Tag Archives: New Orleans Pelicans

Oyster Joe Martina

26 May

Joseph John “Oyster Joe” Martina made a name for himself in New Orleans before he threw his first professional pitch. Martina’s father Anthony was at one time the city’s largest oyster dealer, a business he passed on to his sons.

Martina was playing semi-pro ball for the Sam Bonarts—a team sponsored by the owner of a local clothing store, and for a club called the Beavers  when he decided in addition to pitching, he had a talent for distance throwing.

He won $25 in a contest at Pelican Park in July of 1909, The New Orleans Times-Democrat said Martina “threw the sphere from home plate over the back fence.”

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Martina, circa 1909

The throw was said to be 394 feet; just 11 feet short of what was considered the world record—there was some dispute in contemporaneous accounts about who actually held the record, some credited it to Larry Twitchell, said to have accomplished the feat in 1888 and others to Same Crane, whose was made in 1884.

Martina made his next attempt on July 31.

The New Orleans Picayune said:

“Joe Martina met with success this afternoon in his effort to break the world’s record for throwing a baseball, his best throw being 416 feet and 2 inches.”

The paper said he “threw a standard league baseball, which was inspected by several representatives of the southern division of the American Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).”

The event was of interest to local gamblers and when Martina made the record-setting throw it created a stir:

“Disputes also arose over Martina being allowed five throws. Those placing wagers against his breaking the record claimed that only three throws should be allowed. It was on the fifth throw that Martina made the record.”

There was also initially some doubt that the record would be accepted by the AAU because of the five throws. The Times-Democrat said:

“Usually only three throws are allowed. But as there are no definite rules governing contests of that kind, Martina’s record will likely stand. Whether it was his fifth of fiftieth it was a great heave and one which should go as a record.”

The Picayune said there might be another problem with the record:

“One regret remains, that the throw was not measured with a steel tape. It was measured with a linen tape, and may not be accepted by the AAU officials, although the throw was so much over the record the is no question of it being farther than Crane’s”

The record, and Marina’s performance in New Orleans’ semi-pro league earned him a tryout the following spring with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association—pitching three innings in the first game of Atlanta’s exhibition series with the Philadelphia Athletics. Marina gave up one run and struck out three.

The Atlanta Georgian and News said:

“Martina is nothing if not confident.

“After his try-out against Philadelphia he said: ‘Why, it’s just as easy to pitch against those big leaguers as it is against the New Orleans semi-pros. I don’t see anything very hard. I think I can make good in the Southern league all right I certainly had the steam against the Athletics. How many his did they make, anyhow’”

The Crackers did not agree, and sold the 20-year-old to the Savannah Indians in the Sally League

Martina bounced from Georgia, to Louisiana, to Mississippi and then Texas over the next four years.

In the spring of 1914, entering his third season with the Beaumont Oilers in the Texas League, Martina faced the New York Giants.  The Giants beat him 5 to 2, but The New York Sun said:

“The Giants had practice hitting speed the other day. Joe Martina, who prescribed the medicine for the National League champions, had it in caloric quantities…I yearned for a chance in the majors, felt I had more stuff than many pitchers sent up from the South but the big opportunity always passed me by.”

Red Murray of the Giants, barely avoided getting hit in the head with a Martina fastball, and told the paper:

“’That fellow’s got as much speed as I ever saw.’ Said John after the game, and the other Giants corroborated him. He’s as fast as (Chief) Bender.”

The Sun took notice of more than the pitcher’s speed:

“This Martina is something of a character. In the course of the game the umpire announced that Mathewson would pitch today. ‘Mathewson?’ queried Martina, who appears to be n iconoclast. ‘What busher’s that?’

“’Say,’ exclaimed the skeptical Martina to Chief Meyers when the latter made a base hit after several fruitless tries in that direction, ‘you’re lucky to get a hit off of me,’ and then, by the way of an afterthought: ‘All the hits you ever get are lucky.’

“Evidently, Mr. Martina is no hero worshiper.”

When he struck out Fred Snodgrass, he asked, “How do you like that, busher?”

Throughout his 20s, Martina was considered an “iron man,” pitching from 261 to 330 innings every year from 1910 through 1915; he also, according to The Picayune regularly pitched Sunday games in New Orleans throughout each off season.
In 1916, he injured his arm—or as The Arkansas Democrat said, his “arm cracked after hard usage.”

Speed Johnson of The Chicago Record Herald compared Martina to White Sox ace Ed Walsh, “The spitball king of other days now is a bench-warmer.”

Johnson said Chattanooga Lookouts manager Kid Elberfeld was the culprit:

“Performing under orders from (Elberfeld) Martina pitched seven games in the first sixteen games of the season. From May 1 to May 13 he officiated in five engagements, toiling with a sore arm.”

Elberfeld claimed that Martina injured his arm throwing too many spitballs, Johnson said, “it behooves young pitchers bent on winning fame as iron men to work only in their turn.”

Despite the reported injury, and a release from Chattanooga, Martina pitched 278 innings in 1916 with three teams.

Martina went back to the Texas League for four more seasons—including a 28-win season for Beaumont in 1919.

In 1921 he came back to the Southern Association, with his hometown Pelicans. From 1921-1923 he won 56 games, including a 22-6 mark in 1922. He told The Times-Picayune:

“It’s the old story, “You don’t learn how to pitch until your arm is gone.”

His three-year run with the Pelicans finally earned him a major league contract in 1924.  Umpire Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“Speaking of miracle workers, supermen, and rookie phenoms of baseball, don’t overlook pitcher Joe Martina of the Washington Nationals.

