Tag Archives: New England League

“Loved Baseball More than He Feared Death”

2 Dec

Robert William “Bob” Osgood was told by doctors that he couldn’t play high school baseball because of a heart ailment.  He was also told he wouldn’t live long.

According to The Associated Press, he begged his parents for a chance to play and “(T)he youth’s parents thought it better that Bob’s playing be supervised and permission was granted.”  By his senior year in 1946, was named to several Massachusetts All-State teams.

After graduation, Osgood signed with the Chicago Cubs.  His older brother Charles was then playing in the Cubs organization after appearing in one game as a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944 as a 17-year-old.

Charles Osgood

Charles Osgood

 

Bob hit .280 in 25 at-bats split between the Cubs’ North Carolina and Appalachian League teams.

No official records exist for Bob Osgood after that, but he was a member of the Visalia Cubs in 1947.

He was assigned to the Springfield Cubs in the New England League in 1948 but missed most of spring training when he was hospitalized with the flu.  On May 7, 1948, Bob Osgood became a member of the Marion Cubs in the Ohio-Indiana League; he was sent to Marion from Springfield after the club’s manager/catcher Lew “Zeke” Bekeza broke a bone in his hand.

Osgood appeared in two games behind the plate; he hit .500 with five singles in ten at-bats.

On May 11, 1948, Osgood was sitting on the bench with teammates during a rain delay in Richmond, Indiana.  The Marion Star said:

“Osgood, a catcher who played his first game for the Cubs last Sunday, collapsed and died in the Cubs’ dugout…The heart attack came as the Cubs team took shelter from a rain storm…At 8:03 p.m. after more than an hour of artificial respiration (two doctors) declared the boy dead.”

His manager, Bezeka told the paper “Osgood had not looked well in his few days with the Cubs and had a blue coloring to his face.”

A postscript:

 According to Jack Durant of The Associated Press,  former Reds and Dodgers catcher Clyde Sukeforth, a Dodger scout,  was in the stands and “Seeing the commotion around the bench, rushed out the stands to the dugout,” upon arriving “He knelt beside the boy who loved baseball more than he feared death and when he looked into the stilled features, well he knew who it was—Bobby Osgood, his own nephew.”

Clyde Sukeforth

A shorter version of this post appeared on August 17, 2012.

“Pace is what decides Pennant Races”

28 Oct

Joseph B. Bowles ran a newspaper syndication service in Chicago during the first two decades of the 20th Century.  His content was mostly religion and baseball.  One series of articles he published asked players and managers to explain “How I Win.”

Hugh Duffy, the new manager of the Chicago White Sox was the subject of a 1910 article:

“There is an element in baseball which is not on the surface, and which players, spectators, lovers of the game and often managers themselves do not realize or understand.  This element is pace.

Hugh Duffy

                            Hugh Duffy

“Pace is what decides pennant races.  The team that is fast enough, well conditioned enough and smart enough to set the pace, and force the other clubs to play at top speed all the time to hold in the race, is the pennant-winning team unless it cuts out too fast a pace and breaks itself.  In races where all the clubs start slowly and are a long time rounding into true playing condition, some flash in the pan club may win by a spurt of speed, but in most races the conditioned, fast team plays steadily and forcing the pace against its closest competitors, wins.

“Ability to hold the pace is the test of the gameness and the fighting spirit of a club and no club can win a pennant, or be a consistent winner unless it is courageous enough to stand the strain and fight every step of the way.

“Pennants usually are won by the gamest club, rather than by the fastest ones or the best ones.  Before a season starts each manager calculates the strength, the speed, and the hitting and fielding ability of the men under him and calculates what sort of pace is best suited to his team.  If he thinks his club is strong enough he may force the speed from the start, trying to spread eagle the other clubs and win away by himself.  Sometimes this is the best policy, for often an inferior club, if permitted to gain a big lead on the others, will get so full of confidence that nothing can stop it.  There have been such cases but they are seldom, and the manager who strains his pitching staff and risks damaging his team in order to gain an early lead is likely to find himself in mid-season with a crippled and broken club.  On the other hand, the manager who strives to hold back and save the strength of his team for a hard finish is liable to have a discouraged and beaten club on his hands just at the time he is ready to make his spurt towards the lead.

“The manager must strive to strike the happy medium, to reserve the strength of his team, especially of pitchers, without falling completely out of the race.  Above all, he must keep the spirit and the condition of his men to a high standard.  The well-conditioned club, composed of players working in unity, and with brains enough to keep themselves in condition all the time, will beat much better ball clubs in a bruising race.

