Tag Archives: Ned Williamson

“I was in Sort of a Trembling Condition”

19 Jul

When George Van Haltren joined the Chicago White Stockings as a pitcher in June of 1887, California newspapers followed his progress closely.

After a disastrous first start on June 27, Van Haltren was used in relief and in right field until July 5, when he started for Chicago against the New York Giants.

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Van Haltren

The Chicago Tribune said that likely “not one of each hundred of the 7000” fans in attendance thought the White Stockings would win with the rookie on the mound:

“(T)here were many who feared that the Giants would ‘get into’ the young man and hammer out a victory.”

Van Haltren beat the Giants 15-3, allowing just one earned run in the ninth inning when he experienced a bout of the wildness that plagued his first start, and walked three batters.

The Sacramento Daily Record-Union sent a reporter to Chicago who provided West Coast fans with the first interview of “The California Wonder” since he headed East:

“George Van Haltren, hot, tired, and dusty, but with a most excusable look of triumph on his face, walked into the White Stockings clubhouse at close of today’s ‘toying’ with the New York Giants and seated himself in a chair. The crowning test of his ability as a pitcher had come and been triumphantly met.”

The reporter asked “the well-tried young pitcher,” about to embark on his first road trip with the club, how he was being accepted in Chicago:

“I’ve been treated like a prince and feel sorry that we are going away even for three weeks. Talk about Southern hospitality, if it’s anything better than what I’ve experienced here, I want to go South.”

Van Haltren was asked to compare baseball on the West Coast to the National League:

“Oh, players are very much more finished, of course, and in some respects the game is almost a new one to me. There is fielding, for instance; why, if my old partners in San Francisco could see the way the ball comes into the diamond from the field in Chicago, it would make their hair stand on end.”

But, said Van Haltren, he wasn’t necessarily having a harder time in Chicago:

“On the contrary, I’ve been most agreeably surprised in that respect. You see, there I was almost expected to strike three out of every five men who faced me, and when I came here, of course, I expected that against famous sluggers of the National League I should have to get down to just so much harder playing. Shortly after my arrival here, however, Captain Anson told me that I was not expected to do anything of the sort. There are outfielders in the Chicago nine, he said, and it was part of their business to look after balls that were knocked into the field. All I was expected to do was play good ball, and if batsmen knocked me hard, men on the outside of the diamond were to attend to the rest.”

He said he was treated well by his teammates:

“I was a stranger, and they took me in and treated me in such a way that now I feel perfectly at home. They are gentlemen from way back, and I would not ask for better company.”

Anson then interjected:

“The satisfaction is mutual my boy, and don’t let it slip your memory.”

Van Haltren was then asked about his disastrous first start—after four strong innings, the rookie walked 14 batter and hit four, although most sources said umpire Herm Doescher did the pitcher no favors:

 “Well, that was a bitter dose. When I went on the ground that day my heart was in my throat and stayed there until I had struck out the first Boston batsman to face me (Joe Hornung), the it went down nearer its natural place, but all through the game I was in sort of a trembling condition. It might not have been so bad if Doescher had given me a fair show.”

He said by the end of the game:

“I wished that I had never come East of the Rocky Mountains. That was an awful roast.

‘”Should say it was,’ growled big Edward Williamson, the Chicago shortstop, who was gravely killing flies on the wall, smashing them with his baseball pants. ‘It is a wonder the colt didn’t break down entirely,’ and the speaker made a vicious lunge at an unusually big bluebottle fly.”

He said he had just one regret; he had been informed that day that Tom Daly would no longer be his catcher for his starts. The Tribune said of his performance during the game with the Giants that, “Daly’s work behind the bat was little short of phenomenal and was best ever seen on the grounds.”

daly

Daly

Van Haltren told the California reporter:

“I am only sorry I am going to lose Daly, who has been catching for me. He is the greatest man behind the bat I ever saw, and I think that he’s the only man can hold (Mark) Baldwin’s terrific delivery, and so I am to have (Dell) Darling. He of course is a first-class man, too, but Daly caught first for me and I am sorry to lose him.”

In closing he asked the reporter to:

“Be sure to tell my California friends that I am enjoying myself.”

Van Haltren was 11-7 with a 3.86 ERA as the White Stocking’s third starter; he also played 27 games in the outfield and hit .206 for the third place White Stockings.

“I am not Fool Enough to Give $25,000 for one man”

12 Jul

A.G. Spalding sold Abner Dalrymple, George Gore and King Kelly before the 1887 season. Having sent the message that no player on the Chicago roster was untouchable, William Albert Nimick, owner of the Pittsburgh Alleghenys approached the White Stockings owner with an offer on September 23.  In a letter to Spalding, printed in The Pittsburgh Post, Nimick wrote:

“Dear Sir—If there is any truth in the rumors that A.C. Anson’s release can be obtained, the Pittsburgh baseball club, knowing his ability as manager, captain and player, is willing to pay for his release, the largest sum ever offered for a single player, viz: $15,000. Be kind enough to let me know at once if you will consider this offer.”

nimick

Nimick

Spalding responded to Nimick:

“Dear Sir—Yours of the 23rd inst. Containing the unprecedented offer for the release of Captain Anson just received. I confess to some surprise at the amount named and if we seriously thought of releasing Anson it would prove a very tempting proposition. My personal relations with him have always been of such a satisfactory nature that I would hate to lose him. About all that I can say at present in reply to your offer is that should we decide to release him you will be advised of that fact before anything is done.”

