Tag Archives: Ned Williamson

“Sunday was not a ‘real’ Ball Player”

15 Jan

Fred Pfeffer, a member of the Chicago White Stockings “Stonewall Infield” in the 1880s, became the proprietor of a number of popular saloons in Chicago.  He opened Pfeffer’s Theater Court Buffet on State Street in 1911; the tavern, located in the alley between the Majestic and  McVicker’s Theaters, was a popular meeting place for athletes, vaudeville performers and newspaper reporters.

Fred Pfeffer

Fred Pfeffer

In 1912 Harvey Woodruff of The Chicago Tribune was present when Pfeffer and Jimmy Ryan held forth on some of their teammates:

Billy Sunday was the only successful ‘made’ ball player I ever heard of in the history of baseball.  Not a man on our team except (Cap) Anson had any confidence in Sunday when he joined the club (in 1883), nor for a long time afterward, for that matter.  Anson liked Sunday because he was like lightning in getting to first base.  Sunday was not a great hitter.  He could scarcely be called a great fielder, but he was the fastest man of his time in legging it down to first base.  My, how he could run!  But after Billy was on first I would sooner have had Anson there, and none of us accused Anse of being the best base runner of his time.  We thought Billy was too daring.

“But Anson insisted Sunday would make a ball player.  So he was taught to bat, to field, and to run bases.  Anson spent more time with him than with all the rest of us put together.  What skill Sunday attained was developed.  Most of us finally admitted that Anson’s judgment was justified, but others on the team retained to the last their opinion that Sunday was not a ‘real’ ball player.

“Those who obstinately kept that opinion might have been influenced in part by prejudice, for those were times when team discipline was not as severe as now, and Sunday chose his companions.”

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday

Pfeffer told The Tribune reporter that Ned Williamson had the best arm he had seen.

While playing as an amateur in his native Louisville in 1881 Pfeffer had “won a gold medal, which is still in his possession for throwing a ball 400 feet.”  After joining the White Stockings he participated in a throwing contest at Chicago’s Lake Front Park “and threw the ball 399 feet and six inches.”  He was beaten by six inches by Williamson.

The mention of Williamson’s arm strength reminded Ryan of “an incident of the trip around the world taken by the White Stockings” after the 1888 season:

“Following one of the exhibitions in England, some native cricketers were holding a competition in throwing a cricket ball.  A crowd circled the field beyond the range of the throws, taking a keen interest in the sport.  Williamson, who had not allowed his baseball duties to prevent his enjoyment at a nearby pub, watched the proceedings for a time with growing impatience.

“Finally, swaggering up to the circle, Williamson said: ‘Let me take that ball for a minute.’ Then, scarcely setting himself for the effort, he hurled the ball.  It soared clear over the heads of the crowd on the outskirts. “

Ryan claimed no one knew exactly how far Williamson’s throw traveled because “everyone was so surprised (by the distance of his throw) no attempt was made even to recover the ball.”

Ned Williamson with White stockings mascot

Ned Williamson with White stockings mascot

The subject next turned to bunting.  Pfeffer said

“We knew the bunt, but seldom practiced it.  Those were the days when long hits were wanted, and the play would not have been popular.  We more often played a variation of what is known now as the hit and run.  It seems to me there were more players who could hit to right field then.

“I often have been asked whether all the great hitters of that time were swingers who clasped their bats at the end of the handle.  I do not recall that we held our bats any differently from the players of today.  Some held it near the end and some did what you now call ‘choking it.’ I think, perhaps the proportion of chop hitters was less then, for everyone liked to see long drives.”

Pfeffer continued entertaining patrons and reporters at the Theater Court Buffet until the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment put him out of business—his obituary said he sold “bar and all” for $1.50.  Pfeffer died in Chicago in 1932.

“The Greatest Team Ever Organized”

24 Apr

Hopes were high for The Players League, and for Chicago’s franchise, the Pirates, in the newly formed baseball brotherhood.

Rumors had been reported for more than two months, but finally on January 18 The Chicago Daily News said that Charlie Comiskey “came to town yesterday morning, and at 4 o’clock signed…for three years,” to serve as captain and manager; the contract was said to be worth “$5,000 per annum.”

President Charles A. Weidenfelder had built a strong ballclub, with major assists from Fred Pfeffer, Chicago White Stockings second baseman, who encouraged most of that team to jump to the new league, and Frank Brunell, a former Chicago newspaper man who was secretary of the new league, and traveled to St. Louis to encourage Comiskey to jump to the brotherhood.