“As for individual standards, I want brains on my ball club.  The smart ballplayer, who keeps thinking all the time, who is looking for an opening, and out thinking his opponents, is a much better player than the men who can out bat, outrun and outfield him.  Speed and hitting ability are the main essentials of a team.  I do not claim that twenty reporters, who probably know the game better than any twenty ballplayers do, could win a pennant, but the brains must direct intelligently the actions of trained hands and feet and if, combined with brains, hands and feet, a player has the quality known as aggressiveness, he is a winning ballplayer.  The manager cannot think for twelve men.  He can correct their mistakes, or tell them about their blunders, may order their plays and discipline them, but there are a hundred times in each game when the men must think for themselves and if they do not, then defeat is to be expected.”

Duffy was unable to find the “pace” with his White Sox, who finished in sixth place with a 66-85 record. Late in the season, The Chicago Daily News placed the blame on the manager, saying it was:

“(A) generally recognized fact that President Charles A. Comiskey’s 1910 White Sox are a dismal failure…Lack of teamwork and the inability of Hugh Duffy to manage the team properly are the real causes of the disgraceful showing.”

In eight seasons as a major league manager he never finished better than fourth place—he did win two championships in the minor leagues, with the Milwaukee Creams in the Western League in 1903 and the Portland Duffs in the New England League in 1915.

Tragic Exits 2

5 May

Charles Rapp

Charles “Adonis” Rapp was a left-handed pitcher (he also played first base and outfield) who began his career with the Austin Senators in the Texas League in 1898.  For the next several years he played for a variety of Midwest based clubs (Fort Wayne, Saginaw, Grand Rapids) in the Interstate and Michigan State Leagues.

Contemporary newspaper reports say he was also a member of the South Bend Greens in the Central League, but he is not listed on any surviving rosters; he was also said to have been “tried out by Milwaukee, when that city was in the old Western League (1903).”

Rapp’s trail goes cold after the 1903 season until 1909.  Rapp was living in his hometown of South Bend, Indiana.  The Indianapolis News reported on May 17:

“Charles Rapp, former ball player, and well known throughout the city, killed his mother late Saturday and then committed suicide.  The weapons used were a hammer, a dull paring knife and a small pair of shears.  It is said that Rapp had a tendency towards insanity, that the tendency had been marked during the last few days and that he undoubtedly deranged when he attacked his mother.

“Rapp did not die until several hours after the double crime had been committed and after he had been removed from the Rapp home to the St. Joseph County Jail.  Before death came, and in reply to a query about the crime, Rapp said: ‘I tried to get the whole family.’

“The last person to see Mrs. Rapp alive and the first one to discover the body of the woman and the dying son was Charlotte Benz.  Mrs. Benz had spent the day at the Rapp home and left the house late in the afternoon…On her return she stopped at the Rapp place, entering by the rear door…and then suddenly a sickening sight met her gaze.  Lying in a pool of blood at one side of the sitting-room were Rapp and the body of the mother.  The heads were close together and as Mrs. Benz entered the young man cried out: ‘Get out of here, Lottie, get out of here.’  It was evidently his intention to kill the Benz woman, but Rapp was unable to move from loss of blood.”

The Associated Press said of the incident:

 “Until Rapp fell a victim to the liquor habit he was one of the most popular young men in the city.”

Henry Long

Henry Long was born in Chicago in 1870 or 1871 (cemetery and death records disagree), he was the younger brother of  Herman who had a 16-year big league career.

Herman Long

Herman Long

Little is known about Henry’s early life, or when exactly he began playing professional baseball.  Based on newspaper reports he appears to be the “Long” who played with the Battle Creek Adventists in the Michigan State League in 1895.

Before the 1896 season he was signed by the Lewiston team in the New England League.  The Lewiston Daily Sun said:

“Manager (Michael) Garrity has signed pitcher Henry Long of Chicago, a brother of Herman Long of the Bostons, and is said to be a good pitcher, a hard hitter and a good all-around man.”

Long didn’t last in Lewiston, he was 0-2 in just three games before he was released.  Long then appeared in one game for the Shamokin Actives in the Pennsylvania State League, and then joined the Hagerstown Lions in the Cumberland Valley League.

The right-handed pitcher started seven games for the Lions and was 4-3 with a 1.29 ERA.

On July 10 he missed the team’s train for a game in Hanover, Maryland.  The Philadelphia Times said he attempted to hop a freight train and fell; his right arm was crushed under the wheels.  His arm was amputated “but Long sank rapidly and died in the hospital” in Hagerstown.  While contemporary news reports said the body was to be shipped back to Chicago, where it would be “received by his brother Herman,” he was instead buried in Maryland

Matt Barry

In 1900 The Sporting Life said Matthew “Matt” Barry had been “the first player from Rhode Island to receive money for playing ball.”

Information on where he played is sketchy—he was the Rhode Islands in the New England League in 1877 and Springfield (MA) of the International Association in 1878–but beyond that, there are few references to where he played during his career.

The Providence News-Democrat called Barry, who was born in Providence in 1850, a “well-known ballplayer and one of the best-known members of the sporting fraternity in the state.”

Barry eventually returned to his hometown, Providence where he operated the Empire Saloon, on Empire Street.

