Tag Archives: New York Metropolitans

Things I learned on the Way to Looking up Other Things #27

28 Nov

Chicago’s American Association Franchise

At the close of the 1891 season, The Chicago Tribune assured their readers that Chicago would be a two-team town:

“The Chicago club of the American Association of 1892 is a certainty.  Fred Pfeffer will be its manager and leading spirit, and Sam G. Morton (an executive with A.G. Spalding and Bros. Co.) well known here, its business guardian.”

pfeffer

Fred Pfeffer

According to the paper, the new club’s roster would include:

“(Bill) Dahlen, (Ad) Gumbert, and (Malachi) Kittridge probabilities.  Such men as (Bill) Hart, the Sioux City pitcher, (Bid) McPhee of Cincinnati, (Jake) Beckley of Pittsburgh, Danny Richardson of New York, and (Herman) Long of Boston are in sight.”

The Tribune said the new American Association franchise would build a park on Chicago’s west side:

“Convenient to cable and railroad, and their accommodations will be for 20,000 people.”

The stockholders in the team were said to be some of the most prominent industrialists in Chicago.

The planned team never materialized after the American Association folded and four teams were absorbed into the National League.

Pfeffer, the would be manager, was traded to the Louisville Colonels for Jim Canavan and $1000.

 Weidman’s Swan Song

George “Stump” “Kid” Weidman spent parts of nine seasons in the major leagues, he appeared in his final game in 1888, and posted a career 101-156 record.

stump

Weidman

Ten years after he left the game, C. H. Steiger, The Detroit Tribune sportswriter, quoted an unnamed former teammate about how Weidman wore out his welcome in Detroit during his second tenure with the Wolverines.  Weidman had rejoined Detroit after the Kansas City Cowboys folded:

“He had pitched for us before, and was at that time considered a great pitcher, and he really was.  When he was with us before, he was the most popular boy on the team.  Everything was Kid, and he got the glad hand from everyone until one day he lost it all at once.  It goes to show how easily a man can throw away what it has taken him a long time to acquire”

Weidman won 13 games for the eventual pennant winning Wolverines before being sold to the New York Metropolitans in August, after the former teammate said Weidman was playing right field one day, while Detroit ace Pretzels Getzein was on the mound:

“(The) batter on the opposing club, Philadelphia I think it was, popped up a slow outfield fly to Weidman.  He had lots of time to get it, and it was the easiest kind of chance, but he ran up to within about ten feet of where it would strike, stopped, let it strike and bound into his hands, then threw it in.

“Well, it was the only time I ever saw Getzein mad.  He looked at Weidman, shrugged his shoulders and said to his catcher, ‘What do you think of that?’

“(Manager Bill) Watkins saw it from the bench, and was mad as a hornet.  When Weidman came in, Watkins called him down, and the Kid said he was afraid of over-running it, and thought it was best to do as he did, otherwise the batter might have made two bases on it,  But his explanation didn’t go.”

The teammate concluded:

“I don’t think he meant to throw the game.  He just wanted to let the other fellows get another hit off Getzein.  But the other players in the club rather soured on Weidman after that, and so did the crowd.”

After being sold to the Metropolitans, Weidman appeared in just 15 more games, his major league career was over at age 27.

“O’Brien…Felt Like Dropping Dead”

8 Oct

Darby O’Brien was a rookie and Charley Jones was near the end of his 12-year career  when the two were teammates with the New York Metropolitans in 1887; his friendship with Jones gone sideways made O’Brien a brief sensation on the police blotter.

darby.jpg

O’Brien was playing for the Brooklyn Bridegrooms the following season when, on July 21 he was arrested along with teammate Jack Burdock were arrested when leaving Brooklyn’s Washington Park after a game.

The troubled Burdock, who battled alcoholism, was arrested for assault for attempting to kiss a 17-year-old stationary store employee the previous year, while, as The New York Sun said he “was under the influence of liquor,”  Burdock was acquitted later that year when the victim failed to appear to testify against him.

burdock

Jack Burdock

Burdock being in trouble was not news, but said The Sun:

“(O’Brien) is one of the steadiest men in the ball business and, consequently felt like dropping dead when (New York Detective)  McGrath told him he was wanted for larceny.”

O’Brien’s alleged crime?  The Brooklyn Eagle said:

“The charge against O’Brien is made by Mrs. Louisa Jones, wife of Charles W. Jones, formerly left fielder of the Kansas City nine, and is that he stole her dog.”

charleyjonespix

Charley Jones

According to Mrs. Jones, O’Brien had given her the dog, “a small pug,” to take care of after the 1887 season and subsequently “presented the dog to her.”  Mrs. Jones said O’Brien later returned to the Staten Island hotel where the Jones’ lived and stole the dog.  The New York World said he “snatched the dog out of her lap,” at the hotel and ran to a train to escape.