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 Anson

Nimick told The Post he took Spalding’s letter as an indication that “There is still some hope of our getting Anson.” He said if he could not get Anson, he would be able to acquire either second baseman Fred Pfeffer or shortstop Ned Williamson. The Post said:

“The prevailing opinion in Chicago is that the three players named cannot all remain in the Chicago club harmoniously, and that one or more of them must be transferred.”

The Chicago Tribune asked Anson about the potential of his playing elsewhere in 1888:

“I know the offer has been made and am surprised that such a sum should be offered for a baseball player. I am, of course, sorry that baseball men are sold by the different managers as so much material, without considering what they have to say in the matter, but it gives me satisfaction to know I am worth so much as a baseball player. If Nimick should buy my release from Spalding for that sum he would have to settle with me afterwards before I would play with the Alleghenys. I never expect to play with any other than the Chicago club. As long as I remain in the baseball world I hope to be where I am at.”

One month after the original offer was made, The Post reported that the Pittsburgh owner was not giving up and had made “the most sensational offer for a player on record.”

The paper said Nimick increased the price to $25,000, but the Pittsburgh magnate denied the story the following day. He told The Pittsburgh Leader:

“I am not fool enough to give $25,000 for one man.”

Nimick also denied a rumor that he had offered $10,000 for Chicago pitcher John Clarkson, who would be sold to Boston for that price six months later. He told the paper Pittsburgh was, “fixed as well if not better than any other club” for pitching.

The Pittsburgh papers and Nimick held out hope of acquiring at least one of the three Chicago stars until November, when Spalding was quoted in The Press putting an end to the speculation:

“(Nimick) offered $15,000 for Anson and would have given more if he could have been bought. He won’t leave Chicago, however. I have 16 players signed or it least equal to it.”

Anson, Williamson, and Pfeffer all remained in Chicago.  Nimick bought Fred Dunlap from Detroit, Al Maul from Philadelphia, and Billy Sunday from Chicago—the three were secured for roughly half of what was offered for Anson.

The Alleghenys were 62-72 and finished sixth for the second straight season; Anson guided Chicago to a 77-58 second place finish.

“I was Pretty Fast in Those Days”

3 Jul

“We did everything 30 years ago they do today, with the possible exception of sacrificing. Little of that was done, and I consider the game was better.”

So said “The hero of the first unassisted triple play in baseball,” to a reporter for The Pittsburgh Press in 1913:

“Holding a good position in the department of agriculture, Washington D.C., is a blonde individual of comfortable corpulence who answers to the name Paul A. Hines.”

Later, The Associated Press would say he got the government position because he, “became a favorite of Rep. William McKinley, who later became president, and when Hines retired from Baseball McKinley found a government job for him.”

The Press described Hines, who would turn 58 that year, as:

“Well preserved, genial a comfortable looking businessman (who) little resembles the dashing outfielder of three decades ago.”

He told the paper that Charlie Buffinton, Tim Keefe, and Old Hoss Radbourn where the greatest pitchers he saw. He said Ned Williamson was the greatest player he witnessed, and that Silver Flint was “the most banged up and best catcher that ever lived.”

Hines also gave the paper a first-hand account of his most famous moment:

“It was made May 8, 1878. I was playing a deep center field and there were runners on second and third when a short fly was hit over the second base.

“I ran in after the ball, believing I had the speed to reach it, for I was pretty fast in those days. Both base runners thought the ball would fall safe and ran for the plate.

“I got the ball off my instep, near second, touched the base and then ran to third, reaching that base before the runner who had occupied it could return, thus completing the play.

“The play has been questioned, but I see that Umpire (Charles F.) Daniels, who worked that day vouched for it recently.”

Daniels’ version of the play differed from Hines’ however, as did the contemporary accounts of the play; even Hines told a different version that year in the October issue of “Baseball Magazine”—none of those versions included the part where Hines claimed to have touched second base before going to third base.

The other versions said he threw to second baseman Charlie Sweasy, but that the throw was unneeded because both runners had rounded third and had been retired. The only version that matched Hines’ The Pittsburgh Press recollection was William Wrothe Aulick’s description of the play that appeared in a syndicated article that eventually became part of the book “The National Game,” published in 1912

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Hines, standing at left, with Providence Grays, 1882

In Hines’ “Baseball Magazine” version–in addition to getting the date wrong, he said May 15, rather than May 8–he claimed he went to second and stepped on the bag after stepping on third, then:

“Sweeney [sic], our second baseman, took the ball and danced around with it, cutting up monkey shines.”

Hines told the The Press that after he completed the play:

“Of course, I remember distinctly how the crowd, when it realized what had happened, went wild. It was one of the proudest moments in the life of Paul Hines, I tell you.”

Hines likely had one of his worst moment years later; he was arrested when caught stealing a pocketbook from a policewoman at the corner of Ninth Street and New York Avenue.