After the turn of the century, Barry suffered a series of financial setbacks.   On August 30, 1907 The News Democrat said:

 “(Barry) attempted suicide by inhaling illuminating gas in his room in the Essex house, at 23 Burrill Street.”

Barry was discovered by the owner of the house:

 “The room was locked, but the door was forced, and then Barry was seen unconscious on the bed with gas streaming from an open unlighted jet…as Barry’s usual custom was to sleep with all the windows open , the fact that they were closed , indicated that he had prepared to take his life.”

He was taken to Rhode Island, where he died on September 2.

Barry’s friends disputed the story that he had taken his own life, claiming his “financial embarrassments” had been overstated and that he “was in better condition financially than he had been for years.”  His friends instead said Barry, who “had been troubled with insomnia” and took morphine to sleep, turning off the lights “at that time the morphine would begin to get in its work,” had accidentally turned on the gas when he meant to turn off the light “which was on the same chandelier.”

The cause of death was never officially determined.

“There is a Constant fear that Someday the Men will Decline to go on the field.”

31 Mar

The St. Louis Maroons were a big league franchise for just three seasons.  After winning the inaugural (and only) Union Association championship in 1884, the team was absorbed into the National League and was a dismal 36-72 in 1885, and 43-79 in 1886.

The club disbanded after the ’86 season and throughout the winter there was speculation about whether the franchise would end up in Kansas City (where local businessmen were looking to replace the Cowboys, who also went broke after the ’86 season) and Indianapolis.

The deal was finalized on March 8 when the franchise and nine players were sold to Indianapolis.  The Indianapolis News announced on the front page:

The Base Ball Deal

It Is Finally Completed

The story said:

“There is general rejoicing about the city over the certainty of having a league baseball club here.”

The team would be called the Hoosiers, and play at the Seventh Street Grounds, a ballpark owned by local businessman John Tomlinson Brush.

John T. Brush

John T. Brush

Brush was the driving financial force behind the deal and had been involved in local baseball in Indianapolis for several years, first having financed and organized a local amateur league in the city in order to promote his business—the When Store, and later the When Clothing Company—he was also an investor in the short-lived 1884 incarnation of the Hoosiers who struggled through one twelfth-place (29-78) season in the American Association.

The Hoosiers first year was unsuccessful and chaotic.

The first manager was George Walter “Watch” Burnham, who had been a National League umpire for 41 games in 1883 and one in 1886.  His role in the effort to acquire the franchise, his selection as manager, and the manner in which he acquired his nickname, gave some pause about the seriousness of the Indianapolis operation.

"Watch" Burnham

“Watch” Burnham

The Chicago Tribune said:

“The promoter of the Indianapolis movement is George W. Burnham, known as “Watch” Burnham.  At Cleveland, in 1883, while acting as a league umpire, he endeavored to establish himself in the public esteem by buying a watch, having ‘Presented to George W. Burnham by his friend and admirers’ inscribed on it, then having it sent out to him on the field during the progress of the game.  It is not surprising that some of the league people are suspicious of the Hoosier effort.”

Brush was not the team’s original president, that duty fell to a local attorney named Louis Newberger who spent his entire two-month tenure in the position complaining that he had no time to run the team; Brush took over as president in late May.

The Hoosiers limped to a 6-22 start—no doubt aided by 22 straight road games from May 5 through May 30.  Burnham resigned once, just five games into the season, but returned a few days later.  By mid May, as the team struggled through their endless road trip, The Chicago Tribune said a mutiny was expected:

“The dissatisfaction on the part of the players with Burnham, the manager, amounts almost to insubordination and there is a constant fear that someday the men will decline to go on the field.”

The Tribune said Burnham had fined “the entire team,” and Captain Jack Glasscock “said he would be black-listed before he would play again under the management of Burnham, but was finally prevailed upon to do so.”

Jack Glasscock

Jack Glasscock

Upon the team’s return to Indianapolis Burnham was replaced with team secretary Fred Thomas.  Thomas, like Burnham, had no professional experience as a player or manager, and his tenure was not much more successful.  The club lost 18 of 29 games with him at the helm.

The team’s third manager also had no previous professional experience.  Horace Fogel was a sportswriter for The Philadelphia Press when he was tapped to be the third manager.  The Indianapolis News said hopefully:

“Mr. Horace Fogel, the new manager, is a good-looking young man, and makes a favorable impression on a stranger.  He is evidently very anxious to make the club a winner.”

The same July day The News opined on Fogel the paper also noted that maintenance of the ballpark had also angered some fans:

“Very unwisely the management had the chairs in the gallery varnished recently and yesterday several ladies had their dresses ruined.”

Things were no better under Fogel.  The Hoosiers went 20-49 under their third manager, and finished their inaugural season in eighth place with a 37-89 record.

The News said:

“Staring out under unfavorable circumstances…with inefficient management throughout the season, and many more defeats than victories, the club nevertheless, was accorded a generous support.”

