Tag Archives: Montreal Royals

“The one man in Baseball who did not Want to Rise”

15 Apr

William Malcolm Bingay of The Detroit News found a player he could not figure out:

“Somewhere in the big state of Pennsylvania there is a lean, wiry lad with a big under jaw and a crop of wire hair, who is eking out an existence tinning roofs. He escaped an awful fate, so he is happy. He might have been a major league ball player. His name is Johnson and he is on the Tiger reserve list, but he will not be taken South this spring.”

Charlie “Home Run” Johnson was an enigma—he was said to have a huge ego; The Trenton Times once said of him:

“If Home-Run Johnson gets his chest out much further he will crack his wish bone or else curve his spine so that it will never regain its normal shape.”

But Johnson refused to play far from Pennsylvania—he lived just outside Philadelphia in Chester. When he spent the spring of 1907 with the Tigers, but when he was assigned to the Montreal Royals, The News said:

“The heavy hitting outfielder…is averse to playing in Montreal.”

homerunjohnson.jpg

Home Run Johnson

Johnson instead played for the Johnstown Johnnies in the Tri-State League.

Bingay said:

“Johnson was the one man in baseball who did not want to rise.”

Johnson told Bingay

“’I don’t want to ply in the American League. I don’t want to play in any big league. I want to play around home.”

When he joined the Tigers on the trip south, Bingay said Johnson “had a strange idea of the power of baseball law,” thinking he had to come.

“’What did you come South for, then?’ ‘I was drafted.’ He said that in the voice of some Russian prisoner explaining why he was sent to Siberia.”

According to Bingay, Johnson, who picked up the additional nickname,“Little Ban” after American League President Ban Johnson, not only wanted nothing to do with major league baseball, he barely had anything to do with his teammates:

“Johnson never spoke to anybody on the team unless spoken to. He spent his nights in his rooms with a massive book about the size of a family dictionary. It was entitled ‘Tales of the Seven Murderers” and described life in the ‘Wild and wicked West.’ He was often so deeply interested in the doings of his bloodthirsty heroes that he would take the book to the dinner table with him.”

On his way the his “forced” spring service with the Tigers, Johnson’s trunk apparently went missing, forcing him, according to Bingay to use borrowed clothes on and off the field:

“Johnson on the ball field was a sight never to be forgotten. If you had never seen Little Ban in his makeup, (vaudeville actor) Eddie Foy would appear as an imitation. He had a pair of Sam Crawford’s pants, once white; George Mullin’s shirt and (Germany) Schaefer’s cap; which completely covered his ears.”

Bingay said Johnson played that spring with a pair of congress gaiters in the place of his lost baseball shoes, and:

“Once, during a heated scrub game he lost his shoe running from first to second, and they tagged him out because he stopped to sweat at (first baseman Claude) Rossman, who had kicked it into right field.”

Johnson apparently managed to annoy his manager as well:

“He used to keep Jennings up night after night until almost dawn, knocking at his door to find out ‘just how he could get his trunk.’”

Johnson went home to Chester and stayed there. Throughout May it was rumored he was joining the York White Roses in the Tri-State League; that fell through and he played for a semi-pro team in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At the end of July, he joined the Johnstown Johnnies in the Tri-State.

He hit .262 in 1907 and returned to Johnstown the following season; hitting, hitting .296 and leading the Tri-State with nine home runs.

On September 1, Johnson was drafted by a major league team agreeable to him—one 18 miles away from his home in Chester–the Philadelphia Phillies.

Johnson made his major league debut on September 21, pinch hitting in the first game of a double header; he started the second game in left field. The local boy’s arrival to the big leagues was barely noticed by the local press, The Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“(Sherry) Magee started the first game in left field but gave way to young Johnson in the second battle…Johnson failed to get a hit during five times up but managed to take care of everything which came his way in the field.”

Johnson appeared in six games for the Phillies, he was 4 for 16 with two RBI,

By the end of the season, The Philadelphia Press predicted:

“Johnson, the Johnstown pickup, undoubtedly will get a thorough trial with the Phillies next spring. He is a natural batsman and hits the ball with terrible force.”

After the 1908 season, the Detroit Tigers filed a claim against the $750 draft price paid by the Phillies for Johnson’s contract, claiming they still held his rights. The Tigers were eventually awarded half.

The prediction that Johnson would return to the Phillies was wrong, shortly before the team when South in the spring of 1909, The Press reported that 31-year-old journeyman Pep Deininger and minor leaguer Charlie Hanford would instead be given the opportunity to be the Phillies extra outfielder; Deininger made the club. Johnson returned to Johnstown.

