Tag Archives: Mike “King” Kelly

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #41

21 Apr

King Kelly, ‘Conceited Ass,’ 1891

When King Kelly Jumped from the Boston Reds to the Boston Beaneaters in 1891, The Baltimore World was not pleased:

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King Kelly

“Kelly, in his jump from the Association to the League, has but proven conclusively that he is just as contemptible as the people had about decided him to be. He may be a great ballplayer, but his record this season doesn’t show it. He is a loud-mouthed, conceited ass. That’s about the build of Kelly, and the Association will not die over the loss of him.”

Annoying Vendors, 1891

After spending five seasons in the major leagues from 1881 to 1885, Dasher Troy was a fixture at the Polo Grounds—he had a liquor concession on and off from 1891 through 1900. During his first season at the ballpark, The New York Sun did not approve:

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Dasher Troy

“The refreshment privilege at the Polo Grounds is held by John Troy, an ex-ballplayer. He maintains a bar under the grandstand and also one in the rear of the men’s stand. The only part of the grounds in which waiters are permitted to peddle beer is on the bleachers. Some weeks ago one of the directors of the club compelled Troy to close the bar in the men’s stand and cease peddling beer in the bleachers.

“By some means he managed to resume and is now working in full blast. In the covered stands, a score of sandwich, peanut, and soft drink men are constantly at work, and annoying spectators by their continuous bawling. It is strongly asserted that the management can not afford to maintain these nuisances to the annoyance of its patrons.”

Clarkson’s Scouting Report, 1887

A reporter for The Detroit Free Press briefly eavesdropped on John Clarkson providing fellow pitcher Mark Baldwin with a scouting report on the Wolverines while the White Stockings were in Detroit for three game series in July of 1887:

clarkson

“Clarkson was overheard giving Baldwin some private lessons: ‘Now,’ said Clarkson, ‘there’s Hardy Richardson. Just send ‘em shoulder high at the outside corner of the plate, or a little beyond, and he’ll go after ‘em every time.’ Baldwin made a careful note of this. ‘Then there’s Dan Brouthers,’ continued the craft instructor: ‘Never give him a low ball.’ ‘Will he hit a low one?’ inquired Baldwin. ‘Will he hit it?’ said Clarkson: he’ll kill it.’

“This way of foreshadowing the fate of a regulation league ball unwisely delivered to the bat seemed to impress Baldwin powerfully, and he then and there resolved never to give big Dan any low ones. At this point the teacher and his pupil carried on the lesson in softer tomes, and the remainder of the interesting kindergarten session was lost to the world.”

“The Future Emperor, Napoleon Lajoie”

17 Apr

John L. Sullivan “wrote” his life story for The Boston American in 1905.  The former heavyweight champion had always been a baseball fan, played some semi-pro ball, and was once arrested for participating in a Sunday game.

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John L. Sullivan

In the 1905 article, he talked about the evolution of personal responsibility of the ballplayer:

“What with firing away his money and having fun with (Cap) Anson, King Kelly had a merry life, but a short one. He was a king among ballplayers and a prince among spendthrifts. Once he lectured me on the wisdom of getting the savings bank habit.

‘”You’ll need it someday, John L.’ he said.

“’How about yourself going broke, Mike,’ I asked.

‘Not me. When I need money, I can take my turnout and go selling milk,’ he replied.

“The turnout he referred to was the horse and buggy given to him before a ballgame on the National League grounds in Boston. The rig was a present to the king by his subjects in my town.

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Mike “King” Kelly

“When King Kelly passed out, the future emperor, Napoleon Lajoie was driving an ice cart in Woonsocket. Prosperity almost carried the Frenchman off his feet, but the lesson of Mike Kelly and some more of us foolish ones was drilled into him. He cut out the red-eye and got a bank book, and today he is the king of them all and getting rich. He doesn’t intend to get off the water wagon and go back to the ice cart. The difference between King Kelly and Emperor Lajoie is the difference between the old style and the new in all kinds of sport, and the stayer is the man behind the pledge.