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Hines circa 1900

The Washington Evening Times said:

“The gray-haired man has been under surveillance for some time. When his room was searched at 233 Rhode Island Avenue, a number of purses and pocketbooks were found in it, as well as twenty-five pairs of eyeglasses and spectacles.”

The Washington Star said Hines was released on $1000 bond, and:

“According to the police, Hines, who is 69 years old, when confronted with the charge broke down and said: ‘I have played my last game and lost.’”

Hines, almost completely deaf—his longest obituary, written by Guy M. Smith, who wrote for The Sporting News, and knew Hines, said the deafness was the result of a beaning by Grasshopper Jim Whitney in 1886—and destitute spent the last years of his life at the Sacred Heart Home in Hyattsville, Maryland, he died there in 1935.

“The Boys Began to Cast Threatening Looks”

4 Feb

The effect of “hoodoos” were the frequent subject of baseball stories in the 19th Century—but rarely was one chronicled from beginning to end during a single game. On August 26, 1885, on an unseasonably cold day and in front of a crowd of just 1200, the first place Chicago White Stockings were hosting the last place Detroit Wolverines. The Chicago Tribune marked the moment when the “Hoodoo” arrived:

“When (The White Stockings’) players took their positions on the diamond with (Ned) Hanlon at the bat for the visitors; a half-starved, miserable-looking little dog with a coat of hair like that of a hyena and the air of a coyote, shambled out from among the carriage wheels and took up his position close to (George) Gore. The centerfielder evidently looked upon the wretched animal as a ‘Hoodoo,’ for he threw a clod of dirt at it, and the forsaken little brute weakly trotted off to the shelter of the brick wall.”

gore

Gore

The dog made its way to the Chicago bench, where:

“(Ned) Williamson and (John) Clarkson tried in vain to make friends with him, but he would have none of it, and trotted off to the grass plot near the grandstand railing, where seated on his haunches he watched the game.”

The White Stockings scored two runs in the first inning when Anson and Fred Pfeffer scored on a Williamson double, and, according to the paper “Anson whispered to Gore that the dog was a ‘mascot.’”

The dog remained near the Chicago bench and when the team failed to score through the sixth inning, and the score remained 2 to 0:

“(T)he boys began to cast threatening looks in the direction of the miserable-looking canine mutter something about a ‘hoodoo.”

Each team added a run in seventh. In the eighth, Chicago allowed a run when Hanlon was attempting to steal second and scored after a wild throw by catcher Silver Flint and a poor throw by Gore.

“Hanlon had crossed the home plate. The coyote uttered a plaintive howl a Hanlon scored, and deliberately trotted over to the Detroit players’ bench, where he took his seat.”

The dog having switched sides, “(Chicago) knew they could not make another run and they did not, but fortunately for the prospective pennant-winners, (Detroit’s Charlie) Bennett’s two-bagger in the ninth inning was productive of no good,” when Jim McCormick retired the next three Detroit batters to end the game.

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Jim McCormick

The Chicago Inter Ocean noted:

“The dog then left the field in disgust and saved the game for Chicago.”

The White Stockings went on to win the pennant by two games. The dog was not heard from again.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things: Quotes

28 Dec

Jack Clements, Phillies catcher in 1896 to The Chicago Daily News about umpire Tim Hurst:

“The reason Tim Hurst is so successful as an umpire is not only because he will break the face of any man who insults him, but because he joins in the talk behind the rubber and jollies the basemen into believing that almost everything je says is all right and that they shouldn’t kick about it.”

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Tim Hurst

Ed McKean, Cleveland shortstop from 1887-1898, to The Cleveland News, 1917

“’Walter Johnson smoke—Huh! Old Amos Rusie had just as much speed and a curve ball that Johnson or no other living pitcher ever had, why that curve came over the plate with just as much speed as did his fast one.’ Thus Ed McKean settled the much mooted question as to the speediest pitcher who ever wore a glove…’I know that many will take exception to my statement that Rusie had more speed than Johnson, but I am giving you my honest opinion.  I’ll admit I have never batted against Johnson, but I’ve watched him closely ever since he broke in.  I have batted against Rusie when Amos was at his best, and of the two, Rusie, to my way of thinking, had more speed.”’

amosrusie

Amos Rusie

Dan Brouthers, while telling The Detroit Free Press in September of 1894 that the Baltimore Orioles would hold on to win the pennant, declared that teammate Kid Gleason:

“’(I)s the best pitcher I ever saw.  He can pitch every day in the week and be just as good at the end as at the beginning.  He is a hitter and a base runner, and an all-around player.  Why, if one of the players makes an error and lets in a run, Gleason says, ‘Never mind, old man, I’ll beat those ducks myself,’ and he is more than likely to do it…They talk about Rusie and (Jack) Stivetts.  They were great pitchers under the old rules, and they are very good now, but they’re not in it with this man Gleason.”

Gleason was purchased from the St. Louis Browns in June and was 15-5 in 21 games and hit .349 in 97 at bats.  The Orioles won the pennant by three games.

Kid_Gleason

Gleason

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, in 1889, a reporter asked pitcher Toad Ramsey:

“’What would you suggest would be the best way to increase batting, Mr. Ramsey?’ was asked the ‘phenom’ the other day in Louisville.  The great left-hander winked his left eye in an off-hand way, but jovially declined to answer the question.  ‘It ain’t my business to give points on batting.’”

