Tag Archives: Minneapolis Millers

“He is a Disorganizer”

13 May

Piggy Ward’s 1891 season provides both a glimpse of the life of the itinerant 19th Century ballplayer and his tendency to be his own worst enemy.

He started the year out West, playing for John McCloskey’s Sacramento Senators in the California League. Along with a teammate named Jack Huston—who had been on clubs with Ward in Galveston, Texas and Spokane, Washington in 1890—he skipped town on May 28. Both players had joined the Sacramento club in the first place despite being on the reserve list of Spokane.

According to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Ward was hitting a league-leading .361, had 24 stolen bases and had scored 41 runs in 36 California League games before he jumped.

The Sacramento Record-Union said of his departure:

“Ward was, in one sense, a valuable man in the team. He was only ordinary as a fielder, or center-bag-guarder, but he exercised the best judgment. He is a good bunter, and his success in base running lies on the fact that he always knows when to take advantage of a chance. But, on the other hand, he is a disorganizer, and caused many a rupture in the Sacramento team.”

Both players left California headed to meet their new club, the Spokane Bunchgrassers of the Pacific Northwest League, owing the Sacramento team’s management money—Ward $141, and Huston “$121, besides a $15 suit of clothes”—and both were arrested when they arrived.

The Record-Union said, John Barnes, the Spokane manager, squared the debt for the two jumpers, who were in the lineup for Spokane the next day—Ward had four hits (and committed two errors) and Huston pitched the final two innings in a 12 to 3 victory over Seattle.

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Ward, standing far right, Huston, standing second from left, and Barnes, seated center, with the 1890 Spokane club

Huston, apparently, felt some loyalty towards his new club, and remained with them for the remainder of the season, while Ward was heading east days later to join the Minneapolis Millers of the Western Association.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune said after Ward went 1 for 2 with a walk, stolen base, and two runs—and played error free ball in right field—in his debut:

“(T)he California phenomenon…is a good batter, coacher, and base runner. The general consensus of opinion was that he’ll do.”

Ward hit .357 in 54 games, which caused the injury-decimated, National League cellar dwelling Pittsburgh Pirates to purchase his contract.

The Pittsburgh Post noted his tendency to jump teams, but said the “rumpus” over his California to Spokane jump had been “amicably settled,” and of the jump to Minneapolis:

“This wrong-doing was also amicably settled.”

Ward was acquired on August 12 but chose to visit his home in Altoona before reporting to the Pirates and apparently did not bother to let the team know. On August 22, The Pittsburgh Press said team president J. Palmer O’Neil “is using the telegraph wires freely today trying to trace the player.” Ward finally arrived the following day; The Press said he reported with a sore back and because “all the men are now playing good ball, Manager (Bill) McGunnigle will not put him in until he is in perfect condition.”

As a result, he appeared in just six games, hit .333 in 18 at bats and made one error in six total chances in the outfield before being released on September 7.

After being let go by Pittsburgh, he headed back to Spokane, but on his way, The Saint Paul Globe said, “The fat all-around ball player seen in a Minneapolis uniform this season,” played briefly with the Oconto club in the Wisconsin State League. The Oshkosh Northwestern reported on September 10 that Ward had signed with Oconto, and he played the following day—Oconto lost 9 to 5 to Oshkosh.

Ward arrived back in Spokane in mid-September and rejoined Huston and the Bunchgrassers. When he returned, The Post-Intelligencer complained that “Ward will receive a salary that will run far above the limit in this league.”

He finished the season with the club—and hit .412 in 12 games –but wore out his welcome. Spokane was struggling to hold onto first place in the closing days of the season—they would lose the pennant the Portland Gladiators by one game—and Ward seemed to succumb to the pressure. The Spokane Review said, during a frustrating 12 to 8 loss that Ward punched Portland’s John Darrah in the stomach as Darrah rounded first in the fifth inning.

He was fined $25 and thrown out of the game. The Spokane Review said:

“If Ward used the vile language during the game attributed to him, he certainly should be disciplined by Manager (John) Barnes. In addition to punching Darrah he also hit (Milt) Whitehead in the stomach with his fist when the latter touched him out in the fifth.”

Ward ended his 1891 season where it began, playing for John McCloskey in Sacramento. The San Francisco Call said he “came jumping back again in a penitent mood.”  The Record-Union said, “cranks were greatly surprised to see Ward playing in the center garden,” when he took the field for his first game back on October 18. The San Francisco Call said he left the team a month later, a week before the close of the season, because of an unknown illness.