After O’Brien was released on “the promise of (Brooklyn owner Charlie) Byrne” that O’Brien would appear in court on July 23, he spoke to a reporter from The Eagle:

“Mrs. Jones story is untrue.  I did not give her the dog nor did I snatch it from her lap, as was reported in a morning paper.  I was stopping at the Nautilus Hotel when she and Jones came there to live.  I got the dog from (catcher Bill) Holbert.  She was a beauty and is Beauty by name.  Mr. Holbert raised her from a pup and I was too fond of her to part with her.  Mrs. Jones admired her very much.  I declined to give her Beauty, but did promise her one the next litter.  That was only to keep her quiet.  She annoyed me very much.  She got square, however, for when I was preparing to go West (after the 1887 season) she and Jones bolted and took the dog with them.  I got Beauty back.”

O’Brien failed to say how he “got Beauty back.”  The Eagle said Holbert backed up his statement.

The World described the scene when O’Brien returned to face the charges:

“Justice Massey, of Brooklyn, was a half hour tardy in his arrival at the courtroom this morning and he found the chamber packed full of people  .

“There were baseball players, baseball enthusiasts and patrons of the national game.  There were a couple of hundred of the youth of the City of Churches, and there as many of the pretty girls for which Brooklyn is famous.”

Both O’Brien and Burdock were in court that morning, but the paper said:

“Darby received most attention, for he is one of the Brooklyn boys who doesn’t pose as a bridegroom.”

In addition to Byrne and Holbert, the New York papers said O’Brien’s Brooklyn teammates Al Mays and Bill McClellan were there for support.

The case was continued and the potential baseball/dog trial of the century was scheduled for September 5, 1888, but ended with a whimper.  The Evening World said:

“Not only is the Brooklyn baseball team in third place in the Association today, but it’s members are at last all out of court.

“Darby O’Brien’s dog case came before Justice Massey this morning and the popular left fielder was promptly on hand to show that he didn’t steal Mrs. Jones’ canine.  He was spared the pains, however, for a note came from the Staten Island complainant in which she declared that she would not press the complaint

“Darby was therefore discharged.”

Unfortunately, the dog did not make it to the trial, O’Brien told The Eagle that in July “(Beauty) had a fit on Sixth Avenue and died.”

O’Brien played with Brooklyn through 1892, became ill with tuberculosis and died in his hometown of Peoria, Illinois in 1893, he was 29.

dob (1).jpg

O’Brien

When word reached Byrne that O’Brien had died, he told The Eagle:

“Darby was a typical, humorous, quick witted young Irishman, handsome and clever.  He was like a good sailor.  He had a sweetheart in every city the team visited.  He was generous to a fault.  His purse was open to everyone and he never called for an accounting.  He was, without exception, in the full sense of the word, the most popular ballplayer in the country—not for his phenomenal ability or his brilliant work, but for his happy go lucky manner.”

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.”

 

reilly

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.”

petebrowning

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 Phillies were Somewhat Crippled by the absence of Roy Thomas”

14 Sep

Charles “Chief” Zimmer was acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies to play for and manage the team in 1903; it was assumed he couldn’t do worse than Bill Shettsline who led the team to a 56-81 record the previous season.  He did.

Unlike nearly every other “Chief” in 19th Century baseball, Zimmer had no Native American blood and various stories have circulated as to the origin of the nickname.  His 1949 obituary said:

“In 1886 he joined Poughkeepsie as captain and manager…”since we were fleet of foot we were called Indians.  As I was the head man of the Indians somebody began to call me “Chief.”  It stuck.”

The Pittsburgh Press said in 1904:

“Zimmer received his sobriquet as ‘Chief’ because of his facial resemblance to an Indian, although he is a German.”

Zimmer was one of the best catchers in baseball for more than a decade.  He had brief trials in the National League with the Detroit Wolverines and American Association with the New York Metropolitans from 1884 and 1886, and was playing for the Rochester Maroons in the International Association in 1887 when his contract was purchased for $500 by the Cleveland Blues of the American Association.

zimmer

Chief Zimmer

Zimmer was the starting catcher for the Blues when the team moved to the National League and became the Cleveland Spiders in 1889, and remained in Cleveland until 1899.  In 1890, he caught 111 straight games; which was the Major League record for 19 years.

By January of 1903 the 43-year-old’s best days were behind when Philadelphia acquired him on waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates and named Zimmer manager.

After a 2-2 start, the Phillies never saw .500 again and Zimmer quickly lost control of his team.

The team went into June with an 11-26 record.  Things got worse that month in Cincinnati when Zimmer put the team’s captain,  centerfielder and leadoff man Roy Thomas into the lineup–Thomas was  a devout Christian who did not want to play on Sundays.  The Philadelphia Record said:

“Manager Zimmer had some trouble getting Roy Thomas to play in the Sunday game, he claiming that he had not contracted to play on Sunday, and that he had no desire to break the Sabbath.  In the end, however, Zimmer prevailed and Thomas went into the game.”

The Philadelphia Times said Zimmer talked to the team’s new owner, James Potter, who was reported to have said:

“So he won’t play today, eh?  Well, then place him on the bench today, tomorrow and for the remainder of the season, without pay.”

