Tag Archives: Nap Lajoie

“The Big League Ballplayer has the Easiest job”

5 May

Malachi Kittridge was nearly a decade removed from major league baseball in 1915 but had plenty of opinions about how easy current players had it.  He told The Cleveland News:

“The big league ballplayer has the easiest job there is. He does not even have to pack his uniform. That is done for him in the clubhouse. His hand baggage is taken to the train for him. He rides in a lower berth. Arriving at another town, he is met by a taxicab while his baggage is taken to the hotel in a wagon. He does not even have to write his name on the hotel register. He finds his room and a good one with a bath reserved for him.”

And once in town, it was even easier:

“He has nothing to do except to report at the grounds at 2 pm, practice and then take part in the game. His evenings are his own as are his mornings, except at home, when some clubs have practice sessions. He has more idle time upon his hands than any man engaged in any other profession, yet he fails to take advantage of it by fitting himself for some other profession or business to take up when his baseball days are over.”

Kittridge

Kittridge said players idled away their time on the road taking walks and playing cards in the morning, or at a theater or pool hall in the evening, rather than devoting “some of his time to study” of a future career.  But, he warned, “he cannot study too much and run the risk of injuring his eyes.”

The News said Kittridge also resented, “the oft printed story that the old-time baseball player was rough neck,” compared to the modern, “college-bred” players:

“I guess they forgot about the famous old Chicago White Sox. Of that team, John K. Tener became governor of Pennsylvania and president of the National League; (Cap) Anson was county clerk of Cook County, which means Chicago; Mark Baldwin is a famous surgeon in Pittsburgh; Ad Gumbert was Sheriff of Pittsburgh [sic, Allegheny County]; (Bill) Hutchinson, the great pitcher, is a railroad official out West; Walter Wilmot is a banker in Minneapolis, and Clark Griffith is pretty well up in the baseball game.”

Kittridge challenged the reporter to “investigate,” and said, “you would find that the majority of the old-timers have done well since quitting the game, indicating that they were not the rowdies later day writers would have the public believe.”

Kittridge himself was a fairly successful minor league manager, but his one stint running a major league club was a disaster. Kittridge’s 1904 Washington Senators were 1-16 when the player-manager was replaced by Patsy Donovan.  The Boston Globe provided an example of how he counseled pitchers to face the league’s leading hitter, Napoleon Lajoie:

“Place the ball at a medium rate of speed over the middle of the rubber, or cut the plate with a slow, arched curve whenever Lajoie is facing you. The big Frenchman will write an obituary in the shape of a double, triple, or homer on any ball that has steam behind it and veers over the outside or inside corners. I have seen him soak a high one in the inside on a level with his Adam’s apple, and the next one he plucked off his socks knee high and on the inside.”

“Keister was Bogus”

5 Apr

In March of 1901, second baseman Bill Keister jumped the St. Louis Cardinals for the Baltimore Orioles; St. Louis signed Dick Padden a week later to replace him.

Patsy Tebeau, who had managed the Cardinals to a 42-50 record before being let go in August, had no shortage of vitriol for his former player. He told The St. Louis Globe-Democrat:

“Padden has Keister beaten in every department of the game, and when it comes to ‘inside play’ the Baltimorean is entirely lost sight of.”

Keister had been purchased by the Cardinals with John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson before the 1900 season. The purchase of Keister had, said Tebeau, cost St. Louis “a good round chunk. And while not “Knocking any, it was illy spent.”

Tebeau

Then more knocking:

“Keister was bogus, a gold brick, a nonentity or what you will, and much of our ill-success in the early part of the race was due to his bobbling.”

Keister was not just bad, but historically bad, he said:

“If I live to be as old as Henry Chadwick, I never will forget a play Keister made in Philadelphia. We were playing a red-hot game with the Phillies, with a score of 2 to 1 in our favor along about the seventh inning. (Roy) Thomas and (Jimmy) Slagle both began by getting on base and (Ed) Delahanty sacrificed them along. (Napoleon) Lajoie followed with a stinging bounder straight at Keister. It came to him quick as a flash and on the first bound.  Fast as Thomas is, he was a goner at the plate had Billy slapped the ball home.

“But he didn’t, nor did he play it safe and shoot to (first baseman Dan) McGann. He balked for a moment and then slammed the sphere to the third corner. McGraw wasn’t within 15 feet of the sack but seeing the throw he ran over best he could. Biff came the ball, McGraw, and Slagle all in a heap.

“Slagle was safe, McGraw had his ankle turned, and the sphere kept on to the fence. All three runners scored, we were beaten, and McGraw, besides, was laid up for several weeks.”

Keister

Tebeau called it, “the worst play that was ever made by a professional.”