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Napoleon Lajoie

“Kelly died early. Lajoie grows better every year, and if he were to take up boxing, he could sprint faster than (Jim) Corbett, punch as hard as myself, get away as quick as Fitz (Bob Fitzsimmons), and handle his fists like Tommy Ryan. Moreover, his hat fits. I call the attention of all the temperance lecturers to Larry Lajoie as one of the best examples they can use in their business.”

“Quit Chasing Baseball Flies to Chase the Devil”

8 Apr

Rodney C. Wells was the editor of The Marshalltown (IA) Times-Republican; in 1909 he interviewed the world-famous evangelist, and second-best player to have gotten his start in Marshalltown; Billy Sunday.

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Billy Sunday

The article appeared in “The Literary Magazine,” a Chicago-based syndicated newspaper insert that appeared primarily * in newspapers in smaller (20,000 to 40,000 population) markets.

Wells said:

“Although since Billy Sunday quit chasing baseball flies to chase the devil he has been tremendously busy preaching the gospel and saving the souls of tens of thousands of men and women, the is still a thoroughbred ‘fan,’ and there isn’t a devotee of the great national game anywhere who keeps in closer touch with it than he.”

Sunday was asked the perfunctory question about the quality of the modern game versus the 19th Century:

“The individual ballplayer of today is no better than he was twenty or twenty-five years ago. In fact, I believe that taking everything into consideration, the fellows of a quarter of a century ago excelled in some ways. To be true what a man does nowadays counts for more in a game, for now they have teamwork down to perfection. In the old days we hardly knew what ‘teamwork,’ as the word applies today, was. We knew nothing about a hit and run game or the double steal—that was all unknown dope to us. Consequently, playing more as individuals, more rested on us as individuals. Hence my reason for saying that, perhaps in some ways, the boys of the old days excelled the stars of today.”

Wells told the story of Sunday coming to Marshalltown after being recruited from his home in Nevada, Iowa—where he was known as a fastest runner in town–to come to Cap Anson’s hometown to participate on the hose team of the local fire department in the state tournament.  Sunday was required to live in town for a month in order to compete with the local fire department.

“Incidentally, Sunday liked to play ball, and he was out in the pasture for practice regularly. He began to command attention in this line, not so much for his proficiency in the game, as his fleetness of foot and his great base running.”

He was recommended to Anson who “looked Sunday up and down and made him a proposition,” to join the White Stockings.  Sunday said upon his arrival:

“The first thing they ran me up against in Chicago was Fred Pfeffer, the crack second baseman of the then celebrated White Stockings. Pfeffer was the fastest man on the bases in Chicago and one of the fastest in the league. Anson had told some of the boys about my running, and they were inclined to doubt the old man’s word. It didn’t take long to settle matters, however, and the first thing I knew I was matched with Pfeffer in a foot race. It is needless to for me to go into details, but I made Pfeffer look like and ice wagon.”

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Fred Pfeffer

Sunday acknowledged he “won a place” with Chicago “even though I wasn’t much of a batter,” because of his speed.

“Then, we hardly ever had a sub, and it was seldom that a fellow was not in his position. We played season after season with eleven or twelve men, while now it is not uncommon to see as high as thirty men in the big-league teams. Why, they carry nearly as many pitchers alone in these modern days as we did in our entire team then.”

Sunday asked:

“Where do you find a ballplayer today who was Cap Anson’s equal at all-around ball when Anson was at his best? And where can you find a catcher who would beat old Mike Kelly?

“While I consider Johnny Kling perhaps the best catcher in professional baseball today, I do not believe he was a better catcher than Mike Kelly. And Kelly wasn’t only a great catcher, but he could play anywhere. If needed he could go on any base and be perfectly at home, or he could make good in the outfield. And he was a cracking good base runner, too, even though he was heavy.

“Then there was our other catcher, Frank Flint. I shall never forget him. Grit? One never saw his equal. We didn’t wear the big mitts in those days, and a catcher behind the bat, although he was getting just as swift balls as the catchers of today, had much less protection on his hands. I saw Flint get a hard one on his left hand, that split the poor fellow’s fingers down a clean inch. Quick as a flash he reached for his shirt pocket, grabbed a rubber band, snapped it around his bleeding fingers, and gave a signal for another ball. Every finger on both of poor old Flint’s hands had been broken at some time or another, and there was never a man who played baseball who had as many marks to show for the game.”

