Tag Archives: New York Giants

“Byron was more to blame than I was”

19 Apr

After National league umpire Tim Hurst died in 1915, his American League counterpart Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“In the passing of Tim Hurst, baseball lost the quaintest character of the diamond. It was believed there would never be another one to approach him., but in Bill Byron baseball has a pocket edition of Timothy Carroll Hurst.

“No more fearless umpire ever held an indicator than Tim Hurst. Bill Byron runs him a close second.”

Evans said before coming to the National League in 1913, Byron was the subject “of many stories of wild minor league riots, in which Bill played the leading role without so much as mussing his hair.”

Fearless was one adjective used about Byron, but there were many others. After the 1911 season, Ed Barrow, president of the Eastern League removed Byron from the league’s staff. The Baltimore Sun said many celebrated the move:

“Byron’s chief fault is his stubbornness, and he, as well, is a bit dictatorial and oversteps his authority on the diamond…For the good of the game–in the face of many prejudices–Barrow has acted wisely in giving him the ‘can.'”

Bill Byron

Known as the “singing Umpire,” Byron’s “little ditties” were so well known that writers like L.C. Davis of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Willian Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star both wrote columns suggesting new songs for the umpire.

Davis suggested that when the Cubs Heine Zimmerman argued a call:

Heinie, Heinie, I’ve been thinking,

I don’t want none of your slack;

To the clubhouse you’ll go slinking,

If you make another crack.

Johnny Evers complained to Phelon:

“How can a guy tend to his batting when the umpire’s warbling in his ears?”

John McGraw was Byron’s biggest foil and foe, and Byron had a song for the manager of the New York Giants:

“John McGraw is awful sore

Just listen to Napoleon roar

The crowd is also very mad

They think my work is very bad.”

In 1917, in an often told story, after a game in Cincinnati, the Giants manager landed two punches before he was separated from Byron after an ejection.

McGraw

After the incident, McGraw provided a signed statement admitting to punching Byron, but blaming the incident on the umpire:

“Byron said to me: ‘McGraw, you were run out of Baltimore.”

When the umpire repeated the charge, McGraw said he “hit him. I maintain I was given reason.”

When Byron arrived in St. Louis the day after the incident to work a series between the Cardinals and Phillies, he refused to answer when asked by a reporter from The Philadelphia Inquirer if McGraw had punched him, instead:

“Bill pointed the right hand to the jaw. There was dark clot—which indicated that something landed as early as 20 hours ago.” 

McGraw’s justification for the attack notwithstanding, he was fined $500 and suspended for 16 days.

McGraw responded, claiming to be “discriminated against personally,” by league President John Tener,” and that “Byron was more to blame than I was.”

He said the action taken against him would result in:

“Umpires with Byron’s lack of common intelligence and good sense, will now be so overbearing with players there will be no living with them.”

But the feud had been brewing since the umpire entered the league.

In August of 1914, in a game where the Reds scored five runs in the eighth to beat the Giants 5 to 4, The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“The character of McGraw was shown by his getting into an insulting ruction with Umpire Byron…He was so angered at losing out that he pelted the official with vicious expletives and delayed the game for several minutes.”

In 1915, Sam Crane, the former player turned baseball writer for The New York Journal, and a close friend of McGraw, chronicled a clash between the two during a September 25 game between the seventh place Giants and sixth place Cardinals in St. Louis:

Byron was being taunted from the New York bench and decided utility infielder Fred Brainard was the culprit and ejected him:

“Brainard (in a startled voice: ‘Who me/ Why, I didn’t open my mouth, did I boys?’

“Chorus of players: ‘No, he didn’t.’

“A mysterious voice from a far corner of the dugout: ‘’Byron, you can’t hear any better than you can see. You’re rotten.’”

At this point, Byron walked to the Giants bench and gave Brainard one minute to leave.

McGraw responded, “You have pulled another boot Byron,” and accused the umpire of once ordering a player off the bench who was coaching at first base, and asked how he knew it was Brainard:

“Umpire Byron (turning pale): ‘I caught Brainard with his mouth open.’”