The 1888 season became a matter of civic pride for the team’s ownership, local businesses and the newspaper.

In January it was announced that the Hoosiers would have a manager with at least some experience.  Harrison “Harry” Spence had played and managed in, among others, the Eastern, Northwestern and New England Leagues.  The News said of the new manager:

“A number of ball players of various clubs, who know Harry Spence…speak very highly of him.  Sam Thompson says he is a thorough gentleman, well liked by the players, and a fine manager.”

The News said the success of the Hoosiers was necessary for the future Indianapolis:

“Business and professional men are all interested in it, for, aside from the pleasure they derive from witnessing the games, they recognize the fact that the club is of great benefit in advertising the enterprise and prosperity of the city.”

The paper organized a campaign called “Boom for Baseball.”  Sixty-eight local businessmen “representing the leading establishments in the city,” donated their advertising space back to the newspaper “for the purpose of setting forth the advantages that will accrue to the city, from the maintenance of a National League Baseball Club here.”

Brush told the paper:

“We want at least five hundred subscribers for season tickets, and with this as a guarantee, we can get the money we want.  If any such player as (Fred) Pfeffer or (Larry) Twitchell can be bought we can and will buy him, and we can get the club in first-class shape for opening the season.”

Season tickets were sold for $25 each, and Brush said “We will have a grandstand that will be a beauty, with all the latest improvements, so that there will not be one uncomfortable seat in it.  Then we will have a space set aside for carriages and a special department for ladies and their escorts.”

88indy4 88indy2

Some of the advertisements from Indianapolis' "Baseball Boom"  campaign

Some of the advertisements from The Indianapolis’ News’ “Baseball Boom” campaign

Most importantly, Brush assured the people of Indianapolis that they “would have a ballclub here that nobody would be ashamed of.”

He was wrong.

While not as bad as 1887, the Hoosiers got off to a 2-11 start, and struggled to a 50-85 seventh place finish, 36 games behind the champion New York Giants.

By 1889 Indianapolis had all but given up.  The team nearly went under before the season started.  In January a headline in The News said:

The Ball Club Gone

With debts of more than $5,000, the paper said Brush would “surrender the franchise” to the league.  Brush was able to raise enough capital to keep the club operating for one more sub .500 season (59-75), and another seventh place finish.  The only highlights for Indianapolis in 1889 was the arrival of 18-year-old Indiana native Amos Rusie, who posted a 12-10 record, and Jack Glasscock who hit .352, for the Hoosiers.

The team was dropped after the 1889 season, but not because of money.  The National League bought out Brush’s Hoosiers and the Washington Nationals.  Brush received a reported $67,000 for the team, he also received stock in the New York Giants as payment for former Hoosier players.  One year earlier when The News reported that Brush was on the verge of losing the team, the paper claimed “the franchise is now worth $15,500 cash.”  While that figure might have been low there was no doubt that Brush did well on the deal.  A year later he was president and majority stock holder of the Cincinnati Reds.

Indianapolis would only be a major league city one more time; in 1914 the Hoosiers were champions of the Federal League, but were relocated the following season, becoming the Newark Peppers.

“Figures of your kind are Pathetic”

13 Aug

John McGraw made news for an “innovation” in 1909.  The Associated Press said:

“McGraw has adopted an innovation in baseball which will appeal to fandom throughout the National league circuit and probably prevent (Fred) Merkle and others from running to the clubhouse before they ‘touch second.’ The innovation is the signing of the once famous player Arlie Latham as coach for the base runners.”

Arlie Latham, top center, facing team mascot, with 1888 American Association champion St. Louis Browns

Arlie Latham, top center, facing team mascot, with 1888 American Association champion St. Louis Browns

Walter Arlington “Arlie” Latham, was “particularly known for his humor” in the 1880s and 90s.  Primarily a third baseman with the St. Louis Browns in the American Association, the Chicago Pirates in the Players League and the Cincinnati Reds in the National League, Latham was nicknamed “The Freshest Man on Earth.”

The Associated Press said Latham:

“(B)rought much enjoyment to spectators of the Cincinnati club’s games and the Reds kept Latham a long while after he deteriorated as a player because of his drawing power as a comedian and humorist.

“Latham will don the uniform of the Giants and take his place in the coacher’s box while the Giants are at bat and between coaching the baserunner and batsmen and ‘getting the goat’ of the opposing pitchers will furnish an interesting sidelight to the New York games.”

Things did not go smoothly when Latham joined the team.  During spring training in Marlin, Texas Latham and McGraw were returning to their rooms at the Arlington Hotel when Giants outfielder James “Cy” Seymour, according to The St. Louis Post Dispatch, “knocked him down, and then bit him on the cheek.”  The article said McGraw and Latham did not know the “reason (Latham) was attacked,” but McGraw announced that Seymour was given his unconditional release.  McGraw said:

“Seymour is done with the New York club, and that goes.  It was the worst thing I ever saw pulled off.  Nothing like that can go on the New York club.”