Ramsey was then asked who the best hitter in baseball was:

“’Tip O’Neill,’ he replied unhesitatingly.  ‘He’s the best hitter I ever saw, and he’s got the most judgement.  He can’t hit harder than Browning, if Pete would take care of himself, but nobody ever saw Pete doing that,’ concluded Mr. Ramsey, as a feeling of regret for Pete’s weakness displayed itself on his face.  Then he walked away with an acquaintance.”

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Ramsey

George Gore told The Chicago Daily News about one of his former teammates:

“Ed Williamson of the Chicago champions was the greatest shortstop of them all.  He was a wonderful thrower, probably the hardest in the business.  Anson used to play first base without gloves in those days, and Ed took delight in lacing over hot ones to the old man.  When anybody hit a grounder to Williamson, he would pick it up, wait until the runner was a few yards from the bag, and then line the ball to Anson like a cannon shot.  The old man was nearly knocked down on several occasions.”

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 Williamson with mascot Willie Hahn

 

“A Flat-Footed Player is as Bad is a Flat-Headed one”

27 Jan

As part of his 1910 series of articles called “How I Win,” syndicated journalist Joseph B. Bowles spoke to Bill Dahlen, manager of the Brooklyn Superbas, during Dahlen’s first season as a big league manager.

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen 

“The only theory on which I ever have worked is that every man on a team should work for the common interest, that each man should help out each other one, and that eight men if strong ought to help out the weak one.

“Close attention to every move is essential.  Not only should a player watch every change of position of his opponents…The mind must be alert at every instant during a game.  There is no room in major league baseball for any except fast-thinking and fast-moving players.  I do not mean that a player must be a ten-second man.  I mean he must be on his toes, ready to jump in any given direction without the loss of an instant.”

Dahlen said success was all about footwork:

“A man who handles his feet well, either batting, fielding or base running, is a good player, for footwork is better than ability with the hands.  It is necessary for a player to be shifty on his feet as it is for a boxer.  No one can be shifty unless he is on his toes all the time, and a flat-footed player is as bad is a flat-headed one—and usually the two things go together.

“The batter who is on his toes, balanced and ready for the jump, will hit, for he can shift and swing and still get his weight behind the bat.  The shifty runner on first is ready to move either way—to dive back to first or go on to second.  In the field, he moves with the ball, and is moving when it is hit, so he covers more ground.”

Dahlen had advice for young players:

“(He) should watch every move of the batter, and poise himself for the start just as a sprinter does.  I remember that one of the first things taught me after I joined the Chicago club was starting, and the crowd of great players under (Cap) Anson won many games because they started faster and were readier in seizing an opportunity than their opponents were.  Another thing they taught me was sliding to bases, not only so as to avoid being touched, but also to avoid getting hurt or hurting anyone.  That slide known as the ‘Chicago slide’ was the invention of (King) Kelly and adopted by (Tom) Burns, (Ned) Williamson, (Fred) Pfeffer and the great players of that day. There is more footwork to that slide than in any other department of the game.  It consists of watching the position of the baseman who is receiving a thrown ball and throwing the body in the opposite direction, sliding on the hip with the leg partially bent under and the toe hooking the bag.”

Bill Dahlen

Dahlen

Dahlen’s footwork was not enough to guide four bad Brooklyn teams to a winning season.  During his managerial career (1910-1913) the Superbas were 251-355.

“This kind of Argument is the Veriest kind of Twaddle”

1 Dec

After just one season in the National League—a 24-36 record and a fifth place finish in 1878–the Indianapolis Blues disbanded.  Four members of the Blues joined the Chicago White Stockings—Silver Flint, Joe Quest, Ned Williamson, and Orator Shafer.

The 1879 White Stockings

The 1879 White Stockings

The White Stockings had been a disappointment in 1878, finishing in fourth place with a 30-30 record under Manager Bob Ferguson.  President A.G. Spalding, who had named Ferguson as his successor when he retired from the field, announced that first baseman “Cap” Anson would replace Ferguson for 1879.

The changes gave the Chicago press high hopes for 1879.

But, The Cincinnati Enquirer did not agree.  The paper said while the Chicago club was “greatly strengthened where it was very weak,” they would still finish no better than fourth place unless they were “properly managed.”  Boston Red Stockings Manager “Harry Wright could take this team and run it up to second place at least.”

In January The Enquirer implied that in addition to questionable management, Chicago’s new players were going to be a detriment:

“A prominent baseball official of Boston, in a private letter written recently, sententiously remarks: ‘Look out for the Indianapolis element in the Chicago Club next year.’  There’s a text for everybody’s thoughts.”

The Chicago Tribune quickly fired back with an article under the headline:

“Harmony” vs. Energy

 “There has been a great deal said at one time and another concerning ‘harmony’ in nines, and those who had the most to say on the subject contended that it was an essential point to be carefully looked after in the formation of any club which hoped for success on the diamond field.  Now The Tribune does not wish to set itself up in opposition to the judgment of men who have made baseball and the management of those who play it a study and a business venture, but it does say that many of them have harped so long upon this matter of ‘harmony’ that it has become a kind of second nature, whereby their judgment has been sadly warped.  Of late a paragraph, started in Cincinnati, has been going the rounds, in which the general public is solemnly warned to ‘look out for the Indianapolis element in the Chicago Club’ during 1879.

