Tag Archives: Nashville Volunteers

“Hard Luck” Harry Welchonce

23 Nov

In January of 1913, as Harry Monroe Welchonce was preparing for his fourth attempt to stick with a major league club, The Washington Herald said:

“Welchonce is one of the most unfortunate young men that ever tried to get a steady job in the majors.”

He did not make his professional debut until he was 25-years-old.  He worked as a telegraph operator for the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad while playing amateur ball in Pennsylvania until 1909 when he signed to play with the Steubenville Stubs in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League.

Harry Welchonce

Harry Welchonce

A .321 hitter over seven minor league seasons, Welchonce was purchased by three major league teams—The Phillies, Dodgers, and Senators—and went to spring training at least five times with big league teams, but earned just one 26-game trial with Phillies in 1911. He hit just .212 and made two errors in 17 games.

After failing to make the Senators in 1912, he hit a Southern Association leading .333 for the Nashville Volunteers, earning himself another spring trial with Washington.  The Washington Times said of him:

“(Welchonce) is said to have the abilities of a major leaguer without the inside adornment. In other words, he is easily disheartened. This is said to have caused his failure with the Phillies three years ago.”

While under the headline “Welchonce is Hard Luck Guy,” The Herald attempted to explain his big league failures:

“Welchonce is one of the most unfortunate young men that ever tried to get a steady job in the majors. He has always batted for more than .300 in the minor leagues, and he has the natural speed and ability to make good in the majors.

“Welchonce is a telegraph operator, and his hard luck really dates from several summers ago.  He was seated at his key at Indiana, PA, one afternoon, when a thunderstorm came up. A bolt of lightning shattered a tree outside his office and he was a long time recovering from the shock…He joined the Phillies (in 1910), and his dashy work made a big hit in the training camp at Southern Pines (North Carolina)

“The team had been there only about a week when lightning struck the hotel and a ball of fire ran down into a room in which Johnny Bates, Welchonce, (Lou) Schettler, and (Jim) Moroney were sleeping. The players were all badly scared, and the shock was such that Welchonce did not get over it.”

A contemporary account of the incident in The Philadelphia Inquirer said all four players were badly shaken and that “Welchonce was the first to recover his speech.”  The Associated Press said all four players “were covered with plaster and debris from the ceiling,” and that Schettler “could not talk for two hours.”

Adding to Welchonce’s woes in 1910 was an injured shoulder, or as The Philadelphia North American put it: “(He) still plays with a wrenched shoulder and it affects the fleet youngster’s batting. He can only get a very ladylike swing at the sphere.”

The Phillies sent Welchonce to the South Bend Bronchos in the Central League.  He hit .315, leading South Bend to the pennant.

The Times picked up the story:

“(In 1911) he took the training trip to Birmingham, Alabama (with the Phillies).Again it looked as if Harry would give (John) Titus a hard battle for right field honors.  Then came more hard luck. One of Earl Moore’s cross-fire slants struck Welchonce in the head, and Harry went to a hospital in Birmingham for several days. “

The contemporary account in The Inquirer said that he did not lose consciousness, but “was sick to his stomach,” and quoted a doctor saying he suffered from “nervous shock.”  When he was released from the hospital three days later, the paper said, “He looks weak and colorless.”

He failed to make the Senators again in 1913 and was released to the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association again and led the league with a .338.

Welchonce returned to Atlanta in 1914, and so did his “hard luck.”

He was hospitalized at the end of the April with pneumonia and was out for much of May.  By late June, The Atlanta Constitution said he was “Back in Stride,” and he was again hitting above .300.  But his season came to end in August when he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis.  The Atlanta Journal said he “Went to Ashville, North Carolina for the mountain air,” and treatment.

Atlanta held a benefit game and various other fundraisers and presented Welchonce with a check for $883.10.

Welchonce recovered, but not enough to rejoin the Crackers the following season.  He returned to his job with the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad and managed the company’s baseball team.

He returned to pro ball in 1915, accepting an offer from the  to be player-manager of the Texas League club.

welchoncedallas

Welchonce, 1915

He played fairly well, hitting .297, but the Giants were a last place club and Welchonce became ill again in August and retired from professional baseball.

He again returned to the railroad and management of the company baseball team until 1920, when poor health necessitated a move to the West.  He settled first in Denver where he was employed as an accountant, and later Arcadia, California where “Hard Luck” Harry lived to age 93.  He died in 1977.