Despite what he said McGraw did not release Seymour; the outfielder was suspended for the first week of the regular season, and The Dallas Morning News said McGraw made Seymour pay “his own expenses in Texas after the unpleasant episode.”

Arlie Latham, New York Giants coach

Arlie Latham, New York Giants coach

Latham was often criticized for his antics and even more often for the quality of his work as a coach, which became such a running joke that The New York Times said after the Giants had beaten the Cardinals in a September 1910 game:

“Arlie Latham’s team won it with their eyes shut, 11 to 3.  Latham’s coaching was invaluable yesterday.  He advised the players to touch every base and this tip won the game for them.”

The Sporting Life said:

“(Latham) undoubtedly lost a lot of games by bad coaching.  He got so unreliable that in a tight pinch McGraw would shift him from third to first and take the third line himself.”

The Sporting Life also said that Latham served as McGraw’s spy;  a position that would later be filled by another colorful McGraw coach, Dick Kinsella.

Giants outfielder Fred Snodgrass told Lawrence Ritter in “The Glory of their Times,” that Latham “was probably the worst third base coach who ever lived.”

It looked like the end of the line for baseball’s first full-time coach after the 1910 season.  The New York Herald said Latham “will not wear a Giant uniform next season,” and:

“He may amuse old timers, who remember him as a great ball player with (Charlie) Comiskey’s St. Louis Browns, but the new generation of fans seems to regard his efforts with disfavor.”

Despite the criticisms and predictions of his impending firing, Latham was back with Giants in 1911.  After the Giants pennant winning season Latham again joined the Giants for spring training in Texas in 1912, but in March, according to The Associated Press:

“(Latham) was carried as one of the twenty-five men permitted on the payroll.  McGraw did not want to let Latham go, but needed the place on the payroll for a real player.”

While McGraw didn’t want to lose his coach, most of baseball thought the end of Latham’s coaching career was a good thing; but even the New York press was not as harsh in their assessment of Latham as was Ed Remley, the baseball writer for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

“Arlie Latham has passed.

“May he rest in peace, for he is truly dead…Arlie has been called the fool of baseball and with much justice.  He was not the fool in any modern sense but more like the professional jesters who were kept in the courts of kings in the middle ages.

“Today, reading descriptions of the position of the court jesters, their crude horseplay jokes, we are not filled with laughter but with pity…The crude vassals of a former generation thought the brutal jokes of the court fool were funny; the bleacherites of today laugh at Arlie Latham pretending an engrossing interest in a game which he cannot even play himself…Vale, Latham—You have our sympathy, but we are not really sorry you are gone.  Figures of your kind are pathetic and pathos has nothing to do with baseball.”

Latham was next heard from when he accepted a coaching position with Patrick “Patsy” Flaherty’s Lynn Fighters in the New England League; that job only lasted until June.  Latham managed to run afoul of the entire Lynn team.  The Associated Press said he was forced to resign because “Players thought he was after manager Flaherty’s job and threatened to go on strike unless he was dismissed.”

Latham finished the 1914 season as an umpire in the Massachusetts and Rhode Island based Colonial League.  He did not return the following season, and in May of 1915 The Pittsburgh Press reported under the headline “Arlie Latham Has Quit The Diamond for All Time Now,” that he had found a new line of work; operating a deli in the Washington Heights neighborhood in Manhattan:

“He declares that as a delicatessener he is batting only .106 at present, but that when he gets properly warmed up and learns how to shave 15 ½ ounces of ham for a pound he will hit with the best of them in the delicatessen league.”

By 1917 Latham was in Europe, for the last act of his baseball career.  From 1917 to 1923 he lived in London and organized baseball leagues for military personnel.  The highlight of his stay was the July 4, 1918 game between the Army and Navy teams.  Latham served as umpire and greeted the most important dignitary at the game, King George V.  The Associated Press said:

“It had been planned to have the king throw out the first ball, but this was abandoned because of the netting in front of the royal box, so the king brought the ball out on the field and handed it to the umpire.  One of the balls used was autographed by the king with an American fountain pen and mailed tonight to President Wilson as a souvenir. “

Arlie Latham, front row center, with army team in London, 1918

Arlie Latham, front row center, with army team in London, 1918

After returning to the States, Latham first returned to the deli, then later was hired to work in the press box at the Polo Grounds, he remained a fixture at the New York ballpark until his death at age 92 in 1952.

As a result of outliving his critics and becoming one of the last surviving links to the 19th Century game by the time of his death, memories had faded about the “pathetic” figure of Latham, and only the image as  “baseball’s clown prince” remained.

Joe Jerger

26 Nov

Through a pronunciation fluke and poor subsequent research, Joseph J. Jerger remains the least known player to have been involved in a fatal beaning in a professional game.