“At the age of 34, when most big leaguers are wondering how much longer they will be able to stand the pace, Joe Martina is making his debut.”

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Martina, 1924

Martina told Evans:

“I had as much stuff fifteen years ago as I have today, and with-it youth, but somehow the major leagues scouts would annually pass me up.”

He was 6-8 for the World Series Champion Senators, he pitched one perfect inning in game three of the World Series. In the off season, Washington Manager Bucky Harris told The Washington Post that Martina “will win at least 15 games this year and may reach the 20 mark.”

He was due to join the Senators in Tampa, Florida on February 19, 1925, but failed to show up. The Post said Martina wired President Clark Griffith and asked to report later because he was having a new home built. Griffith refused and he was “notified by telegraph” that he was suspended. The Washington Evening Star said he would be fined and forced “to labor at a smaller salary,” for the season.  The paper suggested that the pay cut would not impact him greatly because:

“The Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, with the resulting big crowds in attendance and the consequent increase in the oyster business conducted by Martina probably mean that the pitcher can suffer these financial setbacks and still be ahead of the game.”

He arrived in Tampa on March 1; The Star said Griffith withdrew the fine because Martina claimed he had received a letter from the Washington owner that he could report late:

“Griff admitted that in the stress of arranging for the annual pilgrimage South of his club he might have forgotten the original letter to Joe.”

On April 9, Martina, along with left-handers–Jim Brillheart and Jim McNamara—were released by Griffith. The Star said

 “(Martini’s) work this spring indicated he has passed the peak of his form which is not quite good enough for fast company.”

He returned to New Orleans for four more seasons—winning 77 games and leading the Pelicans to Southern Association championships in 1926 and 1927. The 39-year-old went back to the Texas League for one more season in 1929; after a disappointing 10-13 campaign for the Dallas Steers, Martina purchased—or bartered for—his release. The Times-Picayune said:

“Martina has been given his unconditional release at the price of two barrels of oysters. This was the price demanded by Fred McJunkin, president of the Dallas club.”

He played two more seasons in the Cotton States League and took a crack at managing with the Baton Rouge Standards in 1931—he was released mid-season at age 41.

With both the Pelicans and the Knoxville Smokies hopelessly out of the 1931 Southern Association pennant race, Knoxville signed Martina to pitch against New Orleans on the final day of the season. He started the first game of a double header, gave up six runs over eight innings and lost his final game as a professional.

Zipp Newman, sports editor of The Birmingham News and official scorer for the Birmingham Barons for 44 years said Martina’s strong arm was with him to the very end::

“After pitching a full game for Knoxville against New Orleans Sunday, Joe went to the outfield and made the longest throw-in. Joe threw the ball right up to the grandstand. There wasn’t a youngster on the field who could come close to him. Joe Martina arms are few and far between in baseball.”

Martina, who died of a heart attack in 1962, said in an interview with Newman in 1941:

“I am convinced I had more human endurance than any man who ever lived. In all my life I was never tired, even when it was 110 out there on the mound. The answer is simple: I was a good boy. I behaved myself and every at 8 o’clock I was in bed…When my arm was live the ball would sail slightly upward, and nobody could hit me. When it was dead, although the pitch was just as fast, the ball went straight, like on a string, and I was a goner.”

Lost Advertisements: Hank DeBerry for Mail Pouch

22 May

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A 1928 ad for Mail Pouch Tobacco featuring Brooklyn Robins catcher Hank DeBerry:

“Baseball causes more nerve strain than most people think. That’s where Mail Pouch fits in so well. I find that a pinch of Mail Pouch is soothing to my nerves, steadies my work behind the bat, and is the most satisfying chew I know of.”

He caught Dazzy Vance with the New Orleans Pelicans in 1921 and joined the Brooklyn Robins together the following year, they remained together in Brooklyn until DeBerry’s release after the 1930 season.

Before what turned out to be their final season together, the Robins were training in Atlanta, Vance talked about his relationship with his catcher with Ralph McGill–then a sports writer for The Constitution who later became the paper’s editor he was called “The Conscience of the South” as an outspoken anti-segregationist and was awarded the  Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964:

Vance said of DeBerry:

“There are other good catchers, but none of them suit me like Hank. He and I have been together for nine years now. I don’t guess there is another battery in baseball that has been together as long as we have.

“He’s caught every game for me in these nine years except a few he missed  when he was out with a broken thumb. That knuckle ball got away from him and broke that thumb. But at that he is the only man who can catch it when it comes in there just right.”

Not everyone shared Vance’s opinion of DeBerry.  After DeBerry was let go, William H. Ritt, who wrote a column for King Features’ Central Press Association told a story about when Vance signed for $25,000 in 1929 and his salary “was a National League topic” of conversation:

“‘Here,’ chuckled Pie Traynor, ‘comes the other half of that $26,000 battery.’

“‘Pie,’ answered the unperturbed Hank, settling down on the Pirates bench, ‘maybe Dazzy gets the top dough and maybe my pay isn’t so hot, but this is a big sight better than being down on the farm rousing at 3 a.m. to wrestle with the cows.”

 

“The Charming and Fascinating Pig Ward”

14 May

It was as a “coacher” that Piggy Ward—who appeared in 221 games over parts of six seasons with five National League teams between 1883 and 1894—was best known

That reputation began in the minor leagues. In 1889, when Ward was with the Hamilton Hams in the International League, The Detroit Free Press described him:

“A squatty, thickset man, with a bull neck, loaferish appearance, and voice a combination of the bellowing of a bull and braying of a donkey, attempted to make himself conspicuous in yesterday’s game and succeeded, to the intense disgust of the 1200 people present. Whenever the Hamiltons went to bat this unmitigated nuisance placed himself near third base and bellowed, roared, and ranted till everybody in the park was seized with a burning desire to rush upon and club him into silence.”