Sunday said he regretted that “the bunting game” was not “down to the science that it is now there were a few of us who could have made good.”

He said when he played in Philadelphia he and Billy Hamilton could “do 100 yards in 10 seconds” and batting first and second in the order and would have benefited from more bunting.

Sunday told Wells he had no regrets about retiring when he was 27 years old to begin evangelizing:

“Of course, Billy Sunday is glad he left baseball, for he felt his duty in life lay elsewhere. While the evangelist has a large income from his preaching, and much larger than he would ever have had in baseball, it was not so when he voluntarily gave up baseball for his religious work.”

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Sunday

Sunday was paid $83 a month when he first began working at Chicago’s YMCA.

“This was true self-sacrifice on Sunday’s part, for he knew not what the future held in store for him.”

“One of the Saddest Spectacles I have Seen”

30 Mar

King Kelly made his New York stage debut at the Imperial Music Hall in January of 1893.

The Brooklyn Citizen said he was being paid $250 a week “to succumb to the fever of the theatrical stage.”

The New York Herald described the moment Kelly took the stage:

“He was hailed with cheers the instant he stepped before the footlights…It was the first time the Gotham baseball cranks had heard the former king of the right field sing, and they clapped their hands and stamped their feet in jubilation…His friends said that his first dip into the uncertain sea of theatrical life was a success.”

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A less generous syndicated review appeared in newspapers across the Midwest and West under the headline:

“King Kelly As A Star”

The article said:

“Kelly is a very handsome man and that particular has a very good stage presence.”

The “principal event” of Kelly’s performance was to recite Ernest Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat.”

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Ad for Kelly’s New York appearances 

His delivery of Thayer’s poem was not a hit with the nameless author of the piece:

“Kelly is probably as near to being king of the national game as any man, but he has thus far failed to solve theatrical curves.

“As an elocutionist Kelly undoubtedly fans the air as successfully as Casey did when he left no joy in Mudville by striking out.”

By the time Kelly took to the stage, Actor DeWolf Hopper had made “Casey” a well-known poem, having performed it throughout the country on vaudeville stages:

“When one has heard Hopper describe Casey’s unfortunate adventure, comparison between Hopper’s effort and that of Kelly naturally follows. Hopper’s performance is a work of art. One can almost see Casey as the comedian describes how he rubbed his hands with dust and wiped them on his baseball shirt preparatory to knocking out a 3-bagger. Kelly’s effort is without spirit, and the umpire says, ‘strike two’ as calmly as if there were several dozen left before Casey could possibly succeed in striking out.”

The writer allowed that Kelly was better in the portion of the show where he sang with his stage partner Billy Jerome.

A reporter for The New York World provided a more positive take:

“Kelly, the king of the ball-tossers, made a three-bagger. He hit one or two staccato notes so hard that he drove them through the skylights. The bleachers up in gallery shouted and howled until they grew red in the face. The cohorts down in the grandstand applauded. In the meantime, the umpire down in the orchestra waved his baton frantically and called Kelly safe. Mike was not a thing of beauty, but he made the hit of the season. Of course, Mike has not the voice of (Italian Tenor Francesco) Tamagno. Neither has Tamagno the make-up of Kelly.”

The World noted Kelly was “deluged” with floral arrangements from the likes of Tammany Hall boss and former Congressman “Honest” John Kelly and racetrack owner Phil Dwyer who sent “a sleigh of roses and carnations,” to former Giants owners John B. Day and Edward Talcott, who presented Kelly with “a floral wreath with ‘king’ in big letters woven around it,” to “Teddy Foley and the Bowery House Chowder Club,” who sent six “floral baseball bats.”