The Giants bench laughed at the umpire and McGraw accused him of always “guessing” at his decisions.

At this point Crane said Byron, “five minutes after he had given Brainard one minute,” removed his watch from his pocket and again gave Brainard a minute to leave and told McGraw he would be ejected as well. The manager responded:

“Why should I be put out of the game? I haven’t done anything. Neither has Brainard. You’re all tangled up. Do you know the rules? What time is it by that tin timepiece you have got there?”

Byron repeated the order and threatened to forfeit the game to St. Louis. McGraw said:

“Go ahead and forfeit. You will be in very bad if you do. Every one of my players here say Brainard did not say a word. You will be in a nice fix with Tener, won’t you. You will have a fat chance to umpire the world’s series. Go ahead and forfeit the game.”

Byron then summoned three police officers to remove Brainard, but according to Crane, the police sergeant said,” I will have to take the umpire along, too.”

This elicited more laughter from the Giants bench.

Crane’s story ends with McGraw chastising the umpire while finally telling Brainard to go, and Byron returning to homeplate while singing:

“Oh, I don’t know. The multitude and the players are enraged at me; but I gained my point. Oh, I don’t know; I ain’t so bad.”

And the game “then proceeded, and smoothly throughout.”

Crane claimed the whole ordeal took at least 15 minutes.

The Post-Dispatch didn’t mention police, implied that Byron clearly won the encounter, and said, “five minutes were consumed in this senseless argument.”

The paper scolded the umpire for the “bush league trick” of pulling out his watch, but said:

“In time, however, McGraw relented under the threat of a forfeiture, which means a fine of $1000, and Brainard went his way.”

McGraw might have gotten the better of Byron in their 1917 fight in Cincinnati, but in 1915 the umpire “landed twice” on Boston Braves third baseman Red Smith after the game when Smith renewed an earlier argument over balls and strikes September 16 in Chicago. Smith attempted to get at Byron after being hit but was stopped by the other umpire, Al Orth.

Byron and McGraw continued to butt heads and the umpire’s combative style and singing continued to draw attention.

George Moriarty, the Detroit Tigers infielder, turned American League umpire—who also wrote songs—and often included poems about players in the nationally syndicated column he began writing in 1917, said—in part–of Byron:

“It’s wonderful the way you face the throng of maddened players all season long;

While other umps get busted on the bean you pacify the athletes with a song.

You know that music charms the savage beast, and as they rush to stab you in the vest,

And tell you how they’ll tear you limb from limb, you sing like John McCormack at his best.”

More on Byron Wednesday.

“When Their Wishes Clash Something Will Break”

14 Apr

After hitting just .285 in 1897, and not managing the Colts to a finish better than fourth place in eight seasons, Cap Anson’s career in Chicago was coming to an end at age 45. His contract had expired and Albert Spalding had made no effort to sign him.

Cap” Anson

But Ned Hanlon of the Orioles said he was not convinced Anson’s career was over and offered him a contract. The Baltimore Sun said:

“Adrian C. Anson will play first base for Baltimore the coming season if he will consent to do so, Manager Hanlon will offer him every inducement that he can afford to have the ‘Grand Old Man’ come to Baltimore.”

Hanlon told the paper:

“I believe he would be a good man for Baltimore, and I shall write him at once for his terms…Anson is good for some years yet on the diamond. I consider his ability much underrated. With the things he had to contend with in Chicago it is a wonder to me he played as well as he did. With the Orioles he would bat .350 and be like a colt again.”

Ned Hanlon

Spalding, who was in the process of organizing a “testimonial” for Anson, intended to raise $50,000 for his retirement, told The Chicago Tribune Anson signing with Hanlon would be a mistake:

“(I)t will be a case of a big flash in the pan. Two or three months of praise and then, ‘Get out, you big dud.’ It is always the way, for a man of 47 [sic] cannot expect to play good ball for ever. Besides an error from Anson would not be excused. He would have to play perfect ball or be a failure.”