Thomas relented, but told reporters before the game::

“I’m playing under protest.  There’s nothing in my contract that exempts me from playing on Sunday, but when I signed it I had no idea that the Philadelphia Club would change hands and abandon old precepts.”

The following Sunday, with the Phillies in Chicago, The Associated Press (AP) said:

“Thomas made his protest doubly strong and backed it up by staying out of uniform that day.”

After Philadelphia’s 4 to 2 loss, The Chicago Tribune said:

“The Phillies were somewhat crippled by the absence of Roy Thomas who does not like the new ownership of the club, because it believes in Sunday games. which Roy does not.”

As a result The AP said,  other players on the slumping team suddenly found religion.

“Now several other members of the team declare that they are as much opposed to playing baseball on Sunday as is Thomas and that their religious scruples are just as strong as his.”

The article quoted an unnamed member of the Phillies:

“(I)f the club insists on showing partiality to Thomas the others who also object to playing on Sunday, but who are willing to help out the club, will insist on the same privileges.”

Zimmer faced a full-blown revolt as they prepared to embark on a 19 game road trip:

“All of which portends a pleasant trip in the West for Zimmer when he starts out again.”

The Philadelphia papers did not continue to pursue the story during the Phillies’ 4-15  road trip, but it seems that for the remainder of 1903 Thomas backed off of his demand as he appears in box scores for several Sunday games in the final three months of the season.

Roy Thomas

Roy Thomas

The Phillies limped to a 49-86 seventh place finish, seven less victories than the previous season under Shettsline.  Zimmer was dismissed at the end of the season and was replaced by Hugh Duffy.

Thomas’ Sunday request was granted the following season, with manager Duffy making most of his appearances as a player in 1904 on Sundays when his centerfielder took the day off.  There is no record of teammates complaining about Thomas’ Sunday schedule under Duffy’s management.

Regardless of the team’s new-found harmony, the Phillies under Duffy finished 52-100.  Potter sold the team after the 1904 season to Bill Shettsline.

A shorter version of this story was posted 12-18-2012.

 

The Pursuit of Elmer Foster

9 Sep

Elmer Ellsworth Foster was the talk of the Northwestern League in 1887.

His career as a pitcher had lasted just one season; in 1884, while pitching for the St. Paul Apostles, he snapped a bone in his arm while throwing a pitch.

Elmer Foster, 1887

            Elmer Foster, 1887

After he recovered, he returned the following year as an outfielder and second baseman with Haverhill in the Eastern New England League and hit .309.

The following spring, The Sporting Life’s Haverhill correspondent said the New York Metropolitans “have taken Elmer Foster from us.”

Hitting just .184 and, as The Sporting Life put it “reckless at the bat,” Foster went back to Haverhill in August.

In 1887, he returned to Minnesota, this time as centerfielder for the Minneapolis Millers.  The club was owned by his brother Robert Owen Foster, a successful dealer of musical instruments, who with his partner J. E. Whitcomb, had taken over operations of the Millers in January.

The Northwestern League of 1887 was a hitter’s paradise owing mostly to the single-season experiments with the four-strike rule and walks counted as hits—nineteen players with at least 350 at-bats hit better than .350—and Foster led with a .415 average and 17 home runs.   While his performance with the bat was noted, he received an equal amount of publicity for his great fielding.

Throughout the season, Minnesota newspapers reported that Foster’s contract would be sold to a major league team—the Indianapolis Hoosiers were the most frequently mentioned—but the deal never materialized.

When the season ended, The Philadelphia Times said Foster was in high demand:

“During the past week agents from nearly every League and Association (club) have been to Minneapolis to secure (Foster) for next season.  (Horace) Phillips of Pittsburgh; (Gus) Schmelz of Cincinnati; Ted Sullivan, agent for Washington; (Emery “Moxie”) Hengel agent for Detroit; (Charlie Hazen) Morton, agent for (A.G.) Spalding, and agents for the Brooklyn, Metropolitan, and Baltimore Clubs have tried to get him.

(John) Day, of New York, sent him this message:  ‘Multrie on the way to Minneapolis.  Make no promise until you see him.’  Boston also wired him for his terms.  (Horace) Fogel of Indianapolis arrived one night and had Foster in tow all the next day.  The bidding of all these clubs has been going on briskly, until now he is offered exorbitant figures by all the clubs.”

Foster called the fight for services a “circus;” it also turned into a controversy, with two teams claiming to have signed him.  The Saint Paul Globe said:

“The circus he speaks of is a curious one, but he is sublimely unmindful of the part he took in it.  The rules of the baseball covenant prohibit the signing of players until Oct. 20…Manager Fogel of Indianapolis approached Foster before that time and made a verbal contract with him, but Manager (Jim) Mutrie, of New York, took him out to Delano (Minnesota), and after midnight  (on the 20th) got his signature.”

Jim Mutrie

                       Jim Mutrie

Years later, Ted Sullivan, who was perusing Foster on behalf of his Washington Nationals, described Mutrie’s method to sign Foster as a kidnapping:

“Jim Mutrie of New York (Giants) grabbed the great fielder Foster on the streets of Minneapolis…bound and gagged him, threw him into a cab and brought him ten minutes out of the city, held him there and dined and wined him until midnight…then compelled him to take $1000 advance money and a contract of $4500 (various other sources put Foster’s salary at $2400, and $4000).”