The paper called him “The champion lunatic of the noisy coaching clan,” but softened somewhat in their assessment of Ward later when it appeared he would not be returning to the International League:

“There is burning curiosity in this vicinity to whether the Hamilton management intends to sign that meadowlark of the ball field, the charming and fascinating Pig Ward. The echoes of his weird voice still reverberate around Recreation Park.”

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The press, for the most part, did not approve of his technique. The Buffalo Express said:

“Ward’s coaching is too coarse altogether and should be stopped. The umpire’s voice is drowned in his babble.”

When he played for the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association in 1893, The Birmingham Times noted that he was the first player of the season to be fined for his “loaferish behavior,” while coaching, the paper also said Ward “has entirely too good an opinion of his own merits and too much contempt for the lesser deficiencies of his brother players.”

Ward’s coaching received greater attention when he joined the Washington Senators in 1894.

The Washington Star said during one game in July, “Ward’s lamentations were loud, continuous, and contentious—so much so that (umpire Bob) Emslie warned Capt. (Bill) Joyce that ‘Piggy’ would be sent to the bench if he didn’t keep quiet.”

O. P. Caylor of The New York Herald, in noting that “noisy coaching” had become more widespread that year, referred to the, “(Tommy) Tucker—(Dad) Clarke—‘Piggy’ Ward method of making noise by howling and shrieking from the coaching lines, in order to ‘rattle’ the opposing pitcher.”

Caylor did not approve, and said the practice because “in part, the science of the game is obscured, owing to the frantic attempts of the players to confuse one another.”

Cap Anson agreed, telling Caylor:

“It isn’t respectable ball playing and neither will I adopt that method or let any of my players use it.”

Ward’s “coaching” caused Anson’s Colts a loss on July 8. The Chicago Inter Ocean was not amused:

“The trick which ‘Pig’ Ward resorted to yesterday in the seventh inning no doubt won the game for Washington, but if (manager Gus) Schmelz were not impervious to all decency and self-respect he would release the man on the ground of dirty ball playing. (Ed) Cartwright had hit a high fly to infield, for which (Charlie) Irwin ran. It was a hard sprint, but the shortstop got well under it, when Ward, imitating the voice of Anson, called out ‘(Bill) Dahlen!’ Irwin, who had to keep his eyes up in the air, of course dropped the ball. Cartwright and (Win) Mercer subsequently scored. The game finished 9 to 8, so that these two runs did the work.”

The paper complained that “under the rules there was nothing Umpire (Jack) McQuaid to do except to the fine the fellow, but even this that functionary refused to do. He should have been fined the limit and ordered off the diamond.”

That same season, his coaching, and the extra effort he added to it, drew the ire of The Cincinnati Enquirer:

“When a rotten ball player wants to keep his job, he resorts to dirty tricks to conch his position with his manager. Piggy Ward belongs to this class, and his latest is to paw first with his big feet around first base so as to blind the first baseman and prevent him from seeing thrown or batted balls.”

As Ward’s coaching antics became more commented upon and the nickname “Piggy” became more frequently used for him, The Brooklyn Citizen speculated it was “probably to distinguish him from Brooklyn’s gentlemanly and able Captain,” John Montgomery Ward.

Ward also engaged with fans form the “coacher’s box.” When he returned to Cincinnati as a member of the Senators, The Enquirer related a verbal sparring match Ward engaged in with a fan during a game:

“Piggy Ward is a good coacher. He is on the line nearly all the time, and he has been the target of a good many taunts and unkind remarks from the stand in the two games the last two days. He doesn’t seem to mind it a bit but goes on giving his directions and trying to rattle the opposing team as though everything that came to ears was complimentary.

“Yesterday, a waiter in a downtown restaurant who was with a party of fellow waiters, yelled at Ward:

‘”Who told you that you could play ball? You ought to be behind a plow.’

“’Is that so?’ said Piggy. ‘What are you doing for a living now? The same thing, I suppose. Turning cakes in a fifteen-cent restaurant?’

“Whether it was a chance thrust or not it went home, and for a few moments the waiters and those n the vicinity made matters unpleasant for the fresh young man who endeavored to kid the ballplayer.

Despite having his best major league season at the plate in 1894—hitting .303 in 98 games with the Washington Senators—Ward, who also committed 52 errors at four positions, was often belittled in the press. Sporting Life said:

“Piggy Ward of the Washingtons appears to like the bench better than the field. He was ordered there during the season oftener than any other player in the League.”

Sporting Life also called him “A wretchedly bad second baseman.”

The Star related a conversation between him and his manager:

“’Are you a ballplayer?’ said Schmelz to Piggy Ward. ‘Well, the newspapers say I’m not,’ responded the ever-ready Piggy.”

Ward fractured his thumb on August 14, The Washington Post said the injury occurred while he was “trying to tag a man” at second base.  The injury kept him out of the lineup for several days.

He was released by Washington, ending his big-league career, but not his reputation as a “coacher,” or his story.

Shortly after being let go by Washington, Ward became more of a local hero in his hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania. A fire broke out in the shop of a black barber named J. H. Crocker. The Altoona Tribune said, after several people, tried but failed to get through the dense smoke:

“Frank Ward then made another attempt to get in and succeeded in catching hold of the arm of the man and dragging him out.”