Orioles captain Wilbert Robinson agreed, saying that while Anson might help the Orioles  with his bat:

“I think he is too slow and too poor a fielder and thrower and baserunner to fit such a team as the Baltimores.”

In The Sun, Orioles third baseman John McGraw disagreed with Spalding and Robinson:

“I should be greatly pleased to see Anson come to our team, and if he should I believe it would be a case of Dan Brouthers and ’94 over again. When Brouthers came to Baltimore everybody said he was too old to play ball and no good, and you know how he played that year.”

Brouthers hit .347 and drove in 128 runs for the pennant winning Orioles in 1894 but was just 36 years old.

McGraw was skeptical about Dan McGann, who Hanlon had traded for to play first for the Orioles, and noted that Hanlon’s experiment the previous season had failed:

“McGann may be all right, and again he may not. In the minor leagues there are few who can hit the ball harder and oftener than George Carey, but in a club like ours he was nervous. Every time he went to bat his hand shook from nervousness. McGann may not be that way at all; I do not mean to say he would be, but he might.”

Carey hit .261 in his one season with Baltimore in 1895.

The Baltimore American reported that Hanlon said his proposal was “a joke,” but Hanlon immediately denied that and told The Sun:

“I had no interview in which I denied my intention of trying to get Anson, or did I in any way make light of that intention.”

The Chicago Journal was concerned that local “enthusiasts never would get over it,” if Anson made good in Baltimore.

The Chicago Post said:

“(T)hose who think they know how (Anson) feels say he will not entertain any such proposition.”

The Chicago Daily News said:

“Many of the veteran’s friends believe he will be glad of the chance to go with another club, especially such a team as Baltimore’s.”

The Tribune talked to Anson’s father in Iowa. Henry Anson said he wanted his son to retire so he could:

“(C)ome back to Marshalltown, the land of his birth, and assist me in the upbuilding of the city.”

While Anson remained silent about whether he would continue playing and refused to comment on whether he would go to Baltimore, he had a letter read at Spalding’s meeting at the Chicago Athletic Club to plan the “testimonial;” the letter was printed in The Daily News::

“I refuse to accept anything in the shape of a gift. The public owes me nothing. I am not old and am no pauper. I can earn my own living. Besides that, I am by no means out of baseball.”

After nearly two weeks, Anson sent a letter to Hanlon, The Sun said:

“Anson neither accepts nor declines the offer but says he has not yet decided upon his future plans., and until he does, he does not care to talk business with anyone.”

Anson told Hanlon:

“In the event I should care to do business with any club outside of Chicago, I should be pleased to negotiate with you. However, I do not care to do business with anyone just at this time.”

Anson stayed out of baseball until June when he signed to manage the New York Giants.  The Tribune said:

“Anson has been one of the few admirers of (Giants owner Andrew) Freedman. He admired him because of his stubbornness. Freedman has been an admirer of Anson. When their wishes clash something will break.”

Anson managed the Giants for just 22 games; guiding New York to a 9-13 record before he quit.  He told The Tribune:

“My experience as manager? I simply and shortly discovered that (Freedman) did not want me to manage the team. I wanted to manage it, as that was what I understood they wanted me to do. They didn’t really want me to, and so I resigned.”

“More Bunk is Written about Baseball”

22 Mar

Myron Townsend, the sports editor of The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune said:

“More bunk is written about baseball than any professional sport.

“In dwelling on the details of ‘Inside’ ball the scribes allow their imaginations to run away with them.”

In 1910, after the publication of Johnny Evers’ and Hugh Fullerton’s book, “Touching Second; The Science of Baseball,” talk of “inside baseball” was all the rage: or “a favorite subject of the space killers,” as Townsend put it:

“Many fans believe that baseball players are mental gymnasts. They swallow whole all they read about the ‘science’ of the game.

“Touching Second,” Evers’ and Fullerton’s collaboration on “Inside Baseball.”

“For this reason, the speculative typewriter tickler never grows weary of pounding out epistles about the marvelous mental attainments of professional players.”

Townsend ridiculed the idea that, “According to the critics baseball is very complex. The moves and counter moves are fairly bewildering. A great chess master is a child when compared to a baseball manager.”