“Now the President and Manager of the Chicago Club are probably about as astute and far-seeing as any in the business and in view of this fact and reflection on their judgment or sagacity is in bad taste, and the parties who make ill-advised criticisms on the course of any club in hiring men, are very apt to undergo the unpleasant experience of persons not brought up in New Zealand who indulge in the pastime of throwing boomerangs; their weapons may come back and inflict considerable damage on those who threw them.  Whether or not the White stocking nine of next season will be a ‘harmonious’ one, it is doubtful if anybody knows, and still more doubtful if anybody cares.

“At the risk of being howled at by several papers, the baseball columns which are presided over by young men whose practical ignorance of the game is exceeded only by their ability to construct tables which not even themselves can understand when printed.”

One of the “Young men” referred to was The Enquirer’s sports Editor Oliver Perry “O.P.” Caylor.

One of O.P. Caylor's tables "which not even themselves can understand when printed.”

One of O.P. Caylor’s tables “which not even themselves can understand when printed.”

The Tribune will say that the question of whether or not the Chicago nine of next season ‘harmonizes’ will probably make very little difference with its play.  Some of the men who enjoy the reputation of being first-class kickers and disorganizers are nevertheless very handy individuals to have around when a base hit or good field play in wanted.  Without intending either to arouse the wrath or flatter the vanity of the very amiable and stalwart young man, Anson, it may be said that his reputation as an experienced and prolonged kicker is one that any man might be proud of; but, in spite of those who preach that harmony is everything, he is acknowledged to be one of the best and most useful ball-players in the country.  (Cal) McVey, of the Cincinnatis, can also make quite a conspicuous kick, even when not specially called upon to do so; still he is a good ball-player.

Lip Pike is a disorganizer of the first water, but last season, when he used to hoist a ball out among the freight cars on the lake shore, people who were presumed to know a good player yelled themselves hoarse in his praise.  The list could be extended indefinitely, but such action is not necessary.  Those who organize nines on the basis of ‘harmony’ alone will never grow rich at the baseball business.  It is not possible to get together nine men who could travel around the country eating, sleeping, and playing ball together that would never get out of tune.  Nine angels could not do it, much less nine mortals, subject to the little idiosyncrasies that human nature is afflicted with. “

The Tribune likely assumed the “prominent baseball official of Boston,” was Manager Harry Wright, and next turned its attention to him, his brother, and his championship teams.

“Harry Wright has always been the prophet whom the ‘harmony’ men delighted to honor, and the success of the Cincinnati and Boston Clubs under his management has been laid entirely to the dove-like dispositions of the men engaged by him.  This kind of argument is the veriest kind of twaddle, and the history of the Boston Club proves the truth of this assertion.  George Wright and Tommy Beals went many a day without the interchange of a friendly word, and George and (Charlie) Gould did the same thing.  For one whole season Ross Barnes and Gould never exchanged a word, and glared at each other like opposing game chickens, but the Boston’s won the pennant that year (1872—National Association) all the same harmony or no harmony.

“Other instances of like character could be adduced were there any necessity therefore, but these, from the fountain head of ‘harmony,’ will suffice.  If a club wins the championship it will be because its men play ball, not because they are ‘goody-goody’ boys.  Your man who gets hot at something during a game, and then relieves his feelings by making a two or three base hit, is much more valuable than one who, although possessed of a Sunday-school temperament at all times, manifests a decided aversion to reaching first base., when the occupancy of that particular bag of sawdust would be of some value to the men who pay him high wages for playing ball.”

O.P. Caylor

O.P. Caylor

Caylor would not let the insult to him and to Harry and George Wright, go unchallenged:

The Chicago Tribune published some strange statements against the argument that in harmony there was always strength.  To prove that harmony was not always necessary to create strength in a baseball club, the writer made bold to say among other things that Tommy Beales [sic] when a member of the Boston Club, went many a day without the interchange of a friendly word with George Wright, and that the same feeling existed between George and Gould.  The writer knew from the first these statements were fiction, but in order to crush the fallacious argument our reporter left it to George Wright himself for an answer.  The letter is before us from which we quote, though we half suspect George would demur to its publication out of modesty if he knew it. “

Wright wrote to Caylor:

“(The Tribune) said Tommy Beales [sic] and I went many a day without the interchange of a friendly word, and that Gould and I did the same thing.  While they were with the Boston nine they were about my best friends.  Most of the time Beales [sic] boarded at my house, while Charley and I roomed together on trips.  I think the reporter was wrong in his argument against ‘Harmony’ as it was the great cause of the Boston Club’s success.  The credit for this mostly belonged to Captain Harry Wright.”

George Wright

George Wright

Although it appears Wright spelled the name of his good friend Tommy Beals incorrectly, he got the spelling right 12 months later when he named his son—tennis Hall of Fame member –Beals Wright after his former teammate.