Johnson never went to camp with another major league club, but stayed a star, near home, with the New York State and Tri-State League clubs. The biggest highlight of his career was his league-leading .403 average for the Trenton Tigers in 1912—he also hit 14 home runs.

Johnson hit better than .300 for two more seasons in the Tri-State League but battled injuries and returned home to Chester after the 1914 season. He worked for the rest of his life in a clothing factory—for the American Viscose Company—in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. He and his wife had eight children.

He died of a heart attack at the factory at age 55. His obituary in The Delaware County Daily Times mentioned that he was a local baseball legend but said he had only had a “try-out with the Phillies,” and did mention his two weeks as a major leaguer.

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

22 Aug

Joe Slattery believed he was jinxed by an entire city.

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

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

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

Joe Slattery, Rock Island, 1910

Joe Slattery, Rock Island, 1910

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All involved later wished the delay never happened.

Slattery with Memphis, 1918

Slattery with Memphis, 1918

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

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

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

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

Slattery thought he was jinxed and the newspaper agreed:

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

Slattery blamed the city:

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

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

He told The New-Scimitar:

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

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

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

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

Never to return to Memphis, he headed west.

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

Slattery with the Brigham City Peaches, 1922

Slattery with the Brigham City Peaches, 1922

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

The First Jackie Robinson All-Stars

31 Aug

jackierobinsonas

The above advertisement is from the first, and least successful, of Jackie Robinson’s post season barnstorming tours.

In August of 1946, The Pittsburgh Courier said, “Jackie Robinson’s All-Stars” would play in several Eastern and Midwest cities after the Montreal Royals’ season ended.

The tour got off to bad start because the promoters—said to be from Pittsburgh, but never named in newspaper accounts—scheduled games to begin at the close of the International League season, failing to take into account that Robinson and Montreal would be playing in the Little World Series against the Louisville Colonels, the American Association champions.  East Coast games, including one at the Polo Grounds and one in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania were cancelled as a result.

After Robinson’s season ended, his “All-Stars” made up the game in Harrisburg and then played a handful of games in the Midwest before heading to California.

The All-Stars included Artie Wilson of the Birmingham Black Barons, John Scott of the Kansas City Monarchs. Ernie Smith, a one-time member of the Chicago American Giants, who played in 1946 with the Boston Blues in Branch Rickey’s U.S. Baseball League, and Bill “Wee Willie” Pope of the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

williepope

              Wee Willie Pope

Robinson’s All-Stars did not win a game in California.  They lost three games to Bob Feller‘s All-Stars—a team which included Bob Lemon, Stan Musial, Charlie Keller, Ken Keltner and Phil Rizzuto.  Feller’s club won 6 to 0 in San Francisco, 4 to 2 in San Diego, and 4 to 3 in Los Angeles.  Feller pitched five innings each in the San Diego and Los Angeles games—striking out 11 in the first game, and 10 in the second (he left that game having not allowed a hit through five innings).

One of those games was the impetus of the long-term animosity between Robinson and Feller that came to a head before the 1969 All-Star game.  At a press luncheon, Robinson noted the lack of black managers and front office personnel in major league baseball.  Feller criticized Robinson saying “The trouble with Jackie is that he thinks baseball owes him something.”  Feller told The Associated Press (AP) the bad feelings between the two started during the San Diego game on the 1946 tour:

“Jackie was getting a lot of publicity at the time since it was known he was being groomed to be the first Negro in big league baseball (and) threatened not to go on the field unless he got more money.”

Robinson told The AP Feller’s charge was “A damned lie.”

In 1975, Feller told The AP they “buried the hatchet,” before Robinson died in 1972:

“We discovered that out arguments were petty.  Both of us admitted our errors.  When Jackie died, we were good friends.”

Others claimed Feller never let the feud go.

The advertisement above is for the final game Robinson’s All-Stars played.  They faced the Oakland Larks, the champions of Abe Saperstein’s short-lived West Coast Negro Baseball Association (Negro Pacific Coast League) who posted a 14-3 record—the team barnstormed after the league folded and claimed a 56-12 record for all games played that season.

The teams played at San Bernardino’s Perris Hill Park; Robinson played center field.  The San Bernardino County Sun said he made “two stellar catches,” and was 3 for 4 with a double.  Despite Robinson’s efforts, the Larks won 8 to 5.