Jerger was born in Germany, February 14, 1877, and began playing professionally with the Fall River Indians in the New England League in 1902.  With the exception of two short stints in the Eastern and Central Leagues, he remained with Fall River through 1907.

On August 9, 1906, with Thomas F. Burke, left fielder for the Lynn Shoemakers at the plate Jerger threw a pitch that broke inside and struck Burke in the temple.  Burke was immediately knocked unconscious, he was caught by the umpire as he fell.

According to newspaper reports Burke was  “a former player for Boston University and a law student in the off season,” this could be true, or Burke might have been confused with Boston athlete and Olympian Thomas E. Burke, who was attending law school during this period.

The real confusion was with Jerger.

Every contemporary newspaper account of the event, using the name as it was pronounced rather than as spelled, called Jerger “Joe Yeager.”   It was probably also due to Joseph Francis “Little Joe” Yeager, who had been a pitcher and in 1906 was playing infield for the New York Highlanders.

The Sporting Life had only added to the confusion in July of 1906 when they said:

“The name of the Fall River pitcher is Jegger not Yeager.”

Early reports were optimistic, The Boston Globe said “Doctors have hope,” for Burke’s recovery. Burke underwent surgery, but never regained consciousness and died on August 11.

Jerger was arrested and charged with manslaughter on August 18.  Contrary to some accounts, like in the otherwise excellent, “Death At The Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities of Players, Other Personnel and Spectators in Amateur and Professional Baseball, 1862-2007,” Jerger was never in danger of being convicted–the local authorities had determined that the best way to “place (Jerger) in good standing,” was to make his exoneration official.  (Incidentally, the book also incorrectly identifies Jerger as “Yeager”).

At the time of his “arrest,” the Lynn Chief of Police (named Burke), called the manslaughter charge “a mere formality,” and said it was only to “have a complete record of Burke’s death.”

Judge Berry of the Lynn Police Court, who had been in attendance at the game, presided over the brief hearing on August 20.  Six witnesses testified on Jerger’s behalf and according to The Boston Evening Transcript, Berry ruled that “(Jerger) was in no way to blame for the death of Burke,” and:

“Judge Berry told Yeager (sic) that he was a good pitcher and it gave him pleasure to exonerate him.”

Unlike other pitchers who were involved with hit by pitch deaths, the name confusion meant that the incident did not seem to follow Jerger.  I cannot find a reference to Jerger in any newspaper article after 1906 that mentions Burke’s death.

After being released by Fall River at the close of 1907, Jerger joined the Wheeling Stogies in the Central League.  In 1909 he had his best season, posting a 20-12 record for the East Liverpool Potters in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League.  Jerger finished his career in 1910 with the Quincy Vets in the Central Association.

Jerger died in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, February 6, 1961.

“A Vain and Foolish Kick”

23 Nov

The Brooklyn Bridegrooms won the 1890 National League Championship by 6 ½ games over the Chicago Colts behind pitcher Tom Lovett who posted a 30-11 record.

Just three years earlier there was speculation that Lovett’s career might be over due to overwork.

Tom Lovett, 1890

Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1863, Lovett began his professional career with Waterbury in the Connecticut State League in 1884.  He appeared in 16 games for Philadelphia Athletics in the American Association in 1885 and was in the New England League with the Lynn/Newburyport Clamdiggers.

In 1887 he signed with the Bridgeport Giants in the Eastern League and dominated the league in May and early June.  Despite getting off to a fast start (the team was 20-5 in May), Bridgeport was suffering a decline in attendance and the franchise was in trouble.

At the same time community leaders in Oshkosh, Wisconsin were determined to win the Northwest League championship, and they put enough money together to offer to purchase Lovett who was 21-3, as well as Tug Wilson, Bridgeport’s catcher and leading hitter, and shortstop Dan Shannon, the Eastern League’s leading base stealer.

Lovett was 20-2 for Oshkosh (40-7 for the season) and they easily won the championship, but he did not pitch during the season’s closing days; The Sporting Life reported that “Lovett is said to be lame in the arm.”

Despite speculation well into the next spring that his arm was permanently “lamed,” Lovett recovered and posted a 30-14 season in 1888 with Omaha in the Western Association.   In the fall of 1888 he was purchased by Brooklyn, then in the American Association.

Lovett was 17-10 in his first season with Brooklyn, and followed that with his pennant-winning performance in 1890.  He then dropped to 23-19 in 1891 as the team fell to 6th place; Lovett threw a 4-0 no-hitter in June against the New York Giants.

After the 1891 season Brooklyn attempted to cut his salary to $2800 (various sources say he either earned $3000 or $3500 in 1891).  Lovett demanded $3500 and turned down a compromise offer of $3200.

He said he could earn more money operating his tavern in Providence and chose to sit out the 1892 season.

The Sporting Life called it, “A vain and foolish kick against salary reduction.”