“I Consider him a Weak, Foolish Talker”

13 Nov

Bill Phyle was a no-show.  He failed to appear before Southern Association President William Kavanaugh at the league’s hearing regarding his charges that the end of the 1903 season was fixed.  After the league suspended him he failed to appear in St. Louis to defend his charges in front of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL).  He claimed he was too ill to attend either meeting.

As a result he was expelled from organized baseball in October of 1903.  His appeal was denied in December.

Phyle had very few supporters by the time his fate was settled by the NAPBL, but he still had at least one—kind of:  Milwaukee Brewers Manager “Pongo” Joe Cantillon, the man who sold Phyle’s contract to the Memphis Egyptians.

Joe Cantillon

Joe Cantillon

Cantillon told William A. Phelon of The Chicago Daily News that his former player wasn’t too bright, but that he also wasn’t wrong:

“I consider him a weak, foolish talker, who opened his head when it did not do him any good.  Just the same, Billy Phyle had cause for the charges which he made, and I got it good and straight that there was work done in the Southern league last season which was on the scandalous pattern.”

Cantillon stopped short of saying the season was fixed—but not very far short:

“Understand I do not say, neither does Phyle charge, that any games were sold, or that either manager or club owners were in on any such deals.   Even though there are thousands who say—apparently with mighty good reason—that the league is crooked, always has been crooked since it started, and always will be crooked—I do not accuse anyone of selling out.”

Cantillon then came pretty close to accusing Atlanta of selling out:

“This is the way the thing was done—and if anybody wants to howl I’ll show the goods and produce the names.  When Memphis was playing Atlanta it was a case of anything to beat out Little Rock.  The Atlanta players, knowing that their only chances had gone glimmering, were anxious to help their friend’s to beat Mike Finn’s gang (Little Rock).  There was no sell out and there were no intentional errors—nothing so gross and coarse as that.  But a couple of the best regulars on the Atlanta team were laid off; a couple of substitutes were put in their places; a raw, unseasoned amateur was sent in to pitch, and then, to make assurances doubly sure, the Atlanta catcher told each Memphis batsman just what to expect as he came to the plate.”

Cantillon also said the Birmingham Barons were “trying to help (Little Rock) along,” and:

“Every player in the league was dead wise to the whole situation, but Billy Phyle was the only man who was foolish enough to open his face, and he got soaked proper.”

Cantillon claimed to “positively know” that Phyle had been sick, and that was the only reason he failed to appear to substantiate his claims in front the league and the NAPBL.  Regardless, he said Phyle would have had a difficult time:

“Even if he had been able to attend, what show would he have had, with every manager determined to clear his own skirts and swat Bill for the squeal he made?”

Cantillon challenged anyone in the Southern Association to refute his allegations.

In February of 1904 Cantillon cancelled a scheduled spring tour of the South and Phelon said in The Daily News that Southern Association teams had refused to play against Brewers.

The following month Clark Griffith, who was in the South with the New York Highlanders, told The Atlanta Constitution that Cantillon was “ a nice fellow,” who “had been misquoted and had not authorized the interview, and in fact knew nothing of it until it appeared in the press.”

Cantillon himself never directly denied his statement, but The Constitution, content to keep the focus of Southern wrath on Phyle was happy to give the Milwaukee manager a pass:

“(Griffith’s claim) puts a new light on the question and it is very probable that he has been judged too harshly in the south…Phyle as a baseball issue is now dead.  Any effort to revive him and bring him forward on the stage either as a hero suffering persecution or a sick man worrying his life out by the blacklist hanging over him, will meet with the opposition of every paper in the south.”

Phyle went to Toledo and spent the spring and summer wiring Southern Association President Kavanaugh asking for reinstatement so his contract could be assigned to the Mud Hens.  After his application was rejected in May, and again in July, Phyle joined the independent Youngstown Ohio Works team.  The team played exhibition games that summer with the Brooklyn Superbas and Pittsburgh Pirates—both National League clubs were fined $100 for playing against the blacklisted Phyle.

(Some sources list Phyle as a member of the 1904 Johnstown Johnnies in the independent Pennsylvania League, but several Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Williamsport Gazette and The Scranton  Republican said in August “Phyle turned down a $225 per month offer from Johnstown.”)

Phyle became part of another scandal in 1905.