Kelly’s most scathing review came the week before he opened in New York; the “Boston Correspondent” for The Fall River Daily Herald, caught Kelly when he appeared at Boston’s Howard Athenaeum:

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Ad for Kelly’s Boston run

“One of the saddest spectacles I have seen for some time I beheld in a theater here one evening this week. M.J. Kelley, the $10,000 beauty, engaged in making a show of himself, trying to be an actor, inflicting the public with a sample of his vocal powers, was a sight calculated to make men weep. What on earth Kelly is doing on the stage I cannot see. What excuse he has for the act is beyond imagination. As a ballplayer he was a success, but as an actor is is as dismal a failure as it is possible to conceive…He stands up awkwardly as a manikin and moves with the grace of a wooden Indian”

“The Great American Public is with us”

25 Mar

In 1890, The New York Star provided a dramatic version of how Mike “King” Kelly let National League officials—meeting in New York–that he planned to join the Players League, beginning with one of the best descriptions to be found of Kelly’s sartorial splendor:

“King Kelly was in high feathers Thursday afternoon. He sauntered down Broadway with a yard-wide smile on his face. His box topcoat was open in front, revealing a perfect-fitting Prince Albert, a pair of English check trousers, a beautiful fancy vest of brown silk, cut low, and exposing to view an immaculate shirt front, in the center of which was a Kohinoor of wonderful brilliancy. He swung a heavy gold-headed cane with the careless abandon of a man thoroughly pleased with himself.”

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Mike “King” Kelly

Kelly then entered the meeting:

“He turned into the Fifth Avenue Hotel and acknowledged the salutations he received on all sides by raising his shining beaver. The Boston magnates soon surrounded their late captain and so did some other delegates.  They got very little comfort out of the ‘King.’

“‘You are all pretty good fellows, but you won’t do. The great American public is with us, and it’s pretty hard to beat them. We will play the greatest ball ever seen on this earth. Every man is a star—not a ham in the lot. Whenever you fellows want to borrow, come around an see me. Good day.’”

Kelly’s Boston Reds won the first and only Players League pennant, and the King hit .325 and stole 51 bases appearing in 90 games.

“That was Base Ball Playing with more Science”

24 Feb

Sargent Perry “Sadie” Houck played for seven National League and American Association clubs from 1879 to 1887. After his retirement, the Washington D.C. native owned a roadhouse on Conduit Road (renamed MacArthur Boulevard after World War II in honor of General Douglas MacArthur), and was occasionally sought out by local reporters for his views on the modern game.

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In 1907, The Washington Evening Star said of Houck:

“(N)ext to Charley (Pop) Snyder and Doug Allison, none is remembered more by the old boys.”

And his name, “always brings the smile of fond remembrance” from fans and he was “a player that ranked with George Wright and Davy Force.”

The paper said that Houck and Snyder had played amateur ball for “the Creighton club,” which played their games on the White Lot—current site of The Ellipse, south of the White House and north of the National Mall.

The Evening Star said Houck was:

“A ‘dirty ball player,’ and by this we do not mean that he tried to injure another player, for he was never known to do an act that ever brought discredit on his fame as a straight player. But in the history of the game, no one, not even Uncle Nick Young, can recall the time when he ever saw Houck in a neat, trim condition as far as his uniform went, for he always had the appearance of a football player after a gridiron struggle on a wet and soggy field.”

Houck, who still took “a lively interest in the game,” had a strong opinion about bunting:

“Say, it gives me a pain to read about players laying down a neat bunt or playing for a sacrifice in order to advance a runner a base. Any old player who gets long green for playing base ball ought to be able to bunt or sacrifice or hie away to the tall timbers in disgust.”

Houck said:

“It is dead easy to poke your bat out in front of a pitched ball and let it hit your bat, and the fellow that is unable to do that ought to go out and chop stones.”

It was a better game he said, before “bunting was discovered by Mike Kelly.”

Houck much preferred the “science” of the “old fair foul hits,” he said:

“(They) struck on fair ground, but glanced off into foul grounds ere it reached either first or third base, and to successfully hit the ball this way required all the skill and grace of a skillful billiardist getting in his best carom work. It was impossible to hit the ball similar to the way the present-day bunters and doing, slow and methodical, but on the contrary it had to be met at a certain angle with a heavy swing in order to get the best results, and hence when success was accomplished the batsman invariably made a two-base hit.”