More of Ward’s story tomorrow.

“Joe Cantillon Offered to Trade Ball Teams”

7 May

Bill Veeck is credited with being the first to say, “Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.”

Pongo Joe Cantillon might have thought this after the 1913 American Association season.

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Cantillon

John H. Ritchie, sports editor of The Minneapolis Journal told the story:

“Few baseball bugs have ever heard of the time when Joe Cantillon offered to trade ball teams with George Tebeau—and George backed down.”

Early in the 1913 season, the two were speaking before Cantillon’s Minneapolis Millers played Tebeau’s Kansas City Blues.

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Tebeau

“George felicitated Joe on having gathered a good team. Tebeau called them the best of the league and said something about Joe not having any excuse if he lost the pennant with such a team.

“’Pong’ looked at Tebeau is quizzical style and remarked ‘I don’t think so awfully well of my prospects. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll trade my whole ball club for right now as it stands, for yours. I’ll trade you absolutely even this minute and we’ll play the game today as the teams stand. When you leave tonight, you take my old team with you and I’ll keep your old team here. Whatchesay?’”

Ritchie said Tebeau turned to Cantillon’s brother and business partner, Mike, and asked if he was willing to make the trade his brother offered.

“Mike replied that whatever Joe said went for the whole Cantillon family. Tebeau studied a while longer and decided it wasn’t a good day to trade. And Joseph has sworn ever since that he would have traded Tebeau in the twinkling of an eye if the magnate had accepted.”

Cantillon’s Millers were 97-70 and finished in second place, three games back of the champion Milwaukee Brewer. Tebeau’s Blues finished tied for sixth with a 69-98 record

“It was for Blood and not for Averages”

29 Apr

Pongo Joe Cantillon said in 1914:

“Let any baseball man of the country of the present day type pick out a ball club from players who have come up in the last fifteen years and I will pick one from the old school and presume that they play under present day rules. Then we can leave it to the judgement of the people who have watched baseball for the past twenty-five years and I believe the players of today will find that they are not in a class with the old school performers.”

pongo

Joe Cantillon

Cantillon, manager and part owner of the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association was speaking to Billy Murphy the sports editor of The St. Louis Star:

“There are a great many arguments over old and new baseball between the players of today and the few of us that are left from the old school. As a member of both classes, I make the assertion, flatly, that baseball has not advanced in recent years from the brainy or playing standpoint.

“I have been in a baseball uniform every playing day since 1881, and during that time have seen many stars come and go. Some came with brilliant radiance and dies away as quickly as they came. Others came slowly but developed into some of the greatest stars the game has ever known.”

Cantillon said the players of the previous century were better in every aspect:

“The players of twenty-five years ago were just as nervy, just as fast, and just as brainy as they are today. They were better fighters and had far more interest in their play than the athletes of today. Formerly one never saw the members of the teams that were to play a series standing around together chattering and laughing and visiting before the game started. Every player in those days hated every man on the club to be played that day, and when the two captains came together to consult with the umpire it was like two bull terriers turned loose from the benches, and once the game started it was for blood and not for averages.”

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Pongo Joe

Pongo Joe compared the behavior of the behavior of contemporary players to the over-solicitousness displayed by two characters in the then popular comic strip:

“There was little consolation in those days for the player that had four hits if the club lost. There was not so much of the Gaston and Alphonse stuff in the olden times. There wasn’t so much of this ‘excuse me, dear fellow’ business. The old school of infielders made the base runners turn each base at a disadvantage by standing on the inside corners of the bags, and there no apology if by ‘accident’ they got in a fellow player’s way.”

There was, he said, “not one trick” in the current game that “was not pulled off” in the previous century, and the exception Cantillon would concede, he did not approve of:

“I will admit that the new school has brought the squeeze play into the game. I will also admit that it is the rottenest play in baseball when it fails.Furthermore, it is an admission from the player who makes it on his own accord that he cannot hit and when the manager asks for it he shows that he has lost confidence in the hitting of the player asked to squeeze.”

In fact, he concluded, current players offered little:

“I cannot recall a single player who in the last ten years has introduced anything new in the line of playing or has offered any new suggestion that would really improve the game from a playing or a rule making standpoint.”

Roy Counts

30 Apr

The Arizona State League was formed in 1928—the four-team league had teams in Bisbee, Miami, Tucson, and Phoenix.

There seemed to be little information about Phoenix Senators second baseman Roy Counts in local papers.  Counts had spent the previous two years in the outlaw Copper League with the Fort Bayard (NM) Veterans where he was a teammate of banned White Sox pitcher Claude “Lefty” Williams, but otherwise little was written about Counts.