Bill Phyle

Bill Phyle

Youngstown joined the newly formed Ohio-Pennsylvania League, and needed to submit a roster to the NAPBL for approval.  Phyle’s name did not appear on the submitted list, but he played third base for the club all season, including an exhibition with the Cincinnati Reds on August 31. Youngstown was fined $500 in mid September and ordered to release Phyle.  Cincinnati was fined $100.

Phyle was finally reinstated in February of 1906, after he submitted a letter to the directors of the Southern Association retracting all of his 1903 allegations.

His contract was assigned to the Nashville Volunteers who sold him to the Kansas City Blues in the American Association.  After hitting .295 in 72 games, Phyle got one last trip to the National League.  He was traded to the St. Louis; he hit just .178 for the Cardinals.  He retired after playing three years in the Eastern League with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1907-1909.

More than twenty years later Joe Cantillon was apparently forgiven in the South.  He managed the Little Rock Travelers to back-to-back eighth place finishes in 1926 and 1927.

The rest of Bill Phyle’s story next week.

“Demoralizing a Successful Organization For the Sake of a Few Unimportant, Mediocre Ball Players”

19 Sep

When Charlie Babb jumped from the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association to the Memphis Egyptians in the Southern Association in June of 1902, he was not alone.

Pitcher Jim St. Vrain, recently released by the Chicago Orphans and under contract with the Tacoma Tigers in the Pacific Northwest League, signed with Memphis rather than going to Tacoma.

Another American Association player, Second baseman Bill Evans of the Columbus Senators, also jumped to Memphis.  The Cincinnati Enquirer said he jumped being suspended by the Senators for being “too drunk” to take the field on June 18.

Memphis manager Charlie Frank’s three new players would be a source of controversy in the Southern Association for the remainder of the season and a continuation of an ongoing feud over the league’s salary limit which The Sporting Life said: “a majority of the clubs are known to have violated.”

Charlie Frank

Charlie Frank

Southern Association President John Bailey Nicklin, acting on orders from Patrick T. Powers, president of National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL), ordered Frank not to play any of the three.  Frank not only defied the order but according to The Atlanta Constitution, gave Nicklin a “lecture in abuse,” and threatened to “break the league.”

Throughout July, the situation became increasingly absurd.

On July 11 Nicklin ordered umpire Ed Cline (the same Ed Cline who may, or may not, have initially approached Babb about jumping) to not allow St. Vrain to pitch against the Nashville Volunteers, managed by Frank’s biggest ally in the league, Isaac Newton “Ike” FisherThe Atlanta Constitution said Cline became mysteriously “sick and could not work,” although he “was upon the grounds while the game was being played.”  St. Vrain and the Egyptians beat the Volunteers 8 to 5 with “Red” Ehret and Nashville’s Bill Dammann acting as umpires.

After the game Frank was suspended for 10 games and threatened with being blacklisted if he played St. Vrain again.  Later that week Frank received a temporary injunction allowing him to continue using St. Vrain. And while Babb and Evans had been suspended by the league and were not covered by the ruling, Frank continued to put both in the lineup.  Frank also continued to manage the team despite his own suspension.

On July 25 Frank was again ordered by Nicklin not to play Babb and Evans.  This time, he complied, for one day.  The two players sat out an 8 to 4 victory over Atlanta (St. Vrain pitched for Memphis).  Both were again in the lineup the following day, and on July 27 Frank filed a suit against the league and Nicklin seeking $10,000 in damages.  He also sought and received an injunction “restraining President Nicklin from interfering with the playing of Babb and Evans.”

The Constitution began calling the team the “Memphis Injunctionists.”

The Sporting Life said Frank was:

“Demoralizing a successful organization for the sake of a few unimportant, mediocre ball players.”

Nicklin, the league, and the NAPBL blinked first.

Two days after the suit was filed an agreement was reached.  Babb and Evans would remain with Memphis and were reinstated from suspension; the fourth place Egyptians agreed to forfeit every game in which Babb and Evans participated in while under suspension—dropping the team to fifth place.

The controversy appeared to be over.  It wasn’t.

On August 4 the Egyptians arrived at Athletic Park in New Orleans to play the second place Pelicans.  The New Orleans Times-Picayune said:

“Under orders of (Pelicans) manager Abner Powell a big policeman today refused admission to St, Vrain, Evans and Babb, of the Memphis club, when they tried to enter.”

The game was canceled

The following day:

“Manager Frank again took his team to out to the park, but admission was refused to St. Vrain, Evans and Babb.”