In this case the critics might have been correct.  The Lovett-less Grooms improved from 61-76 in 1891 to 95-59 in 1892.

Hat in hand, he returned to Brooklyn for the 1893 season signing for $2400.

Lovett pitched in only 14 games and had a 3-5 record before hurting his arm again.  The following season he pitched for the Boston Beaneaters until he was released in July.  His Major League career over, Lovett finished 1894 in the Eastern League with the Providence Clamdiggers and spent 1895 with the renamed Providence Grays in the same league.

Lovett, with Boston 1894

Lovett, most likely baseball’s first true hold out, spent the rest of his life in Providence and died in 1928.

Lost Team Photos

19 Nov

Another photo I’ve never seen published before, the 1908 Akron Champs, Ohio-Pennsylvania League Pennant Winners.

Top left to right:

Dick Breen—a minor leaguer for 12 seasons, his career overlapped with another career minor leaguer named Dick Breen—this Breen’s career came to an end in 1917, when while playing for the Reading Pretzels in the New York State League he got in a fight with Wilkes-Barre Barons  manager Jack “Red” Calhoun.  Both men were suspended indefinitely; Breen was released several days later, neither ever appeared in organized ball after that season.

Bill Speas—longtime minor league player and manager, Speas hit.284 in 22 seasons and won three Mississippi Valley League pennants as a player/manager with the Cedar Rapids Bunnies and Dubuque Dubs.

John Brackenridge—appeared in seven games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1904, Brackenridge pitched in the Pacific Coast League from 1909-1913.

Fred “Buff” Ehman—a 6’ 4” (some sources list him an inch shorter) right-handed pitcher, the enigmatic Ehman was 81-36 for Akron from 1906-08, but according to The Akron Beacon Journal, was known for disappearing for days at a time and “sulking.” He had multiple trials with Major League clubs; according The Mansfield (OH) Daily Shield he never stuck with a team because of “his refusal to exert himself.”  Through 11 minor league seasons he won 214 games.

Wilbur Good—spent parts of 11 seasons in the Major Leagues: Joe Tinker said of him, “He is one of the fastest runners in the National League and still one of the poorest base runners.”

Edward Murphy—a light hitting catcher, Murphy played five seasons in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League.

Bottom left to right:

Bill Kommer—there is no listing for Kommer on any minor league data base.  He was left-handed pitcher who played for many amateur and semi-pro teams in Ohio during the first decade of the 20th Century;  he was released by Akron in July, there is no record of his statistics for the ’08 season.

William Hille—“Silent Bill” was a shortstop who played until 1917 primarily in the Texas and South Atlantic League.

Jim Callahan—his Major League career consisted of one game with the 1902 New York Giants; played three seasons for Akron (1906-08), was reported to have played in the Western League in 1909, but no records exist.

Matt BroderickThe Reading Eagle called him “one of the best shortstops who ever played on a minor league field,” Broderick played two games in the Major Leagues with Brooklyn in 1903—played minor league and amateur baseball for the remainder of the decade while working for Carpenter Steel Works in Reading, PA.

George Texter—one of the first players to sign with the Federal League in 1913, Texter played for the Indianapolis Hoosiers/New Jersey Pepper during the Fed’s two seasons as a Major League (1913-14).  Managed teams throughout the 1920s in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League (no longer recognized by the National Association, the OPL was nonetheless a strong semi-pro/industrial league during that period).

Cecil Armstrong—a dominant right-handed pitcher, first with the Youngstown Ohio Works team in 1905 during his three seasons with Akron (64-33 from 1906-08), Armstrong spent 1909 and 1910 with New Bedford Whalers in the New England League. Armstrong retired to Akron after the 1910 season.

Salaries–1897

15 Nov

After Amos Rusie ended his year-long holdout, the issue of salaries was, as it has been throughout the history of the game, hotly debated—some thought ballplayers were grossly overpaid during a period when the average annual salary in the United States was just under $675.

Amos Rusie

The Fort Wayne Gazette published the following in an effort to address “much questioning as to the salaries paid young players at the present time.”

According to The Gazette National League players averaged $175 to $250 a month “all the way up to $5000 for veterans.”

Other league salaries:

Eastern League: $100-$150 for young players $200-$250 for stars

Western League: $75-$150, up to $300 for stars

Atlantic League: $75-$250

Western Association: $65-$115

Southern League: $75-$100

New England League: $75-$125

Interstate League: $65-$150

The Gazette came down on the side of the players:

“It is customary to speak of the high salaries and easy lives of National League players but the kickers seldom realize that the man who now supports his little family in comfort on $300 a month—probably had to slave two years for perhaps $75 a month, $450 a year…and a probable loss of salary whenever the little league he played with disbanded in arrears.”

Rooney Sweeney

18 Oct

John “Rooney” Sweeney was better known for his unpredictability and for making  good copy for the 19th Century press than for anything he did on the baseball field.  He remains one of the few Major League players for which a date of death is unknown.