While the man later died, Ward’s heroics were reported in major newspapers in the East.

More Ward tomorrow.

“He is Thoroughly Incompetent and Could do no Better”

12 May

After the Cincinnati Reds traded for Piggy Ward in June of 1893, Alonzo Flanner of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of his first visit to play the Browns with his new club:

“Ward, one of Comiskey’s latest acquisitions, is a great baseball player. He got his base every time he came to bat yesterday. He steals bases with a gavotte step and coaches like a cow with a cough but can’t field a little bit.”

Flanner had more to say later the same month:

“Ward, the young man with the waddle and voice like a catarrhal cow, who essayed to play right field for Cincinnati. He shows the happiest faculty for muffing, fumbling, and wild throwing of any young man masquerading in a League uniform and drawing salary.”

The observations appear to be accurate; in 42 games with the Reds, Ward hit .280, stole 27 bases, and made 13 errors in just 75 chances in the outfield. The Reds released him in August.

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Frank Gray “Piggy” Ward

The Cincinnati Enquirer said of Ward’s two-month tenure with the club:

“His opening was a dream. For weeks after he started in with the Reds, he was the talk of the town. He stood on the topmost pinnacle in the esteem of the local enthusiasts. Then came the awful exhibition of yellow fielding in the Fourth of July games.”

Ward played right field in the first game and left field in the second against Philadelphia on July 4. He was charged with two errors in the first game and one in second, and the paper said, “His miserable work in the field,” accounted for “no less than six” of Philadelphia’s 15 runs in their 15-14 victory in the first game, but allowed:

“Ward should not be blamed too harshly, because he is thoroughly incompetent and could do no better.”

After the Fourth of July debacle, The Enquirer said:

“No one could be found to fill his place as well, and again Ward had a chance to show himself. So well did he take advantage of this opportunity that it is safe to say of all the players that have been released by the Cincinnati Club none of them ever left behind such a feeling of universal regret as this same Ward.”

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The Cincinnati Enquirer after the July 4 double header

The Enquirer was so appalled by Ward’s performance that the paper referenced it at length a year later on Independence Day:

“The Exhibition of how not to play the game of ball given by Piggy that day will never be forgotten by those unfortunate enough to witness it. Such fielding was nauseating.”

The Cincinnati Commercial Gazette said, “There is nothing that that so disgusts a Cincinnati base ball crowd as poor fielding.”

Ward had arrived in Cincinnati with a reputation. He appeared in a major league game at age 16—playing third base for the Philadelphia Quakers on June 12, 1883; he was 0 for 5 and reached on an error. The Philadelphia Times description of Ward’s debut is ironic given later assessments of his skills:

“(Ward) fielded well but was weak at the bat and a very slow runner.”

After that single game, he bounced all over the US and Canada—and made two more brief stops in the big leagues between 1887 and 1891—after his first game in the outfield for the Quakers in his second trial with the club in 1889, The Philadelphia Enquirer said, “he proved conclusively he cannot play the outfield.”

He was also, by all accounts, a bit eccentric:

While playing with the Hamilton Hams in the International League, The Toronto Mail said he, “tried one of his supposed funny fakes.”

Ward handed a potato to pitcher Bill Pfann who was supposed to throw the potato over first baseman Ed Swartwood’s head.  Pfann was apparently slow on the uptake and threw the potato to Swartwood “and (Toronto Canucks Tom) McLaughlin was therefore not caught by the trick.”

Ward made at least one other documented attempt at the hidden ball trick—this time without a potato—during his brief stop with the Baltimore Orioles in June of 1893 in a game with Louisville. The Baltimore Sun described the play:

“Ward walked to the pitcher’s plate as if to advise (Kirtley) Baker on some point of the game. Then he walked back to first base. Baker resumed his position on the plate as if to pitch, but (Fred) Pfeffer had seen Ward take the ball and did not remove his foot from first base.”

Pfeffer pointed out the situation to umpire Michael McLaughlin and Baker was charged with a balk.

Pfeffer told the paper:

“I did intend at first , for the fun of the thing, to let Ward touch me with the ball by stepping off the base and then calling the umpire’s attention to the balk, but it occurred to me that the umpire might not have seen the play and would therefore decide against me. You have to be careful on such points.”

Ward’s was also considered by many to be a clubhouse cancer throughout his career. He started the 1893 season with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association. After Ward left the Pelicans, The New Orleans Times-Democrat said team president Charles Genslinger called Ward “a dissenter of the worst type and kept the local club in constant internal turmoil until his departure.”

Among Genslinger’s charges were that Ward had been the “sole cause” of an early season uprising that caused several of the team’s best players—including Count Campau, Pat Luby, and Mark Polhemus– to attempt to secure their releases, and that manager Abner “Powell ordered Ward to stop smoking in uniform, and as he persisted in the disobedience to orders he was compelled to impose a heavy fine.”

More of Ward’s story tomorrow.

“Is Another Crazy Schmidt.”

16 Jun

Thirty-five years after it was first reported that Fred “Crazy” Schmit (often misspelled Schmidt) kept a “book” on hitters, the practice was still considered odd.

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Crazy Schmit

News of Schmit’s “book,” kept largely it was said because of his poor memory, first appeared in 1894 in The Sporting Life:

 “(A)n account of the weakness at bat of his opponents, setting them down in a small book, which he always carried with him on the diamond.”

An International News Service article in 1919 said Cleveland Indians pitcher Jim Bagby:

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Jim Bagby

“Is another Crazy Schmidt.”