He said the baseball writer of the rival Cincinnati Times-Star had it right:

“No writer perforates the ‘signal’ theory more neatly or thoroughly than “Billy Phelon.”

Phelon had written on the subject:

“A kick of the coacher’s right foot means one movement for the batsman and baserunner; a kick of the left foot means another; pulling grass with the right hand means to do this and jerking it violently with the left hand means to do the other thing. If the manager on the bench shades his eyes with his palm it means a steal, if he hits the water barrel viciously with his left foot it means to sacrifice.

“In short—according to the magazine writers and the brilliant critics of the day—baseball is controlled, all the way through the stages of the active play, by these intricate, complex, recurring, and crisscrossing signs and codes.

“All of which would be extremely instructive were it not for the fact that it isn’t so; and that, in all these stories, the writers either built upon their imagination; or—more likely—were ‘stung’ and ‘joshed’ by the ballplayers to whom they went for information”

Phelon said it was “a plain, hard fact, no ball team ever played the game under a long and complex code of signals.” He called it “an utter impossibility and mental absurdity.”

Instead, Phelon said:

“The generalship of the ballfield is an ever-shifting series of quickly devised schemes, not a fifth part of them figured out or practices before each individual game begins. The signal code of the ball field is limited to eight or ten simple tricks and must ever be so for the reason that the brain of the ballplayer is not that of Euclid, Plato or Archimedes.”

Townsend said, “Mr. Phelon is right,” and told Cincinnati fans to “disabuse their minds of all such rot.”

Reds Manager Clark Griffith, said Townsend:

“Does not have to tell (Bob) Bescher when to steal bases. Instinct tells the speed boy what to do when he reaches first. A certain amount of teamwork between batter and baserunner may be necessary, but as a third party a manager is a ‘butter in.’”

Bescher

The Commercial Tribune Editor accused Evers of attempting to “bunk the fans about the elaborate set of signs and counter signs the Cubs use.”

Townsend said the “brainy second baseman” said he and Cubs shortstop Joe Tinker “never made a move” with signaling one another. He contrasted that with the second baseman and shortstop of the 1904 New York Giants, Billy Gilbert and Bill Dahlen, who:

“(N)ever used a signal of any kind. The duties of their positions were second nature to them.”

Contrary to the trend, It was a game of spontaneity, not science:

“No one should underestimate ‘generalship’ and strategy as a component part of the game, but the decisive plays come up on the spur of the moment. They cannot be rehearsed in the clubhouse…’Inside ball’ will always be a favorite theme, but the speed boys and hard hitters, aided and abetted by a start staff of pitchers and a master workman behind the bat, will continue to win games, knowing nothing about the ‘signs and signals’ which ignorant fans imagine they are wise to.”

“And so Buck Ewing is Dead.”

12 Mar

“And so Buck Ewing is Dead.”

The New York Telegram eulogized in 1906, and pronounced him:

“The greatest ball player of them all, when all that makes a great ball player is taken into consideration.

“There was nothing that Buck Ewing could do on a ballfield without doing it well. Before he became a catcher, he was a fine infielder. After he was a catcher, he was a fine outfielder. When he was a catcher, he was a good pitcher, and there was no time in his life that he was not one of the most intelligent, if not the most intelligent right-hand batters in the history of the game.”

Ewing

It was acknowledged that “There were others who were greater sluggers,” and players with higher averages, “but there was only one Ewing, whom every pitcher feared when there were men on base.”

In addition, The Telegram said, “No ball player lived who knew more about the inside of baseball,’ and when he threw a ball it was as if:

 “He simply handed it to the baseman, with a snap which many a catcher had tried and none has equalled.”

Tom Loftus told the paper when he was managing, he was asked “why his players did not try to steal” against Ewing:

“Steal bases, what’s the use? If you give them two rods handicap for a start the second baseman would be waiting for them before they within twenty feet of the base.

“You could rob a bank easier than you can steal on this man Ewing.”