Foster, it turned out, didn’t simply have a “verbal contract” with Fogel and Indianapolis when he disappeared with Mutrie, but had, as The Sporting News said, accepted “a draft for $100,” from Fogel at the time the two agreed to terms.  Fogel and Indianapolis owner John T. Brush told The Indianapolis News and The Indianapolis Times that there was “a written agreement” between Foster and the club.

Foster’s wife gave birth to a daughter during the height of the controversy.  He told The Globe:

“If she had been a boy I would have named him Mutrie Fogel, in memory of the baseball managers I have been having a circus with.”

In the end, Indianapolis acknowledged that the agreement with Foster, whether written or verbal, was entered into three days before the legal signing date of October 20 and National League President Nick Young awarded Foster to the Giants.

Foster never had success at the plate during his brief major league career; he hit just .187 in 386 at-bats over parts of five seasons.  But Mutrie called him “(O)ne of the best fielders in the country,” and Sullivan said of Foster’s time in the National League, “(H)e was a wonderful fielder in that league.”

Elmer Foster

      Elmer Foster

After he was released by the Giants, he played 31 games with the Chicago Colts in 1890 and ’91, but his brief stay with the club allowed his name to live on with fans long after his career ended.  One of the favorite subjects of Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, who called him “The rowdy of the rowdies,” Foster’s name was a staple of Fullerton’s stories for three decades after his career ended.

Hughie Jennings’ “Doctor”

10 Dec

On October 6, 1898, Hughie Jennings, who, for the fifth straight season was the National League’s leading hits batsman, faced Jouett Meekin, the New York Giants’ notoriously wild pitcher —Meekin hit 89 batters in nine major league seasons and walked 1056 while striking out 901.

Hughie Jennings

Hughie Jennings

The New York Times said:

“Meekin began the game by hitting (John) McGraw on the head.  It was only a glancing blow, however.  Jennings followed McGraw, and the first ball pitched struck him on the nose, breaking it.  Jennings, after he was hit, staggered and then fell.  It was a swift in-curve, and the players on both teams rushed to the plate thinking he had been fatally injured”

The concern was warranted.  In June of 1897 Jennings was hit in the head with a pitch thrown by Meekin’s’ teammate Amos Rusie during the first inning of a game.  While the Rusie beaning was serious, it was likely not as serious as some sources claim–it has been said he was unconscious for three or four days, and near death.  These claims are belied by contemporary news reports, as early as the next day that said, while serious, the injury was neither life-threatening nor caused a days-long coma.

A newspaper rendering of Jennings' beaning by Rusie. The catcher is Jack Warner, Hank O'Day is the umpire.

A newspaper rendering of Jennings’ beaning by Rusie. The catcher is Jack Warner, Hank O’Day is the umpire.

The New York Sun:

“Last night the doctor said he was suffering from a slight concussion of the brain and a temporary paralysis of the right arm, but he declared his injuries would not prove serious and that Jennings would be able to play again in a few days.”

Jennings was back in the Orioles lineup in a week.

Still, there was reason for concern, Jennings had been hit by nearly 200 pitches since 1894, and according to The Sun, “his face was covered in blood.”  The previous season he had “pluckily continued in the game” after the Rusie beaning, until the second inning; this time he was immediately taken to the clubhouse.

It was there that his broken nose was attended to in an unusual way.

Enter John Joseph “Dasher” Troy, a major league infielder in 1880s, a member of the 1884 American Association champion New York Metropolitans.

Dasher Troy

Dasher Troy

In 1891, Troy had been granted a liquor concession, “running the bar under the grandstand” at the Polo Grounds.  Three years later The Sun said Giants owner Edward Talcott “quietly ousted Troy,” after the former player’s “attack on a grandstand gatekeeper and his threatened attack on Mr. Talcott.”

Despite being ousted from the business, Troy remained a fixture at Giants games—and would eventually reclaim the business after Talcott sold his interest in the Giants to Andrew Friedman, running it until 1900.

The New York Telegraph picks up the story:

“(Troy) was at the Polo Grounds when Jennings, of the Baltimores, had his nose broken by a pitched ball. Jennings was assisted to the clubhouse and a physician summoned.  The ‘Dasher’ followed in after the doctor, and pushing the latter aside, said to Jennings:

“‘Hughie, will you let me fix that for you?’

“Hughie looked embarrassed and said:

‘Yes, Dash, but here’s the doctor.’

“’Oh, to hell with him,’ answered Johnny, with his usual impetuosity.  “I can fix that nose in two minutes.  I have fixed noses before, and broken ‘em too,’ said Troy as he threw out his chest and glanced severely at the doctor.

“’Here boy, go out and get me a couple of pebbles.’