According to the article:

“Every pitcher in the big show has first-hand information regarding the hitting ability of every player, but few, if any, have as near perfect a record on the batters as Jim Bagby, one of Lee Fohl’s pitching aces.  Bagby has a system of baseball bookkeeping that is unique and he has found it valuable in his career as a pitcher.

“Some years ago when Jim was setting the Southern League on fire he fell upon the idea of keeping tab on individual batters and also the different teams as a whole.  He did this with aid of a memorandum.

“After each game Bagby would record the success or failure of this or that batter, adding such notes regarding the batter’s style as he deemed useful for future reference and guidance.  Jim was so successful that season (1914, Bagby was 20-9 with a 2.20 ERA for the New Orleans Pelicans) that he has continued the practice.”

When asked whether he still “kept book,” Bagby:

“(A)nswered in the affirmative. The same system that worked so well in the Southern League has been just as effective in the American.”

Bagby was 17-11 with a 2.80 ERA; the following season he was 31-12 with a 2.89 ERA—he finished his career with a 127-89 record and 3.11 ERA.

Crazy Schmitt was 7-36 with a 5.45 ERA in parts of five seasons in the major leagues.

Stealing Bats, 1889

26 May

In 1889, The Cincinnati Enquirer said of the quest the average ballplayer made to secure a bat to his liking:

“The average ball-player has trouble in securing a bat of the size and weight to suit his fancy.  He will run over the stock of bats in sporting goods stores, buy pieces of wood and have them turned, and go miles to secure the article, but the season may be half over before he will find one that suits him exactly.  When he does find one to his fancy he will have trouble in keeping it, as opposing players will try to steal it.”

The paper said theft was so common:

“A bat is looked at as common property, and there is no crime in base-ball to swipe a bat providing you do it without getting caught.”

The Enquirer said John Reilly of the Red Stockings was a “Bat crank,” and “(H)as a mania for hunting good sticks.’”   Reilly was asked if he ever had a bat stolen:

“’I should say I did,’ was John’s reply.  ‘There are ball-players who make a business of stealing good bats.  I never knew Pete Browning to ‘swipe’ a bat, but you can get a trade out of the Gladiator at any stage of the game.  He has always got a stick or two to trade, and about the first thing he does when he strikes a lot is to size up the opposing club’s pile of bats and tries to drive a bargain.”

 

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John Reilly

 

Reilly said there was a problem with Browning’s trades:

“Some of the Louisville players complain that Pete never trades his own bats, but grabs the first one he runs across in the Louisville pile.”

As for Browning’s use of heavy bats, Reilly said:

“Pete uses the heaviest bat of any man in the business…he had one here once that must have weighed twelve pounds.  It felt like it had an iron sash weight in the end of it.  Once, when I was in Louisville, I saw a bat floating around in a bath tub in the clubhouse.  ‘Whose bat is that? I inquired.  ‘it belongs to me,’ replied Pete:  ‘I put it in there so it will get heavy.”

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Pete Browning

Reilly also told the story of “a splendid stick,” that had been stolen from his team in 1888.  Hick Carpenter had acquired the bat in a trade with John Sneed of the New Orleans Pelicans:

“(N)early all the players were using it.  We had it until sometime in May when it disappeared.  That was the last we saw of it until the Clevelands came around late in the summer.  One of our players saw the bat in the Cleveland club’s pile, and at once claimed It.  The Clevelands stopped the game and would not play until the bat was returned.  (Charles “Pop”) Snyder said it might belong to us, but he didn’t know anything about it.  He claimed that Tip O’Neill, of the St. Louis Browns brought it to Cleveland and forgot it, and that (Ed) McKean took it.  We had to give it up”

Reilly said another bat had been stolen from him in 1888:

“I cut the letter ‘R’ in the knob of the handle…I did not run across it again until late in the season in Brooklyn.  The bat had been painted and the knob sawed half in two to get rid of the little ‘R.’ I claimed the bat but did not get it”

Reilly said the New York Metropolitans, the American Association franchise that folded in 1887, were:

“(T)he best bat swipers in the business. They would leave New York on a trip with an empty bat bag and after they had played on a few lots they would have bats to sell.”

“The Duke of Minneapolis”

20 Nov

Martin F. Duck was born in Zanesville, Ohio in 1867.  He played under the name Martin Duke.   As he was becoming a well-known pitcher The Kansas City Times told a story which purported to explain why he changed his name:

 “The real name of the (Minneapolis) Millers’ best pitcher is not Duke, but Duck…Martin was pitching in a game up in Michigan and in the ninth his club led the opposing team by one run. (With two runners on base) a man up in the grandstand began imitating the quack of a duck…as the ‘quack, quack, quack continued his face became lobster-colored.  He shouted to his taunter that he would fix him after the game, but the fiend…went on with his ‘quack, quack, quack’”

At this point, Duck allegedly threw the ball into the stands at his tormentor, allowing both runs to score, “After that he dropped the name Duck entirely.”

By the time that story appeared Martin Duke seemed headed for a productive career.  He went 14-12 with the Zanesville Kickapoos in the Ohio State League in 1887.  In 1888, he again pitched for Zanesville, now in the Tri-State League and for The Toledo Maumees in the same league—no  records survive for that season.

The five-foot, five-inch Duke made a name for himself the following year.  While pitching for the Millers in the Western Association, he posted a 24-16 record and struck out 347 batters in 355 innings, earning the nickname “Duke of Minneapolis.”