The Tribune allowed Wright, and Caylor, the last word, and dropped the dialogue regarding “harmony.”

Despite Caylor’s prediction, the White Stockings, under Manager Cap Anson, led the National League from opening Day through August 15.  Anson became ill during July, and as his performance slipped, so did the team’s fortunes.

Suffering from what The Tribune called “an acute affection of the liver…that had sadly impaired his strength and capacity for play,” Anson left the club on August 26 with a 41-21 record, in second place, just a game and a half back.

With Silver Flint serving as manager, and without Anson’s bat—he led the team with a .317 average—the White Stockings were 5-12 in the last 17 games, and a fourth place finish.

Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stockings finished second; his team, winners of the previous two National League championships lost some of the “harmony” that made them winners when his brother George Wright and Jim O’Rourke signed with the Providence Grays.  George Wright, in his only season as a manager, led the Grays to the 1879 National League championship.

Hugh Nicol

25 Aug

In 1884 Hugh “Little Nic” Nicol was one of the most popular members of the St. Louis Browns—so popular, a local boy’s team named themselves after the right fielder, and the Nicol was invited to address the team.

Hugh Nicol

Hugh Nicol

A reporter for The St. Louis Critic was on hand when Nicol imparted his baseball wisdom to the kids:

“I’m no speech maker, but if you like I’ll give you a pointer or two, and you can take ‘em or leave ‘em, just as you like.  First, when you go to the bat don’t sneak up there, but pick up your club determined like, and look at the pitcher as you’d look at a mosquito which you had the dead wood on.  Then when he curls the ball away, up around your left year duck your head, look mad and whisper, ‘Oh, you sucker you know better than to give me a good ball.’  That’s what you call workin’ the pitcher—makin’ him mad as a bull—so mad that he’ll put the ball just where you say he can’t put it, but where you know he’s going to put it, and when he puts it there smash her right in the eye.

“Then when you’ve smashed her, don’t stop and admire the smash, but make for first as though the devil was trying catch hold of your coat tails.  When you reach first don’t stop unless you hear the captain yell: ‘Hole yer first; hole it!’  If he yells ‘hole it,’ obey orders.  Don’t think you know more than him, because if you get to thinkin’ that way your head will begin to swell, and all the ice in St. Louis won’t take down the swellin’ If you only reach first, place your arms akimbo and look at the pitcher as though you had got there by a fluke and was going to hold to her if it was the last act.  If you are a runner, and not one of those tired cusses that crawl when they think they’re flyin’.

“Make for second the moment he pitches the ball; and when you get near the bag, grab hold of it and come up smilin’ at the umpire , as though you meant to say “Oh, I beat the ball about a foot, and he never touched me anyhow.’  If you work it right the umpire will sing out, ‘Hole yer second!’

“But, fellers if you can’t run when you reach first stay there and thank God you got that far.  Don’t try to make second for if you do the catcher will make a bloomin’ gillie out of you.  But make out that you are a dandy on the run, and bob up and down like a bear dancing on a red hot stove.  That kind of business works up the pitcher and he’ll try to catch you nappin’, but instead he’ll fire the ball away over the first baseman’s head.  Then if you can run a little bit you can get all the way ‘round.  But take care that he don’t catch you nappin’.  If he does that the captain will call you a bum base runner and you’ll feel like clubbin’ the life out of yourself.”

Thirty-five years later, Nicol attended an old-timers banquet at the Great Northern Hotel in Chicago and spoke with Al Spink, then occasionally writing for The Chicago Evening Post.  Spink called Nicol “the smallest and most wonderful right fielder in America.”

Nicol, like most of his 19th Century brethren, thought his old teammates were better than current players:

“I can’t see where the game has improved a bit since we played it…and I can’t see where the players of today are any better than our old gang…I don’t see any players cavorting around on the diamond today that are any better than the Browns’ old infield when it was composed of (Charles) Comiskey, (William “Yank”) Robinson, (Arlie) Latham and (Bill) Gleason…Where are there any better players than our old Chicago infield—(Cap) Anson, (Fred) Pfeffer, (Ned) Williamson and (Tom)Burns?”

1885 St. Louis Browns--Nicol is on the far right of the bottom row.

1885 St. Louis Browns–Nicol is on the far right of the bottom row.

Nicol also objected to the way the game was played:

“(W)here is there the  enthusiasm and the effort to win that was in evidence in the days when we played?

“Nowadays a player often goes to the bat acting like a man who has lost an immediate member of his family.

“We used to go up smiling and acting as though we were certain of clouting out a homer, although we often fell down on the proposition.

“And then, too, many of your players of today make little attempt to advance themselves in the various departments of play.

“They do not half try to learn all the fine points of the game as we did in the days of old, but simply try to get by.  They are content if they get a couple of hits every afternoon and play an errorless game.  The first thing they do each morning is to get the newspaper and look at the hit and error columns.  If they don’t see themselves credited with a hit perhaps they did make, some sports writer gets a terrible panning.”

Nicol managed in the Three-I League and later  coached baseball and served as athletic director at Purdue University from 1906 until 1914—he resigned both positions in November of 1914 after a dispute with his football coach Andy Smith and Smith’s assistant Pete Vaughn (who was also Purdue’s basketball coach).