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The Fort Bayard Veterans in Juarez, Mexico after a 1926 game, Claude “Lefty” Williams is sixth from left, Roy Counts is 14th (with arms crossed)

The Arizona Republic said after an April exhibition game with the barnstorming House of David club, that Counts and third baseman Henry Doll:

“(H)ave been working out in good style and appear in perfect condition.  Both are fast fielders and have wicked pegs to the initial sack.”

On May 20, the Senators beat the Tucson Waddies 11-0.  Counts was 1 for 4 with no errors in five chances at second—it was his final professional game.

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Roy Counts, 1928

Roy Counts it turned out was not really Roy Counts.

Roy Counts was actually Laster Fisher—an Arkansas born fugitive who had previously played professional baseball under his given name.

Fisher—his unusual first name a result of his mother’s maiden name, Lasater—was born in Mulberry, Arkansas on October 8, 1901, and broke into professional ball with the Salina (KS) Millers in the Southwestern League in 1922.  Fisher played third base and shortstop, he hit .269.  In October, the Minneapolis Millers purchased his contract.

That same month, Fisher was arrested in Salina for passing a bad check for $10.50 at a local restaurant.  Whether he was only charged with the writing the one bad check was unclear, but The Salina Evening Journal said his father, “Settled all claims against his son.”

Despite the brush with the law, Fisher spent the spring of 1923 with Minneapolis but was farmed out to the Clarksdale Cubs in the Cotton States League before the season began.  In mid July, he joined Minneapolis, he appeared in 69 games—67 at shortstop—he hit 273 and committed 34 errors in 365 total chances.

The Minneapolis Star said of Fisher’s performance he was, “not of the double A caliber yet.”

He was let go by Minneapolis and signed by the Tulsa Oilers in the Western League—according to The Houston Post he was the first player to arrive at Tulsa’s spring training camp in Marlin, Texas—Fisher appears to have been let go before the season started.

In May, The St. Joseph (MO) News-Press said:

“Lester [sic] Fisher, former Tulsa Western League shortstop, who was reported missing a while back with a drive-it-yourself car…(was) returned to Tulsa and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary.  Fisher is only twenty-two years old and gave promise of being one of the best shortstops in the Western League.  He told the judge who sentenced him that at the time he stole the car he was drunk, and when he got sober he was afraid to return it.”

Fisher had driven the rented Maxwell automobile to Greenwood, Mississippi, and according to The Greenwood Commonwealth left the car in that town; he was later arrested in Leland, Mississippi and returned to Oklahoma.

After entering the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester, Fisher joined the prison baseball team.  On May 13, 1925, according to The Associated Press, Fisher “Kept running after a game in Holdenville.”

His three year run over, Fisher was returned to prison in Oklahoma.  He never returned to pro ball.

He moved to Texas after his release and was working as a maintenance man at the Victory Baptist Church when he died of congestive heart failure on July 5, 1959.

“I was Weak as a cat. Then I Began to Feel Old-time Form”

18 Apr

When Rube Waddell signed with his final team, the Virginia (MN) Ore Diggers of the Northern League, a reporter from The Duluth News-Tribune tracked him down at the team’s hotel in Duluth:

“’I am just as good as when Connie Mack found me.’

“Thus spoke George Edward Waddell, better known as Rube in the world of peanut eaters, pop drinkers and umpire roasters, as he sat in a big leather arm chair in the Hotel Lenox lobby.  The reporter had trouble spotting the former star slab-man of the Athletics, who is now a full-fledged member of Spike Shannon’s Virginia Ore Diggers.  A glance at the hotel register disclosed the name ‘G. E. Waddell.’ Then a careful survey of the rainy-day loungers discovered a big, lanky individual, the center of an admiring group, unrolling tales of the diamond between puffs of a perfectly good cigarette.

“When he learned the newspaper’s mission, the Rube waved the others away gently to one side, enclosed our mitt in his big and famous left lunch hook, and began a rapid-fire discourse.

with a jitney in the pot.  Say, I have had two attacks of pneumonia and blood poison all within three months!’  And the big fellow fished out another pill and lighted it from the stump of the late departed one.”

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Cartoon of Waddell that appeared with the original story

Waddell’s first game with Virginia was rained out:

“’Gee, I am sorry it rained and spoiled the game, but I was in hopes it would clear up so I could try my new fishing tackle.  I hear this is a great country for fishing, and believe me; I am going to find out how the steams around here will produce.  But I guess I will try my skill at pool this afternoon.  I can beat them all at pool.  I am going down to the bowling alley before I leave this town and show up a few of the local cracks, too.