In February of 1890, The Chicago Inter Ocean said Chicago’s Players League team was after the pitcher:  “Captain Comiskey of the Chicago Brotherhood has been on Duke’s trail for weeks, with the result that although Duke has not yet signed a contract we will play with the Chicago Brotherhood club this season.”

If Comiskey was, in fact, on Duke’s trail he never got his man.  Duke returned to Minneapolis, and while statistics for 1890 no longer survive, but the press routinely called him the Millers’ best pitcher.

In 1891, he slipped to 10-11, and in May he was suspended for being, as The Sporting Life said, “Out of condition” (a euphemism for his problem drinking), but earned an August trial with the Washington Statesmen in the American Association.  The Saint Paul Globe said of his departure:

“Martin Duke–the one, the only, the statuesque Duke–has bidden good-bye to the ozone of Minnesota and beer of Minneapolis…Last night he boarded the train, moved his hand in adieu, cocked his hat to one side, closed an eye, uttered a certain familiar expression peculiar to Dukes and disappeared forever.”

Martin Duke

Duke failed his Major league trial.  In four games, he posted a 0-3 record and walked 19 batters in 23 innings.

Despite his poor debut, he received another opportunity, this one with the Chicago Colts in 1892. When he was signed in January, The Chicago Tribune said:

“Duke’s last season, owing to lax discipline, was not a success, but this season he promises to regain his old form, as he is bound by an ironclad contract to abstain from intoxicating drinks.  By his contract half his salary reverts to the club if he breaks the pledge.  This should keep him straight.”

He received a big buildup in The Chicago Daily News:

“(He) is one of Captain Anson’s new colts, and he not only puts the ball over the home plate with almost the speed of a cannon shot, but he also seems to have a head studded with eyes, for stealing second base when he is in the box is always most hazardous business.  His pitching arm is so strong and shapely and so well equipped with powerful muscles that it would win admiration from a blacksmith.”

Despite the accolades he was released before the beginning of the season, The Tribune said:

“Martin Duke is also down for release. He has shown up poorly so far, and the club cannot use five pitchers anyhow.”

He signed with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association and seemed to regain his old form posting a 13-3 record.  It was his last successful season.

After getting off to a 2-5 start in 1893 Duke was released by New Orleans, and initially there were no takers for his services.  The Milwaukee Journal said why:

“Martin was always a good pitcher, but his mouth and his temper were too great a load for any team to carry any length of time.”

Duke bounced around the minor leagues after that with short stints for teams in the Eastern League, Southern Association and Western League until 1895, when he returned again to Minneapolis.  But after 13 games with the Millers, he injured his arm and was released in June.  According to The St. Paul Globe, he injured the arm again in August; rupturing a tendon while pitching for a semi-pro team in Rosemount, Minnesota.

In 1897, The Sporting Life reported that Duke, employed in a Minneapolis tavern, was “Trying to get in shape” in order to return to the diamond that season, but he never played professional ball again.

Duke died from pneumonia on December 31, 1898, in Minneapolis.  The Sporting Life said:

“He possessed great ability as a pitcher, but never lasted long with any club, as he was a hard man to control, and was given to dissipation, which ultimately led to enforced retirement from the profession and untimely death.”

Duke was 31 years-old.

A shorter version of this post appeared in October 2012

Moose Baxter’s Play

4 Nov

Jimmy Ryan played 18 seasons in the major leagues from 1885 through 1903, and appeared in more than 2000 big league games and nearly 500 in the minor leagues.  But he said the greatest play he ever witnessed took place in 1908—his final year in organized ball–when he was player-manager of the Montgomery Senators in the Southern Association.

He claimed the play was made by John “Moose” Baxter, who he released later in the season for allegedly placing bets against his own team.

1908 Montgomery Senators.  Ryan is sitting center of middle row, Baxter is standing second from right.

1908 Montgomery Senators. Ryan is sitting center of middle row, Baxter is standing second from right.

Ryan told the story to Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Herald.  He said it happened during a game against the Atlanta Crackers:

“(T)he bases were full and no one was out…I think it was (Louis “Lou”) Castro at bat, and he hit the first ball pitched, a line drive about twenty feet inside of first base.  I was playing right field and I sprinted forward, fully expecting to catch the ball on the line and throw home.  But I never got a chance.

“Moose took a running jump at the ball; he hadn’t a chance to catch it.  Instead he flew up into the air, and striking at the ball with his mitt, hit it and knocked it forty feet as straight as if he had thrown it, and right into the hands of the second baseman (Clay Perry)…Baxter, when he hit the ball (with his glove) turned half over and fell heavily, but without waiting to get up started and rolled back toward first.

“(Perry) tossed the ball up there, and with one hand stretched out to touch the base, Baxter stuck up the other, caught the ball and completed the double play.  The runner on third, seeing what was coming off, started home at top speed, and Baxter, sitting near first base, threw from that position to the plate and caught the runner.”

Moose Baxter

    Moose Baxter

Despite executing “the greatest play” Ryan said he ever saw, Baxter quickly became more trouble than he was worth.  In May, he was suspended for a week.  The Montgomery News said, after he had “engaged in a tussle” with an umpire named O’Brien.  “Baxter threw the umpire to the ground and pummeled his face.”

Baxter was released on May 17.  Ryan said only that it was “for the good of the team.”  Later in the week, The News said:

“The reasons assigned by the management are that Baxter has incurred displeasure of the spectators and has bred dissention among the players.

“Reasons given on the street are that Baxter has been betting against his own team in one of the recent games.”

Whether Baxter ever placed a bet against his team is unknown, but no action was ever taken by the league and he signed with the New Orleans Pelicans within a week.