The eulogy also said, “as a matter of baseball history,” Ewing “probably made” the longest hit on record, in an 1889 game with the Cleveland Spiders. 

“Cleveland’s left field fence was so far away from home plate that no one had ever batted the ball over it, and no one expected that a hit would go over it. ‘Darby’ O’Brien, long since dead, was pitching for Cleveland. He tried to fool Ewing with a low curve on the outside corner of the platter.”

The pitcher was not Darby O’Brien, but John “Cinders” O’Brien:

“Buck swung with all his weight on the ball, and when it cleared the top board of that far away left field fence by so many feet that there was enough daylight to have prolonged the afternoon for another hour or so. The crowd in spite of its partisanship stood up and roared.

“The ball was found in the garden of a Cleveland millionaire hundreds of feet from the fence…The measures are in existence to this day, but there is little doubt that it wa the longest hit ever made in the history of professional baseball. Also, New York won because of the hit.”

In addition to identifying the wrong “O’Brien” as pitcher, The Telegram erred in the outcome of the game. Cleveland beat New York eight to six.

The game was June 22, 1889. The New York World described the moment; the Giants loaded the bases in the third inning:

“Then Buck Ewing, captain of the champions of all creation, came to bat and made the longest hit ever made on these grounds.”

The Cleveland Press said:

“(Ewing) drove it high over the left field fence, which is 478 feet from the home plate.”

The Telegram insisted in 1906 that Ewing’s homerun was “the longest hit ever made in the history of professional baseball.”

The 1922 “Spalding Guide” said of Ewing’s home run:

“(W)here the ball went after that (clearing the fence, 478 feet from home plate) never was ascertained, although it was a standing joke in Cleveland that it turned up in the repletion room of a Euclid Avenue mansion, which would not have been wholly impossible if it rolled to the corner of what was once Case Avenue.”

The 1906 eulogy concluded:

“(A) gamer man with a more magnetic personality never played professional baseball. There are thousands to whom Buck Ewing’s death will bring a feeling of sorrow that a personal friend has been taken away.”

“I Could Count Every Seam and Read Al Reach’s Name”

25 Feb

Forty-one-year-old Dan Brouthers played 45 games in the Eastern League with the Springfield Ponies and Rochester Broncos in 1899.

Brouthers hit .241.

Brouthers

Bert Myers, Brouthers’ 25-year-old teammate in Springfield, told The Buffalo Commercial playing with the aging legend wasn’t pretty:

“It was painful to see him double up like a rusty hinge as he ducked for low-thrown balls, and I sometimes imagined I could hear his knee joints crack.

“(Manager Tom) Brown signed Dan for his batting, but the big fellow was puny with the stick and no one realized that fact more painfully than the veteran himself. ‘Young fellow,’ he said to me one night after a losing game in which he fanned out three times. ‘I ain’t the Dan I used to be. The ball looks smaller, no bigger than a pea sometimes as it shoots up to the plate. Bless you, I can remember when I could count every seam and read Al Reach’s name on it as I clouted it out for two and three base soaks. Reach’s name was branded on the balls in those days. Once I made the pitchers look like a bad dollar. But now I’m a bum nickel with a hole in it.’

‘”It’s time for the old war horse to chase himself to the stable and browse on past recollections.’ A few days later, Dan was released at his own request.”

Brouthers did request his release from Springfield in June. The Hartford Courant said:

“He told Manager Brown that he did not want to be a mill-stone about his neck, or words to that effect.”

Five days later he signed with Rochester.

Less than two weeks later he asked for his release again. The Buffalo Enquirer quoted him:

“’I am satisfied that I have seen my best days on the diamond and am ready to quit.”

Brouthers came back for more seasons, from 1903-1906. He was 0 for 5 in five in two games with the New York Giants as a 46-year-old in 1904.

He found better success in four stints in the Hudson River League—he hit .337 In 811 at bats, finally retiring for good in 1906.

“He Made Base Ball More Dignified”

18 Feb

Oliver Perry “O. P.” Caylor’s death from tuberculosis in October of 1897 at age 47 took one of the most important chroniclers of 19th Century baseball.