There was an embarrassing moment in March when Chicago newspapers reported that the carpenters union was complaining that non-union labor was being used to build the team’s ballpark at Thirty-Eighth Street and Wentworth Avenue.    The secretary of the union was quoted in The Chicago Tribune saying  Brunell had “promised to make it right.  But he didn’t.”

Despite the  irony of a league borne out of the game’s first labor movement betraying organized labor (there were similar difficulties in Boston and Philadelphia), enthusiasm for the new league was high; in Chicago the expectations were higher.  A week before the season opened The Chicago Tribune said:

“The elements which go to make up a great team are united in the Chicago Brotherhood Club, which, on paper, is the greatest team ever organized.”

Comiskey’s club opened the season on April 19 in Pittsburgh.  According to The Chicago Inter Ocean:

“It was a great day for the Players League…There were 9,000 people by the turnstiles’ count to see the fun…It was by all odds the biggest crowd that had ever turned out to witness an opening game of ball in Pittsburgh.”

The pregame festivities included a parade through the streets of Pittsburgh featuring both teams, league officials and a Grand Army of the Republic brass band.

“(Pittsburgh) Manager (Ned) Hanlon was presented with an immense floral horseshoe, Comiskey with a big floral ball on a stand of floral bats, Pfeffer with a basket of roses…(Chicago’s Arlie) Latham ‘stood on his head, with a smile well-bred, and bowed three times’ to the ladies.  (He had) the legend ‘We are the people’ in great black letters on (his) broad back.”

After the fanfare, “Pfeffer and the boys played a particularly brilliant game,” as Chicago defeated Pittsburgh 10-2.

Box Score--Chicago Pirates/Pittsburgh Burghers, Opening Day, 1890.

Box Score–Chicago Pirates/Pittsburgh Burghers, Opening Day, 1890.

Opening Day was the high point for Chicago. The league as a whole struggled financially and attendance dropped sharply after the initial excitement wore off.  Only eight games into the season, barely 500 people attended Chicago’s game in Cleveland on May 1.

Comiskey’s “greatest team ever organized,” was never able to keep pace with the league champion Boston Reds and finished fourth in the eight team league, 10 games back.

The Chicago Times lamented the team’s poor showing and blamed it on a “lack of discipline,” (the article appeared in slightly different form in several newspapers):

“The outside world cannot fully realize the bitter disappointment felt here over the poor showing made by Comiskey’s team during the season just closed.  Surely it was strongest aggregation of players ever collected in one club, but its lack of success was mainly from two causes—lack of discipline and the miserable condition of certain members of the club.

“There has been absolutely no discipline in the team, and some of the men paid as much attention to Comiskey’s orders as they would to a call from some church congregation.  An order to sacrifice was met with a smile of scorn, and the ball was hammered down to an infielder, who made an easy double play.”

The Times said “(Tip) O’Neill, Latham, Pfeffer, (Jimmy) Ryan and others utterly ignored Comiskey’s mandates, and in consequence there was continual disorder.”

The paper’s primary target was shortstop Ned Williamson.  The criticisms might have been unjustified: the former White Stockings favorite had struggled with the knee injury he sustained on the 1888-89 world tour, and might have already been ill as his health would decline rapidly, and he’d be dead by 1894; the victim of tuberculosis:

“Williamson played a game of which an amateur should have been ashamed, and was thirty pounds overweight throughout the season.”

The paper promised “there will be numerous, changes in the club, provided the players League is still in existence,” in 1891.

It was not to be.  By November league secretary Brunell told The Chicago Herald:

“The jig is up.  We are beaten and the Brotherhood is no more.”

Brunell attempted to put a positive spin on the news, telling the paper it was mistaken to infer the “Brotherhood has weakened.”  Rather “we began to see that the interest in baseball was on the wane, and in order to prevent it from dying out entirely…we finally concluded that a consolidation of forces (with the National League and American Association) would be better for all concerned.”

The Herald wasn’t buying Brunell’s statement:

Brunell’s talk has finally let in the light on a subject previously enveloped in darkness.  It appears now that the Players League folks actually courted a knockout, and bankrupted themselves from pure patriotic motives.  The ex-secretary is a funny little man.”

Brunell would go on to found The Daily Racing Form in 1894.

Comiskey returned to the St. Louis Browns in the American Association.  Tip O’Neill, who also jumped the Browns to join the Players League, returned to St, Louis with his manager.