Waddell told the paper he was surprised to have been sent to the Northern League by the Minneapolis Millers’ Joe and Mike Cantillon in the spring:

“’I was weak as a cat.  Then I began to feel old-time form and I said:’

“’Mike, I’m ready to join the club.’

“’Why, you belong to the Northern League,’ he told me, ‘Now what do you think of that?’ ‘Had the contract all signed up and didn’t say anything to me.  It made me pretty sore.  Everyone got the impression that I was going back.  There is nothing to it.  My arm is in good shape and I can pitch just as good a game as any of the big fellows today.  Why, I had offers from every Federal League club in the country.”

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Rube Waddell

Waddell said he was excited about the future of the Northern League:

“There is a great opportunity for the Northern League.  The clubs are playing good baseball.  Well, I am contented, and I am going to like it fine. I have known Spike Shannon for years.  Well, I am off now to play pool.’”

The paper predicted:

“Waddell will be a big drawing card in the Northern League.  That is certain—if he stays here.”

Waddell only stayed another five weeks, he pitched his last professional game on June 28; he was dead the following April.

“Rube was a Jester, Baseball’s First and Only”

16 Apr

In 1914, Roy J. Dunlap was a reporter for The St. Paul Pioneer Press.  He had come to the paper the previous year from The Duluth News-Tribune where he covered baseball and served as official scorer for the Duluth White Sox in the Northern League.

Shortly after Rude Waddell’s death on April 1, 1914, Dunlap told readers about the final game Waddell appeared in as a pro July 3, 1913 (In his original version, Dunlap said the game was played on June 28, but The Virginia Enterprise and other papers confirm the game was played on the 28th).  Waddell was pitching the Virginia (MN) Ore Diggers against the White Sox.

“Waddell made millions of dollars—for the club owners.  His big, jolly nature never permitted him to turn his jesting to his own pecuniary benefit.  For Rube was a jester, baseball’s first and only.  Beside him Germany Schaefer and Nick Altrock are only superclowns.”

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Rube

Dunlap said of Waddell’s final game:

“Those 2,000 or more fans who sat on the bleachers or in the grand stand and doubled up with laughter at the jester’s antics probably never will forget that eventful day.  Perhaps Rube knew it would be his last fling.  The more one thinks of his work in the twelve grueling innings the more he is impressed that Rube felt the intuition of an invisible fate.  Rube ever has been fate’s plaything. Fate molded him into a jester, and has criss-crossed his eventful life since.

“Rube admitted it.  He never could explain why he went fishing the day he was scheduled to pitch while fans called for him and irate managers scoured his old haunts, gnashing their teeth; he never could explain why he went to a fire in the midst of an exciting game or why he rescued drowning men from the bottom of a lake.

“Rube’s last year in baseball was filled with misfortune.  He was stricken with a fever in the training camp at Minneapolis American Association team at Hickman (Kentucky, where Waddle came down with pneumonia after helping to the save the city from a devastating flood) and was not in shape to pitch at the opening of the season.”

Waddell began the 1913 season with the “Little Millers,” the Minneapolis club in the Northern League, and as Dunlap put it:

“The old listless, wandering spirit nature seemed to grip him and he became careless.”

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Rube Waddell

Waddell was released by Minneapolis, then:

Spike Shannon…manager for the Virginia team, which was in last place, put in a bid for Rube.  Probably Shannon figured him from a gate standpoint.  His team was a poor attraction because of its cellar position almost from the start.  If that were his motive he made a shrewd move.  Rube Waddell was a drawing card and this power he held until the last.

“Waddell joined the Virginians at Duluth one rainy day early in June.  He was still suffering from a ‘game’ leg, although it was on the mend, and he was able to be in a game once in awhile.”

Then, said Dunlap, Waddell disappeared:

“Shannon knew where he was, but beyond an evasive answer he would shed no light on Rube’s whereabouts.

“The team traveled about the circuit and the fans called for Rube, but Rube was not there.  Then one day, press dispatches carried a thrilling story, and the secret was no more.”

Dunlap here claimed while Waddell was away from the team “camping” he saved two men from drowning—the story likely a conflation of the oft told story of Rube saving a woman from drowning, and his role in recovering the body of a drown man in Tower, Minnesota on July 9, 1913, The Associated Press said Waddell recovered the body, “after several good swimmers had failed.”