Houck said the best practitioners of the “clever piece of batting,” were:

“Davy Force, Ross Barnes, Joe Gerhardt, Buck Ewing, Levi Meyerle, myself,”

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Ross Barnes

The tactic was so successful he said, that “pitchers of the country united and forced the new rule.”

Houck’s conclusion on how the rule change impacted the game:

“That was base ball playing with more science than these modern gladiators show in their ‘baby bunting’ plays, and I would cut out all such business. Make the players lace them out and the game will get back to the fine batting matinees that used to take place in the good old days.”

And the “modern” game:

“Nowadays the pitcher can pitch, but can’t hit; the catcher can catch, but can’t throw; the fielders can bat, but are too loggy to run, and so on through the entire crowd. Do away with your bunting a sacrificing squads and give us good old-time free batting and running.”

Houck remained in Washington D.C. for the rest of his life; by the time he died in 1919, he was so forgotten that local death notices didn’t mention he had been a major league player.

“Fifty bucks, Buck”

10 Feb

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune called Buck Ewing “the greatest of them all,” after Ewing died in 1906.

Fullerton said, “Ewing stories will be told for generations,” and shared one about a bet with Mike “King” Kelly.

”It happened back in the days when the players of the different clubs were friendly and met at night to discuss and argue over their games instead of sulking separately and discussing their woes.”

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Ewing

He said that day, Kelly had stolen two bases “off the king of catchers,” and Kelly, “kept harping on it until Buck was a bit nettled.”

Ewing told Kelly:

“Well Mike, if Danny Richardson plays second tomorrow, I’ll bet you $50 you don’t steal a base.”

Kelly took the bet, and Fullerton said the following day “three or four of us who knew of the bet sat together in the stands.”

 

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Kelly

Kelly singled in the third inning:

“(O)n the first ball pitched; he tore for second with a fair start. Buck threw. The ball went like a shot, straight towards the bag, perhaps three feet up the line towards first, a perfect throw to catch any runner—except Kelly. Richardson got the ball five feet ahead of the runner. He was stooped over and swung his body quickly to tag Mike, he expecting the King to make one of his famous twisting slides. Instead, Kelly leaped, jumped clear over Richardson, and lighted flat on his back on top of second base.

“Above the roar of the crowd arose Kelly’s voice, and what he said was this:

“Fifty bucks, Buck.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things: Clark Griffith

3 Feb

Griff out West

Griffith loved to tell stories about his time playing in Montana, one story the “truthfulness” of he “vouched” he told The Cleveland Leader in 1912:

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Griffith

“The scene was at Butte, back in the nineties (1892), and the story resulted from a baseball game between Missoula and Butte at the latter town. There were a lot of gamblers in Butte who wanted to back the team, so about $5000 was bet on the game.”

Griffith was on the mound for Missoula:

“Everything went along nicely for a while, with a monster crowd on hand hollering for everything it was worth for Butte to win.

“In the ninth inning Missoula was leading by one run, but after two were out Butte got a man on third and then the catcher let the ball get away from him. It rolled a short distance, but when the catcher went to retrieve it one bug leaned over the stand with a six-shooter in his hand. ‘Touch that ball and you are dead,’ he shouted. And the catcher stood stock still in his tracks.”

Griffith said the players “were scared stiff” and watched the tying run cross the plate.  He claimed Missoula scored in the 10th and won the game 5 to 4.

Griff on Lajoie

In 1900, Griffith and Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune were watching Napoleon Lajoie take ground balls during practice:

“He looks less like a ballplayer, handles himself less like an infielder, goes at a ball in the strangest style, and gets them more regularly than any fellow I ever watched. He fights every ball he picks up, scoops them with without looking, and keeps me nervous all the time.

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Napoleon Lajoie

 

“Every time a grounder goes down to him, I want to bet about three to one he will fumble, but he always gets them. He has some system for making the ball hit his hands which I don’t understand.  And I’ll tell you a secret: He has a system of making his bat hit a ball which drives pitchers to drink.”