“The (doctor) brought back two small stones, and Troy put one on each side of Jennings’ injured nasal organ, and began to press.  The damaged nose was one sided, the cartilage being badly out of place.  Jennings said he could feel the grating as Troy gradually pressed on the stones and, sure enough, when the pebbles were removed the nose was as straight as it ever was.

“’There,’ said Troy, looking again fiercely at the doctor, ‘could you do better that that?  You doctors make me tired.’

“The doctor, however, when he had collected himself, said Jennings had better go to a hospital for further treatment, apparently not being fully satisfied with Troy’s treatment, or possibly his winning ways.

“Jennings did not follow the doctor’s advice that night, but (the following day) he went to Mt. Sinai Hospital.  A physician then examined the injured nose, felt of it carefully and said:

“’There is nothing out of place there.  Who set it for you?’

“’Oh, some doctor up at the Polo grounds,’ answered Jennings.

“’Well, said the hospital physician, ‘I never saw a cleaner or better piece of work in my life.”

Regardless of having his nose successfully fixed by Troy, Jennings’ all-time record for being by pitches 287 times took a toll.  He had turned 30 years-old just a month before the 1888 broken nose, but only played more than 100 games  once more—in 1900—and was, essentially finished as a player by 1902.

Another story about Jennings’ “doctor” Dasher Troy on Friday

“Sweeney was Drunk, but I didn’t Know it”

22 Aug

In 1884 Frank Bancroft’s Providence Grays won the National League pennant and defeated the American Association’s New York Metropolitans in the World Series—the first post-season exhibition to be called the World Series.  Late in 1896 he told a reporter for The Boston Post his version of the story of the turning point in that season:

Frank Bancroft

Frank Bancroft

 

“We were leading the championship race (the Grays were in 2nd place at the time of the game in question).  Both (Charles) Sweeney and (Charles “Old Hoss”) Radbourne were pitching in grand style.  In those days you couldn’t take a player out of the game and put another one in his place unless he was sick.  I wanted to save my pitchers all I could.  One day we were playing the Bostons (Bancroft was incorrect; the game was against the Philadelphia Quakers on July 22).  I had (Joseph) Cyclone Miller in right field and Sweeney in the box.  I told Joe Start, who was captain of the team that if we got far enough ahead in the game to take Sweeney out of the box and bring in Miller.  I did this to save Sweeney’s arm.  In the sixth inning we had a lead of 7 to 2 (the score was 6 to 2).  I told Start to make the change.  He asked Sweeney to go out in the field.  Sweeney was drunk, but I didn’t know it.  Start’s request made Sweeney mad.  He didn’t take it in the way it was meant.  He walked off the field.  I went after him, but couldn’t get him to come back.

“He called me a vile name.  The president of the club (J. Edward “Ned” Allen) went to him and asked him what he meant, and he called him everything vile on the calendar.  Sweeney was very drunk.  We had to finish the game with eight men, and the Bostons [sic] beat us out (Providence lost 10 to 6).  The directors of the club had a meeting that night, expelled Sweeney and came within an ace of breaking up.  In fact, they did vote to disband.”

Charlie Sweeney

Charlie Sweeney

With Sweeney gone, the team was left without their two top pitchers.  Bancroft had suspended Radbourn earlier in the month, and he was still sitting out at the time—Radbourne was unhappy sharing the pitching duties and was rumored to be heading to the St. Louis Maroons in the Union Association–The Providence Evening Press in describing Sweeney’s July 22 outburst said he had “caught Radbourn’s complaint.”

Picking up the story in The Post, Bancroft said:

“They said there was no use of going on with one pitcher.  I said to President Allen: ‘If you will give me authority to tell Radbourne that you will not reserve him at the end of the season, I can get him to pitch all the rest of the games this year.’  ‘All right,’ said Allen, ‘you have that authority.’  I found old Rad at his boarding house.  I told him about the proposition.  ‘It’s a go,’ said Rad.  ‘I’ll get rid of reservation if I lose my arm.  I’ll pitch all the other championship games this season.”

Radbourn did not pitch “all the other” games that season but did pitch 75—with 73 complete games, 678 2/3 innings.  Bancroft said of his pitcher:

“It was the greatest feat of endurance I ever witnessed.  Rad was in awful shape before it was all over…Why, (his arm) hurt him so bad when he would get up in the morning that he couldn’t get it up high enough to fasten his collar button.  He had to comb his hair with his left hand.  It used to make me shudder to look at him, but he was gritty.  He would go out in the afternoon before the game, and instead of loosening up by easy pitching, as pitchers do nowadays, he would go in the field and throw the ball just as far as he could.  He would throw for ten or fifteen minutes, until he got wound up, and then he would go in to pitch a winning game.”

"Old Hoss" Radbourn

“Old Hoss” Radbourn

Bancroft said the pitcher “could split the plate any time he wanted to,” and that during “morning practice, to show what he could do, Radbourn would set a pop bottle on the home plate and knock it down three out of four times.”

The release of Sweeney had an immediate positive effect on the Grays.  On the day of the incident, The Evening Press said: “The pennant is no doubt out of the reach of Providence this year.”

