Tag Archives: National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues

“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.

“An Almost Complete Surrender”

23 Sep

At the close of the Southern Association’s tumultuous 1902 season league president William Kavanaugh, and the majority of the team owners, led by the New Orleans Pelicans’ Abner Powell, set out to oust Charlie Frank of the Memphis Egyptians.

Charlie Frank

Charlie Frank

After a decade as a player, including two seasons with the St. Louis Browns in the National League, Frank was one of the founding members of the new Southern Association in 1901 and became the president and manager of the Memphis Egyptians.

The Atlanta Constitution said that right from the beginning Frank became “the storm center for southern baseball politics… (He) was constantly engaged in some sort of furious baseball litigation.”

After signing three players–Jim St. Vrain, Charlie Babb,  and Bill Evans—who were under contract with other teams during the 1902 season, Frank became embroiled in a months-long legal battle with the league and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL).

In October of 1902, Frank lost his legal battle, and it was thought that the time was right to force him out.  The New Orleans Times-Picayune said Powell and Kavanaugh were “confident that a new party” would take over the Memphis franchise and “do much better than the old.”

Powell, Kavanaugh, and the other league owners overestimated their influence in Southern baseball and underestimated Frank’s.

While Powell and company were trying to find a replacement for Frank, he was creating a new league.  The Constitution said:

“(Frank) determined to organize an outlaw league, got financial backing in Memphis and actually formed a circuit.”

The problem for the Powell group was that Frank’s proposed league, and its investors, were more financially sound than the existing league.  Charlie Frank challenged the Southern Association again, and again the Southern Association blinked.

Rather than losing the league, the other team owners accepted every one of Frank’s demands and welcomed him back.

The Associated Press called it “an almost complete surrender,” by the Powell-Kavanaugh contingent:

“Charles Frank retains the Memphis franchise; Memphis club and Frank restored to good standing; Memphis will be paid for all losses sustained during last season, on account of unplayed games, legal costs, etc…”

Additionally, Frank saw to it that every investor in his “new league” was reimbursed for their costs; the Association covered “all obligations made by the promoters,” including honoring the contracts of all players who had been signed, most of whom were absorbed into Southern Association teams.  Additionally, Chattanooga, Tennessee was dropped from the league and a franchise in Montgomery, Alabama was “awarded to the promoters” of Frank’s “new league.”

It was estimated that Frank received $5,000 in the settlement.  He put some of that money towards building a solid team for 1903, winning his first pennant.  Memphis won again in 1904; early in the season, Frank handed over the managerial reins to Lew Whistler.

Lew Whistler

Lew Whistler

In 1905, Frank became president, principal owner, and manager of the New Orleans Pelicans, and promptly led them to a pennant— in spite of a Yellow Fever epidemic in New Orleans which required the team to relocate to Atlanta for part of the season.  Frank’s Pelicans also won pennants in 1910 and ’11.  He sold his interest in the team after the 1911 season but remained manager for two more years.

Charlie Frank's 1910 New Orleans Pelicans

Charlie Frank’s 1910 New Orleans Pelicans

In 1916 Frank returned to the Southern association again, organizing a stock company to purchase the Atlanta Crackers.  He managed Atlanta to a fifth place finish in 1916, and then won pennants in 1917 and ’19.

Frank sold his majority interest in the Crackers in May of 1921 but continued to manage the team.  In May of 1922, he resigned citing poor health—he died in Memphis three weeks later.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #4

22 May

A Ballplayers Hands

Joe Ardner played second base in the National League for the Cleveland Blues in 1884 and the Cleveland Spiders in 1890; he played another 12 years in the minors.  In 1888 he was with the Kansas City Blues in Western League and provided the following explanation of the care and maintenance of an infielder’s hands:

“A ballplayer’s hands should not be hard, they should be soft.  When my hands are in perfect condition they are almost as soft as a lady’s.  Hard hands on a ballplayer will crack and get sore, but when the skin is pliable and tough there is little danger of the hands bruising, cracking or puffing.  Some folks imagine a ballplayer’s hands to be as hard as a board, but they are wrong.”

Joe Ardner

Joe Ardner

They have realized that the Umpire is Almost Human

National League President Harry Clay Pulliam was very pleased with how civilized his league had become by 1908.  In an interview with The Chicago Tribune he said:

“The game is getting cleaner all the time.  Why, I’ve only suspended about half a dozen men this year, to about forty last year, and I want to say that the players are trying harder to keep the game clean…They have realized that the umpires are almost human.  It’s business with the player now, and they’re banking instead of boozing…It’s a grand game, clean, wholesome, and it’s the spirit of contest that gives it its virility.  Civic pride is another vital adjunct to it.  Every town likes to have its own team a winner.  Sort of local pride or another form of patriotism, I call it.”

Harry Pulliam--National League President

Harry Pulliam–National League President

Soo League Night Games

The Copper Country Soo League was recognized as a league for the first time by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues in 1905; its last season in operation.  The four-team league located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was made up of mining towns along the Soo Line Railroad: the Calumet Aristocrats, the Sault Ste. Marie Soos, the Hancock Infants and the Lake Linden Lakers.

Nearly no records or roster information survives, other than that three future Major Leaguers played in the league: Donie Bush and Fred Luderus played for Sault Ste. Marie and Pat Paige played for Calumet.

In an effort to boost sagging attendance in June, the league first  attempted to merge with the Northern League, and when that effort failed announced a scheduling change.

The Duluth News-Tribune said:

“An innovation…will be introduced by managers of the clubs comprising the Copper Country Soo League.  Owing to the peculiar conditions which exist in some of the cities, it has been decided to play some of the games after supper as an experiment as it is believed the attendance will be larger.”

The Chicago Tribune‘s Hugh Fullerton said:

“(I)n the copper country baseball depends on miners for support…the plan proved quite a success…The miners would come out of their shift at 6 o’clock, the games were called at 6:30 and finished about 8:30 at twilight.  There were few games called by darkness.”

While the move helped three of the teams at the gate, the Sault Ste. Marie Soos failed to draw fans and disbanded late in August.

Calumet won the championship, and along with Hancock and Lake Linden  merged with the Northern league to form the Northern-Copper Country League–Calumet won the league’s first championship in 1906, playing a schedule of day games.

 

Future Phillies star Fred Luderus was a 19-year-old rookie with the Sault Ste. Marie Soos

Future Phillies star Fred Luderus was a 19-year-old rookie with the Sault Ste. Marie Soos