At some point in late June, Waddell rejoined the team, pitched and played outfield, and was scheduled to pitch June 28:

“Waddell was advertised to pitch the first game.  The curious fans filled the grand stands and bleachers.  When the big fellow stepped out to warm up he was cheered to an echo.  But underneath it all there was a note of sadness.  None could help recalling his career.  They saw, in their imagination, Rube Waddell standing in the pitcher’s box at Shibe Park, Philadelphia.  They saw him in the height of glory striking out man after man, and heard again the plaudits of the fans.  Then in reality they saw him in a minor league, one of the newest and greenest in organized baseball and Waddell was pitching for the tail enders.

“Waddell had the art of jesting down to a fine point.  He never displayed it to a better advantage than that day.  He knew when to pull the funny stuff and when to tighten.  He did his best to win that game because he knew the crowd expected it.  But he was pitching against a youngster (Harry “Pecky” Rhoades) who was hitting his best stride, and it was youth against ill health and stiffened joints.  Duluth won the game 2 to 1.  Rube fanned 12, but his team did not give him the slugging support.  His opponent struck out 17 Virginians.”

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Pecky Rhoades

Dunlap continued his story, telling the story of how Rube began the game:

“Rube walked to the plate, keeping step to the hand clapping of the crowd.  He surveyed carefully the pitcher’s box, gave his outfield a careful glance, turned, bowed to the crowd, motioned to the batter to get closer to the plate and put over the first pitched ball-a strike.  The catcher returned the ball, but Rube’s back was turned.  He was looking at something out in centerfield.  The fans shouted but he never looked around.  Suddenly he made a quick step, his face still turned away, put his hand behind his back and caught the ball.

“He retired the batter in short order on strikes.  Rube smiled.”

Both The Duluth News-Tribune and The Virginia Enterprise reported the same score and strike out totals the day after the game, The News-Tribune called the game “One of the great pitching duels seen here.”

Said Dunlap of Waddell’s death:

“Before the end he sent out a little message.  He said in it a few words, but it was a sermon.  Had this commandment been followed by the author the name of Rube Waddell might have been with that of Mathewson today, and fans would be speculating on when he would be too old to pitch.

“This is the sermon-message:

“Tell the boys to cut out the booze and cigarettes.”

“The Duke of Minneapolis”

20 Nov

Martin F. Duck was born in Zanesville, Ohio in 1867.  He played under the name Martin Duke.   As he was becoming a well-known pitcher The Kansas City Times told a story which purported to explain why he changed his name:

 “The real name of the (Minneapolis) Millers’ best pitcher is not Duke, but Duck…Martin was pitching in a game up in Michigan and in the ninth his club led the opposing team by one run. (With two runners on base) a man up in the grandstand began imitating the quack of a duck…as the ‘quack, quack, quack continued his face became lobster-colored.  He shouted to his taunter that he would fix him after the game, but the fiend…went on with his ‘quack, quack, quack’”

At this point, Duck allegedly threw the ball into the stands at his tormentor, allowing both runs to score, “After that he dropped the name Duck entirely.”

By the time that story appeared Martin Duke seemed headed for a productive career.  He went 14-12 with the Zanesville Kickapoos in the Ohio State League in 1887.  In 1888, he again pitched for Zanesville, now in the Tri-State League and for The Toledo Maumees in the same league—no  records survive for that season.

The five-foot, five-inch Duke made a name for himself the following year.  While pitching for the Millers in the Western Association, he posted a 24-16 record and struck out 347 batters in 355 innings, earning the nickname “Duke of Minneapolis.”

In February of 1890, The Chicago Inter Ocean said Chicago’s Players League team was after the pitcher:  “Captain Comiskey of the Chicago Brotherhood has been on Duke’s trail for weeks, with the result that although Duke has not yet signed a contract we will play with the Chicago Brotherhood club this season.”

If Comiskey was, in fact, on Duke’s trail he never got his man.  Duke returned to Minneapolis, and while statistics for 1890 no longer survive, but the press routinely called him the Millers’ best pitcher.

In 1891, he slipped to 10-11, and in May he was suspended for being, as The Sporting Life said, “Out of condition” (a euphemism for his problem drinking), but earned an August trial with the Washington Statesmen in the American Association.  The Saint Paul Globe said of his departure:

“Martin Duke–the one, the only, the statuesque Duke–has bidden good-bye to the ozone of Minnesota and beer of Minneapolis…Last night he boarded the train, moved his hand in adieu, cocked his hat to one side, closed an eye, uttered a certain familiar expression peculiar to Dukes and disappeared forever.”