The following day, after Radbourn pitched the team to an 11 to 5 over the New York Gothams, the paper’s outlook brightened:

“The summary expulsion of Sweeney for crookedness seemed to have a salutary effect, on Wednesday, for the purging of the club of such a bad egg resulted in a better class of patrons on the grand stand than for many weeks.  The attendance throughout was better than the management had looked for after the airing of Sweeney’s revolt, about 700 being present. “(There were just 450 in the stands the day before for “Sweeney’s revolt”)

Sweeney had not yet left for St. Louis and the paper took the opportunity to take one final shot at the pitcher:

“Sweeney is still about town, and wherever he goes the women whom he escorted to the ball game on Tuesday are seen with him.  The conduct of this fellow is shameful, and he will regret it when he fully wakes up to its enormity.”

The twenty-one-year-old Sweeney pitched the Maroons to the Union Association championship with a 24-7 record and 1.83 ERA.  Whether his arm couldn’t handle the strain, or as a result of his off-field habits, he would only win 16 more games (losing 30), and was out of the major leagues at age 24.

He returned to his home in California and played for teams in the California, Central California Leagues, after his retirement he worked for a short time as a police officer and later worked in saloons around San Francisco.

By the time Bancroft shared his reminiscences of 1884 with The Post, Sweeney was incarcerated in California, and Radbourne was dying in Illinois.

In July of 1894, Sweeney shot a man named Cornelius McManus during an altercation in a bar.  The San Francisco Chronicle said when he was informed the following day that the victim was dead “he broke down and wept bitterly.”  Sweeney was convicted of manslaughter four months later and sentenced to eight years.

The Chronicle said he was released after serving “a little over three years of his sentence,” after which “his health broke down.”  Sweeney died of Tuberculosis in 1902—most sources say he died on April 4—The Call and The Chronicle both said he died on April 3.

Radbourn pitched 1311 innings in 1883 and ’84, and started and won all three games in the 1884 World Series.  Bancroft said that after the Grays won the championship:

“President Allen kept his word, and gave him his release; but Rad didn’t take it.  The club offered him just twice as much salary for the next year.”

Radbourn pitched seven more seasons and finished his career with a 309-194 record.  After being accidentally shot in a hunting accident, and suffering from a variety of ailments, he died in February of 1897.

Bancroft remained in baseball until January of 1921 when he retired a business manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He died two months later at age 74.

“I am thoroughly Disgusted with the Business”

12 May

Robert Vavasour “Bob” Ferguson shares claim, with Brooklyn Atlantics teammate Jack Chapman, to the nickname “Death to Flying Things,” although it will likely never be resolved which had the name attached to him first.

Bob Ferguson

Bob Ferguson

What is clear is that Ferguson was an important figure in 19th Century baseball –a player, manager, umpire and executive, and the game’s first switch hitter.

Ferguson was, given the reputation’s of 19th Century  umpires, uniquely popular.

The St. Louis Republican said he was “about the most brilliant of any…He never allowed his word to be questioned and was the most successful umpire in that regard ever in the profession”

The Louisville Post said “Ferguson plays no favorite from the time he calls play.  He sees all men alike and tries to do justice to them.”

The Sporting Life said he was “The only umpire who can satisfy New York audiences.”

In May of 1886 Ferguson resigned from the American Association’s umpire staff to manage the New York Metropolitans, until May of 1887, when he was let go by New York and returned to the association staff.  The Philadelphia Times said his services were so sought after that he was offered “$1200 for the remainder of the season.  This is much in excess of the regular umpire’s salary, but (the Cleveland Blues, Brooklyn Grays and St. Louis Browns) have agreed to stand the additional expense if Ferguson will accept the position.”

Even when criticizing Ferguson for possessing “a whole barrel full of that commodity known as mulishnessThe Cincinnati Enquirer said, “There is no disputing his honesty.”

Intractability was the one major criticism of his work, but Ferguson thought it an asset.  Shortly after returning as an umpire in 1887 The Washington Evening Star said during a game between New York and Philadelphia, a runner starting from second base, noticing Ferguson’s back turned after a passed ball cut third base and scored easily.  Ferguson was alleged to have said:

“I felt morally certain that he did not go to third base, as he scored almost as soon as the base runner who was on third at the time.  But before I could do anything in the matter the crowd began to hoot and I declined to change my decision.  Let an umpire be overcome just once by the players or the crowd and he never will be acknowledged afterward.”

But, despite the respect he sought and received, on and off the field, in 1888 Ferguson told  a reporter for The New York Mail and Express—which said Ferguson was noted for his “bluntness and firmness” as a player– how he really felt about being an umpire:

 “I did not choose it; that is to say, I did not seek it very earnestly.  I had been active on the ball field for so many years that I knew it would be only a question of a short time when my efficiency as a player would be impaired to the extent of my being forced to retire, and the position of umpire being possible for me to obtain and in fact offered to me, I accepted it that I might surely be able to continue upon the field, where I have spent most, and in a general way the happiest years of my life.