Griff’s All-Time Team

In “Outing Magazine” in 1914, Griffith presented his all-time team:

P: Amos Rusie

P: Walter Johnson

P: Cy Young

P: Christy Mathewson

C: Buck Ewing

1B: Charles Comiskey

2B: Eddie Collins

3B: Jimmy Collins

SS: Herman Long

LF: Bill Lange

CF: Tris Speaker

RF: Ty Cobb

Griffith’s most surprising pick was choosing Comiskey over his former teammate and manager Cap Anson. He told the magazine:

“(Comiskey) was the first man to see the possibilities of the position. Before his day a first baseman was only a basket. He stood glued to the bag, received the balls thrown to him, but never moved away.”

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

He said Anson, “Although a great player, was not Comiskey’s equal.”

He chose Long over Honus Wagner he said, because “Hans has a barrel of ability, but he’s not such a foxy player as many persons think, but he is a wonderful batter.”

Griffith called Jimmy Collins, “The most graceful fielding third baseman the game has ever seen,” and said Tris Speaker ”is the most remarkable outfielder that ever lived.”

As or his chosen catcher, Griffith said:

“Buck Ewing never has known an equal as a catcher. I call him the best ballplayer the world ever has known. The only man who approached him was Mike Kelly of the old Chicago White Sox, Kelly too, was a wonder, but not quite equal to Ewing.”

“So, Great Buck Ewing is Dead”

21 Aug

“So, great Buck Ewing is dead.”

That was Sam Thompson’s reaction when told by The Detroit News that Ewing had died at age 47.

Ewing was less than five months older than Thompson, who had come out of retirement to play in eight games for the Tigers just two months earlier.

“They’re slipping away, aren’t they, those fine old fellows who by their head work and lovable natures made the game what it is today! It was such men as Ewing, (Tim) Keefe, (Roger) Connor and a score of others who inspired me.”

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Ewing

Although roughly the same age, Ewing was in the major leagues for five seasons before Thompson made his debut:

“As a boy I used to read of the great Ewing, and I set him up as my ideal. He and Connor were always my idols.  Later, when I began to play in the big leagues and (later) went to Philadelphia, I roomed with Roger (in 1892), my acquaintance with—while it in no way lessened my regard for him—sort of pulled him from the pedestal. Ewing, however, I never became so closely attached to, and there was always the baseball idol worship about the man for me.”

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Thompson

Thompson said when he did interact with Ewing, it added “to this setting him higher as the ideal” of a baseball player:

“He was such a whole-souled, lovable chap. His wonderful work on the diamond in no way affected his disposition. He was always modest and retiring.”

And he said:

“There never lived a greater catcher or all -around ballplayer.

“Mike Kelly? Well, Kelly was a grand ballplayer all right, but he was the cunning player, the fellow with startling tricks. Ewing, on the other hand, was the thinker, the deep student of the game. His was the inside game. No player ever lived who could play the same kind of game that Kelly put up, but Ewing was of the different type. He was the more consistent thinker.”

Thompson said he believed Ewing was “the first catcher to get the infield signaling down t anything like a system,” and:

“He was the pioneer of present-day headwork behind the bat. He always had us hugging the bases. He devised tricks that are now common in baseball. They were figured out long before the game started. Kelly’s greatness, on the other hand, lay in his marvelous ability to grasp a situation quicker than lightning.”

He said when he played “with the old Detroit team we used to anxiously await who going to catch,” for the Giants:

“If it was (William ‘California’) Brown there was a sigh of relief. Not that we were belittling the work of Brown; it was simply that Ewing was so much better. He dazzled us. He had the infield under his control all the time. He had tricks of pulling us off the sacks that were new and we did not know what to do. That old Detroit bunch could win with Brown catching almost any day in the week, but with Ewing it was different.”

One man was responsible for New York’s success:

“It was Buck Ewing who won all those championships for the old Giants.

“Tim Keefe stood out as a wonderful pitcher. It was Keefe and Ewing. That old battery was the talk of the country.

“And yet Tim Keefe told me time and again, when they were at their best, that without Buck Ewing he would be no better than any other fairly good pitcher.

“’It’s all Buck,’ he would say, ‘he’s the boy who steadies me and gets the work done.”