The New York Herald, his last paper, said:

“Mr. Caylor’s fight for life was pathetic in its boldness.”

Caylor

Caylor, who had left the paper a month before his death to go to Winona, Minnesota to seek treatment from a “throat and lung specialist” in a sanitarium, engaged in a “one-sided” struggle, “but on his part it was heroic.”

The paper recounted Caylor’s final visit to the Polo Grounds before he departed for Minnesota:

“(Arriving in) a carriage, accompanied by his wife, and though scarcely able to reach his old seat in the stand, his courage never faltered.”

Caylor had been ill for several years. William “Billy” Norr, the sports editor of The New York World had a morbid wager with Caylor, Sporting Life said:

“(Norr) had made a bet with Caylor every New Year’s Day for seven years that he (Caylor) would die in twelve months.”

The 33-year-old Norr died seven weeks before Caylor after contracting Typhoid Fever:

“Caylor chuckles between hemorrhages, tickled with the idea that he has outlived Norr and is $35 ahead of the game.”

The tragedy of Norr’s early death was compounded when, just a week after the New York Giants and Brooklyn Bridegrooms played a benefit game for his family, his widow, Olga Norr, took her own life, The World said:

“So generous and so greatly beloved had her husband been that it was intended she should never need. She took her life because her heart was broken.”

Caylor’s friends and family were briefly optimistic about Caylor’s chance for recovery:

“He reached (Minnesota) as he predicted he would, and lighthearted letters were returned. He advised that he had gained in both strength and flesh…buoyed with the hope as he was that his fight for life might after all be successful.”

In a letter to friend in St. Louis, Caylor said the specialist he was seeing , “speaks confidently of pulling me through.”

The illness had robbed Caylor of his voice in the last months of his time in New York, but “he wrote column after column in his old-time forcible style, clearly defined, and then smiled at his friend who were astonished with the determination shown and the strength he displayed.”

Of Caylor’s legacy, The Herald said:

“Mr. Caylor was never rugged, but his blows for the welfare of the national game were those of a giant. Delinquent players were never given any quarter. Pitiless sarcasm in the face of abuse and threats of bodily harm were showered upon them, and reformation alone caused his suspension. He deemed it criminal to disappoint the public, and when the lapse of a player was due to his own folly his pointed allusions to the offending cut as a two-edged sword.”

He was, a, “Master of humor, he made giants appear as pygmies, but was quite as ready with words of praise and encouragement as he found them deserved.”

Al Spink of The Sporting News agreed with the assessment, and said that Caylor was unpopular among many players because of his style, but:

“The base ball world will sincerely mourn him, and he will be missed by all newspaper men, for he was a newspaper man in the truest sense. He was sincere in his though, he was above caprice or prejudice in his judgment, he was beyond the reach of corruption in all things. He made base ball more dignified, honorable, and more commendable to honest men by his thirty ears of labor in the legitimate field of sport.”

Francis Richter, the founder and editor of Sporting Life said:

“Hurlburt [sic, Hulbert] and Mills have no successors. There will never be another Harry Wright in our day, nor a successor to Anson when he, too, shall retire. No player is in sight to take up the mantle of the inimitable Latham; no magnates to duplicate the brilliance of Spalding, Reach, Young, Soden, and Byrne, all grown gray in the service of the king of sports; no writer to equal the brilliance of our dead brother Caylor.”

“Diary of Babe Ruth’s bat”

12 Feb

Several Babe Ruth biographies quote the 1924 “Colliers” magazine story “My Friend Babe Ruth” by Arthur Robinson, a New York newspaperman who leveraged the fact that Ruth “has very few secrets from me,” for fodder for the article.

Robinson told readers diverse facts like Ruth’s skin “is not thick,” that he “Made and spent almost a quarter of a million dollars” in 1921, and that he “Does not wear underwear.”

Babe Ruth

The oft quoted “Colliers” piece was preceded by nearly three years by a lesser known article Robinson wrote in The New York American headlined “The Diary of Babe Ruth’s bat,” after game one of the 1921 World Series.

