago Columbia Giants.

“He was Not Crazy as Reported”

18 Jul

Ervin Thomas “Erve” “Dutch” Beck hit the first home run in the American League; on April 25, 1901, the second day of the season, as a member of the Cleveland Blues; Beck homered off White Sox pitcher John Skopec at Chicago’s South Side Park.

It was a highlight in a short, promising career, like many at the turn of the 20th Century, destroyed by alcoholism.

Beck was considered the best young player in Toledo, Ohio when he joined the Adrian Reformers in the Michigan State League as a 16-year-old in 1895, then for the next five seasons, he was the star of his hometown Toledo Mud Hens in the Interstate League.  For the two seasons in Toledo for which complete records survive, Beck hit .298 in 1898 with 11 home runs and, a league-leading .360 with 15 home runs in 1900.

Erve Beck

Erve Beck

Earning the Nickname “Home run Dutch” in the Toledo papers, Beck was credited with 67  during his five seasons with the Mud Hens;  he would remain the team’s all-time career home run leader until 2007 when Mike Hessman (currently with the Louisville Bats in the International League) hit his 68th as a Mud Hen.

Beck also had a brief trial with the Brooklyn Superbas in the National League in 1899, hitting .167 in eight September games.

It’s unclear exactly when Beck’s problems with alcohol began, but according to fellow Ohioan Ed Ashenbach (alternately spelled Ashenback by several contemporary sources), a minor league contemporary who wrote a book in 1911 called “Humor among the Minors”,  it was well-known during Beck’s career that he was “addicted to strong drink,” and as a result suffered from “hallucinations.”

Ed Ashenbach

Ed Ashenbach (Ashenback)

Before the 1901 season, Beck, whose rights were held by the Cincinnati Reds, jumped to the Cleveland Blues in the newly formed American League; the twenty-two-year-old hit .289 and accounted for six of Cleveland’s twelve home runs.

Beck jumped back to the Reds before the 1902 season and received rave reviews early in the season.  The Cincinnati Tribune seemed to like him more at second base than veteran Heine Peitz:

“Erve Beck looks more like a second baseman than anyone who has filled the position since (Bid) McPhee went into retirement (in 1899).  He covers the ground, seems to know where to play and is capable of swinging the bat with some effect.”

His teammate, pitcher Frank “Noodles” Hahn claimed Beck hit the ball “harder than (Napoleon) Lajoie.”

Beck hit better than .300 playing second base in May but went to the bench when Peitz, who was filling in behind the plate for an injured Bill Bergen returned to second.

In June first baseman Jake Beckley missed a week with an injury and Beck filled in there; The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Ren Mulford said:

“(Beck) played the bag in splendid style…In handling ground balls Beck is as good as Beckley, and he is a better thrower… Beck gave another display of his versatility by plugging up a hole in right field.  He made one catch that was a lollapalooza…Most players would have lost heart when benched as Beck was, but he remained as chipper as a skunk during his term of inactivity, and gladly accepted the opportunity to get back into the swim. Beck is a phlegmatic soul, who takes life, as he finds it without a growl.”

In spite of a .305 batting average in 48 games and the great press he received, Beck was released by the Reds in July.  Whether the release was simply because he was the odd man out with Peitz, Beckley and right fielder Sam Crawford healthy or as a result of drinking is unknown.

Beck was signed almost immediately by the Detroit Tigers where he took over at first base after Frank “Pop” Dillon was sent to the Baltimore Orioles.  He hit .296 in 41 games but was again released at the end of the season.

Beck would never return to the big leagues.

In 1903 he .331 for the Shreveport Giants in the Southern Association, he jumped Shreveport the following season and played for the Portland Browns in the Pacific Coast League.   He returned to the Southern Association with the New Orleans Pelicans in 1905.  After starting the 1906 season in New Orleans, he was released in July and signed by the Nashville Volunteers; his combined average with both Southern Association teams was .211.

Beck’s drinking was, according to Ashenback and contemporary newspaper accounts, common knowledge by the time he wore out his welcome in Nashville in August and was sold to the Augusta Tourists in the South Atlantic League.

That stop would last for only one game.

The 27-year-old, four years removed from the American League, played first base for the Tourists on August 6.  Augusta second baseman Ed McKernan said, “It was evident when he reported there was something amiss with him,” and claimed Beck chased “an imaginary flock of geese away from first base” during the game.

The following day, according to The Augusta Chronicle, Beck “created a sensation in the clubhouse…causing all but two of the players to leave the house.”  As a result, Augusta released him.

The following day The Chronicle said:

“(Beck) ran amuck this morning and created great excitement on the street.

“While in a room on the third floor of the Chelsea hotel the big infielder suddenly began to see things and sprang from the third story window to the ground below.  Only two intervening telephone wires and a rose bush saved his life.

“He then darted down an alley and hid himself in a store.  He was finally captured and came quietly back to his room with a policeman and (Tourists outfielder Frank) Norcum.”

The Sporting Life assured their readers that Beck “was not crazy, as reported, but only suffering from the effects of a (drunken) spree.”

McKernan said “During his convalescence…Beck would smilingly avow his determination to abstain from strong drink.”

There were varying reports regarding the extent of his injuries, and it’s unknown whether he was physically able to play after the fall, but Beck would never play professionally again.

He returned to Toledo where he operated a tavern and appears to have been unable “to abstain from strong drink;” he died in 1916 of Articular Rheumatism complicated by Hepatic Cirrhosis.