The umpire, picked by the Pelicans, “declared the game forfeited to New Orleans,” and Powell shared with the press a telegram from the Little Rock Travelers which read:

“Congratulations upon your firm methods.  We will stand with you.”

Despite the earlier agreement, the NAPBL announced that Frank and St. Vrain were still under suspension.

Jim St. Vrain

Jim St. Vrain

On August 9 the Shreveport Giants refused to allow St. Vrain into the ballpark for a double-header.  Memphis took the field for each game with only eight players and no pitcher.  They forfeited both games to the Giants.

Memphis was due to travel to Little Rock for a three-game series from the 11th through the 13th.  The Travelers announced that they “would not play with St. Vrain and Frank in the game.  Babb and Evans will be allowed to play (but) under protest.”

On August 12 Nicklin resigned at a meeting of league owners in Chattanooga (Memphis and Nashville refused to attend).  He said he was “almost helpless to enforce the rules of the league,” because of Frank’s numerous injunctions.  He was replaced by vice president William Kavanaugh.  A motion was passed to suspend Frank and St. Vrain indefinitely, but Babb and Evans were officially reinstated.  Again.

In response, Frank filed another $10,000 lawsuit naming every team in the league except Nashville.

On August 27 in Nashville, St. Vrain started for Memphis.  President Kavanaugh fined Nashville $1000 and “suspended that club for the balance of the season,” he threatened “drastic measures’ towards Memphis as well, but for the several injunctions that kept him from acting.  Two days later the suspension was lifted.

On August 30 a Little Rock judge enjoined Frank from “playing or attempting to play St. Vrain in any state.”

The Atlanta Constitution headline summed up the opinion of most Southern baseball fans on September 22:

To The Relief of All the Season is Now Over

As an appropriate end, Memphis beat Atlanta on the final day of the season behind the pitching of the still suspended Jim St. Vrain.

The no longer suspended Nashville Volunteers won the pennant.

The Indianapolis Indians, the team Charlie Babb jumped, won the American Association pennant.

Charlie Babb

Charlie Babb

The Indianapolis papers had predicted that Babb’s career would be doomed when he jumped.  In 1903, he was purchased by the New York Giants.  He played in the National League with the Giants and Brooklyn Superbas through the 1905 season.  In 1906, he became a minor league player/manager; with the Memphis Egyptians.  He stayed with Memphis until 1910 and managed to become embroiled in one more controversy.

Jim St. Vrain was only 19-years-old during that 1902 season.  He finished 12-4 with Memphis.  He went to the West Coast in 1903.  His career was over after the 1905 season.

Bill Evans played in the Southern Association until 1906; he eventually became a member of three different teams who refused to play against him in 1902: New Orleans, Shreveport, and Little Rock.

Charlie Frank did just fine in the end.  More on that next week.

“He was Not Crazy as Reported”

18 Jul

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

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

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

Erve Beck

Erve Beck

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

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

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

Ed Ashenbach

Ed Ashenbach (Ashenback)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beck would never return to the big leagues.

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

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

That stop would last for only one game.

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

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

The following day The Chronicle said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filling in the Blanks—F. Bassett

7 Jan

Baseball Reference lists the manager of the 1903 Hopkinsville Browns of the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League simply as F. Bassett—something of a slight to a man whose obituary in The Chicago Tribune called him “The Father of the Kitty League.”

Dr. Frank Houston Bassett was born in Stephensport, Kentucky in 1873, and grew up in Hopkinsville.

Bassett, who came from a wealthy family, played with semi-professional teams in Hopkinsville in his 20s.  Late in 1902 Bassett began trying to line up cities in Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee and Indiana to form a new professional league; by February of 1903 the eight-team league was formed.

Frank Houston Bassett

Frank Houston Bassett

Bassett owned, managed and played for the Browns.

Very few records survive for the Kitty League’s first season and no statistics for Bassett can be found.  The only reference to his abilities as a player came years later in an article in The Kentucky New Era which included a quote from Scott Means.  Means, a well-known amateur and professional player in Hopkinsville who played in the Kitty in 1913, saw Bassett play:

“Doc Bassett was a very good fielder.  Only trouble was he couldn’t hit.”

Bassett continued to own the Hopkinsville franchise, renamed the Hoppers for 1905 until the team was dropped from the league in July in order to keep a balanced schedule after the Henderson Hens disbanded.  The first incarnation of the league ended the following season.