Baxter was never far from trouble during his career.  While playing, and operating an illegal business in Canada in 1910, Baxter ran afoul of the law and was escorted to the border.

“Probably the ‘Boniest’ Bonehead Play Ever”

22 Jun

While some of the details changed in subsequent tellings, this story stayed substantially the same from when it was first presented in a column by sports writer William A. in 1913, until the final published version in 1957 in The New Orleans Times-Picayune.  One version called it, “Probably the ‘boniest’ bonehead play ever”

The story was told by and told about lefty Evan “Rube” Evans.  Born on April 28, 1890, in Sebring, Ohio, Evans was a career minor league pitcher who, when the story first appeared, seemed to be headed to the big leagues. 

Rube Evans

Rube Evans

The tall–he was reported by various sources as anywhere from 6′ 2″ to 6′ 4″–began his professional career with the Dallas Giants in the Texas League in 1910; he was 15-12 for the pennant winners, but The Dallas Morning News said he didn’t “take baseball seriously” until the following year, when he was 18-16 for the Giants:

“Before that, it seemed, the big, husky flinger looked at playing baseball something in the light of a joke.  Last season, though he came back into the game with a different viewpoint. He seemed to realize that ball playing was a man-sized business.”

After his 1911 performance, Evans’ contract was purchased by the New York Giants, and he joined the team for spring training in Marlin, Texas in 1912.  The Morning News said if he maintained his new found focus “and works as hard as he knows how to work he ought to stick.”

Evans quickly impressed the Giants with a pitch “takes a most freakish break,” according to The Washington Times:

“Rube Evans, the Giants left-handed recruit pitcher from Dallas, surprised bot Manager (John) McGraw and Coach Robby (Wilbert Robinson) by showing them a curve that is entirely new to the big league…The ball is delivered in exactly the same manner as the spitball, but he does not moisten it.”

The paper did not elaborate on how Evans’ “dry spitter” was different from versions reported on during previous seasons–including the one thrown by Christy Mathewson of the Giants–but according to The New York World, “McGraw says he will try and teach it to Rube Marquard.”

Despite his “dry spitter,” Evans failed to make the team and was returned to Dallas where he posted a 22-12 record for the Giants.

In 1913, he joined the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association but appeared to be headed to the Cleveland Naps before he threw a pitch in the regular season for the Pelicans.  In March, Evans shut down the Detroit Tigers 3 to 1 on five hits and followed that up with a four-hitter (and 3 to 1 victory) against the Naps.

The Cleveland Press said, “(Naps Manager Joe) Birmingham plans to cut down his squad considerably.  It is said recruits (Hugh) Peddy, (Pete) Shields and (Ward) McDowell will be left here in trade for one good pitcher, probably Southpaw Rube Evans.”

With Evans apparently on the verge of joining the Naps, the story of his “bonehead” play was told by Phelon, then repeated widely:

“(Evans) has one curious habit—a trait which has aroused much wonder on the part of every manager under whom the southpaw has been toiling.  When given an order by his manager or captain, Mr. Evans always stops, cocks his ears, and demands a repetition of the directions.  Naturally he is first taken for a simp, or bonehead, but when further acquaintance with him shows that he is a gentleman of intelligence and high mentality, the field leaders are muchly puzzled.

“’I always want my orders repeated,’ quoth Mr. Evans, ‘so that I will never again make such an error.”

(The 1913 version of the story, which quotes Evans,  places the incident in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, some later versions say it happened in 1913 with the Pelicans, still others say it was in Portland, Oregon; however, the original publication predates Evans’ time on the West Coast which did not begin until May of 1914).

Evans said he had pitched into the ninth inning when the opposing team put a runner on third with one out, when his manager told him if the other team attempted a squeeze play to “bean him.”  Evans said:

“’I knew no more what a squeeze play was than the man in the moon, but my orders rang in my ears as I started winding up.  Just as a swung up my arm, the fellow on third tore for the plate…I took careful aim at the oncoming runner, and pickled him with a fine shot to the back of the cranium.  Three seconds later the crowd was coming towards me with roars of fury, and I got over the back fence just in time.

“’Well how was I to know that I should have hit the batter and not the runner?  Ever since I have insisted on duplicate orders, so that I would know just what to do.’”

His acquisition by Cleveland never materialized and he had a disappointing 12-15 record in 1913, in a season split between New Orleans and the Birmingham Barons.

It is also in question whether Phelon’s characterization of Evans as a “gentleman of intelligence and high mentality,” was entirely accurate given his inability to stick with clubs who were impressed with physical abilities.  After his second chance to pitch in the majors didn’t materialize, the remainder his of career was marked by long stretches of mediocrity, charges of bad behavior and comparisons to another left-handed “Rube.”

In August of 1913, he was suspended for the remainder of the season by the Birmingham Barons for, according to The Birmingham Post-Herald, “Failure to keep in condition.”  The Sporting Life’s Chandler Richter called him “Erratic,” The Oakland Tribune said he was”Eccentric,” a wire service retelling of the “beanball” story from 1915 said he “earned a nationwide reputation as a ‘squirrel,” another called him “the real eccentric,” when compared to Rube Waddell.