“How do I like it?  I do not like it at all.  An umpire, not withstanding newspaper talk regarding his being master of the field, is practically a slave to the whims of players.  He does not, as is generally supposed, go upon a field, and upon the slightest provocation fine a player to any amount simply because that man does not act in accordance with his ideas.  He is not there for that purpose.  He is simply the representative of the officers of the association in which he happens to be employed.

“I give all clubs, whether weak or strong, an equal chance.  The position of an umpire is one that no self respecting man can hold long without wondering whatever possessed him to accept it, and wishing to be free from it.

“But everyone has to earn a livelihood, and I am endeavoring to earn mine, but I will say I am thoroughly disgusted with the business and will welcome the day when I can say: ‘Robert, you are free; your slavery days are over; you can now enjoy the fruits of your labor.’  Don’t misquote me now and say that I am disgusted with the national game, for it would be utterly untrue.  I am fond of baseball, as my many years on the diamond will attest; but to be a player, which position I loved, is one thing; to be an umpire is another.”

Ferguson remained in the American Association through 1889, then joined the Players League as an umpire in 1890, and returned to the American Association for the 1891 season, his last; The Sporting Life said “the Association soured on him” because “his expense bill” was much larger than any other umpire.”

Ferguson tried to get a position with the National League in 1892, but according to The Chicago Tribune he “does not seem to be much sought after.”

Ferguson retired to Brooklyn where he died in 1894 at the age of 49.

Oliver Perry Caylor said in The New York Herald said he was “an umpire of recognized fairness and merit…His honesty was always above suspicion, and scandal never breathed a word against his upright life professionally.”

Miah Murray

7 May

Jeremiah “Miah” Murray appeared in only 34 major league games, with four teams between 1884 and 1891.  In 31 games a catcher, he made 29 errors and was charged with 28 passed balls.

During that short career, he also became the subject of two stories which highlighted his shortcomings behind the plate.  Both stories appeared after the fact, so are subject to the usual caveats of 19th-century baseball stories.

Jeremiah "Miah" Murray

Jeremiah “Miah” Murray

In 1894 The New York Sun wrote about the most embarrassing episode Murray’s career—said to have taken place during his rookie season, 1884:

“(Murray) tells about a game he once caught in at Buffalo when he was a member of the Providence team.  There were three men on bases and he threw to (Jerry) Denny to catch a man napping, but the ball never got there.  It hit Jim O’Rourke, who was the batsman, on the side of the head and bounded into the grandstand, three men scoring and winning the game for Buffalo.  Jim staggered and cried out with pain, but the crowd simply cried with glee, O’Rourke’s hurt being entirely lost sight of in the enthusiasm.”

Murray’s manager during that 1884 season was Frank Bancroft who led Providence to the National League championship and a three games to zero victory over the New York Metropolitans of the American Association earning for the first time the title “World Champions” from The Sporting Life.

Frank Bancroft

Frank Bancroft

Bancroft compiled a 375-333 record over parts of nine seasons as a big league manager, before becoming an executive with the Cincinnati Reds.

It was while serving as the Reds’ Business Manager that Bancroft related another story about Murray’s brief time with Bancroft’s championship team.  The story first appeared in The New York  American in 1915:

“’Take it from me,’ said Frank Bancroft, while some of the fans were discussing famous bonehead plays, ‘the old timers pulled some bones that had all you youngsters blocked off the map.  Best I recollect, right now, was sprung by Miah Murray when he was catching for me…With a runner on first Miah steamed back to the stand a made a magnificent catch of a foul fly.  The crowd broke into roars of applause; Murray, leaning against the stand, took off his cap and bowed right and left—and the runner, sizing up the situation, lit out from first, kept right on going, and came all the way around while Miah kept bowing and the rest of the team were screeching and raving, all in vain.”

Murray later became a National League and college umpire; he was also a prominent boxing promoter and matchmaker in Boston where he operated the Lincoln Athletic Club of Chelsea, and later the Armory Athletic Club.  He died in Boston in 1922 at age 57.

Bancroft retired as business manager of the Reds in January of 1921; he died two months later at age 74.

“Foster you are Released”

17 Mar

Elmer Ellsworth Foster’s career as a pitcher ended on August 26, 1884.  He had been out for three weeks with “an injury to the tendon in his right arm,” when he took the mound for the St. Paul Apostles in a Northwestern League game against the Milwaukee Brewers.  The 22-year-old was 17-19 with 1.18 ERA when he took the mound at St. Paul’s West Seventh Street Grounds.

The St. Paul Daily Globe said:

“When the popular favorite took his position in the box in the last half of the first inning the audience received him with an ovation of cheers, to which he responded by raising his cap.  A moment later he pitched the first ball, a sharp crack was heard distinctly all over the ground and the sphere went spinning ten feet to the right of the batter.  Foster turned pale, but stood in his position until the players in the vicinity reached him.”

He had “snapped the bone of the right arm just above the elbow,” and after Foster left the field a collection was taken up among the fans “A few minutes later it was announced that $172 had been collected.”

He made it to the major leagues two years later as an outfielder with the New York Metropolitans in the American Association, and played parts of five seasons in the American Association and National League.  A consistent .300 hitter in the minors, Foster hit just .187 in 386 big league at bats.