The play in question happened on May 25, and he got most of the details correct; except the score was 2 to 0 and it happened in the sixth inning. The Globe-Democrat described the play less dramatically the previous spring:

“Lajoie hit fast and high to Keister. The little second-sacker threw to McGraw at third, in an attempt to head off Slagle. The ball and runner reached ‘Muggsy’ at the same time. In the collision McGraw was spiked in the foot and the leather rolled to the fence, giving the Quakers their lone three runs in the contest.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The Republican both wrote that McGraw was on the bag awaiting Keister’s throw, contrary to Tebeau’s recollection.

All three papers agreed that McGraw was badly injured beyond having his “ankle turned.” In addition to the collision, the Cardinals captain was spiked in the foot. The Post-Dispatch said the game was delayed 10 minutes before McGraw returned to the field—he was removed from the game after the end of the inning. The Republic said his toe was “badly split” and that he, “dropped like a poppy cut down by a cane twirled in the hands of a careless stroller.”

With McGraw in and out of the lineup over the next several weeks, the Cardinals went from 3 ½ games back to 11 games back after a disastrous 5-15 June.

Tebeau held a grudge:

“I consider that Keister was a star in Oysterville in 1899, but out in Missouri, where the ‘fans’ have got to be shown, he was about the worst I ever saw.”

“The worst” Tebeau ever saw played three more seasons in the major leagues; Keister was playing outfield and hitting .320 for the Phillies in August of 1903 when he tore a ligament before the August 26 game in Brooklyn. He never played in the major leagues again but played eight more seasons in the minors.

Tebeau never managed in the big leagues again. He killed himself 18 years later; Louis Dougher of The Washington Times said Tebeau wrote in a suicide note:

“I am a very unhappy and miserable man.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #44

7 Jan

Flint’s Hands

In 1896, Hugh Fullerton said in The Chicago Record:

“It is not hard to tell ‘Old Silver’ (Flint) is a ballplayer.”

Silver Flint

Fullerton told a story about how a train carrying the catcher and the rest of the White Stockings had derailed during their “Southern tour” the previous season:

“The train jumped the track and several of the passengers were injured. Silver stood near the scene of the wreck watching the proceedings, when one of the surgeons who had tendered his services caught sight of Silver’s fists.

“’Too bad, my man, too bad,’ said the man with the scalpel, ‘but both those hands will have to come off.’”

King Kelly told Fullerton that Flint “had to shake hands with the doctor before the latter would believe that Silver’s hands were not knocked out in the wreck.”

Young’s Perfect Game

In 1910, The Boston Post said Napoleon Lajoie asked Cy Young about his 1904 perfect game while the Naps were playing a series in Boston.

Cy Young

“’Oh,’ remarked Cy in that native natural dialect that six years’ residence in Boston did not change, ‘there ain’t nothing to tell. Nothing much at any rate. They just ‘em right at somebody all the time that was all. Two or three drives would have been good, long hits if Buck (Freeman) and Chick (Stahl) hadn’t been laying for ‘em. I didn’t know nobody reached first until we were going to the clubhouse. Then Jim (Collins) told me.’”

Young beat the Philadelphia Athletics and Rube Waddell 3 to 0 on May 5, 1904; the third perfect game in MLB history; the previous two had both taken place 24 years earlier during the 1880 season–making it the first one thrown under modern rules.

The box score

Cobb’s Base Stealing

 Before the 1912 season, Joe Birmingham, manager of the Cleveland Naps told The Cleveland News that Sam Crawford was the reason Ty Cobb was a successful base stealer.

“I haven’t made such a statement without considering the matter.”

Birmingham said:

“Put Sam Crawford up behind any one of a half dozen players in this league and their base stealing records would increase immensely…In the first place, every catcher is handicapped almost five feet in throwing to second when Sam is up. You know Sam lays way back of that home plate.

“A catcher would take his life in his hands if he dared get in the customary position behind the plate, for Sam takes such an awful wallop. Five feet doesn’t seem like a great distance, but when it is taken into consideration that a vast number of base stealers are checked by the merest margin of seconds, five feet looms up as considerable distance.”

Cobb

Then there was Crawford’s bat:

“(He) wields a young telegraph pole. There are few players in baseball who could handle such a club. And Sam spreads that club all over an immense amount of air. It’s usually in the way or thereabouts. At least it’s a factor with which the catcher must always reckon. Finally, Sam is a left-handed batter. Any time a pitcher hurls a pitchout to catch Cobb stealing the catcher is thrown into an awkward position. He can’t possibly be set for a throw. There’s another portion of a second lost.”