Comiskey (8) was joined in Chicago by three members of his American Association championship teams in St. Louis.  Arlie Latham (7), Tip O'Neill (11), and pitcher Silver King (14) who posted a 30-22 record.

Comiskey (8) was joined in Chicago by three members of his American Association championship teams in St. Louis. Arlie Latham (7), Tip O’Neill (11), and pitcher Silver King (14) who posted a 30-22 record.

Fred Pfeffer stayed in Chicago, spending one more turbulent season with Cap Anson, before being traded to the Louisville Colonels.

Arlie Latham, “The Freshest Man on Earth” went to the Cincinnati Reds in the National League.

Ned Williamson never played again.

Profiles of Members of Spalding’s World Tour, “The Stonewall Infield”

23 Apr

While with the players who took part in the world tour between the 1888 and ’89 seasons, Si Goodfriend observed:

 “My experience in traveling with baseball clubs, the circumstances of which necessarily brings about a close association, has impressed me with the fact that most of them are, as a rule, men of far more intelligence and better manners than they are generally given credit for.”

Among those players were all four members of the Chicago White Stockings “Stonewall Infield:” Adrian Constantine “Cap” Anson, Nathaniel Frederick “Fred” Pfeffer, Edward Nagle “Ned” Williamson, and Thomas Everett “Tom” Burns.

Goodfriend said of Anson:

“Decidedly the most unique and interesting figure of all is that of Captain Anson.  He shows the same peculiarities of temperament off as on the ball field.  He takes advantage of every point he sees and, and holds it…He may not admire a fellow baseball player personally, but this will not induce him to detract from his skill or standing as a player.

“’Old Anse’ has genuine sporting blood in him, and will bet on anything that turns up…There isn’t anything (aboard)the ship he won’t bet on if he has a fair chance of winning.  Anson’s nature is not nearly as harsh as some people imagine.  The rippling water in the moonlight or the graceful soaring of a bird will draw out the greatest sentiments from him.”

Like John Tener, Anson would enter politics, but was less successful.  After being elected Chicago’s city clerk in 1905, he was defeated in the Democratic primary for Cook County (IL) Sheriff in 1907

"Cap" Anson

“Cap” Anson

Of Pfeffer he observed:

“(He) is handsome and has no striking mental characteristics.  He has a long, flowing, brown mustache and soft brown eyes, both of which would readily come under the head of a womanly ‘lovely.’  To show the nature of the man I need only mention a little incident that is causing him much worry at the present time.  His only relative is his mother who lives in Louisville.  Before leaving on the trip he promised to write to her regularly and while on the ocean he promised to cable home from every point possible.  He did not know there was no cable from Honolulu, and now he is worrying himself that his old mother will be anxious about him until he can cable from Auckland.  It will seem an age to him until that city is reached.”

Pfeffer, along with “Monte” Ward was a leader in baseball’s nascent labor movement, Pfeffer was frequently at odds with Anson, and led the exodus of most of the White Stockings’ starters to the Players League.  Despite that, in 1918 Anson called Pfeffer the game’s all-time greatest second baseman after sportswriter Grantland Rice said Eddie Collins of the White Sox was the best ever.

Fred Pfeffer

Fred Pfeffer

Williamson, he said, was “unassuming” and:

“(A) big tender-hearted fellow, whom everybody likes.  He writes in an exceedingly clever and interesting style, and can ‘fake’ a good story like a veteran journalist.”

Ned Williamson with White stockings mascot

Ned Williamson with White stockings mascot

Williamson wrote his own dispatches from the tour which became popular features in Chicago papers.  He injured his knee on the tour and A.G. Spalding refused to help him with medical expenses; the 36-year-old Williamson jumped to the Players League in 1890, but his health began to deteriorate that year while playing for the Chicago Pirates.  He died of tuberculosis in 1894.

Goodfriend on third baseman Burns:

“(He) is a bright, intelligent man, who spends most of his time in reading; works of a standard heavy and weighty character being favorites.  He has the reputation of being a great dresser, and is said to have as many trunks with him as a New York belle would carry to Saratoga.”

Tom Burns

Tom Burns

Nearly a decade after the tour, Burns would be the man who replaced Anson as manager of the Chicago National League ballclub.  Burns took the reins of the “Orphans” in 1898, ending Anson’s 19-year run as manager.

Burns was named manager of the Jersey City Skeeters in the Eastern League in 1902, but died just weeks before the beginning of the season.