“The Yankees won and I am happy. I have no way of expressing myself outside the typographical confines of the box score and there I find that my batting average for the day, in the first game of New York’s first all New York World Series is .333.

“Not particularly good, but by no means bad. I am content.”

In the first inning:

“(Phil) Douglas sent a fast spitball over the heart of the plate, and I shot it out into center field with the assistance of Mr. Ruth. (Elmer) Miller was on second base at the time and he scored on the hit. So far, so good.”

The “bat” said Ruth walked on three Douglas spitballs, a curve, and a “high, slow floater” on three and one in the fourth inning,  

In the sixth, on a 3-2 count, “Douglas threw a fast curve…I though it was a ball, and so did Mr. Ruth but the umpire called Mr. Ruth out on strikes and some odd language passed between the two. I heard it.”

Ruth struck out for the second time in the eighth when he “missed a low spitter, on the outside.”

“Well, today, dear diary, is another day. Perhaps I’ll get a homer. I rather expect I will.”

Not the writing bat, but another Ruth bat

Ruth’s bat did not hit a home run in game two—he was 0-1 with three walks—he hit .313 in the series with one home run and four RBI.

The Giants won the last three games to win New York’s first all New York series” five games to three.

“Every one of Them has Some Eccentric Method”

10 Feb

“The players of the New York league club are the most superstitious set of men in the country.”

That was the opinion of a “well-known and veratious [sic] sporting man,” quoted by The New York Sun in 1887:

“Every one of them has some eccentric method of insuring good luck in a game.”

The “Sporting man” said he was in Philadelphia with the Giants and “happened to walk across the field,” and saw on the ground where Patrick Gillespie played:

“Signs traced on the earth apparently with a small stick. The first was a simple angle with a dot in the middle, followed by a long straight line, at the other end of which was another dot and a straight line running in a direction at right angles to the long one. I studied these hieroglyphics for some time and concluded that the perpendicular line and the one beside it meant the bat and ball and the straight line meant the course of the ball after it was hit. The angle represented Gillespie and hands in the act of gobbling up the ball. It was drawn with the view of illustrating just what the left fielder hoped would happen. I am told Gillespie never plays a game without this little symbol marked at his feet.”

The area around where Buck Ewing played was “covered with fragments of toothpicks” because Ewing thought “runners’ trip over these in coming to his base.” With a left-handed hitter at the plate, John Montgomery Ward “put his left foot forward” at short.

Ward

Pitcher Tim Keefe, when taking “possession of his box he carefully expectorates at all four corners and makes with the toe of his right boot first a dot then a long wavy line and then a final dot.” The dots and line “approximated” his curve ball.

Danny Richardson would make a mark “straight across” the infield “as if to bar the progress of runners. Every time a run gets in Richardson rubs out his mark and makes a fresh one longer and thicker.”

Roger Connor would “never stand perfectly still for fear his luck would go to sleep” while playing first base. Connor was also said to “stealthily apply this mark with chalk on the back of the first man that reaches his base: Z X 0-0. By some occult reasoning holds that the Z being the final letter in the alphabet that the player has reached the end of run-getting” and that the zeros somehow represented the number of runs the opponents would score:

“Nobody ever understood this but Connor, whose faith in the device is so great that he actually turns pale if the first runner goes by his base on a two-base hit, thus preventing him from writing his inscription.”

Connor

Center fielder Mike Tiernan would stand on his left foot and say “’I will never tell a lie,’ and then change to the right foot and add ‘if I catch the next fly.’” While right fielder Mike Dorgan, when he came to the plate, “pulls his hat over his eyes, rubs his hands together, and strikes the ground three times with the stick.”

After dropping his mask once and later in the game tearing a finger and spraining an ankle, Jim O’Rourke, if he “were to drop his mask before putting it on he would not play the game.”

The superstitions and hoodoos did not appear to work, the Giants finished fourth, 10 ½ games back in 1887.