Martin Duke

Duke failed his Major league trial.  In four games, he posted a 0-3 record and walked 19 batters in 23 innings.

Despite his poor debut, he received another opportunity, this one with the Chicago Colts in 1892. When he was signed in January, The Chicago Tribune said:

“Duke’s last season, owing to lax discipline, was not a success, but this season he promises to regain his old form, as he is bound by an ironclad contract to abstain from intoxicating drinks.  By his contract half his salary reverts to the club if he breaks the pledge.  This should keep him straight.”

He received a big buildup in The Chicago Daily News:

“(He) is one of Captain Anson’s new colts, and he not only puts the ball over the home plate with almost the speed of a cannon shot, but he also seems to have a head studded with eyes, for stealing second base when he is in the box is always most hazardous business.  His pitching arm is so strong and shapely and so well equipped with powerful muscles that it would win admiration from a blacksmith.”

Despite the accolades he was released before the beginning of the season, The Tribune said:

“Martin Duke is also down for release. He has shown up poorly so far, and the club cannot use five pitchers anyhow.”

He signed with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association and seemed to regain his old form posting a 13-3 record.  It was his last successful season.

After getting off to a 2-5 start in 1893 Duke was released by New Orleans, and initially there were no takers for his services.  The Milwaukee Journal said why:

“Martin was always a good pitcher, but his mouth and his temper were too great a load for any team to carry any length of time.”

Duke bounced around the minor leagues after that with short stints for teams in the Eastern League, Southern Association and Western League until 1895, when he returned again to Minneapolis.  But after 13 games with the Millers, he injured his arm and was released in June.  According to The St. Paul Globe, he injured the arm again in August; rupturing a tendon while pitching for a semi-pro team in Rosemount, Minnesota.

In 1897, The Sporting Life reported that Duke, employed in a Minneapolis tavern, was “Trying to get in shape” in order to return to the diamond that season, but he never played professional ball again.

Duke died from pneumonia on December 31, 1898, in Minneapolis.  The Sporting Life said:

“He possessed great ability as a pitcher, but never lasted long with any club, as he was a hard man to control, and was given to dissipation, which ultimately led to enforced retirement from the profession and untimely death.”

Duke was 31 years-old.

A shorter version of this post appeared in October 2012

The Pursuit of Elmer Foster

9 Sep

Elmer Ellsworth Foster was the talk of the Northwestern League in 1887.

His career as a pitcher had lasted just one season; in 1884, while pitching for the St. Paul Apostles, he snapped a bone in his arm while throwing a pitch.

Elmer Foster, 1887

            Elmer Foster, 1887

After he recovered, he returned the following year as an outfielder and second baseman with Haverhill in the Eastern New England League and hit .309.

The following spring, The Sporting Life’s Haverhill correspondent said the New York Metropolitans “have taken Elmer Foster from us.”

Hitting just .184 and, as The Sporting Life put it “reckless at the bat,” Foster went back to Haverhill in August.

In 1887, he returned to Minnesota, this time as centerfielder for the Minneapolis Millers.  The club was owned by his brother Robert Owen Foster, a successful dealer of musical instruments, who with his partner J. E. Whitcomb, had taken over operations of the Millers in January.

The Northwestern League of 1887 was a hitter’s paradise owing mostly to the single-season experiments with the four-strike rule and walks counted as hits—nineteen players with at least 350 at-bats hit better than .350—and Foster led with a .415 average and 17 home runs.   While his performance with the bat was noted, he received an equal amount of publicity for his great fielding.

Throughout the season, Minnesota newspapers reported that Foster’s contract would be sold to a major league team—the Indianapolis Hoosiers were the most frequently mentioned—but the deal never materialized.

When the season ended, The Philadelphia Times said Foster was in high demand:

“During the past week agents from nearly every League and Association (club) have been to Minneapolis to secure (Foster) for next season.  (Horace) Phillips of Pittsburgh; (Gus) Schmelz of Cincinnati; Ted Sullivan, agent for Washington; (Emery “Moxie”) Hengel agent for Detroit; (Charlie Hazen) Morton, agent for (A.G.) Spalding, and agents for the Brooklyn, Metropolitan, and Baltimore Clubs have tried to get him.

(John) Day, of New York, sent him this message:  ‘Multrie on the way to Minneapolis.  Make no promise until you see him.’  Boston also wired him for his terms.  (Horace) Fogel of Indianapolis arrived one night and had Foster in tow all the next day.  The bidding of all these clubs has been going on briskly, until now he is offered exorbitant figures by all the clubs.”