After Robinson’s final game with the All-Stars, he wasn’t quite finished for the year.  He joined the Los Angeles Red Devils, an integrated professional basketball team –three other well-known baseball players were members of the Red Devils: George Crowe, Irv Noren, and Everett “Ziggy” Marcel (the son of Oliver Marcelle).

Robinson’s brief professional basketball career ended in January of 1947.

Polchow and Starnagle

13 Aug

At the close of the 1902 Three-I League season two unlikely candidates for the big leagues were signed by Cleveland Bronchos Manager Bill Armour.

Pitcher Louis William “Polly” Polchow and catcher George Henry Starnagle (born Steurnagel) did not put up impressive numbers.   Neither the Reach or Spalding Guides included Polchow’s won-loss record, but both said the 22-year-old’s winning percentage was just .414 in 32 games for the Evansville River Rats.  Starnagle hit just .180 with 13 passed balls and eight errors in 93 games for the Terre Haute Hottentots.

Louis Polchow

Louis Polchow

The two joined the fifth place Bronchos in St. Louis on September 13.  The following day both made their major league debuts in the second game of a doubleheader against the second place Browns.

The St. Louis Republic said:

“Captain (Napoleon) Lajoie decided to try his new Three-Eye League battery, which reported to him yesterday.  Starnagle, the former Terre Haute catcher, was as steady as a veteran, but Polchow wobbled at the drop of the hat, and before he steadied himself the damage was done.

“Five runs in the first two innings gave the Browns a good lead, and it was well they made hay while the sun shone, for Polchow handed them six ciphers for dessert.”

Starnagle made an error in the seventh when he overthrew Lajoie on an attempted steal of second by Bobby Wallace—Wallace advanced to third on the error, but Polchow retired the side without a run.

George Starnagle

George Starnagle

In Cleveland’s half of the seventh Starnagle and Polchow had the opportunity to get them back in the game.  With two runs in, and a runner on first and one out Starnagle came to the plate.  The Republic said:

 “Starnagle tried to put on a Three-Eye League slugging scene.  He dislocated two ribs going after (Bill) Reidy’s slow ones and finally fanned.  Polchow forced (Jack) McCarthy.”

Starnagle was lifted in the ninth for a pinch hitter.  Cleveland lost 5-3.  Polchow gave up nine hits and walked four, striking out two, and was 0 for 4 at the plate.  Starnagle was 0 for 3, with one error behind the plate.  Neither would ever appear in another big league game.

The Box Score

The Box Score

Starnagle was 28-years-old, and had only played two seasons of pro ball before his game with Cleveland—he was semi-pro player with teams in Danville and Sterling, Illinois for nearly a decade before he joined Terre Haute in 1901.  He was considered a solid defensive catcher, but during 10 minor league seasons he only hit better than .230 three times.  When he played with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Royals in 1909 The Montreal Gazette said:

“Starnagle has been drafted every year by big league clubs, all of whom have been pretty well supplied with seasoned catchers; hence his failure to be kept.”

Polchow was just 22 when he pitched his only big league game.  Plagued by wildness, he spent three mediocre seasons with teams in the Southern Association and South Atlantic League (he was 36-45 for the Montgomery Senators, Macon Highlanders and Augusta Tourists), then pitched five seasons in the New York State League.

In 1906 he helped lead the Scranton Miners to the New York State League championship (the team’s leading hitter was Archibald “Moonlight” Graham), although The Scranton Republican said his first start with the team was nearly his last.  Polchow lost 12 to 2 to the Utica Pent-Ups, walking 10 and giving up 10 hits.  After the game Polchow accused catcher “Wilkie Clark of throwing the game.  A fight followed and Clark and Polchow never worked together after that.   Andy Roth was Polchow’s battery partner during the remainder of the season.”

Starnagle retired after the 1910 season.  He returned to Danville, Illinois where he died in 1946; he was 72.

Polchow played through the 1911 season, and then became ill.  He died of Bright’s Disease at 32-years-old in August of 1912

In addition to Polchow and Starnagle, the Bronchos signed two other Three-I League players in September of 1902—both had somewhat more success.

Rock Island Islanders catcher George “Peaches” Graham made his debut the same day as Polchow and Starnagle, during the first game of the doubleheader; he struck out as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning of a 3 to 1 loss. He spent parts of seven seasons in the major leagues, and hit .265.  Decatur Commodores pitcher Augustus “Gus” Dorner made his debut three days later beating the Chicago White Sox 7 to 6.  He pitched for parts of six big league seasons, compiling a 35-69 record.