Born in New York City in 1858, Sweeney’s first professional experience was in 1881 in the Eastern Championship Association, a league which only lasted one season.  Like many of the short-lived leagues of baseball’s first 30 years, the ECA had no fixed schedules and no control over player movement making it impossible to keep full rosters.  Sweeney played with four teams in the league: The Brooklyn Atlantics, New York Mets, New York Quick Steps and New York New Yorks.

There’s no record of where Sweeney played the following season, but in 1883 he played for Camden Merritts in the Interstate Association and made his Major League debut with the Baltimore Orioles in the American Association.

Although there is no other source for the claim, a 1910 article on the origin of catcher’s equipment in The Freeman claims that Sweeney was playing on the West Coast in Oakland for part of 1883 and was one of the first catchers to wear a mask, “The day he placed it on his head and went up behind the bat he was ‘Booed’ until he took it off in disgust.  Later the fans began to see the benefits of the wire covering.”

John “Rooney” Sweeney”

Sweeney then played with the Baltimore Monumentals in the Union Association in 1884.  He appeared in three games for the St. Louis Maroons in the National League in 1885 before being released.

According to The Sporting Life:

“When Rooney Sweeney was recently released by (Maroons owner Henry) Lucas he had quite a roll. So before leaving St. Louis, just to blow in a dollar or two, Rooney… hired a fine team of grays and a park wagon from a livery stable.  This was at ten o’clock Thursday morning.  At three o’clock Friday morning, eleven hours behind time, a messenger boy drove the team into the stable. Both the grays looked ready for the bone-yard and the owner at that moment would have sold them for a song. Their whole appearance showed that they had been driven nearly to death.

“Several men in the stable armed themselves with clubs and horsewhips and started out in search of Rooney. He must have been told of their coming, however, for before daybreak he took a train. It was lucky for him that the train started out before the livery men caught him.”

Rooney’s never again appeared in the Majors, but was said to have joined a team in Troy, New York after leaving St. Louis.  In 1887 and ’88 he played in the New England League, and then dropped out of sight, and apparently out of baseball, again.

In 1890, Sweeney signed with the London Tecumsehs in the International Association.

Official records indicate that he only appeared in one game—The Chicago Tribune, on May 12 reported on his debut:

 “Rooney Sweeney’s return to the diamond was not a success.  In his opening game nine bases were stolen on him and he had three errors.”

Things went downhill from there.  Sweeney was released in mid-May but apparently remained in London.  In June, it was reported that he had been arrested for stealing $40 from London pitcher James Maguire.

He received four months in jail and as the judge handed down the sentence The Sporting Life said, “Sweeney wept copiously.”

It was reported that Sweeney spent his time in jail writing letters to friends, one of which found its way into several newspapers.  Regarding the crime he was convicted of, Sweeney wrote:

 “We were all playing poker in a room up here and there was a big pot on the table.   Just then somebody flung a big black cat square on the table.  Of course the cat was scared and in her hurry to get away scattered the chips every which way and knocked down the stacks that were standing in front of the players.   Well, I just grabbed what I thought was my share, the same as any man would do, and it got me into jail, that’s all.”

After his release from jail, there are no records that indicate he ever again played in a professional game, but nearly every article written about him mentions that “He is not averse to playing baseball again.”

In 1892, Sweeney became involved in boxing, claiming he was going to manage fighters.  Just weeks later he was reported he was through with boxing and said:

 “I thought ballplayers was (sic) the ungreatfullest (sic) lot on earth, but they ain’t in it with fighters.”

And of course, the articles said, “Rooney is going to try his hand again at catching.”

Within a year of Sweeney’s foray into the boxing world both of his parents and his brother, New York City police officer Jeremiah Sweeney, died, and it was reported that he had inherited a great deal of property in New York and New Jersey, but of course in between collecting rents he said he’d like to play baseball again.

Sweeney was next heard from in September of 1897 when The Sporting Life said:

 “John Sweeney, a once famous base ball player, more popularly known as “Rooney” Sweeney  is dying in the Hudson Street Hospital as the result of injuries sustained by a fall in Battery Park last night.

“For some past Sweeney has been assisting the boatmen at the Battery…last night, while seated on the excursion pier, he was seized with an epileptic fit, and fell heavily to the ground, sustaining a concussion of the brain. An ambulance was rung up, and he was hurried to the hospital.  Sweeney has played with many of the principal base ball clubs both in the East and West, being at one time a member of the famous Metropolitan nine. He was also identified during his career with the St. Louis and Indianapolis.”

But that might not have been the end for Sweeney.  Three years later it was reported that he was working as a “Fireman on a tug boat.”

Sadly, that’s the last bit of information about the enigmatic Sweeney.  Whether he had succumbed to his illness in 1897 or he recovered and ended up aboard that tug boat we may never know.  No records of his death are available.