Nicol 1904

Nicol 1904

Nicol was often credited by contemporary sports writers with inventing the head-first slide.

He died in Lafayette, Indiana in 1921.

The Adventures of George Borchers

7 Feb

George Bernard “Chief” Borchers was a West Coast phenom.  The Sacramento native was so good as a 16-year-old in 1885 that the town’s two professional teams battled for his services.  After pitching half the season for one club, The Sacramento Record-Union said:

“George Borchers, heretofore pitcher for the Alta Baseball Club, has resigned his position in that club and will hereafter pitch for the Unions.”

Box score for Borchers' first start for the Sacramento Unions (July 26, 1885) after jumping the Sacramento Altas.  Borchers beat his former team 3 to 0.

Box score for Borchers’ first start for the Sacramento Unions (July 26, 1885) after jumping the Sacramento Altas. Borchers beat his former team 3 to 0.

He played for the California League’s Sacramento Altas in 1886 and the Oakland Greenhood & Morans in the same league in 1887. The Sporting Life said of him:

“Borchers is possessed of Herculean strength, great endurance, and is a heavy batsman.”

The Sacramento Bee said Borchers “would soon rank as one of best pitchers on the coast,” if he got “command of the ball and his temper.”

Before the 1888 season the 19-year-old became the subject of a bidding war.  He pitched several games against the New York Giants during John Montgomery Ward’s barnstorming/honeymoon tour of the West Coast in the winter of 1887.

Ward told New York reporters that Borchers was the best pitcher in the California League.  The Sporting Life called him “Ward’s especial favorite,” and “Ward’s find.”  By January The Boston Post said he turned down an offer from the Beaneaters, The San Francisco Chronicle said he rejected the Detroit Wolverines, and The Philadelphia Times said “(Athletics Manager Bill) Sharsig is hopeful to sign Borchers.”  The Times also said Ward’s Giants had made an offer but:

“The young man wanted a mortgage on Central Park and a large chunk of Coney Island.”

The San Francisco Chronicle said Borchers came from a wealthy family (his father owned a brewery) and were “opposed to his playing ball.”

Whatever the reason, Borchers opened the 1888 season with the Greenhood & Morans.  He pitched at least four games for Oakland before it was announced on May 2 that the 19-year-old had signed a major league contract.  The  Chronicle said:

“The baseball world was thrown into a state of excitement yesterday when the press dispatches made the unexpected announcement that George Borchers prize pitcher of the Greenhood & Moran club, had been signed to pitch for the Chicagos.”

The paper said when White Stockings President Al Spalding sent a telegram to Borchers asking his terms, the pitcher, “treated the telegram as more of a joke than anything else, and in the spirit of fun telegraphed back” asking for $3000, with a $500 advance.

“He never dreamed of receiving a favorable answer, and his surprise can well be imagined when a few hours later the answer came accepting his terms.”

Despite being what The Chronicle claimed was the “largest salary ever paid to a California player in the East,” Borchers immediately regretted the agreement:

“He says he does not feel much like leaving here and would like to back out if he could, but, knowing that he is legally bound by his act, he will of course stand by it.”

The pitcher arrived in Chicago on May 13 to great fanfare.  The Chicago Tribune said “if he equals the reports of his ability that precede him, the team will be as nearly invincible as it is possible for a baseball organization to be.”

Caricature of Borchers from The Chicago Tribune--1888

Caricature of Borchers from The Chicago Tribune–1888

White Stockings shortstop Ned Williamson, who batted against Borchers on a West Coast trip, compared him to another California pitcher who made his big league debut at age 19:

“He pitched more like Charley Sweeney than any other man I ever saw, and Sweeney was as good as any that ever stepped in the box.”

Borchers made his debut on May 18.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“Another wonder has been discovered and the Chicago Ball Club has it.  The wonder is George Borchers, the California pitcher.  He was put in the box to pitch for the Chicagos yesterday against the Bostons in the closing game of the series.  The result is manifest in the score—13 to 0…Borchers was made the hero of the hour.  He has come to stay, and his work yesterday is a guarantee of his ability to keep his place.”

The Chicago Tribune was more subdued than The Inter Ocean:

“(Borchers) has an easy delivery. Good curves and great speed, but his command of the ball remains to be determined.  Yesterday he was wild.  Three wild pitches were charged to him, and with a less active and reliable man than (Tom) Daly behind the bat more would have been recorded.  Those that got by Daly were extremely wild.  Still he was effective.”

The game, played in the rain at West Side Park, in what The Chicago Daily News called “practically a swamp,” was called after five innings.

The papers couldn’t agree on the attendance either–The Inter Ocean said it was 3000, The Tribune, 1500 and The Daily News 2000.

Borchers allowed just three hits and beat Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn in his first major league game.

Things went downhill from there; the rest of Borchers’ story on Monday.

“Each Club has its own Particular Omens”

29 Jan

James Aristotle “Jim” Hart gave one of the earliest interviews on the superstitions of ballplayers.

Hart sold his interest in the Louisville Colonels of the American Association before the 1887 season—he was an original investor in the team in 1882 and managed the club in 1885 and ’86—and bought controlling interest in the Milwaukee Cream Cities in the Northwestern League.