The other left-handed Rube

The other left-handed Rube

His two-year tenure with the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) began when he wore out his welcome in New Orleans in May of 1914 and was sold to the Beavers.  It was particularly rocky.  The Spokane Daily Chronicle said Evans and Beavers manager Walter “Judge” McCredie “got along like a pair of strange bulldogs.” He was suspended at least once, again for the euphemistic “failure to be in proper condition,” and gave up a game-winning home run to Jack Ness of the Oakland Oaks when he accidently threw a pitch over the plate while attempting to intentionally walk Ness.  At the close of the 1915 season, Portland let him go for what The Portland Oregonian called “His inability to take care of himself.” Of his 9-22 record the paper said:

“Rube ran into gobs of adversity.”

After leaving Portland, Evans played parts of three seasons for the Salt Lake City Bees in the PCL–in 1917 he was 21-9, but when McCredie was named manager of the Bees in 1918, Evans time with the team was nearly over.  Before the season, The Oregonian said, “Evans did not take kindly to the idea of having to take orders” from his former manager and was threatening to jump the club.  He finally did jump in June after appearing in 14 games and posting a 3-8 record.

Evans went to Portland and finished the 1918 season in the semi-pro Shipyards League, The Oregon Daily Journal said upon his arrival:

“Rube Evans was through at Salt Lake and McCredie was probably saved the trouble of wearying his hand by writing out Rube’s release, when Rube left.”

In 1919, he played for the Rupert franchise in the semi-pro Southern Idaho League; while successful, his reliance on the emery ball for his success didn’t make him friends.  The Twin Falls Times said:

“When Rube Evans lugged the emery ball into the S.I.L. he failed to do anything beneficial to the league.  Rube will win a few more games for the Rupert club, but he has lowered the standard of sport in the league.”

Evans had one more season in professional baseball, posting a 10-7 record with the Regina Senators in the Western Canada League in 1920.  In an August 15 doubleheader against the Edmonton Eskimos Evans was ejected for arguing with the umpire while facing the second batter of the first game; he came back to lead the Senators to 5 to 3 victory in the second game, giving up two runs in 7 2/3 innings, and hitting a three-run home run in the sixth.

Rube Evans

Rube Evans

After the 1920 season, he returned to Ohio and spent the next decade playing semi-pro baseball there and in Western Pennsylvania.  His last headlines came in 1924 when he pitched six innings for the Sharon (PA) Elks team in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees.  The Elks lost 10-8, Babe Ruth went 2-4 with a double for the Yankees.

Evans’ playing days ended in Akron, Ohio.  He pitched for and managed the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company team, and stayed on with the company as a rubber worker.  He died on January 30, 1950.

A clue to some of Evans’  erratic behavior is contained in his death certificate.  The pitcher spent the last three and a half years of his life in Ohio’s Cambridge State Hospital; his cause of death was listed as “General Paresis,’ brought on by syphilis.

A shorter version of this post appeared on June 3, 2013

“Pitcher Geiss No Good”

3 Jun

Emil August Geiss pitched one game in 1887 for Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings; it was his only Major League game as a pitcher (he later played two games in the infield).

The Chicago Tribune reported that Geiss was signed by the White Stockings “at a salary of $250 month.”  Geiss had been blacklisted the previous season for failing to report to the St. Paul Freezers in the Northwestern League after signing with that club.  The paper said, “It cost $200 to get him reinstated (The Sporting Life said it was $600).”

Geiss’ performance on May 18 was less than memorable.  He gave up 11 runs, eight earned, and 17 hits in an 11-4 loss to the Washington Senators.

The Chicago Tribune headline the following day summed up Geiss’ performance:

Pitcher Geiss No Good

Emil Geiss

The headline in The Chicago Inter Ocean was no kinder:

Geiss Is No Good.  A New Pitcher Tried by the Chicagos at Washington with Disastrous Results

The paper said Anson, who sat out, “watched the game from the players’ bench, a look of disgust deepening on his face every inning widened, and fairly turned his back on the unfortunate Whites.”

Geiss briefly redeemed himself when filling in for Anson on June 15 against the Indianapolis Hoosiers. The Tribune said:

“Geiss played first base in first-class style. He accepted eleven chances with no errors.At the bat he struck out twice and made one hit.”

Their opinion changed one week later when he played in place of Fred Pfeffer at second and  made three errors on seven total chances and was 0 for 5 at the plate.

The Tribune said:

“If Geiss is capable of no better work that he did yesterday he should not be allowed to again don the uniform of the Chicago nine.  A man who plays as he did is a positive menace to the success of the club.”

At the end of June, Geiss was released and finished the season in the Chicago City League.

An additional note about Geiss, and it’s a confusing note:

The remainder of his career is a bit vague and complicated.  His brother was William Geiss, who had two brief major league stints and a long minor league career during which he sometimes played under the name of Emil Geis (one “s”), further complicated because Emil Geiss’ Cook County, Illinois death certificate lists him as “Emil Geis.”

Emil pitched for the London Tecumsehs in the International League in 1888 and ’89.  He was the subject of a dispute between London and New Orleans in the Southern League over his rights—an arbitrator ruled that Emil was the property of London; at the same time William was with New Orleans, so we know it was Emil with London.

After a seven-year absence from professional ball, Baseball Reference has Emil hitting .402 in 41 games split between Bloomington in the Western Interstate League and Ottumwa in the Eastern Iowa League in 1895.

It seems likely, and contemporary reports indicate that it was actually William, playing under the name Emil Geiss (sometimes Geis) who put up those numbers in 1895–this conclusion is also supported by the fact that Emil, who had joined the Chicago Police Department in 1891 was still a member a force in 1895.

William Geiss

William Geiss

Both brothers died in Chicago, Emil on October 4, 1911, and William on September 18, 1924.  Both are buried at Saint Boniface Cemetery in Chicago.