Cobb and Crawford were teammates from 1905 through 1917; Cobb led the league in steals six times during that period.

Sam Crawford

Birmingham’s overall point was to suggest that Joe Jackson, of the Naps, would be a better base stealer than Cobb:

“Joe has shown more natural ability during his first (full) year in the league than Cobb did.”

Birmingham said Jackson was as fast going from home to first as Cobb and “No one can convince me to the contrary.”

While he said Jackson did not get the same lead off the base as Cobb, he said:

“When that is acquired you’ll find little Joey leading the parade or just a trifle behind the leader.”

In 24 season Cobb stole 897 bases; Jackson stole 202 in 13 seasons.

“He was a Rube Waddell, a Cy Young”

22 Sep

In 1905, Napoleon Lajoie told a story to a reporter for The Cleveland News about “a wizard in the person of a pitcher who applied for a job in Philadelphia<’ when Lajoie played for the Phillies in 1899:

Napoleon Lajoie

“We were out for morning practice one day when a tall, angular, awkward man, who looked more like a sailor than an athlete, gained admittance to the park and asked permission to work with us.”

Lajoie said the man was sent to the outfield and “did fairly well catching fungoes;” he then asked to pitch.

“Big (Ed) Delahanty made two or three swings at the twisters y=the stranger served up to him, and then he turned around to me: ‘Nap, that fellow’s a ringer,’ he said. We all laughed at Del’s remark, but the laugh didn’t last. I was as helpless before him that day as I am nowadays before Jack Chesbro’s spitball, when it is worked right. Duff Cooley was mad all over because he couldn’t hit the new-fangled curves.”

Delahanty

Lajoie said when he stood behind the man as he pitched, he:

“(W)atched in open-mouthed wonder the zigzag, round-the-corner, hide-and-seek curves he pitched against the grandstand. It was hard to tell whether you were on a ballfield or in the delirium tremens ward of an inebriate hospital.”

He said he asked the man what he did for work:

“’Oh, most anything,’ he said ‘Anything that will earn me bread and butter and a place to sleep. Help load ships, sweep crossings—anything.’”

Lajoie said the man was told he could “earn $500 or $600 a month.”

He said he invited the man out the next day to meet manager Bill Shettsline.

“He was there at the appointed time and showed Shetts his paces. (Bill) Bernhard, (Red) Donahiue and the other pitchers looked on him with voiceless astonishment. He was a Rube Waddell, a Cy Young, a John Clarkson, a Charles Radbourn and Eddie Beaton [sic, Beatin], and a Clark Griffith combined in one.

“Shettsline told him to come to the office the next day and signa contract. That night we all had dreams of the pennant and of the consternation the new pitcher’s debut would create in the ranks of the other clubs.”

But it was not to be.

“He disappeared as suddenly as he appeared and as completely as if he had jumped into the muddy waters of the Schuylkill. Detectives hired by the club hunted high and low for him, and we even advertised in the papers, but we got no trace of him whatever.

“And never before and never since have I seen such a marvelous exhibition of masterful pitching as that unknown man in shirtsleeves and overalls gave that day in the presence of the most famous hitting team ever organized.”

“Now Everyone has to be a Star”

19 May

Charles Hazen Morton played, managed, and served as a minor league executive. He was Moses Fleetwood Walker’s manager in Toledo in 1884 and caused a brief sensation when he went missing for two months and turned up with no recollection of what happened.

Seven months before his disappearance, Morton, who was then president of the Pennsylvania-Ohio League, said something to The Detroit Free Press that made him an outlier among players from the 19th Century:

“At last an old-time baseball player has come forward and acknowledged that the game as it is now played in the big leagues is speedier and better than it was in the so-called ‘good old days.’”

“We hear a lot about the old star players during the years when I was a player. Of course we had good men then and we played good games, but it always has seemed rather foolish to me to compare these men with the ones who are in baseball at present.

“Our facilities were crude then and even if improvement had been made in the player’s physical makeup, the improvements in apparatus, gloves, and such would put the present day player in a class far removed from that of the men who were engaged in the game in my time.”

morton1909

Charles Hazen Morton

Morton said the hitters in his day had it easier because pitchers “When I played ball knew much less about curves, the ‘spit’ ball was unheard of, and many little things which contribute to pitching success had not been devised.”

As for strategy, Morton said:

“The squeeze play, the hit and run and a lot of other combinations of patting and base running which are supposed of be of modern invention were practiced then, but not to the extent they are now.”

Morton said, “I recall the squeeze play as early as 1883, but it was not worked extensively. Such plays were considered ‘freaks,’” and rare.