According to The Sporting Life, his manager with the New York Giants in 1888 and ‘89, Jim Mutrie considered him “one of the best fielders in the country, and the only reason New York ever let him go was because he didn’t show up well with the stick in fast company.”

Elmer Foster

Elmer Foster

Sportswriter Hugh Fullerton said he excelled at other things as well:

“The rowdy of the rowdies was Elmer Foster.  Handsome, well bred, clean cut and with it all, well educated and something of an actor.  Foster was in baseball for the fun of it.”

From the time Fullerton joined The Chicago Tribune in 1897 until he left Chicago for New York in 1919 Bill Lange was probably the only 19th Century player he wrote about more often Foster.

Foster’s  best season was 1890 (.248 in 105 at bats and 5 home runs) with Cap Anson’s second place Chicago Colts after being acquired in late August.

Foster started the season with his hometown Minneapolis Millers in the Western Association (he hit .388 in his first twelve games), but fell out of favor with Manager Sam Morton after he and a teammate named Henry O’Day were arrested and fined in Milwaukee for public intoxication in May.

Foster was benched, but the team refused to release him, and by mid-July he was ready to take the Millers to court.  The St. Paul Daily Globe said:

“(Foster) threatens to bring suit against the management to compel its members to give him his release.  His claim will be that they are unjustly preventing him from earning a livelihood.  There is a possibility that the threat may be only a bluff, but should such a trial be put on, it will be of much interest in Western baseball circles, as it will be the first of its kind in this section.”

The Millers finally chose to release Foster rather than fight a lawsuit.  Foster was rumored to be headed to several different teams, but finally signed with the Colts on August 27.

After his strong September in 1890 Foster began the ’91 season as the Colts center fielder, but it didn’t last.

Fullerton said Foster sealed his fate with Anson during the opening series:

“We were going to Pittsburgh, and just before we arrived in town on the unearthly jump from Chicago to Pittsburgh, via Cleveland, Anson came along and sat facing us.

“’Foster,’ He said ‘The next time you take a drink, or anyone on the club takes a drink with you, I’ll release you.’

“’All right, Cap,’ said Foster, cheerfully.

“We arrived in Pittsburgh, and while Anson was registering the club at the desk Foster said: ‘Let’s go have a cocktail.’

“’Better be careful, Elmer, the old man is sore,’ I remarked.

“But we went.  The mixologist had just strained the cocktails into the glasses when Foster, looking into the mirror, spied Anson in the doorway.  He turned and, bowing low, said sweetly “Captain anson, will you join us for a drink?’

“’No,’ thundered Anson.  “Foster you are released.

“And now that I am released, Captain Anson,’ said Foster, ‘will you join us in a drink?”

Unlike many of Fullerton’s story, the basic facts (if not the part where he included himself in the story) are confirmed by contemporaneous accounts.  The Chicago Tribune said on April 26 after the Colts four-game series with the Pirates:

“Elmer Foster is not with the club and he has probably played his last game with it.  He and (Pat) Luby last night at Pittsburgh were drinking and Anson fined each $25 and ordered them to go to bed.  They paid no attention to the order and the fine was increased to $50.  This morning when the team was ready to go to Cincinnati Anson gave foster a ticket to Chicago and sent him home.”

Luby was not sent home and lost to the Reds 1 to 0 the following day.  He was fined several times for drinking during the 1891 season, and after a promising 20-9 rookie season in 1890 he slipped to 8-11, and followed it up with an 11-16 season in 1892 before Chicago let him go.

Foster was suspended without pay and finally released on May 11.  He was immediately signed by the Kansas City Blues.

Foster played well in Kansas City, hitting .300 in 70 games for the second place Blues, but was released in August.  The Kansas City Star said:

“One of the sensations of today is the unconditional release of Elmer Foster whose behavior on the present trip has been disgraceful”

The paper said Manager Jim Manning was forced to make the move, not just because of Foster’s drinking, but because he “has been largely instrumental in leading other members of the team astray.”

His replacement, Joseph Katz, acquired from the Grand Rapids Shamrocks in the Northwestern league hit just .225 in the final 25 games.

In December of 1891 The Minneapolis Times said:

“Elmer Foster, the ballplayer, yesterday secured $25,000 through the will of his dead mother, and today announced his permanent retirement from the diamond. “

With the exception of one game in 1895 (he went 1 for 2) with the Millers, Foster was true to his word and quit baseball at the age of 29.

Foster retired to Minneapolis where he operated a piano and organ store with his brother, did some acting and occasionally said he was considering running for the Minneapolis City Council or the Minnesota State Legislature, although there is no record of his ever officially filing to run for office.  He also worked as a scout for the Pittsburgh, and signed Ralph Capron out of the University of Minnesota for the Pirates.

After Fullerton moved to New York and stopped writing about Foster the “The rowdy of the rowdies” faded into comfortable obscurity in Minnesota.  He died in 1946 at age 84.

Some of Fullerton’s less reliable stories about Foster on Wednesday.