“Show Life”

29 Jan

Willie Keeler got a couple of details wrong, but told a reporter for The New York Daily News in 1912 about the two best pitchers he ever faced:

“I found during the long time that I was in the big leagues that Amos Rusie and Ed Walsh were the hardest pitchers for me to hit. I have gone through some seasons without striking out, but Rusie and Walsh have the distinction of making me fan twice in one game.”

Keeler struck out so infrequently that it may have seemed like he went an entire season without one, but while he only struck out 136 times in 9616 plate appearances–and from 1897 through 1901 struck out just 20 times–he never had a season with none.

Keeler

Keeler said ‘Rusie did the trick when I was with Baltimore in 1904;” it was in 1894.

“Amos could shoot them over. He had more speed on his curve ball than some of the present-day pitchers have on their fast one. When the big fellow, who was with the Giants, and was going right he was a wonder. How he could buzz them over the plate! I know for a fact that when he was going well it was not necessary for him to pitch any curves. That fast one always had a beautiful hop on it, and it was impossible to connect with it.”

Walsh, he said, had the best spit ball:

“I always thought Jack Chesbro had about the best I ever saw until I went against Walsh. Ed’s breaks better than any I have ever faced.

“Some days a spitball pitcher hasn’t the break on his delivery that he has on others. But when Walsh is good, he is a great pitcher. He may not be effective without the spitball, but they tell me that he still has the spitball going as well as ever.”

Five years earlier, “after much persuasion,” Keeler shared his baseball tips with The Washington Post:

Never–

Throw back your foot and step away from the ball.

Bend the back foot or shift its position as the ball approaches.

Lunge at the ball as if trying to make a homerun.

Strike at every ball that is thrown.

Lose your nerve after two strikes

Wait for instructions if you see a chance to win the game

Always—

Chop the ball so it will not pop up in the air

Step into the ball and meet it with your whole weight on your front foot. This puts your whole weight into the blow.

Watch the ball from the time it leaves the pitcher’s hand

Hit at the good balls only. Don’t be too anxious. Wait and you can rip out the good one.

Get into your position quickly when your side is out. Show life.

“My Pitching Stock Consisted Mainly in Speed”

11 Jan

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said in 1918, Silver King—Charles Frederick Koenig—had not attended a baseball game since his career ended 20 years earlier.

“That fact was brought out when his interviewer asked him to make a comparison of modern pitchers and pitching methods with those of his day. He has no particular reason for shunning ballparks, but merely says he has lost interest in the game.”

Silver King

His connection to baseball was limited to “the lots of McCausland Avenue, near his home, ‘Silver’ King may be found every Sunday morning ‘burning them over’ to the neighborhood youngsters.”

King said “there’s no telling” how long his career would have lasted if rosters were larger when he played:

“We seldom carried over 12 regular players on any club. With the pitchers, it was work about every third day or sometimes every other day. If you couldn’t stand that pace you didn’t hold your job, that’s all. And a lot of them couldn’t stand it. Pitchers with big physiques and iron constitutions we the rule then.”

King said:

“My pitching stock consisted mainly in speed. I threw some curves, but I never knew about such things as a spitball, a fade away, shine ball, and all those tricks…There were some great batters in my day. I used to have a lot of trouble Ed Delehanty, not to mention Dave [sic, Dan] Brouthers, Roger O’Connor [sic, Connor]…Later on Larry Lajoie broke in and you can take it from me, he knew how to slug the ball.”

King said he’d “never forget” his first World Series with the St. Louis Browns versus the Detroit Wolverines in 1887:

“It was sort of an exhibition series because we traveled around the circuit instead of playing the games in our home cities. There wasn’t much of a financial plum in those days. For the 15 games we played, the game receipts were about $40,000.”

King was bit fuzzy on his World Series memories. He said he appeared in seven games in 1887—he appeared in four.

King told the reporter:

“I believe I’ll lay off from work one day next season and go out and see this fellow (Grover Cleveland) Alexander pitch. I might learn something about the game, you know.”

King apparently didn’t make it to watch Alexander; twenty years later, his obituary in the Post-Dispatch said:

 “Following his retirement from the game, Koenig did not attend a major league contest.”