Bassett maintained the Hoppers as a semi-professional team for the 2nd half of 1905 and all of 1906.  He then became an umpire in the Cotton States League and the Southern Association.  He also entered medical school.

In the spring of 1909, Bassett was the subject of a feature in The Chicago American after he had umpired an exhibition between the Cubs and the Nashville Volunteers.  The article said Bassett was worth more than $100,000 and had an income from investments of “$500 a month…and umpires for the love of it.”

The American noted that Bassett owned a car, “a forty horsepower French machine,” and drove it 72 miles from Hopkinsville to umpire Southern Association games in Nashville.  Bassett said:

 “I run over in the machine every day before the game and return in the evening.”

In 1910 Bassett helped to resurrect the Kitty League and was named President before the 1912 season; as he would continue to do throughout the league’s many incarnations Bassett used his personal fortune to keep the league afloat by financing the Evansville Yankees.

Frank Houston Bassett

Frank Houston Bassett

He was re-elected president for the next two seasons, but the financially troubled league folded again after the 1914 season.  An attempt to revive the league in 1915 failed, and after being revived again for 1916 the league folded in August.

Bassett seems to have temporarily lost interest in professional baseball in Kentucky and turned to politics.  He became a city commissioner in Hopkinsville in 1916 and became mayor in 1918; he served until 1922 when he was elected Court Clerk of Christian County.

In 1922, he again helped to revive the Kitty league; this version lasted for three seasons but was plagued by the same financial difficulties that doomed its predecessors.

Bassett tried again after a decade and was the driving force in reorganizing the league in 1935.  He was named president, secretary and treasurer of the new six-team league.

Bassett served for three seasons as president.  The league meeting after the 1937 season was contentious and several league owners felt Bassett had been a weak leader, and objected to his indifference in maintaining accurate statistics for the league and his opposition to night baseball.

There are a number of versions of what transpired.  Most sources say that after being re-elected Bassett left the meeting and team owners then voted him out; others say he, in effect, resigned by leaving—sometimes even the same source disagrees.  Some accounts in The Kentucky New Era said Bassett was ousted; others said he “became disgusted” and resigned.

In either case, night baseball was the primary issue that ended Bassett’s presidency.  The league would not survive without it and Bassett was dead set against it.   The New Era said:

 “The good doc contends that if baseball was supposed to be played after supper, nature would have made it light enough to see.”

With the exception of a few occasions when he was honored in Hopkinsville, Bassett seldom attended games after 1937 citing his hatred for night baseball.

He continued to serve as Christian County’s court clerk until his death in 1950.

Two weeks after Bassett’s death the Hopkinsville Hoppers held a memorial for him before their game with the Owensboro Oilers—it was a night game.

Blame it on the Uniform

3 Jan

Justin Titus “Pug” Bennett could hit.  After playing baseball at tiny Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois, in 1895 and ’96, there’s no record of him again until 1899 when, at 25-years-old, he played with the Indiana-Illinois League franchise that began the season in Kokomo, Indiana and finished in Mattoon, Illinois.

Pug Bennett circa 1904

Pug Bennett circa 1904

Back-to-back .300 seasons with the Nashville Volunteers in the Southern Association and the Seattle Siwashes in the Pacific Coast League earned the 32-year-old his first shot in the Major leagues.  The Bennett hit .248 for two seasons with the Saint Louis Cardinals and returned to the minor leagues with Seattle, now in the Northwestern League.

Bennett returned to his old ways for two seasons, hitting .305 and a league leading .314 in 1908 and 1909.

1910 was not going well for Bennett, the perennial .300 hitter was hovering around .240 all season.

The Spokane-Spokesman Review provided an explanation late in the season:

“(Bennett) claims the white uniform worn by the umpires is the principal stumbling block in the way of batting averages this year.  Bennett says the light suits shade the white ball and make any pitcher with a crossfire or a sharp break much more effective.”

Bennett might have had a point.  There was not a single hitter in the Northwestern League with more than 50 at bats who hit .300;  Lou Nordyke led the league with a .290 average.

The following year the umpires’ uniforms were changed.  Ten players hit over .300 and Art Bues led the league with a .352 average.  The 37-year-old Bennett, with the Vancouver Beavers, rebounded with a .300 season.

Pug Bennet, t-206 card with Vancouver

Pug Bennet, t-206 card with Vancouver

Bennett continued playing in the Northwestern League until 1917.  He lived in Washington until his death in 1935.