James Hart, 1886

James Hart, 1886

 

Before he left the Colonels, Hart accompanied the team on a tour of the  West Coast in December of 1886, and talked to a reporter from The San Francisco Chronicle:

“Why my dear fellow you have no idea to what ridiculous extremes most ball players allow their superstitious inclinations to carry them.  It’s a wonder to me that none of you newspaper men have ever written them up.”

Hart said “Each club has its own particular omens, you know there are four or five favorite beliefs which are held in general esteem by all.  In the East the boys always go to the grounds on the day of the game in hacks, and if they should win they go next time in the same carriages if they can get them, but anyway by the same route, around the same corners and along the same streets.  Should fortune prove averse and defeat be their lot another route is chosen next time and different carriages selected.  To meet a funeral procession on the way to the ball grounds it is also considered good luck, but should their driver be so rash as to cross the road and break through the line of mourners’ carriages I verily believe the boys would murder him.  It is considered such a bad omen that the boys would remain on one side of street all day rather than cross the line.”

“To meet a cross-eyed person is the worst kind of luck.  The only antidote for it is to turn around immediately and spit over your left shoulder before you speak.  It’s kind of amusing sometimes to see half a dozen or so fellows suddenly whirl around altogether like pivot machines and spit over their shoulders while walking quietly along the street, and without saying a word, too.  It was done here on Market Street a few days ago by some of my boys, and I guess the people must have thought then either drunk or crazy.  Another good mascot is to have a dog run across the diamond either just before or during a game.   The Pittsburgh team carried a dog around with it all last season that had run across the field early in the summer.  It didn’t matter that the poor brute had no tail, and was all over sores and all that, he was a mascot just the same and the boys were proud of him.  I reckon there has never been a dog so handsomely treated as that one was.”

“One of the greatest jonahs we have is to commence packing up the bats before the game is finished.  No matter how the score stands at the time, your luck is sure to flop right over and give the victory to the other side.  To illustrate it to you more clearly, I will relate an incident that occurred to our nine early last season at home (the game was actually played August 16, 1885).  We were playing a match game with the Pittsburgh team.  Luck went clear against us all day, and at the beginning of the ninth inning the Pittsburghs (Alleghenys) had ten runs to our five.  It seemed an utter impossibility to catch up that difference in one inning, and I can tell you we felt pretty blue.  Victory looked so sure for the Pittsburghs that Pete Meegan, an extra man belonging to that team, who was sitting on the bench, begin packing up the bats when the last inning was commenced.  You may not believe it, but it’s an actual fact and a matter of record; our luck changed from that instant (Louisville won 11-10).  Manager (Horace) Phillips of the Pittsburghs was crazy with rage, but he didn’t blame any of his players.  He could have murdered Meegan though for bringing on a jonah by packing up those bats before the game had finished. I don’t remember very clearly, but I think Meegan got let out subsequently.  At any rate he was fined heavily for his offense (Meegan never played in the major leagues after 1885; whether he was “let out” by Phillips because of this incident or his 14-20 record in two American Association seasons is unknown).

Pittsburgh Alleghenys Manager Horace Phillips

Pittsburgh Alleghenys Manager Horace Phillips

Another funny idea we’ve got is to pick out a saloon we think to be lucky, and drink a glass of beer there on the day of the game and have the glass set on one side for us.  If we win, then we go to that saloon every day after and drink out beer out of the same glass.  Of course if our luck should change then we try another saloon.  This don’t apply to every nine, because some of them are not allowed to drink at all during the season, under penalty of a heavy fine.  In addition to these things, some clubs belonging to the league are called jonah clubs.  That is, there are some clubs against which it is useless for us to attempt to play.  It doesn’t make any difference whether we consider our own the best team or not, they are jonahs and we can’t beat them.  Loss of confidence has a great deal to do with it, I suppose.”

“The Chicagos’ mascot for the past three seasons has been a little boy in short clothes named Willie Hahn.  The tiny fellow is just able to talk and always sits on the bench during the game.  The Chicagos have the greatest confidence in him as a promoter of success and make a great fuss over him.  Two seasons ago, when the Chicagos won the championship of the league, they hired an open landau upon their return home, put Master Willies in it, bedecked him with flowers and wreaths and hauled him all over the city by hand.  It was a regular triumphal march, you bet. “

Willie Hahn, Chicago White Stockings mascot with Ned Williamson

Willie Hahn, Chicago White Stockings mascot with Ned Williamson

Hart said Willie Hahn, who was white, was unusual.  Most of the teams had black mascots and the players rubbed their heads before batting:

“Sometimes the black boy is kept in a closed hack during the game to prevent contamination from other hands.  The kid then has to duck his head out of the carriage window when the boys want to rub it.”

Hart said the Pittsburgh Alleghenys kept a seat in the stands open for an old black woman “Just before the game commenced the boys would invariably look up to see if old aunty was in her place, and if by chance, she was not there they would lose heart, say the game was ‘jonahed,’ and in all probability, lose it.”  He said the Alleghenys also had two sets of uniform pants “one pair white and the other blue.  One color would be worn so long as the club was successful.”

More from Hart on Friday.