Foster called the fight for services a “circus;” it also turned into a controversy, with two teams claiming to have signed him.  The Saint Paul Globe said:

“The circus he speaks of is a curious one, but he is sublimely unmindful of the part he took in it.  The rules of the baseball covenant prohibit the signing of players until Oct. 20…Manager Fogel of Indianapolis approached Foster before that time and made a verbal contract with him, but Manager (Jim) Mutrie, of New York, took him out to Delano (Minnesota), and after midnight  (on the 20th) got his signature.”

Jim Mutrie

                       Jim Mutrie

Years later, Ted Sullivan, who was perusing Foster on behalf of his Washington Nationals, described Mutrie’s method to sign Foster as a kidnapping:

“Jim Mutrie of New York (Giants) grabbed the great fielder Foster on the streets of Minneapolis…bound and gagged him, threw him into a cab and brought him ten minutes out of the city, held him there and dined and wined him until midnight…then compelled him to take $1000 advance money and a contract of $4500 (various other sources put Foster’s salary at $2400, and $4000).”

Foster, it turned out, didn’t simply have a “verbal contract” with Fogel and Indianapolis when he disappeared with Mutrie, but had, as The Sporting News said, accepted “a draft for $100,” from Fogel at the time the two agreed to terms.  Fogel and Indianapolis owner John T. Brush told The Indianapolis News and The Indianapolis Times that there was “a written agreement” between Foster and the club.

Foster’s wife gave birth to a daughter during the height of the controversy.  He told The Globe:

“If she had been a boy I would have named him Mutrie Fogel, in memory of the baseball managers I have been having a circus with.”

In the end, Indianapolis acknowledged that the agreement with Foster, whether written or verbal, was entered into three days before the legal signing date of October 20 and National League President Nick Young awarded Foster to the Giants.

Foster never had success at the plate during his brief major league career; he hit just .187 in 386 at-bats over parts of five seasons.  But Mutrie called him “(O)ne of the best fielders in the country,” and Sullivan said of Foster’s time in the National League, “(H)e was a wonderful fielder in that league.”

Elmer Foster

      Elmer Foster

After he was released by the Giants, he played 31 games with the Chicago Colts in 1890 and ’91, but his brief stay with the club allowed his name to live on with fans long after his career ended.  One of the favorite subjects of Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, who called him “The rowdy of the rowdies,” Foster’s name was a staple of Fullerton’s stories for three decades after his career ended.

“A Boy he Lived and a Boy he Died”

29 Jul

When Rube Waddell died on April 1, 1914, he was eulogized by sportswriters across the country.  Perhaps no one captured the essence of baseball’s most eccentric personality than William George “Billy” Murphy, sports editor of The St. Louis Star, who called the departed pitcher “The Peter Pan of the National Game.”

The other left-handed Rube

Waddell

Murphy said:

“A boy he lived and a boy he died.  He knew naught of the great problems of sociology or philosophy, but lived in the realm of love, adventure, romance, gallantry, and grace.

“The tales that are told of him, if written, would be classics in the folklore of childhood.  He was but a little child himself.

“A man of baseball genius, of an ardent temperament, reckless of physical laws and self-indulgent, he paid the penalty.”

Murphy

Murphy

The story of Waddell’s catching pneumonia while helping to stack sandbags to save the town of Hickman, Kentucky, which contributed to his contracting tuberculosis, the cause of his death, has been told often.  But Murphy told another story about Waddell’s stay in Hickman—at the home of Joe Cantillon, his manager with the Minneapolis Millers.

 “Memory of Rube Waddell will live forever in the heart of Joe Cantillon…’Rube’s big heartedness has never been exaggerated,’ said Joe.  ‘In fact, his generosity never has been fully told.  Year before last down at Hickman the Rube was with me at Christmas time.  A storekeeper called me up Christmas Eve and told me the Rube was inviting everybody who passed the store to step in and get fitted for a pair of gloves.  The merchant thought the Rube had gone daffy and wanted to know if he should stop him.  I told him ‘no,’ to let Rube have his fun, and if he couldn’t pay for it I would.  He gave away forty pair.

“Rube was lonesome and the Christmas spirit was upon him and he couldn’t do anything else that would have brought him more pleasure.”

JoeCantillon

Cantillon

Murphy said Waddell, for “all his buffoonery, was brave and would go the limit to help a woman or child.”

 “Waddell was the greatest of all the southpaws and his name will live forever in the history of America’s national game.