Thompson’s first major league game—July 2, 1885–was against the Giants, with Keefe on the mound (although he misremembered Ewing being behind the plate that day—it was Pat Deasley):

“I don’t recall whether I did anything in the game (Thompson replaced Gene Moriarty in right field after the latter was in the 5th inning, he was 1 for 2 and scored a run) but I do remember we won. We beat the Giants 4 to 0.

“That victory did more for me among the players than any one thing. They called me their mascot. New York had been beating them right along.”

 

Thompson said when he left the Phillies in 1898, he nearly played for Ewing:

“I had left Philadelphia and had decided to give up the game. Ewing was then managing the Reds and wrote me asking if I would come to Cincinnati. He said he thought he could put through a deal whereby I could sign up all right.

“I was sorely tempted, as I had always wanted to play in Cincinnati. I had always been given a good reception there and had played some of my best games there.

“I didn’t accept, however. I thought that I might not do as well as I had, and I didn’t want to show poorly after all the good work I had done in that city.”

“I am not Fool Enough to Give $25,000 for one man”

12 Jul

A.G. Spalding sold Abner Dalrymple, George Gore and King Kelly before the 1887 season. Having sent the message that no player on the Chicago roster was untouchable, William Albert Nimick, owner of the Pittsburgh Alleghenys approached the White Stockings owner with an offer on September 23.  In a letter to Spalding, printed in The Pittsburgh Post, Nimick wrote:

“Dear Sir—If there is any truth in the rumors that A.C. Anson’s release can be obtained, the Pittsburgh baseball club, knowing his ability as manager, captain and player, is willing to pay for his release, the largest sum ever offered for a single player, viz: $15,000. Be kind enough to let me know at once if you will consider this offer.”

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Nimick

Spalding responded to Nimick:

“Dear Sir—Yours of the 23rd inst. Containing the unprecedented offer for the release of Captain Anson just received. I confess to some surprise at the amount named and if we seriously thought of releasing Anson it would prove a very tempting proposition. My personal relations with him have always been of such a satisfactory nature that I would hate to lose him. About all that I can say at present in reply to your offer is that should we decide to release him you will be advised of that fact before anything is done.”

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 Anson

Nimick told The Post he took Spalding’s letter as an indication that “There is still some hope of our getting Anson.” He said if he could not get Anson, he would be able to acquire either second baseman Fred Pfeffer or shortstop Ned Williamson. The Post said:

“The prevailing opinion in Chicago is that the three players named cannot all remain in the Chicago club harmoniously, and that one or more of them must be transferred.”

The Chicago Tribune asked Anson about the potential of his playing elsewhere in 1888:

“I know the offer has been made and am surprised that such a sum should be offered for a baseball player. I am, of course, sorry that baseball men are sold by the different managers as so much material, without considering what they have to say in the matter, but it gives me satisfaction to know I am worth so much as a baseball player. If Nimick should buy my release from Spalding for that sum he would have to settle with me afterwards before I would play with the Alleghenys. I never expect to play with any other than the Chicago club. As long as I remain in the baseball world I hope to be where I am at.”

One month after the original offer was made, The Post reported that the Pittsburgh owner was not giving up and had made “the most sensational offer for a player on record.”

The paper said Nimick increased the price to $25,000, but the Pittsburgh magnate denied the story the following day. He told The Pittsburgh Leader:

“I am not fool enough to give $25,000 for one man.”

Nimick also denied a rumor that he had offered $10,000 for Chicago pitcher John Clarkson, who would be sold to Boston for that price six months later. He told the paper Pittsburgh was, “fixed as well if not better than any other club” for pitching.

The Pittsburgh papers and Nimick held out hope of acquiring at least one of the three Chicago stars until November, when Spalding was quoted in The Press putting an end to the speculation:

“(Nimick) offered $15,000 for Anson and would have given more if he could have been bought. He won’t leave Chicago, however. I have 16 players signed or it least equal to it.”

Anson, Williamson, and Pfeffer all remained in Chicago.  Nimick bought Fred Dunlap from Detroit, Al Maul from Philadelphia, and Billy Sunday from Chicago—the three were secured for roughly half of what was offered for Anson.

The Alleghenys were 62-72 and finished sixth for the second straight season; Anson guided Chicago to a 77-58 second place finish.