And, he said:

“(To) say that the men engaged in baseball then covered more ground, hit harder and were more graceful fielders is ridiculous. It would be a sad thing to think that our great national game had not kept pace with other American institutions and had not progressed in twenty years. Nobody ever hit the ball any harder than (Honus) Wagner and (Napoleon) Lajoie, nobody ever fielded faster than a half dozen big league men do now.”

wagnerwbat

Honus Wagner

While, the great players were just as good, the average players were better:

“In the old days, each team had a few stars—now everyone has to be a star, or the manager is looking for somebody else to take his place.”

Morton said, “good old days are nice to look back a upon,” but he said:

“I can find more to admire, more to enthuse over, and more to enjoy in modern baseball than I could back in the 80s.”

“Almost Every Ballplayer has his Individual Superstition”

4 May

“Almost every ballplayer has his individual superstition,” said The Philadelphia Record in 1918:

On days when Cy Young pitched, “he would always see that the bat boy placed the bats with the handles towards the infield,” Young would not tolerate crossed bats.

“Christy Mathewson always placed his glove, face up, near the sideline, and would never allow anyone to hand it to him when returning to the box.”

Bob Harmon wore his hat crookedly on the right side of his head during his first big league win, and “always wore his cap on one side of his head when working.”

harmon

Harmon

Philadelphia’s two former aces, Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, had theirs:

“Bender always pitched his glove to the sideline as he walked out of the box, He never was known to lay it down. He would get his signal from the catcher and step into the box from behind and always right foot first…Plank would never warm up with a new ball on the days he worked. He always hung his sweater on a certain nail in the dugout and ‘woe be unto’ the player who moved it.”

Eddie Collins—arguably the most superstitious player among his contemporaries— “has a certain way to put on his uniform. He always dresses from his feet up.”

Johnny Evers—who believed himself to be one of the most superstitious among his contemporaries— “always believes that his club would win if he put one stocking on with the wrong side out.”

evers2

Johnny Evers

Napoleon Lajoie and Honus Wagner’s superstitions were tied to bats:

“Lajoie had a certain bat which he used in the game and under no conditions would he allow anyone to use it, for the reason that the player using it might get a hit which really belonged to the owner of the bat…Wagner would never allow a player or bat boy to make any move to disarrange the bats or to start putting them away until the last man was out in the last inning, no matter how the score stood.”

Prince Hal Chase, said the paper, believed he could not get a hit “unless he spits in his hands and touches his cap before a pitcher delivers a ball.”

“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.

johnlsullivan

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.

kingkelly

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.

lajoie

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.”

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:

leetgriffith

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.

lajoie

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 for 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.”

“That Night I was as Chesty as a Pouter Pigeon”

23 Aug

Red Donahue spent five seasons, and part of a sixth, during his 13-year major league career as a teammate of Napoleon Lajoie. In 1905, he told The Cleveland News that before they became teammates for the first time in 1898:

“For just a few days once, I imagined I had discovered how to cut down Larry’s batting average.

“I was with the Cardinals and Lajoie was with Philadelphia, when someone told me the big Frenchman could not hit a slow ball. When my turn came to face the Phillies, I handed up a slow teaser to Lajoie and he hit the ball to me for an easy out. Four times I tossed him out at first and each time on a high slow one.

red

Donahue

“That night I was as chesty as a pouter pigeon and told the other pitchers to hand slow ones to Larry and he was easy money. Later, I again pitched against the Phillies and with visions of retiring the king I cut a fast wide one over and followed it with a slow ball just like those he had failed to get out of the diamond the last time I faced him.

lajoie.JPG

Lajoie

“Well, Larry met the ball and it went out of the lot. Next time I served him a high fast one, but the result was the same. He had a three-base hit.  I tried everything I had that day, but no matter where the ball went, high, low, wide or in close. Fast or slow, when Larry got ready to wallop it he did, and I was chalked up with four hits to my discredit.”

Everyone had Donahue’s number in 1896 and ’97–he was 17-59 with a 5.99 ERA—in 1898 he joined Lajoie in Philadelphia.

Lost Advertisements: An Interview with Lajoie

5 Jul

nap.jpg

“This superb ball player was almost lost to the game. He tells the public how he saved himself this spring.”

A 1903 advertisement for Father John’s Medicine. The ad said that Lajoie, “the best paid and greatest ball player in the world,” had been thrown “into an illness which lasted all winter and spring, after the 1902 season. Lajoie said:

“During my illness I did not begin to improve till I took Father John’s Medicine. It quickly built up my body to its former strength and made me active as at any time in my career. Now I carry a bottle of the medicine with me on the trips with my club and it keeps me well all the time.”

Lajoie, a popular endorser of patent medicines, and back to his “former strength” won his third consecutive batting title in 1903.