“There was not a selfish bone in his body and he did much good.  He was indeed a little boy who never grew up.  He made many happy and lived his life as he saw it.

“May his rest be as sweet as was his life.”

“The most Disgraceful affair ever Witnessed”

12 Jan

Homer Chase “Bill”  Hausen spent more than 15 years playing in minor and independent leagues—but was almost banished from baseball in 1900.

He was born on September 8 in Franklin Grove, Illinois—records differ regarding the year–most say 1872, some say 1870–and began playing on independent teams near his northern Illinois hometown.  Hausen made his professional debut in the Eastern Iowa League with Ottumwa in 1895; primarily a catcher, he also played first base and outfield.

Homer Hausen

Homer Hausen

 

In 1898 he played with the Kansas City Blues in the Western League, and expected to remain with the club the following season, but according to The Sedalia Democrat he had a dispute with fellow catcher Bill “Scrappy” “Big Bill” Wilson:

“(T)hey were rivals for the hand of Mrs. Jessie Pierce a pretty widow…Hausen was the favored one and much ill feeling resulted between the two men that he charged Wilson with having secured his (Hausen’s) release from the Kansas City team.”

The bad blood culminated on July 9, 1900.  Hausen, a member of the Sioux City Cornhuskers, came to the plate.  Wilson was catching for the Omaha Omahogs.

“Hausen says Wilson was continually badgering him during the Sioux City-Omaha games… (On July 9, Wilson) made a derogatory remark concerning Mrs. Pierce’s character and Hausen felled him with a bat.”

The Omaha Bee said:

“The most disgraceful affair ever witnessed on a ball diamond in Sioux City took place today when Hausen of the Sioux City club deliberately struck ‘Big Bill’ Wilson of the Omaha team in the head with a bat, stretching him out on the ground.

“The assault was followed by great excitement during which Hausen was placed under arrest and quietly hurried off the grounds by a policeman. “

The Bee said the two “had bad words” every time Hausen came to the plate.

“(I)n the eighth inning they had words as usual.  It looked as if Wilson dared Hausen to hit him and Hausen tapped his mask with the bat.  A few more words were said and then Hausen swung the bat and struck Wilson above the left ear.”

After hitting Wilson, Hausen went towards the Sioux City bench while fans ran on the field.  Omaha President “Buck” Keith ran across the field towards Hausen:

“(Keith) called Hausen a coward.  ‘If I had a gun I’d fill you full of holes.’ He declared.

“Hausen still held the bat and dared Keith to come on.  Keith might have done so if an officer had not cleared the field.  The excitement had grown intense.  An Omaha rooter was offering 5 for a rope and a Sioux City rooter at his side cried ‘Hang him!  Hang the coward.’

Hausen was held for a short time at the police station while the Western League took immediate action.

The Associated Press (AP) said:

“President Thomas J. Hickey of the Western League, last night issued an order blacklisting Hausen of Sioux City for probably fatally assaulting Bill Wilson…Hausen used a ball bat, inflicting injuries on Wilson’s head that leave him irrational much of the time.”

President Hickey

President Hickey

The reports of Wilson’s impending demise were premature.  The catcher recovered and was back in the line up within two weeks.

The blacklisted Hausen quickly caught on with a semi-pro team in Rock Rapids, Iowa.

While his banishment seemed to be the correct recourse, Hausen was not without his supporters, who claimed he was not entirely at fault.

The Sioux City Tribune pointed out that Hausen “was a very quiet chap,” while Wilson had been disciplined numerous times for “using abusive language,” directed at umpires and other players.

In fact, Wilson’s temper was well-known.  In 1896, while playing for the Columbus Buckeyes he attacked an umpire named Clark twice during the same game in Minneapolis—as was the case in Sioux City, he came out on the short end–twice.  The St. Paul Globe said:

“Umpire Clark was forced into two fights by Bill Wilson…Clark got the best of Wilson in both encounters, and not only was Wilson battered up, but he is out $10, and President Ban Johnson says that he will be severely dealt with and probably suspended.  It was a sorry day for Bill.”

Hausen had the last laugh.  Two weeks after the incident The Sedalia Democrat reported:

“The last act in the little drama was enacted at Sioux City on Friday.  When Mrs. Pierce learned how much Hausen had sacrificed to protect her reputation, she went at once to Sioux City.  Hausen met her at the train and late in the afternoon a marriage license was secured.”

Wilson turned to a life of crime after his baseball career ended, and was murdered in 1924.

On Wednesday—Hausen on the receiving end.